My month of going green started slow, but I began in my kitchen.
First, I started bags in my kitchen for aluminum cans, steel cans, plastic containers and for the endless junk mail that flows into my house.
I had glass but wasn’t sure what to do with it. The local recycling center doesn’t take glass and had signs up about not taking cardboard.
Glass was maybe dangerous, but cardboard?
I asked a guy at the county recycling center. He told me the mill the county sends the cardboard to was full and couldn’t get rid of its stockpile.
“They send it overseas to China,” he told me. “But with the Trump,” he rolled his eyes, “a lot of that has been on hold.”
We’re currently in a trade war with China, and he was telling me recycling had been affected by it, but why would China want our cardboard in the first place?
“Oh, they grind it up and make the heavier cardboard,” the man told me.
I thanked him and promised to come back. I was just getting started and only had maybe three or four cans at the house and barely a bag of credit card offers, car lot advertisements and money-saving coupons on biscuits.
Still, I was trying.
Along with the recycling, I began taking my vegetable and fruit scraps out to a corner of my backyard garden. With luck, this will become my new compost heap and not a cool new meeting place for local raccoons looking for love.
I have enough trouble with the deer.
Around the house and at work, I made a point of turning out unnecessary lights. I monitored my driving.
Less was better, I thought. I would have tried incorporating my morning commute with my exercise plan, but the roads from my house to Charleston are narrow and people fly down them.
I’d make a lousy hood ornament.
At first, I worried about what I was going to eat. To reduce my environmental impact, I vowed to buy as much as I could that came from local farmers, which would reduce the amount of travel and handling required to bring the food I ate to the market.
The reduced selection shocked me.
Farmers markets only carry what’s in season and what grows within the area they serve. Gone was the morning banana for my oatmeal. I said goodbye to mangoes and my two-for-a-buck lunchbox-sized apples from Kroger.
None of those grow in the hills of West Virginia or anywhere within a modest driving distance.
Instead, at the Capitol Market, there were West Virginia peaches for $1.99 a pound — a bit more than what was being sold at the grocery store, though they smelled amazing.
I could also have cantaloupes, I was told, if I came back around early next week.
Otherwise, there was plenty of zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes and cabbage to be had.
Cheese was off the menu, too.
The nearest local cheese came from about four hours away, to the northeast. A friend said I could get it delivered through the Appalachian Farm Collective, but I didn’t see that they had any cheese on their website.
For meat, I started at Johnnies Fresh Meat Market, but they told me they got most of their products from the Midwest. This was closer than some stores, which get their beef from as far away as Mexico.
The clerk at the register told me they did do a little business with a farm near Parkersburg. The cuts were high quality, but maybe a bit beyond my typical budget and definitely outside my regular diet.
I eat a lot of boring, boneless chicken breast. Chicken breast has lots of protein, fewer calories per serving compared to beef, pork or vegetable sources, and it’s filling.
It’s also cheap — sometimes for as little as about 75 cents a pound, if you don’t mind de-boning a split chicken breast, and I don’t.
Among environmental circles, meat is a problem.
Several earth-friendly sources encourage quitting or sharply reducing meat consumption. It’s not just PETA that thinks we should all go vegan. The United Nations suggests we ought to think about it, too.
According to its Food and Agriculture Organization, raising animals for meat, particularly cows, is bad for the environment. Beef farmers in places like South America have cleared incredible amounts of rain forest to create grazing land.
Cows require a lot of food, a lot of water and leave a lot of waste.
There’s even some worry about cow flatulence contributing to global warming (not the greenhouse gas you were expecting), and multiple sources point out that cows are a crummy food source if you’re trying to feed as many people as possible.
You get more bang for your buck with beans. You can feed more people and, of course, there’s less cow flatulence (though if we’re all eating beans, we might be trading one kind of greenhouse gas for another).
Open rebellion on homefront
I could eat less meat, I thought. I’d spent 12 months as a vegan and then another 10 or 11 as a vegetarian before finally throwing in the towel.
I could do another month, I thought, but my son spoke up.
“You’re not going vegan again, are you?” he asked. “That was the worst.”
“We’re just going to cut back,” I said.
“You can,” he told me.
He had his own money and he was perfectly happy to buy his own beef jerky and pepperoni, if that’s what needed to be done.
Cutting back on meat was fine, eating a few more beans was fine, but I didn’t really want to give up meat entirely again, unless I had to — and I didn’t.
Through a Facebook friend, I found out about Call’s Meat Market in Hurricane, a little butcher shop off Teays Valley Road.
The inside of the store looked like a deli with a wall of refrigerated shelves holding a few plastic-wrapped packages of meat. There were other packages behind a short row of glass freezer doors.
When I came through the door, Alisa Grady at the counter was putting together an order of hot dogs for a nervously impatient woman who might have been burning a chunk of her lunch break getting food for her office.
After the woman left with her order, I explained my quest and asked where the butcher’s shop got their meat.
“We have a couple of farm suppliers, but we get a lot of it from local county fairs,” she said.
That sounded about as local as I could ask for.
I picked up a selection of meats to try, including a little chicken breast, as well as a dozen ungraded, farm fresh eggs.
If banana oatmeal was out of the question, maybe I could make a few veggie omelets for breakfast, but Alisa had to talk me through buying ungraded eggs. Why weren’t they graded? What was wrong with them? Were they really from chickens?
“The eggs are fine,” she said. “It just means that they might not all be the same size or the same color.”
Farm chickens don’t have to punch a clock and toe the line, apparently.
“They’re good eggs,” she assured me again. “And you’ll love how they taste.”
Other than the eggs, which were about double the price of what I usually pay for eggs, most of the prices were comparable to or just slightly higher than what I normally paid at my grocery store — not that I buy much beef because it costs a lot more than chicken.
The meat cutter on duty for the day, a big bear of a man named Joe Waugh, promised me I was going to love what I bought.
“You’ll never want to go back to grocery store meat,” he said.
I promised to give it a try.
Not the full granola
I didn’t completely give up on grocery store shopping.
I still had to buy pet food, toothpaste and kitchen staples that weren’t grown or raised in the area, like flour, coffee and Halo Top ice cream, which is made by wizards in California and is probably about as environmentally friendly as a Styrofoam beer cooler full of Legos.
When shopping, I managed to remember to bring my new, reusable shopping bags with me about half the time. Because I only had four bags, grocery shopping happened a little more often; when I left the bags in the car, I felt guilty, but not guilty enough to hold up the line and go out to the parking lot to get them.