Friday, March 30, 2007

i'm going to be a mama!

Phobias are learned behaviors. This goes to show that a parent's choice of actions have lasting effects on their children. My mother was afraid of insects, especially ones that fly. Outdoors I'm fine. But inside, sharing my living space, the thought makes me flap my hands in the air like a pansy.
Nonetheless, I am about to adopt a half a pound of red wriggler worms. They will lovingly be kept in a box on my balcony with some shredded newspaper and straw. The worms will eat my food scraps and crap out precious fertilizer, also known as black gold.
The process is worm composting. It's a method of recycling food scraps so that they don't end up in the landfill. And it creates nutrient rich fertilizer that can go back into the soil, making a healthy environment for plants to grow.
I learned about this recycling technique when I visited Vancouver's City Farmer project earlier this week. The City Farmer project is nearly 30 years old and offers workshops and training on how to worm compost.
It's a perfect way to compost, Mike Levenston, executive director of City Farmer, said. Especially if you live in an apartment building and don't have a yard.
Touching the worms with my bare hands might not be an option but I'm excited to start feeding my babies.
Any birthdays coming up? Some black gold is coming your way.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

it appears as though the flesh is falling off my hand

Spring is almost a week old now and if you haven't already done so, it's time to clear out those cobwebs and shake out those carpets. It's time, my friends, for spring cleaning!
Before you're inspired to grab your Mr. Clean and 'disposable' Swiffer wipes, we should discuss what's in these common cleaning products and the potential effects they may have on you.
Knowing exactly what is in cleaning products takes some research. This is because manufacturers of cleaning products are not forced to list the names of chemicals on their packaging. In fact, Health Canada says that “the responsibility for assessing the hazards associated with a chemical product is that of the manufacturer." They have to list whether or not the product is poisonous or flammable but that's as specific as they are forced to be.
Some household chemical hazards are:
Acetone - A neurotoxin, acetone may cause liver and kidney damage, and damage to the developing fetus. It is a skin and eye irritant. Found in spot treatment cleaners, mark and scuff removers, and other products.
Methylene chloride - a carcinogen, a neurotoxin and a reproductive toxin. On inhalation, it can cause liver and brain damage, irregular heartbeat, and even heart attack. It is a severe skin and moderate eye irritant. Used in stain removers.
Phosphoric acid - extremely corrosive, it can severely irritate and burn the skin and eyes. Breathing vapours can make the lungs ache, and it may be toxic to the central nervous system. Found in some liquid dishwasher detergents, metal polishes, some disinfectants, and bathroom cleaners, especially those that remove lime and mildew.
For a full list, go here.
Believe it or not, all you need to do a thorough scrub job is a couple of lemons, some baking soda, white vinegar, olive oil and water. Instead of paper towel or 'disposable' wipes, you can use old sheets or tattered shirts. Here's a list of ingredients and recipes that make cleaning easy, cheap and safe.
Imagine, you can get that fresh, clean, lemony smell from, gasp, lemons!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

we're about to get personal

Toilet paper has come a long way since it was first used by Chinese Emperors in the 14th C when the sheets measured two feet by three feet.
Today arse-wipe is the third most widely consumed non-food commodity. The average person uses 57 individual sheets per day, 20,805 per year. (The Pentagon uses, on average, 666 rolls per day... weird.)
Kimberly-Clark, of Scott Tissue and Kleenex notoriety, is the world's largest manufacturer of 'disposable' paper products. Less than 19 percent of the pulp Kimberly-Clark uses for its disposable tissue products comes from recycled sources. Kleenex tissues contain 0 per cent recycled content.
In order to fulfill the market demand for soft, high quality bum scrub and snot rags, Kimberly-Clark uses virgin forest tree fiber.
The forests that Kimberly-Clark are disposing of are Canada's own ancient boreal forests.
The company uses more than 1.1 million cubic meters of trees from Canada's boreal forests each year.
These forests that have taken 10,000 years to evolve, run across the northern part of the country where there are no major urban centres. There is, however, 80 per cent of Canada's Aboriginal population who live in forest regions. And an entire ecosystem that acts as a filter for pollution and, oh yeah, it produces air.
Greenpeace started the Kleercut campaign in order to address these issues. They have been 'asking' for a meeting with Kimberly-Clark executives for three years now but have constantly been denied.
Kimberly-Clark claims to have an environmentally friendly policy to replant the trees it cuts down. But in order to replace a 180 year old tree it will take, well 180 years. Besides, the very idea of replanting an entire forest post-clearcutting is ridiculous. Maybe we can just ask the wolves, bears, and caribou to check into the local motel until their habitat is regrown.
In conclusion, buying recycled TP is not that much more costly. I would argue, in fact, that it's far less costly.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

kidney failures for canines

People go to extreme lengths for their pet. And the market has adjusted accordingly - you can take your pet to the spa and buy your pet designer clothes.
At the very least you can make sure your pet is well-fed. This has gotten harder to do in the last couple of weeks, though, as there has been tainted pet food found in the food supply.
Most pet food is owned by subsidiaries of food/product empires: Nestle (Alpo, Fancy Feast, Frisky), Heinz (Kibbles-n-Bits), Colgate-Palmolive (Hill’s Science Diet Pet Food).
The food in question these days comes from brands under the Proctor-Gamble label who get the product from an Ontario-based company, Menu Foods. Food like Iams and Eukanuba are owned by Proctor-Gamble.
The pet food from Menu Foods has been making dogs and cats sick with kidney failure and has resulted in ten deaths. There has been a massive recall of 60 million cans, involving 91 different kinds of wet cat and dog food.
The suspected harmful ingredient is wheat gluten, a protein used as a filler. Pet food is a combination of filler and leftovers of the animals that humans consume. It is called offal (pronounced awful) and consists of bones, blood, intestines, lungs, ligaments, etc. Most veterinarians find that the food is nutritious enough for animals and it's probably a good thing that that extra stuff is going somewhere.
In other bad news for pet food manufacturers, a $50 million Canadian class action law suit is being filed against Royal Canin. The lawsuit seeks compensation for anyone who has purchased Royal Canin dog or cat food since Aug. 1, 2004. According to the lawsuit, the food contains excessive amounts of Vitamin D, which cause severe illness or death in animals.
The increase in demand for organic food occurred after several food contamination scares. I'll bet that the same happens for organic pet food.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


The demand for organics is growing in every sector of the food system, and booze is no exception. Organic beer sales increased by 40 per cent in 2005 and it's not slowing down.
Crannog ales is B.C's little gem of a microbrewery. The farm and brewery work together to create a completely organic beer. They also treat and re-use our wastewater, creating a zero-emissions system. The downside is that if you'd like to try this beer, you basically have to live in the Shuswap region.
Pacific Western Brewing Co. is another B.C organic beer. Like Crannog, Pacific Western uses fresh spring water that is so pure, it can be used untreated. They created Canada's first organic beer in 1997.
The Nelson Brewing Company is over one hundred years old and was recently certified organic. Again, you have to be lucky enough to live nearby this wonderful little town to taste the brew, they export to within about a hundred kilometer radius.
Alberta has the Wild Rose brewing company. They make delicious beer - my personal most favorite beer in the world, Velvet Fog, comes from this organic brewery. Finding this beer outside of Calgary is a challenge though. As with most companies that abide by an organic philosophy, exporting to far away defeats the purpose entirely because of the carbon emissions created.
Aside from the obvious problems that come from drinking (ie. alcoholism), conventional beer and alcohol is full of ingredients that have a causal tie to cancer. Especially mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus cancer. Asbestos and arsenic compounds are regularly found in alcoholic drinks.
Now that St. Patrick's Day is over, perhaps your liver is in need of a little detox. When you hop back off the wagon, seeking out local and organic beer might be a good idea.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

standing on your head can solve your problems

Food issues can be overwhelming.
So take a deep breath, relax, and learn about something calming.
That feeling of stillness comes in the form of B.K.S. Iyengar. There is no doubt that the man is an outstanding individual. I mean, he's taught Aldous Huxley.
He is the founder of Iyengar yoga, a system that embraces the Yoga Sutras, the first known works of yoga philosophy by Patanjali.
Many people think that yoga is Lululemon and downward dog. In fact, there's more to it than that. The eight aspects of yoga are outlined in the Yoga Sutras:
Yama: a code of conduct that engages self-restraint
Niyama: religious observances - commitments to practice, such as study and devotion
Asana: integration of mind and body through physical activity (ie. the postures)
Pranayama: regulation of breath leading to integration of mind and body
Pratyahara - abstraction of the senses, withdrawal of the senses of perception from their object
Dharana - concentration, one-pointedness of mind
Dhyana - meditation (quiet activity that leads to samadhi)
Samadhi - the quiet state of blissful awareness, superconscious state
Non-violence is inherent in these eight limbs.
B.K.S. Iyengar was born in India in 1918. As a child, he suffered from malaria, typhoid and tuberculosis. After being introduced to yoga under his Guru, Sri T. Krishnamacharya, he gained strength and began to formulate a new branch of yoga that focuses on alignment, breath, and mind-body wholesomeness.
His teachings began to move west after he encountered the violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, in 1952. Menuhin was the first Jewish musician to perform under a German conductor after the Holocaust. He turned to Iyengar and his teachings to strengthen his art.
Iyengar's methods involve using props like belts and wooden blocks to preserve the integrity of the postures. His book, Light on Yoga, is the only book that matters. For every posture, he explains how to execute it, where one's breath should be, and the health benefits obtained.
He is still teaching and practicing in Pune, India. And he can do this and this, proving that he is truly amazing.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

attack of the clones

It was only ten years ago that the first cloned animal, Dolly the sheep, was created. Six years after that, Dolly was suffering from arthritis and lung disease so was put to rest. Four year after that, animals created by the same process as Dolly are set to be sold in supermarkets as food in the U.S. But you won't know because the meat and dairy from those animals will not be labeled as cloned.
People have begun to eat the meat from cloned animals, here's an article on the first cloned meal served.
Here are some arguments for and against animal cloning.
There will be less animal waste if we can start producing clones with superior traits like high milk production and tasty meat.
There is little difference from cloning animals to other methods of assisted reproduction like in virtro fertilization. People are simply uninformed and frightened of processes they don't understand.
Cloning is ten years old and the consequences of ingesting cloned food are not known.
To counter the 'less waste' argument, the science is nowhere near perfect. Cloned animals have a high rate of birth defects and often age prematurely (like Dolly). Some might say that the practice equals animal cruelty.
People are uncomfortable with the idea of eating cloned meat. Ethical and spiritual reasons are easy to ignore in the face of 'science' but that does not make them any less valid for the people that hold those beliefs.
The FDA has recently approved cloned meat safe for consumption and has set up a site to debunk the 'myths' of cloning animals. And Canada, as usual, is taking the word of the FDA and is likely to follow suit.
Perhaps what is the most shocking about all of this is that there is practically no media coverage at all, especially in Canada.
I'd like to know your opinion on the topic, would you eat cloned meat if you had the choice? Leave a comment or email me:

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

the FDA, the last line of defense?

Eating habits are personal.
Nobody likes to be told that what they eat or don't eat is good or bad for them. And we assume that the food available to us, organic or not, is alright for consumption because those kinds of things are regulated.
But what happens when the regulatory bodies, created to be watchdogs over the food we eat, start giving priority to companies' profits rather than to human health?
This disturbing question might soon be answered if the Food and Drug Administration (in the U.S) approves an antibiotic for cows that will protect them from respiratory disease. The stressful conditions in which cows live lower their immune systems and "virtually guarantee that bovine respiratory disease will be a major problem."
So heal the cows, sounds noble.
But the antibiotic, called cefquinome, is extremely potent. In humans, it is used for cancer patients and to treat "nearly invinsible infections." The last line of defense.
When antibiotics are given to living beings to treat an infection, that infection eventually mutates. This allows it to become genetically different and therefore develop a resistance to the initial drug. In the case of cattle, those mutated diseases are passed to humans who eat that meat, making humans resistant to the same antibiotics.
Even though the FDA's own science advisers and health groups have said that this will pose a problem to human health, they still plan on approving it.
"Guidance #152" lays out an assessment process on how to determine if new drugs for animals are safe for humans. Unfortunately for humanity, the language is sympathetic to pharmaceutical companies. It says "a new animal drug is safe if [the FDA] concludes that there is reasonable certainty of no harm to human health."
Yeah well, when I was 14, I was reasonably certain that I wanted to be a ballerina.
The FDA will announce their decision in the spring.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

the local market

I awoke on Saturday morning in excited anticipation. It was the first Saturday of the month. The day of the monthly local farmers market.
The debate over local versus organic food plays out in my head every time I grocery shop. At the nearest organic grocery store, there is little produce that is locally grown. Almost all fresh fruits and vegetables come from the U.S, Mexico, Chile. The amount of carbon emissions that are expelled from bringing grapes to my fridge hardly seems worth it.
In 2005 to 2006, Vancouverites Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon embarked on the '100-mile diet.' It was an effort to consume foods that were grown in a 100 mile radius - this even means the food fed to the chickens who laid their eggs. The experiment took intense dedication but proved manageable.
You can understand my excitement when I heard about the locally grown market.
I had visions in my head of stocking up on enough berries and vegetables that could last for a month. One thing that I failed to consider, however, is that it is still winter.
The market was small but busy and the vendors and shoppers were in good cheer. And there was a sense of community from everyone there.
The season, of course, inhibits what can be grown. The market was full of apples, asian pears, garlic, hazelnuts, plus baking and dips from local entrepreneurs.
There was also locally made cheese, fresh free-range eggs, and frozen salmon, pork and beef.
The market season starts between April and May but there are other ways to be more connected to your food. Organiko co-op places bulk organic orders for its members. Although much of the food is imported, the members are helping each other out by collectively reducing the cost and transportation of their food.
While three pears, a block of brie cheese and some garlic won't last me until the next market day, it's refreshing to know that there are avenues to build community and appreciation around food.