Making the Most…of Compost

compost cropped

One of my great weekly pleasures is the Sunday ritual of dropping off my compost in the bins at the Farmers Market up the street from my home, and then shopping for fresh, local veggies and fruit. It’s a full circle, soil cycle experience.

In a final attempt to make New Yorkers and the city they live in healthier, eco-friendly mayor, Michael Bloomberg, wants to create a mandatory food-waste recycling program – that is – mandatory composting! The city is even seeking proposals to build a plant to process food waste into biogas and convert it to electricity. The program should be citywide by 2015/16 and will start out on a voluntary basis, but will eventually be mandatory. Of course Mayor Mike won’t be around to fine New Yorkers who don’t separate their food scraps, but Democratic candidate, Bill de Blasio, says if elected, he will eventually make composting mandatory. It will be very interesting if that really comes to pass since during the NYC Democratic mayoral debate last month, all five of the candidates were asked if they composted and not a single one of them did.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic, though, if the uber-energized city that never sleeps could one day literally be fueled…by a Big Apple!




In 1999, I was invited to a small informal gathering of moms in Princeton, New Jersey to meet with a fellow NJ mother, Donna Dees Thomases. A week after a shooting rampage at the North Valley JCC in Granada Hills, CA, Donna, who worked in public relations and whose own young daughters attended her local JCC, was motivated to apply for a permit for a march on Washington for gun violence prevention. She was calling it, the Million Mom March. The California shooter was a white supremacist who walked into the lobby of the JCC and opened fire with a semiautomatic weapon, firing 70 shots into the complex. The gunfire wounded five people: three young children, a teenager, and an office worker. Shortly after, he murdered another adult. This shooting occurred four months after the massacre at Columbine High School, which left 12 students, one teacher, and the two murderers dead; plus 21 injured.

I was so inspired by Donna and so appalled by the statistics on gun violence and frustrated by our government’s inability to enforce commonsense gun safety legislation, that I became a local coordinator for the movement. Being immersed in the cause,  I became very conscious of how guns not only permeate our physical culture, but the English language as well. With an interest in linguistics, I was keenly aware of what I’m calling for lack of a better word gunspeak. There have been many times when I’ve had to stop myself in mid-sentence trying to avoid using particular arms-related words or idioms, but it’s so natural, it’s nearly unavoidable.

This list will no doubt trigger more thoughts on the subject: jump the gun, loose cannon, armed with the facts, going great guns, go off half-cocked, be on target, getting loaded, shotgun wedding, shoot your wad, fire with both cylinders, straight shooter, staring down the barrel of a gun, fire back, riding shotgun, gun shy, under the gun, shooting from the hip and the smoking gun.

The Million Mom March was a true grassroots movement, organized through word of mouth. After a nine-month gestation period, on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2000, approximately three quarters of a million people showed up on Washington’s National Mall to advocate for stricter gun laws (150,000 to 200,000 people across the country held local marches). One of the founding beliefs of the Million Mom March was that, “Gun violence is a public health crisis that harms not only the physical, but also the spiritual, social, and economic health of our families and communities.” Displayed on the mall that day was a “wall of death,” which included more than 4,001 names — all people who’d been victims of gun violence. Today, approximately 30,000 people die from gun violence a year in America (it breaks down to someone every 17 minutes).

In 2000, the year of the Million Mom March, the stats were that every day 12 children are killed by gunfire in the U.S.; one out of every 17 high school students had carried a gun in the past month; a gun kept in the home was four times more likely to be involved in an unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense. Fifteen years later, statistics from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, show that every day 48 children and teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention; seven children and teens die from gun violence a day. Overall, 297 people are shot a day; 89 of them die from gun violence. In a year on average that adds up to 17,000 children and teens and 108,000 Americans in general getting shot. These days it’s more difficult for students to bring guns to school, but when it comes to having a gun in the home, well, the numbers documenting the likelihood of those guns harming innocent people, are off the charts. And while some background checks have been instituted in the intervening years, because they aren’t comprehensive enough, they haven’t been bulletproof.

Through the Million Mom March, the power “of a few good moms” propelled the subject of gun safety into the spotlight and literally onto a national stage. President and Hilary Clinton were very supportive of the march and the mission. When the coordinators and our families met with them at the White House prior to the march, there was a great deal of hope in the air. But in all these years since Bill has been out of office, nothing significant has been done regarding this issue.

I am blown away and feeling up in arms at how our legislators have been complacent about every day people walking around with semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and about instituting background checks, which according to CNN, 93% of the American people support. We need to keep shooting off our mouths and stick to our guns, so they’ll give it their best shot and make legislative decisions to enforce sensible gun laws that represent the will of the majority of law-abiding citizens.

Let’s bite the bullet and get it done!

Will We Ever Give Peace a Chance?

Today, October 9th, would have been John Lennon’s 72nd birthday, also dubbed Peace Day. And speaking of peace…The next presidential debate on October 16th will focus on both foreign and domestic policy and then the last debate on October 22nd, will be devoted exclusively to foreign policy. Besides addressing global financial woes, much of these discussions will be directed toward policy in the Middle East. Today, the Mideast region “is in a state of flux perhaps more volatile than it has been since the end of the Ottoman empire…” (

There are so many things said along the campaign trail. The question is: What kind of sustainable action would a President Romney take regarding the unrest in the Mideast when really faced with these critical decisions? What about President Obama? He’s been in the hot seat. Does he believe there are truly viable solutions? Secure in a second term, will he attempt some bold moves?

When it comes to the seemingly endless trouble in this volatile region and the reality that it’s one step forward and two steps back, how do we move forward? Human beings are responsible for the many horrific occurrences, and we’ve witnessed that human behavior is impossible to control and predict. 

John Lennon implored us to, “Give peace a chance.” But with each passing year that quest seems to be getting tougher and tougher to imagine.

A Voice From the Past

I am a serious packrat. Not just of objects, but of emails and phone messages too. I have 25,000+ emails in my aol account. It became too arduous a task to go through them once I switched over to gmail, so I’ve continued to let them accumulate. At this point, I’m going for the record! I’ve held  on to the aol address to give out to online order companies, which so far has helped to keep my gmail safe from spam.

While email can collect indefinitly, it’s not the same for phone and text messages. Every few months I get a message on my cellphone that my voice mailbox is full. This week marks two years since my father died and I can’t bring myself to erase the many phone messages that my mother left me from his hospital room over his six-week stay. The fact that he was in the room with her while she was speaking to me, chronicling his condition, is what compels me to hold on to them. Every once in awhile I replay them. It’s like a story where you already know the ending, but you can’t help re-reading it; a story with an unsatisfying ending. You read it again with the possibility that this time it won’t have the same inevitable conclusion.

I still have a good old fashioned address book as well, which contains many names and contact information of family and friends I’ve lost. I’ve given up whiting it out. I find it comforting to know that I’m forever tethered to each and every one of them…in a kind of time warp of memory.

Lincoln, Lincoln, I’ve Been Thinkin’

My grandmother, Myne Freed, was born on February 12th. I always thought it was fitting that she was born on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. My grandparents were involved in politics in Philadelphia; my grandfather, M. Phillip Freed, held several political posts. When he was appointed to the bench as a judge in 1957, he asked Nana to finish his term as Democratic Chief of the 20th Ward, a post she held for 10 more years. She probably wouldn’t have thought of it this way, but that was quite a feminist thing to do!

In a simple blog post, I could never encapsulate how special a person she was, how much she meant to me and my family, or all the good she did as an engaged citizen with a sense of duty on both a large and small scale. But in thinking about Abraham Lincoln, one apropos story to share is that Nana served on a social welfare committee that was part of President Truman’s Commission on Civil Rights to end segregation and break down the barriers that were keeping African Americans and Jews from purchasing houses in certain “restricted” neighborhoods. She and my grandfather met with the Truman’s when the Democratic Convention was held in Philadelphia in 1948. In fact, my mother tells the story that she had gone to the movies with a date and when the newsreel came on, there were her parents seated on the dais right behind President Truman who was speaking from the podium. A few years ago, I documented this anecdote and much more in my short story, “Nana Buys a Pants Suit.”

I recently found a speech made by historian and Lincoln biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin, for the Society for Human Resource Management, on the subject of Lincoln as a leader. My grandmother exuded humility and would never have thought of herself as a “leader.” But after reading the 10 qualities Kearns thought contributed to Lincoln’s great ability to lead,” it really solidified my theory of Nana and Lincoln sharing some similar human traits by virtue of being born on the same day. These include: 1) Capacity to Listen to Different Points of View 2) Ability to Learn on the Job 3) Ready Willingness to Share Credit for Success 4) Ready Willingness to Share Blame for Failure 5) Awareness of Own Weaknesses 6) Ability to Control Emotions, 7) Know How to Relax and Replenish (including the importance of humor as a way to replenish oneself) 8) Go Out into the Field and Manage Directly 9) Strength to Adhere to Fundamental Goals and 10) Ability to Communicate Goals and Vision.

Doris Kearns Goodwin ended her keynote address with the following words from Leo Tolstoy about Abraham Lincoln: His greatness consisted of the “integrity of his character and moral fiber of his being.” Ditto for my grandmother. With each passing year, I appreciate more and more what an inspiration and role model she was. Happy Birthday Nana!

Our Annual Cook Off – 2012 Theme: Brooklyn

Once a year our daughters challenge themselves with their very own Cook Off in which we are the judges. They usually come up with individual themes, but this year they thought they would share a theme. They asked me for ideas and without hesitation, I suggested: Brooklyn. After much contemplation and research and then several hours of preparation on the day of the Cook Off, they presented us with a full-course meal. I never imagined the clever concepts and creative plating and flavors this would generate. Interestingly, Joie thought of old-time Breukelen and the shores of the East River and Coney Island, while Sophie thought of more modern day artisanal Brooklyn.

As usual we ate well from appetizer to dessert – a “Junior’s Inspired Chocolate Cheesecake” with orange zest and raspberry sorbet  and “A Treat Grows in Brooklyn”- a seasonal cinnamon apple pear crumble inspired by the 1943 novel by Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, complete with a homemade puff pastry tree.

We ate, we judged, we enjoyed immensely. In the end, I think the judges were the real winners!

Meatless Mondays

It’s always Meatless Mondays at our house and for that matter Meatless Tuesdays, Wednesdays… you get the point. If you’re looking to kick off 2012 in a healthier, more sustainable way, as well as inspiration to go meatless, check out Meatless Mondays, filled with recipes and resources for eating lower on the food chain. Our Meatless Monday dish tonight is:  Thai coconut curry tempeh, roasted string beans, black beans, coconut milk and Brown Rice Medley (long-grain brown rice, black barley and daikon radish seeds). Yum! For more on the subject of eating more sustainably and specifically on rethinking your meat intake, here’s an excerpt from my article, “The True Cost of Food,” published in 2009…

A discussion of food and climate change must address the need to significantly reduce our meat consumption. Fruits, vegetables, and grains require 95% percent less raw materials to produce. In a 2006 report, the United Nations said that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation combined. Agribusinesses and large factory farms (also known as CAFOs, Confined Animal Feeding Operations), in particular, are major culprits. To counter this, there is a growing movement of small farms that have found methods to avoid much of the harm caused by factory farms and feedlots. Grass-fed beef, for example, is estimated to produce 40% less greenhouse emissions and grass is easier for cattle to digest, resulting in less methane, the second most significant greenhouse gas. According to the Sierra Club’s National Sustainable Consumption Committee, factory-bred animals are fed a diet of concentrated corn and other grains. 80% or more of the grain grown in the US is fed to cows—it takes 10 to 16 pounds of grain to produce a pound of meat. The true cost of raising this grain is enormous, requiring massive amounts of land, water and fertilizer. In recent years, more and more consumers are choosing to reduce their meat intake for health and sustainability reasons. If every American had just one meat-free day a week, it would reduce carbon emissions equal to taking 8 million cars off the road.

Happy Meatless Monday!

I Can’t Swim: Reflections on the Need for Climate Action

When I was eight years old, at a swim club with my family, a friend of my brother’s thought it would be funny to toss me in the pool. I couldn’t swim. Panic ensued as I tried to paddle my way to the wall, all the while with my nose and mouth dipping below the surface of the water. When I was nine, my mother took me for swim lessons. I hated it. I hated the smell of the chlorine. I hated how the Polyester bathing suit felt against my skin. I hated the chill I felt before I actually got in the pool and I hated the viscosity of the water once I immersed myself. I learned various technical skills, but I didn’t learn to swim with any proficiency. And while I spent my summers as a child at the beach, my ocean skills weren’t much better, having been knocked down by a wave more than once, gulping enough salt water to raise my blood pressure.

For 18 years or so, I have been writing, speaking and teaching about the threat of climate change – the crisis formerly known as global warming. It’s always been a hard sell because a) nobody wants to hear about doomsday scenarios b) to do anything about it; that is, to reduce our energy use, requires change, which is hard and c) it seems totally disconnected to our “developed” country  lives – it’s someone else’s problem. For many years it has been a problem for more vulnerable populations – the poor, indigenous populations and people living on small island nations. Well, guess what? My fellow New Yorkers and I live on an island too! And for anyone who rides the Lexington Avenue subway trains, you know that all it takes is a heavy rain to cause the East River to surge and flood the FDR, and cause delays on the 4, 5, and 6 trains. The idea of flooding in the subways began to get some serious public attention during the threat of Hurricane Irene this past summer.

During Irene the storm surge was 3.6.  According to Columbia University professor Klaus Jacob, one of the nation’s foremost experts on transit and climate change, “Had it been not 3.6 feet but 4.6, we would have been in deep trouble.” In other words, one foot of a difference.

According to the article “For Transit Agencies, Climate Change Can Cost Billions,”  “What the city dodged was the ghost of climate change future — higher sea levels, intense storms, and elevated amounts of precipitation, all of which could combine to cause widespread flooding of the subway system.”

The transit infrastructure measures needed to be taken to protect us from catastrophic destruction could cost New York’s MTA as much as $15 billion. The MTA is already $10 billion short in funding its current capital campaign. The longterm fix would be to spend this money instead on investing in and producing more sustainable energy and  in offering more incentives and alternatives to help reduce the amount of human-made greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change. But with limited available funds, neither may be feasible. The money aside, Americans typically only act after disaster has struck. We’re on a fast track and stopping to take preventive actions would slow us down; many also believe that being forced to make lifestyle changes to lower our carbon footprint would be infringing on our right to use an abundance of energy as we please. Let’s consider, though, that 5.2 million people ride the NYC subway a day. As stated in the article, a halted subway would almost halt the city’s economy, which, Jacob says produces $4 billion a day in economic activity. Our only hope may be that the almighty dollar will be enough of a wake-up call for us to begin taking action.

With this threat looming, I’ve thought that maybe I should once again look into swim lessons, but under these circumstances, even knowing how to keep our heads above water, won’t help much.

The Great Depression

Last week marked the 82nd anniversary of the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which officially began The Great Depression. There are varying thoughts on whether what we are currently experiencing is a recession or a depression. With all the bad news in the news, I thought I would share an amusing depression story…

One of my best friends growing up was Alice Beck (Dubow), now a judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. I spent a great deal of time at her house. Her father, Dr. Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist acclaimed for being the creator of “cognitive therapy,” a type of psychotherapy, had his practice in the living room of their home. It was a beautiful room lined with built-in bookcases. I was a bibliophile, and so when he wasn’t seeing patients, I enjoyed perusing the titles in his collection. I remember going home and telling my mother that Alice’s father must be an expert on “The Depression” because he had so many books on the subject. It wasn’t until years later sitting in a psychology class that I realized just what kind of depression he had an expertise in!

If you’ll indulge me, here’s hoping this Depression doesn’t lead to a more serious depression!

Food Day Everyday!

Today is national Food Day.  I like to think everyday is a day to support healthy, affordable food, produced in a sustainable way! This first national Food Day is being recognized with lots of fun, educational and delicious foodie events planned all around the country.

A few weeks ago, JCC Grows, the healthy food and hunger-relief – community garden initiative that I manage was featured on the White House blog, the Let’s Move blog and the USDA blog. JCC Grows is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move effort and the USDA’s People’s Garden initiative. Click here to read about the project on the White House blog.