Thursday, March 25, 2010

Celebrate Earth Hour, Saturday, March 27 (8:30-9:30)

Saturday March 27, from 8:30 to 9:30, is Earth Hour, a global event that invites you to have fun in the dark as a way to speak out against climate change.

Earth Hour started as a single event in Sydney Australia in 2007. In that first year 2.2 million residents and businesses took part by turning out their lights for an hour on one coordinated evening. The result was a 10 per cent reduction in power draw on the grid which prevented 25,000 tones of carbon dioxide emissions.

Last year Earth Hour grew to one billion participants worldwide, ten million of which were Canadians. Who would have thought that a 60 minute event could change the world?

You can consider Earth Hour a global political movement, a convincing statement that we think the environment is important. No wise politician (and I’m not being facetious) would ignore it: More than half of Canadian adults took part in Earth Hour in 2009 and this year, on the heels of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, organizers are expecting participation to be even greater.

I’m all for the political agenda of the event but I think the potential of Earth Hour goes beyond politics. It’s proof that the world doesn’t stop when the power goes out and that there are a lot of fun, off-grid things to do in an evening. (Wouldn’t it be great if we were a little less dependent on the power grid for our evening’s entertainment?)

Earth Hour can be as fun as a childhood power outage with all the convenience of a well-planned party. (A meal can be cooked and ready to serve. No stumbling in the dark looking for flashlights.) I have fond childhood memories of the Groundhog Gale and a Christmas Day power outage where everything but the already-cooked turkey was prepared on the woodstove. My mom may have been near heart failure but it was like a grand adventure for us kids.

Why not recreate the adventure by planning your own celebration with family and friends:

- If you have an outdoor fireplace, invite your neighbours over for a chat by the fire. Toast marshmallows or make s’mores.
- Share a candlelit meal with family or friends, or just you and someone special. You can be intrepid and cook the meal on the woodstove, or make a fondu, to reduce your evening’s carbon footprint even more.
- Play cards or a board game by candlelight.
- Stargaze.
- Sit by the fire and chat
- Bundle up and go for a walk
- Read outloud by candlelight

Give it a try and you’ll discover that togetherness feels different when the power is out. We engage more with one another without the distractions of television or the computer and I think we listen better in the dark.

However you choose to celebrate consider registering your participation on the Earth Hour website so you’ll be counted ( The site will also provide real-time updates on the event across Canada and around the world.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Who needs meat when great vegetarian recipes abound?

Moroccan Chickpea Stew

  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed (or more, if you like)
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 2-3 good tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup broth (or water)
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • Sea salt & pepper
  • Good squeeze of lemon
  • Fresh cilantro or mint
  • 2 Tbsp. diced preserved lemon (optional)
  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. When warmed to shimmering add the paprika and cumin. Swirl around for a minute and add onions and garlic. Cook until soft.
  2. Add carrots and cauliflower. Stir and cover. Steam for about 5 minutes, stirring a few times.
  3. When vegetables lose their crispness add the tomatoes. Cook until bubbling.
  4. Add the chickpeas and broth, along with the saffron and preserved lemon. Cook until vegetables are tender.
  5. Season with salt & pepper and lemon juice. Stir in your herb of choice.
Serve with couscous.

This is also great with green or black olives added. Feel free to increase the quantity of spices, and look for smoked paprika: it adds a wonderful dimension to the flavour. You can also toss in a 1 inch piece of cinnamon stick in to the mixture, or ¼ t of cinnamon when you add the other spices.

Black bean fajitas

1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic
2 t chili powder (or more)
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cup cooked black beans
Squeeze of lime
Zest of 1/2 a lime
Sea salt & pepper

Saute onion and garlic until soft. Add chili powder and cook for a minute. Add tomatoes and black beans. Cook until heated through and thickened. Season with salt & pepper. Add lime juice and zest.

Serve with warmed tortilla shells and a selection of garnishes. Our favourites are avocado slices, slivers of red pepper, salsa, and carrot cabbage slaw.

It’s important to give the red pepper a good scrub in hot soapy water and rinse well since bell peppers are known to have high pesticide residue.

The best thing for the environment? Eat less meat.

For years health care practitioners have been telling us that if we ate less meat we’d all be a lot healthier. The average North American eats twice as much meat today as we did fifty years ago and it’s taking a toll on our collective health. Is it any surprise that our voracious appetite for meat is taking its toll on the environment too? The environmental impact of meat production (we’re talking mostly the large factory farms) is so extensive that the Union of Concerned Scientists suggests that the best thing you can do for the environment is to eat less meat.

To put it in perspective, the Canada Food Guide says a serving of meat (or fish or poultry) should be about 2.5 to 3 oz. and as little as 1 oz. for a child. A quick search of restaurant websites shows a lot of 8 oz. and 10 oz. steaks on menus, a serving that could feed a family of four.

What does that mean for the environment?

According to a UN study, the mass production of meat today accounts for 18% of green house gas emissions world wide. That’s more than the combined emissions from planes, trains and automobiles.

Deforestation to create pasture land and to grow crops to feed livestock is another issue. An acre of trees disappears every eight seconds (including rain forest) to create pasture and crop land. Since trees absorb carbon dioxide the impact on global warming is significant.

Factory farms, the source of most meat, pollute a lot. Manure run off can seep into waterways, a problem that is thought to be behind the deadly E. coli outbreak in Walkerton several years ago that killed six people.

If E. coli in our drinking water worries you consider this: 50% of antibiotics used in Canada are fed to livestock. Cramped quarters in factory farms means diseases are rampant so live stock is fed a steady diet of antibiotics to keep the animals from getting ill.

I could go on and on (ethical issues surrounding the treatment of animals on factory farms, pollution from meat processing plants) but suffice to say that cutting back even a bit on meat consumption could help the earth in many ways. (If Americans ate 10% less meat there would be enough grain left over to feed 60 million people. So in simplified terms there really is a solution to world hunger.)
If reducing the amount of meat you consume poses a challenge in your household here are a few tips to get you started:

Look for organic or naturally-raised meat. Livestock fed a natural, organic diet are happier, healthier and more nutritious. To find local producers check out these websites:,,

Reduce the portion size when you do eat meat and load up on more whole grains and vegetables.

Try eating one less meat-based meal each week. Substitute meat alternatives like beans for the meat in some of your favourite recipes.