Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Quiet Riot

Every now and then, I like to evaluate how we're doing with regard to "greening" our lives, and of course, the only real measure I have is to compare us to what other Americans are doing.

I ran our numbers today using this calculator, and after some really careful calculations of our food numbers, I have to admit that I am really embarrassed, but moreover, disappointed with us.

According to grocery store receipts, our diet breaks down as follows:

45% local
23% dry/bulk goods
32% non-local/other

I was surprised that our local numbers weren't a higher percentage of our diet. I tried to include meat (at about a cost of about $2 per person per day), which is all local, but isn't on any grocery lists, and I added the local milk, but what I was unable to accurately calculate is the produce we bought or grew last summer. There is no produce on our grocery receipts.

So, I started thinking about what we normally eat. For lunch yesterday we had leftover Borscht, boiled eggs and biscuits. The borscht was all local (except the vinegar). The biscuit recipe I use calls for butter (local), cream (local), salt, baking powder, sugar, and flour - all non-local.

If the soup is almost 100% local and the eggs are local (from my chickens and ducks), and some of the ingredients in the biscuits are local, what percentage of local is that meal?

For dinner we had porkchops, oven-fried potatoes, and cranberry jelly. Porkchops from the 1/4 pig we purchased in the fall (seasoned with non-local salt, pepper, cumin, onion powder and garlic powder, and local sage). The potatoes are local. The cranberry jelly is local cranberries and non-local sugar.

So, what portion of that meal is local versus non-local?

Lunch today is dried pasta (does dried pasta go in the "dry/bulk goods" category or the "prepared foods" category?) with a tomato/basil meat sauce comprised of local hamburg, homemade/frozen basil (all local except the nuts and salt), and home-canned tomato sauce.

What's obvious to me is that I need to keep better records of what we buy, especially at the Farmer's Market, farm stands and stores, bulk meat purchases, and PYO places. I also need to keep better track of what we get from the home garden. I was, for a while, but lost the spreadsheet when my computer crashed a few months ago.

I think our "local" numbers are better than is reflected, but I can't prove it, and so I'll go with what I can prove.

For the other areas, we're doing really well, except in one area, and that's consumer spending, which also surprised me. My girls tried to console me by saying stuff like the $450 beehive purchase isn't something usual, but I reminded them that there always seems to be something else that isn't usual to take its place ... like my new computer purchase a few months ago. There's always something, and so I let that number stand, too, with the resolution to do better.

As of January 27, 2010, our numbers are:

Transportation: We use 22% of the US average (about 10 gal of gasoline per person per month)

Electricity: We use about 45% of the US average, but 40% of our electricity is from hydro power, per the CMP report we are given annually. So, our actual *usage* is probably close to normal. We use about 583kWh per month, total.

Heating: We use 29% of the US average, but that's not just for heating our house. The number also includes what we use for heating water. Since we burn culled wood, all of which was free, our actual "heating" is probably 0% ;).

Garbage: We throw away only about 6% of what the average American does. That's one bag of garbage per week for our entire household. I didn't actually weigh our garbage, and I didn't calculate any costs of things discarded when we're out, but since we don't eat "out" much (although we do often 'carry out', but any waste there ends up in our one bag of garbage per week), I think those numbers are negligible and wouldn't change this number much ... although as with the food calcuations above, I might be unpleasantly surprised :).

Water: Our water bill says we use *24 units*. We're not, exactly, sure what kind of unit the number 24 constitutes, but water bills are usually calculated based on cubic feet or cubic yards. One cubic yard is 202 gallons of water. Based on that calculation, we use abou 54 gallons of water per day, which seems about right, based on our best guess (i.e. 20 gallons of water for showers, 10 gallons of water for flushing, 10 gallons of water for dishes, 10 gallons for "other"). Our water usage is about 11% of what the average American uses.

Consumer Goods: And here is where we really do match almost equally with the average American. I was disappointed to note that we spend about 87% of what the average American spends, and these are probably pre-Recession numbers. Our percentage may be higher in today's economic times. Of course, it's for things like a beehive and a computer, because mine crashed, and I used a computer for my job. I don't think a new beehive is a typical American purchase, although it may become one ;).

I didn't and don't make New Year's resolution, but I do resolve to better track our food purchases, especially as we start getting closer to spring and summer, when we spend the bulk of our food budget on stocking up, and I also resolve to better track our "consumer spending" and get it back under control. It's not a bad thing to buy a beehive or replace a computer, but there have been a few consumer choices we've made in the past six months that we could have done better on.

I'm not thrilled with our numbers. I'd love to be at 10% in everything, because I do believe we are the "average" American family, and nothing we're doing is so outrageous or difficult. It only requires mindfulness, and in these times, we should remember that being mindful is the key to preparedness ... and survival.


  1. I'm always curious about these calculators. I don't know who these average people are that we're comparing ourselves to. We use far less heat, than most people I know, but it isn't really reflected in these calculators. The fact that we buy any local food puts us head and shoulders above most americans, but again it isn't reflected. As a result, I refuse to look at any more calculators because they just irritate me.

    You're doing great. Ignore the calculator.

  2. I've had the same sorts of questions about calculating percentages of local vs. non-local food. Do we divvy it up by amount spent? Calories? Weight? Sheer numbers of ingredients? No one has ever been able to give me a good answer or rationale for an answer, so I just ignore such calculations (convenient, because I don't keep records as you apparently do) and keep doing what I can. I know a lot of our food is local, and I'm progressively getting to the point where more and more of it is so.

  3. See this shows how easily distracted I am--now I want to know how to make my own vinegar.