How What Where to Compost Part 2: Bins & Piles

If you’ve gotten the basics in How What Where to Compost Part 1, below are tips on how to compost in a bin vs. a pile. “Bin” in this context means an enclosed plastic bin.

It can be as simple as a trashcan with holes drilled in it…

Or a more expensive stationary bin that may be open on the bottom, allowing bacteria, worms and other goodies to help the compost accelerate…

Or it may be one that can rotate in place…

Click the images for more info. Bin-wise, I’ve only used a trashcan with holes drilled in it, so I don’t have experience with the other items. I thought they’d be fun to share to get ideas flowing if you’re bin-curious. And here are some more types.

PLASTIC BINS

17.5.11 TheWholeRuth Compost

  • EQUALITY: Put in an equal amount of “green” and “brown.” It doesn’t have to be at the same time, but within a few days of adding food scraps or green, add brown.
  • ADD BROWN: Be sure to put in “brown” stuff. Only adding food, without carbon-rich dry brown items, makes the bin too nitrogen-rich, which is stinky and doesn’t make the chemical reaction that creates compost.
  • WATER: Also, while water is usually added to compost, it’s sometimes possible for enclosed bins to use the moisture of the green ingredients to help cook the compost. But if things get too dry, try gently adding in some water when you turn the bin.
  • MORE INFO: If you need more info, read How What Where to Compost

HOW DO YOU TURN THE BIN?

  • NOT TOO HEAVY: Make sure it doesn’t get too heavy to turn. Turning the bin gives the compost the oxygen it needs to work.
  • ROLLING IT AWKWARDLY IS FINE: When we were using a plastic trashcan with drilled holes, we’d slightly tip it and “steer” it, rolling it along the drive-way at an angle to rotate the contents inside.
  • TARP OPTION: If the type of bin you have is stationary or isn’t rollable, an option is to dump out the compost onto a tarp, turn it and then put it back in the bin.
  • MOVE-IT OPTION: If your bin is open to the ground at its base, some people pick up the whole bin off the compost, put it down in a new spot, then return the compost.
  • PITCHFORK OPTION: You can also use a pitchfork to repeatedly push into the pile and lift it straight up. This is hard for me to do.
  • MIXING TOOL OPTION: Some people use a handy compost mixing tool, designed only for turning stationary compost bins! Stick the bottom in and twist the handle to aerate the pile. People say they work wonders. Click to read their good reviews:

OPEN-AIR PILES

  • 1 CUBIC YARD: One cubic yard is the magic size for the pile to really heat up.
  • OUR EXPERIENCE: The following tips are how we make a pile at The Hollywood Orchard:

LAYERING

  • BROWN + GREEN + WATER: Make a layer of green, about an inch thick, then a layer of brown, same thickness, then mix, gently water the layers the whole time you’re mixing, repeat until done.
  • MIX EACH LAYER: To reiterate, instead of mixing it all at the end, we mix each layer. Doing it slowly lets it be thoroughly mixed which helps it cook. It’s physically more manageable to me too.
  • HOW TO MIX: We use a pitch-forky hoe. (I’m sure that’s the proper name.)

WATERING

  • GLUE: Watering while mixing lets the moisture go deep into the layer to hold it together like glue. This lets the pile get really tall and reach a cubic yard.
  • NO MOISTURE, NO HEAT: Without watering each layer, it apparently doesn’t cook!
  • SPONGE GOAL: The pile should be saturated to where you could wring the compost out like a sponge. But if water is trickling down the sides, it’s too much.

HOW TO FLIP/ TURN

  • Next to the pile, have a second space as large as the one that holds the pile. 
  • Shovel the top layer onto the empty spot and repeat the same watering/ mixing for each layer like before. 
  • The top layer will become the bottom layer and the bottom becomes the top.
  • The top layer will have cooked the least because it was exposed to the air.
  • The inside will be more cooked, even ashy sometimes, or still steaming!
  • So flipping allows the whole thing a chance to cook evenly. 
  • More new green or brown can be added every time a pile is flipped.
  • At the end, cover everything in a layer of brown to reduce smells.
  • For a visual, in the photo above, we moved the pile from the left space, where the pitchfork is, to the right. 
  • (I thought we would flip the pile in place, which seemed hard, messy and confusing. Putting it next to where it was, made it so easy to flip! That may seem obvious, but living in apartments for most of my life has apparently made my brain not think of space as an option. Having a 2nd spot blew my mind!)
  • If you don’t have an extra plot to flip the pile, some people dump out the compost onto a tarp, turn it and then put it back in its original spot. Or you can try the pitchfork or mixing tool options above.

HOW OFTEN

  • Turning or flipping a pile can be done once a week.
  • Turning it every 3 weeks or whenever is fine too, it’ll just take longer for the pile to be “finished.”
  • A pile can be turned as often as every three days to finish the project more quickly.
  • Whether it’s every 3 days, once a week, or however long, turn the pile 3-4 times for it to become “done.”

INGREDIENT TIPS

  • Horse poo really has a hard time breaking down. (Another gardening friend recently said that chicken poo or sheep poo work wonders! And cow poo, too, because their four stomachs break the food down more than a horse’s stomach.)
  • We still use horse poo though.
  • If we see something that is stuck in a clump, we break it up with our hands.
  • The Hollywood Orchard doesn’t worry about avocado pits or too many acidic fruits. Our philosophy so far is that it’ll all break down eventually.
  • Remember to chop up whatever large things go in the pile, food, twigs, etc., to help it “digest” more quickly. What does large mean? A whole orange is better halved or quartered, a branch is better in 3 inch pieces or at least smaller than it started.
  • We usually use sheers to chop the ingredients. Whatever container holds the ingredients beforehand, a bucket, a trashcan, or whatever, we stick the sheers in and just chop around crazy until it feels like the right size. Or until we’re too tired to keep chopping.

PILES IN WOODEN BINS

This option is sort of a mix of the other two. It’s like an open-air pile in an enclosure. I don’t have experience with this, but will soon! We’re currently making one. I’ll update as we learn more. Below are some examples (click images for info). Here are more.

EVERYONE DOES IT DIFFERENTLY

Would love to hear how you do it.

For general composting info, check out How What Where to Compost.

Need inspiration? Maybe this will fluff your muffins: Why to Compost

My favorite context for the word “bin” (at 4:10): Life in Quarantine After 55 Days

Compost by faisalovers from the Noun Project

How What Where to Compost

These guidelines are true for any compost, whether it’s done in a bin, in a pile, or in the ground. (More info: Compost Bins vs. Piles)

  • Compost needs about 50% green ingredients, 50% brown ingredients, oxygen and water.

GREEN

  • “Green” is anything with moisture. It can be any color. Food scraps, grass, leaves, coffee grounds, (non-pet) manure…
  • Green is nitrogen-rich.
  • If there is too much green, it will get very stinky. If this is happening, add more brown. (Also, too much green means too much nitrogen, which means it could burn plants if it was used as fertilizer in this stinky form.)

BROWN

  • “Brown” is anything dry. Dry leaves, brown paper bags, wood chips, egg cartons…
  • Brown is carbon-rich.
  • It helps to cover the compost with a layer of only brown to keep the smell enclosed.

OXYGEN

  • The compost needs oxygen to work. That’s why it’s important to turn bins or flip piles when making compost, to let oxygen reach different parts of the compost. Also, make sure there is air circulating around the compost.

WATER

  • The compost needs moisture, so add water to give it more oxygen and help it cook.

MORE INFO

  • No: No meat, dairy, fish, or animal food oils can go in the compost, unless it’s bokashi (More info: Compost Indoors or Meat & Dairy = BOKASHI). No pet waste because sometimes it has bacteria that can survive the heat of the pile.
  • Shrinkage: Whatever size the compost starts out, it will end up being much smaller when it’s done. (Sort of like cooking fresh spinach)
  • Organic: If you’re trying to make organic compost, make sure yard trimmings you use (fresh grass, brown leaves, etc) come from a yard that doesn’t use pesticides. Anything that is non-organic, we still compost in our city’s green bin.
  • Chop it: We chop up twigs and branches with shears before adding them to the compost. Making everything into smaller pieces helps the compost digest more quickly and easily, like chewing for our tummies.

IT COOKS INTO CLEANLINESS

A few years ago, a farmer friend of mine taught me that compost piles get hot and they are actually cooking the carbon-rich brown & nitrogen-rich green scraps. They get so hot, about 140 degrees, that the creatures one might worry about staying inside the pile (bad bacteria, bugs and any rodents who might smell tasty treats inside the pile) can’t live there anymore. It’s too hot so they leave. Pretty cool, huh? (Pun inaccurate and not intended.)

When a pile is flipped, sometimes there is ash inside. A pile covered in winter snow will still cook and sometimes steam will still rise off of the covering snow! The Hollywood Orchard hosts a 6th grade field trip for the local school and a few days before the kids come, they put an egg and potato inside the compost so when the kids arrive, they can see the egg is hard-boiled and then play hot-potato with the weird stinky potato!

When the compost has been turned a few times to allow the whole thing to cook, there will be only good bacteria and healthy, nutrient-rich compost.

WHAT TO COMPOST

  • No meat, dairy or animal products (bones, butter, fish skins) or pet waste

Nitrogen/ “Green”:

  • Fruits & veggies
  • Peels, skins & cores of fruits & veggies
  • Herbs & spices
  • Nutshells
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Egg shells
  • Pits & seeds
  • Grains & beans
  • Tea bags without the staples
  • Chemical-free hair
  • Chemical-free fingernails
  • Feathers from the down sofa or birds outside
  • Fresh house plant leaves
  • Store-bought flower bouquets (only for the city green bin if your goal is organic)

Carbon/ “Brown”:

  • Shredded brown paper bags
  • Paper egg cartons
  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Brown, dry leaves (you can get them from parks sometimes, ideally they’d be from a pesticide-free yard)
  • Vacuum cleaner or sweeping dust
  • Ash from a firepit that used wood
  • Dry house plant leaves
  • Wood chips (ideally chemical-free/ non-treated)

COLLECT THE COMPOST

Collect your food scraps in the freezer or fridge, so they don’t smell or attract bugs. You can keep them in glass or plastic tupperware, or you have regular plastic bags, you can use those and wash them out and re-use them. Or use compostable bags. Or to create less waste, you can keep them in a bowl with no lid or a brown paper bag that can be tossed in to the compost.

You can also collect scraps in a smell-absorbing compost bucket on your counter-top. (We use this one. During the summer ant-parades, we keep it in the fridge.)

WHERE TO COMPOST

When you’re ready to compost, put your food scraps and brown compostable waste in:

  • your yard in a compost pile above ground
  • a pit in the ground with or without doors to seal it
  • a fenced in compost area
  • a plastic compost bin that turns
  • a wooden compost bin that allows for air circulation
  • a homemade compost trashcan with holes drilled in the sides

More information on this part of the process: How to Compost in Bins & Piles

NO ROOM? PUT YOUR FOOD SCRAPS IN…

  • your green or brown bin from the city
  • your indoor or outdoor worm bin (no acidic food or oils)
  • an indoor bokashi compost bucket
  • your friend’s compost
  • the compost collection of a community organization, farmer’s market or restaurant that accepts compost. (See more info below)
  • a compost hub
  • a compost co-op

For folks in Los Angeles:

  • LA Compost collects food scraps at:
    • The Atwater Farmer’s Market, every Sunday 10am-2pm (double check the LA Compost site)
    • The Los Feliz Farmer’s Market, 1st & 3rd Sundays 9am -1pm (double check the LA Compost site)
    • A slew of community hubs listed on their website
    • Community co-ops

NEED HELP?

It seems like it’s possible that everyone can participate in some part of the compost cycle. But getting started may be difficult without seeing the magic in action. In my experience, composting can a passionate team sport or an invigorating ice-skating solo. Reading about it may be all you need to start on your own, but it can also be helpful to find some experienced folks who will let you watch their process or answer questions about how they do it. You could also find a free class or offer to temporarily help a community garden with their compost. I learn so much by helping flip the pile every so often at our beloved Hollywood Orchard.

If you want to do it in a group, there may be compost hubs or compost co-ops near you that you can join.

Whether working with others or solo, I suggest trying to get comfy with the idea that trial and error is part of the process no matter what, and it can be exciting and beautiful.

For folks in Los Angeles:

  • The City gives some free workshops and discounted compost bins and worm bins.
  • Kiss the Ground also has free compost workshops sometimes, listed on their FB page.
  • Grow Good gives free classes from time to time. This LA Times article has more info.
  • The Burbank Recycle Center has a free compost workshop the last Wednesday of every month from 6-8pm from March – November, you just have to RSVP.
  • The Hollywood Orchard in Beachwood Canyon offers opportunities to work on their compost pile where the compost-curious can learn via hand-on practice. Join the Hollywood Orchard mailing list and ask to be informed of when we get together to work on our compost pile, then come play in the dirt with us!

WHY

Why to Compost

WHEN TO COMPOST

Whenever you’d like. Composting can seem tricky, but I feel like you’ll know when you’re ready. To me, love is the main ingredient. Add some to the compost, and some to yourself. It lets you keep trying until you figure out what works for you.

heart ruth signature

Compost Story infographic

 

Why to Compost

Carbon dioxide in the air is pollution. Carbon in the soil is healthy… Anything that is alive is made of carbon, including us.

When we sweep leaves away from our lawns, we’re sweeping away that area’s food. Those leaves, flowers, seeds and natural debris, that are often seen as mess, would normally stay and break down into food for the soil and become food for the plants in that space.

It is often said to rotate crops because one type of plant will eat certain nutrients in that spot and another type of plant would eat other nutrients, letting the depleted nutrients build back up for a while. But naturally, a tomato plant drops its seeds in the same place and grows again. Why? My guess is that a tomato plant would normally die in its spot, make green & brown waste, mix with rain or snow and other fallen leaves, and become its own food next year, replenishing the soil’s nutrients. Without humans taking away their “mess,” they feed themselves. It seems the seeds would ride the wind or in the belly of an animal and end up popping up in new places too, but they’d have peace-of-mind knowing they carry a cycle of food with them where ever they go.

But why do we care about feeding the soil to feed plants? Firstly, because CARBON.

When the soil is depleted, it can’t pull carbon into itself or keep it there. Carbon dioxide in the air is pollution. Carbon in the soil is healthy. It becomes food for the soil’s bacteria. Anything that is alive- plants, animals, soil- is made of carbon, including us. There was a balanced cycle of carbon dying and becoming new life, but we added too much carbon to the atmosphere with fossil fuels and took away the ground’s ability to absorb carbon with our agriculture practices. This combination is creating pollution that is killing the planet that keeps us alive.

Ryland Englehart, co-founder of Kiss the Ground, a non-profit in LA, shares that between carbon extraction via fossil fuels and our agriculture practices, “We’ve moved 880 giga-tons [880,000,000,000 tons] of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which is heating up the planet and destabilizing our climate. Now, the oceans have absorbed a lot of this excess carbon which is resulting in ocean acidification and accelerating a mass extinction of sea life… Where do we put this excess carbon to get this cycle back into balance? The answer is literally… under our feet. It’s the soil.”

When plants photosynthesize, they pull carbon out of the air and turn it into sugars that go into their roots feeding bacterial colonies, mycorrhizal funghi, and aggregates. These creatures increase the root capacity by the thousands, turn the sugars into nutrients for the plant and create an environment that can store carbon for decades. “Plants pump it in and soil stores it. Nature’s living technology is amazing!”

Making our own compost and returning it to the land, pulls more carbon into the ground which helps heal climate change. (More info: watch this Kiss the Ground video.)

Also, putting the missing link back in the cycle by composting creates less landfill trash that would become methane gas.

When compost is added to an edible garden and the soil gets richer, the plants in the healthy, bacteria-rich soil don’t need pesticides or chemical fertilizers. They can be next to plants with disease and not get sick. It’s like our human immune systems: we need good bacteria (probiotics), nutrients and minerals for our organs to fight off disease. When our immune systems are strong, we’re less likely to catch something that would infect a less healthy person. Plants are the same way.

And the same way that we have to continuously eat nutrients to maintain our health, so do the plants. As we keep eating and creating food scraps, plants keep needing the scraps. Their need keeps landfills thinner and eventually, our bellies fuller. All while eliminating the need for hormone-disrupting, pollution-causing chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Helping the plant’s immune system ends up helping ours too. The garden food ends up having more nutrients for us, tasting better, and ultimately providing healing and prevention for many of our chronic diseases.

Plus plants in healthy soil need less water, which saves water. And people composting on their own land also reduces their city’s need to collect yard waste, saving more resources.

Lastly, if you are able to turn a pile, studies show that being around soil bacteria reduces depression (It’s the probiotics in the soil). And I believe any nature calms us in some way, from being around a lush forest to being around one fruit from one tree, even putting its peel-scraps in a bucket in my kitchen.

Overall, all pieces of the cycle benefit people, soil, plants, animals and the planet.

These are just my reasons though, why do you compost if you do?

How What Where to Compost

 

Food Waste: Throwing Away More Than Food

“As much as 40% of all the food produced in the United States never gets eaten according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council… Americans throw away $165 billion dollars worth of food every year. That’s about 20 pounds per person, every month… The US Department of Agriculture says Americans throw away enough food every year to fill 730 football stadiums… US per capita food waste has increased by about 50% since 1974.” John Oliver just taught me so much about food waste in America. This is basically a recap of the episode. If you have time to watch it, he’s much funnier than I am! If not, here are some things I learned, plus some experiences and research he inspired me to share.

We’re throwing away that much food while at the same time, according to the USDA, “in 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food-insecure households.”

Throwing away this food not only keeps it from hungry families, it results in landfills creating methane gas, wasted money we spent to buy the food, wasted money paid to the people who grew it, and wasted water and resources used to make the food. For example, throwing away one egg wastes 55 gallons of water.

Some food is thrown away because we usually won’t buy the last few fruits or veggies because we think the last options have something wrong with them. But if it’s made it as far as getting on a shelf, it has already passed strict USDA standards for pretty produce. So there is most likely not anything wrong with the lonely, pretty produce on the shelf. Where does the non-pretty produce go? It’s labeled “#2 Produce” by the USDA and as soon as that happens, “It can lose 2/3 of its market value to a farmer.” So it usually goes into the trash.

Also, confusing food-date labels cause many people to throw food out before it’s gone bad. “Except for baby food, the federal government doesn’t require any food to have a safety date on it. The states have varied laws about it, with nine states not requiring labels at all.” The food-date labels we see are put on by the manufacturing companies, but aren’t as official as we think. Some could be putting earlier dates to encourage us to buy products more often or to protect themselves from lawsuits. Or some could be putting accurate dates. Either way, “many grocery stores throw out food before its sell-by date.” And they don’t donate it.

I’ve was told in 2008 by friendly employees at Whole Foods that they used to donate food to homeless shelters at the end of each night, but now they don’t because they got sued by homeless people who got food poisoning from their donation. I have repeated their words a few times over the years. I believed them and I think they believed themselves. John Oliver thought that too! But he found out that “there has never been a case where a food donor has been sued.” And he found out that that’s because the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act covers “any food donated to a charity by saying you can not get sued if you make a food donation in good faith.”

But donating costs companies money and time because of overhead like boxing, storing and delivery coordination. Oliver suggests tax breaks to incentivize companies to donate. Large companies already get those tax breaks, but small companies are written into the tax code in a way that Congress has to continually renew their donation tax breaks. So local restaurants and local farms may not know if they will get the break at the end of each year.

In 2015 (when this video was released), the Fighting Hunger Act of 2015 was proposed to make the tax breaks permanent, but it eventually became the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 and all food donation language was removed.

In researching it, it would have increased the deficit by $1.9 billion by 2024. It also gave the same tax breaks to any corporation whose gross income from the business of farming was more than 50% of their gross income. The executive director of the Coalition Against Hunger said the bill didn’t “carefully separate the farmers who would be able to give away more food from big corporations that are just going to get another tax break.”

Nonetheless, it seems like this shouldn’t be tabled and our government should be spending time and energy on finding ways to help small businesses more easily help the hungry in our country.

And there are many other efforts being made to reduce food waste. Smithsonian Magazine said in 2015, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency recently called for a 50-percent reduction in food waste by 2030. Meanwhile, Portland launched a citywide composting program a few years ago, and at the retail level, the former president of Trader Joe’s recently opened a store near Boston that sells surplus food donated by grocery stores at rock-bottom prices.

Even simple changes can have big effects. A few years ago, college cafeterias across the U.S. began to go trayless. Carrying two plates at most rather than trays piled high with all-you-can-serve and all-you-can-eat daredevilry forced students to think about what they really wanted to eat. The seemingly simple move, which more than 120 colleges chose to adopt, helped reduce food consumption and waste by 25 to 30 percent in some colleges.”

Oliver proposes solutions from: “Resolving to eat uglier fruit, to taking expirations dates with a pinch of salt, to no longer worrying about getting sued by high-powered lawyers representing the hungry… We all have to address our relationship with food waste.”

I think the best expiration date decider is my nose.

Also, I found a new company called Imperfect Produce in Los Angeles that can deliver a small box of organic imperfect fruits and veggies to my door for $15-$17. (www.imperfectproduce.com)

And I volunteer at the Hollywood Orchard (www.hollywoodorchard.org), a nearby non-profit that collects free fruit from neighborhood trees and donates it to local charities. Food Forward, Food Finders and many others are in LA. There are also many non-profits across the country like Feeding America who act as delivery-middlemen between food vendors (grocery stores, restaurants) and food providers (soup kitchens, food banks). (Here is a blog where I got to celebrate the joys of Hollywood Orcharding…)

Shane and I also rarely waste our own food. We keep our leftovers at restaurants. And we eat them. We keep other people’s leftovers, with their permission of course. And we eat them. We buy in small, fresh portions from the grocery store and buy in small, fresh portions again. We try to use up what we have, but if we can’t, we compost what is left. We also compost the peels and pits and extra bits that come off of what we do use. We make up new meals with whatever is there. We get it wrong sometimes, but that is part of the freedom of putting our health first. Having fresh food is worth it.

 

We try to eat seasonally and it teaches us that we aren’t in charge. We try to flow with the food and we learn from it. We try to make decisions to live in a way that leaves time to make our meals, go to the store often, chop the contents of our CSA box, and know what is in the fridge, pantry and garden. It’s taken a long time to clear time for that time. But we are grateful for the growth over the years and we’re still growing.

Watering our garden, learning which plants like what amount of light and what kind of soil, learning the organic way to keep pests at bay, watching our garden grow… Picking our own olives and curing them for weeks and weeks… Growing a tree from seed knowing that it won’t make its own fruit for seven years… Learning that you can dip a branch in a hormone powder, stick it in the ground, and it will grow a tree, because plants have and need hormones in order to create just like us… Seeing that the difference between a fertile gerbera daisy seed and a non-fertile one is that the fertile one is swollen… A male butternut squash flower is a cone, but the female is swollen… They can get pregnant like we can. And it takes time for them to bear fruit, just like we do.

And all the beautiful creatures that are involved in making one fruit, the bees, the hummingbirds, the earthworms, the bacteria in the soil, the minerals in the rain water, even the gas from decaying sea plankton that has evaporated into the clouds and rained down has something beneficial for the plants…

When we waste food that goes into a landfill instead of composting back into the circle of food, we waste all of these things. We waste the time, the light, the water, the creatures, our time and energy used to earn the money we wasted to buy it; we waste the nourishment, the extension of our own existence, and the delicious and delightful experience it comes in.

I hope you and your family, or just you, are able to make steps toward enjoying and using each bit of food you have. Thanks John Oliver & Co. for this new knowledge and inspiration.

heart ruth signature

 

Resources:

Food Waste: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Episode at top of the page

Fighting Hunger Incentive Act of 2015 Passes House http://www.borgenmagazine.com/fighting-hunger-incentive-act-2015-passes-house/

Why Don’t Some Grocery Stores Donate Food to Poor People http://www.businessinsider.com/why-dont-some-grocery-stores-donate-food-to-poor-people-2014-10

This Is How Much Water You Waste When You Throw Away Food http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-trashing-food-wastes-water-too-180957239/

Deeply Affected by Chef’s Table

chefs table

When I watched this trailer, I fell in love.

When I watched the first episode, it felt like the deep groundedness and titillating breathy openness of acupuncture. I was comforted to see them trust their audience by picking unflashy content for their first episode.

Then I realized I’d accidentally watched the last episode first.

Starting the true first one, I was skeptical, expecting hype and drama that would sweep the show off of its audience-trusting pedestal. It opened with an earthquake. Of course, I thought. And the next moment, with the most direct simplicity, a line was said and I instantly wept. And then couldn’t stop laughing at how ridiculous I was. But I couldn’t stop crying either. I’ve never done this the way it happened, before or since.

We just watched the second episode and it made me miss someone I’ve never met. His name is Kevin Sousa. He’s a Pittsburgh chef running a farm and restaurant in Braddock, PA. Kevin I’m so grateful for you!

If anyone reading this has Netflix, please take the time to watch this visual, aural masterpiece that weaves creativity, passion, failure, eco sustainability, fearlessness, psyche, farming, self trust, ancestry and invention together with the most delicious thread, food.

Jake’s Favorite Lawn Burger

 

15.5.30 TheWholeRuth Jakes Favorite Lawn Burger2

This tasty burger is award-winning! I was presented with “Jake’s Favorite Burger Award.” What does that mean? It means this is my friend Jake’s favorite burger! Yay!

I think it looks like it was made by a man who just mowed his lawn and got curious about what it would taste like if he piled some clippings on his much-earned burger. Luckily this particular man has a lawn made entirely of organic arugula and he massaged the clippings in apple cider vinegar and the burger tastes great!

A few fun facts: There is a top piece of bread, it’s just hiding on the other side of the plate. This is organic, grass-fed beef. The burger is gluten-free, soy-free, corn-free & dairy-free. It has about 6.5 grams of sugar (4g from two slices of bread, 2g from the ketchup, and a whole medium tomato has 3.2g of sugar, so I’m guessing these two slices are around .5g). Everything in it is organic except for the bread.

Also, I eat beef if it’s organic and when I feel like I need it, which varies greatly. It seems like once a month or every two months, I’ll eat a one pound package of grass-fed organic beef or a bag of beef jerky. But it’s not often. Beef is an inflammatory food and I can tell I swell from it a bit. I also usually keep my meat separate from carbs because my body stays leaner that way. It’s called food combining and it’s very effective. The theory behind it is that the enzymes that break down carbs and proteins are different and mixing them makes digestion more difficult. Without going into a huge explanation of how and why I eat what I eat, I’ll simply say everyone is different, but I wanted to share that I eat this meal as a rare, well-done treat!

Here is the “award-winning” recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 of a pound of grass-fed, organic beef
  • 1 large organic garlic clove
  • organic oregano
  • organic crushed black pepper
  • organic yellow mustard
  • organic ketchup
  • handful of organic arugula
  • tablespoon organic, raw apple-cider vinegar
  • 1/4 of an organic avocado
  • 2 slices of organic red tomato
  • 2 slices of organic yellow onion
  • 2 slices of gluten-free, multi-grain bread
  • tablespoon organic olive oil

Hide Garlic in Patty Mince the garlic glove. Heat pan on medium high. Remove about half or a third of the hamburger meat and set it aside. Form a patty with the rest of the hamburger meat and sprinkle the minced garlic on top. Cover the garlic with the meat that was set aside so that the garlic ends up in the center of the burger. Shape the patty how you’d like and place in pan. Wash your hands, you nasty bastard. (Shane added that last part.)

Toast Bread Heat a separate large pan for about thirty seconds. Add olive oil and set the bread slices in the oil, covering each side. Toast each side in pan until brown.

Sauté Onion Add onion to the same pan so it can sauté in the oil at the same time. I like to use the least amount of pans possible so there is less clean up afterwards.

Spice & Cook Burger When the first side looks cooked almost half way up to the raw side, flip the burger and add oregano to the cooked side. Add pepper to one side when it is almost done.

I don’t know that much about cooking burgers, but it seems like when I don’t drain the fat out of the burger (or smash it with a spatula or puncture it to see how well it has cooked), the juices help cook the burger all the way through in a more even way and in a shorter amount of time. It seems like the boiling juice inside is helping cook the center. Once it is cooked all the way through, there is less fat to drain anyway. So my advice is don’t smash, puncture or drain it until it is done cooking. How will you know it’s done cooking without puncturing it? I don’t know yet. I wait until I think it’s done and then puncture it in the center a little bit with a small knife. If it has juice immediately come out, I quickly stop applying pressure and leave it be. If it seems cooked, it’s done.

Massage Arugula In a small dish, massage the arugula with the apple cider vinegar about 10 times. Don’t be scared to squish it.

Cool the Bread Once the bread is toasted to your liking, lean it at an angle on the edge of your plate. This sounds weird. But the bottom of the gluten-free bread makes condensation from the heat and moisture so if you place it flat on the plate and leave it in the same place, it can get soggy. I like to air it out by leaning it at a diagonal on the lip of the plate. Once it’s cooled down for a couple of minutes while I do something else, I’ll flip it over and move it to a different section of the plate. If there is condensation under the original spot, I’ll wipe off the water.

Slice Tomato & Avocado Cut two tomato slices. Open your avocado by running a knife through the center until it hits the pit, then sliding the knife along the pit to slice the avocado in half. Pull the halves apart and slice the side without the seed. Scoop out the slices with a spoon. I used about 1/4 of an avocado.

Plate & Eat Place the sautéed onion on the toasted bread, then the tomato slices, the burger, avocado, and arugula. Add ketchup, mustard, the top bread slice and enjoy! Or feed it to your friend Jake. It’s his favorite! 🙂

 

 

Berry Dice to Beet You Shake

15.5.28 TheWholeRuth Berry Dice to Beet You

I didn’t realize how violent this recipe title could sound until after I became attached to the name. Oops! To me it sounds like an adorable Hobbit man in heavy tweed pants that are held up by brown-striped suspenders meeting his neighbor for the first time, in the morning, sharing a breakfast shake over the fence. He also has a bulby red nose and little cold, so even though he has a warm twinkle in his eye, his consonants are stifled.

“Berry Dice to Beet You…”

It tastes like a sunny Hobbit morning too. Hope you like it.

Recipe:

In a blender, combine the ingredients and blend on high. Makes almost 1½ glasses.

Because our blender is not as strong, I usually start blending by pulsating on low for a second and then letting it settle, again for a second, and let it settle, and I continue this until I can see that the blender has pulled in all of the whole food. It’s usually about five times. Once that has happened, I turn the blender to the highest low setting and let it run for about 30 seconds. Then I switch it to the highest high setting and blend for 30 seconds to a minute or until the texture looks drinkable. If you have a strong blender, please feel free to move through your life at your own pace.

  • Small organic banana
  • ¼ cup raw cashews
  • ½ cooked organic beet
  • 10 organic raspberries (rinsed)
  • 28 non-organic blueberries (soaked in a fruit/vegetable cleaner for a minute, swished for 30 seconds, rinsed until no more soap, & hopefully no more toxins 🙂
  • ½ organic Royal Gala apple (rinsed)
  • 1 big handful of dinosaur kale
  • small squeeze of fresh lime
  • 1 cup filtered water

It’s Not Your Fault, Matt Damon: Fed Up, a Documentary about Sugar

fed up statistic

I just watched Fed Up, an important, helpful, honest documentary about US obesity, especially in kids. If you have Netflix, you can stream it right now. This very moment. If you aren’t in such a hurry, no worries. I’m totally psyched about it.

The best thing about this movie is that it points out how our weight gain is not our fault. And it explains why.

I remember in the mid 2000’s doing what I thought was right: researching, paying attention and acting on what I learned in regards to food. I wasn’t fad dieting; I was making lifestyle changes. When I learned, later in the decade, that I had been misguided and had wasted years and money on unhealthy foods, I was very angry. Angry at companies for lying to me, at the government for guiding me with unhealthy guidelines that they said were healthy, and angry at myself for not being smart enough to notice.

fed up logo

The ways in which I was misguided were many, but this film focuses on one of them: sugar. I knew I had a “sweet tooth” but I never saw it as a wild, ravenous, over consumption of sugar until I saw an episode of Ellen. Dr. Wayne Dyer was the guest and they talked about how much sugar humans ate years ago versus now. Here Dr. Dyer talks about it in another interview:

19TH CENTURY SUGAR CONSUMPTION

“…In the 19th century… the average amount of sugar consumed by Americans was around 13 grams a day and today its 285 grams. That’s like a 500% increase in the amount of sugar consumed! …If you just get your sugar consumption down to under 15 grams a day… Well, a banana has 11 grams of sugar! An eight ounce glass of orange juice has 35 grams of sugar in it. So it’s a pretty radical shift. Sugar is in everything! If you start looking at what’s on the packaging you’ll see huge amounts of it; in some cases its 100 grams in one serving…

If you get it down below 15 grams a day, or even just below 40 grams a day, you’ll take off between 15–17 pounds, which is about what I wanted to take off. I am not overweight. But I am thicker and I just decided to look at the excuses I have used to stay this way and put this paradigm to work. Sure enough, in less than 30 days I have taken off 17 pounds all the way around the middle. So, you can really make these kinds of shifts.”

At the time I learned this, I was going to a nutritionist who told me I could have raw, organic honey as one of my sugar sources. “Oh, wonderful!” I said. “I already eat that!” The nurse asked, “What do you eat it with?” I said, “…a spoon.” I told her that I had seen this man speak on Ellen and I was aiming to have 20 grams of sugar a day. But I would be fine with myself if I went way over, because even 45 grams was way less than the 285 grams Dr. Dyer was talking about. The nurse gave me a new goal. Instead of telling myself I can have 20 grams of sugar a day, and then standing over the honey jar with a spoon and crazy eyes, just tell myself “I can have less sugar. Just less.” It’s years later and I don’t even buy honey anymore.

SUGAR VS. COCAINE

Now that I look back, I think it may have been so difficult to quit my sugar habit because having a little bit had lead me to wanting more. Brain scans in the movie reveal that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. Rats will choose sugar over cocaine. This makes me feel better. Not for those dear rats, poor things. Sugar Crack Rats. Me and those rats don’t stand a chance; sugar will kick our asses. But it seems now that I don’t buy sugar, I’m not tempted. There is no sugar in the house. And over the years, my cravings finally settled down.

fed up sugar cocaine

I think my transition, though, was unfair in a horrible and lucky way. I had spinal and foot injuries that resulted in my isolation, plus poordom, plus not having a car during the years that I was hurt, plus not having a TV for seven years, which all means I’m insane. Also those things meant that I really didn’t have to use will power while I was learning about nutrition. If there was no sugar in the house, I couldn’t drive to get some, or walk there, and if I did, I didn’t have money to buy it, and I didn’t totally care because I didn’t have commercials to *remind me that I love Reese’s peanut butter cups. *Reese’s peanut butter cups, I love you and will never forget that. Commercials just make me lustlove you.

“SWEET TOOTH” OR “LA-LA-LA-WHAT-FEELINGS TOOTH?”

Instead of calling a sugar addiction the darling name of “sweet tooth,” it should be called a “sharp-fanged sugar monster.” Even that sounds sort of adorable and mildly… edible? I didn’t have a sweet tooth. I had a set of razor fangs that would leave the sanity of the world behind while devouring a whole pie in the middle of the night alone, or right from under your nose while you are talking to me at a party. Sugar is more important than whatever you are trying to say to me, or my own dignity, or my own sleep. But we give it such a cute name, “sweet tooth.” It’s much harder to tilt my head to one side and smile with chocolate smeared on my face and say, “Aw, sorry, I have a demon monster inside me that is addicted to sugar because I’m scared of my feelings.” It’s way longer to say, first of all.

My sugar monster now only comes out about 25% of the time that it used to. Now I understand not only the connection between sugar and the reward center of the brain, but also the mind, body, spirit connection to my need for comfort food. If I’m distracting myself with a sugar high, I’m running from some feeling my mind thinks is too scary to let me see. If my mind doesn’t know how to deal with it and can’t foresee the exact outcome and that it would be positive, it tells me to look at something sparkly, claps its hands and says, “Look over here! Isn’t this shiny?! OOO- Let’s eat a pizza.” I still fall for it sometimes. Even though I’ve since learned that the crust breaks down in my body as pure sugar, so it’s not just a cheese fix, it’s a sweet fix too! Sugar should be in the CIA. It’s very sneaky.

fed up sugar names

But I’ve come to be more interested in the idea that I need to become empty before I can fill myself spiritually. Drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, sugar and many other things can make humans feel whole. But unless we empty the places those things fill, we can’t look at the hole they leave in order to fill it with real, lasting contentment. Knowing this, in combination with seeing that the fake fills weren’t helping over time, now makes my shiny pizza monster a little less attractive. (What if that was what I called my vagina? That would be the worst.)

ADVERTISING

I’m proud of Fed Up for being realistic with Americans by truthfully sharing that advertising leads us towards sugar, but that we are expected to act as though advertising doesn’t affect us and take care of ourselves through sheer will power. The advertising clearly affects us and that’s why companies invest in it. And will power against something so addictive, even without the advertising, would obviously be difficult. On top of all that, most of the advertising presents many sugar-filled foods as healthy or diet, fat-free or sugar-free so most of the time we don’t even know to use will power against those foods. Usually we’re told to use our will power for them.

fed up comparison

When the film teaches the psychological science behind how we respond to advertising, sugar, and sugar advertising, it lets people feel sane for being confused about why they can’t lose weight. Not only are unhealthy people fighting an uphill battle, they are usually left in the cold feeling like it’s their fault. And when I feel alone and confused, I eat more.

One of my favorite fact nuggets in the film was that when kids were given a snack to eat while they watched a tv show with food commercials vs. the same tv show with non-food commercials, they ate 45% more snack food. I got hungry just when I wrote the word nuggets.

HIGH SCHOOL EXPECTATIONS

I also learned in the movie how much fast food is now offered in America’s schools. Pairing that with how humans are wired to behave with certain food, brings to light that leaving our children alone with unhealthy foods and their own will power is truly neglectful. It seems easy to blame the parents and say they just have to make lunches for their kids. But as long as there are unhealthy options at school, the battle will be lost. I usually brought a lunch to school, but I figured out how to get the good tasting stuff. Trade things or bring a bit of money when I could to buy something. If it’s there, I want it.

Most adults I know are this way. And it’s not because they don’t know better. It’s because humans are designed to look for fat, salt, and sugar because those things used to be scarce. If the office has homemade cookies out for free, and then a birthday party with cake, and then someone brings in chocolates, we usually have a hard time not eating all of those things. Some people don’t like to waste food, some people don’t like to bring the mood down by saying no, some people want to fit in, some people want to be nice to the person who took the time to make cookies, some people are sleepy and need a pick-me-up, some people want to make out with their coworker but they can’t so some sugar is a close second, some people want to punch their boss in the face and going to the break room, they’ll eat whatever is there just to have a moment away. Some people just freaking love the way it all tastes. There are a million reasons why we make choices we know are bad for us. So expecting kids to act more responsibly in the lunch line than we do as adults is not kind or rational.

fedupschool

BUYING YOUR DIABETES

The film also brings up that the government subsidizes ingredients that cause obesity. Which I’d like to take a step further by saying that our tax dollars are really those subsidies, meaning we are really, unwillingly and unknowingly, paying for our own problem.

IT’S WHAT ON THE INSIDE THAT COUNTS

The film also shows that not all fat stores itself on the outside of the body. People eating unhealthy diets can be thin and still be a larger percentage of fat inside that will cause the same chronic diseases as someone who looks obese.

In the same way that what matters is on the inside of us, Fed Up shows that it goes for food too. Calories have been taught to us as math, and that they are equal. If the amount of calories going into your body equal the amount of calories going out, all should be well. At least that is what is usually said. But it is what is on the inside of a calorie that matters. 100 calories of broccoli don’t break down in our bodies the same way 100 calories of brownies do.

fed up scale

I’ve only gone on diets twice in my whole life. Once, for a week in high school, I tried (what I now see as my version of) the Adkins Diet and only ate microwaved cheese and eggs and meat. I had such low energy from this that I couldn’t walk through the halls from class to class. I remember being surprised by this at the time because I thought I was within their guidelines. Why would I think having just microwaved cheese as a third of my diet would be ok?

The other time I dieted was for a random month in college when I learned about calories in vs. calories out. I realized I didn’t have enough calories for my short frame to eat dessert. So I used my dessert-loving brain and figured out a way around it: only eat dessert. At one point, I was just eating whole bags of Reese’s peanut butter cups for dinner. I got bronchitis when my friends all got it and theirs went away with a Z-pak and mine stuck around for months. Because of the wheezing and deep, deep coughing lasting so long, my body got used to the sharp muscle constricting and, after a while, I started projectile vomiting. Which my roommate Hoosty and I thought was hilarious. So we’d laugh, which would get the muscles going again, which in turn would make me wheeze and cough, and projectile vomit.  The cycle continued. College was a special time.

That was how I learned all calories are not created equally. You may already know this. If not, instead of trying your own dessert experiment/ torture, you could read this that is one of my favorite articles: Why Calories Don’t Matter by Dr. Mark Hyman, MD. Or you could watch Fed Up. Or it’s just really easy to understand and you probably already got it before I told those ridiculous dieting stories.

When we’re told that our health comes down to calories eaten matching calories burned but so many other relevant parts of the equation are left out, our health is ignored. That only works if you are eating healthy calories and if you know what “healthy” means. And if you have time to burn an unlimited amount of calories.

fed up french fry exercise

Obesity is a nation-wide, chronic problem that should be met with compassion and education. The kids in this film break my heart. They are trying so hard, but no one is telling them where to put their energy that will be effective. Their parents are lovingly trying to but no one told their parents how to be healthy either. Hopefully they all watched their own movie though. They are a part of something that will bless so many people, and I hope this is a case where the blessings out do indeed equal the blessings coming back to them.

If you don’t have Netflix, learn more about where to find the movie at http://www.fedupmovie.com. Here is the Fed Up trailer:

 

Ass Hat Sandwich

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Ass Hat Sandwich: Dairy Free Soy Free Gluten Free Egg Sandwich with a giant pepper that looks like a butt holding in the ingredients and wearing a bread slice that looks like a hat. Good Morning Everyone. #sauteed #organic #yellowonion in a #pan then #ripped #organic #dinosaurkale into a #whisked #egg and #cooked on #mediumhigh until #goldenbrown then in the same #pan #toasted #ricebread in #oliveoil and #plated the #sandwich in the #order of #bread #omelet #onion #salsa #avocado #bellpepper #bread so that the #piece of #pepper #holds in the #avocado and I also #scored the #top so the #glutenfreebread could #grip the #orangebellpepper too #nofilter #yummy #breakfast #asshat #sandwich

Curry Quinoa & Avocado Kale Omelette

 

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Savory and filling, yet refreshing and clean. Red Russian kale from the garden and eggs, over thick pieces of Bacon avocados on a bed of spiced quinoa.

It was Shane’s birthday and we woke up to an empty fridge and growling bellies. We had both been out of town for two weeks and gotten home the night before. We needed to go grocery shopping, but were too hungry to go. In the fridge there was a box and a jar filled with seeds I’m collecting. A Diet Coke we keep on hand in case our friend Simon comes over. Cookies shaped like the lead character of the show Shane works on that I plan to make into Christmas ornaments. A Brita filter in water that I’m hoarding in case the water in our pipes magically becomes not rusty and we start to use our Brita pitcher again. Our compost tupperware, a really old cabbage, and some new eggs:

15.4.11 The Whole Ruth Empty Fridge

So we had eggs. Outside of the fridge, we also had two avocados from my aunt and uncle’s tree, the end of a bag of dry quinoa, and a lemon.

That is pretty close to becoming something! We thought we would cook the quinoa and then sauté it in oil, stir in the egg to make something like fried rice and then add spices and avocado. Which would have pretty good I’m sure.

But then we remembered we have a GARDEN!!! It only has one thing in it right now: KALE :)!

So Shane picked fresh kale and made kale omelettes. I played with the spices and quinoa. And he plated it snuggling avocados between the two. Here is the recipe:


 

Curry Quinoa Avocado Kale Omelet title

Ingredients: 2 cups of water, 1 cup of red quinoa, 3 hearty shakes of: curry powder, turmeric, *berebere powder, garlic powder, chili powder, 1/2 a lemon’s juice, 1/2 large Bacon avocado, 2 eggs, 6 Red Russian kale leaves, olive oil.

We try to use organic everything. This amount makes two omelettes and leaves a lot of extra quinoa for later.

*The Berebere powder was a gift from our magical friend, Jenna Johnson. She brought it from a town near to our heart, Pittsburgh. It is commonly used in Ethiopia and Eritrea in Africa. It’s a blend of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, korarima, rue, ajwain or radhuni, nigella, and fenugreek. If you don’t have this ingredient, it’s okay. If you want to buy berebere from the store that Jenna did, it’s called Penzey’s and they’re on Penn Ave in Pittsburgh. They also have locations in 24 states and an online store.

Instructions: Bring two cups of water to a boil, add quinoa, stir, lower to a simmer, add spices and cook until little holes of air appear scattered throughout the quinoa.

Rip up 2-3 leaves of kale and mix in a bowl with an egg. Heat the olive oil on high.

Shane heats it long enough so that when he puts his hand over the oil, he feels the heat, then he adds the kale and egg mixture.

After a few minutes of the egg cooking on the first side, when he sees the egg bubbling a bit, he checks to see if he can get the spatula under the egg. If not, he waits until he can, if so, he  flips the egg.

On the second side, he lets it cook for a bit again then presses it with the spatula. If uncooked egg comes out, he flips it again. Usually that’s all the flipping that is needed, but he’ll repeat this until the egg is cooked all the way through.

Place about an inch of quinoa the size of the omelette on a plate. Top that with thick pieces of avocado. Place the omelette on top. Enjoy! And have a Happy Birthday!