What’s hiding in your mattress? The guide to toxin-free sleep

laziness and sleepTossing and turning and in the market for a new mattress? I’ve gotten a lot of questions from readers lately inquiring about “least toxic” mattress options and most have them have been plain confused about what mattress is legitimately green. The world of green claims is always a bit of a wild west, but mattress companies have been proficient at “padding” the truth, and even faking it altogether. I called up Sleep Country’s main phone number and asked them whether they had any mattresses with natural materials and the rep told me all their mattresses were “100% natural.” Really? What about your mattresses made of polyurethane foam? “Oh that’s illegal. We don’t use that.” Really? The guy must have either been enjoying making up random facts or just had a real desire to please his customers. Either way, he was full of shit. Conventional mattresses may now be free of added chemical flame retardants (they use barrier fabrics instead), but they are still made of run of the mill petroleum-derived polyurethane foam. I review a couple mainstream options (including Sealy/Serta/Simmons and Tempur-pedic) in my latest column on mattresses.  But what about the mattresses that are claiming to be green? There is so much BS out there, I couldn’t fit it all into one column, so I’m sharing all my extra research here.

KEETSA: You can accuse these guys of being greenwashy with their green tea-infused memory foams made of 12 per cent castor oil and a whopping 88% conventional polyurethane. But at least they disclose their contents, unlike many other pseudo natural mattress companies. Like, Simmons, Sealy and pretty much every major foam maker, their foam is certified by CertiPur (see label guide for more info), but where they differ is in offering a natural latex option (pricier, but it’s certified to higher VOC standards by Germany’s Eco Institute), as well as some ticking made of certified organic cotton ticking or a less impressive Hemp Blend (with just 12 per cent hemp, the rest is mostly polyester with conventional cotton). The latex mattress is flame retardant-free. Otherwise, mattresses do have added flame retardant chems just not PBDE and it’s tested by Oeko-Tex (see label guide below).

NATUREPEDIC: One of the pioneers of the natural/organic mattress movement. This Ohio company comes with a lot of good certifications. Their latex is certified organic by GOLS (see label guide) so it has to be 95% organic latex by weight. One of the rare brands offering mattresses that have been fully certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) (rather than just certifying their cotton covers and whatnot).  I like that their beds use American grown certified organic cotton. All their mattresses are Greenguard certified, as well. Note that only the wool-topped beds are totally flame retardant free. Otherwise, they use a blend of baking soda and silica gel. Extensive certificates shown online.

NATURA: This Canadian company has changed ownership several times now and it’s been dwindling in retail presence. It offers a range of products, most of the more affordable ones are synthetic/natural blends, admits their customer service reps (70% natural, 30% synthetic). Only their “organic” line uses “all natural latex” with certified organic New Zealand wool toppers and certified organic cotton ticking. No mention of certification on that rubber. They don’t share full certificates online.

SLEEPTEK/OBASAN: This Ottawa-based company was my Ecoholic pick of the week in my NOW column. I like that their materials are straight forward and their organic rubber (from Sri Lanka), organic cotton (from Peruvian coops) and organic wool (from Argentina) are all well certified by respected certifiers (they even provide their full certificates online). I asked them about Essentia’s suggestion that all natural latex beds are made with styrene butadiene, phenol-urea, and more. Sleeptek stands by the statement that their latex is 96 to 97% organic rubber and 3 to 4 % zinc oxide, nothing else. Plus since it’s GOLS certified organic, it actually has to be 95% or more certified organic latex. The beds are made in Canada but they say they bake their GOLS certified organic latex on site in Sri Lanka to avoid having to add preserving chemicals. All certificates shown online.


Back in 2009, I praised this company as the world’s only natural latex company in my Ecoholic Home book. Alas, the Federal Trade Commission cracked down on mattress claims in 2013 and said these guys had to stop telling people they were zero-VOC, chemical-free and made with 100% natural materials. Now, the company makes a good point about how even zero-VOC paints are not totally VOC-free, but there is an agreed upon standard for paint, which doesn’t really exist for bedding. Essentia posts lab tests that show its emissions are lower than Greenguard or CertiPur allows. However, only the glues in its mattresses are Greenguard certified. Actually, pretty much everything but its “natural” memory foam is certified in some way or another (ie their cotton covers are certified organic and latex cores are certified by Eurolatex – see label guide). Why not their signature memory foam? They tell me the costs of certification are too high, that they can’t afford $30,000 a year for Greenguard certification. Fair enough. But Naturepedic has nearly a dozen Greenguard certifications for their mattresses and accessories (costing them about $15,000). And if that’s too expensive Eco Institut has even tougher VOC standards and only charges 300 to 3000 Euros, depending on company sales. Shouldn’t be an excuse in this high priced product category. Essentia isn’t making bars of soap in its living room and charging $4 a bar.

Essentia says it posts the chemical ingredients of its mattresses on its website for all to see, although it’s kind of hard to find so here’s a direct link. Besides latex sap, there are a lot of surprising ingredients listed for a company that used to claim it’s “chemical-free” – stuff like styene butadiene copolymers (aka synthetic rubber, ahem) and diphenyl diisocyanate (used to produce polyurethane foams). Essentia says other “natural latex” foam (not just their latex memory foam) also uses these ingredients. In truth, one mattress (non-Essentia) salesman told me lots of brands claim to use natural latex when they’re using synthetic/natural blends. Some will tell you, like Ikea and Natura. Others, maybe not. Essentia won’t actually disclose what percentage of their latex is actually natural. They say it’s proprietary.  But come on. At least the Keetsa mattress company tells you it’s only 12% castor oil. And Ikea discloses whether their latex is 70% natural or totally synthetic. I think Essentia makes a high performance bed but it’s clear they do play fast and loose with their natural claims. Until they get third party certification of their memory foam or their mattresses as a whole, my reservations remain: if their cotton, glues and latex core can be certified, why not their “natural” memory foam?


The label guide

There are so many certifiers out there, and each brand claims it has the toughest certification proving it’s the greenest. But is it?

CertiPUR-US: This European foam industry-run body certifies polyurethane foam (including memory foam mattress) so that total air-polluting VOCs fall below .5 mg/m³ (or milligrams per cubic metre), and only allows .1 mg/m³ formaldehyde. That’s pretty good, but let’s be honest here, virtually every North American mattress company now passes this standard. It’s not the most stringent on the block. However, CertiPUR did tell me they spot test brands and regularly reject products for failing emissions. It also tests for a handful of flame retardants, phthalates, butadiene and heavy metals.

GREENGUARDThis third party seal only regulates VOCs, like formaldehyde. It doesn’t apply to heavy metals, flame retardants or any other contaminant. Still, it’s pretty good. It caps total VOCs so they fall below .25 mg/m³. Some mattress companies have their whole beds certified by Greenguard (ie Naturepedic) but others only use Greenguard certified glues (ie Essentia).

EUROLATEX: This is another seal, run by the European latex companies. It caps total VOCs at .5mg/m³ like CertiPUT, but higher than Greenguard. However, it tests for a few more things, including a number of pesticides, vinyl chloride, heavy metals, and butadiene.

ECO INSTITUT: This independent German certifier has the toughest standard for total VOC emissions in mattresses at .2 mg/m³ (or 20 µg/m³). It also tests for pesticides, heavy metals, triclosan, phthalates and the most extensive list of flame retardants.

G.O.L.S. (Global Organic Latex Standard): This means your the latex used to make your mattress is from certified organic sources, with some fair labour provisions. Child labour and forced labour are banned and workers can’t work more than 48 hours a week and have the right to form a union.

G.O.T.S (Global Organic Textile Standard): This means the cotton or some other material used to make your mattress is certified organic by what’s considered by many to be the world’s best organic textile certifier. Goes beyond just making sure the cotton is organic, workers have to be treated well too.



Unlike sofas, mattresses haven’t had to add pounds of flame retardants to their easily ignitable plastic foams for quite some time. They’ve been allowed to create flame retardancy with physical barriers. How exactly do they do this? There are a few options. Many use rayon or other cellulose-based textiles treated with silica. There’s also cotton treated with boric acid (less desirable now that boric acid is being investigated for hormone disrupting potential in the EU) or modacrylic fibre (said to contain carcinogenic antimony oxide) or melamine resin (which technically contains formaldehyde). Some use kevlar (yes, that bulletproof material). The most natural ones just wrap their beds in wool.



What’s The Scoop? The Bonus Protein Powder Guide

Scoop of chocolate whey isolate protein in front of three scoopsI’ve often joked that I’m on the high carb, low protein diet. People often respond with confused looks, inquiring about the exact name of the diet I’ve adopted. Really, I just like bread and pasta and don’t eat meat. Though these days, I do try harder to sneak in more protein, and often supplement all my carb-loving with a big old protein shake. I squeezed in a handful of products into my official Ecoholic protein powder guide, but there’s always more to say and products that we couldn’t fit into the print version of the mag. So without further ado, some bonus reviews. These are all vegan, whey-free.

garden proteinGARDEN OF LIFE RAW: This one’s the most popular protein powder in the US though it definitely can’t be because of the flavour – this stuff tastes like stale cardboard. Besides that it seems to have it all – a rare combo of raw, vegan, non-GMO and entirely certified organic protein made from 13 sprouted grains including brown rice, amaranth and quinoa. Then last year it got slammed when testing by the food labs at revealed it contained “significant” levels of heavy metals tungsten, cadmium and lead, likely from the rice powder. The company worked with Natural News to tighten up self-imposed limits for heavy metals and committed to visiting each brown rice farm it sources from to test the water for potential contaminants. Garden of Life reps say all proteins will meet the new standard by July 2015. 17 grams of protein per serving. 
SUN WARRIOR: Another raw vegan, non-GMO protein that got snared, in 2014, by heavy metals testing and, alongside Garden of Life, agreed to tighten up its sourcing and heavy metals limits.  It wasn’t always organic. In fact, the classic version still uses conventional brown rice protein. The Warrior Blend is a better pick now that the organic pea protein in here is certified organic. There’s also certified organic hemp protein though the cranberry protein (who knew cranberries had protein) isn’t.  The flavour’s not bad and is definitely tastier than Garden of Life. 17 grams of protein Vegan_Protein_Bottles_AliveAward

KAIZEN NATURALS:  This Canadian company has a regular and a “naturals” line – the latter comes in a cardboard bottle that you can compost or recycle. There’s still a plastic pouch on the interior, though, that can’t be recycled. It’s either made with New Zealand whey (for my thoughts on that, read on here) OR the vegan protein from conventional pea, potato, chia, hemp and organic sprouted brown rice. 25 grams of protein. 

NATERA HEMP PROTEIN: I like that these guys use 100% Canadian grown raw hemp powder with a little cocoa or vanilla, stevia and salt. It’s just too bad they don’t offer any organic options. It’s true, pesticides and herbicides can’t be sprayed on hemp in Canada, but they can be sprayed on the fields before they’re seeded. 14-15 grams of protein. 

NOW SPORTS PEA PROTEIN: Aside from brown rice, split peas are definitely amongst the most popular source of vegan protein. It’s GMO-free and generally doesn’t have the same heavy metal tainting concerns that rice powders have. The thing with pea protein is not everyone can digest it easily so you may not be accessing all the protein you think you are. 24 grams

For more reviews of Vega, New Zealand Whey, Manitoba Hemp & more, check out my original protein powder guide in NOW Magazine.

Last night a cookbook saved my life: finding love in a stewpot

Forest Feast Cookbook RecipeYou know that love of cooking, that deep passion for creating that drives people onto shows like Master Chef or even just to their kitchen to make 3 hour long chilli? Yeah, I don’t have that. I’m a decent cook. I make a mean salad and can whip up healthy, homemade dinners in, oh, 20 minutes, but I’ve always left the heavy-lifting to my man. He gets off on the playing with his food. And when we cook together it’s almost always a party. There’s music blasting, wine pouring, cursing, dancing and produce flying (if we had a cooking show it would no doubt be called “Explosive Chefs!” either that or “What’s Rotting Tonight? Tune in as we come up with creative ways to cook up food on the verge of going bad!“). This fall, when he was working north of the city, clocking 15 hour days, home weary and bedraggled by 9pm or later, I took on the supporting role of having dinners ready every night. No biggy, I thought. My mom did it for us every day as kids. Until coming up with vegetarian meals that would keep an omnivore foodie smiling 5 nights a week started to feel exhausting.We both grew tired and grumpy pretty quick. I started feeling like a cooped up 1950s housewife stuck in a the kitchen with zero inspiration and mounting resentment.

I almost threw in the apron until I walked by Book City and it hit me. There was only one thing that could save my relationship. A cookbook. Moments later, I found myself squatting in Forest Feast coverthe aisle, furtively flipping through book after book rammed with glossy food porn. My heart fluttered and stomach rumbled. I was seduced and ended up grabbing the prettiest, simplest vegetarian cookbook I could find. Forest Feast, by NYC food photographer turned country cabin-dwelling chef, Erin Gleeson. I ran home and started chopping. As I chopped, strained, whisked, baked and stirred, I felt like the Grinch at the very end of the Christmas special, when his heart starts to grow 10 sizes with every gift he gives. I got so into it, I was making dish after dish after dish (you can see how my Ecoholic cookbook guide was born) and amidst the chaos and flying food, I found it. The joy of cooking! Now I can’t stop. Seriously, even on days where I’ve been hacking sick and exhausted on the couch and ready to order takeout, I got off my ass and made soup from scratch with a smile on my face. What? It’s like invasion of the body snatchers over here. Though in truth, I’ve realized if you lean in and put more love into it, all good things flow. Kind of like that old Mexican movie, Like Water for Chocolate. Loving the tactility of the food as you prep it, pondering the pretty mind-blowing birth of your kale or garlic when it popped out of the earth, tuning into all your senses and just savouring the small things. That’s all love and it’s contagious. Plus the gift of food is a pretty joyous one to share, even if it’s just with yourself when you’re feeling run down and need a tasty, nutrient-packed boost.

Photo (10)With all the cooking going on over here, I figured I might as well do some cookbook reviews for my NOW column. So I did. You’ll find my reviews for over a half dozen cookbooks here, rated on their planet-, body and taste bud-friendliness. I also did an accompanying column on the how mindful eating can save the planet (that’s a bold promise, I know). Check ‘em out. And happy cooking!


The Rebirth of Green & more highs and lows from 2014

Rural signboard - Forward - BackwardWhat is it they say about hindsight? That it’s 20/20? The more distance I get on 2014, the more its green highs and lows come into focus. I wrote up my Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2014 in the last Ecoholic column, covering everything from the fall of butterflies and bees to the rise of climate marches and pipeline resistance. But it ain’t easy cramming a year’s worth of news into one top 10 list (I mean, David Letterman gets a chance to do one every single night). Some had to be cut for space and one big picture thread just hit me as I took another look in the rear view mirror at the year that was. Here are a few of those bonus green highs and lows from 2014 too important not to share with all y’all.

Canada says ‘nah’ to protecting 76 endangered species.  

On my top 10 list, under “Canada remains best at 8590728562_0b37fd8e86_zbeing the worst” I mentioned that “sadly, the federal government generally sucked as hard as it can possibly suck on all environmental fronts.” I listed a bunch of examples but failed to mention one major area of record-breaking suckage. Recently released docs revealed that Canada has opted out of protecting a record-setting 76 endangered species from international trade. If you’re uncomfortable with Canada officially taking the reigns as the world’s biggest asshole in this regard, sign the petition.

One book changes everything.

Author/activist/thought leader Naomi Klein stormed This Changes coveronto the climate scene with a shit-kicking tome of a book that galvanized planet lovers globe-wide. Klein cautioned that we’re all guilty of climate change denial by passing climate action off as someone else’s problem. Rest assured she issues a face-slapping wake-up call in the most influential and consequential green book in years.  As I said in my  book review, “The odds may be stacked against her social-justice-steeped Marshall Plan to save the earth, but so too, argues Klein, were the odds of abolishing slavery.” At the very least This Changes Everything should “inspire a whole generation to join the resistance movement and push for change from a place of love for the only planet we’ve got.” Her message certainly resonated with the 100s of thousands that took to the streets to stand up for the planet back in September during the UN’s New York Climate Summit (including the 3000 of us that marched in Toronto!). Can’t say This Changes Everything can really, on its own, change anything, but there’s no denying Naomi has helped breath new life and big picture analytics into the environmental movement. Speaking of which….

People's Climate March New York

Smells Like Green Spirit: The Rebirth of Environmental Consciousness

Like the pale moon overhead, ‘save the planet’ consciousness waxes and wanes from year to year and pollsters will tell you again and again that North Americans tend to back burner green issues when we’re stressing out about the economy. Mostly because our politicians tell us we have to choose between a healthy economy or a healthy planet. Under that ruse, much of Canada’s environmental protections quietly faced the axe at the federal level over the last five years. But there are tectonic plates shifting underfoot and 2014 saw a resurgence in green consciousness. Freakish weather, bursting pipelines, exploding oil cargo trains, fracking bans and collapsing oil prices created a spike in startling environmental news stories, public dialogue and community/First Nations resistance across the country. Stir in the sternest warnings to date about impending global disaster from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a few headline-grabbing climate summits and it’s no surprise that record-breaking numbers of global citizens peacefully took to the streets to march in support of climate action and that the majority of Canadians are now telling pollsters we need the government to get serious about protecting the environment. Bottom line, growing legions of everyday peeps are getting fired up about how badly we’re fucking with the planet. 2015 should be a doozy of a year and a major tipping point so lean in, people. I hear even the pope is planning on ramping up his campaign to convince 1.2 billion Catholics that climate inaction is a sin. Catholic or not, get engaged in what’s happening in your community, show the planet some extra love and support and stay tuned for major environmental news updates in the year ahead!

For the rest of my look back, check out my Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2014 here, first published in NOW Magazine. Wishing you all an inspiring year ahead!

Love Craft: Quick ‘n Easy Upcycled Sweater Ornaments

ornaments 1

If you’re a super talented crafter then the holiday season is brimming with possibilities. But what about the rest of us? I’m about the furthest person from Martha Stewart on the face of the earth so when I craft, it’s got to be fast, easy, with minimal actual skill needed.  That means you don’t have to know how to operate a sewing machine/knitting needles/power tools or anything tricky. My only real requirement is that the materials involved be planet-friendly, preferably preloved/second hand. Enter this season’s upcycled sweater creations! I featured my upcycled sweater mitts  in my column. If you want to know how to make ‘em click here. For even quicker, easier hostess gifts, I recommend, though, giving these a try…

All you need is old, forlorn sweaters, scissors, a marker, needle and thread…and if the needle and thread seem too ambitious to you, get yourself some fabric glue (can’t promise you the glue itself is in any way green). Hit up a second hand store if you don’t have any of your own sweaters that would make cute ornaments. Festively, fugly sweaters are my prime choice. Wool is ideal since if you wash it in hot water and dry it first, thereby ‘felting’ it, you tighten up the weave, making it easier to work with.

Option #1: Hidden stitching 

Photo1 (22)Flip your sweater inside out. Take your marker and trace some circles, hearts, or whatever shape you dig. I’m feelin’ the love so did a good half dozen hearts this year.

Cut your shapes out, leaving an extra 1/4 inch edge (so you have room to stitch/glue). Pin your two sides together with the good sides facing in. Stitch or glue the edges together leaving an inch or two open so can reach in there with your fingers and flip it right side out.

Fill it with stuffing (I used old fabric scraps), then stitch or glue it shut.

Loop a hook into it or stitch a loop of embroidery thread at the top. This heart is still waiting for a loop.

Option #2: Visible Stitching

Photo1 (21)Don’t flip your sweater inside out. Just take your marker and trace some circles, hearts, candy canes, baby trees, mini sweaters, birds or whatever shape you desire. It’s kind of easier to do more shapes with the visible stitch method.

Cut your shapes out, leaving an extra 1/4 inch edge (so you have room to stitch. Pin your two sides together with the good sides facing out.

Stitch your edges together using embroidery thread (which is basically 6 threads all spun together so it’s thicker and more visible to the naked eye).

Make sure to leave an inch or two unstitched so you can stuff your ornament with stuffing (ie fabric scraps). Stitch shut.

Stitch a loop of thread at the top so that your ornament can easily be hung or loop in a metal hook.

Your snuggly love-stuffed ornament is ready for gifting (or hanging on your own tree, if you can’t bear to part with it). Stay tuned for more upcycled sweater creations!

Face-off: Which natural mascara actually works?

Mascara guideThe first time I tried a natural mascara, I was just excited the concept even existed. Until the thing flaked all over my cheeks. I looked like I’d be cleaning chimneys. A decade later I’ve tried nearly every natural mascara brand in existence. Okay, well, maybe not all of them, but A LOT of them.  Here’s a quick overview of the many I’ve tried and didn’t include in my latest NOW Magazine column on mascara:

Ecco Bella (why the hell did it take them so long to get rid of parabens?), HoneyBee Gardens (nice if you like ultra light look but one cry and I turned into a racoon), Suncoat (the original flaker, haven’t tried it again since because of the initial trauma), Gabriel (I tried two samples without being wowed), Sante (tried three variations from this brand over the years and wasn’t impressed), Zuzu (my old fave, with a good dozen swipes it had decent drama, but last couple tubes have been lacklustre), Jane Iredale (meh, fine, but not worth the price), RMS (overrated, is something wrong with my tube? I think this one was supposed to be awesome, ah well), Earthlab (light and natural-looking BC product, equal to Marie Natie, another Canadian…I should have mentioned Earthlab in my NOW mag column, rats).

Speaking of my which, I took another stab at mascara reviews for my weekly column in NOW. Besides trashing the big brands (Covergirl, Revolon, L’Oreal) for still using parabens and formaldehyde-releasers as well as unsustainable petrochemicals, I included an updated review of Physician’s Formula Organic Wear (still your best drugstore pic with good certified natural/organic content but this one seems to haave lost its mojo in recent years). I had the good sense to remember to snap some pics of the last of my mascara trials. I wish I hadn’t just thrown out my last 100% Pure tube before taking a picture. It really is the most lengthening. It doesn’t give you the beefed up look Hauschka can also give, but it’s also $10-$15 less.

Face off no 1. Canadian vs CanadianMarie Natie (totally natural & Toronto-made) vs. Pure Anada (vegan from Manitoba, a little less natural but longer wearing)Marie Natie vs Pure Anada

Face off no 2 (below): Canadian vs Canadian: Montreal’s Zorah  (certified natural/organic) vs  Pure Anada

zorah vs pure anada

Face off no. 3 Zorah $26, Canadian (certified natural/organic) vs Hauschka ($39, German, no mention of organic content, more essential oil preservatives, which can be irritating to some and don’t score well on EWG, but it does give a lot of oomph)

ZOrah vs Hauschka

Lavera mascara

The saddest was definitely Lavera’s new $44 Butterfly effect, mostly because the wand did absolutely nothing to curl my straight lashes  (I even look depressed wearing it!). I never use a lash curler and all the other mascaras managed to curl my lashes. Not so for this one. If you photograph from underneath my lashes look long but not from straight on. SO not worth the cash. Anyway, hope this all helps in your hunt for natural mascara that works and that aligns with your values, whether you’re a vegan, a locavore, an organic junky or all of the above.


Sh*t. There’s more arsenic in rice products than we thought.

Consumer Reports rice arsenicI hate it when healthy things turn out to be tainted with not so healthy things. Take arsenic in rice. We first heard about rice being contaminated with arsenic a few years ago, but there’s new data out this month and it ain’t exactly consoling. First, a UK investigative TV show teamed up with a university there and tested over 80 products for arsenic. They found 58% would fail the European Union’s proposed standards for arsenic in rice for kids. Popular products like Rice Krispies and infant rice cereal (both organic and regular brands) failed to meet those standards. This is a good time to mention that Canada and the US don’t have standards regulating arsenic in rice. (Yeah, I know, best to harass your federal politician about this). I discovered that particular UK report when I was researching my column on pasta (To Wheat or Not to Wheat?). Then Consumer Reports released a new updated report on arsenic in rice this week and it was even less comforting for anyone that enjoys gluten-free products heavy in rice (ahem). Based on the bad news in there I had to update my pasta guide. I also folded some of this info into my holiday cracker guide. So what did Consumer Reports find exactly?

The bad news

  • Brown rice averaged 80% higher levels of inorganic arsenic than white rice (rats!). Why? Because arsenic accumulates in rice’s outer layers, which are removed from white rice.
  • Parboiled rice is the worst of all the white rice.
  • Rice pasta and infant rice cereal has way more arsenic than they previously thought. CR says kids shouldn’t have rice pasta more than once every two weeks.
  • Kids under 5 shouldn’t drink rice milk. 
  • Inorganic arsenic is a carcinogen. Consumer Reports says: “regular exposure to small amounts of arsenic can increase the risk of bladder, lung, and skin cancer, as well as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Recent studies also suggest that arsenic exposure in utero may have effects on the baby’s immune system.”
  • There was no difference between certified organic and non-organic rice on the arsenic front (insert sad face).
Lundberg brown basmati

California brown basmati had the lowest arsenic levels of all brown rice.

The good news

  • Basmati rice from California, India and Pakistan is the lowest in arsenic, as is California sushi rice. CR says that you can eat 4.5 weekly servings of these – twice as much as they recommend for other rice – and not boost your lifetime cancer risk.
  • Medium grain California rice had lower levels than most.
  • Brown basmati rice from California had the lowest of all the brown rice and was lower than some white rice.
  • This all bodes well for the Lunberg rice company which grows offers lots of California grown options in both organic and non.
  • Other grains don’t have the same arsenic problem (phew), so you can happily eat quinoa, barley, farrow, millet, buckwheat, polenta and amaranth without breaking a sweat. Well,unless they’re really hot. Then all you have to worry about is your dinner burning your tongue.

Why is there even arsenic in rice? 

Well, arsenic can be naturally present in soils, but inorganic arsenic in rice is there because of pollution in the soil from things like pesticides and poultry feed. That arsenic could have been there from decades past (like old cotton fields converted to rice fields in the southern US).  Rice is really good at soaking it all up, unfortunately.

So how much rice is okay to eat? 

Consumer Reports analyzed all the data out there and developed a point system. Turns out we should only eat 7 points worth of rice products a week, max. Take a look and do your own math, especially if you have kids.


The Big Interview: David Suzuki on His “Final” Push – Unedited

David SuzukiI’ll admit I was pretty giddy about interviewing the godfather of Canadian environmentalism. I’d met David Suzuki briefly in passing once and the man officially endorsed my first book, Ecoholic, but we’d never sat down and just talked. When I finally got the chance to do so while he was in Toronto for his final cross-Canada tour, the Blue Dot Tour, I was less interesting in questioning him, journalist to subject, and deeply keen on communicating environmentalist to environmentalist. Or as he suggested “human to human.” And what an honour it was talking to this particularly legendary human being. Here’s some of the unedited version of our 40+ minute interview originally published in condensed form in NOW Magazine.

You’ve been called the godfather of Canadian environmentalism. Nonetheless, after decades of work leading the movement, you said you and others failed. Did that sense of failure prompt this tour?

It didn’t lead me to say we gotta do a tour in a different way. It all happened to fall together. I was really moved by the Nordhaus/Shellenberger piece [on the death of environmentalism]. They pissed me off in a way. In some ways they were right on but they see the solution as going the way of business and technology which, to me, is driving the problem. So the thing that lead me to say, ‘my god we failed’ is what we celebrated as successes back in the 70s and 80s, stopping oil tanker traffic down the west coast of BC, stopping damns, we’re finding the same battles 30 years later. So the failure was in shifting the paradigm. We saved this forest and thought ‘oh that’s great move onto the next’ but we didn’t explain to people why did we do that. And so that was a realization that came out of the Nordhaus and Shellenberger piece. I was seeing these repetitions. I don’t want to fight anymore because when you fight there’s a winner and loser. I looked at the way we’d try to deal with forestry issues in BC…’oh we’re going to have a fight up in Smithers so we’ll set up a round table.’ At the round table all the stakeholders come in, first nations, loggers, then they basically duke it out. The reason they’re stakeholders is they’ve got a particular stake they’re fighting for. I said, you know you’ve forgotten the story of the goose that lays a golden egg. As long as a goose is happy and healthy, it’ll lay a golden egg every day, if you get greedy and you want all your eggs at once you get nothing. I said the forest is the goose and if you all come together, forget that you’re stakeholders, you’re all there to protect the goose! As long as it’s happy and healthy, everyone can make a living, then it’s up to you to divvy it up, but that’s not the way the process worked. I began when I said jesus we’re fighting the same battles over again. Look we can’t go on fighting, we’ve got to meet people and work out what we agree on.

What was that? 

I had a guy that called me from Fort McMurray, CEO of a huge oil company in the tar sands, came down the next day. I said look I’m really honoured that you’d come and talk to me but I’m asking you before you come in the door if you can leave your identity your profession outside. I want to meet you human to human. I want to talk to you about what we can agree are basic human needs. Then we can begin to build up how are we going to live. If we don’t have a platform of agreement then we’re all over the map. Immediately he was very uncomfortable. He wanted to negotiate. I had gotten rid of that. I said ‘look, what is the most important thing every human being needs.’ He didn’t know. I said ‘if you don’t have air for 3 minutes for air. If you have to breath in contaminated air you’re sick so could you not agree with me that the absolute highest priority we have is clear air?’ Then I went through clean water and clean oil that gives us our food and biodiversity. To me, if we can’t start at the basis with this is the foundation of how we live as a species then I’m not interested in everything else. I want to build the way I live.

This is the necessary paradigm shift?

It’s not a paradigm shift, it’s getting rid of all the overloaded garbage of the economy. I’ve been told over and over again that the economy is the bottom line. ‘Be realistic Suzuki.’ It is a paradigm shift, I guess. Until very recently people knew nature was the source of our happiness and our wealth. But I believe the huge shift from being a farming animal to being big city dweller is what signalled the change. If you’re a farmer you know damn well climate, pollination…

My grandfather was from a farming family of 18 kids…

There you go. But when you come into the city, what is your highest priority? It’s your job. I need a job. I was just telling Matt Galloway this city is one where you could live in a high rise apartment, come down into your garage, get into your car, drive to the CBC and the CBC is connected through tunnels. You don’t have to go outside for weeks if you don’t want to. So we lose all contact with nature.

So if our fundamental disconnection from nature is creating the problems. Suzuki coast imageHow do we fix that? 

The foundation is really focused now on getting kids outside. They have the 30 by 30 challenge  [where you agree to spend 30 minutes in nature every day for 30 days]. When they first came to me and said they’re doing it, I said, “What the hell are you talking about? It should be two hours. This is crazy.” They said, no, no, no. So I said okay and signed up and god damn it if I didn’t miss three days.

I know, I thought it was going to be  breeze!

I found that in order to meet that I have to actually schedule [nature] in. What kind of a fucked up world is that.

I know and we’re on board. As environmentalists, we already feel connected to nature.

Yeah, exactly. We know that this is necessary. When I see everyone [mimicking a person with their heads in their phones], you’ve got the world at your fingertips, you don’t need to go outside. You want to see whales? Hell, I can see a great video of whales. You don’t need nature.

But it creates a fundamental rift in our psyche.

Well, the thing I don’t understand is you have a guy like Harper who is a childhood asthmatic, I would have thought anybody would asthma would understand what you put into the air has consequences. Years ago I wanted to do a show on asthma. I said let’s wait for a smog alert day in Toronto. You don’t have to wait very long. We went to Toronto General, I couldn’t believe the old people and kids literally gasping for air, being brought in by people who were scared shitless that they couldn’t get to the hospital in time and they drove up in a sports utility vehicle. Then you realize, holy cow, do we live in a fragmented world. We don’t see the causal connections in our lives and the consequences.

Before our religion, our spirituality drove us, First Nations, Druides, etc to be connected to nature. What do we do now when people don’t have that spiritual connection to nature. Do we just shove people outside for 30 minutes and start with the kids and hope that that spreads to the adults?

The funny thing is all of our polling says 90% of Canadians say nature is important to who I am, to my identity. If you say, what do you think of the idea of enshrining the right to a healthy environment, 85% say ‘of course.’ So even though we have become so disconnected people understand in some kind of way, yeah, yeah a healthy environment. The day where we’d say we shouldn’t kill bears because they have a right to live, that day is long gone. We’re not going to save the other species because philosophically it’s not right, it’s because me, me, me, my health, that’s the connection that people are feeling so the tour is just so opportune at this moment. David Boyd was doing a guide a book and found 110 countries have some healthy environment clause in their constitution and Canada, the US, Britain, Australia do not, So the majority of countries already have some kind of environmental right, that doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee but they’re much better environmentally. He was doing this book and said why don’t you guys do an initiative. We said that’s a great idea. We didn’t jump on it right away. We then said ‘Suzuki has done six other cross Canada tours for various things. They’ve all generated a huge amount of interest but after we pass through the interest just goes [gesticulating down]’ and the reason is we didn’t give the people that were really excited something concrete to do.

You’re right.

There’s a guy at Harvard named Marshall Ganz. He quit Harvard  to go work with Cesar Chavez lettuce boycott, long time activist. He developed the Ganz technique adopted by Obama in both campaigns to raise money. The guy that ran the Florida campaign for Obama is running the Blue Dot Tour.

So your movement building strategy here is tight…

It’s based on Ganz. You find a person who is really keen and committed, then you train them in the Ganz technique of how you start a movement. Then that person goes out and recruits 6 people who are really keen. And he trains them. And he’s only responsible for those 6. Then those six go out and recruit six. It’s a chain letter. And it works like a champ apparently.

blue dot imageLet’s rewind and boil down why we need to enshrine environmental rights into our constitution.

This really changes the whole discussion. Right now if you want to build a pipeline. Then you come in with a proposal and say it offers this many jobs, this much income for the coming years then environmentalist have to prove in some way that it’s a danger. That’s what always happens, the environment is just one aspect of this development. And we have to make a point that this is damaging. All the burden of proof is on the environmentalist. What this
does is we have a constitutionally guaranteed right to a healthy environment. You want to build that pipeline you have to show, you have to prove that this is not going to harm air, water soil, biodiversity. It just shifts the whole thing around because it starts from the fundamental premise that air, water, soil, those are the critical things. You’re just an add on, you want to make money and add to the economy but you’re an add on. This is our foundation. It changes the whole game. For years, environmentalists, we were fighting against logging and the logging company says we’ve got this many jobs, this many feet of lumber, this many cubic metres of pulp and we’re going around saying, well you might get some income from berries and maybe some salal bush for flower arrangements. We aren’t able to say, look the forest is performing services that keep the planet healthy.

Because we were playing their game by their rules?

Because we have to play by their rules! That’s what Naomi Klein says is that capitalism is itself so shaky as a structure and yet we’re allowing capitalism to drive everything including how we frame our environmental concerns. So we’re sunk.

Would enshrining enviro rights into the charter necessarily create an economic shift?

It means that if you’re going to use an economic argument you’re still going to have to confront the reality that it must not in any way destroy your opportunity for clean air, clean water, clean soil. So right away, tonight at the event, there are two first nations people who have a legal suit in Sarnia, who are saying you’re violating our right to a clean environment. And that’s what the shift is. It’s got nothing to do with the economy. If they want to create jobs, that’s fine but it must not impinge on those fundamental needs.


Looking at the way politics are set up in this country right now, a lot of people will say it’s a pipe dream. How are the hell are we going to get environmental rights enshrined in the charter when our governments have been acting the way they’ve been acting?

Ultimately, if you really do believe in the idea of democracy then the only way open to us is to exert that democratic right to be a part of the elections, the campaigns. The problem we face is this huge dsuzukibluedotdysfunctional system of first past the post, which the prime minister has used very well for his advantage. The story I tell is my mom and dad were born and raised in Canada but couldn’t vote until 1947 because they were Japanese. So when I reached 21 I took the right to vote as one of my most import privileges I have. I’ve voted in every federal election since I turned 21. I’ve never voted for a party that got into power. So my vote has just been [wasted] because basically minorities you don’t register anything. So I think we need an overhaul.

Part of the Blue Dot strategy is that should go after our cities first, then provinces before we go after the federal government and hopefully by then the  federal government will have shifted over… 

You said that, not me [laughing].

Yes [laughing] so if you were to give our readers some advice on how to get over the feeling of despair and get engaged down this the avenue, what can they do?

This is easiest thing. Municipalities are where the rubber hits the road. It’s where there’s real opportunity for change. If you look at Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, unbelievable mayors. Gregor Robertson, as soon as he got in, he said we’re going to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. [He faced] huge opposition to the committed bike lanes we have, we sectioned off a lane on one of our main bridges and its just for bikes. People were so pissed off.

Even Vancouver?

Now it’s hilarious, everyone’s gathering around saying look at our bike lanes. I brought my bike with me on this tour but I’m not going to bike on the streets of Toronto it scares the hell out of me. Too scary.

I’ll show you around.

[Laughs]. I think there’s huge opportunity to see change and it’s amazing. We’re only ¼ of the way through our tour and we’ve already got something like 1500 people, we’ve got a person in Vancouver whose whole job is to communicate with people who want to start a movement in their cities. I think we are now covering over half of municipalities. We’ve already got mayors that are saying I want to pass this. The city of Richmond is going to vote on a declaration on environmental health on Octobober 28. So it’s happening. It’s just the right moment. By the time we hit Vancouver we want just a wave. It will fall out at the municipal level and we’ve already been approached by a province, I won’t tell you which, that wants to be involved in some way. I think there are at least 3 provinces on board right off the bat. The minute we get commitment from provinces, they become our cheerleaders to cheer on others [at the federal levels] to join us. So this is the plan. The tour is just basically lighting the fuse. But it’s been very exciting.

On that note, you really do need to stop and check out the whole Blue Dot campaign. It’s encapsulated in this video – pretty powerful stuff. Once you watch, you’ll want to join the movement at


Free Your Ride: what’s the best car-sharing service?

autoshareThe summer after 9th grade, my parents moved my little brother Mark and I from Montreal to suburban Mississauga, a gaping 35 kilometres from downtown Toronto. Back in Montreal, I was used to taking the city bus to school downtown and subwaying around to meet friends. In Mississauga, I quickly figured out you’d have to wait a good 30 minutes for sparse busses and walking got you nowhere in a hurry. My family got real car dependant real fast.

These days, my household is technically car-free, though I do have memberships to pretty much every car-sharing service in town. Call it research for my car-sharing guide, but each one has different advantages (trunkless Smart Cars, for instance, are a bad idea for trips to IKEA, though I did manage to cram a giant patio umbrella in one of these puppies, which made me want to try shoving a dozen clowns in here, too).  I know there are some hardcore treehuggers who would rather lie under the tire of an 18-wheeler rather than get in a car and, on the other end of the spectrum, a lot of you living far from car-sharing services let alone descent transit will be rolling your eyes right now, muttering, “I don’t think so, honey.” I know it’s not ideal for jobs that make you drive to all corners of the earth hauling gear and that sort of thing. But if you’ve got car-sharing services in your ‘hood, I really recommend checking ‘em out. Gas and insurance are included, it’s way cheaper than owning and it’s definitely a lot easier on your carbon footprint. I still love my bike and I’m super lucky to have a streetcar running right outside my front door (except for at 6am when it starts dinging its bell every few minutes) but I won’t deny how happy I am to pull out one of my car-sharing membership cards when I’ve got a trunkload of stuff to pick up that won’t fit in my bike basket. Anyway, think about it and if you live in Toronto, take a look at my car-sharing reviews.

The Big Interview: Naomi Klein on Climate Change – Unedited

Portraits of Naomi KleinWhen I heard that no-holds barred lefty thinker Naomi Klein was putting out a book on climate change, I thought “damn right, sister.” Like I said in my book review in NOW Magazine, no matter what subject this woman tackles she has a way of skewering the shit out of whoever she finds screwing with humanity. In This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Naomi takes no prisoners, nailing to the wall sell-out green groups (including one that actually drills for oil on one of its own nature reserves! Really!), green billionaire messiahs, geoengineering, and the current economic system that puts growth above everything else. Her recommendations aren’t actually as radical as they may seem on the surface, she points out how environmental protection and climate action used to have all-party support from conservatives/republicans as well as liberals but that’s all shifted in recent years. And that we don’t have to go back to being off grid pioneers to move forward, she points out the way we lived comfortably in the 70s was actually a lot more sustainable than our bloated lifestyles of today.

Whether you agree with her politics or not, you really should read this book. It’s an eye-opener and she makes a pretty convincing case for her solutions to our systemic woes. Which is why I dedicated my whole column to it this week (no product guide or greenwash of the week this column, sorry!). My favourite chapters though almost had a spiritual component and were the ones filled with beams of love for this earth, for this life and for each other,  like “Love Will Save This Place” as well as personal chapters rooted in Naomi’s own emotional reproductive challenges and her realization that she was up against the same challenge facing the planet as a whole, that species big and small deserve the right to reproduce. I didn’t get to half the questions I wanted to ask her in our allotted time, but you can read my published interview with her posted on NOW Magazine’s website. We had to, of course, condense and edit it down quite a bit to fit her answers on the page. I’ve included a couple of her extended unedited answers below, plus a bonus Q we didn’t have room for in print about my favourite quote from the book. Enjoy!

Q. You confess you denied climate change for longer then you care to admit.

A. In the book I talk about hard denial vs soft denial. Hard denial is the kind of Donald Trump denial saying “this isn’t happening because it’s cold outside.” I didn’t deny climate change. I believe the vast majority  climate scientists are telling us the truth. I was still in a kind of state of denial, looking away, and I think that is the state that most of us are in. Even those of us engaged in the topic, we’re choosing not to read the really scary stories. I wasn’t engaging in the issue, I was outsourcing it to the big green groups that were supposed to be dealing with it. I thought it was too complicated. The whole world seemed archane – the solutions, feed-in-tarriffs. I just kind of tuned out. That’s the denial we need address. We spend a lot of time talking about the right wing kind of deniers and not our own day to day deniers.

Q. We’re all guilty of it, feeling like that’s how we get through the day without deep depression. What would you say to those who feel disempowered by looking at climate change straight in the eye?

A.  I don’t think we can look at the crisis this big straight in the eye unless we see a way of dealing with it that is commensurate with the scale of the crisis. It’s the difficulty of looking at problems of this scale and hearing warnings from scientists and even from our own political leaders who will occasionally admit just how dire it is….There’s such dissonance between that reality and the way our political leaders are behaving, they’re doubling down on fossil fuels then in the next breath they talk of importance of pursuing rapid economic growth even though our model of growth is intimately tied to the climate crisis. I think what we look away from is not just the crisis. It’s the combination of the climate crisis and the lack of political response to it. We will really only be able to look when we see a path forward that’s inspiring. That’s why it’s so heartening that there’s a new climate momvement finding its voice at this moment and there’s this converage of all this front line activism against, extractive projects, as well as the fossil fuel divestment movement and front line communities dealing with the real impacts of a fossil fuel based economy. The climate movement is coming down to earth. It’s no longer about just floating perspective from space. The logo of the movement for so long was the image of a disembodied planet. It’s really people who are very rooted in places they want to protect.

978-0-307-40199-1So what’s the alternative…in a nutshell?

Let’s try leaving [fossil fuels] in the ground. Instead of emitting it or offsetting it or trading it or trying to find another form of fossil fuels like natural gas. Let’s actually switch our economy to decentralized renewables, which doesn’t mean crashing the economy but it is a challenge to the hyperprofitable model of fossil fuels. I think we are an economy for the 1%. These are carbon deposits that are concentrated, require exnepsive infrastructure to extract and transport, so you have a few mega players who profit a huge amount from this model. So much that they’re able to buy our whole political system, the results of which we’ve seen in Canada where there’s been a seamless merger of oil and state. The alternative to that is a decentralized renewable economy that does create benefits for communities that has real win-wins. That’s not going to deliver the sorts of hyper profits that fossil fuels do. The good news is that the profits stay in communities. That’s the model we’re starting to see in places  like Germany, which has a really good feed-in-tarriff system that has encouraged 100s of new energy cooperatives and publically controlled, democratically-controlled utilities. This is what is really inspiring. You don’t get a transition like that without some friction.

You say the scale of needed reductions and changes needed can’t be left to the lifestyle decisions of earnest urbanites shopping at farmers’ markets and wearing upcycled clothing. That’s my community, for sure. What should earnest urbanites be doing to be more helpful?

I’m not saying farmers’ markets don’t matter or that it doesn’t matter how we live. It does. We need to show that responding to this crisis isn’t grim and can actually build stronger communities and happier lives, but we also need to be going to climate marches and engaging with policy to stop the tar sands. A lot of Canadians have changed their lives and lowered their carbon footprint in meaningful ways, yet we know that Canada has emissions that are 27 per cent higher than they should be under the commitments our government made under Kyoto. We have to do both – it’s that simple.

Bonus Q: My favourite quote in the book is (to paraphrase) “what will save this place is not hatred of fossil fuel companies but love will save this place.”

That’s a quote from a really extraordinary human being and activist named Alexis Bonogofsky, who I met in the really early stages of research for this book. My mood has changed as a I was changing this book. When I began things were just unremittingly bleak, but by the time I finished, in the last few years there was a lot of good news. When I talk to Alexis now they’re winning, they’re winning all kinds of victories. Part of it has to do with the Northern Cheyenne, who they work with really closely and there’s been a really strong fight back against the coal companies. Part of it is what I call Blockadia, the new spirt of resistance spreading all over the place against pipelines and against the coal they want to take out of Montana. They’re having trouble building the rail to get it out, having trouble building the ports, everywhere they’re trying to build they’re meeting resistance and people are networking and at the same time building alternatives. There are all these projects to bring wind energy, solar energy to show people that there really is an alternative to fossil fuel extraction. That’s really fuelling peoples resistance to the fossil fuel frenzy. That wonderful quote is hers: “love will save this place.” That’s true of all these resistance movements that I write about in the book. They’re not driven by hatred of the tar sands or hatred of oil companies. They’re really about people falling in love more deeply with their place and coming together in the face of a common threat. It’s a really beautiful movement.

For the rest of the interview read on here here plus you’ll find my book review here.