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December 8, 2011

Way back in August 2007, members of the The River Reporter editorial staff asked me to write a sustainability column. I felt woefully unqualified. What did I know about environmental issues? But I plunged in, viewing it as an opportunity.

I have learned a great deal, and gradually made lifestyle changes, none of which have caused hardship or sacrifice. In fact, simplifying my life seems to have enhanced it.

For instance, in my personal campaign to save the boreal forests, I have eliminated most paper products and replaced them with rags, handkerchiefs and cloth napkins. I buy Marcal Small Steps tissues and toilet paper made from “100 % recycled paper, not trees” as the label reassures me. Every time I receive a piece of junk mail or a catalog, I call the customer service number and ask to be removed from the mailing list. I do most of my banking online and stream videos, eliminating Netflix envelopes that have to be trashed. I’ve also begun downloading books to my iPad Kindle app.

I’ve made other small adjustments. I avoid unnecessary driving, try to recycle everything recyclable, am pretty diligent about using my reusable bags, always carry my stainless steel water bottle to avoid buying bottled water and make my own detergent. I haven’t had a television in my home for almost 20 years, thereby avoiding its continual messages that promote consumerism and other unsustainable practices as a way of life.

I had been an almost-vegetarian for about 20 years. I sometimes ate commercially raised chicken and turkey. I ate fish. Two years ago, I decided to eat only chicken raised on a farm I knew. Last month, while I reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals,” I made a commitment to completely eliminate animals from my diet.

You can find an excellent summary of the deleterious environmental effects of eating flesh at In that article, Professor Gidon Eshel, geophysicist at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy, summarizes the issue: “When you look at environmental problems in the U.S., nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production.” Due to humanity’s enormous and ever-growing appetite for meat, factory farming generates unimaginable cruelty, huge energy costs, pollution of land and water from animal waste, an increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, increased incidents of heart disease and cancer, and starvation in underdeveloped countries.