Tag Archives: health

“I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas”

Here is a post by a guest blogger: my sister, Emily Horton.  She recently took a course called “Master Recycler Program” from a local agency aiming to maximize sustainability in the Eugene/Springfield area of Oregon.  After having taken the course, she tells me that she feels her life has new direction and purpose as she seeks to implement some of the ideas and strategies she has learned.

As “pay back” for the class, students are required to fulfill a certain amount of volunteer work.  She wants to develop presentations to give in local classrooms and also to publish some of her ideas and experiences.  

She welcomes any comments and feedback you have on her article!

“I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas”

With Christmas looming right around the corner and three young children to consider, I am beginning to brainstorm my holiday plan.  When I think back to Christmases past, I see visions of trashbags full of plastic packaging dancing in my head.  In the Lane County Waste Management Master Recycler Program, I learned it’s okay that I can’t afford all the gizmos and hoopla our consumer-based culture has come to expect from the holidays: Mother Earth can’t afford it either.  And so I sit in the November rain, pondering how to make this season go easy on the Earth and my pocketbook, but heavy on the festivities.

Such an outcome is possible if we use the Green Triangle.  Ernest Callenbach developed the Green Triangle as a way to visualize the connection between our personal well-being, the health of our planet and our economy.  Picture a triangle with each point representing one of the aforementioned factors.  Every decision we make, everything we buy affects all three points in a similar way.

So when we choose to clean our yard with a rake instead of a leafblower, we positively affect our personal health with exercise, our earth’s health with a zero-emissions human-powered tool, and our financial health with a one-time, low-cost investment and no additional fuel or tune-ups required.  When we make a decision that is responsible and positive for the earth, we positively affect our health, and definitely save money.

Now to take the Green Triangle theory and apply it to my holiday dilemma.  Our family’s main holiday priority is making happy memories for the kids and infusing the season with meaning.  In addition to the Eugene Register-Guard, I check the Eugene Weekly and Oregon Family Newsletter for free or low-cost family events in the area.  Our favorites become annual traditions, like the free live nativity at Herrick’s Farm and the open house at Heceta Head Lighthouse.

While we try not to focus on gifts, we do like to spoil the kids a little at Christmas.  In years past we spent $200 or more at major corporate retailers and really didn’t have much to show for it, and nothing cherished or special.  But last year we bought a few beautiful toys and puzzles from a local family-owned toy & hobby shop and then spent the rest of our budget at non-profit second-hand stores like Teen Challenge and St. Vincent de Paul’s.  It feels good to support local businesses (it’s great for the economy, too!), it’s good for the planet to buy non-plastic, minimally-packaged gifts (especially second-hand) and we spend less money while giving better gifts.

Why stress and work overtime to fund your Christmas this year?  I see everyone’s lives improving dramatically as we use the Green Triangle to guide our daily decisions and purchases.  There’s no better time than now to start, so go ahead, give it a try!

For more information on the Green Triangle, visit

 http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC26/Callnbch.htm and read his original article.

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The Wary Eater’s Field Guide to Tofu

In today’s health- and weight-conscious society, where the often disparaged tofu waits on the sidelines for the chance to demonstrate its delightful dietary dynamo, an introduction is needed for people who don’t know about the positive aspects of tofu but have heard that it is kryptonite to the taste buds.  I am certain that with a bit of hands-on, or rather “teeth-on,” exploration of this little-understood and much maligned food, their culinary horizons will be expanded to encompass the enviable opportunity to pompously exclaim, “You’ve NEVER eaten tofu?  How sad…”



Titles I considered:
 “Tofu – One Woman’s Quest for Calcium”


“Tofu – Not as Disgusting as You Think!”


“Tofu – Eat It or You Don’t Get Any Ice Cream!”



Tofu is a cool food we got from the Chinese, who have eaten it for thousands of years without ever feeling the need to ridicule each other about it. They refer to it as “the meat without bones;” in fact, it was first developed as a meat substitute for the Buddhist monks who are strict vegetarians. Tofu is a relatively inexpensive, highly digestible protein that has no cholesterol, is low in calories, high in calcium and also provides iron. People will complain that it is high in fat while stuffing the last of a quart of ice cream into their mouths. The truth is, a person eating a healthy diet is not going to max out on fat intake by enjoying a tofu entrée.



People also whine that tofu is “tasteless,” but this is precisely what gives it its versatility. It can be mixed with seasonings and baked into all kinds of shapes like “meatballs,” “meatloaf,” and “burgers,” or sautéed with just about any kind of sauce.

 It can even be used in a variety of desserts.

If it helps, think of it as eating beans – tofu is simply processed soybeans where the curd is mixed with a coagulant so it sticks together in a block like soft cheese. Picture refried beans out of a can… it doesn’t look so much like pinto beans as like brown goo, but people enjoy it. So don’t think “weird,” think “bean.”



I understand firsthand the deeply entrenched resistance to eating tofu; it has been a running gag in American culture for so long that even my own daughter is prejudiced. She’ll eat it disguised as a tofu burger or hot dog, but the other day I had her taste a really obvious piece that I had sautéed until crispy in oil and soy sauce (I only had to pay her a dollar), and she concluded, “It tastes pretty good, except I hate tofu.”



So for folks who are similarly wary of trying tofu, I highly recommend starting out with the aforementioned burgers and hot dogs. These can often be found in the frozen food section of a major grocery store, though it may be necessary to venture out to a health food store, especially in a region whose specialty dish is spelled “B-B-Q.” The burger and hot dog shapes lend credibility through their superstar status in American tradition and thus are a better bet that they’ll take the first bite if you’re going for the bait and switch approach with the kids (this technique also works on your own inner child): “Here, eat this… do you like it? It’s tofu.”



When you’re bored of this game and are ready to make a meal using raw tofu (I promise it’s far less disgusting than handling a slab of bloody meat), I recommend starting with recipes that lend themselves to best-selling vegetarian cookbook author Mollie Katzen’s wise advice on how to serve tofu to children (this includes disdainful spouses, by the way): “Lots of ketchup!!!” This harkens back to the previous suggestion of “make it at least vaguely recognizable as something they’ve managed to choke down before.” I find that “crispy with ketchup” fits the bill.



First, the intrepid chef must find the ingredient. Clever places tofu will hide: in the refrigerated section near the eggs or in the produce department near those over-priced lettuce mixes. It might be necessary to ask a store employee. I promise they won’t laugh, unless of course they don’t carry it, in which case the correct move is to laugh self-righteously back at them and say, “You don’t carry TOFU?!? This IS the 21st century, you know!” and flounce out of the store. It will be fun.



So, having scored some bean curd (buy a pound of “firm” for this), proceed to the kitchen, heat up a non-stick frying pan to medium-high, cover the bottom of the pan with about two tablespoons of vegetable oil and, while it’s getting hot, cut the tofu into “chicken-strip” sized slices. Sometimes I like to get fancy by dipping each slice in beaten egg and then in seasoned bread crumbs before cooking. Fry for about three to five minutes on one side, add some soy sauce (about a tablespoon), then flip them and sauté the other side until they are golden brown.  More soy sauce can then be added, to taste, or even teriyaki, peanut or BBQ sauce… the possibilities are endless.  The kids, of course, are liable to want ketchup.

Another easy and delicious dish can be made by crumbling the tofu, mixing in some salt and pepper and adding some minced onions, bell peppers, and/or mushrooms before sautéing (a pinch of turmeric will make it look yellow like scrambled eggs.) Just make sure the tofu is cooked until good and crispy, and a bit salty, so it goes with all the ketchup. Or try adding grated cheese and salsa after cooking for a “huevos rancheros” deal.



Mollie Katzen also suggests tricking kids by sneaking mashed tofu into mashed potatoes. This ruse may work for tiny kids who don’t know any better, or for kids who play video games with one hand and eat with the other. But most people unmask snuck food eventually, and then they’ll probably hate tofu just for spite. An honest approach is best – “It’s not your usual dead cow, I know, but it’s what I cooked, so eat it or you don’t get any ice cream.”



Freezing tofu first gives it a more meaty texture when used in any of the above recipes. They say this preparation makes the tofu a great substitute for ground beef or cubed chicken in common recipes. As far as “meat-substitute” goes, however, I find the best bet is just to make friends with a new food. The only way tofu could ever satisfy a hankering for charred flesh is if a person were a Buddhist monk. So just give it a chance as its own individual foodstuff.



And enjoy!

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Vaccine hysteria

I’ve been following the controversy over immunizations for many years, and the only thing I have become 100% convinced of is, if you want to find people who are passionately, violently, even rabidly on one side of a fence or the other, start talking about vaccines.

Of all the issues which it seems we should be calm and rational about, but aren’t, this takes the gold medal.  And news sites like CNN like to feed the frenzy with regular articles such as the one they posted a few days ago: measles outbreak may be linked to vaccine fears.

Perhaps because it deals with children’s safety, people tend to get their panties not only in a bunch but hooked up over their ears when they start to talk about this.  You’ve got the people who’ve only ever listened to the fearmongering of the medical establishment that says: if you don’t inject this poisonous material directly into your child’s bloodstream, starting with a newborn hepatitis shot that will protect the kid should he or she ever choose to become a slutty drug user, and followed by however many shots we will eventually develop for things ranging from polio to illnesses as mild as the chicken pox, then the poor creature will surely contract a plague that will eat them alive.  That’ll be $100, please.

Then you’ve got the other side who, by necessity, must match the passionate rhetoric with their own intensity just to be heard.  And you know, they are driven by fear too.  Fear of brain damage, autism, even death.  

Both sides point fingers and accuse the other of their irresponsibility in not accepting the other’s position.  It reminds me of some religious arguments I’ve heard: the one side says, my religion insists that you must accept my religion or you are doomed, and the other side says, I don’t accept your religion so leave me alone!

But this is science, you might correctly point out, not religion.  Except that there are actual scientific studies which appear to support both sides of the argument.  So it seems to come down to, which studies do you “believe” are valid enough to base a possibly life-changing decision on.

And once you’ve decided which studies are valid, roll them up and beat the opposition with them ’til they’re a bloody pulp.

I wonder if we will ever come to a point where we can figure this thing out like grown-ups and not like tiny kids running from ghosts.

Our kids deserve better.

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