Sustainable Alternatives: Veganism

If someone had told me a few years ago that I would be a plant-eating enthusiast, I likely would have laughed openly in disbelief. Having been raised in a family of omnivores with two good home-cooks for parents, I have eaten and loved countless meat and dairy centric dishes that I still appreciate today. It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I became a vegetarian after learning about factory farming. Between pictures of pink slime and articles about hormone injections in cow’s meat, I started to worry about what I was putting into my body and the practices I was unknowingly supporting by purchasing and consuming meat & poultry. When I found myself unable to separate thoughts of factory farming practices from the food I was eating at mealtimes, eliminating meat from my diet seemed to be the best course of action. I viewed the diet change as a temporary solution until someday the meat & poultry industry would be forced to change its ways or at least I would be able to afford and ensure that all the animal products I consumed were locally sourced, organic, and humanely treated.

After almost 4 years of happily eating as a vegetarian, I unexpectedly found myself at crossroads again with my diet after reading about the harmful environmental impact caused by the overconsumption of not only animal products but their byproducts as well. I’d heard and laughed along with the rest of the world when environmental scientists published research identifying cow farts and burps as significant sources of methane in our atmosphere, however, I never acknowledged humanity’s role in creating a meat industry so large and powerful that gas released from cows accounted for 20% of human-related methane produced by the US. On the same note, I hadn’t previously made the connection that the mass production of animal byproducts as seen in commercial dairy farming were as much to blame for inhumane and harmful environmental practices as the meat & poultry industry.

I knew the question of whether I should consider veganism was inevitable, but I resisted the idea on the basis that I probably couldn’t even afford the groceries necessary for a well-balanced nutritious vegan diet. It was my college roommate that made the switch first and proved that she could maintain her grocery budget at $80 per two weeks of only plant-based groceries. Knowing that I could afford the change meant that I had to re-evaluate my reasons for not trying veganism, and upon doing so, I couldn’t rationalize why I should continue to eat animal bi-products when the same reasons I avoided meat & poultry were applicable to them. The newly learned information about the environmental impact of the over consumption of both animals and their bi-products didn’t help the non-vegan case either.

In March of last year I finally made my choice: I had to at least give veganism a try. My expectations of success were rather low, and I told myself that after a month I could give it up if it seemed my health was affected negatively or a cheese-less life ended up being absolutely unbearable. Fast forward a little over a year later and I am happy to report that I continue to eat a plant-based vegan diet. From avoiding dairy I learned rather quickly that my digestive system functions a LOT better without lactose. I grew up drinking cow’s milk like it was a replacement for water and frequently suffered from stomach aches that seemed to be an inevitable consequence of eating food, but I never thought that perhaps dairy was the source of those pains. Not only do I rarely have stomach aches anymore eating a plant-based diet, but I’ve also experienced higher energy levels throughout the day. Veganism ended up being the right choice for me, but I can understand firsthand why transitioning to a plant-based diet may seem all too intimidating or outright unappealing. If you’re interested in plant-based eating, the following 4 tips are things I’ve found from my experience to be helpful in making the switch to a more sustainable diet.

  1. Redefine veganism for you!

There’s a lot to be excited about when entering the world of plant-based eating, but this doesn’t mean that giving up certain foods is easy for everyone at first.  It also takes time to adjust to cooking nutritionally balanced vegan meals that will leave you just as satisfied (if not more so) than what you may be used to eating. Although there may be those in the vegan community who disagree, I personally don’t think veganism has to be a black and white, all-in or all-out life choice. Maybe you start by cooking vegan meals one or two days a week or decide to eat plant-based foods on weekdays and allow yourself a more lenient diet on the weekends. And if an all-in or nothing approach is more your style, still make sure to not be too hard on yourself if you make a “mistake” and forget to specify almond milk in your morning latte order or you can’t help but eat a slice of the three cheese pizza your friend just ordered. At the end of the day, what’s important is that you are consciously thinking of how your food choices impact the world around you. Give yourself the freedom to dip your toes into veganism however which way makes you feel good about your decisions.

2. Establish your motivators.

During the first couple of months that I made the switch to veganism, I avoided using the label “vegan” to describe myself. In addition to feeling apprehensive about categorizing myself with a community that can have a less than favorable stigma, I was nervous if I made a mistake and ate a non-vegan food item in front of friends that I would be chastised for talking the talk but not walking the walk. Whenever people inquired why I didn’t put cheese in my Chipotle burrito bowl or questioned my polite refusal of freezer pizza and Easy Mac at a friends’ apartments, I would dance around the term “vegan” and instead hold on tight to terms like “mostly plant-based” or “slightly lactose intolerant” to describe my change of dietary ways. It took at least 3 or 4 months of avoiding meat and animal byproducts before I became frustrated with my inability (or fear) of explaining my reasons to omnivores who could potentially feel distanced by my choices.

By this point in my transition to veganism, I had fallen in love with the benefits of a plant-based diet. Not only were my frequent stomach pains and digestion issues completely alleviated, but suddenly I had more energy, felt stronger, and had discovered a previously unknown passion for cooking. Every time I blamed my new diet solely on a lactose intolerance and didn’t tell the other half of the story, I felt guilty that I wasn’t taking the opportunity to educate others on the reasons that really got me hooked on plants. In order to lose that guilt and feel more comfortable in explaining my eating choices I decided to form a mental list that best summarized my reasoning:

  1. I couldn’t look at food the same way after learning that livestock and animal byproducts account for 51% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, far exceeding the total environmental cost of all transportation.
  2. As a consumer, I don’t want my purchasing power to contribute to the unsustainable over consumption of animals and their byproducts.
  3. I believe that individual and collective action are two of the few effective options we have to change the world around us. My choices may not be able to solve the world’s problems, but I can still make a productive difference by reducing my environmental footprint.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, after finishing a yummy plant-based meal I can feel good about what I put in my body. The last few times I ate meat and cheese, I couldn’t stop thinking about the thousands of acres of the Amazon that had been destroyed for animal agriculture purposes or that 55% of water consumption is for animal agriculture while only 5% is consumed in the US by private homes. If I can still enjoy a meal and avoid the guilt I feel when eating un-sustainably produced foods, why not choose the guilt-free option?

My reasons will not necessarily be yours, but figuring out exactly what inspired me to eat plant-based was crucial for building a personal sustainability around food. I never want people to feel criticized by my food choices which is why I used to avoid the topic, but it is more than feasible to explain your reasons-to-be-vegan in a positive way without shedding a condescending light on others. Tell people why it works for you so they can think about it for themselves.

  1. Learn to cook delectable meals that all your dairy and meat-eating friends will envy. I can’t tell you enough how much cooking has changed my entire outlook on vegan food. Cooking my own meals means that I can still eat a melty grilled cheese, a decadent chocolate cake, or creamy alfredo pasta – the ingredients just may be a little different from their traditional versions. A snap judgement from many omnivores often groups vegan food with rabbit food, but I am here to tell you that veganism isn’t a nightmare of gnawing on lettuce, carrots, and celery sticks. One look at the following recipe blogs of a few of my favorite vegan foodies will certainly break any misconceptions people may have about the vegan diet:


2. Focus on all the foods you CAN eat that are plant-based. Personally my vegan food day-dreams are filled with Falafel wraps, Sweet potato fries, and Chipotle burrito bowls (sans cheese, meat, and sour cream but extra guac please). I’ve always been a food fanatic – if I’m not presently eating food, I’m thinking about the next snack or meal in my future. It’s rare that I find a food that I don’t like, and I’m all about big flavors whether it be spicy, tangy, salty, or sweet. When I decided to transition to veganism, my number one concern was that I would feel like I was depriving myself of certain foods that couldn’t be matched or veganized. It’s important to note that at the time I was considering nixing all animals and their bi-products from my diet, I had already been a vegetarian for 3 years. My cravings for meat-centric dishes had more or less subsided after watching a few too many documentaries about factory farming. Giving up dairy though, was an entirely different story. Time after time I’ve had many friends, peers, and family members tell me that giving up meat wouldn’t be all that difficult but giving up cheese, yogurt, and ice-cream? Unthinkable. As someone who once feared the elimination of dairy products would leave a deep hole of sadness in my culinary and dining pursuits, I am here to assure you that a life without dairy is a life well worth living especially in the 21st century. Not only are there more and better vegan alternatives for both dairy and meat products showing up on grocery store shelves at an unprecedented rate, but also one should not underestimate the power of plants and their ability to create the same satisfying rich and textural qualities you appreciate in certain non-vegan foods.


  • Craving pizza? Pick up the same pizza dough you normally would (you can usually count on pizza crust to be vegan) or a package of plain naan bread as well as a bag of shredded Daiya dairy-free cheese carried in almost all grocery stores. While other vegan cheeses arguably can boast a more authentic cheese flavor, Daiya is one of the few brands making vegan cheeses that melt into gooey, stringy layers of goodness. To amp up the cheesy flavor notes, I recommend making this Vegan Parmesan Cheese recipe ahead of time to sprinkle over the Daiya. Using the too “cheeses” layered over a tomato base and your favorite sauteed veggies, you will have created a pizza lover’s dream after a quick bake in a hot oven.
  • But what about grilled cheese? Butter your bread with Earth Balance and use a couple layers of Caou sliced dairy-free cheese (I usually go for the tomato cayenne flavor, but I’ve heard all of them are good). Growing up my mom always added a layer of cream cheese to one side of the sandwich and I continue her ingenuity with Follow Your Heart (vegan) Cream Cheese. If ripe avocados are available, half of one is the perfect creamy compliment to your cheesy delight. Because vegan cheese doesn’t melt as easily as their traditional counterparts, I suggest keeping a lid over the pan for best results.
  • Wings for Game-day? You may have to take a leap of faith with me on this one, but when baked properly, cauliflower can be transformed into a basket of hot wings that when dipped in a cooling vegan ranch dressing makes for quite the crowd pleaser even in a room full of diehard meat-lovers. Try out Hot for Food’s recipe and rejoice in the glory of finger-food magic that doesn’t involve nibbling on chicken bones.

Finding new recipe hacks to make plant-based cooking undeniably delicious can be exciting and oddly satisfying. If your new vegan diet focuses only on the elimination of certain foods without introducing new ones, it’s more likely for one to resent the change and revert back to old eating habits. The more foods you discover to be equally, if not more, appealing to you, the fewer opportunities you give yourself to lament over foods of your past.

Claudia Jos, Sustainability Intern

Sustainable Alternatives: Homemade Make up

There is a set of assumptions that accompanies employment at the Office of Sustainability. We are pegged as yoga-practicing, composting, hairy creatures that probably smell like sandalwood and/or patchouli at any given moment. Although the Office is much more diverse than that, for me, most of these assumptions are spot on. So when people learn of my love for makeup, they are quite surprised.   

Confession: I have a shelf full of bronzers and highlighters and a rainbow’s worth of lipstick, in full knowledge of the cosmetic industry’s dire environmental impact. (And, of course, of the societal implications of wearing makeup and conforming to beauty standards.) But none of this knowledge takes away from the joy of painting my face, of empowering myself to change my appearance to fit my mood.

In my constant sense for balance, then, I came up with a compromise. For the past semester, the only powdered makeup I wore was exclusively homemade from pantry ingredients.

What I used:

  • Cornstarch (covers shine and absorbs oil)
  • Cinnamon (warm brown)
  • Nutmeg (dark brown)
  • Clove (dark, red undertones)
  • Cocoa powder (light brown)
  • Edible pastry dust (sparkle)

To make the powder, start with about 3 tablespoons of cornstarch and slowly add in the coloring agents. It’s easier to add more than to take out, so start small! You’ll probably end up with a total of just 2-3 teaspoons of the various coloring agents!

I’ve found that this powder minimizes shine, adds a slight bronzing color, and thanks to the pastry dust, covers me with sparkles. And of course, my face smells like cake, which is nice. I also use the powder as eyeshadow and to add a little color and sparkle to my chest when I wear low-cut tops.

I love using this powder as much as any store-bought powder foundation.  It is lightweight and provides as much coverage as any other powder foundation, but it doesn’t include the nasty chemical coloring agents you’d find in a typical cosmetic. In addition, it’s wayyyyy cheaper. Like full dollars cheaper. And to reiterate – it is sparkly and smells like cake.


After the semester was over, I decided to phase other make-up back into my routine. I missed eyeshadow and I am so happy to have a full eyeshadow palette back in my life. I also enjoy using store-bought bronzer, which is a better shade and stays in place longer. But I still wear my homemade powder almost every day for all-over coverage! It brings me joy in a way that store-bought makeup never will.

Since making that powder, I’ve experimented with creating my own eyeshadows, blush, dry shampoo, and perfumes. I’ve found that making my own makeup is not only a fun afternoon activity, but it also enables me to customize my makeup to whatever colors and textures I want! And of course, it’s better for the environment, but that’s not a sustainable reason to engage in any act. It has to go deeper – to reach joy and fulfillment in harmony with values.
But that’s a tall order. So for now, just go home, open your pantry, and have fun mixing up some makeup!

-Olivia Cohen, Sustainability Fellow & Project Lead: Garden Apprenticeship Program


Sustainable Alternatives: Pallet Furniture

Let me just preface this by saying I’m by no means a woodworker and have had pretty minimal carpentry experience in my life, so this will be less of a tutorial and more of a story of what I learned. It is amazing though what being a broke resourceful college student will teach you about building things yourself. The impetus for this project came from signing a lease for an unfurnished apartment and realizing that I own a very minimal amount of furniture, sigh. With a whole summer before my move in date though, I decided to try my hand at making some pieces of furniture out of salvaged pallet wood. After a quick Google search to get inspired, I quickly consulted Craigslist to find local sources of free pallet wood. Below is a picture of the first couple pallets I scavenged from the back of Joe Riley Ballpark. As a general note, I highly recommend wearing gloves when handling pallets that you find around town, as these things can be pretty splintery.

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While finding abandoned pallets is fairly easy, harvesting usable wood from them can be a real pain. This was definitely the most labor intensive phase of the project. Unfortunatley I didn’t take any pictures of this part, but there are basically two schools of thought when it comes to deconstructing pallets. Some suggest using a jigsaw to either cut the nails that are holding flat boards to the three paralell beams (this allows you to keep the flat boards their original length), or cutting the boards into two pieces by making cuts to them right up against the beams (this yields two shorter flat boards). The other strategy is to use the back of a hammer, a crowbar, or any other leverage tool to pry the flat boards off of the connecting beams. I tried all of these methods and ended up using the second jigsaw method primarily. I found that using a saw to cut the nails was really tough on the saw blade, and that using leverage to pry the boards off of the beams almost always split boards.

After harvesting the wood from the pallets, and sanding all pieces copiously, the next task was deciding what to make with all of it. My girlfriend was looking for a simple night stand/end table so we chose to start with that to test our skills. We decided on a rectangular prism design for the night stand, with spaces between the 5 boards on each face. It’s important to take measurements and plan the spacing of everything beforehand to make sure you don’t end up with a wobbly piece of furniture. To attach everything together, we used wood glue and nails. Using screws would have no doubt made everything sturdier, but they tended to split our wood so we stuck with nails. Here’s how it looked before putting the top on.

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We chose 5 of the nicest cuts of wood for the top and gave them some extra sanding to make sure the surface was nice and smooth. Use a series of increasingly fine sandpapers for the best results.

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With the top on, all that was left was to finish the wood. This is a part where you can really customize how you want your furniture to look, as there’s a whole spectrum of wood finishes to choose from at the hardware store. We went for a clear satin finish for this piece and applied several coats. The result was a nice smooth and darker looking wood that was much more visually appealing than the pallets it came from!

-Carter Allen, Sustainablility Intern Summer 2016

Alternative Break Goes Zero Waste

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I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in Asheville with the Alternative Break program through the Center for Civic Engagement.

Alternative Break is an awesome program here on campus:

“Students spend college breaks traveling to national and international destinations to participate in community service, explore exciting places, and make new friends! Through a rigorous education component, direct service and reflection, College of Charleston Alternative Break members promote self-awareness, respect for diversity, and become civic-minded individuals who are conscious of social issues and the importance of being an active citizen.”

This was my first trip with the program and it was a lot of fun- would definitely recommend!!! The focus of the trip was on Land Conservation and Environmental Awareness. We worked with two different land conservation groups in the Asheville area- Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Mountain True.

When conserving ecosystems there are many factors to consider. Human induced land disturbance is detrimental to a fragile ecosystem. Foot traffic can kill endangered species and change patterns in the soil dynamics. Unfortunately humans are also associated with litter which can have cascading effects on an ecosystem. On the other hand, it is important to educate people and create human and nature connections which can only happen by bringing people to the ecosystem so they can see, learn, and understand. Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy explained to us that they struggle with this debate all of the time. For the piece of land we were helping them with they decided it was not suitable for public access. In order to keep people from entering we helped them plant A LOT of blackberry trees along the highway to keep people away. These trees which were just little nubs when we planted them will grow rapidly and have thorns so people will be discouraged from trying to get passed them. It was really fun to learn about the land and we saw several species of native wildflowers including Viola and Trillium. There was also an abundance of wild onion plants and we were able to take some home!

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Trillium Flower

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Wild Onions!

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Planting Blackberry Trees!

We also learned a lot about the importance of native species and how destructive invasive species can be in an ecosystem from Mountain True. Ecosystems are extremely complex and we do not fully understand them. Invasive species are plant species that are not native and fill niches in the ecosystem which inhibit native plants to grow. Some invasives are diabolical and have poisonous roots, but others just grow quick and fast before other species have the time to sprout. Invasive species take away from biodiversity which make the system less complex and less resilient to change. Invasive species are also foreign so native insects often times cannot survive off of their nutrients. This has cascading effects because if the native insects begin to die off then whatever animals normally eat the insects will begin to die as well. When we worked with Mountain True we helped them remove two invasive species which had completely taken over the land. It was very informational and also a stress relieving activity!

While we were having all of this fun, we also made CofC Alternative Break history by going zero waste! When talking about environmental awareness evaluating your own life choices and becoming conscious of your personal actions is super important. Making a weekend trip zero waste requires a lot of planning because many daily activities generate waste. In preparation our trip leaders bought food in bulk from Earth Fare and we all brought our own mess kits with reusable napkins. In Asheville we went to a farmers’ market to get fresh veggies and brought them back in our reusable bags. Any other waste we generated was diverted from the landfill via composting or recycling. We all learned that it is possible to have a successful and fun weekend while generating zero waste!

lizzy blog 5Also while in the Asheville area we went on a beautiful hike and as I looked around I really appreciated the ecosystem and all of the other species that surrounded me!!

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-Lizzy Beyer, Sustainability Intern

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Elizabeth (Lizzy) Beyer is a junior at the College of Charleston double majoring in Biology and International Studies with a concentration in Africa and minoring in Environmental Studies.



Why is there so much secrecy and discomfort surrounding female body parts and their activities? I pose this question for everyone, including females because even if you have a vagina, you may not be comfortable speaking openly about your vagina and its activities. I used to share the eerie silence as well, but now I’m entering into a place in my life where silence and fright are no longer the appropriate plans of action when it comes to my body. With that being stated, I will share my story with the seemingly underground marvel known as the menstrual cup and how this contraption relates to my time in the Office of Sustainability. Furthermore, if you feel disgusted about this topic, first, you need to reevaluate your belief system, and second, get some tissues so you can read this and weep!

According to the all-knowing Google, a menstrual cup is a type of feminine hygiene product which is usually made of medical grade silicone, shaped like a bell (hence the “cup” part) and is flexible (needs to be to get it up there!). It is worn inside the vagina during menstruation to catch menstrual fluid (blood). This item can be controversial to some, but for me, it was an expression of freedom and acceptance of my body and its natural functions. Although I cannot remember the first time I heard of a menstrual cup, I knew the idea was enticing and after hearing numerous stories about the benefits and downfalls of this, I decided to create my own experience with the popular Diva Cup.

My experience began with my purchase of the DivaCup online. When I got it, I attempted to use it immediately. My first attempt was filed with mystic and nervousness. Although it was hard to remember the instructions while squatting, relaxing, and trying to fold the silicone cup in the shower, there was no going back. After getting over the initial discomfort of inserting a menstrual cup, and having a few more test runs, my experience morphed into one of satisfaction and comfort.

It took a lot to leave the impulse of buying new toiletries behind, but I discovered more about myself with this transition than I ever have when sticking a pad in my underwear. Furthermore, the larger implications of using a menstrual cup are sometimes unseen by many or hidden behind the intimate process of inserting a menstrual cup. Even so, I hope some of this information from can help you to understand the ecological importance of pushing a silicone cup up your privates:

According to The Diva Cup website, every month, women flush and throw away hundreds of disposable products and their packaging. The Diva Cup website also provides us with numerous details about the various harmful chemicals most of us do not think about when we are walking down the aisle trying to decide which disposable product filled with chemicals we want to place snuggly with our female parts. Some of these issues include:

  • Most tampons and pads contain surfactants, adhesives and additives.
  • Most pads contain polyethylene plastic whose production is a pollutant.
  • Traces of dioxin (a known carcinogen) and the synthetic fiber rayon are also found in tampons. Dioxin is a by-product of the bleaching process in the manufacturing of tampons and the synthetic fiber rayon can leave residue in the vaginal wall, leading to possible risk of infection and overall discomfort.
  • In landfills, many of these substances can leach into the environment (groundwater, streams and lakes) causing serious pollution and health concerns.

As an Office of Sustainability intern, the Diva Cup aligns with my values and goals of being conscious of the impact my activities have on this earth and coexisting with the world around me in a non-detrimental way. On the contrary, it is also important to understand that although I am praising what the DivaCup had done for me. Although you may have read this with disgust (I’m glad you got this far!), this is MY EXPERIENCE that I have constructed and will continue to develop over time. What I know for fact is that periods are NOT taboo and should not be treated as such. Worldwide women and girls and ostracized and isolated because of the stigmas, traditions, and beliefs attached to a natural occurrence and this needs to be put to an end. We should all learned to fight for the power to embrace ourselves. With that being said, I hope to see more transitional stories from anyone willing to share! Remember, do not be ashamed of your body!!!

-Cora Webb, Sustainability Intern 

Cora Webb is a sophomore at the College of Charleston. She recently decided to pursue a degree in Public Health along with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. On campus, Cora works as a Residence Assistant. Other than being studious, Cora enjoys reading, taking walks, and going to CAB events.
Cora Webb is a sophomore at the College of Charleston. She recently decided to pursue a degree in Public Health along with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. On campus, Cora works as a Residence Assistant and a Sustainability Intern.

Three Lessons from Zero Waste Week

We live in a world where there is tremendous overconsumption, not to mention grave inequity where poor and minority populations bear the brunt of the environmental and social burdens of this overconsumption. As we consume and consume and consume, more and more trash heads to our landfills, or, even worse, into our environment and our oceans. Some people have become fed up with this wasteful system.

In recent years, individuals all over the globe have started to adopt a “zero waste lifestyle.” In simple terms, this is a lifestyle which endeavors to produce (and dispose of) as little landfillable waste as possible. Maybe you have heard of bloggers like Trash is for Tossers, whose entire quantity of non-recyclable, non-compostable trash for the last two years fits into a mason jar. When you think about the fact that the average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash each day, that’s a big deal.

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After reading about Lauren Singer (AKA Trash is for Tossers), I became inspired to start pursuing a zero waste lifestyle myself. That was a year and a half ago, and, while I have made a lot of progress, I am still working towards my goal of zero waste. Recently, a group of dedicated sustainibilipeeps joined me in participating in College of Charleston’s first ever, week-long Zero Waste Challenge. The goal was to produce as little landfillable or recyclable waste as possible (because many items are actually downcycled instead of recycled and are destined for the landfill anyways). Here are three lessons that came from that week:

It is a gigantic pain-in-the-ass

…. at first. When you really start looking around, waste is all around us.

Go to a restaurant: When you order a drink, they give it to you with a plastic straw (to the landfill!). They give you a mound of 15x more paper napkins than you actually need (and throw away the ones you don’t even touch when you leave the table). When you ask for a box to-go, they give you a styrofoam take out container and maybe a set of plastic utensils (all of which goes to the landfill).

Walk into a grocery store: 95.67895% (no, that is not the exact percentage) of the food is packaged, often in more than one layer of packaging. Often, even the produce is packaged! And when you get to the checkout, they place your purchases in even more plastic (AKA as the dreaded plastic bag).

Go to your favorite coffee shop (let’s call it Barstucks): Order a chocolate mochaccino with a triple shot of espresso and soy milk and some caramel drizzle. This comes in a paper cup that is lined with a convenient layer of plastic to keep your coffee creation from dribbling all over the front of your shirt (therefore it ends up in the landfill, and usually takes the recyclable paper sleeve and plastic top with it).

Take a peek in your bathroom: All of your beauty products are packaged in plastic! Not to mention, some of your products have plastic in them! (Yes, you may be washing your face or brushing your teeth with plastic. And all of those micro plastics go straight into our waterways. Yummy).

I think you get my point.

I want to make it clear that all of this waste is avoidable. It is just hard to avoid. It takes what feels like constant vigilance on your part. And that brings us to our next lesson:

Preparedness is key

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I’ve mentioned some of the many forms of waste that surround us in our daily lives. And like I said, it is avoidable if you are prepared. So let’s walk through some of those scenarios I laid out above:

Go to a restaurant: When your waiter asks you what you want to drink, you say, “I’ll have a lemonade, no straw, please.” When they offer you napkins, you politely respond, “No thanks, I brought my handy-dandy reusable towel along with me. Save the trees, you know?” When you are stuffed and you cannot possibly finish what’s on your plate, you bring out the tupperware you brought from home and fill it with your leftovers. #zerowasted

Walk into a grocery store: You walk in armed with your reusable shopping bags, as well as reusable produce bags and some glass jars. After weighing the glass jars, you go over to the bulk section (not the kind that sells things in uber-large containers, but the kind that has bins of dry-goods that you can scoop as much as you want out of) and use the jars to stock up on all your grains, legumes, nuts, etc. Then you head on over to the produce section, where you scout out unpackaged produce, using your produce bags for loose items, such as spinach and green beans. You make plans to hit up your local farmer’s market for even better zero-waste produce. When you checkout, all your purchases go into your reusable shopping bags. #zerowasted

Go to your favorite coffee shop: “I’ll have a chocolate mochaccino with a triple shot of espresso and soy milk and some caramel drizzle. Would you please put it in my nifty reusable travel mug? What’s that? Yes, it’s clean. Thanks.” #zerowasted

Sounds simple enough, right? And the reality is that, once you get in the habit of being prepared and bringing your reusable, zero-waste alternatives with you, it definitely becomes a lot easier. But the scenarios I have described above are just scratching the surface. And that brings us to the final lesson:

You have to take baby steps

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Going zero-waste may seem like a breeze-and-a-half from my scenarios above, which can trick you into feeling extremely confident about your ability to rapidly shift into said lifestyle. But depending on how you live your life right now, it can be a major transition, and there can be a lot of barriers to successfully being zero-waste: access, time, money, etc.

Take the grocery store example. How many grocery stores do you know of that have a bulk bin section? In the local Charleston area, I can only think of three: Earth Fare, Whole Foods, and the Veggie Bin. Odds are, your usual grocery store haunt doesn’t have these package-free options. And if you eat a whole lot of cheap, processed foods, buying bulk dry goods and veggies will likely cost you more money (and time to prepare). That being said, if you eat a lot of unprocessed, whole foods, then buying from the bulk bins may even be cheaper than the packaged alternatives. At the very least, it usually will not cost you more.

So if you are a college student or professional with reliable access to a farmer’s market and a grocery store with bulk, and you have the money and time to eat unprocessed, whole foods, then the zero waste grocery shopping is definitely achievable – if you are willing to put in the work to change your behavior.

So what if you don’t fit into this category? That comes to the crux of this lesson: what do you do when you cannot make it all the way?

You do what you are able.

Sounds obvious, but in my experience, people can feel overwhelmed when there is a large, potentially unachievable goal in front of them. So instead of trying to do the best they can, they don’t try at all, and that’s a shame. Doing what you are able – and keeping your eye out for opportunities to improve on what you are able to do – is far better than not trying at all.

This is true even when the goal is definitely achievable. If you are having to shift your lifestyle radically to accommodate zero-waste, then take baby steps! Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do it all at once. Set smaller goals and work your way there.

At this point, you may be wondering: what’s the point? What does it matter if I do this or not? Well, the simple response is that a little impact is not the same as no impact. Zero-waste is becoming a movement, and it is largely due to people learning about other people who are living the lifestyle and being inspired. I am not saying that zero-waste is The Answer, that we don’t need larger, systemic changes to fix the mess we are in. But by lessening your own impact, you show the world that you are serious about the issue and you live your values. And I think that is incredibly important.

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I would really like to thank the Ecollective Student Project Committee (ESPC) for granting me the funding to order the Zero Waste Kits that we used for the Challenge. If you have any ideas for student-led, sustainable projects on campus, I encourage you to apply for funding; you can get up to $5000 for a project! If you don’t have any solid ideas, but you want to do something, check out ESPC’s Idea Bank or check out what other campuses around the country are doing.

-Tess Dooley, Sustainability Intern 

Tess is a senior majoring in Marine Biology with minors in Math and Environmental Studies.
Tess is a senior majoring in Marine Biology with minors in Math and Environmental Studies.

What’s on your plate?

Dan Barber, Chef at Blue Hill farms, once said in the documentary Chef’s Table that America “did not adopt the more difficult less coveted cuts of meat or varieties of vegetables and grains because we did not need to, that’s a real tragedy for our history. You have the recipe for what is American cuisine today which is not really a cuisine; not great ingredients and large abundance.” Where does your food come from? How is it manufactured? Is it grown ethically? These are the types of questions I am trying to answer. Everybody has to eat but not everybody considers where the food on their plate truly comes from. During the last 5 months I have been discovering and challenging myself to better understand where my food comes from. I am still learning how the food industry works but my hope is that this blog post will inspire the reader to consider where their plate of food comes from before eating as well as how it impacts their environment, health, and future.

My journey began last semester when I took an Introduction to Environmental Studies course. During part of this course we had to give our thoughts and critique the documentary Food, INC. This was the first time I had ever watched Food, INC. and it was the first time I heard about industrialized agriculture. I was amazed to see how much industrialized agriculture has a control on the food industry. I felt as if my eyes were opened not only to the world of industrialized agriculture but also to the questions about where our food is being produced. From that point on I have been determined to better understand how and where food is being produced.

In the same semester I watched another documentary called Chef’s Table on Netflix. Not only is the cinematography and stories well portrayed, each episode has a great message. Episode 2, in particular, highlighted Chef Dan Barber and his passionate journey to inspiring the world to rethink farm-to-table food. The episode shows how Dan sought out flavorful foods, “when you pursue great flavor, you also pursue great ecology.” Dan also mentions that “we need the humbleness and clarity to see that our food, while benefitting from technological advances, has benefitted even more from free ecological resources: Cheap energy, lots of water everywhere, and a stable climate.” Overall, this episode really inspired me and gave me hope that there are people out there who care about the environment and quality food.

If you are considering what might be on your plate and want to make changes I highly recommend these two documentaries. I have only been at this for about five months but my perspective towards the food industry has totally changed. Dan Barber from Chef’s Table has inspired me and the world about his sustainable efforts to positively inform and educate patrons on where their plate of food originates from.

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Why it’s important to consider where your plate of food comes from: 

  • Increasing of CO2 emissions from livestock and machinery.
  • Stressing the environment:
  • Mass production of crops and not letting them recover. Also, pesticides and other chemicals being injected into our ecosystem.
  • Industrialized agriculture is focusing on crops such as corn which is used to make processed foods that are contributing to Americas’ obesity and health issues.
  • Some animals are given antibiotics to make them bigger faster which is unhealthy for the animal and therefore unhealthy for the consumer.
  • Pesticides that are used on agricultural crops can be harmful to human health.

Positive and hopeful projects: 

  • Did you know: Starbucks is working on giving all of its leftover food to people who are in need of food rather than throwing it all away. Reducing food waste.
  • Did you know: that Growfood Carolina is a food hub for local, mom and pop, farms in order to distribute the food items to stores and restaurants. Supporting local economies. Link to website:
  • Did you know: that Lowcountry Street Grocery is a mobile farmers market dedicated to providing fresh affordable foods to food deserts. Helping the community. Link to Lowcountry Street Grocery website:

Helpful Resources and Links: Good Resources Organic Farmer Eating Crickets is sustainable?

-Ben Volk, Sustainability Intern: Sustainable Food Policy 

Ben Volk

How Did I End Up Here?

When I first came to the College of Charleston in the Fall of 2014, I was one of the people who had a hard time even grasping the concept of simple recycling, much less the whole idea of sustainability; so how did I end up becoming apart of the Office of Sustainability?

It began when I heard from Katie, an awesome girl in my sorority who worked in the Office, that they were taking applications for Greek Chairs- a program in the office that specifically teaches Greek students about sustainability. I decided to apply because 1) I wanted to hangout with Katie more and 2) I wanted to meet more people and expand my friend group (I didn’t really start out with the best intentions.) Being a Greek Chair was a great experience because it slowly introduced me to the concept of sustainability and the Office. We would go on field trips to places like GrowFood, and I would participate in beach sweeps from hearing about it through the program. One of the things I heard about through the Greek Chairs program was about an upcoming event called Social Justice Coffee Hour. It was going to be about Women in the Work place, which sounded interesting to me because one day I would be a woman in the work place (hopefully.) I decided to attend and was immediately blown away by how different this forum was from other types of lectures I had attended at the College. There were three speakers, each one speaking from three very different angles about the topic. We then broke into small groups and discussed the topic in personally, something I felt like I never get to do in class or other lectures: actually have dialogue about the subject. I was so excited by the end of the forum and immediately after the event texted Katie asking how I could get involved helping with this in the future. Katie gave me Nicole’s number, who had put on the whole event. I met with Nicole, who was so lovely and excited that I was interested, and she told me the best way to get involved would be to apply as an intern at the Office.

I was still hesitant about applying to the Office because hearing the word sustainability still scared me a little, but felt like learning about the social justice aspect was such a cool thing I wanted to continue to explore what I thought the definition was. Joining the office turned out to be one of the best decisions, I’ve not only met so many great people, but have come so far in my understanding about how sustainability and social justice must coexist to work. I have now helped Nicole put on two more coffee hours, which was so exciting to be apart of the process and seeing all our hard work come to fruition.

-Kelly Jackson; Sustainability Intern 

kelly Jackson
Kelly (left) and Nichole (right) at Social Justice Coffee Hour

Ayurvedic Medicine

I recently had the pleasure of signing up for my own insurance plan and what an experience it was! The cost of healthcare, even under the Affordable Care Act, can be too high for many families to afford. The more I learn about the current healthcare system in the United States, the more I want to find alternatives. Our system is far too flawed, inaccessible, and money-driven to be sustainable. But luckily there are alternatives!

One alternative that I’ve found particularly fascinating is Ayurveda. It’s a system of preventative medicine developed in India around 5,000 years ago. The word Ayurveda is comprised of two Sanskrit words: Ayu, meaning “life” and Veda, meaning “balance”.

Balance is an important concept in Ayurvedic medicine, as it’s thought that health is a result of the balance between mind, body, and environment. Understanding doshas, or mind-body types, helps to maintain the balance that leads to a healthy being. It’s also important in Ayurveda to eat foods that either have a balancing effect on the dominant dosha or foods that will help stabilize a dosha that has become excessive.

The three dosha types are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, each corresponding to an element and expressing a blend of emotional, mental, and physical characteristics. In the diagram below, you can see these three dosha types inside the innermost hexagon. If you’re curious about your dominant dosha you can take the Dosha Quiz here. It doesn’t take long to complete and at the end you’ll have the opportunity to learn a lot more about your dosha type.

Destiny Dahl blog


  • Quick minds
  • Grasp new information quickly
  • Infectious enthusiasm for life
  • Emotionally sensitive and empathetic
  • Love change and thrive on new experiences
  • May be sensitive to sound/touch

Since Vata is dry, cooling, and light, Vatas should favor foods that are oily, warming, or heavy. Vata should enjoy sweet, heavy fruits like bananas, avocados, mangoes, berries, etc. while eating fewer dry, light fruits like apples, pears, and cranberries. Vatas should cook their vegetables and minimize raw vegetable consumption as cooked foods are best for easy digestion. All varieties of nuts are recommened but beans can aggravate Vata so try to be mindful of them.


  • Determined
  • Passionate
  • Perform well under pressure
  • Excel in setting big goals and persevering until mastery is achieved
  • Articulate, bold, direct
  • Abundance of stamina and energy
  • Warm and loving friends

Pitta is characterized by the fire element and as such Pittas should favor foods that are cool and refreshing and reduce foods that are spicy, salty, or sour. They should avoid yogurt, cheese, and sour cream which have the tendency to aggravate inflammation. They should also avoid the nightshade family (think peppers, tomatoes, eggplant) and should instead favor veggies like asparagus, sweet potatoes, broccoli, summer squash, and green leafy things.


  • Peaceful and calm yet capable of skillful action
  • Loyal and devoted friends
  • Accepting and non-judgemental
  • Detail oriented
  • Steady minds
  • Inherent desire to help others

Kapha should avoid foods that are fermented, including curds and cultured dairy products. Instead, they should favor foods that are light, dry, and warm. Kapha types can eat all spices and herbs but should be cautious with salt. Grains such as barley, buckwheat, and rye are best. The light, dry fruits that should be avoided by Vata types (think apples and cranberries) are perfect for Kapha types.

Doshas are only a small part of Ayurvedic medicine but if you want to learn more about the history of Ayurveda or its other principles here are a few websites with a lot of information:

It’s important to recognize that what we consume is directly related to the way we feel and how we function. Understanding our dosha types can help create a more holistic view of how we approach our health. Remember that there are many valuable alternatives to Western medicine! More often than not, prevention is key so do your research and stay informed. Let’s take care of ourselves, look out for our neighbors, and foster sustainable communities 🙂

-Destiny Dahl, Story Core & Sustainability Intern

Destiny Dahl is a senior at the College of Charleston. She's pursuing a major in International Studies with a concentration in Africa and double minoring in Dance and Environmental Studies.
Destiny Dahl is a senior at the College of Charleston. She’s pursuing a major in International Studies with a concentration in Africa and double minoring in Dance and Environmental Studies.

Ice Cream Dreamz

As a long-time vegan with a pension for sustainability, I generally try to buy all my produce from The Veggie Bin, and locally grown where I am capable. It’s not often that I have cause to venture down to the Harris Teeter that stands like a monolith down the street from my house. As someone who has embraced a waste reduction lifestyle (remember my jar blog?), my indulgence in packaged goods is relatively minimal. I find supermarkets, with their gratuitous amounts of non-recyclable plastic wrapped items, to be admittedly more than a little off-putting. If my rhetoric hasn’t implied it by now, it generally takes a strongly persuasive motivation for me to venture into any conglomerate retail chain. Last night though, I found that motivation.

A few weeks ago, I heard that Ben and Jerry’s, at the behest of their fan base, had decided to dabble in developing a few vegan-friendly ice-cream flavors. I’ve made my own ice-cream before, but the simplicity of my vanilla (which is the bee’s knees by the way) does not compare by any measure to the rich complexity of B&J’s proposed flavors. Peanut butter and cookies, chocolate fudge brownie, coffee caramel fudge, etc…. As soon as I heard news of the imminent arrival of these succulent frozen sweets, I prepared myself for the weight gain that would inevitably follow. For the next three weeks, once a week, I made an excursion to Harris Teeter only to leave with two re-usable shopping bags full of bitter disappointment. So I waited, and waited, eventually making a request to have the non-dairy flavors brought in, presumably imported from some far-off magical vegan land where humans and vegetables skip hand-in-hand under the sun. The tension at this point had been so drawn out that I could just about taste it; God, please don’t let my ice-cream dreams taste like this! Time passes and we arrive at the present day, or rather, the present yesterday. I make my weekly Thursday expedition to food conglomerate land, no longer burdened down with the weight of my naïve expectations of immediate ice-cream release. I should have known from the drab overcast that hung over the city that this was going to be a day filled with frozen divinity. There they were, finally, my long awaited non-dairy frozen indulgences. I grabbed two quarts!

The walk home was excruciating, not just because I forgot to bring a re-usable bag and my soon to be mutilated ice-cream friends were chilling my fingers to the bone, but also because I was so close to living out the fantasy I had been developing in my head for so long. I finally reached my house and immediately appropriated my only spoon, only to realize that it was enveloped in the residue of last night’s vegetable soup! Such a vessel was not worthy for the deliverance of such divine frozen goodness; it had to be cleaned. In our moments of greatest excitement, it’s always the little things that seem to serve as the most debilitating inhibitions on our happiness. After purifying my spoon the time had come to choose which flavor I wanted to serve as my introduction to this new world of non-dairy delicacies. A mother should never have to choose between two of her children when one of them is destined to be mutilated and gluttonously consumed. As in all these cases though, it’s the child who is covered in peanut butter in cookies that is always pre-destined for expedited destruction. I sit down at the command center in my room. I open the carton. Charleston goes quiet and I gently break the soft, frozen surface, all the while caressing the chilled, moist residue that has encased the container. I bring my vessel forward and, ever so slowly, it enters my mouth…

EXQUISITE! UTTER PALATABLE DIVINITY!!! The explosion of sweet and salty flavors that I endured sent pleasurable shivers down my body (mainly because it was arctic cold)! My friends, the happiness that engulfed me bordered on ecstasy, and temporarily became the only motivation for my continued existence. This was undoubtedly the most delightful and delicious frozen treat I had ever had in my life, and immediately it became my most persuasive counterargument to the myth that you can’t have immensely gratifying deserts without the inclusion of dairy products. The tension broke and I had found the culinary fulfillment I had craved for so long. I was at peace. That night I devoured the entire carton in an act of gluttony that I am only ever so slightly embarrassed about. I owe greater apologies to my body as opposed to my sensibilities though; as I am sure I consumed more calories than are recommended for any mortal creature.

So why have I bothered to tell this narrative of my ice-cream experience? Admittedly, as a veteran vegan, I think that everybody should try Ben and Jerry’s new ice-cream flavors and consider them as a “healthier” substitute to the traditional ones. More important than that though, I think the fact that they are willing to indulge their vegan fan base by developing these flavors holds important insights into the greater public’s perceptions of social sustainability and their attitude in adopting practices that advance it. The foundation of socially sustainable behavior and systems rests on acceptance and tolerance; accepting that people are different and come from a variety of cultural and social backgrounds, and tolerating their differences even when they interfere with your own. When we look at social injustice on both community and national scales, a lot of the behavior rooted in it can be attributed to strong feelings of prejudice and acts of intolerance. Accepting each other’s differences and becoming more tolerant of our peers sets the groundwork for us to live and grow together. I feel that Ben and Jerry’s efforts to develop a vegan-friendly series of ice-cream flavors  shows (since it was widely requested from their fan base) that the diverse peoples that constitute the public are becoming more tolerant to ideals that lie outside of their own (in this case veganism), and are consequently becoming more socially just. This is something that makes me smile, and feeds my optimism for the future.

As utterly delightful as I found Ben and Jerry’s new flavors to be, I confess that I will most likely not be purchasing them again. As I mentioned earlier, I adopted a mostly zero waste lifestyle long ago, and even though these new frozen goodies offer a powerful temptation, I cannot convince myself to indulge in purchasing packaged goods that will go straight to the landfill. Also the base of the ice-cream itself is made with almonds, a nut that is principally grown in California. In a time where there is mass suffering from draught and water scarcity, I cannot justify investing in a crop that uses such an extensive amount of water when so many others need it to survive, especially when the only motivation for that indulgence is my own culinary pleasure. For those who do not feel morally bound by these principles though and are looking for an absolutely exquisite relief to the hot days that will be coming soon, I encourage you as strongly as I can to give Ben and Jerry’s new non-dairy flavors a try and embrace a peanut butter and cookie filled alternative lifestyle!

-Will Hester, Sustainability Intern

Will is a senior at the College of Charleston majoring in Physics and Mathematics.
Will is a senior at the College of Charleston majoring in Physics and Mathematics.