Hannah Scribbles

Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page

The Hypocrisy in Going Green

In Career, The Great Outdoors on January 28, 2013 at 12:32 pm

There are two stop signs, seven roadways, 19 stoplights and 40 minutes separating me from my internship- if I take the fast way.

I know this because I think about it every Thursday and Friday morning as I get ready for my internship at The Green Economy, an e-magazine devoted to a growing section of the global economy that deals in clean technology, energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Over my time working for the publication, I have come to understand the hypocrisy of driving my 2005 Pontiac Vibe 124 miles each week to write for a magazine promoting green technologies that make my weekly fuel-up on gasoline seem old-fashioned. I have one thing to say in self defense: it’s not my fault.

America is built around automobiles. The country’s vast network of paved roadways was built to reduce wear on tires, and a portion of land from each newly constructed building is designated for parking vehicles. Sidewalks, bike lanes and fast food restaurant chains were built based on an understanding that the average person depends on cars for transportation.

Since Henry Ford’s assembly line first mass produced the Model-T, automobiles have insinuated themselves into the American way of life and refused to let go. As more companies invested in and began lobbying for automobiles, rail travel fell to the fringes in favor of the personal freedom afforded by owning your own car.

Mpla streetcar, 1923

At its peak in the 1920s, the railroad industry, moved about 1.2 billion people. But once more people began traveling by car, many railroad companies gave up passenger service, decommissioned passenger rails and turned to freight hauling to make back their money. Where there used to be a thriving network of railway transportation linking smaller cities around the country, now there are fewer options to travel between large cities. Times have changed since the automobile industry started figuring more prominently into national infrastructure. The Communipaw Terminal linking New Jersey lines to my hometown in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania closed in the 1960s after being in action for 100 years.

Fast access to New York City? Who would ever want that?

Fast access to New York City? Who would ever want that?

Before I started my internship, I spent a frustrating afternoon calculating possible bus routes, train routes and hybrid routes to get me to and fro. An outsider in New Jersey, I expected the transportation system so close to New York City to be more connected than the buses at home, which ran only once per hour. I looked at the times and, where possible, the costs of each route.  It was important for me to take public transportation seriously when considering the best way to reduce my carbon footprint. But in the end I decided to just drive my car.


New Jersey’s public transport system can be impractical!  With four transfers – two buses, one light rail train and a mile of walking – public transportation would take more than the two hours and 53 minutes listed on the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s website.   If I wanted to take the train to Princeton, I’d have to leave an hour and 45 minutes for the train ride and an additional hour to walk to and from the terminal each way. At $20.50 roundtrip, taking the train would cost me $41 per week, more than the cost of a full tank of regular unleaded.

I think about all this as I decide which road is best to take to my internship. There’s the fast way, which takes me 11 miles north on 287 before dropping 25 miles south on Route 1. The fast way is dull, gray and repetitive – how many times can you drive past Dunkin’ Donuts before it becomes another faceless building you don’t have time to think about?

Monstrous Potholes

The short way, only 25 miles long, takes an additional 20 minutes as it twists southwest from my Laurence Harbor home across a swathe of tiny municipalities. It is full of stoplights and drivers obeying the speed limits, but it has enough character that I remember the horse farm, asphalt plant, kielbasa deli and farmer’s market I pass along the way. But while I remember the pleasant scenery, my car remembers the pot holes and asphalt patching that crop up on county and municipal roads.

While there are indications that transportation trends are changing – public transportation usage increased by 2.1 percent in key cities compared to 2011, according to results from the American Public Transportation Association’s 2012 report – the budget deficit threatens transportation funding across the country. I intern at The Green Economy because of the magazine’s focus on empowering green industry and sustainable practices. As people become more aware of climate change’s impacts on America’s coastline and interior, they start looking for an alternative way of living. One of the most important aspects to American culture is how we get where we go.

New Jersey’s Long Range Transportation Plan calls for road repairs and expansions in public transportation to make room for the 1 million new workers expected to enter the state by 2030. However, maintaining the current transportation system already challenges state resources, and much of the budget was thrown into question because of Superstorm Sandy, which is estimated to cost $29.4 billion in repairs.

It does not look like public transportation is going to see any attention in the immediate future, and it takes money to expand infrastructure to accommodate increasing ridership. So, no matter how sick of driving I get, I do not expect to find a better way of getting to my internship than by car any time soon.

While I’m not going to give up my mission of promoting sustainable living – just ask me about composting or dumpster diving – transportation is just one more thing I, like millions of other Americans, have to work on improving. I plan to keep writing about sustainability issues, but in the meantime I’ll try not to be too critical of my shortcomings when I sit down in the driver’s seat for another day on the road.


Hey! It’s Food, Not Garbage

In Career, The Great Outdoors on January 14, 2013 at 9:07 pm

I went dumpster diving Thursday night.

I got the idea for this blog from Jeremy Seifert’s documentary “Dive!” In his documentary, the Los Angeles “diver” traces the system of food waste in America and examines how anyone could go hungry in the richest country in the world. Over the course of the film, he found that a lot of good food was ending up in the trash instead of at food banks.  After watching “Dive!” I felt motivated to do some independent investigation in my hometown. I wanted to see the food waste for myself.

Dive! Trailer from Compeller Pictures on Vimeo.

The Lehigh Valley is a farmer’s market community hosting a number of weekly markets for regional farmers (the Easton Farmer’s Market, which takes place every Saturday year-round, has been running since before America was a country). But the Lehigh Valley also has a growing population and an expanding network of chain grocery stores competing for people’s grocery money. The Valley offers food stores such as Giant, Weis, Redner’s Warehouse Market, Aldi’s, Bottom Dollar Foods, Wegman’s, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target, BJ’s Warehouse and Stop n’ Shop – sometimes around the corner from one another.

My friend Val picked my brother, Jake, and I up from our apartment at 11 p.m. We’d all seen the documentary and wanted to see whether Jeremy’s depiction was accurate – we just weren’t sure it was late enough.

One of the biggest problems with dumpster diving is light. It’s inescapable. And, since the streetlamp was invented it’s brought more people out at night for longer. The suburbs are well lit and our small Easton and Bethlehem shine brighter. In some parking lots the lights bleach the pavement. Most of the time there is no one sitting inside the dark car, but every so often Jake or Val pointed out someone lurking nearby. At one store we caught the attention of idling truck drivers and drove away without stopping to check the dumpster.

freegan, Panera Bread, bread bowl, free food

Thanks, Panera!

Our first stop was Panera Bread, a delightfully isolated store with dumpsters enclosed behind chain link fencing. Jake went first to scout. After a minute he hopped the fence and disappeared. Curious, I followed.

The fence, taller than me, was daunting. Jake was already leaning into one of the dumpsters and I was anxious to avoid being spotted. I walked around the fence’s perimeter to find the best way in. Then I returned to the gate and flipped the latch. The gate wasn’t locked.

We hauled several long baguettes and sliced loaves before leaving the rest for the garbage truck.  It wasn’t glamorous.  In fact, between the coffee grounds and moist napkins, some of the bags we opened were downright gross.  I would call it a success, though. All told, we visited two Panera stores that night and made away with enough sandwich bread for the month split two ways.

dumpster diving, fresh vegetables, best buy date

Processing our Produce

Our food system has no concept of waste reduction. If one avocado in the bag goes soft the store throws all five out. One egg breaks and they toss the carton. Dairy approaches its “best by” date and is snapped off the shelves faster than the last box of Twinkies. Common sense would prevent the waste, but America’s food system runs on efficiency, not conservancy.

All the large grocery stores we visited that night used industrial-strength food compactors. We drove around the Lehigh Valley most of the night in search of a store that still used dumpsters. The drive took us west to Airport Road and back east to Phillipsburg. Most of it was aimless hunting fueled by excitement and – in my case – 36 ounces of caffeine from the day before.

After stopping at D&D for a quick midnight snack of jellied doughnuts we hit the road again looking for smaller stores. Finally, we hit the jackpot.

I don’t have any pictures of Val balancing on the edge of a full trash bin or evidence that Jacob ever did disappear headfirst into a half-empty dumpster to rescue potatoes. We were too busy bagging groceries to take pictures, so I can’t prove that I ever stood in a dumpster with my brother sorting through bags of discarded apples and pears by flashlight.

But I can tell you that my dish drainer was brimming that night.

corporate food industry, food waste, dumpster diving, wasting food

Can you believe our haul? This crate has enough potatoes to feed an army – or me!

I can tell you that I ate generic Cap’n Crunch and yogurt for breakfast the next four days.

I got canker sores from the cereal.

I got canker sores from the cereal, but it’s worth it. Every time.

And I can tell you that I ate so many potato-zucchini dishes that I’ll never get the flu again.

fresh produce, fresh vegetables, dumpster diving, freegan

Eating Zucchini All Day Every Day

If you want to go late night food shopping, I have a few commonsense tips for you:

No. 1 The trick is to wear dark clothes

No. 2 Be sparing with your flashlight.

No. 3 BYOB (Bring your own bags)!!!

No. 4 Don’t make a mess. That’s just rude.

No. 5 Oh, don’t break and enter.  Trespassing is a no-no.

The Bookworm’s New Year’s Resolution

In Career on January 2, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Per Resolution passed Jan. 1, 2013 I hereby resolve not to buy any books during 2013 under the following conditions:

A. Provided that the above mentioned “books” do not include textbooks, class-relevant or relating in part or whole toward furthering my professional career upon May commencement. This excludes from the above Resolution all non-fiction books pertaining to the study and practice of journalism; biographies, autobiographies and memoirs of journalists; magazines, newspapers and other print journals of repute (see subclause A.1); explanatory non-fiction works dealing with relevant topics (see subclause A.2); general writing guides dealing with word usage and grammar; the 2012 AP Stylebook.

A.1 Whereas proposed print sources of repute include Nature, Scientific American, Science, National Geographic, Smithsonian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Wired, Popular Science, Discover, The New Yorker and Times. For the aforementioned sources, a stipend of $20 per month is to be provided for discretionary spending that month only without rollover. Further sources may be approved pending review.

A.2 Relevant topics to include general science, physics, astronomy, pathology, human anatomy, animal physiology, information technologies, language, etymology, historical science, general nature, pollution and conservation, water sustainability, sustainable cities, philosophy, business, current political events and historical political events whereas said books deal in part with aforementioned current events.

philosophy, ethical theory, ethics, bookworm problems

B. Provided that above mentioned “books” do not include used books purchased in physical secondhand book stores for reasonable rates (those rates not exceeding $3.00 per paperback, $10 per hardback; dictionaries to be determined on an as-needed basis.)

used books, dictionary, bibliophile

The library of essential knowledge

C. Provided that the above mentioned “books” do not include those fiction and non-fiction titles intended as birthday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving or Christmas presents to friends or family. In such cases that the book is ordered ahead of time, it is thereby permissible to read said book before gifting it provided that the book does not become damaged, crinkled or stained with tea. Available funding to be assessed at time of purchase but is not to exceed $80 for the entirety of 2013; funding subject to cuts based on need as indicated in subclauses A.1 and A.2.

D. Provided the above mentioned “books” do not include paperback classics sold by street vendors deep in the heart of Brooklyn, whereas these purchases are legitimized by a second opinion on their status in classic literature beyond that of the seller and buyer. Maximum allowance is $2.50 per book.

E. Provided the above mentioned “books” do not include paperbacks and hardbacks recovered from garage sales, yard sales or estate sales.

F. Provided the above mentioned “books” do not include those quality books purchased from local library book sales and priced up to but not exceeding $5.00 per book in ordinary circumstances and $10.00 on special occasions.

Don't Underestimate Libraries

Don’t Underestimate Libraries

G. Provided the above mentioned “books” do not include those books released in 2013 that either conclude or further a series in which I have deeply invested interest.

"Kill ALL the Characters!"

“Kill ALL the Characters!”

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