Saturday, April 28, 2012

Green living guides - a crash course in healthy living

This guide to safer cosmetics is one of the handy tools available to help us buy less toxic food and products.
I spend a lot of time doing green living research. I follow blogs and environmental leaders, I subscribe to healthy living newsletters and eco twitter feeds. You could say I’m up to my eyeballs in all things green.

But I still get to the grocery store and draw half a blank in the produce section, trying to remember what fruits and vegetables are on what list: the dirty dozen or the clean 15. In the personal care section I find ingredient labels confusing, mixing up the siloxanes with the glycinates (who wouldn’t?) Cleaning products are no easier, especially with all of those deceptive (unregulated) labels.
So even when you’re fairly informed, it’s tough to make the right choices. I end up with grocery store paralysis and come home empty handed or buy the wrong thing and have to return it. No wonder I’m so content using vinegar and baking soda for cleaning. The labels are easy to decipher. 
Making safe and healthy choices is hard work, but it’s getting easier thanks to a spate of printable wallet guides and mobile apps that decode labels and provide at-a-glance lists of do’s and don’ts. All the basics at your fingertips.

Here are some of my favourites:
The dirty dozen/clean15 wallet guide and mobile app. Developed by Environmental Working Group, these lists include the produce with the highest pesticide residue (that you should buy organic) and produce with the lowest (it’s okay to buy conventionally grown.) The guide keeps me sane in the produce section and helps me manage my grocery budget.

The dirty dozen of cosmetics, the David Suzuki Foundation’s shopper’s guide to personal care products. This is a great help, especially when I’m choosing products touted as “natural”, which can often be loaded with toxins along with the plant-based good stuff.  Environmental Defense has a similar guide.
The Shopper’s Guideto Cleaners is a new guide from the David Suzuki Foundation. It lists some of the most toxic (and surprisingly common) ingredients in household cleaners, and provides tips like choose fragrance-free and avoid cleaners that don’t list ingredients on the package.
Seafood Watch is a guide to choosing ocean-friendly seafood. It categorizes fish choices so you can avoid (or limit) consuming those that are fished or farmed in environmentally damaging ways. It also lists the fish that you should be wary of due to concerns about mercury or other contaminants.  Seachoice offers a similar guide.

Reading these guides is like a crash course in healthy living. It might be stressful at first (you’ll see there’s a lot to avoid) but keeping these guides handy while you shop will make it easier to make healthy choices. And there is a better chance you won’t be duped by false claims and misleading labels.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Take up a new habit that's good for you and the planet.

Earth Day is coming up on April 22, the annual celebration of all that’s great about the earth and our chance to do something better for the environment. Earth Day is a great concept, but it’s only one day. If you really want to make a difference in your life and the life of the planet, consider it a time to jumpstart a pledge to live better, for more than a day. 

I say “live better” because the state of the environment and our personal health and wellbeing are so intertwined. When I asked my nine-year old daughter Amelia what Earth Day meant to her she said, among other things, that you should drive less so you don’t pollute. And that driving less is better for you too because you get more exercise. She gets the earth health-personal health connection.
Dwelling on that connection is a catalyst for change because even people who don’t give much thought to environmental issues usually care about their health and the health of their family. 
Whatever inspires you to live better is a good thing.
But where to start? The Earth Day Canada team suggests you take your pick among four basic categories: Eat, Drink, Care, Move.
Eat: Eat more plant-based meals. Eating too much meat isn’t good for us or the planet, for many reasons. Factory farms, the source of most meat, pollute a lot. Cramped quarters in factory farms means diseases are rampant so live stock is fed a steady diet of antibiotics, contributing to drug resistance in people too. (50% of antibiotics used in Canada are fed to livestock.) And the mass production of meat today accounts for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. If Americans ate just 10% less meat there would be enough grain left over to feed 60 million people.
Drink: Drink tap water instead of bottled. Most bottled water is simply tap water anyway and it takes a surprising three litres of water to make one litre of bottled water. What’s more, there is a water footprint behind everything we consume. A bottle of beer requires 76 litres of water to make, a glass of wine 113 litres, a cup of coffee 136 litres. So consume less and don’t waste.
Care: Phase out (or throw out) your personal care products that are loaded with toxins. The cosmetics industry isn’t required to prove an ingredient is safe before it’s used in a consumer product. So unless your products state that they’re free of parabens, pthlates, and at least 10 other known toxins, I would toss them and switch to safer products. Check my blog for more information.
Move: Get more active. Canadians are driving more each year, increasing our per capita greenhouse gas emissions. Park the car more, car pool, take public transportation, ride your bike and walk.
Developing new or better habits can be a challenge so start with something easy, or choose something that’s especially important to you, so you’ll stick with it. Then choose your next challenge…