June challenge: Make

Growing up, I didn’t know salad dressing was something you could make. Though now I’m hip to the fact that oil + acid is really all you need, then I think I assumed it was a product that could only be made in a factory. Now we almost never buy salad dressing. (There is one exception: the incredible Little Creek I was introduced to by an author; it comes in wine-bottle size for a reason.) Though young Jen might not believe it, salad dressing is actually astonishingly easy, and cheap, and delicious. (Our not-so-secret house dressing ingredient, Kozlik’s Sweet & Smokey mustard, is a culinary gift. Is this a condiment newsletter now? MAYBE.)

There are still many things that strike me as difficult, if not impossible to make (puff pastry? hard pass), but that list gets shorter all the time. Not only have I given myself over entirely to pandemic sourdough, but my partner and I have taken on special culinary challenges now and again because food, TV, and walks are all we have left. Samosas? Roti? Falafel? We’ve made it all.

Not that making is all about food. It can be sewing a skirt, or building a table, or planting a pot of herbs. Making is all in the act of creation. And while that might not seem intrinsically eco, if you can work with what you have and transform basic materials, you’ll reduce shipping, emissions, packaging, and probably be pretty chuffed with yourself. In pandemic life, so much is relentlessly the same — a new activity is not only a challenge but a blessed change.

Before we get to the challenges, a little background reading:

Now, on to the marching orders for the month:

Cook something each week from scratch.

Cooking is one of the best making opportunities, because we eat three times a day. (Or more like five if you’re me.) I know busy parents might not have the time, but if you do, attempt to make something you’ve only ever bought premade. It could be a whole meal or a simple salad dressing. The Zero Waste Chef is a great resource for all kinds of pantry items you didn’t know you could make, as is a book called The Homemade Pantry. This month, try to make one new thing a week. Bonus points for posting about it online and sharing the wonders of making your own granola or sour cream.

Upcycle something.

Anyone who’s ever gotten into a new hobby can attest that sometimes making requires a lot of stuff. But the best kind of creation happens when you don’t turn over an entire paycheque to Michael’s and instead work with what you have. It’s even better when you can upcycle something: that is, take something that was destined for disposal and invent a new use for it. You don’t need to make jewellery out of used bike inner tubes — it can be as simple as taking a food grade bucket and turning it into a planter or turning a moth-eaten t-shirt into rags. This winter, I turned the water-stained pages of an old atlas into origami envelopes for my seed giveaways. Kids are wired for creativity and great conspirators on the upcycling front.

Make art.

How is this eco? Easy: so often we’re taught we need to buy things or go places to entertain ourselves, and that usually means burning fossil fuels (and spending money). But making art is fulfilling and doesn’t require skill; in fact, it might more enjoyable if you go in with no aspirations or expectations. Write a song, draw a picture, choreograph a TikTok dance. This spring I revisited a project I did in grade six that involved pencil crayons and graph paper. It ruled. Art is an incredible renewable resource that also renews your spirit. Plus it’s really good for your brain and might even help us imagine a more hopeful future. See? Art is a climate change skill.

Let’s get structural!

To effect change beyond you own home, consider a donation to Growing Chefs in Vancouver or FoodShare in Toronto, which both do cooking workshops for students, including bringing chefs to classrooms. Through their programs, one day salad dressing might not be a mystery to so many kids.

Wins of the Week

“That we cannot see all the way to the transformed society we need does not mean it is impossible. We will reach it by not one great leap but a long journey, step by step. . . . Each shift makes more shifts possible. But only if we go actively toward the possibilities rather than passively into the collapse.” — Rebecca Solnit, “Dare We Hope?”

This week a few people with some shifts to celebrate:

  • Jenna has planted her first food garden by asking her neighbour if she could plant in a veggie patch started by tenants who had moved on.

  • Ingrid replaced her walking sneakers with a pair made from recycled materials with no dyes and found dress boots that use recycled plastics.

  • Steph and Lyn have been rehoming Not Useful for Us things through Facebook.

Keep up the great work, all. Thank you for continuing to move us all toward possibility.



P.S. Longtime readers will remember our discussion of the shambles that is our recycling program. Ontario is allegedly on its way to implementing extended producer responsibility, but regulation was due mid-February and still hasn’t arrived. The Ontario Waste Management Association created a tool to send a letter to your MPP and insist the government stops dawdling. Or, for more impact, write your own letter based on that template! This CBC backgrounder can help.

Five Minutes for Planet is written by me, Jen Knoch, and edited by Crissy Calhoun. Opening photo Hermes Rivera on Unsplash.