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The olive oil guide…with a drizzle of Vasil family history

olive oil guideMy grandfather Nick was what you’d call a Black Sea Greek. In fact, he was a Greek born and raised in Crimea, from another messy time in history – the years leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917. My family fled after my great-grandfather was shot for being on the losing side. By the 1930s, three of the sons had opened up a Greek grocery store in Montreal, somewhere on St Laurent Blvd. They sold black olives, feta, and of course, lots of olive oil, direct from the original motherland (Greece). My grandfather studied engineering (that’s his graduation shot below) but he also knew good olive oil when he tasted it. And now 80 years later, well, I’m offering you a guide of my own to olive oil. The scene has definitely changed a lot since then. Companies are pawning off all kinds of junk as EVOO. And let me tell you, the original stuff never had pesticide traces in the mix. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the guide, along with news on milkweed, palm oil and more. This one is dedicated to my papou, Nick Vasilikiotis.

Papou original

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The Sustainable Wine Guide + Carbon 14′s Electric Idea

wine guide imageWith the festive season in full swing, most of us are, let’s just say, enjoying holiday spirits a little more enthusiastically. Whether you’re sharing a hostess gift or stocking your wine rack for your own celebrations, be sure to check out the Ecoholic wine guide, with a ranking of five of the most popular along with the most sustainable vinos, from super affordable Fuzion Organic to Ontario’s own Southbrook (try the Connect Organic Red and Triomphe ). You’ll also learn about the pesticide residues found in every sample of conventional wine tested, making shopping for organic wine even more of a priority.

O wineAnd after a weekend of wine tasting (at my own kitchen party), I have a new organic wine to add to the list. It’s by French winemaker Gilles Louvet.  I’m a huge chardonnay head and guiltily love big California chards, so was happy to find Gilles Louvet ‘O’ has those creamy, toasty vanilla notes I love, for a few dollars less than uber popular Cali-based Bonterra organic. The bottle is the lightest weight bottle on the market today, helping to lower its carbon footprint (which, by the way, should be lower than Bonterra, if you live in eastern Canada or the north eastern US, since Bonterra has to be trucked in from California rather than shipped in from France). And the cork itself comes Forest Stewardship Council-certified forests in the south of France (much greener than plastic corks, since cork-harvesting actually helps keep the world’s few remaining cork oak forests alive and thriving, according to the WWF).

Also in this issue of NOW, you’ll find my experiential take on interventions-775the Carbon 14 exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. The piece is called Carbon 14′s Electric Idea for a reason, the whole Carbon 14 festival is fantastically inspirational and just a really exciting fusion of art, politics and science. Which is why I had to interview Carbon 14′s curator Claire Sykes, so look for an excerpt of our Q&A in this issue too  (you can find the full length interview with Claire on Cape Farewell’s site here). Art, wine, culture, now that’s an organic fusion!

The Yolk of the Matter: How Ethical Are Your Eggs?

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All it took was one beak trimming scene at a hatchery in the movie Baraka to turn me off eating chickens two decades ago. Now 20 years later, I realize the egg business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. Vegetarians still eat eggs, since technically they’re not eating meat, but in doing my guide to eggs in the last issue of NOW Magazine, I was pretty shocked to learn that 50% of chicks get offed in the name of eggs. Why? Well, they were born males, so they’re not egg layers and they’re not meat chickens, so they turn into feed for places like mink farms. The big W5 egg factory expose at a Burnbrae supplier in Alberta got everyone talking about some of the inhumane ways caged chickens are treated. The industry, as I explain in my article, tried to make it sound like the egg farms exposed by hidden camera footage were an anomaly, but the truth is even an egg farm run according to the industry’s voluntary code of practice would okay live grinding of male chicks, and it’s perfectly okay to let a caged hen live out her entire life with no more space than the size of a sheet of paper.

At least organic eggs have to meet stricter, more humane standards and the birds are all free-run, technically with access to the outdoors.  Now, does a giant flock actually get to go outside when the pathways outdoors only fit a few birds at a time? Probably not. Not all organic eggs are created equal. Which is why it’s extra important to look for PASTURE-RAISED, ORGANIC eggs. They’re raised the old fashioned the way chickens should be raised. And small flock pastured eggs tend to keep some males roosters around to balance out the social order plus the tiny farms like Nutri Spring don’t worry about having to debeak their hens to keep them from bullying each other.

I used to grumble about the price of organic eggs, but the truth is, if I can’t afford it, I don’t buy eggs. Period. And now I prioritize pasture-raised eggs first and foremost. If you can find some from your local farmers market, even better. Plus, as my vegan readers will point out, there are lots of vegan alternatives to help you avoid eggs altogether. I often sub an egg with 1 tablespoon of ground flax to 3 tablespoon of water or I just throw extra banana in a pancake.

By the way, Mercy for Animals Canada, which shot the hidden camera footage, is trying to get McDonald’s to stop using Burnbrae’s caged eggs. It’s a no-brainer, really. McDonald’s actually championed the cage-free cause in Europe, so why can’t they follow suit here in North America? Tell McDonald’s you won’t buy any Egg McMuffins until they vow to go cage-free on this side of the ocean too. Learn more and sign the petition at EggMcMisery.ca!

Adventures in food preserving + my guide to veggie washes

Fruit wash guideI’m a farmers’ market ho. I feel like I hit up different veggie stands nearly every day of the week thanks to the explosion of local farmers markets in this town. Of course, all my trolipping around (or should I say turniping) will soon be coming to an abrupt end by month’s end. Every year I plan to make the most of the harvest by pickling and canning my heart out, but, well, I never get around to it. Sorry, it’s just the truth. That’s why I was so pumped to take a food preserving class over at Evergreen Brickworks Chef Series. Figured it would be give me a shot of inspiration – and holy bok choy, did it ever. You can read all about my new found crush on lacto-fermentation in the latest Ecoholic column.

Gotta say my kitchen has definitely come alive with some funky, gaseous aromas in the process, but it’s so worth it. Though my partner and I have been trying to figure out whether our fermented cauliflower now falls into the category of good stink versus bad stink. Still not sure. The Sharkey chefs from Ursa (my Brickworks teachers) told me if it smells bad then start again, but I’m having trouble trusting my “animal instincts” on this one. Okay fine, my animal instincts tell me I screwed that one up, but I’m feeling too guilty to toss it! My ‘pickled’ eggs and Indian carrots, on the other hand, are pretty tasty, though I might do a little tweaking next around. If you’ve got some recipe suggestions, please share!

Also in this issue, my guide to veggie washes – do you need them? Are they worth it? When should you use them? That and Girl Guide’s GMO cookies. Find out all the dirty deets here.

Ethical coffee guide: Is your cup green ’til the last drop?

Coffee guide columnI’ve got to confess, I actually gave up coffee cold turkey about a decade ago because it wasn’t waking me up, just messing with my stomach. But I know an ethical cup o’ joe when I see one, and I also live with a coffee snob, who insists that the java that gets brewed in my house is as fresh ‘n potent as it gets. So what do we buy? We get Merchants of Green Coffee, roasted in east end Toronto. They’re awesomely ethical and crazy fresh. But if you live in BC or Calgary or anywhere else, I really ethical beanrecommend supporting the local, organic, fair trade beans roasted closest to your home. As I say in the column though, if you’re in a major grocer and in urgent need of beans, Kicking Horse and Ethical Bean are two excellent organic, fair trade Canadian  companies with nationwide distribution.

As for the trashy score I gave coffee pods, a few of you emailed me to say that pods don’t always have to be landfill bound. Keurig does offer a reusable filter so you can fill your machine with whatever certified fair trade, organic beans your heart desires. Also, you can start a Tassimo Brigade and mail in your old pods to TerraCycle for upcycling into new products like cutting boards and plastic garbage cans. I still say there is less of an enviro footprint to going the reusable filter route but at least it’s an option for those that already own Tassimos.

Also in this Ecoholic, you’ll find nature notes on the illegal carcinogen found in 100 shampoos (is your ‘natural’ brand guilty?), as well as enviro orgs legal push back against censorship, a petition for bike lanes on Bloor and our Greenwash of the Week…SmartKlean!

Zero waste lunch guide & the Better Back To School Brigade

NMFSC_027_0815If there’s one totally random thing I miss about being a kid, it’s having someone pack you a lunch. Thankfully, my mom knew how to pack a pretty bad *ss one. I still remember the ‘yeah, my lunch rocks!’ joy that would rush over me when I’d crack into her Montreal bagel melts with each half tucked into its own round container. Okay, maybe the tuna in those melts was not pole caught (see my tuna guide), but having a lunchroom sandwich in “tupperware” was pretty novel in the 80s/90s, when nearly everything was disposable. Now there are so many amazing reusable supplies on the market, which is why it’s so great that the David Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green is brigade badgeasking bloggers nationwide to join her in chatting up all the fab green litterless lunch options on hand. It’s part I of Tovah’s Better Back to School Brigade, which is a brilliant way of getting this country fired up over green solutions, coast to coast.

In this week’s Ecoholic column in NOW Magazine (above), I rank 5 lunch supply staples, old and new, from the not-so-green (plastic baggies) to the uber eco (beeswax hemp wraps). There are so many more goodies out there we just didn’t have room for in print, so here are a couple bonus recommendations. Looking for something thermal? Kids Konserve/U-Konserve is a great indy alternative to mainstream Thermos. Though don’t worry, there’s nothing leaching out of your Thermos either, both brands are made of stainless steel. Looking for totally plastic-free lunch tins? Eco LunchBox offers top notch all Organic lunch bagstainless steel lunchboxes/ovals that are ideal for kids as well as adults. And for bigger kids (including the big kid in all of us) Onyx offers really well made two and three-layered stacked stainless steel tiffans as well as double walled airtight options to help keep the heat in. Want a basic organic cotton lunch bag that doesn’t have a waterproof liner? Here’s one that’s made in Canada for under $10 (right). If you prefer not to shop online, your local green store should be fully loaded with all kinds of waste-free lunch supplies right about now so definitely pay ‘em a visit.

Oh but wait, there’s more. Also in the latest Ecoholic column, you’ll find our Greenwash of the Week (hint: it’s Canada’s own Organika supplements) and some startling Nature Notes on palm oil, new research on wind power complaints and the west-to-east pipeline. Chew on it over lunch. And if you’ve got a favourite waste-free product you think we should all hear about it, let us know. Gotta run. Belly’s rumbling and it’s time to dig out last night’s kale/quinoa pasta number. Fingers crossed I don’t bite into as much dirt in my kale as I did last night.

 

Worry-free water canisters, latest on BPA-free plastic suit & more

NMFSC_024_0808In honour of the end of summer (did I just say that?), I’m reviewing the vessels that carry the very key to life on earth. Yep, I’m talking water canisters. Ever since purportedly leach-free polycarbonate plastics found in old Nalgene bottles were caught seeping estrogen-mimicking BPA, then Sigg finally came clean about the BPA in its linings back in 2009, the whole topic of a safe place to put H20 on the go has gotten, well, complicated. We get into some of the newest options on the block in the latest issue of NOW Magazine. You’ll also find the dirt on a lawsuit and countersuit between one of the world’s biggest BPA-free plastics makers and a lab that accused them of “estrogenic activity.” All this, greenwash of the week and more in the latest issue of Ecoholic! Just click on the pic above to read on…

Dog day afternoon: a guide to “healthy” hot dogs & more

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I’m not going to lie, I love a good street dog. Since I gave up meat in my teens, I’ve slathered on roadside sauerkraut, mustard and onions on jumbo-sized Yves veggie dogs at dozens of Toronto hot dog stands over the decades. That doesn’t mean I believe the stuff is good for me. I’ve written about the perils of soy protein isolate here (on the hexane in veggie burgers) and here (in my 2004 Say it Ain’t Soy news feature), I’ve also written about the pseudo natural meat companies telling us their meat is naturally preserved with celery powder when that can be a really high source of the same nitrates/nitrites added to conventional processed meat. A little while later, CBC Marketplace did a big show on it which finally pushed Maple Leaf to at least divulge on its labels that their celery powder is a natural source of nitrates. But that hasn’t stopped their big “we’re better for kids” push. Anyway, since it is prime BBQ season, figured I’d cook up a proper Ecoholic test kitchen guide to both veggie and meat hot dogs. These are the options on hand in my neck of the world, so if you’ve got other suggestions for better options available near you, go ahead and mention ‘em in the comments section.

Also in this column, a super cool razor sharpener, Nature Notes on Manitoba’s pesticide ban, the latest church to divest from fossil fuels (praise Jesus!) AND a break down of Ontario’s new (proposed) Waste Reduction Act and how it may very well spell the end of welfare for waste. For all the trashy details, read on...

Portable H20 dilemma: the bottled water issue

hSo you’re dripping in summer sweat, your mouth feels like you’ve been sucking on sand and you left your water canister at home with no water fountain in sight. This is when I usually opt for apple juice but my official Ecoholic Poll question was: if there were a gun to your head in the above scenario, which bottled water would you choose? I got a ton of responses, including: “Fiji, mainly because it’s not a coke, pepsi or nestle subsidiary;” “Nestle brands (Pure Life or perrier) because the water is from locally sourced groundwater”; “Something 69¢ or less.”

Truth when you’re up shit’s creek without a drop to drink, it’s hard to know which bottled water is the least bad. Is there one? In the end, I reviewed four bottled options (plus a canister) in the latest Ecoholic column, and since we ran out of space for more, thought I’d add a couple backgrounder reviews online. Like the ones in the column, they all get failing grades, but some fail a little less than others.  Ultimately, we did this product guide because I was writing a news story on Nestle’s refusal to accept mandatory drought conditions at its Ontario-bottled water source so we figured people should know the politics behind other bottles too…

VOLVIC/EVIAN: Shipping in water from France or anywhere in Europe is never really justifiable. Sorry Volvic, having a 100% recyclable bottle doesn’t make you special. Where’s your recycled content? Some tough-to-find glass bottled options are reusable. Too bad Evian only shaved plastic usage off 1.5 litre bottles. Owned by French multinational Danone 1/5

VOSS: Bonus point for nice reusable glass bottle (though heavy glass adds to its carbon footprint so make sure to reuse this – even if the company says it’s “carbon neutral”) just a shame it, and seemingly every glass bottled water on the market, comes from Europe, in this case Norwegian wells. Talks up Voss Foundation’s clean water work in Africa but no fixed amount from each bottle goes to charity. 2/5

ETHOS: Overpriced Starbucks water bottled in Pennsylvia. Five to 10 cents per bottle goes to the Ethos Water Fund is better than nothing so we’re giving it an extra point for that. So far, over $7.38 million to water, sanitation and hygiene education programs in water-stressed countries. Call to consumer line reveals exact source/location of “controlled wells and protected springs” is proprietary. No recycled content in bottles. Honestly, if you’re standing in a Starbucks, ask for actual tap water in washable mug and donate money to charity instead. 2/5

- Canadians bought 2.3 billion litres on bottled water in 2012, up 2% from previous year($2.3 billion)

-Over 30% of water bottles ended up in landfill last year in Canada

-17 million barrels of oil go into making PET plastic waster bottles in North America, enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year

-Producing bottled water filtered from municipal taps requires 2000 times the energy then tap water itself

WHISTLER WATER: Local pick for west coasters – glacial water from north of, well, Whistler. These guys use conventional PET plastic with an additive that’s supposed to make it biodegradable – but under what conditions? It certainly won’t biodegrade by the side of the road or in airless landfill, so who cares? No bonus points here, unless you’re on the west coast (then add a point). 1/5 unless you live in BC then 2/5

ESKA: Quebec glacial water. It’s a shame their plastic bottles don’t have recycled content (Naya’s are 100% recycled content), but if you’re looking for Canadian water that doesn’t come in plastic, these guys offer a glass option. Heavier glass bottles have a higher carbon footprint but can be more easily reused, though this has a junkier cap then Voss or Volvic glass. 2/5

Also in the latest Ecoholic: Botl Filters for your canister, the Water Brother’s Quench App for tracking water refills near you and more! Read on…

Think. Eat. Save This World Environment Day and Beyond

savewaterHappy World Environment Day! Yep, today’s the big day when a bearded man dressed in green squeezes down chimneys worldwide making note of who’s been environmentally naughty or nice. Not really, but it is the day the UN designates for environmental education and this year’s theme is Think. Eat. Save – an anti-food waste and food loss campaign that encourages you to reduce your foodprint (love that term).

Some fast facts: a jaw-dropping 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year – the same amount produced in all of sub-Saharan African, according to the UN. Stats say that we end of tossing a good third of all food produced.

The lovely infographic on the left (courtesy of Lochness Water Gardens) gives you an idea of all the water that goes into making everything from a glass of milk to a pound of veggies or a cotton shirt. That’s a hell of a lot of H20 wasted every time we buy more than we need and end up with spoiled milk/rotting veggies/barely worn clothes.

More hard facts: global food production is also to blame for 80% of deforestation, 30% of greenhouse gas emissions and is “the largest single driver of biodiversity loss and land-use change,” says the UN.

So use today as an excuse to kickstart a conversation around the water cooler or at home with friends and fam about all this crazy waste and buying less of what we don’t need. For some tasty ideas for cutting back on food waste and putting wilting/spoiling foods to good use, read my column as well as my blog on the topic.