Kermit was right – It’s not easy being green

With our planet melting like an ice sculpture abandoned in a mall parking lot, everything’s going “green” these days. ”Green” means different things to different people. For some, it means buying an electric scooter. For others, sending recycled greeting cards. For me, I define it as the envy I feel at all the money other people made off my purchase of an electric scooter and recycled greeting cards.

Within long-term care, I’m noticing a similar shift to environmental consciousness, as providers take seriously the imminent end of the world. They’re retrofitting buildings to increase energy efficiency. Moving toward electronic charting to save paper. Encouraging staff to shout acronyms like STAT2

“Now!” then “Seriously, I mean now!”


“Look at that fancy car the administrator’s driving!”

to avoid speaking entire words. Many facilities now maintain aggressive recycling programs, and it warms my heart to see our profession finally catching up to the rest of society, which has been leaving seniors at the curb for decades.

Massachusetts may be the first state to attempt to legislate environmentally friendly healthcare construction,4

Or so says the Boston Globe.

but conservation is sweeping the nation. The savviest of developers are building new facilities out of old MDS manuals and lawsuit affidavits, and making window coverings from uniforms cast aside by burnt-out caregivers. They’re eliminating those coal-powered bariatric sling lifts and phasing out activity vans fueled by redwoods and polar bears. Now if scientists could just figure out a way to harness the wasted wind energy from all the meaningless lip service politicians give to long-term care issues, all our problems would be solved.

Never one to be left off a bandwagon, I’m making some feeble attempts of my own to be a “green” writer. I repurpose stale personal experiences into pseudo-fresh magazine columns. I never use a new word if I can reuse an old one, or a long one if a short one would be sufficient suffice work fit. I avoid obscene, wasteful luxuries like spell check, and always send the document to my editor at the last possible minute, thereby discouraging him from making any energy-draining final edits.

On a more personal level, I’ve taken advantage of all those previously underutilized acres of cranial terrain5

I’m bald, okay?

by retrofitting my barren scalp with solar panels. I’m now entirely powered by the sun, which besides reducing my carbon footprint, has given me a convenient explanation for why I get so little work done on rainy days, at night, and in the winter. I’m also seriously thinking about installing a row of tiny windmills on the crest of my skull for a little extra energy boost, so if you see me driving with my head out the car window, you’ll understand why.

Perhaps the most important step I’ve taken in my quest for environmental responsibility has been to buy organic produce from a local CSA farm. For those unfamiliar with the term, CSA stands for “community supported agriculture,” which is another way of saying “way more expensive than at the Wal-Mart SuperCenter.”

If regular produce is like gasoline, buying local and organic is like filling your car with Crystal champagne. But with the world at stake, I didn’t care about the money. “Natyashka,”6

Not her real name.

I said firmly to my wife one day, “I’ve decided to purchase some organic produce on a weekly basis from a local vendor.”

“What an excellent idea!” she responded. “I’m so lucky to have someone like you in my life.”7

May not be an exact transcript of our discussion.

And so our Summer of Vegetables began.

Here’s how it works. Each week, out of the goodness of their pesticide-free hearts and the checking accounts of their members, the CSA folks lovingly prepare large paper bags filled with a variety of vegetable items, which we faithfully pick up and transport back to our respective homes. It’s a great concept, although not without its pitfalls.

For one thing, having grown up in an agrarian environment with exposure to a wide variety of plant species, I had assumed I would recognize and know how to use all the items in my weekly allocation. How wrong I was. What arrogance! What hubris! Emptying that first bag, I was presented with a baffling array of unfamiliar fronds, roots, bulbs and tubers.

Pulling out a bundle of giant greens the size of banana leaves, I realized I didn’t know whether to cook them or build a shelter. As I pawed through the bag, I started feeling like a birdwatcher, spotting a vegetable, noting its characteristics, then poring over a guidebook to make a visual identification. I finally swallowed my pride and called the vendor for help, which was freely dispensed with minimal mockery.

“I’m holding in my hand something orange, pointy, and kind of bulbous.”

“That’s a carrot, Gary.” She was very patient.

But figuring out what everything was turned out to be the easy part. Now we actually had to eat the stuff. In the weeks since, I’ve noticed a disturbing pattern. On Tuesday, the vegetables are brought home, identified, and stuffed into every nook and cranny of the refrigerator. From Wednesday through Sunday, we think about them a lot, but rarely find time to prepare or eat them. Then on Monday, we gorge ourselves like binging rabbits, knowing another bag will be arriving the next day.

It’s tough committing one’s life to fresh produce. Sometimes I think we’re not ready for the responsibility, and not worthy of the privilege. The stress, the pressure to prepare and ingest, the self-righteous scorn that radiates from the unopened crisper drawer every time you reach for a Corona and a cheese stick, the way the guilt of untouched produce leaves your soul as wilted as that pathetic clump of week-old arugula.

Maybe if I pay a little extra, the organic produce people would agree to just keep my vegetables and humanely dispose of them for me. Because that’s always the worst part each Tuesday—the pathetic wails of the uneaten, the way they cling to each other, their little fronds and roots grasping and scraping, as I pull them from the refrigerator against their will to make room for the next wave of fresher occupants.

With sadness, I do my painful duty, placing the pitiful, still twist-tied little bundles of goodness into the garbage can. It’s just the circle of life, I tell myself. Then I close the lid and go out to dinner.

Gary Tetz is the former editor of and, and writes from Walla Walla, Washington.

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Long-Term Living 2008 August;57(8):39-40

Topics: Articles