I had great time talking about everything green living and environmental health with Marlo Thomas a few weeks back for her Huffington Post show, Mondays with Marlo. Check it out here.
As of mid-December I’m home getting to know my newborn and working, writing, and posting less (or not at all). I should be back up and running at some point in February. If you send me a question for a Q&A in the interim, I will file it for then.
New Year’s is here and I’m looking for simple ways to green my life. Do you have some ideas?
Happy almost New Year! I’m glad to hear about the changes you want to make for 2013. Simple steps add up, especially if we all take them. One easy way to go green is via the food you buy, cook, and eat. In my book The Conscious Kitchen, I have ten food commandments I suggest. Perhaps you will find resolution ideas in them.
1. Eat less meat. When eating beef, seek out and choose grass-fed. Other meat and poultry should be carefully sourced.
2. Just say no to bottled water. Drink (filtered) tap instead. This will save money, too.
3. Buy local organic or sustainably farmed fruits and vegetables. Don’t forget that coffee and tea come from plants, and wine is made from grapes; choose sustainable versions.
4. Eat only the least contaminated sustainably harvested wild or well-sourced farmed seafood.
5. Always consider packaging when shopping. Choose items packed in materials you can reuse or that can be recycled in your municipality. Buy bulk items instead of overpackaged goods. Always shop with reusable bags.
6. Cook at home. Often. And serve on reusable dishware, not disposable. Clean with eco-friendly products.
7. Avoid plastic as often as you can.
8. Try composting, even if you live in a city, or a house without a yard.
9. Whenever possible, reduce energy use in the kitchen by choosing efficient appliances, cooking methods, and dishwashing practices; don’t leave appliances plugged in when not in use; ask your electric company for alternative energy sources like wind power.
10. Spread the word. Educate everyone you know. Green your office kitchen, your kids’ school kitchen, your friends and relatives’ kitchens. Make noise; together we can make a huge difference.
Now that it is holiday season, our family tends to have a lot of wine. I do try my best to buy organic wine but I have a really hard time finding it. Was wondering if you had some suggestions of where to find some?
Glad to hear you’re trying to buy organic wine. Many people tend to forget that wine comes from grapes, and grapes are typically heavily sprayed with pesticides. I agree that finding organic wine can be tricky at times. This is partially because if it contains sulfites (which most wines do) it can’t be labeled USDA organic. Here is an excerpt about wine from my book The Conscious Kitchen that I think will be helpful:
“Organic standards do not permit the use of sulfites, the bacteria-killing preservatives used in making pretty much all wine. Some producers use organic grapes and add varying degrees of sulfites, resulting in wine that cannot technically be certified organic. These wines are often labeled “made with organically grown grapes” and are a good option….’Biodynamic’ is a third-party-certified method and term (Demeter-USA.org) that’s a bit confusing to explain. Basically biodynamic farming shares many tenets with organic farming (no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are permitted–some people call it a forerunner to the organic movement) but takes it several steps further. Biodynamic vineyards have not only vines but also other plants, trees, and animals, all of which work together as a unified system–this is call biodiversity. “
So when it comes to looking for sustainable wine to drink, here is a sliding scale of what to look for:
- Certified Organic
- Labeled “Organically Grown” or “made with organically grown grapes”
- Bottles marked “sustainably grown” or “made with sustainably grown grapes”
Hopefully this will help you locate a bottle or two. You can also always ask questions in local wine stores. There tend to be producers who don’t bother to label their wines as organically produced, and the shop buyers can point you in the right direction. Here is a previous post from my old intern, Glenny, about her favorite organic wines that might also be of use.
How do you make your Thanksgiving as sustainable as possible? Are there certain ways that you make your holiday eco-friendly?
Thanks for your question. There are ways to make any celebration or holiday, including Thanksgiving, eco-friendlier. Here is a post I wrote last year on the Top 10 Ways to Have a Conscious Thanksgiving. That should give you some good ideas. Hint: it’s not only about the food.
I’ve been reading a lot on genetically modified food lately, and I was wondering if you could break it down for me? Like what exactly it means, why it is bad for me, and what should I choose?
Yes, GMO’s have been getting a lot of attention lately, which is a good thing, and especially in California (more on this in just a bit). In order to understand GMOs, it’s helpful to know what they are. Here is how I defined them in The Conscious Kitchen:
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Genetically Modified (GM) Food
These terms refer to plants and their resulting crops that contain artificially altered genes as well as conventional insecticides actually incorporated into the organisms. These biotech modifications make the plants disease-, insect-, and/or virus-resistant in an effort to increase crop yield. Though safety research has been conducted, there’s still significant concern about the health and environmental effects of GM food, which is not permitted under USDA organic standards. These foods are also referred to as GE (genetically engineered).
The concern with GM foods is the unknown. No one truly knows what the long term chronic health affects are. And here’s the rub: I can’t tell you what to choose. Because we don’t currently know if and when we’re eating genetically modified food. GM foods aren’t required to be labeled in the United States. This is not true for all countries. In Europe, Japan, India, and China, labeling is required. Stateside, the only way to know if you’re not eating GM food is if you choose organic. And even organic crops are now being cross-contaminated with GM seeds.
That said, if you’re eating anything containing corn or corn derivatives (corn syrup, corn oil) or soy or soy deriviatives or even beet sugar–which is about 100 percent of all processed or packaged foods–you are absolutely eating genetically modified food.
The reason why you have been hearing so much about GMOs leading up to the election is that for the first time, the public is going to vote on labeling. On election day Californian voters will have a chance to say yes or no to Prop 37, which would require GMO labeling. This isn’t to say GM foods are safe or unsafe, this is just giving consumers the right to know if their food contains GM ingredients or has been genetically modified. Studies have shown that 90 percent of the public is in favor of GMO labeling. There has been ample money spent by huge businesses in an effort to defeat the labels, so we’ll see what happens on election day. What gets passed in California often spreads to the rest of the country.
Hope this helps.
With Halloween around the corner I just wanted to know your thoughts on Halloween candy. My kid is finally old enough to get into trick-or-treating, but I am not too keen on letting them have all that sugar, but I do not want to exclude them from the holiday festivities. Do you let your kid eat all their Halloween candy or throw it out? Do you only let them eat some of eat, and then give the rest away? I am really not sure and wanted your input.
Thanks for your topical question. It’s true as Halloween is approaching, this is definitely something to think about. Not surprisingly I have been asked about this before–and yearly! Each year my approach changes, based on the age of my daughter. She is currently six. I haven’t decided yet what will happen this year, but I suspect it will be like last year. She goes to lots of Halloween parties, yanking various outfits from her dress up bin, and generally has a blast. If there is trick-or-treating or other candy giveaways involved, I swap candy with her. It’s all stuff she loves and it, unlike conventional versions, doesn’t contain lead, mercury, genetically modified high fructose corn syrup, or any number of dyes I’d rather she not eat. I’m very careful to make sure this swapping is not a hardship. I don’t want her to feel left out or weird. So I offer organic equivalents of jelly beans, kettle corn, chocolate, and more. When we went to one party last year I knew would be a candy fest, I stuffed our pockets with organic lollipops so she was able to eat something sweet as her friends did, too.
All of this said I have plenty of highly organic friends in my life who lift the rules for Halloween. It’s a very individual decision. I chose not to do this not only because I know too much, but also because Halloween has morphed into a week or sometimes a weeks-long extravaganza. I don’t want her eating conventional candy daily for several weeks. And I don’t let her eat her swapped organic candy for several weeks either. Everything in moderation.
One thing on my list for this year is making our own chocolate. We sometimes do this. It only involves coconut oil, cocoa powder, and honey. She loves the process, I’m in charge of the ingredients, and the results are delicious. I’m happy for her to eat as much of this as she wants. One of these years, I will throw a party so she can eat every single thing on offer. I just haven’t gotten around to it!
Looking to buy some new pans for my kitchen, and was wondering if you had any green recommendations for me?
You’re not alone. This is a question I get often! Yes, there are ways to make sure that your new cookware is safe. As I explain in The Conscious Kitchen, you should opt for cast iron, stainless steel, or enamel-coated cast iron.
Cast Iron is great because it’s safe, cheap, endlessly durable, and retains heat very well. If you are looking to add more iron to your diet, you’re in luck; small amounts of the iron will leach out of the pan and into your food. Cast iron does require oil or butter so your food won’t stick to it, but it does become more non-stick over time, especially if you care for the pans well.
Enamel-coated cast iron is a bit pricier than the other two, but well worth the splurge. It’s cast iron with an enamel coating is composed of fine glass particles. Glass is nonreactive and very safe. It also retains the heat well and is extremely durable. I use my enamel-coated cast iron dutch oven so often it just lives on the top of my stove. There is no point in putting it away.
Stainless steel is another solid safe material for pots and pans. It’s lightweight and sturdy. Just don’t store acidic foods in it (tomato sauce, rhubarb) as this can start to break it down.
I prefer these three materials to any of the new “green” pans on the market. Many of these contain proprietary materials and “green” chemicals that make them similar to the non-stick pans I hope you’re replacing. I don’t want to cook in anything proprietary! And these just aren’t as durable as the tried and true materials mentioned above. I have heard from a lot of readers that they’ve bought various new “green” pans and they wound up falling apart quickly. Cast iron won’t fall apart!
Hope this helps you with your decision. If you’re looking for other kitchenware, check out The Conscious Kitchen for additional tips.