a beginner’s guide to urban composting

The what, why, and how of urban composting when your apartment is tiny and your backyard, nonexistent.

Anyone who knows me will vouch for the fact that I’m not an impulse buyer. Not even close. I don’t binge online shop, and I definitely don’t shop “IRL” — as kids these days are saying. But one of my favorite kitchenware sites was having a flash sale, and the announcement email somehow didn’t get lost in the dark black hole that is my inbox. So I opened it, and guess what product they were showcasing front and center? A spiffy little indoor composting bin. And I didn’t think twice.

The only problem? I had absolutely no idea how to compost.

Is anything off-limits? Will it make my apartment smell like rotten food? Will it grow fuzzy white mold, or attract flies? Where do I even bring it once the bag is full? 

But I’m a preeeeeety big fan of Mother Nature, so I told myself I’d figure it out. After all, it’s not rocket science, right? RIGHT?

After many weeks of trial and error, Googling, and emailing back-and-forth with the unbelievably patient team at the Lower East Side Ecology Center, I think I’ve got a semi-sold grasp on this whole composting in the city thing.

first things first… what is composting?

It’s just a fancy word to describe the process of making food rot faster. And continue rotting and breaking down and doing whatever it needs to do to become a soil-like substance that helps new plants grow. And repeat. And repeat.

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why should I do it?

Here’s the thing: when organic waste ends up at a landfill with heaps of other trash, it gets buried. And with little to no exposure to oxygen while decaying, it releases methane — a potent greenhouse gas that, long story short, is bad.

Composting not only diverts food away from landfills (reducing carbon emissions from garbage transport in the process), but it also enriches soil with all the good bacteria and limits the need for harsh chemical fertilizers.

how do I do it inside?

There are two main methods to indoor composting, which I scientifically refer to as the “collect and toss method” and the “worm method.”

Collect and toss: If you’re not interested in watching organic matter slowly break down into soil over the span of several months under your tiny kitchen sink, this method is for you. All you have to do is get a bin (more on that below), and maybe pick up some compostable bags while you’re at it. Start piling in the scraps, and bring ’em to a compost collection site to let the magic happen outside. 

For my fellow New Yorkers, the Union Square Greenmarket is your best bet.

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Worm: If you’re ready to up your composting game, whip out the worms to replicate what would happen in an outdoor bin. You will need more space for this vermicompost shindig to occur, and you’ll need holes in your bin to ensure the worms can breathe. But if you’re up for it, godspeed.

what can I compost?

The list of acceptable compost items can be split into food and browns (aka everything else).

FOOD: Any and all fruit scraps, breads, grains, coffee grounds, eggshells, veggies, tea bags

BROWNS: Shredded paper/newspaper, dry leaves, napkins, paper towels, cardboard, toilet paper rolls

what can’t I compost?

No meat/fish scraps or bones, no dairy products, and no fats (i.e. oil or grease). Seriously, don’t do it.

what should I look for in an indoor composting bin?

IMPORTANT! ATTENTION! READ THIS!!$%#&^T&W*^

You need (I repeat, need) one that uses some sort of carbon filter or charcoal liner. This way, air can freely come in (because remember, oxygen = good) and leave through the filter. Otherwise bad things will happen. And by bad things, I mean odors.

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If your compost gets soggy 

Add a handful of shredded paper or dry leaves every time you toss in food. Works double duty to soak up moisture like a sponge while providing additional carbon to your bin.

If, despite the filters, there’s still a smell 

Make room for your compost bin in the freezer.

If you notice fuzzy white mold on your compost 

Don’t make the mistake I made — panic, immediately toss out your compost, open every window in your apartment, and disinfect the entire surrounding area. Because it’s not actually a health hazard to you or your compost, and the collection site will still accept organic matter speckled with some fuzz.

But if you never want to see it ever again, your answer is, yet again, the freezer.

There ya have it, folks. Time to go forth and make food rot.

While we’re on the topic of dirt, read up on this sustainable urban farm in the heart of Paris complete with an aquaponics system, worm composter, herb garden, fruit trees, community vegetable garden… the whole nine yards.

a taste of Ancolie, featuring mindful eating, French-inspired flavors, and sustainability

It’s not everyday that you get to step away from your desk to unwind and enjoy a balanced, wholesome lunch.

Chloe Vichot is on a mission to change that with the opening of her new restaurant, Ancolie.

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7 ways to reduce food waste

Is it just me or do you ever learn a new word or idea and then end up hearing it more and more often in conversation or in passing on the street? For the longest time, I brushed off these instances as mere coincidences. However, there is legitimate scientific backing behind it all. Known as Baader-Meinhof, this phenomenon explains our cognitive bias to “inflate the importance of recent stimuli or observations.”

Whether it’s the work of destiny or simply our brains’ prejudice towards patterns, I have no idea. However, the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon does explain a whole lot when it comes to my understanding of food waste.

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10 things France has taught me about food

If you were to tell me in high school that, after graduating college, I would pack up and move abroad, I would more than likely have laughed in your face. My image of post-graduate life involved hole-in-the-wall NYC apartments and cubicles, not working abroad.

But I suppose life can surprise you when you’d least expect it because, as I write these very words, I’m sitting in an empty apartment in France surrounded by two gigantic suitcases, a boarding pass, and 8 months of pinch-me-this-can’t-be-real kind of experiences.

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musings on French terroir

It dawned on me the other day that I’ve been learning French for about 10 years now. My reaction to this realization? I’ll refrain from any cliché commentary on how fast time seems to pass and focus instead on the overwhelming wave of pride I felt wash over me. It has taken a whole lot of resolve and patience to persist for so long in the pursuit of a language whose grammatical complexities elude me more often than not.

In other words, learning French is hard. 

I’ll also admit, however, that I felt a slight sting of shame. 10 years is a long time and, even after two stints living in France and many hours spent in the classroom, I have most certainly not attained a level of mastery over the language. Am I conversational? Maybe. But fluent? Absoluement pas. 

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Lately on Instagram: no microwave, no problem

My kitchen here in France is the farthest thing from fancy. It’s an industrial, stainless steel setup complete with two hot plates, a sink, a refrigerator, and a mini oven that looks deceptively like a toaster oven but lacks the ability to toast.

And that’s about it. No microwave to be found.

Of course, I could have purchased one myself, but I spent the first 18 years of my life sans microwave, so the thought never seriously crossed my mind.

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a taste of Paris, featuring sustainable urban farming

When I think of Paris, I imagine cast-iron balustrades bordering the Métropolitan signs of the subways stations, wrought iron balconies, elegant cream-colored stonework, and wide boulevards lined with independent bookshops, cafés, and boulangeries.

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a taste of Lyon

Picture this: someone blows up a pig intestine like a balloon until it takes the shape of a sausage casing. Then he/she stuffs said casing with more chopped up (and very well rinsed) intestines before tying up both ends with string, cooking it, slathering on some mustard sauce, and calling it andouillette.

Now picture this: Jacqueline (me) doesn’t know what andouillette is but thinks — what the hec I’m gonna be adventurous YOLO, am I right? — and decides to order it. And eat it. And subsequently google it because, you know, it didn’t taste exactly like normal sausage. In fact, it was oddly pink and chewy.

SURPRISE! Never thought you would have intestines in your intestines, did you? Well, there’s a first time for everything.

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