ECOHOLIC

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.

CRM_Arsenic_Chart_Page-42_01-15

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 bluedot.ca

 

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.

How to make homemade eyeliner …without trashing the planet

DIY eyeliner 1Ever been curious about making your own makeup? Who says we have to get petrochemical-laced brands from the drugstore or overpriced beauty counters? Of course, you can skip that whole scene by wandering into your local health store and looking for natural cosmetics or you can check out some great green beauty stores online, but what about getting all MacGyver meets Maybelline and doing it yourself? I make a lot of stuff from scratch, including body scrubs, face masks, salves, even soap (okay, I only made bar soap once), but never really ventured into do-it-yourself cosmetics territory until my DIY-lovin’ stylist friend Kameryn convinced me to check it out. The trick is finding ingredients that aren’t just as or almost as nasty as some of the drugstore brands. A lot of minerals, for instance, contain high levels of heavy metals and some are mined in places where there’s a lot of child labour, like mica (which I mention in my Ecoholic Optical Illusion guide to storebought eyeliners).

WHEN THAT SMOKEY EYE AIN’T SO SUSTAINABLE

Online DIYers will tell you to make your own with activated charcoal from the supplements aisle. Since this stuff is sold to people with health problems like upset stomachs or radiation exposure, you’d think, ‘Awesome, this is clearly safe for ingesting so it’s got to be safe on my eyes.’ And you’re mostly right. The only problemo (and it’s a big one) is that a lot of activated charcoal is actually made with a major environmental villain – coal. Source of Life told me its AC is made with a mix of coal, lignite, peat and coconut. Swiss Natural wouldn’t tell me what’s in its activated charcoal, other than “activated charcoal” (even though I explained to them charcoal is always made out of other things like coal or wood). I left probably half a dozen emails and voicemails with their media relations peeps and still no answer a week later. Nature’s Way says it makes activated charcoal using nothing but coconut shells (yay!), but unfortunately, it’s not available in Canada, only in the US. So Canadian DIYers are kind of left hanging on this one. Sorry.

THE NITTY GRITTY: HOMEMADE HOW-TO

Now, if you can get your hands on some coal-free activated charcoal powder (or go another route with fair trade cocoa powder or green spirulina) then great. Next step involves cracking open a capsule into a small jar, dipping a damp angled brush into there and sweeping your lash line. I’ll admit it went on a little gritty, though my left eye had a great thick, jet black cat eye without too much effort. It wasn’t exactly pro results but I was pretty impressed. My right eye was a little trickier, the brush was either too dry, then too wet and I kept getting powder all over my face and my sink and pulling out makeup remover to try and try again. I attempted mixing a dab of coconut oil on my brush instead, as some suggest, and it went on smoother but that ended up smearing on my upper lid within the hour. No good. At least the oil-free version actually had staying power (it lasted all day), much more so than the cocoa powder or spirulina. Will I be making this again and again? Hm, let’s see, no. But try it yourself and see if you have a better go of it. In a pinch, you can definitely bypass the multinational beauty companies and make it yourself. Just make sure you’re not getting an environmentally nefarious ingredient. Otherwise, check out my eyeliner guide for good green natural brands that work without wearing on your conscience.

 

Keepin’ it cool: ice cream, aloe and coconut water guides

coconut water, ice creamThere are times in life when I say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with burying your head in the sand. Like mid way through August when everyone’s talking about the imminent arrival of fall and you’re all, ‘Hold up, people, I’m trying to enjoy every last minute of this blissful season!’ In honour of all those sucking the marrow out of the present moment, I’m catching you up on some of this summer’s Ecoholic product guides from NOW Magazine (I’ve been in summer mode myself so a little MIA on the blogging front). First up, you’ll find the Cold, Hard Truth about Ice Cream. In this guide, you’ll get the scoop (argh, sorry about that one) on which brands are serving up dairy from cows given genetically modified growth hormones, as well as the inside line on which brands are serving up sustainability in an especially delicious format. (Let me tell you, product testing on this one was particularly rigorous, involving bowl after bowl of ice cream.)

If a summer’s worth of UV has left your skin worse for wear, check out my Apres-Sun Guide to Aloe Gel. (Hint: real aloe gel is never green and should technically contain aloe somewhere in the upper half of the ingredient list.) And finally, if you’re crawling through an urban savanna and dying for some coconut water, which brand should you choose? My Cracking the Nut…A Guide to Coconut Waters will tell you which brands are heavy in BPA and controversial pesticides and which win feel good coconut water of the year. Now put down that device and soak in the summer vibes while you still can. And don’t worry, Ecoholic.ca will be back full gear in the fall (which, people keep saying is soon)…plus there should be a fresh, new website coming soon, too.

Got dirt on your face? Bronzers & the ugly side of mineral makeup

Dirt on your face? Check your mineralsYou know when you think something’s going to be quick and breezy and it ends up being a knee deep slog through muck and fog? Well, that’s sort of what happened with my bronzer column. I thought I’d toss together a light column on summer makeup, until I remembered that mineral powders are mired in controversy. One mineral in particular has gotten a lot of bad press this year – mica – thanks to media exposes on the child labour plaguing mica mines in India. This makes mica the poster child for “natural” ingredients that aren’t always so desirable. Unfortunately, pretty much every bronzer and most makeup on the market (conventional and natural brands alike) uses mica. And 60% of the world’s mica, comes from India, where illegal mining is a big problem. I called half a dozen natural makeup companies to find out whether they were aware of the child labour problem associated with mica and whether they had any guarantees their products were child labour free. Most of the little indy brands were truly shocked and alarmed. Some jumped on their suppliers to dig up as much as they could on their mica chain of supply, how and whether it was monitored, what kind of traceability schemes they had, what kind of support they had for the workers. Some never called me back. Some met relatively tight-lipped suppliers, which they have since told me they dropped. Others were greeted with a pretty impressive degree of transparency (often from big name suppliers that had been slammed with bad press on this issue in the past and had beefed up their policies).

100% Pure’s owner was the most aware of this issue ahead of time and gave me the direct number for their supplier so I could pick their brains directly. Pure Anada’s owner gave me perhaps the most detailed responses of all. Earth Lab’s owner was also really responsive.  You’ll notice that none of the product’s in this week’s guide got a perfect score and none were given my “Ecoholic pick of the week” designation, which I always give out to the top-scorer. To be honest, I felt I’d need a whole investigative team with cameras going into mines to feel confident giving perfect scores, which to be fair, is something that could be said every week in the column. All I can do, in the end, is share what I know on ingredient sourcing and tell you that at least the genuinely natural brands (versus fake naturals like Rimmel) didn’t pack their products with questionable preservatives and fillers. And I can talk to you about how they perform on your face (because we are still talking makeup, after all). I own bronzers from all five of the highest scoring natural brands and performance-wise really enjoyed them all for different reasons (cream sticks vs powder compacts vs loose powder all have different advantages depending on your skin’s needs). To get the down low on them all, head to my bronzer guide in NOW Magazine.

Slip ‘n slide: the up close and personal guide to lubricants

Yes LubeNo matter how confident you are, some things are just awkward to shop for. Take lube, for instance. A lot of us end up tiptoeing into the condom section of the drugstore, furtively snatching a bottle of KY or Astroglide then quickly burying it in our basket before bolting, all without taking the time to read the labels in detail. You’ll get a lot more guidance if you walk into a good sex-positive, female-friendly store like Toronto’s Come as You Are or New York’s Toys in Babeland. But I have some friends who refuse to step inside for fear they’ll be seen walking in and out. In that case, head to their online shops or check out Red Tent Sisters. They have a great selection of natural and organic lubes (as well as conventional ones). Still, which lube should you buy? Stop blushing and leave the product testing to me. I’ve done all the dirty work for you (some puns are just begging to be used). Heads up: just because a lube says it’s “paraben-free” or claims to be “natural” doesn’t mean it’s free of crappy ingredients so always read the fine print! Intimate Organics Defence Natural Lubricant, for example, contains irritating methylisothiazolinone linked to rash outbreaks (crotch-scratching is so not sexy).

ASTROGLIDE & KY

Found in nightstands everywhere, both are good examples of what not to buy if you’re trying to woo an earth-conscious lover. Astroglide’s basic formula contains fossil-fuel-derived propylene glycol (so not sexy), as well as two types of parabens (one that falls on the official hormone disruptor list in Europe) and yeast-feeding glycerin to kill the mood even more. KY’s is the same, minus the paraben. Much wiser to snag a bottle of aloe-based Astroglide Natural. Astroglide $15/150 ml; KY $12/75 ml. SCORE: 1/5

PJUR SILICONE & PINK SILICONE

If you love your silicone-based lube, you already know this stuff gives and gives and gives, since there’s no water in it to dry up. Plus, it’s condom-safe, non-irritating, waterproof, with fewer chemical fillers. The big ol’ but here? Silicones/siloxanes are environmental bad boys, particularly if you spot cyclopentasiloxane or cyclomethicone on the label. They’re harmful to aquatic life – so much so that Health Canada had planned to label these “toxic” until industry complained. Clearly we know who the feds are sleeping with. Pjur $30/100 ml; Pink $21/100 ml. SCORE: 1/5

SLIQUID & HATHOR

These two totally different natural lube brands have one thing in common: they both use plant waste products as a base. Sliquid uses plant cellulose from cotton, Hathor a biodiesel-based propylene glycol. What I dig about Hathor, including the flavoured kind, is that it’s a Canadian-made water-based lube. (However, it’s not organic.) What I love about Texas-based Sliquid is that it makes a partly organic line (with zero taste) that includes Sliquid Organics Natural Gel (designed for back-door play) that’s thickened with some organic goodies like flax. Sliquid $22/255 ml; Hathor $28/250 ml.  SCORE: 3/5

GIDDY YOYO RAW LOVE BUTTER & PROVINCE APOTHECARY SEX OIL

These cute Canadian products totally blow pseudo-natural sex oils and butters (including Boy Butter) out of the water. You can use these deliciously long-lasting products as lickable massage oils, for solo love sessions (I’m talkin’ to you, gents) as well as all kinds of intercourse (anal, vaginal), as long as you don’t need latex condoms/dams. Oils aren’t latex compatible; hence, they don’t get a perfect score. Über-local Province Apothecary mixes a base of fractionated coconut oil with some lovely organic oils (a flavourless mix). Giddy Yoyo uses all-certified-organic cocoa butter, coconut oil, olive oil and vanilla beans. $14.99/85 ml, $16.75/75 ml. SCORE: 4/5

YES ORGANIC & BLOSSOM ORGANIC

UK-based Yes offers certified-organic options for all tastes. What’s your pleasure? There’s a water/organic aloe-based lube (latex-compatible for safe sex, naturally) and a long-lasting oil-based option made of all-organic almond oil, shea butter, sunflower oil and cocoa butter. This last one is literally edible, though not latex-compatible. California-based Blossom Organics, Aloe Cadabra and Oregon-based Good Clean Love all make great condom-friendly organic aloe-based lubes, too. They’re all essentially aloe with thickeners and need more frequent reapplication than oils, but are great carnal kick-starters. $20/75 ml, $13.99/120 ml. SCORE: 4/5

A version of this article first appeared in NOW Magazine.

Ecoholic TV (backyard edition): Does Mozi-Q actually work?

Mozi-QHey gang, Did you catch my spot on CTV’s Canada AM this week talking about alternative ways to keep mosquitos at bay – what works, what doesn’t, what’s healthy, what isn’t? It was a lot to cram into four minutes with a sleepy brain! So I figured I’d clarify a few points here. For one, anything that involves filling the air with an aroma mozzies don’t particularly love (like say, a citronella soy candle, lemongrass incense or aromatherapy diffuser full of bug-repelling essential oils – I brought on lavender, lemongrass and peppermint), only really help if the wind is blowing your way. Speaking of wind, plugging in an outdoor fan will help physically push mosquitos away from you and your guests so give it a go. As I mentioned, I had a tough time finding natural bug repellents to bring on air since Health Canada’s making it incredibly difficult for them. I covered the whole regulatory mess in a previous blog (appropriately titled Bite Me). And those that are on shelves, well, I didn’t want to bring too many of them on air since I figured Health Canada would hunt them down and force them off shelves. Ridiculous, considering the US allows natural bug repellents on the market, some of which have actually been found to be as effective as lower doses of DEET in peer-reviewed trials. Seriously. I asked some of those companies why they won’t sell to Canada and they said it’s too much of a royal pain the ass to jump through Canadian regulatory hoops. That leaves us with very few options on shelves that can be openly marketed as all natural bug repellents, one of which is Mozi-Q, a homeopathic repellent. Now, skeptics will kvetch that homeopathics are given DIN numbers from the government without having to prove their efficacy (not the case with, say, natural bug sprays). There were, no doubt, a lot of arched eyebrows watching Canada AM when I mentioned a homeopathic remedy for insect bites. Hey, I was skeptical myself, so I finally gave it a go. I put together a little backyard video for you on my completely unscientific experiment in which I turned myself into a lab rat and waited for mozzies to feast. How did Mozi-Q perform? Watch and see (below)!

UPDATE: I’ve been putting Mozi-Q to the test every time I’m in nature at dusk, which is nearly every night. For the most part, it’s been surprisingly effective at reducing bites. Except, last night. I got a grand total of 3 bites. I wasn’t thrilled when I watched a mosquito land on my arm and dig right in. But I did just shower with naturally scented soap and that’s still the most biting action I’ve had in 10 days of trial when normally I’d be bombed with bites by now (I once had 150, yes, 150 sand flea bites in just a week on a beach…my partner counted them). So no, this stuff isn’t a shield but it’s a bite reducer. The problem with Mozi-Q is you have to keep taking it every 2 hours or so if exposure to biting things is constant, which can get pricey if you’re a family of four and, say, camping for a week (I paid $20 for 60 tabs). Still, I’d say this product is worth trying. And nope, I haven’t accepted any cash/trips/free Teslas/sexual favours/endorsement deals from this company (or any other) under the table. That’s a firm Ecoholic rule. 

Kickin’ it: the ethical guides to soccer balls & summer shirts

Shirts and balls

“You never do any columns for guys,” my editor grumbled a few weeks back. I gasped. “Are you saying the frying pan and cleaning cloth guides that we just published are a woman thing?” I prodded loudly, making sure our banter was audible to the whole news room. To be honest, in my house, my partner does at least as much cooking and cleaning as I do (which isn’t always saying much, but when that man gets on a whirlwind cleaning and purging spree, boy, watch out!).  Regardless, a few weeks after the news room remark I rolled out a few “man-friendly” columns to make sure the gents in our midst don’t feel left out. First up, my new researcher Elyssa suggested a guide to short-sleeved summer mens’ shirts. Not an easy task, considering there are so few eco brands doing menswear these days.  Turns out finding dude clothing that’s both made in Canada AND made with eco-friendly fabrics is about as rare as a sighting of Justin Bieber with his pants pulled up. For the full frontal break down of good and not so good brands plus Nature Notes on donuts and deforestation as well as the latest on GMO-banning nations, head to the full Hot Under the Collar column.

Next up, we channeled the vibes pulsing through every bar/pub/patio with a TV on earth with our Ecoholic guide to soccer balls. Men, women, children, everybody loves the World Cup…well, except for the thousands of poverty activists taking to the streets of Brazil, of course. The Ecoholic Football Fever guide dives into the ethics of stitching the very soccer balls you might be kicking around in a field or yard near you. Plus in this issue, you’ll also find news on the Saputo dairy boycott, Greenwash of the Week and more so don’t change the channel!