Horticultural Society Event — 9/24

  • September 5, 2013 9:06 am

I’ll be sharing my ten tips for greening a family even in an urban environment at a Horticultural Society event on 9/24. Join me?

What You Don’t Know: Beer

  • August 10, 2011 12:41 pm

I’m a wine drinker through and through. But I must admit that come August with the summer heat far from abating, an ice cold white beer is a welcome evening beverage.  (My apologies to my summer sidekick, Glass Of Rose.) Before popping that bottle cap, take a few minutes to make sure that what you’re going to be drinking is the best brew for the environment and your health.  Ok, ok, I know some people will say there’s no such thing as a healthy beer, but it will be better for you without pesticide residue.

As always, buying organic and local is the number one choice, not only to avoid unwanted additives (check out Food Democracy’s post on this), but also to reduce the carbon footprint of your happy hour.  Unfortunately, buying completely organic and local beer is a challenge, as I explain in The Conscious Kitchen:

Even if you could find beer’s ingredients – water, yeast, malt, and hops – in your area (and that’s a huge if), if doesn’t mean they’re processed locally.  In fact, according to Max Oswald, director of sales and marketing at the Otter Creak Brewing Company in Middlebury, Vermont, the grain used for the malt in their Wolaver’s organic beer must be shipped to the Midwest to be processed.  Why?  Because that is where malt processing is done in this country.  “It’s a conundrum.  We do the best we can,” says Oswald.

HOPS

Organic hops tend to be grown in the Pacific Northwest, Europe, and New Zealand.  Vermont-based Wolaver’s uses New Zealand organic hops and works with a contract grower in Oregon.  The goal is to rely solely on Oregon.  This is as local as it will get.  The Northeast used to produce tons of hops, but the crops were wiped out by fungus.  Other organic brewers are also taking this route of contracting small organic farmers.  Meanwhile, the USDA, in response to a hops shortage in 2008, has put hops on their exemption list, meaning beer made with nonorganic hops but that is otherwise organic can still be labeled USDA organic – music to Big Beer’s ears, and not exactly motivating to any farmers attempting to grow the vines the way they should be grown.  (The amount of hops in any beer, it should be noted, is pretty minimal.  But still.)

AT THE BREWERY

Though it is difficult for any brewer to source all-organic, all-local ingredients, there are other environmentally friendly steps they can take with their brewery.  Otter Creek, according to Oswald, has redone their lighting, runs a boiler system on biodiesel, tries to reuse heat and water, and recycles their grain by giving it to farmers for feed…This is an expensive and lofty goal for the smallish brewery -  in 2008 they were doing about thirty-three thousand barrels, one-third of which was organic – but it will make quite a difference.  Many other breweries are also working to reduce their energy consumption.  Some have green roofs, others are using solar power.  Still others make sure their used equipment is made only in the United States.

Here are a few solid organic (or eco-friendly) brewers:

Peak Organic is very committed to local purveyors.

Brooklyn Brewery isn’t all organic, but is the first company in New York City to be run by entirely by wind power!

Great Lakes Brewing Company‘s trucks are all run on vegetable oil and they promote their closed loop recycling system. Everything that would be considered waste is reused at the brewery or in the surrounding community.

Otter Creek Brewery (Wolaver’s) Wolavers is 100% organic hops and malt–the nation’s first organic brewers.

Cheers!

What You Don’t Know: What’s In Your Tampons Etc.

  • June 14, 2011 8:22 am

More than half of the population must use them monthly, but do most women think about how fem care (as the industry calls them) products impact the environment or even their bodies? Nope. Kind of a big oversight for something you’re so, um, intimately involved with. Think about it: conventionally produced tampons are made of cotton, which is one of the most highly sprayed crops on the planet. They can also contain plastic, rayon, and are often scented. Here is an excerpt from Planet Home about the risks associated with using them:

According to the National Research Center for Women and Families, approximately 43 million women in the United States use tampons.  And no one knows the cumulative health effect of using conventional feminine care products.  While the boxes on most drugstore shelves aren’t required to list ingredients, most tampons are cotton or a cotton-rayon blend with scent.  Fragrance can contain hormone-disrupting chemicals and can also be irritating to skin, especially in such a delicate area.

Conventional cotton often comes from genetically modified seeds and has been sprayed with pesticides, which is bad for farmers and the environment.  According to the Sustainable Cotton Project, cotton farming uses about 25 percent of the world’s insecticides and more than 10 percent of the pesticides.  These pesticides used on cotton happen to be among the world’s worst: Five of the nine most commonly used have been identified as possible human carcinogens.  Others are known to damage the nervous system and are suspected of disrupting the body’s hormonal system.

Highly absorbent rayon is manufactured from wood pulp, a process that involves bleaching with chlorine-containing substances.  The eventual product may contain chlorinated hydrocarbons as well as dioxin residues.  Highly absorbent synthetic fibers can be a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause toxic shock syndrome.  Although some synthetics have been banned, the FDA still allows the use of viscose rayon in certain amounts in tampons.  Dr. Philip Tierno, author of The Secret Life of Germs, director of clinical microbiology and diagnostic immunology at the New York University Medical Center, and a leading expert on the health risks of tampons, says that rayon can still create a breeding ground for toxins.  All-cotton tampons present the lowest risk.

Luckily, there are alternatives!  And plenty of them.  Look to these companies for eco- and you-friendlier fem care:

7th Generation

Maxim

NatraCare

To avoid using an agricultural/disposable product, you can choose a reusable one. Glenny, my editorial assistant, swears by The Keeper. Here are some of her thoughts on it:

“I purchased my first and only Keeper back when I was a college sophomore, about seven years ago.  Short of waxing poetic about it, I will share my top five reasons for absolutely loving my Keeper:

1. It saves me money.  As a college student I only had to pay $18 for mine, but you can purchase yours today for only $37!  Compare that with the monthly expenditures on tampons and other menstrual products and you’re saving a bundle.

2. Its a small step toward a healthier planet.  Made of natural gum rubber it is a zero waste product.  No throwing out wrappings and used napkins, no toxic cottons to worry about.

3. I’ve had mine since 2004 and it is still in top-notch condition.  Life expectancy is 10 years!  Honestly, my relationship with my Keeper is the longest and healthiest I’ve ever had.

4. No toxic shock syndrome.  Enough said.

5. Portable!  Slip it in your purse for those days when you might start your cycle.  No need to lug liners and tampons around with you, and you’ll definitely never have to sneak out to the pharmacy for an emergency purchase.  The Keeper is small and discreet, and usually comes with a darling little bag to keep it in.

No matter which option you choose, make sure you’re thinking about your body and the environment.  You’ll be much happier because of it!”

What You Don’t Know: Fish Is The Most Confusing Topic Ever

  • May 10, 2011 10:03 am

Recently there has been a lot of chatter in the news about the safety of our seafood.  Some of the growing concern is due to the nuclear disaster in Japan – how is radiation effecting what we’re eating?  As reported in The New York Times, the esteemed Le Bernardin chef Eric Ripert has outfitted his kitchen with a radiation detector (!).  That said, Bloomberg Businessweek reports that spokespeople from the FDA say there is no realistic threat to Northern Pacific fish.

It’s hard to know what to do with such wildly disparate information, except not eat wild fish until we know more.

I realize this flies in the face of what I suggested in The Conscious Kitchen: that the best fish to eat is well-caught and wild, despite the fact that our waterways are the runoff for every single thing we have done wrong, environmentally speaking.

Unfortunately farmed isn’t a choice to turn to in tough times. The New York Times just reported on the factory farming of tilapia, nicknamed “aquatic chicken” because it “breeds easily and tastes bland.” Not very enticing. These fish are factory farmed–just like their feathered bretheren–and gain weight easily from their largely corn and soy based diets. That corn and soy is usually heavily sprayed and often genetically modified. If fish aren’t eating the aquatic plants they should, their nutritional value to us human predators diminishes rapidly.  “A portion of tilapia has 135 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, a portion of salmon has over 2,000 milligrams.”  Hmmm. What’s the point?

These issues are deeply confusing, even upsetting. As environmental issues–and oil gushing into places like the Gulf–come up, as species are overfished, then (somewhat) replenished, as changes happen, my approach changes. I start by eating what I said I eat in The Conscious Kitchen: well caught wild that I’ve double checked with a group that tracks contaminants in seafood is still my first choice if and when I want to eat fish (which, admittedly, isn’t often). I always stay informed and talk to my fishmonger, and suggest you do, too.

A few thoughts on purchasing fish from The Conscious Kitchen:

WILD

The main environmental issues for wild seafood, ocean or fresh-water, are sustainability and harvesting methods (how the fish was caught).  A number of species are currently drastically overfished – cod has long been the poster child of a depleted fish, so much so that there have been cod fishing bans from the Northwest Atlantic to the Baltic Sea.  Sharks, bluefin tuna, and many kinds of West Coast rockfish also are overfished, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.  What’s been depleted can sometimes be renewed, so check online for the latest information.  With regard to how fish are being caught, some methods are environmentally friendlier than others.  To learn more about these, go to FishOnline.org/information/methods.

FARMED

The main environmental issues for farmed fish and seafood – pollution and sustainability – are tightly linked to personal health concerns.  Many fish farms, domestic and abroad, use feed that’s similar to the gunk that factory-farmed animals are fed, including antibiotics and hormones, plus dyes (this is what makes farmed salmon as pink as its wild counterpart), and other undesirable additives.  In 2009, a neurologist from the University of Louisville issued a warning in a paper published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease saying that farmed fish that were fed cow by-products could even be at risk for mad cow disease.

Some farmed seafood is actually fed wild, sometimes overfished fish.  Ironic.  This further depletes the waterways and makes the finished product high in environmental toxins like PCBs.  There are even well-meaning farmers attempting to raise so called “organic” shrimp who also raise purer farmed fish to feed their purer farmed shrimp.  That sounds like an unanswerable riddle for the carbon footprint crunchers!

Another Tip:

When you’re in front of a fish counter or looking at a restaurant menu, if you don’t have a safe seafood card in your wallet, whip out your phone!  Text the Blue Ocean Institute‘s handy Fish-Phone – 30644 – with the word “fish” and the species you’re looking to get information on, and they text you right back with environmental and health information, giving your choices a Red, Yellow, or Green light.

What You Don’t Know: Additives in Your Wine

  • May 3, 2011 8:10 am

My lovely new intern, Glenny Cameron, works some at a local wine store and is keenly interested in sustainability. I asked her to write up something about what we drink–beyond grapes–when we open a bottle of wine. Conventional grapes are an intensely sprayed crop. But somehow even people who eat organic food neglect to drink organic wine. It may be an oversight, or maybe it’s because organic wine has long had a stigma of not being too tasty. Luckily this reputation is now undeserved.

When buying wine, do you think about how the producer has treated the vines?  The soil?  What about what has been added to the wine to make it taste more like conventional wine?  There are so many mainstream producers that are fussing with their grapes by using toxic pesticides, aromatic yeasts, and too many sulfites.  Did you know that historically some winemakers have used egg whites, milk, or blood as finings to improve their wine’s clarity?  Or that some vintners add an elixir called Mega Purple (discussed in depth by Wines & Vines) to enhance their wine’s taste and color?

Wine is a very confusing subject, made more perplexing because U.S. wine labels are not required to list any additives but sulfites, which are necessary to preserve the wine.  Unfortunately, the labels do not specifiy the amount of sulfites, which can be extremely high in some conventional wines.  To choose the best wines for the health of your body and the environment, I suggest looking to organic, sustainable, natural, and biodynamic wines.

In this excerpt from The Conscious Kitchen I write more in depth about natural wines.

Natural winemakers try to avoid additives as much as possible, and certainly never use anything synthetic.  Sulfites are the additives that most wine drinkers are aware of (they’re the only one listed on bottles), but there are actually two hundred additives that can be used in wine.  Many conventional winemakers use lab-produced yeasts to aid fermentation because their overuse of sulfites kills off not only bacteria but also natural yeast.  They also rely on additives like sugars and acids to adjust the flavor of grapes that don’t taste like they’re supposed to anymore, thanks to years of pesticide use.  Natural winemakers grow their vines in healthier, spray-free soil and therefore have healthier grapes that require fewer additives, and less of any one.  “Natural is about making quality choices, lowering yields, and hand picking in small containers instead of machine harvest,” says Jenny Lefcourt, cofounder of Jenny & Francois Selections.  She and her partner import to many states, from Oregon to North Dakota to Kentucky.  I have tasted most of what they bring to New York – and even visited one of the winemakers in France – and the wines are quite a bit different from what I’m used to.  They are for the most part very much alive – over the course of drinking a bottle they open up and taste surprisingly different.  Our (current) house red is a Jenny & Francois selection, Chateau Haut Lavigne Cotes de Duras 2006.  I was amused to realize that our winemaker, like our CSA farmer, is a woman: Nadia Lusseau.  Bonus: It’s about twelve dollars a bottle.  Natural (or organic or biodynamic or sustainable) wine doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive.

More from Glenny: For a comprehensive take on these issues straight from a vintner, check out Robert Sinskey’s open letter on his website.  This Napa winemaker is committed to treating his land with devotion and care.  He believes in biodynamic farming techniques–the land should be improved with farming, and that every aspect of the vineyard is integrated in a healthy circle of life.  This attention to nature has yielded thoughtful, delicious, and sublime wines.  His ’07 Merlot tastes of plums and smooth chocolate, perfect for a winter’s meal.  For lighter fare, Sinskey’s ‘ 09 Pinot Gris is fabulously floral and vibrant.  Its soft pear and apple flavors pair beautifully with minted snap peas from the Greenmarket.

At La Clarine Farm in Somerset, California, they aspire to the “do-nothing farming” technique. No tilling, no fertilizers, no pesticides, and no weeding.  The goal is to let the natural balances of the land do the work.  Less is more.  Without much intervention the farm should produce healthy, vital, and robust fruit, which in turn will create lively wines.  Their ’09 Syrah is hauntingly wonderful – complex and interesting, it tastes of sage and thyme, tobacco and cloves.

To find natural wines in your neighborhood, ask for them at your local wine shop.  More often than not, if they do sell any organic, biodynamic, or natural wines, they will be thrilled to guide you through them.  The more you know, the better purchases you’ll make.  And what could be a better evening tipple than a glass of wine you can feel good about?  Who says you can’t have two?  Cheers!

And cheers to you, Glenny, for writing this up–I love it. And kudos for working in the word tipple–fantastic!

Environmental Working Group

  • December 2, 2010 10:18 pm

Very pleased The Conscious Kitchen is included on EWG.org's  holiday shopping list — A COOKBOOK FOR EVERYONE ON EWG'S LIST.

Asking Questions, Getting Tough Answers

  • March 30, 2010 9:42 pm

In The Conscious Kitchen and in The Complete Organic Pregnancy I urge people about a zillion times to “ask questions” when shopping. Being a conscious consumer is a sure fire way to get conscious goods. But most people don’t entirely know how to put this into practice. Or what to do with the answers.

A woman I know who runs a local mother’s group near me in New York has been going through her own green transformation lately. It has been really fun for me to watch and hear about it as she goes greener every day. She has a great methodical approach and is both skeptical and outraged. She’s doing her own research. And she has made a lot of excellent changes that will affect her family and the earth. She has come a long way since I first met her. Her transformation is her own but I’m proud and honored to have influenced her in any way. She emails me from time to time with questions or just to let me know that she’s made big strides. I love these emails.

Last week she wrote me very disappointed. While shopping at her local Whole Foods, she asked what kind of plastic wrap they used in their cheese department. She wrote down their answer and researched it once home — an excellent thing to do with an answer!! — only to find out it is PVC containing the plasticizer DEHA. She wanted to know if I knew about this. PVC is a highly toxic material, from manufacture to disposal, and not something that should be around our food. I do mention in The Conscious Kitchen that some plastic wraps can be PVC while the majority of the ones on store shelves these days are plastic #4 (safer). I don’t use plastic wrap at home, but it can be hard to avoid taking it home from a store when shopping, especially with something like cheese.

The point of avoiding plastic at home is to minimize exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals. It’s also to avoid involvement with the environmental impact associated with its manufacture and disposal. Instead of throwing up her hands and giving up, this mom contacted the powers that be at her Whole Foods, made them aware of her dismay, circulated the information to other local moms, and even got a petition up online asking Whole Foods to stop using the PVC wrap. There is power in (pissed off parent) numbers and I suspect she will get the store to change what they’re doing. I hope so. And I hope anyone reading this will ask their supermarket what they use around their cheese, meat, and other plastic-wrapped items, and demand similar action if it, too, is PVC.

Now the question is how to get this stuff off all cheese everywhere. That’s harder and involves legislation. But concerned consumers can also influence their elected officials. I suspect we’ll get there sooner rather than later, especially with moms like this educating themselves and pushing us in that direction.

The Conscious Kitchen Challenge

  • March 20, 2010 6:37 pm

I’m doing an 8 week (give or take) Conscious Kitchen challenge at TheDailyGreen.com. Check in every week to join me. Don’t forget to chime in in comments. There’s safety and comfort in numbers and community.

The Huffington Post is also linking to the challenge.

Fast Food, Conscious Style

  • March 9, 2010 6:12 pm

Things are pretty busy in my apartment these days. I have a 4-year-old daughter. I’m trying to spread the word about The Conscious Kitchen. And I’m also writing two new books. But I refuse to give up on family meal. The adorable teenager who lives across the hall and plays with my daughter left moments ago and I haven’t given any thought to dinner yet. I open the freezer and see a glass jar of split pea soup. I made too much a few months back (dried split peas in pressure cooker — couldn’t be faster) and had stashed the surplus in the freezer. I grab it, stick it in a bowl of warm water to loosen it up enough to dump it in a pot on the stove. While that heats, I wash farmers’ market salad greens, dice up a beet I pressure cooked a few days ago, dress it, toast (organic whole grain) bread from the farmers’ market, and grab a wedge of local cheese (also from the farmers’ market) . It’s sitting on our counter warming up as I write this post.

Shopping — and even cooking — to set yourself up for the whole week (those beets!), and making large batches of whatever you’re making then freezing leftovers means family meal can still happen even if you’re busy. Doing all of these things saves me time, not to mention money.  Making my own soup from dried beans means we avoid the BPA-linings found in most cans of beans and soups.

Gotta go. Dinner’s ready.

The Conscious Kitchen is in stores today!

  • March 2, 2010 11:16 am

I’m thrilled to have this space to use to post topical articles, thoughts on conscious living, and updates to discussions from the book. First up: On and around pages 25 and 26, I mention that the National Organic Program board was working on livestock management standards changes for what were essentially certified organic factory farms. I said they were supposed to go into effect in late 2009. Well it’s still early 2010 and they just recetly arrived. Read about them here: http://www.cornucopia.org/2010/02/new-usda-rules-establish-strong-organic-standards-for-pasture-and-livestock/