Friday, December 23, 2011

Last minute Christmas tips

1.    On Christmas morning, sort wrapping as you go, creating piles for trash, recyclables and reusable ribbon, bags and paper. Tuck them away for next year.

2.    Remember that wrapping paper is not recyclable. Choose reusable bags instead and save them from year to year.

3.    Cardboard boxes and packaging, as long as they’re not soiled or waxed, can be recycled. Some boxes might be worth saving to reuse at another time. Flatten the boxes you’re going to recycle for easy storage.

4.    On rigid plastic packaging, look for the recycling symbol with a number in the middle. Any plastic with a number between 1 and 7 can go in the blue bins. They’re few and far between on children’s toys but it’s still worth checking.

5.    Don’t get lazy over the holidays when it comes to basic household recycling. Nuf said.

6.    Keep composting over the Holidays. If you’re hosting a gathering and using disposable plates, buy paper plates and toss them in the compost bin for an easy clean up.

7.    Do what you can to reduce food waste. Start with a small serving and go back for more if you’re still hungry.

8.    Compost your Christmas tree. Many communities offer a tree mulching service for easy Christmas clean up.

9.    Save Christmas cards and use them to make gift tags next year.

10.   Bask in all that is wonderful about the Holiday Season and share your joy with others.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Christmas tree debate -- choose real over fake

Just because an artificial tree is reusable doesn't mean it's environmentally preferable. It's the opposite, actually. Fake Christmas trees have a nasty carbon footprint due to the fact that they're made from petroleum products, usually manufactured in China where environmental regulations can be lax, and shipped half way around the world to reach your home. Artificial trees off-gas, polluting the air in your home, and can't be recycled or composted. Real trees, on the other hand, come from sustainably-managed local forests (in my neck of the woods anyway) and are compostable. Choosing a real tree is one more way to buy local over the Holidays.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thoughtful gift ideas

Remember the excitement you had as a child during the lead up to Christmas? All you had to do was wait for it to arrive. Not that waiting was easy, but it was thrilling. Fast forward to adulthood and December is often a blur of shopping, cooking and decorating. It’s busy, sometimes stressful and less than thrilling for many.  

To put your Holiday challenges in perspective, the CBC radio program The Current recently aired a show about poverty in Canada and asked listeners to share their personal experiences. One of the stories that stood out was from a mother who, strapped for cash, can’t buy her children gifts. To make up for it she focuses on giving them her time, love and attention. “What you can’t give them in one way you have to make up for in other ways,” she said. Her young children (also interviewed) were grounded, thoughtful and wise beyond their years.  

Her comment made me wonder what some people who do receive loads of gifts (kids in particular) might be missing out on. It also reminded me of a recent chat I had with a friend who said she wished her young daughter’s grandparents would give her daughter time instead of stuff, an afternoon outing together rather than a toy.  

Gift giving can really be so simple. 

Thinking outside of the box (literally) for holiday giving is one way to add more meaning to the Season and giving non-traditional gifts is memorable and meaningful in ways that are especially appropriate for this thoughtful season.  

If you still have gifts to buy (and who doesn’t) or if youd like to begin a new tradition, consider these worthwhile causes.   

Do Good Today is a Saint John-based organization focused on reducing poverty in Saint John, and supports eight local organizations that are working to reduce poverty in our area. Links on this site simplify the giving process, and let you choose to give time, money, or both, to the Boys and Girls Club, the Resource Centre for Youth, P.R.O. Kids, First Steps Housing Project and others.  

The CBC Saint John annual Harbour Lights Campaign is another initiative that makes it easy to give to many organizations in one shot. The campaign supports food banks from St. Stephen to Sussex so your donation can reach more people throughout our region. CBC is taking donations right up until December 23 so there is still time to give, if you haven’t already.  

Nature Conservancy Canada has “packaged” wildlife habitat to give as gifts, in an effort to raise funds, and awareness, for the habitat crunch threatening many of our native species.

World Wildlife Fund – Canada offers endangered animal “adoptions” and a special initiative to help protect polar bears and their habitats whereby Coca-Cola will match your donation dollar for dollar. Adoption orders must be received by December 18 to guarantee arrival in time for Christmas.

I wish you an abundance of the simple pleasures that Christmas brings.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How do you wrap a reindeer?

Give symbolic gifts of nature this Christmas, and help protect the habitat of caribou, owls, bears, lynx and more. Gifts range from $40 to $400. Visit the Nature Conservancy Canada site for details.

Every Gift of Canadian Nature includes:
  • An eco-friendly colour calendar featuring landscapes from across Canada - a daily reminder of your support of these wild places or a wonderful holiday gift to give to a friend to enjoy.
  • A special gift certificate to personalize.
  • A letter from NCC President and CEO, John Lounds, informing your gift recipient that a donation has been made on their behalf to protect Canadian wildlife habitat

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thoughtful consumption

Last year we turned my children's artwork
into note cards that they gave as gifts to
their grandmothers.
 I love Buy Nothing Day, an annual event that encourages people to take a break from consumption. The event, now in its 20th year, falls on that wild shopping day known as Black Friday, (the day after American Thanksgiving and one of the busiest shopping days of the year in the U.S.)

Black Friday or not, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of spot sales, buy-one-get-one-free offers and the lure of discount prices.  People come home from weekend shopping trips with heaps of stuff that they just couldn’t pass up because the price was so low. (Mind you, even Frenchy’s and Value Village shoppers fall prey to the same bug. They just spend less in one shot.)
Consciously going a day without buying anything can inch you toward what I call thoughtful consumption -- carefully considering what you purchase (Is it necessary? Will it get used? Do I already have some of these? Is there a bit too much plastic packaging for my liking?) It’s a helpful mindset as we all dive into Christmas shopping.  

Like most people, I’m happy to buy or make gifts for those on my Christmas list. But buying for the sake of buying or purchasing something, anything, just to check a name off a list can take the fun out of Holiday shopping. I can sympathise, finding just the right gift for someone can be exhausting and sometimes impossible.
How do you avoid the stress of searching for the perfect gift or buying something just to get it over with (only to have it sit in a closet some place)? I aim for the practical with a touch of pizazz.  Practical is great because it means the item will get used and the pizazz makes it a little special, just right for the Holidays.
I splurge on good wool socks for my husband, the kind that he’d never treat himself to. I treat my mom and sisters to high quality cooking ingredients and they often do the same for me. All of this stuff is enjoyed, and used. 
Here are some other ideas for thoughtful (and useful) gift giving:
Is there someone on your list who loves tea, or coffee or chocolate? Create your own gift basket full of their favourites or some you know they’d love to try but would never buy for themselves. Another idea - baskets of locally-made goods are fun to give, and to receive.
Restaurant gift cards, museum memberships, tickets to sporting events, concerts or the theatre, tucked in a gift bag and tied with a pretty bow are thoughtful gifts that will get used. So are donations to community charities, made in the name of someone special. Can you think of a non-profit that the recipient has a connection with, whether through volunteer activities or direct care?
Thinking before you buy is a good lesson for all of us. It might mean that we come home with fewer things, but less clutter is a gift in itself.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Celebrate Buy Nothing Day!

Black Friday or not, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of spot sales, buy-one-get-one-free offers and the lure of discount prices.  Instead, spend the day unshopping, unspending and unwinding.

Watch the Do The Green Thing video

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fracking costs outweigh the benefits

Fracking puts our waterways at risk, not to mention
 our drinking water and air quality
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" comes to mind as I follow the issue of fracking in New Brunswick. My eco-mind weighs the rosy economic picture that dominates the debate against the fact that fracking is considered one of the top five environmental challenges facing the globe today.
No issue garners that status without some scientific weight behind the worry.
More and more research is coming to light suggesting that the economic cost of fracking (not to mention the social and environmental cost) might far outweigh any economic benefit we could ever hope to realize from the industry.
With just a little bit of digging you'll find more info on what all the worry is about. As an example, the Drilling down series includes months worth of investigative journalism by The New York Times that exposes the key concerns about the industry and shows what it's like for communities living with the fallout of the shale gas bubble.

To form a fair opinion on the issue, New Brunswickers need an honest assessment of the costs and benefits of shale gas extraction. But we're not getting that. Aside from the fact that the Provincial government's online information reads like it was cut and pasted from industry fact sheets, its nothing-bad-could-happen tone is naïve. Governments in many areas have either banned or suspended fracking and others are labouring over whether or not to allow it because a mountain of evidence is accumulating demonstrating that the economic, social and environmental cost is too great to make it worthwhile.

We all need to weigh in on the debate and, regardless of where you stand on the issue, here are some things you need to consider:

* Each well could use up to 80 million litres of fresh water to extract the gas (according to government data). And the government has no idea how many wells could be developed in the province. Our supply of fresh drinking water isn't bottomless.

* For each well, the fracking water could contain up to 800,000 litres of fracking "fluid," a mixture of known toxins. Fracking water is further contaminated with radioactive residue naturally occurring in the rock.

* Contaminated fracking water - that's billions and billions of litres of untreated waste water - will work its way into the Kennebecasis River, other nearby waterways and drinking water.

* There are significant air quality issues associated with fracking. New research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found breast cancer rates were increasing in counties in Texas with the highest natural gas air emissions. Meanwhile rates were declining in all other counties.

* The government speaks highly of a new regulatory framework under development to protect our air, water, livelihood - everything we know and love about living in Southern New Brunswick. But how do you build any trust or confidence when an exploration company snubs exploration regulations?

All economic development requires compromise but with fracking the trade-off might be more than you bargained for. If it sounds too good to be true...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Make your own carbonated drinks, with tap water!

Carbonate tap water and nix the store
bought (often imported) mineral water
and club soda.

I love carbonated water with a slice of lemon or lime, may be a sprig of mint in the summer, or poured half-and-half with homemade rhubarb juice in the spring. It's refreshing and thirst quenching. But I don't like the mounds of bottles that accumulate in our recycling bin. I'm happy to cart the empties off to the depot, but since recycle is the "R" of last resort, I'd rather avoid the bottles altogether.  

A friend introduced us to Sodastream, an easy way to carbonate tap water. It's a countertop gadget with CO2 cartridges that are refillable (at Sears, among other places).

Carbonate to your liking -- lots of bubbles or a few -- and nix the cans and bottles of mineral water and club soda.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

EcoLogo certification helps you find safe cleaning products

Look for the EcoLogo symbol
 on cleaning products to be sure that they're safe.
Sometimes when I mention to people how toxic most household cleaning products are they get a little overwhelmed. After all, homes need to be cleaned and if you can’t trust that your favourite products are safe for you and the environment what do you do? And how do you know if the product next to it on the grocery store shelf is any better?

I could print a list of harmful ingredients to look out for but when it comes down to it, ingredient lists on most household cleaning products are nonexistent. The back label is usually filled with poison control information and other warnings. Interestingly enough the products that do list ingredients are the eco-friendly options.

If you’re in search of less-toxic, eco-friendly cleaning products, going the unscented route is the simplest place to begin. But that only addresses one part of the problem (albeit a significant part).

To save all the stress and worry of figuring out if a cleaning product is reasonably safe and effective, I default to products carrying the EcoLogo symbol. This very recognizable seal consists of three interlocking doves in the shape of a maple leaf, surrounded with the words “Environmental Choice”. (Some certified products use a variation of the seal that simply says EcoLogo Certified.)

Founded in 1988 by the Government of Canada but now recognized world-wide, EcoLogo is a meaningful, trustworthy certification standard that is earned only by products that are healthy, sustainable and eco-friendly.

The list of products that carry the EcoLogo certification is very broad, including everything from household cleaners to paint, flooring, garbage bags and rechargeable batteries. In the household cleaners category you can find multipurpose cleaners, oven cleaner, dishwasher detergent, dish detergent, tub & tile cleaner, carpet cleaner and more.

The standards are often revised and were recently strengthened for household cleaners. To be certified, household cleaners must now limit the use of chemicals known to trigger or aggravate asthma (asthmagens). The EcoLogo program also excludes other unsafe ingredients, including ammonia, formaldehyde and phthalates, all hazardous chemicals commonly found in cleaning products.

Products that fall under the new standards are general purpose, bathroom and glass cleaners as well as dish detergents, degreasers and cleaners for cooking appliances. (The standard also includes industrial, vehicle and boat cleaners.)

The simplest way to find EcoLogo certified products is to look in the natural food section of major grocery stores. When I checked in the general cleaning aisle I wasn’t able to find any products with the certification, although there were a few products that “looked” green. But when they aren’t third-party certified, you can’t be sure.

If you want to avoid looking at labels altogether you can switch to vinegar. It’s a non-toxic, all-purpose cleaner that cleans drains, deodorizes rooms, removes stains, cleans toilets, and the rest of the bathroom. Use it to scrub floors, sinks, counters and as a general laundry aid.  For more information on the EcoLogo program and to search out other EcoLogo certified products visit

Friday, October 28, 2011

That "clean" smell - not always a good thing

Nothing compares to the cleaning power of a good breeze.
One thing I lament about the coming colder weather is the fact that I won’t be opening the windows to air out the house. We have an air exchange system but nothing compares to the cleaning power of a good breeze.

With the windows closed I think more about indoor air quality and the everyday products that can make our homes decidedly unhealthy. Ironically, some of the worst indoor air polluters are the products that we use to clean and freshen up our homes, products like household cleaners, laundry detergents and air fresheners. And although many of the cleaning compounds themselves are related to health concerns, it’s the synthetic fragrances in these products that are a great concern. These artificial scents can contain hundreds of chemicals, none of which are required to be listed on labels. Instead, companies can use the catch-all term “fragrance” in ingredient lists.

In my books, fragrance is just another word for hormone disruptors, a range of common chemicals that interfere with the body's hormone systems and have been linked to some cancers, diabetes, central nervous system issues and fertility problems.

Research is growing regarding the dangers of the free wheeling use of these chemicals, leading to proposed legislation in the U.S. (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Exposure Elimination Act of 2011) which aims to prevent exposure to these chemicals in everyday products. Nothing is on the books yet in Canada.

Think of all of the scented products that you have in your home. Laundry detergent, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, bathroom cleaners, all purpose cleaners, stain removers, air fresheners, carpet cleaners, you name it. Virtually every cleaning product in your home that is scented contains a range of toxic chemicals. (The only safe scents are those courtesy of essential oils).

If you can smell these fragrances they’re entering your body, and holding your breath while you scrub the bathtub doesn’t really help. Children are especially vulnerable to these toxins, including developing fetuses. Hormone disruptors in household products are being washed down the drain and into our waterways causing similar problems with aquatic life.

It isn’t difficult to rid your home of scented cleaning products. Simply choose the unscented version. For those products that don’t offer an unscented option, choose an alternative. Avoid any product with “fragrance” on the ingredient lists or labeled with undeniably artificial scents (think “spring rain” or “ocean breeze”).
  • Avoid aerosols and sprays since they release smaller particles so are inhaled deeper into your lungs
  • Avoid air fresheners altogether, including sprays, gels and plug-ins. The chemical load in these products is especially high.
  • Choose products scented with essential oils (look for the EcoLogo certification to be sure that the scent isn’t artificially enhanced).
  • Go back to basics with products. Use baking soda as an air freshener and vinegar as a cleaner.
  • Open the window to disperse an odor or air out your house
Making the conscious choice to buy safer products is the key to staying healthy in your home.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wallet guides are helpful when it comes to choosing ocean-friendly seafood

If you’re trying to eat less meat, be it for health or environmental reasons, a common approach is to eat more fish. It’s a healthy alternative to meat that’s easy to find and simple to prepare.

Switching to fish can have environmental pit falls though and some potential health concerns, depending on what types of fish you like to buy. Figuring out what fish is healthiest for you and the environment can be very complicated so I rely on a couple of credible organizations that lay it all out for me, listing best-to-worst seafood choices in handy wallet cards and smart phone apps.

One organization is SeaChoice, a Canadian group that was formed by a number of Canadian conservation organizations to help consumers navigate the murky waters of sustainable seafood. The organization produces a comprehensive guide that clearly lists your best choices for seafood, the okay choices, and seafood that you should avoid.

According to SeaChoice, your best choices are species that are abundant, have well managed fisheries, and are fished or farmed in an environmentally sustainable way. On this list you’ll find choices like wild Alaskan salmon, farmed rainbow trout (freshwater), and Alaskan halibut.

The next best category lists fish that may be threatened in some way (mostly related to how they’re fished). SeaChoice recommends that fish in this category be eaten infrequently or only when the best choice isn’t available. You’ll find haddock, lobster and some Pacific cod in this category.

The avoid category lists fish that have a combination of problems: poorly managed fishery, farming practices that cause environmental damage, or they’re over fished. Atlantic salmon, shrimp and tilapia farmed in Asia, and Atlantic halibut are some common fish in this category.

Another guide that I find helpful is Seafood Watch, developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California (and the basis of the SeaChoice guide above.) Seafood Watch produces a guide for the U.S. North East which applies to the seafood that we find most often in our stores. Seafood Watch also has a best-good-avoid approach but it also layers in health info, flagging fish that is a concern due to mercury or PCB contamination (like swordfish and most tuna).

In the Seafood Watch guide, you’ll notice that the “Best Choice” list includes just three with contamination concerns, while the “Avoid” list contains ten fish that you should limit your consumption of due to mercury or PCB contamination. It’s proof that environmentally-friendly seafood choices are healthier for you too.
My favourite part of this guide is the “Super Green” list, a selection of seafood that is healthy to eat (low in environmental contaminants, high in omega-3 fatty acids) and is fished or farmed in an ocean-friendly way. The best of both worlds. Rainbow trout, wild-caught Pacific salmon and farmed mussels are some of the choices on this list.

This guide is updated twice a year and is available as a smart phone app and a printable wallet guide. Visit and for more information.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Have you ever considered the number of miles that your food travels from farm to table? The Canadian organization, Local Food Plus, does the calculations all the time and has figured out that families who spend just $10 worth of their weekly grocery budget on locally grown food can have a significant impact the environment and can help create jobs in the local food economy.

For simplicity sake the organization’s calculations are based on food being trucked either from Florida or California. So if a family in Halifax shifts $10 of their food budget to local food, the annual impact would be equivalent to taking a car off the road for two weeks. This particular calculation is based on food shipped from Florida, but we all know that lots of fresh produce is shipped from much farther away so the impact of making the change could be even bigger.

In terms of economic impact, 5,000 families shifting $10 per week to local products would divert $2.6 million from imported food into the pockets of local farmers.  And it would help to make our region less dependent on imported food, something that we should all be concerned about.

Shifting just $10 a week to local food is a synch this time of year. The markets are overflowing with fresh produce and even big grocery chains have some local (or regional) produce available. Much of the food being harvested this time of year has a long shelf life so it’s easy to stock up. Cabbage, winter squash, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower and apples are abundant so you can buy more than a week’s worth if you don’t often get the chance to go to a weekend farmer’s market.

Here’s a challenge for you, instead of shifting just $10 of your weekly food budget to local food, for the next few weeks you could try to buy only local vegetables. Imported carrots, corn, cucumber, greens, tomatoes, potatoes and such will be available all winter but the better tasting local versions won’t, so why not take advantage while you can (and support our local farmers while you’re at it.)

There is no shortage of markets to visit to search out local produce. Or you can search online for local producers. ACORN Organic and Buy Local NB both have searchable directories of local producers. (,  

Here’s one more reason to buy local food: freshly picked local fruit and vegetables taste better. Period. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Packing a green lunch

Whether or not you have someone in your household heading back to school, September is the time of year that we all return to some semblance of a schedule. In our house that means getting back into the routine of making school lunches and taking the time to pack a more substantial lunch to bring to the office.  

Packing your own lunch can be a healthy, cost effective way to eat well. But it can also be a way to add to the trash pile if you’re in the habit of buying snack-sized processed foods and pre-packaged meals. Items for school lunches are the worst culprits but grownups who brown-bag it to work can fall into the same packaging traps.
According to Waste Reduction Week Canada, 35% of municipal waste is packaging. To reduce the amount of trash generated by your lunch, and the amount of recyclables that pile up at your house, avoid individually pre-packaged foods. Instead buy the family size of yogurt, cheese, crackers and other popular lunch foods and package lunch-sized portions in reusable containers at home.

Here are a few more suggestions for how to make your family’s lunches healthier for you and the planet:

Invest in wide-mouth, stainless steel lined thermoses. They’re great for packing soups, stews and pasta dishes because they’re easy to eat out of. As well, they’re good for hot or cold food items. Keep in mind that plastic-lined thermoses will leach chemicals into hot food.

If you like to pack microwavable meals for your lunch, keep this in mind: “Microwave safe” packaging refers only to the fact that the plastic won’t melt when heated. It says nothing about the fact that chemicals leach from the plastic into your food when heated.

Have extra stainless steel cutlery on hand to pack with lunches so you can avoid disposable plastic utensils (they can’t be recycled).

Invest in a good quality stainless steel water bottle and pack water rather than juice or sugary drinks.

Invest in a good quality stainless steel lined travel mug. Our best find yet is from Costco (Contigo brand). These don’t leak and are great for hot and cold beverages.

Invest in a set of glass food storage containers. They’re great for packing up and reheating leftovers. Look for lunch and snack-sized containers are department and hardware stores.

If you have a good set of food-safe plastic storage containers, transfer your food to a bowl or plate before reheating. Remember any plastics that you use should have the numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5 on them (inside the recycling symbol). These are the food-safe numbers.

When you’re tidying up leftovers after supper, package them in lunch-size portions so they’re ready to grab and go in the morning.

If you’re no into baking, buy lunch snacks from a quality bakery rather than buy processed, packaged snacks.

Getting into the habit of packing litter-less lunches is a great way to kick off the new school year.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Eco guide at your fingertips

There are a lot of helpful books about greening your lifestyle or making your home more eco-friendly. If you check the local library, any bookstore or do an online search you’ll come across hundreds of titles.

One very basic, practical guide that you might not be aware of is right under your nose – the phone book. For a few years now Yellow Pages Group has included the EcoGuide alongside the Yellow Pages section of the telephone directory. Easy to find at the front of the book, the guide is an accessible resource for local information and general tips on living a more eco-minded life.

If you’re wondering what can and can’t go in the blue bins, or where to find your nearest blue bin, check the EcoGuide for a list of recycling depots and recycling guidelines. As well there are lists of do’s and don’ts for your compost bin and some tips for keeping your compost cart healthy.

A couple of pages of the guide are devoted to NB Eco resources, although few are NB-specific. Most are simply web addresses for online resources but useful nonetheless. I find it helpful that the info in this section is organized by area of the home, is easy to scan and provides some practical hints, like recycling options for building materials and what to do with leftover paint.

A few of the pages are about eco-minded shopping, including tips about buying local, credible eco labels to look for and shopping checklists suggesting what to consider before you buy. In fact there are a lot of checklists in this guide which I find are a good way to get you to stop and think about what you can do differently.   

Yellow Pages Group has made the phone book more eco-friendly in other ways too. The paper used for the book is from waste wood only and from certified sustainable sources, the paper is produced using mostly renewable energy, it’s printed using vegetable-based inks and is 100% recyclable. The phone book has one of the highest material recycling rates in Canada – 85% of used phone books are recycled.

But if you never use your phone book then you don’t need to receive one each summer. One of the most environmentally advanced things that YPG has done is to develop an opt-out program, making it easy for households that don’t want a printed directory to say no thanks. After all, directly information is available online and through mobile apps so if they’re you channels of choice, why waste the paper. Visit to submit your request to stop the automatic delivery. Your request will be good for five years.   

Monday, August 15, 2011

What’s the carbon footprint of your supper?

While we’re still in the midst of barbecue season consider this: a four-person family skipping steak once per week is, environmentally speaking, equivalent to taking your car off the road for three months. This is one of the findings of a new report on the environmental impact of meat and other foods, released last month by Environmental Working Group (EWG), a research organization based in the US

Weighing the environmental impact of food isn’t a common consideration when deciding what, and what not, to eat. More often it’s how healthy a food is or isn’t that helps us decide. The great thing about this new report, titled Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, is that it combines the two: the health and environmental impacts of common foods.

In the report EWG analyzed the greenhouse gas emissions, environmental footprint and health impacts of 20 types of food – mostly animal and vegetable protein - and came up with a summary of best-to-worst which they have packaged into a helpful guide for choosing food that is healthier for you and the planet.

While red meat gets the worst environmental scores, you might be surprised by the company it keeps. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Of all the food analyzed, lamb, beef, cheese, pork and farmed salmon (in that order) generate the most greenhouse gases

  • About 30 per cent of the meat consumed in the US is beef and it accounts for double the emissions of pork, four times the emissions of chicken.

  • Cheese has the third poorest ranking on the list, sitting just above beef. Less dense cheeses (take less milk to produce) generate fewer greenhouse gasses.

  • For beef and dairy it’s the animals’ methane emissions and the pollution from growing feed that contributes to such high greenhouse gas emissions. With salmon it’s feed production that gives it a poor ranking along with the fact that up to 44 per cent gets tossed in the garbage, mostly due to spoilage at the grocery store or at home.

  • Plant-based protein like lentils, beans and nuts are considered “climate friendly,” nutritious and healthy.

  • Environmental toxins are stored in animal flesh so the more animal protein you consume the more toxins you ingest. 
Also highlighted in the report are studies linking high red meat consumption to obesity, type-2 diabetes, a variety of cancers and heart disease. Other studies point to increased risk of cancer among those who consume processed meat. (The American Institute for Cancer research recommends that you not eat processed meat at all, including hot dogs and luncheon meat.)

What’s a meat eater to do with all of this information? Eat better meat and less of it. On average we consume double the amount of protein and only a fraction of the fruits and vegetables recommended by government health agencies. So there are many reasons to reduce. Look for naturally raised local meat, grass-fed beef, and organic eggs and dairy products. It’s more expensive but if you eat less overall it will be more affordable. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

There is no such thing as eco-friendly or “green” fireworks

I noticed recently that one of the local grocery stores has a huge display of fireworks, a sure sign that they’re becoming much more every day when you can pick them up along with your bread and milk.

Fireworks may be pretty on a summer evening but they’re not innocuous. There are a few environmental and health issues associated with fireworks that everyone should be aware of before they set them off in the back yard with friends and family, and especially with children around.

The explosive compounds used in fireworks, the heavy metals used for colour effects, the smoke and particulate matter released when they explode and all of the packaging and debris left behind once they have been fired off combine to create a number of worries you need to know about.

Fireworks often use perchlorates as the explosives (replace old fashioned gunpowder), a family of chemicals known to cause thyroid issues, although there is no research pointing to the concentrations in fireworks being high enough (for your average person) to cause problems. As usual, children are more vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals. Also because fireworks are often set off over water, these chemicals often work their way into our waterways.

The smoke released during a fireworks display is something else to consider, especially if you (or your neighbours) have any breathing issues. The smoke contains particulate matter that leads to a spike in poor air quality for about three hours after the fireworks are set off.

What lasts much longer, in our bodies and in the environment, are the trace heavy metals that create the spectacular colours that leave us all ohing and ahing. Copper, cadmium, barium, aluminum and strontium can all be toxic, or carcinogenic, when concentrations exceed levels that are considered safe. The more often we release these chemicals into the environment to greater the chance that we’ll exceed safe levels.

When it comes to personal health, watching an annual fireworks display likely isn’t going to cause much harm, it’s when they’re used frequently that there is reason for concern. From an environmental perspective the popularity of backyard fireworks displays is something to worry about too, for all of the reasons I just listed.

Less harmful fireworks are being developed, some at the request of Walt Disney Company. Disney is responsible for hundreds of huge fireworks displays each year that were causing problems for park neighbours living downwind. A few years ago Disney created fireworks that use compressed air instead of perchlorates to ignite so burn cleaner than the traditional sort. Other new fireworks use fewer or less toxic chemicals, no heavy metals, and some have biodegradable casings. These alternatives are also more costly so unfortunately are not likely to appear in the fireworks cabinet at the dollar store.

There is no such thing as eco-friendly or “green” fireworks so if you’re not willing to give them up altogether opt for fewer this year. We all know that a holiday weekend doesn’t need fireworks to be memorable.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Seasonal food on the "Dirty Dozen" list

My family is crazy about local berries, so much so that by the end of blueberry season more than half of our freezer space is filled with dozens of bags of strawberries, raspberries and a good 60 pounds of blueberries. We enjoy local berries all year long in smoothies, muffins and galettes.

The challenge with local berries is that it’s nearly impossible to find organic. Farmer Brown’s in Bloomfield has a strawberry and a small raspberry u-pick and at local markets you can often find a few boxes of berries that haven’t been sprayed. Bates U-pick on Belleisle Bay sprays their strawberry plants but they don’t spray once the fruit has started to form so the pesticide residue would be lower than conventionally grown strawberries where the fruit is sprayed for pests and fungus. Organic blueberries are scarce.

Since we go through so many berries we usually buy what we can organic, or at least not sprayed and then top up with conventionally grown berries.

This season we’ll put up fewer blueberries, in favour of more raspberries and strawberries. We love blueberries but have found that domestic blueberries are now in the “Dirty Dozen”, a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide residue. (Strawberries are on the list as well but more naturally grown strawberries are accessible locally).

The “Dirty Dozen” list is compiled annually by Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization in the US that researches and reports on environmental issues. For this report EWG analyzes pesticide residue testing data from the US Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration and then ranks the produce accordingly.

To help consumers make sense of the data, EWG has categorized the produce by worst and best. The Dirty Dozen are the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residue; the Clean 15 are those fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide residue.

Here’s the “Dirty Dozen”, beginning with the worst: apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines – imported, grapes – imported, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries – domestic, lettuce, kale/collard greens.

On the bright side, there is a great selection of produce with low pesticide residue. The “Clean 15”, beginning with the lowest in pesticide residue, are: onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, asparagus, sweet peas, mangoes, eggplant, cantaloupe – domestic, kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, mushrooms.

The idea is to eat organic (or naturally grown) versions of the dirty dozen and reduce your consumption of this produce when organic isn’t available (like we’ll do with blueberries). Environmental Working Group points out that the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure so you find the balance that works for your family.

To search organic producers in the province visit the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network at And at u-picks and farmer’s markets ask growers if they use natural growing practices. You’ll find that many don’t spray.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Eco-friendly picnics and backyard barbeques

Outdoor entertaining, everyday family dinners al fresco and picnics at the beach are some of the great pleasures of summer. There’s something about being outside, among nature, that makes a meal taste better, a gathering more enjoyable, an outing especially memorable.

So why then does all of the outdoor enjoyment often lead to a lot of unnecessary trash and generally eco-unfriendly behaviour?

Companies in the business of making disposable items seem to target summer with gusto. If you so choose, you could buy a whole party worth of items that are completely disposable and at the end of the evening roll up everything but the guests and dump it in the trash, all in the name if simple summer entertaining.

But simple entertaining and outdoor enjoyment in general don’t need to be of the single use variety. You can soak up summer and be green. Here’s how.

To begin, follow this general rule: choose reusable before compostable and compostable before recyclable and avoid anything that is single use.

Use everyday plates, cups and cutlery instead of disposable. Plastic cutlery isn’t recyclable so has to go in the trash. Instead, invest in an inexpensive set of reusable cutlery for picnics and back yard entertaining. Biodegradable cutlery is available but can’t be composted so has to go in the trash and compostable cutlery is usually single use and expensive so the better option is still reusable.

If you’re not comfortable using your regular dishes outside consider investing in few outdoor dishes that can fall off the deck without a worry. Enameled camping-style dishes are indestructible and available at hardware stores. Sturdy plastic plates are a second option. Watch the plastic content though (choose food-grade plastic numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5) and avoid plastic that isn’t graded or is stamped with the numbers four or seven.

If you go with disposable plates choose paper instead of Styrofoam or plastic since they can go in the compost. Also, choose a brand with recycled content (post-consumer recycled is best). Another reason to avoid Styrofoam and plastic: putting hot food straight from the barbeque onto plastic or Styrofoam could leach chemicals into your food.

For cups choose enameled cups, sturdy plastic reusable cups, or compostable cups. The Bio-Life brand at Shoppers Drug Mart is made of vegetable compounds and is compostable.

I concede that paper napkins are a reasonable option for outdoor entertaining but again look for brands that contain recycled content and make sure they go in the compost not the trash.

You can make your food more eco-friendly too. Instead of packaged, processed meat consider buying locally-produced meat (visit and search farmers or visit Kuinshoeve Meat in Rothesay for naturally raised local meat) and load up on locally grown fruits and vegetables as they come into season.

Since no outdoor meal is complete without a bevy of salads, make your dressing from scratch. Click here for some recipes for my favourite homemade dressings along with a few summer salad recipes like roasted vegetable pasta salad and roasted sweet potato salad with orange vinaigrette.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

EWG's annual sunscreen review

Given the spring weather we have endured I doubt sunscreen shopping has been top of mind for many, but assuming sunny weather is on the way Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released its annual sunscreen review, featuring a new slate of recommended products to search out and great guidance on what products you should avoid.

EWG rates sunscreens on a one-to-seven scale, one being “green” or your best choice for safety and effectiveness and seven (“red”), for those with the most dangerous chemical load and questionable effectiveness.

The highest rated sunscreens are those that protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays, but also contain the least amount of harmful chemicals that when absorbed by the body can contribute to health issues.

All of EWG’s top sunscreens are mineral-based (eg. contain zinc or titanium) and are rated one or two. These tend to be more expensive but are also more effective and safer so offer value for dollar. Mineral-based sunscreens are not absorbed by the body (a good thing) so often leave your skin looking white-washed but more and more are non-whitening and easier to apply.

The “best” of the non-mineral based rate a respectable three, offering a reasonably safe and effective alternative to the mineral-based products. In this year’s review a few Coppertone products rate well: Coppertone Kids Pure & Simple Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50, Coppertone Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50, Coppertone Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion, Faces, SPF 50, and Water Babies Pure and Simple Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50.

A great product that isn’t in the EWG database is the new Green Beaver sunscreen. It’s mineral-based but non-whitening, fragrance-free, waterproof and made in Canada. It’s SPF 30 and there is a kids version too.

There are a few more things to consider when you’re choosing sunscreen. Higher SPF products (anything above SPF 50) can be deceptive since there is no guarantee that they are any more effective than lower SPF products. They are often loaded with more chemicals and those who use them tend to stay in the sun much longer than those who choose a lower SPF product. Instead, choose a product that’s SPF 50 or lower and apply it properly. Sprays and powders rate poorly because users (and anyone nearby) inhale the chemicals. Also rated poorly are products containing vitamin A (listed as retinyl palmitate) because of concerns based on U.S. government data that they contribute to the development of some skin cancers.

Sunscreen is only one part of sun safety. Seek out shade during the hottest part of the day (between 11-4), wear sunglasses (with UVA & UVB protection), a broad-rim hat, and cover up with light-coloured clothing for the best protection from the sun that we have all been craving. Visit for the full report.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

EWG's guide to safer cell phone use

With the World Health Organization announcing this week that there is a  possible link between cell phone use and cancer you might want to check out Environmental Working Group's guide to safer cell phone use. EWG also lists the best and worst cell phones and has a database that lets you check you own phone to see how it rates.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Another bread recipe for busy people

This is a great bread recipe for busy people because you can let the dough sit in the fridge for a few days, punching it down every 12 hours or so. Try mixing it up at bedtime and baking it the next evening. Also, you can fiddle with the types of flour...try half whole white and half whole grain (or whole wheat)

Everyday bread:

1 t yeast

1 t sugar

1 1/3 c warm water

2 t oil

1 t salt

3 3/4 c flour (divided)

In a large bowl combine the sugar and water, stir, then sprinkle over the yeast (let bubble away for about 10 min). In a separate bowl combine the salt and 3 cups of the flour. When the yeast is ready add the flour to the yeast mixture along with the oil and mix.

Add more of the flour until you can't mix anymore and then turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead in the rest of the flour. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a plate or in a grocery bag and put it in the fridge until you have time to deal with it (8-12 hours).

When you’re ready to bake:

Remove dough fridge, punch it down and shape into a loaf (think Italian loaf shape). Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and let rise for about 1-1 ½ hours. Bake at 500 for 9 minutes and then turn the heat down to 350 for another 25-30 minutes.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Five-minute bread

This simple bread recipe comes from the book "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoe Francois. The book is a great guide to fitting homemade bread into busy lives.

Basic bread
(these quantities can be cut in half for a half batch)

3 cups lukewarm water
1 ½ tablespoons regular yeast
1 to 1 ½ tablespoons coarse salt (the recipe calls for 1 ½ but I have cut it back
6 ½ cups whole white or white flour (one cup can be whole wheat or multigrain)

• Warm the water slightly (to a little warmer than body temperature). Add the yeast and salt to the water. Give it a stir and add the flour, mixing until it is completely incorporated. You’ll end up with a wet, shaggy dough.

• Scrape it into a plastic, food grade container with a lid and let it sit on the counter for a couple of hours. By this time it’s ready to use but the dough will be easier to work with once it has been refrigerated for a while.

• You can either bake the bread on a pizza stone (recommended for best results) or on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.

• Sprinkle an un-sided cookie sheet with cornmeal (so it will slide easily onto the pizza stone).

• To make your bread, sprinkle the surface of the dough with flour, and pull up and cut off a grapefruit-sized clump of dough. Shape it into to a ball by gently stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go. (You can add a little more flour as needed during this, so the dough doesn’t stick to your hands). It should take less than a minute to shape.

• Set the ball on the cornmeal-covered cookie sheet and let it sit for 40 minutes (You can cover it at this point, but it isn’t necessary).

• Twenty minutes before baking preheat the oven to 450 with the pizza stone placed on the middle rack.

• When you’re ready to bake the dough, dust the top lightly with flour and slash it with a serrated knife (only a surface cut).

• Slide the dough onto the pizza stone (if using) or place the cookie sheet in the oven. On a lower rack place a baking pan filled with a cup of hot water. (This creates steam that helps a nice crust form).

• Bake for 30 minutes and cool on a rack.

A loaf of bread shouldn't be immortal

I have always thought that making your own bread is the kitchen equivalent of living off-grid. Not only does it feel like the ultimate in self sufficiency, there is great satisfaction in creating something so fundamental with our own hands. And few things are more delicious or comforting than a slice of still-warm bread spread with a bit of butter. If you need convincing to give it a try there are other reasons to consider making your own bread, especially if you eat it a lot.

You may have noticed that much regular grocery store bread can sit on the counter a very long time without a hint of mould. You might also have noticed that the ingredient list for bought bread is a lot longer than the traditional water, flour, yeast and salt. A variety of engineered sugars and preservatives have turned your average loaf of bread into an immortal foodstuff. Even the wholesome-looking loaves at in-store bakeries can be packed full of a dozen or more additives.

Bread should be a very nutritional food. After all, stone ground flour has a substantial protein content, B vitamins and lots of fibre. But unless your bread says 100% whole grain chances are it’s made from refined white flour that nutritionally isn’t much different, or better, than white sugar.

Independent bakeries usually have healthier bread, especially if they bake from scratch with stone ground flour (look for the Speerville Flour Mill sign or ask if they use Speerville flour, or another stone ground product).

I dislike processed foods loaded with additives and rarely get to independent bakeries so make a lot of bread. It’s one of those things that, once you’re in the habit doesn’t seem like a big deal. But I know for most the idea of making your own bread can be as daunting as it is appealing.

Making bread the traditional way, that is. Happily I recently came across a method for making homemade bread that is as simple as baking cookies. It’s from the book titled “Artisan bread in five minutes a day”, a practical, easy-to-follow guide to making traditional loaves in a non-traditional way: no proofing the yeast, no kneading, no punching down. While some if the tasks of traditional bread making are gratifying in their own way, you need time to take pleasure in the process.

This five-minute method is simple: Mix up the dough (yeast, salt, flour and water), leave it in the fridge for up to 10 days. To make your bread, clip off a grapefruit-sized clump of dough, shape it into to a ball, sit it on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 40 minutes then bake it for about half an hour. There are many variations but the principle of simplicity is always the same.

If making homemade bread is on your bucket list, or if you’d simply like to be more self sufficient, search out this book, or visit my blog for the basic recipe and method. (