ECOHOLIC

Mindful Living 2 Go: Resolutions & Apps for Mind, Body, Planet

Planet GoodwillWe’re only ankle deep into the new year and if you listen closely you can hear resolutions straining, cracking, and, wait for it, shattering left, right and centre.  All it took was a snotty cold to knock me off track with my resolution. Lying in my bed the morning of Jan 1, my vow was to turn love into a verb and put more mindfulness and heart-centred consciousness into each and every day. Hokey? Definitely, but life-shifting? 100%. My theory is if we choose to put more heart and awareness into literally everything – making breakfast, walking to work, working, shopping, eating, interacting with the world, including our family, friends and total strangers, well, we just can’t help but be better to ourselves and the world around us, including the planet as a unified ecosystem. Okay, fine, it’s not just my theory – there are a few thousand monks and yogis who’ve been saying it for eons, quite literally. And now a growing army of people around the world are turning on and tuning in to that very idea. I touch on it in my resolutions article.

Ratcheting up my morning meditations and yoga classes, I was feeling all zen and alive…until my face turned into a faucet and my body started begging for blankets and a soft couch. Goodbye enlightenment, hello, six of the seven dwarves (Cranky, Snotty, Sleepy, Grumpy, Sicky and Foggy). But now that the cold’s lifted, it’s time to get back into gear. So, I’m sharing here with you my Meditation on the New Year and Mindful Living to Go….5 apps that can help boost your mind/body/planet connection. Buddify‘s fun because you can take small ‘mindfulness’ breaks while at your desk, on the bus, on break, at the gym, eating lunch. Kind of cool. I’ve tried a lot of meditation apps and too many of them are just new age music on timers. There are, however, two others I didn’t have room to mention in print. Headspace is a proper good meditation app guided by a pretty hip British monk but after 10 free meditations, there’s a monthly fee – just a heads up. Omvana‘s got a big library of various self-help guru-led audios for meditation, sleep, relaxation, focus, inspiration. A bit hit n’ miss but worth exploring.

The other apps I mention are more about making conscious choices in our everyday routines, from the products we buy and food we cook up to the goodwill we spread. Go ahead try ‘em. They might just help keep you from falling off the resolutions wagon (it’s too soon to give up on ‘em!). To get the full low down, read on…

Burning truth about firelogs, foam insulation and Tresemme

NMFSC_026_0116 firelogsMaybe it’s the defiant Montrealer in me, but I really don’t mind a -30 day as long as the sun is beaming down from its blue sky perch. Of course, it helps if you’re tucked warmly inside. Okay, maybe that doesn’t count as a true love of the cold, but I’ll take icy blue skies over a week of frigid rains any day. No matter what your take on winter, it’s prime time to tackle some cold-weather questions.

This week in Ecoholic, you’ll find a product guide to fire logs. I got some flack from an astute reader who was appalled that I could recommend compressed firelogs over good old locally cut wood. And you know what, he has a point, I never did address the local factor in this guide, but one thing I do know from government stats: compressed synthetic logs weirdly burn cleaner than plain cordwood. Sorry, it’s just the truth. Doesn’t make compressed logs uber green or local or affordable or even an option if you have a wood-fired furnace, but they do burn cleaner. At the end of the day though, neither compressed logs nor plain wood logs are permitted in areas where wood fires are banned because of winter smog concerns.

Most logs have ditched the petroleum wax and now use recycled content but it was surprisingly tough to find out what wax companies did use. Still waiting to here from Northland on that one.  In the meantime, check out this week’s log guide.

Also this week, I answered a question about spray foam insulation. Is it safe? Is healthy? Is it green if it saves you energy? Are they all created equal? You’ll get the complete lowdown…except, sadly, Walltite Eco never did get back to us about what kind of flame retardants they use in their Mike Holmes-endorsed foam insulation.  Kind of odd.

And finally, you’ll get the dirt on our Greenwasher of the Week: Tresemme Naturals. They’ve reformulated this one to ditch the sodium laureth sulfate but there are still plenty of other dodgy ingredients in here to make us question their ‘natural’ claims. For the red hot truth about all this and more, check out the full column in NOW.

 

Toxin Toxout: the new brave book, the authors, and me?

Toxin Toxout coverI’m a huge fan of Slow Death by Rubber Duck, the bestselling book by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, so when Rick called me up and asked me if he could interview me for his next tome on toxins, I was pretty pumped. We met in a sunny east end Toronto park and chatted about the rise of green consumerism along with pseudo-natural and genuinely green products for a couple hours. He also asked me if he could include an excerpt of Ecoholic Body’s guide to label decoding. What an honour!

Now, drum roll please, I’m excited to announce Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World is on shelves and it, my friends, rocks – and not just because I’m in it, of course. You’ll learn more about how easily everyday toxins seep into our bodies, in the most up close and personal way, as the authors, once again, turn themselves into human guinea pigs. This time they take on the often whacky world of detoxing in some pretty hilarious experiments. If you’ve ever eyeballed ionic footbaths or infrared saunas and wondered whether they actually pull toxins from your bodies, well, the boys dig up some answers. I sample a few of those answers in the latest Ecoholic product guide (hint: organic food and green products actually do lower your body’s chemical levels!). You’ll also find my Q&A with Bruce and Rick. Click here for the full story, Ranking Detox Strategies. If you pick up the book, I promise you this: you’ll laugh, you’ll wince, and you’ll learn a hell of a lot.

 

‘Tis the season to be giving: karma-boosting gifts

NMFSC_048_1212_v2 ethical guideMy family stopped exchanging Christmas gifts a good 15 years ago. My sister, in med school at the time, told us she just didn’t have time to shop for us (pshaw, what an excuse!). And just like that, the whole card castle crumbled and we gave up the whole swapping tradition ever since.  Instead, we just hang out, laugh and eat as much as humanly possible. There is one exception to the rule: kids. If you’re under 18 you’ll still on the “nice” list and will get gifts beyond love and hugs.

Whoever’s still on your gift list this year, make sure you’re opting for options that aren’t muddying your karma. I’m including my ethical giving guide (above) and my toy guide (below) for a survey of some of what’s out there. Just click on each image to lead you to my guides in NOW. Oh and check out my DIY gifts of the week each week to get some super last-minute ideas made with 100% upcycled and/or local/organic ingredients. Happy holidays!

NMFSC_037_1219 toys

 

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 Bright Idea Edition: lightbulbs & Tzeporah Berman

Lightbulbs guide image

In this issue of Ecoholic, we’re just brimming with bright ideas, both literal and figurative. The literal ones come from the latest innovations in lighting – figured a roundup on light bulbs would be useful right about now since most basic incandescent bulbs are being phased out in a couple weeks. The figurative ones come from Canadian activist extraordinaire Tzeporah Berman. I got to have dinner with Tzeporah when I was hosting Earth Day’s Beyond Green Youth Summit that she was speaking at. I have to say I love this woman. She’s a power house for change and the new green economy. (I definitely recommend putting her bio “This Crazy Time” on your holiday reading list. You can read some snippets from her fascinating speech on Petropolitics here, along with my bulb guide and greenwash of the week (Raw Essentials!).

Busting lice & the campaign against hormone disruptors

Lice guide

Hey kids, After taking a few weeks off work to get away from it all and unplug, I’m digging back in the vaults to share the columns that have been running while I was living the Luddite life!

First up, got something crawling on your scalp and it ain’t just a bad feeling? Well, have no fear Ecoholic is here with a breakdown of all your options, both toxic and non…and yes, you can get a grip on the situation without resorting to nasty pesticides banned from lawns but allowed on heads. Plus you’ll get a roundup of the latest heavyweight campaigns to get hormone disruptors out of our products for good. For the full column read on here.

Sweaters and the new green economy

Sweater guide imageHey peeps, this is prime example of a week that blends and stirs together different living, breathing elements of sustainability in action. You’ll find my guide to greener sweaters, made lovingly, without sweatshop labour and with greener, more sustainable fibres. You’ll also find my Q&A with a prominent thinker on the new green economy – Tim Jackson, and funnily enough, the two have a lot in common. Why? Well, those businesses making those feel-good green sweaters are actually live examples of just what a green economy should embrace! Healthy, happy jobs that produce healthy, happy products. Plus you’ll also find my greenwash of the week is a moisturizer many of you have probably have in your homes (they’re that good at greenwashing). Check it all out in this issue of NOW by reading on here.

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

eggswithchicks

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.