How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Three

Two years ago, in April, Kristl and I decided that it would be a good idea to start a blog about the way we live. A lot has changed in two years. If you are feeling like you could never live a more sustainable life, like it's too expensive or time consuming, consider that it took us almost three years living together to start living the way you see us today. Sustainable living takes a little while to get used to. It's a transition! So, in honor of Earth Day, we give you How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Three! (For the 2013 installment, click here, and for 2014's version, click here.) Last year, we used a system of colors, bold lettering, and strike-throughs to communicate what we had changed. Let's be real, it confused all of us more than it was worth. This year we are going to start from scratch, but follow the same pattern. So, if you go back to previous years, you'll be able to follow our progress pretty easily. If you don't, you'll still get the picture.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Cleaning almost exclusively with products derived from white vinegar or Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap Baby Mild
  • Using rags instead of paper towels - When appropriate, which is most of the time except for when pets are involved
  • Buying post-consumer recycled paper products and recycled aluminum foil - We used to roast veggies on foil, but now we roast them on our Sil-Pat, which is easily cleaned and infinitely reusable, so we rarely use foil anymore.
  • Downsizing our apartment and purging in the process - We moved last summer and definitely got rid of furniture and lots of stuff we didn't need
  • Not buying anything we don't need, especially clothing, books, gadgets, etc
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible - The less you bring in, the less you have to recycle or trash
  • Still using the same homemade washable swiffer cloths, because they are totally reusable
  • Simplifying and organizing our stuff - We hired a personal organizer to work with us a couple times to streamline our stuff. Organizing and downsizing frees us from clutter and helps us focus on the things that matter.
  • Running full dishwasher and laundry loads to conserve water
  • Recycling, obviously - our building separates paper goods from containers, because we are a six-flat and have to contract our own recycling service. Thanks, Chicago.

Projects related to self-care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo - Works like a charm
  • Using homemade deodorant - We finally settled on a recipe we really like
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil
  • Using Chinese medicine/chiropractic/massage/Reiki/nutritional supplements in addition to Western medicine to keep us healthy - It would be weird if we didn't use alternative medicine, Kristl is an acupuncturist, after all.
  • Using Oral Wellness HealThy Mouth Oil and EarthPaste to clean our teeth - No cavities and no added sweeteners.
  • Daily meditation practice, exercise, and reading - Healthy body, healthy brain.
  • Eating "Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition" for good health - See our blog about How We Eat
  • Using eco-friendly, reusable menstrual products 

Projects related to food:

  • Making at least one batch of bone broth in the pressure cooker per week - Gives the crock pot competition
  • Saving bacon fat and using it to cook other things - Butter and avocado oil tend to be our go-to fats these days, but bacon fat comes free with the bacon, so we totally use it.
  • Meal planning for the week, and buying groceries based off the plan - Helps us keep in our budget and limit food waste.
  • Planning large meals or doubling recipes that we can divide them out over 2-3 days so that we don't have to cook every day
  • We carbonate our own water with our Soda Stream and add lemon or lime to it - Our days of making syrups, infused liquors, and shrubs are pretty much over.
  • We definitely make mustard from scratch
  • We make our own mayo with the immersion blender - Keep an eye out for a video on that trick!
  • We cook 95% of our own meals - Try this at home, but remember, it took us a while to get to this point.
  • Participate in True Nature's meat and egg co-op  - $5/dozen for pastured eggs? Yes, please.
  • Participate in C&D Farm's meat co-op delivery - Part of a wedding gift that just keeps on giving
  • Buy produce from farmer's market or local farms in season
  • Buy local food and local products because we care about local business - See these posts for our restaurant and local products recommendations

Projects of the miscellaneous variety:

  • Not buying cable - It's really easy now, because one of the things we sold when we moved was our TV.
  • Making our own gifts - Much like Christmas 2013, we didn't spend too much on gifts for 2014. We would rather have good experiences with our friends and family than get things for and from them. When a gift is appropriate, we'll make it.
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw food
  • Using backyard (and maybe community garden) to grow food - We missed out on our old community garden plot this year, but not to worry, there are always locations to grow vegetables. Rachel has plenty of offers on the table and she's making plans.
  • Using mason jars for storage - We cut back on our random glass jar collection when we moved. Now we mostly use Mason jars and it does us just fine.
  • Worm composting - We didn't do the best job of worm composting on our own, but our current living situation pays someone to worm compost in the basement. So we totally take advantage of that service our building offers.
  • Budgeting with You Need A Budget (YNAB) - Our commitment to use YNAB keeps us on budget and honest about the money we have coming in and going out. Confused how this relates to sustainability? Sustainability is all about using resources wisely. Money is a resource, and if you are using your money wisely, that will allow you to use your other resources in a sustainable manner. (And if you use the link above, you save 10% off the purchase price!)
  • Donating to people and projects that are actively working to make the world a better place - If you want to play along, we have some suggestions
  • Working at home/within walking distance of home - This is a transition that has made the next point possible
  • Living CAR FREE - We sold our car almost two months ago, and have adjusted just fine. We use the CTA more, we signed up for Enterprise CarShare, and we just bought Rachel a new bike to help with the transition. However, day to day, unless we are getting a huge load of groceries or going way out of our neighborhood, we don't really notice the difference. The best part is we don't have to worry about parking, street cleaning, city stickers, insurance, etc.

There you have it, our lives in sustainability this year! There are probably things we do that we don't realize. We are in deep, folks!

Sustainable living, especially in the city or on a small budget, is not a competition. It's not about keeping up with anyone; every little bit counts. Tell us what you are doing to live the sustainable lifestyle! Comment below or on our Earth Day post on Facebook

Grocery Delivery Series: Instacart

Saturday is our month-a-versary of selling our car, and I think we are really getting into the groove. There have been no tears, we've gotten a lot of quick rides from friends, our walking muscles are getting really strong, everything is going well. This week our grocery delivery option was Instacart and it was really cool.  

When we started this project, we told you we were going to show you a bunch a different options. The first week was Door to Door Organics, which had a specific vegetable box, for a specific day delivery, with optional add-ons. Week two, was Newleaf Natural Grocery, which only delivers produce, but it was a great variety for a great price. With Instacart, you have complete control over what you get AND what day you get it. In fact, depending on when you order, you can specify an approximate delivery time. That, my friends, is a lot of control.

 

In our zip code, Instacart will deliver to us from Whole Foods, Costco, Mariano's, Jewel, or Food4 Less. We chose Whole Foods because we are most familiar with their offerings, but in the future, it might be interesting to see how Instacart works for a different location, like Costco. (It seems like you don't need a Costco membership to order from them, so that's an interesting loophole.) When you select the store, you are presented with a list of items that available at the store. The Instacart inventory does not match the entire Whole Foods inventory, because it would be inefficient to inventory the entire store every day. However, if an item is not available on Instacart's list, you can request it, (add a picture and/or description) and if a bunch of people keep requesting the same thing, they will add the item to their list.

 

For example, we used Instacart once in February because there was a blizzard and we needed to go shopping. We wanted a rotisserie chicken, but it was not listed on their site. The shopper was able to find it, and delivered it to us just fine. This time, when I went to add it as a special item, it was already available. So, enough people have been requesting rotisserie chickens through Instacart that they decided to add it to their site as a regular offering. The system is working, people.

 

The other nice thing about Instacart is that you are not required to buy a specific box or bag. We were able to be more specific about what we wanted and we could plan better. We did not need to return to another store for vegetables later in the week, like we did the two previous weeks. If you eat fewer vegetables than we do, you would not need to order as many from Instacart. Hell, you could just order ten bags of tortilla chips if you wanted. And a rotisserie chicken. Whatever you are into.

 

In terms of cost, Instacart is pretty comparable to the the cost of the vegetables from Newleaf, but it is prorated for convenience: quicker delivery has a slightly more expensive delivery cost, but all delivery is same day. Although, if you just want to try it out, we will have a coupon code for $10 off at the end of the post. Their pricing is independent of the store you are buying from, I'm not exactly sure why. It could be because they keep their pricing consistent regionally and do not change pricing based on zip code or sales in stores. However, if you look at the prices listed below, most of the prices are the same as if we had just bought those items from the Whole Foods.

 

Here is what we bought, all items are organic:

  • 1 lb 50/50 greens mix - $5.99
  • 5 lb bag of carrots - $4.99
  • 5 lb bag of yukon gold potatoes $5.99
  • 2 red bartlett pears - $1.58
  • 1 head cauliflower - $3.99
  • 1 orange bell pepper - $1.20
  • 2 celery crowns - $4.41
  • 3 garnet yams - $4.53
  • 1 head cabbage - $1.96
  • 1 yellow onion - $0.55
  • 1 red bell pepper - $1.20
  • 1 bag frozen chopped spinach - $1.99
  • 1 rotisserie chicken - $14.00
  • 2 Kalona cottage cheese - $9.38

Instacart Veggies

That brings us out to $61.76 total, but if you take out the chicken and the cheese, it's only $38.38. That's only three dollars more than what we spent at Newleaf, and it really did last us a week. We had a credit on our account from a mistake our shopper made the first time we used Instacart (remember, it was the crazy blizzard in February, I'm not mad about it), so our delivery was free. Typically, your delivery will cost you anywhere between $4 and $10, it just depends on how quickly you want your groceries and how much you are ordering.

 

So, while Instacart might seem completely luxurious, over-the-top, and something that only fancy people do, if you don't have a car, you want to get a lot of food for a party, or stock up on bulk food from Costco, the delivery fees are minimal in comparison to the payoff. Instacart doesn't waste resources either. If they have a lot of orders going from one location to a certain neighborhood, they will batch orders under one shopper. It saves gas to have one person to be driving for several households than for them all to be driving. It may not seem sustainable at face value, but it actually may be more sustainable than us all going shopping by ourselves.

 

How about you? Have you tried Instacart? Do you want to? This link will give you $10 off your first order. That's at least free delivery and maybe a free five pound bag of carrots, if you looking for a lot of carrots like us. If you are interested in reading our other grocery delivery reviews, you can read about Door to Door Organics here and learn about Newleaf Natural Grocery's Produce Box here.

 

 As always, feel free to drop us a line if you have any questions or comments. We'd love to hear if you think this series is helpful or if you have suggestions for future blog posts. Thanks for reading!

Grocery Delivery Series: Newleaf Natural Grocery

Most people would tell you that having options is important to grocery shopping. You need to know what you are eating, that the quality will be high, and that you will be able to get the ingredients you need. Choice, however, can be a double edged sword; too many decisions can make planning what you are going to eat a huge a hurdle to overcome. When you cook as much as we do, meal planning can be a bit of a chore if the only restrictions are "no processed foods and no added sugar." We often end up with decision fatigue. The Newleaf Natural Grocery Produce Box was a relief for us, because it took away all choice while still giving us great variety and quality.  

Newleaf Natural Grocery is located on Loyola Ave, within convenient walking distance of our house. This store is usually a nice place to swing through if we need more of something for a dish we're making or if we need a quick snack on the way to somewhere. It is very small. I think it may be the smallest grocery I have ever been inside, you do one loop around and that's it. The nice thing is that they pretty much have one of everything in that tiny store, and it seems like they run a pretty efficient ship.

 

A big part of Newleaf's business is their weekly organic vegetable and fruit delivery service. Each week they post of list of 8-9 vegetables and 5-6 fruits and then you can decide what type of box you want. There are small, medium, and large mixed boxes, just vegetable, just fruit, a half fruit box, and a raw box (which contains fewer starchy vegetables). If you are picking up directly from the store, you can choose which day (Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday). If you are getting home delivery, your delivery day depends on your location. They deliver as far south as Cermak, about as far west as Western (though you should look at the map), and as far north as Wilmette. Delivery costs $5. Boom!

 

We ordered the "just vegetable" box and a raw box, because you know we like a lot of produce, and we thought it would be cool to have a variety of fruits for a change. You pay in advance, so this cost us $35.

Ok, cool, so what did we get..

3 bags of green beans

2 bunches of collards

2 heads of lettuce

2 bunches of carrots

1 pound of strawberries

4 small onions

2 bunches of broccoli

2 apples

1 1/4lb blackberries

1 avocado

3 oranges

2 tangerines

New Leaf Veggies

Hey, that's not a bad collection of produce. That's the selection from last week, this is what people got this week. Also, it was a lot more fruit than we have been eating, so consequently, we are still working on the fruit well into this week. Everything was ready on time when I went to pick it up on Tuesday. It was all fresh and well packaged. Kristl noted something we haven't seen in months: the lettuce still had dirt on it! Don't freak out, this is pretty cool. It probably passed through fewer hands than most of the very "clean" lettuce we've been eating all winter. This was oddly comforting and made the lettuce seem a little healthier, even if it wasn't. (Dirt = bacteria = probably not a bad thing if you're eating it.)

 

Since we didn't have to decide what vegetables were going to buy, we just made up our meal plan from what we were given. We got meat from C&D Family Farms (also delivered to our door, on Saturday, more on that in a future blog post), and picked up dairy and other items from Morse Fresh Market, which is less than 1/2 a mile a way. Suddenly this whole carless grocery shopping thing is looking a lot less difficult. We bought potatoes, cabbage, and a giant sweet potato for about $10 later in the week, but that was all the produce we added on. We still have green beans and onions. It means the Newleaf Produce Box stocked us up pretty well. If you aren't eating a lot of vegetables, you will probably be fine with the small ($15) or medium($25.50) box. It's really affordable!

 

Who would we recommend this option to?

 

  • Anyone who wants home delivery within Newleaf's delivery area (you do have to meet this requirement)
  • People with decision fatigue around vegetable and fruit choice, who want variety without hassle
  • People on a budget; this food delivery option is very affordable
  • Anyone who wants to support the little guy, Newleaf is a small business and they source from small businesses
  • Anyone who wants to eat local in the growing season, they get vegetables from Fat Blossom Farm and fruit from Seedling Orchard

The other nice thing about the Newleaf Produce Box is that there isn't a long term commitment. You can get it once to try it out, like we did, or you can set up a recurring order to happen every week. It's up to you! Once you have made the transition to prioritizing local food, and sustainably grown produce, finding simple solutions like this is such a relief. Kristl and I are definitely going to supplement our winter diet with the occasional Newleaf Produce Box from now on.

 

So far, this grocery delivery series is making Kristl and me feel like the Ultimate Queens of Produce. We just sit around and produce comes to us. Next week's review features Instacart, which makes you feel super fancy, because they deliver same day and you can get pretty much whatever you want from wherever you want (a slight overstatement). If you missed our review of Door to Door Organics from last week, you can read about it here, and if you want to try it out be sure to contact us for an awesome Door to Door discount code!

 

Grocery Delivery Series: Door to Door Organics

Welcome to week 1 of our Grocery Delivery Series! Today we are featuring Door to Door Organics. The concept here is very simple. First, you choose a type (all vegetable, all fruit, or mixed) and size (bitty, small, medium, or large) of box. Then you are given delivery day options based on your location. You can customize your box with up to five substitutions, and then you can buy additional items from Door to Door if you need. They have a variety of fruits, vegetables, local meats, dairy, eggs, and pantry items. There's even a sale section! Or you can just get your box. You confirm the box, and then it shows up on your doorstep on the appointed day, ta da! This process will happen every week (or every other week, depending on what you choose) indefinitely, but if you want to go on vacation or stop getting deliveries, just put your account on hold. EASY! Door to Door Vegetables

 

Our box was delivered on Monday, 3/2/15. Let's look at what we got:

 

Medium Veggie Box Contents

We ordered a medium veggie box and it contained 1 lb of rainbow carrots, 4 bananas, 1 red bell pepper, 2 pieces of ginger root, 1 green cabbage, 1 cauliflower, 1 bunch of red chard, 1 cucumber, 3 yellow onions, 1 OrganicGirl 50/50! blend, 2 d'Anjou pears, and 2 lbs of regular carrots. We used all five of our substitutions when we ordered, and definitely liked not being locked into getting things we didn't want or already had enough of. One really cool feature is that you can set account preferences - if you have an allergy or just hate a certain item, add it to the list and Door to Door will automatically swap it out for you. You can also add things that you would like more of. Talk about customizable!

Additional Items Screenshot

This second screen shot is of things we added on, because the medium veggie box was just not enough for us. We added another cauliflower, a whole chicken, a bunch of kale, a bunch of broccoli, another cabbage, and another container of mixed greens. These additions brought our total to $76.93. The chicken alone was $13.99, which is a pretty competitive price for a 4 lb organic chicken (full disclosure, it was on sale).

If you notice on the second screen shot that there is a "Credit" line item, that's because we had two missing items. We did not receive the rainbow carrots or the second cabbage we ordered. This didn't ruin our week or anything, but it was confusing. I almost missed it, too. Thankfully, customer support was very helpful, and they credited our account immediately when we notified them (to be clear, they didn't even charge our card for what they missed, which, in our opinion, is even better than getting an account credit).

Let's break it down. Who would be a good fit for Door to Door Organics?

  • You want to eat organic food
  • You have very little time or ability to grocery shop
  • You are trying to stick to a budget and want to avoid those impulse buys that jump in your cart when you go grocery shopping
  • You have somewhat predictable food needs

The food quality is high, the website is easy to navigate, the selections are above and beyond, and the produce boxes are pretty great. Not to mention, the local meat and dairy selections are impressive. Also, the packaging is all recyclable and reusable and you can leave it out at your next pickup for them to properly reuse or recycle. Yay for environmental friendliness!

Our order from Door to Door lasted us about 4 days. According to Door to Door, the medium veggie box should be enough for a "hearty vegetarian couple, or a family with a couple of veggie and fruit minded children." As we mentioned in the introduction to this series, we eat a LOT of produce. We found that the medium box was not nearly enough for us, but we also understand that our needs for produce are much different than the average person. Seriously, guys, we eat ALL. THE. VEGETABLES.  We did end up going to the store 4 times this week to supplement. I think our ideal will be one big grocery haul a week with 1-2 trips to supplement. Such is life when you only eat perishable foods, especially during the non-growing season. In order to get the freshest options, sometimes it's best to shop multiple times a week. Our next vegetable delivery will be on Tuesday, 3/10, with the Weekly Produce Box Program from Newleaf Natural Grocery in Rogers Park. Check out our Week Two Review here.

Have you tried Door to Door Organics? Did you have a good experience? Share your comments below! If you would like to try them out, email us at hello@sustainablyqueer.com for a discount code for $15 off! Yeah!

Grocery Delivery Series: Introduction

Last weekend, Kristl and I took the plunge and finally sold our little blue 2005 Hyundai. There wasn't anything particularly wrong with it, but our big goal this year is to aggressively pay down Kristl's student loan debt, so we're cutting the chaff. Plus, it wasn't the best for winter driving and we found that we were maybe using it once a week. It is pretty simple to transition to living car-free in Chicago, especially when you live as close to work and transit as we do. Of course, we're planning on blogging about our experience with being car-free, so you have that to look forward to! Our main difficulty with being car-free is figuring out how to do our grocery shopping. As part of our debt-reduction plan, we have agreed to only eat out once a month. You read that right - once a month. Combine that with the fact that we don't really eat very many processed foods and that adds up to a lot of perishable groceries. A whole lot.

In the growing season, we get our produce directly from a farm, a farmers market, or a CSA, but in the cooler months, we tend to go to Whole Foods, Costco, or our neighborhood grocery store. We are super lucky that we have 3 small, locally-0wned grocery stores within walking distance of our home that have a decent selection of local, organic foods, but they often don't have the amounts we need. We are not dye-in-the-wool Whole Foods groupies, but because we tend to choose organic for the majority of our produce, it is often the best option because they have quicker turnover. They tend to sell their produce more quickly, thus, the produce you see on the shelf has been restocked more recently than what you may see at a smaller store, even if they are coming from the same regional distributor.

A Whole Foods is opening very close to us at the end of April (hopefully!), which will be very convenient, but in the meantime, we are doing some interesting research into grocery delivery programs. We will review one each week in March, for our knowledge and yours.

Here is our planned schedule of reviews:

Each week we will post a new review and link it to the list above. We have done our best to choose 4 different types of grocery delivery options so that we can provide options for the vast majority of our readers. These options run the gamut from almost-immediate-gratification-someone-else-does-your-grocery-shopping-for-you  to hyperlocal, seasonal CSA. We will compare price points, ease of use, reliability, customer service, and quality of produce. We hope you're as excited as we are!