Would you like to know what failure looks like?
Imagine a young woman hurrying down a Brooklyn block. This woman is a notable green blogger, who espouses the sustainable lifestyle in all ways. She is even in the midst of No Compromise Month, where she has promised to not compromise any of her myriad sustainable values, no matter what. But this young woman, who claims to be so eco-friendly, has three plastic bags in her hands, and those plastic bags contain plastic and aluminum containers of takeout food. Conventional takeout food, from the Argentinian restaurant on the corner.
That was me on Thursday night. Early in the week we invited a couple over for dinner, and they didn’t confirm until just that morning. By that time, I had an empty fridge, and a day fully blocked out with work and appointments all the way up until 7 pm.
I actually did pull a couple of cookbooks off the shelf, optimistically thinking I could find a really simple recipe, and ask my boyfriend to swing by the farmers market and then cook it up. But as I looked through the recipes, I realized that wouldn’t be fair or even really feasible to dump that all on him. Then I explored Seamless and Yelp looking for an organic takeout place nearby that had good shareable food. I’ll admit, I didn’t search very hard. I took a **ck it attitude, and swung by the Argentinian restaurant right next to my apartment on my way out to put in an order for empanadas, salad, a some vegetable sides. I verified that they didn’t use styrofoam containers, and leaned heavily on the vegetarian dishes, but that was the extent of my “not compromising” for our dinner. Which was to say, a big, fat compromise.
I had forgotten: sometimes being eco-friendly is really annoying and time consuming. Satisfying? Yes. Delicious? Sure. But easy? No freaking way.
That’s an example of me giving up quite easily, but even when I’m trying my very best, some businesses just don’t get it. My reusable veggie bags finally arrived … packaged in plastic. I wrote the company a polite email, but they never responded. Cool, thanks. Not recommending you to my readers.
After reading an article on greening your tea habit, I realized that I have been attempting to compost plastic, as indicated by the heat sealed corners of my tea bags. I start ripping them open to dump the leaves in the compost and trashing the tea bags. Oh wait, the box says the bags are compostable. But compostable in NYC? They look synthetic … I never figure this out, since I finish them all on Friday and start in on my bulk green tea the next morning.
Hosting a Visitor
My little cousin arrives on Thursday for a quick, 30-hour trip. I’m excited, because one of my favorite things to do is show people my NYC. She’s also a recent culinary school graduate, and has expressed enthusiasm for farm-to-table food. Basically, she’s the perfect guest: enthusiastic, fun, and pliable–she’ll respect my authority as a New Yorker and do almost whatever activities I suggest.
But her first food request is ramen, so I walk her 10 blocks from the bus stop to what the internet says is the best ramen place in NYC: Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop. I have no idea where they source their ingredients from, but in this case, I don’t want to impose my values on her. She wanted ramen, she’s going to get good ramen.
She wants to go up in the Empire State Building, and I’m like, “Sure, gotta cross it off the list, I guess.” So after we drop her stuff off at my apartment, we head to midtown. What a great idea it turns out to be! Not only is it low season for tourists, so there is no line at all, I also get to learn about all the ways in which the Empire State building has been retrofitted for energy efficiency, with new windows, a smart air conditioning and heat system, and of course those crazy LED lights on top. That was wonderful enough, but the view from the top takes my breath away. I have lost my cynicism. Oh, I love New York. And my cousin does, too.
She needs to buy gloves, so we head to the same vintage store where I bought mine, Cobblestones on 9th Street, and she finds a beautiful leather pair for just $10. She is so pleased! She is also pleased by our next stop, Momofuku Milk Bar, where I order a compost cookie (wrapped in plastic) and a slice of crack pie (paper). Again, I justify this by telling myself that, as a chef, she needs to experience such wondrous dessert magic. Not seeing a recycling bin, I slide the paper wrapper from the crack pie into my purse for recycling later. (MMB probably has its recycling sorted by whoever picks it up, but this is an easy way to be sure.)
We kill more time wandering in and out of vintage stores, then go to Sephora because she wants to go makeup shopping. I limit myself to buying my favorite non-toxic brand, Bite lipstick. They are out of Tarte eyeliner and I’m not willing to compromise on that, even though they keep trying to sell me different toxic eyeliners. “I only wear non-toxic makeup,” I tell the sales lady. “Oh, so you’re vegan?” she asks.
… Those are not the same thing.
Dinner is at l’Ecole in SoHo, which is my mother’s choice. It’s her favorite restaurant, and she figured my cousin would enjoy dining at the restaurant run by students at the International Culinary Institute, so she has offered to pay me back for dinner if we go there. Bribery: it works.
I ask the waiter where they source their beef. He responds that it comes from a very reputable NYC supplier, so it’s quite safe. This isn’t the answer I’m looking for. I opt for the duck, which I’ve noticed is often from a local Long Island farm. This might not be true in this case, but I don’t ask for fear that I will be forced to order the only vegetarian thing on the menu, which I do not want. My cousin, for her part, has a dreamy look on her face throughout the three courses.
The next day we start slowly, sipping tea and doing a quick morning yoga session before getting breakfast at Egg. Egg sources their ingredients responsibly and also happens to be a touchstone brunch spot in Williamsburg, so it was the obvious choice. We wander down Bedford, stopping at a vintage store and longingly looking at jewelry at Catbird, before ending our walking tour at Bellocq.
Bellocq is a magical little place: a dimly lit, super fancy tea shop located on a borderline industrial block in Greenpoint. You have to ring the bell to gain entry. Once inside, you’re offered a little glass cup of organic tea to sip. To the side is a sitting room with upholstered chairs, and Sigur Ros was playing a dreamy tune over the hidden speakers. The lure of Bellocq lies in picking up canister after canister, breathing in the rich and varied scents of organic green, white, black, and blended teas. They sell the teas either in a very pricey canister, or in bulk. I buy a paper sachet of organic green tea for myself.
Could her trip been more eco-friendly? Well, yes. We could have skipped the ramen restaurant, but I wasn’t going to deny her request. We could have skipped Momofuku Milk Bar, but her murmurs of delight while she munched on a local favorite convinced me I had made the right choice. And we could have gone to a farm-to-table restaurant for dinner, but when someone offers to pay for a nice dinner, you take it.
On the flip side, we limited our transportation to the subway, learned about energy efficiency at the Empire State Building (and took selfies at the top, duh), ate breakfast at a farm-to-table restaurant, sipped organic tea, and limited our shopping mostly to vintage stores.
When you have a visitor–especially to NYC–you always have to strike a balance between showing them your version of the town, but also respecting their lifestyle and tastes. NYC is a huge city, with more options for an itinerary then there are stars in the sky. It can be overwhelming. I’ve found the best strategy is to figure out what you’re guest is into, then show them the very best version of that available, whether it’s pizza, sushi, shopping, ice cream, live music, cocktails, whatever.
Do it right, and your guest will leave dreamy-eyed, full of stories and memories, inspired and energized. By the end of her short trip, my cousin was impressed and excited by New York. She loved the shops, and the ambiance of the restaurants. She was relaxed and happy.
So what if I compromised just a bit on the organic thing? The hug she gave me when I dropped her off at the bus was so worth it.