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.