Wednesday, March 7, 2012

No Impact Woman

No Impact Woman

Friends gifted us with a Roku player this winter after staying with us in Vermont. I’m not that much a movie watcher but the boys were thrilled. With this contraption, you basically can access Netflix instantly via your TV. One day, when I wasn’t skiing, I turned it on and spotted a food documentary section and sensed an addiction in the making. That night, I treated traumatized my young children with Food Inc. I now think this should be required viewing for all kids as it connected them to their food. It was more valuable than be telling them to eat something “because it’s good for you”. My 9 year old really got it.  This past weekend, the boys were skiing and I turned on a documentary called No Impact Man.

No Impact Man follows a writer and his family, in NYC, on a yearlong experiment to try to have no adverse impact on the environment.  This meant local food, no elevators, no cars or trips. At six months they yanked their electricity eliminating refrigeration and necessitating lots of candles. This couple had a 2-year-old daughter so disposable diapers (and toilet paper for the adults) were no more.  No Impact Man is Colin Beavan, a writer, who wants to veer away from historical writing. For me though, the star of this film is his wife Michelle Conlin who accepts her husband’s challenge and goes from self-confessed reality television, shopping and coffee junkie to no impact woman. When you see someone with no experience in environmentalism making sweeping changes it’s pretty inspiring.

Of course I zeroed in on the food changes invovled:
No meat (responsible for more greenhouse gases than cars) or fish
No food from more than 250 miles away (no such thing as local coffee in NYC), lots of farmers market trips
No packaged food, if it wasn’t from the farmer’s market food came from bulk bins
No restaurant meals because many ingredients come from faraway places
No take out; after all takeout comes in containers
No paper towels, dishwasher.

As you watch Michelle go to work on her scooter, bid farewell to her makeup and eat lots and lots of parsnips and cornmeal porridge you start to think about what you really need. I should also note that her local diet, scooting to work and 9th floor apartment led to a 10-pound weight loss and her pre-diabetic condition reversed. Michelle calls the scooter “no impact Ambien.”

In the film Colin points out that when you insinuate people should “do without” it traumatizes people.  And a lot of the potentially traumatized dismissed these efforts as crazy. I flinched while watching when the point is made that it’s not enough to just bring your reusable bags to the market with you. This stung as I’m a believer in doing what you can do, even if it’s not full force. The truth is, the day after seeing No Impact Man I walked instead of jumping in a taxi, asked for an emailed versus paper receipt, turned down a bag and cancelled catalogs we don’t need (or don’t need multiples of). They real key, says Beavan, is to get what you need in a way that doesn’t hurt the planet versus simply living without. I love this from a blog post Michelle wrote:
What I learned from No Impact was that there is a steep cost to supporting all your stuff. To a life devoted to getting and having. In my days of high consumption, I'd been searching for something. It turned out that it was right in my own home.

My refrigerator and coffee aren’t going anywhere and there’s no composting in my immediate future but I appreciated the wake up call. I liked the perspective to be able appreciate having light and  a dishwasher. We can all pay attention to packaging, walk more, ride less  and encourage our friends and family to do the same. Here are some tips from the No Impact site:
Save the world by improving your diet.

  • Cutting beef out of your diet will reduce your CO2 emissions by 2,400 pounds annually. Will you commit to a week without beef? A month? A year?
  • Giving up 1 bottle of imported water means using up one less liter of fossil fuel and emitting 1.2 pounds less of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Will you commit to a week without plastic water bottles? A month? A year?

  • Don’t buy anything, don't use any machines, don't switch on anything electric, don't cook, don't answer your phone, and, in general, don't use any resources. Do it for a whole day each week to cut your impact by 14.4% a year. Will you commit to one hour a week for a month? A year?
  • If an average family contributes 1% ($502.33) of their annual income ($50,233) to an environmental non-profit, they could offset 40.7 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Will you commit to tithing .5% of your annual income to an environmental non-profit? 1%? 2%?

  • If you can stay off the road and ride your bike or walk just two days a week, you'll reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 1,590 pounds per year and get good, healthy exercise and we'll all breathe fewer fumes. Will you commit to using your own steam for one day a week? Two? Three?
  • Take time off from television watching each week and join with others to improve our planet. Spend three fewer hours each day sitting in front of your plasma television and you will reduce your carbon emissions by 550 pounds each year. Will you commit to 5 hours of eco-service a month? 0? 15?
And if this inspires you I would check out the Roku.
What food film has had an impact on you? Any you’d recommend? Do you think you could do a month or a year with “zero impact”? Or what can you see yourself doing to reduce your impact?

37 comments:

  1. First off, I can't believe your kids watched Food Inc.! Seriously, that's brilliant on your part. I will make my kids watch that too...and all the other food documentaries. Muahaha

    This documentary sounds interesting, yes, but like you said I'm not a fan of the fact that they seen to think "doing what you can" isn't enough. Let's face it, it's just not reasonable to live like that! I mean, not in this world anyway. I reuse EVERYTHING, I compost, I garden, I only eat small amounts of animal protein (not including greek yogurt....) and I walk and ride my bike whenever possible. I think I'm pretty good to the environment and I don't want to be made to feel like "I should do more"...you know?? Either way, I want to see this documentary!!!

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    1. Gina, to clarify the film didn't say doing a little wasn't ok it was someone in the film. That wasn't their message.

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  2. I liked No Impact Man, but only because of Michelle. I found Colin completely insufferable. And also, my heart broke a little bit (OK, a lot) when Michelle had her miscarriage. I'm good at talking the talk when it comes to environmentalism. Walking the walk takes a bit more commitment.

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    1. Michelle made the film. I liked Colin's commitment but emotionally there was a missing piece. No impact didn't seem like a sacrifice to him and that's odd. I could relate to her pining for coffee or the Marc Jacobs bag much more.

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    2. I read about this year long project in Cha or some other holistic health magazine and thought how unbelievable it was, especially for a family on NYC. I didn't realize the did a documentary and I'll have to watch it, thanks for the info!
      I feel good that we do many things already to help decrease our impact on the planet which also is personally better for us. But I honestly can't imagine doing ALL they do for an entire year!!!
      If anything I'd be willing to try some of it and incorporate it hopefully for life but can't imagine my hubby going along...
      Can't wait to watch it on my small "normal" TV, or read it if there is a book... ;)

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    3. Yes, there is a book and we have a normal TV with this roku thingy attached. Awesome that you're already doing a lot. At times I think I do and then I think I could do so much more. I like a good nudge. I think the idea that a couple did this for a year and enjoyed it shows not that hard to at least do more. Walking to my son's school now for "science share" instead of bussing it. You see?

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  3. This is an excellent post and I am so interested in seeing this film. I believe it would have a HUGE impact on my hubby and I , as we are big believers in doing what we can. I want to start a compost this summer, but bought a low efficiency washer, we recycle, don't use bottle water, turn off lights, etc but we could still do more!! Great reminder!

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    1. Wow Erin, does sound you are doing so much. I'm impressed. Yes, we can all do more and just defining what that "more" is.

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  4. haha no impact ambien... love it!!
    My kids watched Food Inc too but I think they are too young to remember the message at this point. I'll have them watch it again in a few years.
    Forks over knives is still on my "to watch" list!
    I love when people take on extreme challenges -- why not if it's something they're passionate about!

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    1. I agree Lisa but I think some folks look at it as "extreme" or unrealistic. I haven't seen Forks over knives either, we should both watch and discuss.

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  5. I have never heard of this movie but I would love to see it...

    We've been making changes around here for years now. For example, I eliminated paper towels 3 years ago and we never looked back. I swear, I throw more stuff in the recycling bin than I do in the trash chute - it's an amazing lesson for Maya.

    And we live in an area where we can easily walk to grocery stores, dry cleaners, etc. which saves gas and makes us feel better in general. Most people in LA can't do this since the city is so car-oriented but we are lucky!

    I have a long list of movies to watch now...just hope that running my DVR isn't too bad for the environment. :)

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    1. never pegged you for a greeny but it makes sense given the practical part of you. Walking in LA- it can be done? Wow. Paper towels, I can try that. You just use dishtowels? LMK.

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  6. I haven't seen this movie but it sounds interesting. I think one of the goals of a lot of these types of documentaries is to convince people not to go all in with the stuff they show in the movie, but that even if they can get people to do 10-20% of what they suggest, it's a win. And different aspects of this lifestyle work for different people. For example, if you live in a city, maybe you can do without your car a few days a week, but where I live I literally can't walk anywhere except a neighbor's house (to walk outside the neighborhood it's not just a long walk, which would be ok sometimes, but the streets don't have sidewalks and they're not safe). But I can stop drinking bottled water because our tap water is quite good. And I can use fewer paper towels in favor of reusable sponges, etc. But I think I'll keep my toilet paper, thank you!

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    1. keep the tp. Agreed, what portion can you do? And do something. Those are the messages. Great point.

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  7. I'm not really sure that all of the choices we make to be environmentally friendly are in the best interest of the environment. Not using your dishwasher sounds like a no brainer, but you use less water and detergent if you do. Not eating meat.. sure.. but if you buy local grass fed beef, you are sustaining your local farmers, and the cows nourish the land with their manure. Not turning on your electronics for one day.. ok sure, but if you get so backed up on work or what not that you spend longer on them the next day, is that really being helpful??

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    1. I have to disagree with this. Some "green" measures are useless such as putting something to be recycled that doesn't. I'm not sure why you wouldn't see eating grass fed/local meat as better than factory systems. When you mention not doing something for one day, if you do double the next day that wouldn't help but if you see where you can cut back then you're taking a step in the right direction. With weight or the environment I think "what I do doesn't really matter" and finding fault is a great excuse to do nothing which we can probably all agree isn't what we're after. I appreciate you offering your opinion and yes, there's a lot of greenwashing but less meat, less electricity, less chemical cleaners in my book all good.

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  8. That movie sounds wildly interesting. I don't think I could ever do that. It just would not be sustainable for my lifestyle. I would end up spending the whole day washing dishes, washing my son's cloth diapers and taking the stairs up and down my apartment. In theory it's great and I like that they showed that it can be done in NYC, which is as urban as it gets.

    I definitely try to do my share of helping the environment. At my grad school everyone prints out everything. I have made a conscious decision to only print if I absolutely have to. The result is that I am more than halfway through my degree and I still have 9985 page credits of the 1000 I was given when I started school!

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    1. I have a broken printer = great for environment. That's a good one to remember Sam. I think when you see the film even more interesting than I'm making it sound.

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    2. Ha! I just realized the numbers I quoted make no sense! There's an extra "9"! I have 985 pages of the 1000 I was given.

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  9. It's a good project and I am the type of person who thinks every bit helps toward forward progress. But I wouldn't attempt what they did.

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    1. Don't know many who would do it (hard, admirable though). Agreed, whatever we can do and encourage others to do.

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  10. Love the idea to watch Food Inc. with my kids-definitely going to do this! I agree with many of the comments and feel that I already do a lot, but clearly there is more I can be doing {realistically} to have a lighter environmental footprint. I walk my kids to and from school, and could probably go a day or two w/o using a car because we have a grocery store w/in walking distance (unfortunately the organic produce selection there is sad :-(, and I work from a home office. Four days a week though, right now, one of the kids has a ball game or practice, and not really feasible on those days to walk. I rarely drink bottled water (have a filter instead) but every now and then I enjoy a little of Ayala's Herbal water :-) Going to go make your pineapple green smoothie now!

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    1. sounds as thought you are doing well (I could walk kids to school more) so lucky to be close enough. Every ounce counts.

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  11. Fast Food Nation had a huge impact on me. No more fast food! I don't know if I can make the kind of commitment that No Impact advocates, but I try hard to be conscious about choices.

    This week's grocery shopping had nothing packaged. I was so proud of myself that I almost sent you and Carolyn a picture!

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    1. We want a photo, nothing packaged, so awesome. Basket should look like a farm not a factory. Well done. I'll tell Carolyn.

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    2. Thanks! I'll be sure to send you a pic next time that occurs.

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  12. Great post, per usual, I have watched both Food Inc and Forks over Knives and have made notable changes to my diet. I make every effort to only eat wild/organic/local whenever possible. I try to limit my "animal protein" and am more conscious of my consumption. I got rid of most of my beloved 100 calorie processed snacks in favor of fruits, veggies, nuts.

    I am putting this on the list to watch this weekend!

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    1. Ah 100 calorie packs, we can make our own, right Einat? I guess if we make changes to habits after these films, that's a success.

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  13. I loved this documentary. I like the balance between Michele and Colin. He's the one who initiated this project and his main goal (from my understanding) was to document this experience as a writer, not so much being 'no impact'. Michele had to live daily with the consequences of his project. Her main goal was just to survive it! So, can you live without electricity? What does that translate into? All this was interesting, not just imagining what it would be but witnessing it.

    I don't buy any food that comes into a package. I use my own produce, bulk and grocery bags. No plastic. I try to not generate trash, even the kind you can recycle. I use stainless containers and cotton cloth snack bags for my kids school lunch. DH and I became vegetarian a few months ago after watching Forks Over Knives, but still buy organic or no hormone/no antibiotics meat for the kids. I started my own garden compost in addition to my city composting.
    I drink green tea and coffee and eat many produces grown in Mexico during winter, I drink wine and eat cheese from Europe, so I am definitely not eating only local, even though living in CA helps a lot to try to buy local. I have fruit trees and grow herbs/vegetables in my small backyard. I'd love to have solar panels but this is not going to happen soon (loved the part with the small solar panel in the documentary to keep his blog alive).
    I make my own beauty product, cleaning products such as dishwasher and laundry soap, I wear a diva cup...

    My main goal is health, keeping the nasty chemicals away, and the side effect is that I have become greener.

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    1. First Natalie, you're such an inspiration with all you do in this department. Your last line stuck a cord. Not everyone sees this as a goal for the planet or general good. You can come to this personally, for yourself or your family and a "side effect" is you are doing something for the planet. I love that point. Climate change terrifies me but my children's well being is more pressing. As I say to clients, we don't have to choose when you make a good change it can have multiple effects.

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  14. I remember reading about this experiment in Good or some oovey-groovey mag. I really want to see this doc! I am all for being environmentally conscious but I know my own limitations and they are coffee, refrigerated food and the internet. Oye. I would have to leave NYC in order to really be no-impact. I don't know how they did it! While working and raising a child, no less! I would like to try some of the suggestions, though. I could easily give up beef - I eat it once or twice a year anyways and don't really love it, I just eat it when I take a client to Quality Meats! I can give up imported water. And I can give to an eco-friendly non-profit. As for the going without electricity for a day...hmm. Not so sure.

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    1. Again, not give up but replace, right?

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  15. What's your green status Rebecca (other than your shirt in your photo)?

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  16. Wow! I hadn't heard of this documentary. What an impact that must have had. I feel the same way..I am doing my part my making little changes. But there is so much more I can do.
    I will have to check this movie out!!

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    1. "what an impact' pun intended? Good one.

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  17. This reminds me of www.zerowastehome.com. So inspiring and intriguing. I would love to live like that if only my boyfriend would cooperate!

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