In 2019, I read 40 books, I fell in love with yoga, I learned to knit, I spent more time outside with my kids, I visited the dentist TWICE, I made my own cleaning products, and I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby.
All-in-all, it was a great year.
This, my friends, is what New Years resolutions are all about. They are NOT just to set and forget. They are supposed to change you. And when they are effective, they are AWESOME.
This year, I have goals that are BIG. They are so big, they are a little scary. I’m almost afraid to state them – but these are things I truly want to accomplish, so I’m going to go for it anyway.
New skill: learn Spanish
Health: run a marathon, swim regularly, improve flexibility
Personal: go back to school for nursing, pursue kidney donation, volunteer regularly
Blog: improve blog design and function, organize and categorize posts
Family: establish family mealtime routine and guidelines, take international trip with Brett
Minimalism: minimalist game in January, remove 30 unused items per month, log all [non-consumable] purchases
Environmentalism: buy milk in glass, switch to safety razor, wooden dish brushes, and straw broom.
Humanitarianism: donate more money this year, sponsor another child, commission quilts for donation
As I’ve said before, I LOVE making resolutions [or goals] because it is so helpful for me to focus on specific things I want to change or improve or learn or accomplish in the new year. Maybe you hate them, maybe you’re indifferent, or maybe you have your own way of goal-setting. Whatever the case, I hope that 2020 is a year of tremendous personal growth and accomplishments for you.
Before I get started talking about my highly customizable, completely zero waste, delicious and hearty vegetable soup, I need to admit a few things…
First, I am not a chef. I would barely qualify as a cook if it weren’t for the fact that I now find myself in the unfortunate position of needing to cook…A LOT. I don’t know if the sheer quantity of meals I prepare is enough to call me a cook, but I still don’t feel like one. In fact, I’ve always hated cooking.
“Baking have I loved and cooking have I hated.” [Good ol’ scripture reference from the religion of my youth.]
Anyway, to be fair, I’ve become a decent cook. I can prepare a whole meal without needing to consult allrecipes.com and I very frequently “wing it” with good results. I’ve even found myself creating my own recipes!!! This is totally out of character for me – but, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. [At least, I think that’s a saying…]
Secondly, this is not a recipe.
Sorry about that.
This is more about encouraging everyone to look through the fridge or the pantry and find what’s just hanging around unused and forgotten and throwing it all in a big pot with some water and seeing what happens.
It’s an adventure really. And I love adventure!
So, let’s get on with it.
Why Vegetable Soup is AWESOME
Vegetable soup is a staple in my home for many reasons:
1. It is versatile. I have never met a vegetable that didn’t like to be in a vegetable soup. I also love to add quinoa, lentils or rice in for fun sometimes.
2. It is zero waste. I never have to add the ingredients for this soup to my shopping list because the whole point is to use up what I have lying around. And, believe me, I’ve thrown some random things in my vegetable soups [all edible, I assure you].
3. It is easy to make ahead and reheat. In fact, I usually make this while my kids have their quiet time so that I don’t have to worry about four staving children nagging me for dinner. I also always make this when my husband works late because I can make it earlier in the day so dinner time is a breeze. Soup is also great for freezing.
4. My kids love it. I love it too. [My husband is iffy on it, but that’s only because he doesn’t believe that anything without meat or cheese is real food, so don’t listen to him.] In fact, my vegetable soup is the only thing that I can count on my picky two-year-old consistently eating.
5. It is SO GOOD FOR YOU! I frequently encourage my personal training clients to up their vegetable intake by trying to have two different types of vegetables at every meal. This soup could haveDOZENS! Most people are not getting enough vegetables, so this soup can really help [and a salad at lunch goes a long way too].
How to Make the Vegetable Soup
Ok, so I already admitted that this is not a recipe, but I will walk you through the basics.
Step 1: Find and chop all the vegetables you want to use. Literally any and all vegetables will do.
Step 2: Cook them in a stock pot with a little oil starting with the hardest vegetables and then moving to the softest. [Or just throw them all in at once and move to step three. Feel free to be lazy with it. It’s all going to simmer in the end anyway.]
Step 3: Add water to cover and bring to a boil.
Step 4: Add anything else like beans, potatoes, quinoa, rice, sweet potatoes, other vegetables you might have forgotten, anything else you found lying around in the fridge like a leftover jar of pasta sauce, etc.
Step 5: Let boil as long as is needed for everything to soften then let it simmer for…as long as you want. Or take it off the heat and let the flavors meld. Or serve it up right away. Up to you.
Note: always taste and season as you go. May need some salt. Maybe some pepper. Maybe some chili powder. Maybe some garlic. Maybe some onion powder.
[Again, this is not a recipe.]
This is literally how I’ve made soup once a week for the past year and it has always been delicious.
…but it clearly doesn’t always look appetizing…
Pictured above is a corn, onion, celery, potato, quinoa soup – which turned into more of a stew cuz that quinoa really soaks up the liquid. Very hearty and delicious.
Here is a carrot, onion, corn, green bean, and chickpea soup.
Now this soup had A LOT in it: carrot, onion, tomato, sweet potato, black beans, quinoa, kale, and a few other things I can’t remember…
Ok, in this one I added shredded chicken, BUT IT WAS GOING BAD, I swear! If you’re a meat eater then it’s totally fine to add some meat! And top it with cheese! [But really, I’d prefer you not because a plant-based diet is better for you and the planet.]
Just had to throw that in there.
Anyway, vegetables. Eat them. Throw them in a pot with some water and salt. Delicious.
On a road trip from Chicago to Detroit last month, we passed a billboard on the I-90 interstate that said something to the effect of: without truckers there would be no food.
The purpose of the billboard was to thank truckers during National Truck Driver Appreciation Week back in September and – don’t get me wrong – I’m appreciative, but I would not starve without truckers.
I am surrounded by local farms where I can buy my food so I don’t need to have it shipped from half way across the country [with the exception of some foods we can’t grow in the Midwest like bananas and avocados – but those are hardly necessities]. In fact, we should all be concerned by the fact that most of the food in grocery stores and supermarkets are transported by long-haul trucks from their place of origin. According to a Business Insiders article, without truckers, the grocery stores would run out of food in three days [read about it HERE.] To me, it is actually kind of sad that they are shipping in food from all over the map when food [often the same kind of food] is being grown by farmers right in my home town.
Having food shipped all over the world is not the best, healthiest, most economical, or most sustainable approach to feeding humanity, which is why we purchase a CSA share from a local farm each year.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.
The way a CSA works is local community members pay a price up front for a certain share in the crops produced on the farm. This provides security for the farmer in the event of a bad season and provides delicious, local, and in-season food for the shareholders. We’ve only had our share for two seasons, but we’ve already seen first hand how unpredictable the farming business is. And still, the benefits to spending my grocery budget in this way are totally worth any “risk.”
Here are some of my favorite things about our CSA:
1. My farmers are awesome. I literally know my farmers. That alone, to me, is super cool. And, what is more, these men are a part of my community. They employ community members. They are helping our local economy. I am proud to support them.
2. My food is picked when it’s ripe. My food isn’t picked when it’s green and then sprayed later to make it appear ripe. My food is also picked within a week of me picking it up.
3. My food is grown ethically. I know that my farm takes care of its employees. I don’t have to fear that I am buying food that is grown by a system that takes advantage of people [as many food sources do].
4. My food is grown organically. My particular farm [Rustic Road Farm in Elburn, IL] is applying for its organic certification, and they are very open and honest about their methods of farming.
5. My food is the real-deal misfit produce. You’ve probably heard about all the businesses selling the “misfit” produce that is rejected by grocers. Well, my food is the legit stuff. It comes in all shapes and sizes. It teaches me and my kids that a head of lettuce doesn’t have to look like those fancy plastic wrapped ones in the grocery store. It is food. We all need to be less picky and less wasteful.
If you’re considering getting a CSA share, my only advice is DO IT. If you have any questions about CSAs, let me know! I’d love to share more of our experience.
Also, you can read about our experience last year:
A reader asked me this recently, which made me realize that I owe everyone an explanation. I hope that the title of my blog has not been misunderstood to mean that I have something against makeup or against wearing makeup, because I don’t.
A few years ago I started a blog about motherhood. At that time, I had already stopped wearing makeup, so the title was literal, but at the same time, I meant it figuratively because I was trying to say that I’m sharing the real me – not some edited-for-the-internet version of myself, or the “gram-able” get-my-good-side photos of myself. I chose the name for the same reason that I don’t wear makeup – because I don’t need to hide behind perfection. I like showing people the real me – the same me that my kids see when they drag me out of bed in the morning, the same me that just ran five miles on the treadmill at the gym, the same me that’s too busy to care whether I look good or not. Everyone sees the same face – my real face.
Why I don’t wear makeup
It’s not that I NEVER wear makeup. I do wear makeup occasionally – for professional family photos that we get taken once a year and my anniversary dinner date with my partner and, of course, Halloween [my absolute favorite reason to wear makeup is for a costume!], and a few other special occasions.
In high school, I started wearing makeup partly as way to hide my tragically oily and acne-ridden face from the mean kids in my class and partly as a way to just be normal, like every other girl. But the downside that no one told me about was that eventually I wouldn’t feel comfortable in public without makeup, that it would be a time consuming [not to mention expensive] process every morning for the rest of my life, and that it would make my skin problems even worse.
Then fast-forward ten years and I had become a fitness fanatic on a super clean eating diet and I had just given birth to my second baby, a handsome little boy, and my skin was glowing from all the pregnancy hormones and the clearest it had ever been, so I stopped wearing makeup.
And I never went back.
That’s pretty much it. I was tired of feeling like I looked bad without makeup. I was tired of the breakouts. I was tired of buying products to try to make myself look beautiful. And it took a while, but now I’m very happy with my plain face. I no longer feel the need to put on makeup. When I do wear makeup, it is just for fun. I don’t need it to feel confident or beautiful anymore.
Side note: I do work outside the home, though only part-time, and I have a customer-facing, sales position as a personal trainer but I still don’t feel the need to put on makeup. That being said, I work at a gym where people aren’t dressing up or trying to look their best [well, most people anyway], so I don’t feel pressured to put on a face the way I might if I were back in the corporate world. Still, I’d like to think that I love my natural self enough to not bother with the makeup.
My [nearly] zero waste beauty routine
Turns out, the best way to have zero waste in the beauty department is to embrace natural beauty and not waste time or money on beauty products at all.
[Jonathan Van Ness would KILL me if he heard me say that – sorry, Jonathan! I love you!!!]
However, that being said, I do try to be hygienic [I say “try” because I have four little kids, so sometimes just showering is a struggle – let alone shaving or exfoliating or any of that extra stuff]. So here is my “beauty” routine [can I even call it that?]:
I brush my teeth. I use this beautiful bamboo toothbrush that I love. I am still working through my toothpaste stash [and have been for the past two years…] but I already have some toothpaste tablets to try and will make the switch as soon as all the Colgate is gone.
I wash my hair. I use bar shampoo and bar conditioner. This current coconut shampoo bar is from Lush and smells amazing!
I wash my body. I use all natural, package free bars of soap from wherever I can find them. This current beauty is from an apothecary vendor at my local farmers market.
I shave occasionally [aka rarely]. I’m still working through my obscenely huge stash of disposable plastic razors. I want a safety razor SO BADLY. I think I may just donate my unopened packages of razors to a local shelter so I can make the switch right away.
I clean my ears. I know people say not to do this. When I first went zero waste, I stopped buying q-tips. “Shia Su said I don’t need them, so then I don’t need them!” ….but I do need them. I’ve had drainage problems in my ears since I was a kid and after about a month of not cleaning my ears I could barely hear. So I buy the paper kind and compost them.
I don’t wear deodorant. If my hands get dry, I use the aquaphor lotion we have for the kids. If my lips get chapped, I use the family lip balm we all share.
[Jonathan Van Ness would be SO ashamed of me right now…]
I do own some makeup. I’ve been using the same tube of bb cream for the past five years, I kid you not. I am also still using the same mascara and eye-liner. I have literally not bought any makeup since before I had kids five years ago.
My skincare treatments
I don’t have any scientific evidence to support this statement, but in my experience, clean eating and exercise are the absolute best skin care. I used to spend tons of money on special creams and exfoliants and acne products, but nothing ever cleared my skin until I cleaned up my diet.
Since puberty, I’ve had super oily skin. I used to wear a crapload of that powder foundation to try to tone down the shine on my nose. It was gross. But since I’ve been eating plant-based, whole foods, my skin is not oily at all. If anything, it is too dry. I sometimes actually put coconut oil on my face because my cheeks get dry. [I would have NEVER put oil on my face ten years ago!]
I do get the occasional pimple like every human being, but I don’t hide them with makeup. It’s not fooling anyone anyway. I choose to own my blemishes instead. I just let them be and they go away. In my experience, makeup only makes it worse.
My plan for wrinkles
Well, I have noticed that I am getting wrinkles. I took a picture with my daughter the other day and when I looked at it, I was surprised at all the wrinkles. [Darn you improved cellphone cameras!]
This is the picture:
I’m not implying that they are bad or that I’m not happy because I have wrinkles – it was just the first time I noticed them. I’m starting to look older, which for me is a positive thing since people usually think I am in college.
Things may change as I continue to age, but at this point, I don’t understand why the world tells us that wrinkles are bad and to be prevented at ANY COST. Wrinkles aren’t ugly. They are a sign of age, yes, but age isn’t a bad thing either. Age is a privilege. Age is wisdom. Age is something to be proud of. I intend to embrace my wrinkles rather than fight them.
In the end, how you present yourself to the world is a personal choice. Beauty is a complex thing and everyone wants to look and feel their best, so I’m not trying to discourage anyone from doing any beautifying that makes them feel good. But no matter what face you choose to show the world, I hope YOU know that your real face is beautiful and you don’t have to hide it.
When I first started reducing my waste, I was definitely tempted to toss every piece of plastic in the trash and buy all new wooden toys for my kids, bamboo scrub brushes for my dishes, and cast iron pots and pans for my kitchen…but I knew that was the exact opposite of the zero waste lifestyle I was trying to live. So, instead, I kept using my plastic Tupperware, my kids still play with their cheap plastic toys, and I’ve been scrubbing the toilet with the same plastic toilet brush that we bought nine years ago after we moved in together.
But all that changed a few weeks ago when I walked into the bathroom and saw, to my great excitement, that the toilet brush had somehow snapped in half! [Now that I think about it, one of the kids probably broke it, but I don’t even want to know how that happened…]
I’ve never been so happy to see something broken. And since I am unwilling to actually plunge my hand into the toilet to clean it, it was time for a new toilet brush!
This new beechwood brush is a beauty. In this case, eco-friendly is also the most attractive option.
I finally conceded that my son needs pull-ups to help with night potty training and my first thought was that we would have to buy disposables. [I know, old habits die hard.] But then I realized there may be a reusable alternative – and of course there is! So I bought a reusable pull-up that works just like our cloth diapers except that my son can pull it up and down to go to the bathroom if he needs to.
This GroVia pull-up works GREAT, but it is very pricey so I only bought one. I should get more so I don’t have to wash it every day. [I also got a set of “pull-ups” that are basically just padded underwear and don’t really prevent leaks AT ALL.]
Reusable 2-Gallon Bags
So, I have a confession. I’ve been using plastic gallon bags for storing and freezing my bread each week.
I wasn’t buying bags [which is good]. I was reusing them [which is a little iffy]. And let me tell you, they are definitely not made to be reused. But I didn’t have anything else that would keep the bread from drying out or going stale.
I’ve already replaced sandwich bags with wraps and silicone bags, so I decided to see if they have reusable bags in bigger sizes – and of course they do!
I bought these biodegradable two-gallon reusable bags for storing my loaves of bread in the fridge or freezer. I’m very pleased with them!
I haven’t bought tissues in my adult life – other than picking up a box before my dad comes to visit and buying a box this fall for my daughter to take to kindergarten. It is probably unusual, but we use toilet paper for nose blowing. I fully blame my partner for this alternative. We currently compost the make-shift tissues, so I guess it’s not a total waste, but I’ve been dying for handkerchiefs. They are reusable, they are soft, and they kinda have this old-fashioned classy feel to them.
My girlfriend, Megan, made these for me and I could not be happier! I go to her for all of my sewing needs and she never disappoints! Someday I hope to have her teach me how to sew so I can make reusable produce bags from scrap material to hand out for free at my local farmers market like The Zero Waste Chef does.
Ah, well, we all have dreams!
Laundry Detergent Strips
I have spent WAY TOO MUCH TIME trying to find an eco-friendly laundry detergent. I know lots of people DIY this household essential, but I’ve just read too many reasons to trust the experts AND I use cloth diapers so I can’t be messing around with detergent or I’ll end up with unhappy babies.
So, I was SO EXCITED when my amazing cousin, Stacey, told me about these laundry strips by Well Earth Goods!
Half of a square is detergent for one load of laundry. I just put the strip in the drum and run my washer as usual. I think they are great! I was worried that they wouldn’t be strong enough for the diapers, but out of necessity we tried it￼, and I think it worked fine.
I love that this detergent option has no plastic jug to dispose of and even ships free without any plastic packaging.
This company is great and the store is full of low waste products. While I was there buying the laundry strips, I also picked up toothpaste tablets:
And a laundry stain stick:
I haven’t tried these two things yet. They will each probably warrant their own post with all the details, so stay tuned!
So, basically, what I’m trying to say is, before you go out and buy something that has a single use and will be tossed in the trash and that you have to continue to buy and throw away over and over and over again for the rest of your life….look around for a reusable alternative. There most likely is one. And it will save you loads of cash and Mother Earth loads of trash in the long run.
You heard it here first, folks. Zero Waste is not actually about the waste.
When I first hopped on the waste-less bandwagon around a year ago, I kept seeing all these articles by negative Nancys basically calling the zero waste movement a fraud.
“It’s not actually zero waste,” they said.
“It’s not even going to make a dent in the waste problem.”
“The only way to save the planet is get big business and government legislation involved.”
Ok, so I hear all of this angsty, “why bother” business and I realize that they have all missed the entire point of the zero waste movement.
It’s not about the waste.
Technically it is about waste, but in reality, this way of life is MUCH MUCH bigger than just how much garbage you personally produce. It’s about more than reusable shopping bags and stainless steel straws and cooking from scratch and BYORC [bring your own reusable container – I bet you couldn’t tell I made that up…]. It’s not about storing all your trash in a jar, or in anything at all. None of that matters if we’re missing the whole point.
So what is the whole point?
Are you ready for it?
Zero waste is about affecting social change.
In other words, zero waste is less about how much actual waste you are producing and is much more about how you are influencing other people’s understanding of the waste problem. Sure, you can store five years worth of rubbish in a can, but if you are the only one doing it – I’m sorry – it’s just not going to help.
On trash pickup day, I see so many trash cans in my neighborhood filled to the brim. Some houses have several cans out. Some have whole piles of extra crap next to their cans. I would have to be certifiably insane to think that I am helping the cause by not contributing trash to the weekly pickup. That’s just nonsense. The quantity of trash is just plain enormous.
But I’m not trying to discourage zero wasters [or potential converts]. On the contrary, I’m trying to encourage everyone by saying that you ARE making a difference. Just by participating in the zero waste movement and living the zero waste lifestyle [and it doesn’t have to be perfectly, by the way] we are influencing those around us.
The whole reason the zero waste movement became defined by the trash in the jar stuff is because it is shocking. When someone holds a pint jar and says that all of the trash they have produced in the past year is inside, well, people notice. Because that is just plain not normal in our society. And that catches people’s attention. That plants a seed of curiosity, which we all hope will lead to research and then enlightenment and then changed behavior.
After all, that is the journey that we all went on before going zero waste, right?
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Those millions of people aren’t just going to wake up one morning and start refusing plastic straws. But maybe if they see us doing it, if they hear us talking about it, then maybe the millions will join us.
It seems like a daunting problem from the perspective of the individual – and, yes, we do need corporate and government support to create significant and systemic change. But we shouldn’t let that discourage us either. All of the businesses and governments in the world are made up of people like you and me. It may seem like corporations and governments are huge insurmountable obstacles in the fight for the planet, but when you look closely, they are just people – people who have friends and families, who like to vacation at the beach or hike in the mountains, who also put their trash cans by the road each week. These people are not unreachable and all it takes is for us to set an example of sustainable living that spreads until it reaches the companies and government agencies that can create the biggest impact.
Don’t listen to the nay-sayers. We can create a positive change. All we have to do is set the example.
Do you know how badly I wish there were such a thing as truly zero waste shoes????
Like, really badly.
And I’m not even a shoe person. But when I committed to sourcing my clothes through ethical, sustainable means I just kinda assumed that it would be possible to find shoes the same way.
Turns out, I was mistaken.
Of course, this post is not ALL bad news. There ARE some sustainable shoe brands out there – Made Trade, Everlane, Rothy’s, Allbirds [among others]. But none are totally zero waste [that I have found]. And more importantly, none of them make performance running shoes – which is, of course, what I need.
Eco-Friendly Running Shoes
The issue with finding sustainable running shoes is that they have to be able to perform well. They need to have cushion and support or my running [and feet and knees and legs and hips] will suffer. They also need to be replaced every 300-500 miles because the soles wear down and then, once again, my running will suffer. This also means that I can’t buy them used.
My dream is to find a running shoe that is comfortable and lightweight and can handle 500 miles of pavement pounding AND is 100% biodegradable.
I’m telling you right now, that is a total pipe dream.
At best, I’m hoping for a brand to someday take back worn out running shoes to recycle into new shoes. That would be the second best option. If we could close the loop on the running shoes, I would consider that zero waste. But, unfortunately, no such shoe exists [at least not that I know of, but I have my eye on the new Adidas project called Futurecraft.Loop].
So, while I’m waiting for the perfect zero waste shoe, I had to find the best alternative.
And this is where my new Adidas UltraBOOST Parley running shoes come in.
Meet My Adidas UltraBOOSTs
These are a collaboration between Adidas [the athletic shoe giant] and Parley for the Oceans [a nonprofit that is trying to save our oceans]. The top of the shoe is made [of some undefined percentage] of recycled plastic from the ocean.
Well that’s pretty cool.
And, honestly, the shoes are pretty cool with or without the ocean plastic. They aren’t kidding when they call them UltraBOOSTs…
Eco-Friendly Non-Running Running Shoes
While I was researching sustainable running shoes – and by the way, I did A TON of research – I came across these beautiful runners by Allbirds.
Meet my Allbirds Tree Runners
Unfortunately, despite being called runners, they are not actually for running. But they are so beautiful and from such a great eco-friendly company that I bought a pair for casual wear.
You can wear these without socks!!! THEY ARE SO COMFORTABLE!!! And they are machine washable [which is important because I went with white].
These are sparking some serious joy, folks…
Even the packaging they came in was totally waste free. 👍🏻
So, basically shoes are still tough to find zero waste – especially athletic shoes – but it’s important to me to do my homework and make the most ethical and most sustainable choice I can.
All I can do is give my consumer dollars to the companies that are doing their best for people and planet and hope that others follow.
If you have sustainable shoe brands to share, let me know!