My Climate Practice: Carrot Bolognese and Embracing the Pace of Public Transit

My Climate Practice is a series where we talk to the folks using Commons about their climate practice and what a sustainable life looks like for them. Today, we're talking to Ellie O'Neil.

Meet Ellie

Ellie O'Neil is a software engineer and lover of root vegetables. She started a mostly meat-free lifestyle when she started cooking for herself in college and discovering a new love for local produce. 

She grew up in Ohio before going to college in Virginia, then moving to San Francisco in 2022. A few of Ellie's current climate practices are:

When did you start trying to live more sustainably? 

When I was growing up outside of Cleveland, I wasn't really interested in sustainability. It probably wasn't until I got to college in Virginia.

It was mostly because the circles of people I found myself in were all having these conversations about sustainability and impact. Specifically, one organization I joined in college called Greens to Grounds which was a student-led CSA organization. In that org, these conversations and education around sustainability were happening all the time. So that kind of launched me into it.

What was one of the first climate practices that you started?

The first thing that shocked me was learning about food miles — the distance food travels to get to us. For some reason, bananas always stick with me. Bananas don't grow on our continent, but we eat them all the time, and it takes so much to get them here. The miles are unsustainable, and when they get to us, they’re not great quality. 

So I started thinking about how to eat more locally.

How do you use Commons in your climate practice?

I love seeing all of the suggested practices and discovering worlds of sustainability that I didn't know about.

I also love seeing the community impact. You can see your impact along with everybody else on this app. You can see what the impact means and put it in perspective. I haven't seen that anywhere, and it just makes you feel like you're less alone.

In this crazy world being pummeled by climate news, it feels overwhelming until you put it into that perspective. It's not just me doing all these things. A lot of people are doing this, and I'm a part of it.

Eating less meat

When did you start eating less meat, and what were your main motivations?

Probably in college, which was also the first time I was really cooking for myself. I grew up in a family where if you don't have meat at dinner, it's not a meal. But then in college, I started getting really excited about local produce – specifically vegetables.

It wasn't even an intentional decision to stop eating meat at first. I loved all the dishes I was cooking with local produce, and I had an excitement about cooking and creativity. That was the kicker, and then it became more of an intentional practice.

How often were you eating meat before?

At least once a day. Now I never cook meat at home unless I'm roasting a chicken once every few months. But I will eat meat if I'm out with friends. I’m kind of a social omnivore? Or a social vegetarian? 

I had a friend in college who said she was a flexitarian. It was the first time I heard that term, and we all thought it was kind of funny. But then we all realized we were already doing it.

How often do you eat it now?

Honestly, not very often at all, maybe once a week. Only if I'm sharing food with people. I stay away from red meat in general because it feels like the biggest impact thing for me to do. But I also have grace with myself.

I was strict about it for two years, and then I accidentally ate red meat and was having a hard time. So I've learned to be graceful with myself because you have to do what’s right for your body as well.

Have you noticed any changes in your health?

In the past few years, I’ve incidentally been eating healthier just as part of lessening my meat consumption. My friends used to joke that I only ate vegetables and carnival food. But now I’ve gone more toward the vegetable realm. 

In terms of how it's affected my life socially, I have a lot of friends who try not to eat meat. So it's always fun to share food ideas with them and see what everyone else is doing. It's a fun community practice in that way.

What are some of your favorite meatless meals that you like to cook?

I love love, love shakshuka. I cannot get enough. So, I make that all the time because it's just so easy, and it's always warm and good. Sometimes, I'll bake fresh bread or focaccia to go with it, and that’s such a treat.

I am also very into pasta. My favorite is pasta al limone, which is really simple. It's spaghetti, lemon juice, butter, and parmesan — and it hits every time. So those are probably my two favorites. 

Carrot bolognese is also really fun for me because it feels like a meat thing, but surprise — it’s carrots! I've made it for friends and they haven't even realized it doesn't have meat in it.

Are there any chefs that you look to for inspiration? 

There are, and funny enough, none of them are vegetarian. I love Alison Roman. And there's this guy on Instagram that I follow, Frank Prisinzano, who is such a legend. He's this Italian dude who lives in New York and has a bunch of restaurants. Those are my big two. I'm just drawn toward them, but I just don’t cook their meat recipes.

Composting

Do you compost at home or through a pick-up or drop-off service?

I compost through my city, San Francisco. Me and my roommates have a composting bin that sits on the counter. We fill that up, and then we put it in the big composting bin that you roll out to the curb.

What I love about San Francisco is that you get three bins, and the recycling and compost bins are full-size, but the trash bin is half the size. So that iss incentive to make sure you're sorting through everything and putting it in the right place. Also, my landlady — who I absolutely love —  will go through the trash and call us out if we don't recycle properly. She's a legend.

Were you composting at all before you moved to San Francisco?

Before I moved to San Francisco, I was living in Boston. I looked into composting in Boston a few times, but there was no city program when I was living there. It was all private composting companies, and they were too expensive and not very convenient.

How is your counter compost bin part of your cooking routine?

Here's my setup: On my counter, I have my cutting board in front of me. Maybe a pot or a sheet tray — wherever I'm putting the food that I'm not composting. And then I just take my compost bin and put it on the counter with me as well. It's the third thing. 

As I'm prepping my food, I'm putting the scraps into the bin right there and then, so it's super easy.

How has composting impacted your life?

It's totally changed how I think about waste as a whole. It just takes a little pressure off knowing that I have composting as an option.

It makes me feel a little less guilty, which is important for me because I need to know I’m doing my best.

Taking public transit

How long have you been taking transportation?

When I lived in Boston, I started using public transit there. Now I take it in San Francisco. I love being in a city with the infrastructure to get you to most places on a bus or a train. So in Boston and San Francisco, public transit was my default.

When do you typically use public transit?

I work from home, so when I take public transit, I am pretty much always meeting up with friends. I’ll take the bus to a friend’s apartment, or to a park on the weekend, or to meet up with people at a restaurant. It's definitely the first thing I look at when I'm going somewhere: How long will it take me to get there on the bus?

When do you use public transit and when do you opt for rideshare or driving?

The only times when I don't use public transit are when the route requires more than two transfers or if I'm just running late. I have a car, but I just use it to go places outside of the city. 

What motivated you to start taking public transit?

I had the option, and it's so cheap, so I just did it. I like having time for myself, when I can sit on the bus or train and do things, like read or listen to music or a podcast. I'm a big reader, so I definitely always have a physical book on me, just in case I end up on a bus.

I also want to plug the public library. After I read a book, it feels wasteful for me to have it if I'm not going to read it again. So I love the library. I always have a physical library book on me.

What have been some challenges to taking public transit?

In San Francisco, you just have to plan and give yourself enough time to get where you're going. I run early for everything, so that's not usually a problem for me. But if I’m running late, I just may not have time to take public transit. 

I spend a lot of time in Tahoe, and there it's definitely more of a challenge because the transit system is not as reliable, so it can be frustrating or slow to wait for the bus because it's really never on schedule, especially with the weather out there.

How has taking public transit affected your daily life?

Compared to rideshare, it's definitely saved me a lot of money, so that's great. And to me, it feels wasteful to be the only person in an Uber getting across the whole city.

Taking public transit also makes me feel like part of the community. It makes me feel like I'm more ingrained in the place where I am, and I'm interacting with other people who I otherwise couldn't interact with if I were in a car. Also, it's nice just having that time to do things that it's hard to find time for otherwise, like reading.

How has taking public transit changed your pace of getting around?

I definitely give myself more time than I need to get places. That's the main thing holding my friends back from using public transit all the time. It's just so expensive and impractical to always take Uber, so I'd rather shape my afternoon around showing up to the bus stop a little early if I know the bus usually comes early. And if I miss it, whatever. I just start reading at the bus stop.

I'm also somebody who's touched by anxiety, so it's been a good practice for me to have the uncertainty and find patience with transit. That's kind of a weird perk, but it's definitely something I've liked about it as well.

What's a climate practice that you're looking forward to in the future?

I'm really looking forward to one day having enough space to grow my own food. I really want to have citrus trees. I also really want to have mushrooms, and I can't do that to my roommates. I feel like it's really exciting and satisfying to have to grow your own food. So I want to have enough space for that one day.

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