ECOHOLIC

Earth Day Manifesto: I Think a Change Will Do Us Good

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Most of us get antsy when we think about change. We brace for it like a bad smell coming downwind, cringing and turning our heads, hoping it won’t hit us if our faces are cranked the other way. But it always does. Maybe not the bad smell but change always finds us. The question is, can you welcome it?  I don’t know about you but no matter what shit storm I’ve been through in my life, it’s always made me change for the better. It’s made me stronger, gentler, wiser, more adaptable, more resilient. It’s cracked wide open my mind and expanded and unfurled my heart.

And that my friends, is the gift hidden, waiting, in the shit storm called climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel report released in stages over the last couple weeks has been clear as day. Change is coming, actually change is here and already knocking on our door, at our flooded city gates (hello, Calgary, New York, Toronto) and on our bone-dry barn doors (sorry, Prairies). Sooner or later, we’re going to get stronger, gentler, wiser, more adaptable, resilient and creative, we’re going to open our hearts and minds to it and we, as a people, as a civilization, will change for the better. The question is how much suffering do we want to cut off at the pass? After all the lessons I’ve learned from my brother Nick’s suicide and my father’s disabling stroke, I sometimes haggle with the universe, telling it, “you know what, I think I’m good with the hard lessons for now.” That’s when I negotiate, vowing to learn not just from all the things that go wrong in life -  the way humans usually do – but to keep trying to be a more conscious, caring, mindful, grateful human being day by day, to really awaken to the amazing gifts of living on this earth, in this lifetime, not just on my deathbed at the end of it.

So let me ask you again, how much suffering do we want to cut off at the pass? The wise IPCC scientists from all around this incredible planet say we still have time, but we have to H-U-S-T-L-E. What can I really do, you ask? I’m just one person. Well, for one, we have to care. And we have to vote for and support the politicians and policies that can help us thrive in the face of change that’s coming whether we like it or not. What you can do is tell all three levels of politicians elected to represent you – right or left – to bravely lead on renewable energy, on shifting away from fossil fuels and on getting the places we live in ready for a changing climate. Tell them you don’t want us to just turn our collective heads the other way hoping the stench of climate change doesn’t hit us. We need to walk towards change with our eyes, hearts and minds open.

For my Earth Day feature in NOW Magazine, I wrote about how cities like Toronto can lead the planetary rescue (to read it in full, click here).  Truth is no matter where you live – country, city, Toronto, Texas, Timmins – we all need to get involved, show we care and work on changing the world from our little corners, as my mom would say. There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the IPCC reports but if you read between the lines there’s also a hell of a lot of exciting potential for change, to build thriving, resilient, dynamic communities that our families can call home for generations to come. Places that remind us that, yes, a change can do us good.

 

If you like it then you better put an ethical ring on it: the band guide

wedding bandsOnce spring hits full swing so does wedding season. If you’re already engaged, well, congratulations! When’s the big date? You planning on sealing the deal with a wedding band? Have I got the column for you. In the latest Ecoholic, we dig deep, real deep, like belly-of-the-earth-mining-conditions-deep to, er, extract the truth about which rings are truly fair and and full of heart from the ground up. Lots of companies claim to use ethical diamonds and responsible gold, but what steps have they taken to ensure they’re not selling you dirty bling, tainted with blood, sweat and tears? Check out Earthworks retailer score card called Tarnished Gold. Interestingly, Birks and Tiffany were two of the only major retailers that scored fairly well, though the top scorers are all indy brands that use certified fair trade and/or recycled gold.  For the complete Ecoholic wedding bang guide, though, read on here. And keep your eye on this page…Earthworks has an updated retailer scorecard coming out in the near future. I’ll be sure to post it.

ethical rings

Is that asbestos in your reno dust?

asbestos home

It’s National Asbestos Awareness Week. Do you know where your asbestos is? Canada’s asbestos mines may finally be shuttered, but people are still finding the cancerous fibres tucked into all sorts of hidden corners of their homes. If your house was built before the 1980s/90s, it could contain asbestos in a dizzying number of spots. All fine and dandy if not disturbed. But if you’re planning any renos, you should really head to WorkSafeBC’s very useful hiddenkiller.ca. According to WorkSafeBC, one of the most common places is under vinyl flooring tile. The tape around old ducts and piping could have been made with asbes- tos fibres, too; just peeling it off will release it into the air. Ditto for drywall with sprayed-on texture (like stucco), drywall mud, acoustic ceiling tiles, roofing shin- gles and more.

Breathing in asbestos is astoundingly damaging. Just watch the video below for Heather’s startling story. Her husband Cameron contacted me about sharing her story with readers to help raise awareness about the ongoing dangers of asbestos. You might assume the story couldn’t happen today because asbestos isn’t allowed in this country, but any people working with brake pads (ie mechanics), cement pipes and reno materials are just a few of those potentially exposed to hazardous levels on the job. If you’re worried about disrupting asbestos in your home, get suspect materials tested by an accredited lab. And call a trained professional to remove it.

Ride, Sally, Ride: Bike-friendly bags…just in time for spring!

Noujica 3

As a good Canadian girl, I do love the sight of big, fluffy snow flakes but please, god, let me not see another flake again for at least 7-8 months! Now that spring is officially here it’s time to dust off your bikes, if you haven’t already. It’s the perfect Goldy Locks time to ride, really. Not too hot, not cold, just right. For NOW’s Bike Issue I did a guide to messenger-style bags (see below) but you don’t have to stick to that cut alone. Super stylin’ backpacks and cross-body purses are also perfectly suited to zippin’ around town on two wheels. I’m including a few of my favourites that didn’t make it into the column here.

Right now, I’m crushing on two Montreal-born bag makers. One, Noujica: her latest collection of bags made of hemp canvas, vegetable-tanned leather and reclaimed suede are  super bike-friendly. Even if you don’t go for the backpack (above), she’s got lots of long cross straps to fling on and ride. Too bad they’re not available on Noujica’s Etsy store so you’ll have to track down their retailer list or just call and ask for a special order. Another fab Montrealer, Rachel F is a lot easier to order online and offers a killer collection of bags this season. They’re made with a combo of recycled or veggie-dyed leather and canvas. Now the canvas isn’t organic but it is woven at a 200-on year old sweatshop-free American factory, which is pretty cool. It’s not waxed or treated with petrochemicals – its weave make it naturally water repellent. Perfect for your ride to work, the grocery store or just out meeting friends.

Rachel F trio

Really, there are a ton of amazing bag designers these days working with all sorts of planetarily conscious materials. Yes, they cost more than run of the mill bags made in sweatshops overseas but they’re super well-constructed and guilt-free. Plus they’ll get you where you need to go without making you look like a pro bike courier – not that there’s anything wrong with that.  And without further ado, ladies and gents….the official Ecoholic bike bag guide….Double click on the image below to get the version that appeared in print or click here for the easy to read web-version.

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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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An Ocean of Trouble: the slippery world of sustainable fish oil

NMFSC_036_0306 fish oilMy family pops a lot of supplements. We could probably each start a mini health store with the vitamins cramming our cupboards and counters. And like a lot of North Americans, most of us are taking fish oil. Fish oil has grown to be a billion dollar business on this continent. The question is, which ones are safe, sustainable and healthy? Slippery subject. I’ve written about fish oils in past columns and in Ecoholic Body and I have to say good, green fish oils are a moving target. I’ve always told people to choose supplements from small fish, though in 2010 warned you guys against buying supplements from overfished American menhaden or European anchovies. Small fish tend to be low in contaminants and reproduce quickly. At the time, Peru’s small fish sector seemed to be doing swimmingly well. I started popping Ascenta fish oils (made of Peruvian anchovy, sardines, herring) and recommended the Canadian brand in Ecoholic Body. But the ocean doesn’t stay still for long.

Peru happens to have the world’s largest anchovy fishery, most of that going to fishmeal (feeding industrial cattle, chicken and fish fish farms the world over) and fish oil. After collapsing a couple times in previous decades, Peru’s anchovy fishery was, by all accounts, thriving, on course to get Marine Stewardship Council certified. Then last year, Peru’s president said “The Peruvian anchovy is in danger of disappearing…We recognize the irresponsibility and corruption of large companies NOR-03790-4that have pillaged the anchovy.” Then came a federal crackdown, slashes to quotas, introduction of million dollar fines and voila, as of October, the announcement that anchovies had rebounded. Brands using Peruvian anchovy, like Nordic Naturals, maker of the most popular fish oil supplements in America, assured me the dip came from warming El Nino waters, not industry pillaging and shared stats on how stocks were now healthy. Could all be rosy? Greenpeace’s ocean campaign coordinator Sarah King told me not to hold my breath. That these large fishmeal fisheries are too volatile to score favourably.

Turns out Marine Stewardship Council (a certifier that enviros often criticize for being too lax) says Peru still has some work to do beefing up patrols and laying out longer term “harvesting strategies” before MSC will give them the thumbs up. And now weather experts say there’s another El Nino coming in 2014, destined to wreak havoc on Peru’s fishery. Add to that recent news that climate change is going to double extreme El Nino weather events and Peru’s anchovy seem destined for a rollercoaster ride. I hope supplement makers like Ascenta and Nordic Naturals, which pride themselves on sustainability policies, are taking note.

All this to say, there was a lot of back story behind this week’s column that just couldn’t be squeezed into my little product guide (above). No fish oils, in the end, got really high scores. Wild Alaskan salmon oil is still doing well, mostly because it’s not all that wild – the feds actually spawn rivers with salmon eggs to boost stocks.  And Nordic Naturals’ Norwegian cod seems to be relatively in the clear sustainability wise, though fish oils from larger fish are generally higher in trace contaminants, they’re just tested to fall below federal standards, which have their critics. Honestly, I could write a dozen columns on fish oils alone and barely cover the tip of the iceberg but I tried to distill as much as I could into the column you see above. Swim on over to NOW Magazine’s site to read the column there.

As for me, I’m going to finish the Ascenta NutaSea fish oil in my fridge but you can bet I’ll be trying a vegetarian algae oil next.

Getting to the bottom of your yoga mat & lessons from Wisdom 2.0

NMFSC_036_0227yogaWhere do you find your bliss? Face first on a yoga mat? In a quiet moment to yourself? In a bowl full of ice cream? Well, this week, we dive into two of three, anyway. First up, you’ll find my Ecoholic guide to yoga mat materials, which I think may be pretty controversial. Long story short, too many eco mats claiming to be green are totally stretching their credibility (some puns can’t be avoided). It’s pretty astounding how many companies just say their eco mats contain TPE, when TPE is a broad category of synthetic rubber that can be all kinds of things. Turns out most of those “eco” TPE mats are made of styrene-butadiene-styrene – hello, styrene and butadiene are both human carcinogens! I dug up some government reports that document the elevated cancer rates in workers who make SBS. These compounds may not leach necessarily, the way hormone disrupting phthalates would from PVC mats, but these mats are certainly famous for crumbling (proof, manufacturers say, that they’re “biodegradable”). I’d say these mats are less biodegradable (returning to compounds found in nature) and more just degradable, breaking down into smaller bits over time – two totally different things. Creating SBS dust in your home isn’t what I’d call a selling feature. The whole thing makes me want to take a few deep breaths, just not next to most yoga mats.

Speaking of deep breaths, you’ll find my mini write-up on some of what I learned from the Wisdom 2.0 conference I was talking to you guys about. So much happened over the 3 days it’s hard to squeeze it into 500 words. I’ve got a way bigger piece coming out in the next issue of Corporate Knights magazine discussing the rise of corporate mindfulness and what it all means from an environmental angle so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, hope you enjoy the latest Ecoholic! If you can’t read the version above (click on it then click again to blow it up full size), head hear from the full online story.

The liquid hand soap guide + the latest on neurotoxic chems

NMFSC_033_0220 handwashEveryone washes their hands (we hope) – the question is what are you washing with? Bar soap is a good way to avoid plastic packaging and unrecyclable pumps (click here for my bar soap guide) but considering the popularity of liquid hand soaps, they deserve their own special guide. So voila! In this issue of Ecoholic in NOW, I looked at a handful of products (warning: puns are inevitable), including soaps that still have the gall to contain triclosan when the feds have said it’s dangerous to aquatic life and doesn’t even kill cold and flu viruses. What’s the point? Marketing! Yes, they’ve convinced us regular soap and water isn’t enough to kill germs, which is a complete fabrication. So, go ahead and dump your “antibacterial” handsoap. Good news is brands like Softsoap have already ditched triclosan and others like Bath & Body Works are finally offering options that are triclosan-free (though they still carry triclosan soaps).

Beyond that I review a selection of liquid soaps from green to greenest. How does Method measure up? Is your health store soap as eco-friendly as you think? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s by reading the latest Ecoholic, naturally (by the way, the print version – which you get a snapshot of above – had a few typos and corrections made under Nature Clean, so check the online version at nowtoronto.com for the most up-to-date file). I was really excited to be able to include Green Beaver’s newest product, a castile soap that’s made with some Quebec-grown organic sunflower oil. Why is it special? Because it’s entirely organic (so no workers, wildlife or waterways had to be harmed to grow the plants needed to make your soap) AND it tries to include ingredients not grown thousands of miles away. Green Beaver wanted the whole thing to be made with local organic sunflower oil but there’s just not enough of the stuff to keep up with demand. Love that they’re actually encouraging the expansion of Canadian organics. And by the way, most castile soaps are essentially concentrates that can be used in a million and one ways, including diluted with water (1 part soap: 3 parts water) and placed in a reusable hand soap pump.

I also wrote a piece on a new study documenting the startling rise of chemicals now known to trigger neurological problems like ADHD and autism in children. The study was published in the Lancet Neurology and if you want to read the original study itself, here’s a link. Fascinating and terrifying really.

Oh and let’s not forget this week’s Greenwash of the Week: Tarte Cosmetics. I can’t tell you how many times I walked into a Sephora and was told Tarte is a great natural brand. Their marketers are genius, but definitely stretching their green cred. Anyway, enjoy the issue! If you can’t read the version above you can always click here to take you to the online version.

 

Cough syrup, chocolate and the quest for enlightenment

Woman meditating

Have you ever blinked and missed a few weeks of your digital life? Somewhere between January and now, well, I fell off the blog train. Did I hit my head on the way down and find nirvana, lined, inexplicably, with chocolate and cough syrup? No, but I did get to spend some time with a few pretty enlightened souls at the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco last weekend. It’s where the tech world and the meditation/mindfulness community meet for thought-provoking dialogue around the ideas of hyper connectivity, disconnection and how meditation and mindfulness can help. I’m writing about my personal experience of it for next week’s issue of NOW (which I’ll post here next week) and another piece on the big picture coming out this spring.

Where do chocolate and cough syrup fit into the mix?  Well, those are the Ecoholic columns I never posted here while I was off the blog wagon. So without further ado, here are my product guides on the ecological ins and outs of chocolate, cough syrup and ice melt (who’s good/green, bad or ugly), whirled up in the Vitamix with Nature Notes on L’Oreal’s forest-friendly makeover, green reno loans, Keystone updates, and more.  Yes, you get it all in Ecoholic – green news, product tips and one woman’s quest to wisen up.

Battle of the Balms + Rashy Preservatives & My DIY Salve

battling balmsEver since my early bowl-cut days, my skin would flare at the oddest triggers. Chocolate, tomato juice, oranges, hot showers, they all left me scratching if I had too much of a good thing – a real downer when everyone else gets chocolate bunnies come Easter and you get those weird white ones. Now it turns out sensitive skin isn’t only set off by certain foods or the dry gusts of forced air that drive up winter itching.

St Ives image

New research is confirming the chemicals you use on and around your body could also be pushing your epidermis to the brink. The stuff you buy to keep your skin clean and, irony of all ironies, moist is probably one of the biggest culprits. In this issue of Ecoholic, we talk about the latest findings on the unpronounceable bodycare preservatives (namely Methylisothiazolinone as well as Methylchloroisothiazolinone) triggering a, ahem, rash of skin problems. These bad boys were typically brought in as replacements for estrogenic parabens so you’ll find them everywhere from shampoo to lotion (yes, this St Ives lotion has it), and most notoriously now in wipes. Kind of freaky considering the big marketing push the wipes people are doing to convince people to ditch toilet paper and switch to wipes that could be giving them serious crotch itch. Yeesh. Here are some links to the latest study on wipes as well as a few more.

Also in this issue, you’ll find my guide to a handful of dry skin balms.  Some truly natural and lovely, others like Herbacin top left, not so much. Thanks to ALL of you that responded to my Ecoholic FB poll with great suggestions on the best balms. There are so many great ones on the market that there just wasn’t room for, including balms by New Brunswick’s Anointment, Eastern Ontario’s Green Beaver, New Hampshire’s famous Badger, as well as some I haven’t yet tried like BC’s Mayan Magic Healing Balm and Alberta’s Rocky Mountain Soap company body butter (especially now that RMS is switching to organic ingredients and away from GMOs- yay!). Also didn’t mention two of my fave more medicinal first aid ointments by Clef Des Champs and St. Francis’ fab Red Clover Plus Salve, both out of Quebec.

And finally, you’ll also get my super buttery, quick ‘n easy DIY body salve/balm/DIY balmointment recipe! I’m in love with this stuff. I made my last batch with just 1/3 cup grated beeswax, 1/2 a cup of organic, fair trade coconut oil and 1/2 cup of local, organic sunflower oil with a drizzle of organic vanilla extract (since I couldn’t find my vanilla essential oil) and it’s friggin’ delicious…at least it smells that way. I haven’t yet tried eating it but it reminds me of fresh baked cupcakes. Can’t stop smelling my hands when I smear it on. For the expanded recipe, my full article on sensitizing chems and the official balm guide, check out the complete column.