Friday, September 26, 2008

Sustainable LA - Is it an Oxymoron?

At first glance, Los Angeles does not seem like a bastion of environmental responsibility - manicured lawns, big cars (and way too many of them), a shortage of water, and over-consumption in the name of trendiness.

However, when you take a small chip out of the hip veneer, it appears that Angelinos are catching on to the fact that being green is not just a passing trend. This became readily apparent to me as soon as I landed. I went to pick up my rental car (economy of course), and the guy behind the counter "encouraged" me to get an upgrade - it is his job after all to up-sell, so I couldn't blame him for that. Our exchange went something like this:

Super friendly rental guy pointing to the photo display of all of their cars: "Wow, you realize you are in the smallest car we offer right?

Me: Yes.

Super determined rental guy: I could put you in something much bigger for not much more.

Me: Actually, I'm an environmentalist concerned with fuel economy - a.k.a. the rental car up-seller's worst nightmare.

Super resourceful rental guy: "I could put you in a Prius for $13 more a day."

Me: (Silence as I calculate gas savings - slowly - mental math is not my forte; my excuse is that I deal with words all day.

Super persistent rental guy: "For $11 more a day - I'll give you the Hotwire rate."

So I got the Prius, and while it is a little like driving a spaceship (keyless starter, streamlined, double-paned back window), considering the fact that I was destined to sit in traffic for the next 45 minutes and am driving to Santa Barbara this weekend, I was really grateful that I had upgraded. Here is my 2 cents on the Prius:

Whose house is that? Why am I shrugging? What does this car run on? The Prius brings magic and mystery wherever it goes.

Disclaimer: I am not a car person. I just want something reliable and fuel efficient to get me from point a to point b. Nothing (except the transmission) on my current Toyota Corolla is automatic, so I enjoyed the automatic windows and locks, and the digital dashboard display. What I especially liked, though, was the central display that tells you exactly how much fuel you are using. Coasting on the freeway or moving slowly through traffic kept the MPG quite high -60-99.9 (99.9 means you are using virtually all battery). As soon as you accelerate enough to require gas, though, you can see your fuel efficiency decrease. It is a good lesson for all of us about how to be more fuel efficient when driving - Prius or otherwise. The other features I appreciated were the many controls on the steering wheel - radio volume, temp control, mirrors, etc. - AND, as soon as you put the car in reverse, you can see exactly what is behind you on the dashboard screen. This is especially nice since I often ask myself, "what was that I just ran over?" While I know these are now common features on many cars, it is good to know that fuel efficiency can still come in the package of a very hi-tech vehicle.

Next stop on my LA sustainability tour was a wine bar and restaurant that my friend Alexis had been raving about. Lou in Hollywood serves a large selection of natural wine (wine grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer) and food sourced from local farmers. Of course, duty called, and we responded dutifully by trying several of the organic and biodynamic vintages. Some of our favorites were Preston Vineyards Madame Preston Roussanne Viognier, the '06 Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Sauvignon Blanche, and the '05 Collioure "La Pinede" La Tour Vieille.

With a little help from our servers David and Betsy, we enjoyed wine paired perfectly with everything we ate. We dined happily on the burrata with stone fruit (peaches of course since they are in season!), prosciutto, and wild arugula; a farmers market green salad; the fish plate, which consisted of smoked baccala, albacore confit, smoked trout, and house-cured wild salmon gravlax; and a salad of farro, heirloom tomatoes, Dante sheep cheese, onion, and pistou. For dessert, we had a ginger stout cake with vanilla cream.

Yes, the salads actually look and taste this good.

Last night we headed to Silverlake Wine to try a flight of organic whites and then to organic, vegetarian Elf Cafe for dinner. Our favorite organic wines from the Spanish flight were Jose Pariente Varietal Verdejo '07 and the Abad dom Bueno Godello '07.

The pre-wine hangover giggles. Fun while they last.

Of course, it's not all drinking and eating with friends in LA . Today I had to find a quiet place to work. Being a Seattle-ite now, I needed my fix of fair-trade, organic coffee. When I lived here, finding a good cup of coffee was like trying to find public transit, which is to say somewhere between inconvenient and impossible. Winchell's Donuts and Starbucks were the most prevalent purveyors of a consistent cup of joe - times were tough.

No longer, though! In my friend's Echo Lake neighborhood alone, three new coffee shops have opened up in recent years. We chose Fix Coffee, which gets its fair trade organic coffee from Zoka Coffee Roasters, which hails from where else?...Seattle. I even had a nice table to myself.

Apparently, it's not loitering if you have a computer with you.

Fresh and seasonal - my favorite way to eat. Keep up the good work LA! - now if we can only get the city to improve the public transportation system, so that residents can start taking the bus!

Activist shout out to my LA peeps - get in touch with your local politicians (phone call, email, letter) and ask them to advocate for a better public transpo system - given the price of gas now, the current economic crisis, and the ever-present traffic issue, they will probably be receptive. Remember to remind them that you vote!

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