How Green is Your Campus?

I returned home from a sojourn in California, engaged with sustainability issues, to receive the new issue of Sierra, the bimonthly publication of the Sierra Club.  The article that caught my eye was “Dig In,” its annual ranking of the environmental standing of  U.S. universities.  This year, they reached beyond the classrooms to assess “what lessons are learned when the classroom walls fall away.”

 

 

The top of the class this year is

  1. The University of Washington, Seattle, Washington. Its score on the Sierra survey was 81.2,

Where every building completed since 2006 has earned a Gold accreditation from the  Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification system.  All of its appliances are Energy-Star rated and the hydro-powered campus runs three farms, an extensive recycling program, and the “conservation-research hotbed Pack Forest.

The other top schools are, in order:

  1. Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont (score, 81.1);
  2. University of California, San Diego (score, 80.6);
  3. Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina (score, 76.8);
  4. Stanford University in Palo Alto, California (score, 76.6);
  5. University of California, Irvine (score, 74.8);
  6. University of California, Santa Cruz (score, 74.3);
  7. University of California, Davis (score, 73.2);
  8. Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington (score, 72);
  9. Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont (score, 71.8).

My alma mater, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, came in at number 33 (score, 64.1).
Accompanying articles focused on:

Also described are the non-conformist programs that are “miles from the mainstream” at:

  • Maharishi University of Management (built by the “giggling guru” in Fairfield, Iowa in which the curriculum balances “modern clean technology and 5.000-year-old Vedic philosophy based on Sanskrit texts”);
  • Deep Springs College, close by Yosemite, California (where students have mandatory farm labor requirements and the hydroelectric generator provides 80% of the school’s energy);
  • Gaia University with no real campus (“students earn degrees by documenting a project that involves any envy-inducing combination of world travel and social activism”); and
  • Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado (a curriculum grounded in Buddhism and which promotes compassion, including with the environmental movement).

Parents with younger children may be interested in the article on The Green School in Bali, Indonesia, a K-12 school that incorporates green philosophy from its open-air classrooms (like an inverted sukkah, with roofs but no walls) to its electives that include Global Perspectives, Environmental Management, and 21st Century Science.  I first heard of The Green School when my friend told me her daughter’s family was taking off to Bali for several months this past spring and I avidly followed their adventures on their blog (now taken down, since they’ve returned home).  This is a school where the children (and parents!) enthusiastically welcome the assignments, from a themed unit on water for the fifth-graders (as it relates to math, literature, and science), an aquaculture farm to raise tilapia; and sixth-graders calculate the school’s annual carbon footprint, “then plant enough bamboo to offset it.”  The Green School has yet to graduate its first class (due in 2013), but if one can afford the $10,000 tuition, it’s an adventure worth blogging about.

Finally, the issue included profiles of the staffers deemed most committed to sustainability as a social movement:

  • Howard Davis of the University of the District of Columbia;
  • Megan Zanella-Litke of the University of Richmond (Virginia);
  • Sid England of the University of California, Davis; and
  • Jeremy Friedman of New York University.  As Manager of Sustainability Initiatives for a student body of 40,000 (more than four times the number of people who live in my hometown),

Friedman views his mandate thus:
“The values that underlie my work are the same values that underlie my whole life.  It’s a holistic worldview, and for me the challenge of transforming our world is a very personal and political project.  I see my job as creating the capacity for real change and then allowing countless individuals who care to lend their sweat and knowledge to the enormous task of transforming the world around us.  We need to imbed sustainability across all levels of society more quickly than any social movement in history has ever done before.  It’s a time when some of the most important efforts aren’t the most glamorous ones.”

Among the reasons I went to California was to attend the Hazon Food Conference, held for the first time at the University of California, Davis campus.  What a thrill it was for me to celebrate Shabbat with 300 other people who were passionate about a sustainable future.  The marvel was how many young folks were in attendance and how many had stories of their own works-in-progress.  I feel so positive that my daughters’ generation would — no, will — undertake the task of managing our resources to ensure a renewable future.

 

Yoga, Chocolate and the Rain Forest: Our Costa Rican Idyll

Last August, my husband and I chose to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary by going to Costa Rica. It was our first vacation with an ecological focus, as recommended by old friends who have more refined tastes and more stringent religious commitments. We were delighted to have our girls accompany us. It was a vigorous vacation with hiking, snorkeling in Puerto Viejo (newly discovered by surfers) and daily yoga sessions. My husband was able to decompress faster — and remain relaxed longer — than on any other trip and my review of our stay at the Samasati Nature Retreat posted on TripAdvisor has been read by enough viewers to garner me a free Shutterfly photo album (which, alas, I was too late to redeem). This was a great way to unplug from the world — no phone, no Internet, no television.

Our bungalow overlooked the mountainside and we woke each day to the sunrise (about 5 am) and the chattering of the monkeys. It was the off season in the Caribbean coast, so we had the resort mostly to ourselves. My family had de facto private sessions with the yoga teacher in the beautiful, octagonal studio.

It rained hard most days we were there but at different times of the day. In the capital city of San Jose, the streets have deep and wide gutters, up to two feet in parts. The locals, called Ticos, carry their babies everywhere, not bothering with carriages, strollers or even slings. People can even steer their bicycles, while holding up umbrellas.

All of us but my husband have studied Spanish — my daughter who is a recent college grad is the most fluent but I surprised myself by remembering words and phrases not used since high school. I realized my mistake in studying only the words of the foods we can eat but not words for the non-kosher species we do not eat. As other friends just back from Barcelona remarked, “there are so many ways to describe pork!” The food offered at the Samasati itself was good vegetarian fare (fish can be ordered for Friday night).

We chose to spend a quiet Shabbat on the mountaintop instead of seeking out the Chabad rabbi in San Jose. We reserved a private tour that was listed as “easy.” What we got instead was a guide who wielded a machete — necessary to hack away at the lusty vegetation — and a sweat-inducing, heart-thumping hike through muddy riverbanks, steep inclines, and rocky streambeds. We were up close and personal with the bugs, fauna, and flora.

Sunday in a Catholic country is pretty quiet, but we stumbled upon a cacao educational plantation and the polyglot European owner consented to giving us a tour. We saw and touched the various plants necessary in the chocolate-making process. We participated in the grinding, kneading, and molding. We were invited to “eat as much as we wanted,” because authentic Costa Rican chocolate is so rich that no one can eat more than a piece or two. We learned that families traditionally make chocolate together during their social gatherings. My daughter wanted to bring cacao beans back to her college campus as a different fun activity, but we couldn’t find any on our last days before heading to the airport.

As our first eco-trip, it offered a phenomenal education. The rain forest is God’s gift to mankind. Scientists are studying the therapeutic and medicinal properties of the plants there as well as the inter-relationships of the creatures. Did you know that a certain species of mosquito has the divine purpose of being the pollinator of the wild banana? We have much to learn and appreciate about this precious Earth on which we live.

Hannah Lee now eats chocolate to support the rain-forest economy and still trying to find more time for yoga.

Tradition Tested

I’m fascinated when tradition gets tested by modern science and comes out standing.  I’d cheered when acupuncture was shown to be effective for chronic pain.  Now, I’ve learned that America’s Test Kitchen, which publishes Cook’s Illustrated, has subjected challah to its test kitchen experimentation.  The results: pretty much what you’d learned from your mother and grandmother (or would, if you had one).

The best tasting challah is not too sweet, not too dense, not too fluffy and not from the commercial bakeries.  Their results, from the Holiday Baking 2009 issue, included:

3-3-1/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 c sugar

2-1/4 tsp instant yeast

1-1/4 tsp salt

2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk

4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted  *

1/2 c plus 1 tbsp warm water

1 large egg white (for wash)

1 tsp poppy or sesame seed (optional)

* For the kosher bakers: they also tested oil and found that it did not add much flavor.  But, you already knew that.

This yields one large loaf, which is not enough for the average Jewish household in which Shabbat is observed and one would need two whole loaves for each meal.

Methods for braiding the challah were also tested and they preferred the trompe l’oeil method (which I’d discovered on my own but has abandoned) of topping a large three-braid loaf with a smaller three-braid one.

Reviewed by Hannah, who usually makes a pareve, vegan, German-style challah for Shabbat.

Iron Chef America Featuring the White House Garden

So, did you all watch Iron Chef last night?  It was touted as a historical battle of super chefs, including Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and Emeril Lagasse with White House Chef Cristeta Comerford.  Their asssignment:  to use anything from the White House Garden (and Beehives) to create dishes– locally sourced, organic, sustainable– that would wow America.  I reveled in the shots of the lush White House Garden, filmed last October during the full harvest bloom.  I marveled at the panoply of professional equipment (and sous-chefs) at the Stadium Kitchen where they held the competition. I learned some marvelous techniques, including blanching and pan-frying icicle radishes to complement scallops (which I don’t eat or serve in my kosher home) and also that professionally trained chefs also have trouble with short pastry. The finished four dishes per team were beautiful to behold.

No spoiler here: you could find out about the winning team elsewhere, such as the informative Obama Foodarama website.