The Zero Waste Challenge (that I'm not actually doing)

I applaud the bloggers over at the Ethical Writers Coalition for taking on the Zero Waste Challenge and diligently tracking and writing about their experiences. I've tried to do plastic-free challenges and waste challenges before and boy howdy, are they eye-opening! You go about your everyday life and realize that 90% of everything you touch produces waste and you feel like you're doing everything wrong. The idea of "zero waste" seems like a Herculean - nay, 1,000% impossible - effort. No? Just me?

While I said nope to the open invitation that the coalition had extended for everyone to participate in the Zero Waste Challenge, I thought it would be a good opportunity to just be mindful about waste again. I logged the waste associated with my actions or purchases for a few days (quickly becoming head-spinningly frustrated, as expected) and just tried to be mindful for a few more. 

clockwise from top left:
- my post-it note notes from each day (themselves, recyclable)
- homemade soy yogurt smoothie (semi-minimal waste for a homemade food)
- hand wipe from Ethiopian restaurant brunch, unexpected
- veggie scraps soup stock, used and then composted

Here is where I need some work in the effort to go "zero waste":

  • Packaged food. I still buy a lot of stuff in packages, even though I also buy a lot in bulk and use bulk bags at the food co-op. Stuff like salad greens, soy milk, pasta, mock meat, frozen veggies, coconut and other oils, lip balm, herb tea pellets, chocolate bars.
  • Convenience food. Vending machine at work. Forgetting to ask for no straws as a restaurant. Not realizing I'm getting a handwipe and then using it. Buying an iced coffee or iced tea out when I don't have my travel mason jar with me. Also, ordering food for delivery at home (or work, if I forgot to bring lunch). Look, I don't have ESP to tell me when I'll get junk in a restaurant but I can at least try to reduce the takeout and anticipate that I'll be getting a straw if I order something iced. 
  • Too much. I don't buy only what I need and I make a lot of impulse purchases, which I justify as "ethical" if they are vegan and cruelty-free, often not thinking of the cradle-to-grave concept, especially with packaging and actual ingredients/components and manufacturing waste. I don't care how much "ethical" stuff I buy - it's very possible to buy wastefully even if that's all you're buying. 

Here is where I'm already doing well - a lot of try/fail and sometimes I still forget:
  • Non-packaged foods. I try to get a lot of fruits and vegetables in my diet so stuff like bananas, apples, cooking greens, squashes, cauliflower, broccoli, (most) tomatoes, etc are all not packaged.
  • Bulk bags for bulk foods. While I sometimes forget and use a plastic bag for them, I try to buy bulk at our food co-op for stuff like brown rice, dry beans, loose fruit and veggies and we re-use the same coffee bags for our Ethiopian Equal Exchange bulk coffee beans. 
  • Composting. We aren't in the area of NYC where we have public composting bins yet but we do save our compost and bring it to a drop-off location. We save anything that might get fruit flies (basically, fruit) in a bag in the freezer and everything else in an old bucket near our kitchen window to avoid fruit flies. Our coffee grounds and non-usable food scraps go in there. We've started saving the some of the "usable" veggie scraps in our freezer for soup stock (and once used, that stuff goes into the compost pile as well). If I bring something for lunch that can be composted (banana peel, apple core), I'll shove it in my lunch container or the mason jar I used for coffee that morning and bring it home to compost it. 
  • Travel dishes and flatware for everyday life. I have a 16oz and 20oz mason jar I use with my Cuppow lid for water and coffee. I also have an REI insulated stainless steel mug I use for both. I have a stainless steel silicone-ring sealing lunch bowl in small and large. I have metal flatware and bowls at my desk at work. I have a titanium Snow Peak spork (2 supposedly) that I try to bring when I'm traveling or think I might need it. And I have a plastic water cup with straw at my desk at work in addition to a glass water glass. I have metal straws at home. I use the travel cups, water glass and lunch bowls almost every weekday. The rest is hit or miss in terms of how prepared I am for my daily activities. 

It's hard to think about every single day and feel like a real victor. There are weeks where I don't have it together enough to make coffee and prep lunches and I get takeout coffee and lunches (and sometimes dinners) all week, where I am basically surfing a pile of trash right into turtles' faces and birds' bellies and it feels like crap and I don't like to think about it much. But I try to make myself right the ship and try, try, try again. 

I think the easiest way for me to improve towards zero waste overall is to pick one or two things I can change as habit and work on those. While I don't always stick to them forever, once they're a habit I've had, I can easily return to them. For instance, I am used to bringing my own coffee in a travel vessel and bringing my own lunch in a metal container. I am used to buying beans and rice in bulk in canvas bags. I'm used to re-using the same bag for coffee beans. All of those things are easy to hop back into now, if I am straying. I'm reminding myself again that bringing coffee and bringing my lunch daily saves a lot of container waste. 

What's next? 

  • I will work on my Straw Problem. (I have metal straws at home but don't carry them around so I just need to anticipate and refuse straws when I'm out.) 

  • I will see what else I can buy in bulk. Our food co-op has bulk pasta and I never buy it. I will check out the bulk aisle again and see what I can purchase from those bins that I'm buying packaged anyway. Same thing with the produce - I buy packaged romaine hearts for salad greens but maybe I can go back to the mixed greens I like less, but that come in bulk. 

Anyway, thanks to the bloggers over at the Ethical Writers Coalition - who I think still have another week to go! I was glad to get the kick in the pants to think about this more critically again, and at a time when I can hear others' experiences as they really throw themselves into the challenge. I'm looking forward to reading their experiences and seeing what changes they've thought to make in their routines! 


Don't feel bad about paying a tailor to do something you'll never actually do.

I find myself posting here less and less because I wear a lot of the same stuff. Which is great. I no longer have a ton of angst over what to wear or buy and I'm not sure exactly what changed but...actually, who cares?

I feel like I'll pop in here to either share a brand I found or like, share vegan, "green" or labor standards stuff or just to say "hey, this is my uniform" and while I wish I was better at DIY projects, they usually fall by the wayside. But today I do have some semi-DIY news - I am wearing a Mary Meyer galaxy biggie shirt. (I think that's the name of the cut.) 

Originally the neck opening of this shirt was just way too big and the shirt fell off my shoulders. (Something I find with Uzi's one-size stuff, too.) And it was such a bummer because I thought I'd wear it but then realized how much I hated it either being a one-shouldered shirt or it drooping down my back as a semi-backless shirt. Thankfully before I stuck it in the give-away pile, I realized I could bring it to a tailor and have them just make it a more normal neck seam. They'd just need to bring in the neck hole and round off the extra fabric on the inside, near my shoulders. It was a fairly affordable fix for a shirt I'd already dumped some money on - and now I still get to wear it. MEND AND MAKE DO AND ALL. 

I'm glad I finally came to terms with "outsourcing" my DIY because if I left it up to me dragging out the sewing machine and realizing I need to re-learn how to thread my bobbin for the 50th time in my life, it would never have been completed. So that's my lesson - don't feel bad about paying a tailor to do something you'll never actually do. 


Make It Good's fall/winter season and how I wiped out my budget

You know how in grade school you end up rotating through a number of best friends in succession? Things change, you outgrow each other or maybe you're just not as tight and you start hanging out with someone else because they just fit you better? I feel like I do that with brands. My new best friend has been Make It Good (previously it was Mary Meyer - I liked the bathing suit patterns this year but I just don't need butt cheek hanging out of the bathing suit bottoms). Make It Good has pulled out a few seasons where one or two pieces are just a really good (style) fit for me. 

This fall/winter, I got these two pieces. I believe this nubby ("pebble knit") sweater dress was in their last fall/winter season (as were the nubby cardigan and maybe the crew neck sweater too) but I couldn't pull the trigger and they sold out. Not this year! This dress on the left is exactly like the one I already have in gray from this year's spring/summer season but in a pattern. (They're still on their way so I don't have them quite yet.)

Since these are US-made and Make It Good tries to carefully source their textiles, they've got a solid price tag on them. It's all relative - people spend the same (and more) on brands that have no labor claims all the time, I guess. But yes, they're not cheap or very accessible. (Again, all relative, I guess.) I ended up wiping out my clothing allowance until around November by buying these. This budget glitch should be okay -- the only things I foresee needing are a better pair of wet and cold weather boots (walkable) and some more vegan and winter-appropriate socks. And frankly I can probably ask for socks for Xmas. (Yes, we're that kind of family. Xmas by request.)

Things I probably have enough of for this coming fall/winter:
- coats
- shirts, sweaters
- cardigans
- jeans/pants
- non-weather specific shoes
- scarves, hats, gloves

Not that you need to read this boring list -- but I need to post it to remind myself. Seriously, you have enough. Maybe do some laundry regularly and then you won't feel like you have no clothes, Myself.


Too Much Lipstick

While my apparel purchases have remained somewhat in check, I noticed I thought nothing of picking up a new lip balm or lipstick pretty much constantly. I wear some form of lip stuff every day and so it felt justified. But now I have a bunch to get through before it's too old so I'm hereby calling myself out on this BS and making a commitment to using it up. 

It's not just the actual lip stuff I have green-guilt about, but they all have packaging - usually plastic packaging - that just gets tossed in recycling (whether it can actually be recycled, I have no idea). 

In semi-related news, someone posted this photo on Instagram (was it you?) and I originally thought it was eye makeup in Aquafresh toothpaste colors. Turns out it's the I-talian flag (represent!) but now I'm really obsessed about someone doing their makeup Aquafresh colors. That would be pretty much the best! 


Vegan Food in Paris

We were supposed to be in Paris for an additional day but apparently both my boyfriend and I are horrible with time management and estimating how long it takes to get places (and leave the house) that we missed our first flight and had to fly out the next day. So, that was pretty cool. We missed dinner plans at Gentle Gourmet with our friends, who told us it was like average NYC vegan food and nothing to write home about. Though I have another friend who previously had a delicious dinner there so, your mileage may vary.

We are grateful that our friends were there the week before us (and we had a little overlap while they were still there) -- so we not only got to see them but also take all of their recommendations.

Le Potager du Marais - I could probably start and end on the appetizer: french onion soup with  bread and slabs of "cheese" on top. I mean. I literally had to stop typing to fondly reflect on that soup. We had one delicious and one just-okay entree followed by two chocolate-based desserts (they'd just run out of the creme brulee!) The hazelnut flour chocolate cake came out warm and was totally delicious. You need a reservation here, mostly likely. We managed to squeeze in with seating for 2 but just barely and at first we were told no. So, may the force be with you. If I was in Paris again, I'd eat here every single night. 

Vegan Folie's - You may know that, like most humans, I love dessert. So I made my boyfriend rush to Vegan Folie's before it closed on our way to Montemarte to see the sunset from the Sacre Coeur steps. The only thing they had left was cheesecake and a brownie, and I (usually) love cheesecake, so we got two slices - berry and I think hazelnut. I don't know if it was an off day or what but the slices reminded me of what health food stores in the '90s passed off as dessert. Like, a hunk of tofu in the blender with some sweetener and toppings. You can see from the photo that it looks more like raw tofu than a creamy cheesecake. I feel super American right now but I'd gladly take a freezer-case Daiya cheesecake over these. I rarely turn down dessert but I didn't even finish eating either slice. (From two different cheesecakes...so it's less likely it was a glitch in one cake.) We have friends who liked the cheesecake they got there the week earlier and there are plenty of happy vegans over at Happy Cow. However, I wish I had actually just purchased the Vego bar that my boyfriend jokingly suggested I buy when I couldn't decide which cheesecake flavors to get. Hopefully your experience there is different than mine!

Hank's Vegan Burger - Based on many recommendations, we made it to Hank's Vegan Burger. I liked everything we ordered - their fries, their burgers and the delicious toppings. I'm not usually a veggie burger fan because they so often run the risk of either being a hockey puck or a bland, falling apart grain-and-veggie patty but these were solid options that I'd be happy to have regularly! I am hungry just thinking about them. We ended up eating at a park (hence the chess table) because it was wicked hot that day and their upstairs seating was like a charming, collegial oven.

Un Monde Vegan - Vegan grocery shop in Paris! Since we had an Airbnb and were taking a train between Paris and Amsterdam, our plan was to get some breakfast stuff, a "picnic lunch" for the train and a picnic dinner by the canal where everyone hangs out one night. They had an entire wall and then some devoted to their vegan cheeses so I choose according to a Veg Society UK cheese tasting scorecard that I pulled up on my phone. (Go, Internet!) I liked all of the cheeses we got - No Muh, Sojami (the best!), Jay & Joy. The lunchmeat was fine. The Faux Gras reminded me of liverwurst - I think? - but I liked it! Especially paired with the No Muh classic on bread. (That mushroom tartine on the right ended up being pretty much my only sustenance when I got stuck at an airport hotel with no food options, overnight, awaiting my flight the next morning. That and ginger cookies. Yep, I ate ginger cookies with mushroom tartine with my travel spork - and I was happy to even have that.)

The chocolates I tried were all fine but the Vego was the clear winner. I think I'm losing my taste for the really sweet "milk" chocolate. Some of these are still in my apartment waiting to be opened, actually. (The Bonvita Rice Milk ones are gone already though - all 3 of them.)

Honorable mention - we were able to get plain soy yogurt at the regular local grocery! In the United States of America, we do not have this option. (We barely had it when WholeSoy was still in business but it definitely wasn't at my local grocery.) The Sojasun was a nice thing to be able to have! (Now we've started making our own soy yogurt in our Instant Pot Duo so hopefully I'll become less bitter about this over time.)

Brasserie Lola - Thanks to our friends, we also got to try this all-vegan brasserie. I got a Monte Cristo and it was totally suitable. This isn't fine dining but it is all vegan and it's totally serviceable!  The folks working there were super nice and there is outdoor seating available. 

That's it for Paris! We lost a day due to our tardiness so we didn't get to try as much as we would have liked but we did cover some ground. 


Vegan Food in Amsterdam + VEGA-LIFE store

We managed to eat out less in Amsterdam than London and Paris, partly because my boyfriend was sick for a full day and I made us soup at the apartment and partly because Meatless District (which is the name of a restaurant), was only open for drinks and not dinner in the later evening when we showed up.

Vegabond - Vegabond is a small store with vegan food staples (a lot of shelf-stable stuff but also frozen items, including ice cream). They have a food counter as well, serving sandwiches, baked good and coffee. We got two sandwiches to go, both of which were pretty decent. They served them open-faced and layered with waxed paper in the little boxes below. The soy latte I got from there was dee-licious. I kind of wish we had gone back there, actually. It was super hot the day we visited and the place was roasting (no air conditioning) -- and we couldn't stay anyway as my Anne Frank House timed tickets were timed for right after we got our takeout from Vegabond.

The online store hours for Vegabond listed limited days but thankfully when we were in VEGA-LIFE and asking for food recommendations nearby, they let us know Vegabond was now open 7 days per week.

Golden Temple Vegetarian - We met up with my boyfriend's friend one night and they suggested this place. There were a bunch of vegan options and the menu was very...varied. I think it had pizza, Mexican, Indian, etc. There is a table on a platform in the window and there were two small dogs who kept hanging out on that platform with whoever was up there, which was pretty cute. The food was decent and they knew what "vegan" was, so that was helpfu. Also, look how cute they made the sorbet with those berries!

Latei - Upon arrival in Amsterdam we met up with one of my friends - a person I've known for years thanks to an old punk rock message board that's probably been gone for 15 years now. She had visited NYC throughout the years so we'd met in person previously but I hadn't seen her in a while. Sometimes the internet is pretty cool. Anyway, she recommended this coffee shop (a real coffee shop, not the "coffee shops" that are really hash places) right near our Airbnb in the Red Light District. It is terribly cute but I don't have any photos so you can visit this random blog I found for photos of Latei. When we first visited, I sat down at a table only to find a snoozing black cat on the chair next to me. I could not have planned the more perfect welcome to Amsterdam. They have soy milk and I think there were some vegan options for food. I got a few soy lattes during my stay there and I was never disappointed. 

Groceries! - Not only did we buy groceries so we'd have breakfast food in the apartment but I also had to go find soup ingredients the one night my boyfriend was sick because I couldn't find vegan soup for takeout in the area. We had been introduced to the Alpro brand of soy yogurts in Paris and were happy to find them in Amsterdam, too. (The "Nature" ones are plain soy yogurt and not nearly as sweet as all of the US brands. Get it together, USA.)


I had no idea how challenging it would be to read a lot of tiny ingredient labels in Dutch though - especially since I accidentally ended up at the Albert Heijn right before it was closing. I managed to find the word "vegan" on some cubed bouillon and a packet of mock meat (schnitzel!) as well as some very obviously vegan vegetables. 

We got a chance to visit VEGA-LIFE, the vegan store in Amsterdam. Not to be a jaded New Yorker, but there were only a few things that V-L had that I couldn't get in-person in NYC. (Mooshoes NYC has spoiled me properly!) They had a more robust Macbeth selection and way more Veg Shoe UK stock (for obvious reasons). Also available: cute satchels from a company I've now forgotten (not available in NYC), hand-painted tote bags (below) and a small section of personal care and pet products. They also had a bunch of brands that we have in NYC like Novacas, among others. So, I only had partial FOMO leaving there. I did get a Vego bar and a BWC "waterproof" mascara here. Man, that mascara has nothing on Lily Lolo mascara. 

I would definitely recommend stopping in here to see what they have -- the folks working there were super nice. For sure stock up on Vego bars, because they are god's gift to vegans (and supposedly fair trade!) and if you try to order them via Amazon state-side they're like $14 each. 


Vegan Food in London

As promised a century ago, I'm writing about vegan food abroad! This first installment is what I ate in London. Talk about fond memories. We were in Paris, Amsterdam and London for about 2-3 days each.

Yorica! - I saw someone on Instagram post their Yorica delight and immediately put it on my list. Everything is vegan. I'm both sad and grateful that we don't have a Yorica! in the US since I don't need to eat soft serve daily and I probably would. Delicious flavors, delicious toppings, nice peeps. The ominvore we were with seemed to like it as well. Yorica! *fist pump*

Mildred's - This place has three locations. Apparently the Soho one has a constant crowd and we foolishly thought we'd get a table for 4 on a weekend night. (We went elsewhere.) But we did manage to eat some decent salads at the Mildred's in Kings Cross to help "detox" from the amount of sugar we consumed at Cookies and Scream (on an empty stomach, no less). Not everything here is vegan but it is vegetarian. 

Cookies and Scream - This is a stall in Camden Lock and when I realized it was just a little counter I was kind of bummed that we went out of our way for it. Boy howdy, was I wrong. Below you see an ice cream cookie sandwich (in the process of melting) and a "zombie" - a delicious brownie with a marshmallow baked inside, all warm and toasty. Their latte was fine but wasn't my thing, coffee-wise. I wanted to make sure I had enough room for sweets-for-breakfast and while not the most adult plan, I am glad I had the room for splitting all this. A+!

Cook Daily @ Box Park - I was actually full when we ended up in Shoreditch near Box Park so this wasn't even my meal, but my boyfriend's. That did not stop me from trying some, though. The tofu was delicious (this is the Coco Bowl).

VX aka Vegan Cross - I had no idea this place existed and thankfully someone Facebook mentioned VX and I eventually figured out that meant "Vegan Cross" thanks to Google. A quick peek at their Instagram showed delicious-looking pastries and from that alone, it was on my list. We got this delicious berry tart (below) and the vegan cheese toastie (on a bun). They did not have the Francine in stock that day or I would have been all over that. I also stocked up on Veggo bars, some random chocolate and a package of shelf-stable individual soy creamers so I could make it through my 8 hour flight back to NYC via Paris caffeinated-enough.

Norman's Coach & Horses - We made sure we got to a (vegetarian) pub to eat pub food. Is that silly? We did it anyway. I wasn't feeling well that day so I really had to rally to get there and eat some of this but I did it because it was important to me to eat vegan pub food in London. I believe this was the Shepherd's Pie and Fish & Chips with peas?  I don't remember. It was decent and I was happy to have eaten it, even if my cramps were trying to squash all of the joy in my life that day.