Not all Organics Are Alike

Is this really organic milk? Synthetic additives have no place in organics.

For many who have recently transitioned to eating organic food (and even for many who have been eating organic for years), it can seem like an easy change…just buy products that are labeled “Organic”. Sad to say but today not all organics are really what many of us, myself included, would consider organic in the true sense of the word.

Most of these “quasi-organic” products come from companies that once may have been organic in theory and in fact but are now owned by major industrial food suppliers like Dean Foods, M&M Mars, and General Mills-not quite the quant little farm you imagined from the label. If you want to see how knowledgable you are about the food that you are buying here is an earlier post with a test, brought to us from Planet Green, of who owns what brands…you may be surprised who actually owns some of the most popular organic brands.

One area where there is much controversy surrounding organics is milk, and this heated up in January when GMO-alfalfa was approved by Tom Vilsack, the head of the Department of Agriculture. The potential for cross-contamination of organically grown alfalfa is greatly increased since this was passed and the consequences could be huge for organically fed cows.

Beyond the GMO controversy, which is something more citizens need to become aware of (did you know that GMO crops use more pesticides because they have been genetically altered to withstand more spraying while the surrounding weeds and insects are killed) there is also the issue of what is truly organic. This article from Tom Philpott at Grist about Horizon brand milk, owned by Dean Foods and the largest selling brand of organic milk in the US, and their use of synthetic DHA in what is labeled organic is right to the point about the differences in organics.

Synthetic additives have no business in anything labeled organic and in fact the USDA “recently acknowledged that it was “incorrect” to allow synthetic DHA in organic products in the first place”. But such products still carry the USDA organic label.  When cows graze on grass they naturally have healthier fats including the Omega-3’s that Dean is adding in synthetic form. So much of today’s food is just messing with what nature has provided for centuries and instead uses chemical additives that are being shown to be harmful to humans and animals as well (over 70% of all antibiotics in the US are used on farm animals, and that means you are getting the antibiotics when you eat those animals). It’s time to get back to food as nature makes it not mega food corporations, that don’t really care about your health just your shopping dollars.

Our food supply is something that is necessary for our survival and in fact beyond mere survival, for us to flourish as human beings and not be hampered by recurring and chronic illness. What many in the food industry have done is replace good, healthy, natural food with more and more synthetic compounds that our bodies are not meant to ingest. It is no coincidence that since the widespread introduction in our food supply of industrially grown, pesticide sprayed and synthetically created compounds health problems have sky rocketed in the US, not to mention health care costs.

Many have thought that anything labeled organic would protect them, however with the USDA’s labeling and bowing down to corporate interests not all organics are really organic anymore. Here is another post that can help in making more informed decisions when you shop, and more on Dean Foods, they also own Silk soy milk.

So while switching to organic can be a tremendous benefit to your health we all could  be a little bit more attentive when we shop rather than just picking up anything labeled organic. Unfortunately government standardization of organics diluted rather than strengthened what organic really means.

More Surprises in Fast Food

Eating well is up to each of us. photo by Karin Lau from Fotolia

There has been much written about the frightening aspects of fast food meat, from how the animals are raised to massive amount of antibiotics and hormones these animals are given, not too mention the massive amounts of polluting waste coming from these large factory farms, also known as CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations). Did you know that 80% of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to livestock? And these are used for “prevention” leading to antibiotic resistant organisms not only in livestock but humans as well.

But now there is even bad news about the soda being served. Treehugger ran this story on fecal bacteria and E.Coli that was found in soda being served at fast food establishments (I can’t even call them restaurants). So if you are still drinking sodas this may be a good reason to at least not buy them from any fast food stop…besides dangerous amounts of sugar or sugar substitutes (even more dangerous to your health) you may be getting  more than you expect in your soda.

Treehugger also reported today that a recent study indicates that diet drinks may be contributing to a 61% higher risk for strokes as well. Just a little more incentive to stop drinking this stuff. Not to mention all of the water used to produce soft drinks and the huge amount of plastic bottles and aluminum cans that wind up in landfills and the ocean.

Maybe if more of us were drinking water we would be demanding cleaner water from our faucets. And just as a reminder bottled water is less regulated and tested than what you get from the tap. For more on bottled water you can check out this post about the film Tapped and World Water Day. By the way some of the most popular brands of bottled water like Aquafina and Dasani come from municipal water supplies, another reason to demand clean water from our cities and to stop buying bottled water. Annie Leonard also has a great video called The Story of Water if you want to learn more.

The bottom line is we need to see how far away our food has gone from really feeding us, and how damaging to our bodies, the environment and animals it has become. Shopping local and buying organic, or growing your own food are great steps to take to reverse these dangerous trends. What we eat and drink really matters.

Save Some Trees

Save some trees....eliminate junk mail.

Do you still receive junk mail?

I have called so many catalog customer service departments to be taken off their mailing lists I have stopped counting. But I still was receiving lots of junk mail from local supermarkets (what is super about selling aisles and aisles of pretend food that is making millions of Americans sick, as well as tons of toxic cleaning products?) and other businesses selling products that I have no interest in buying and food that I have no interest in eating. These same flyers came to both my house and P.O. Box. I had asked at the post office if I could stop having them put in my small post office box but was told that they have to…it is revenue for them.

Well the last visit to the post office I asked another person and she told me that I could cancel them with the company that is responsible for sending them out….RedPlum.

I am a bit annoyed that I have to cancel something that I never even asked for, but I am grateful to be able to stop them. So here is how you can also stop this junkiest of junk mail, that is so very wasteful.

Go to Valassis.com Consumer Support and fill out the form to stop this destruction of beautiful trees and wasted energy from coming to you. You can also call 800.437.0479 8:30-5 EST to request that they take you off their  list.

So take a few minutes if you are receiving this junk mail and save some trees, some energy and reduce what even needs to be recycled. It will take a lot of us but together we can make a huge change. Let’s use our power as intelligent consumers to let businesses know what really matters to us.

More Greenwashing?

Beware of toxins in your personal care products and cosmetics...read the labels to protect yourself.

I recently decided to once again take a look at the products that I have in my house just to be sure that I had eliminated all of the ones with toxins. I really had thought that I had done a thorough job of this but I was shocked to find parabens, sodium laureth sulfate and other toxic substances in many personal care products that I have still been using…

And even worse I found these chemicals in products from a company that is Against Animal Testing and has campaigns to Stop Sex Trafficking, Activate Self Esteem, Protect the Planet, Support Community Trade and even Defend Human Rights. It all sounds so good, but what is lurking in their products is not protecting their customers, us…the consumer. This is a huge company with shops across the globe, and one that has probably done much good in many ways yet even they are still using dangerous substances in their products. I am sure that you can guess the company that I am talking about.

I have just packed up the three products that I had been using and am returning them Monday along with a letter questioning how their corporate values can be in alignment with the products that they are selling to millions. I will keep you posted on the reply that I receive.

In the meantime perhaps it is time to take one more look at what you are using on your body and in your home. You can find out more about the products that you are using at Skin Deep the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic and personal care products database. We can no longer assume that a company’s good press and p.r. is also indicative of what they are selling to us.

If you haven’t seen Annie Leonard’s The Story of Cosmetics, take a peek it is something we all need to know about.

Don’t be fooled as I had been…read the labels on all of the products that you are using. There are better options out there and  Golden Path Alchemy is one, wonderful products made with truly all natural ingredients.

Sustainable Eating-for you and the planet…

Fresh vegetables can inspire you to get cooking at home-you will save money in the long run and eat better.

One way to start the new year is by eating better. January is probably the month when more people vow to eat better, lose weight and start working out, than any other month of the year.

Eating better is also one way to take a big step in living more sustainably. Conveniently, doing better for your health usually also means doing better for the planet, and our food choices are a perfect example of this (along with walking more rather than always jumping in your car for a short trip).

This New York Times article could be the inspiration you were looking for, and the reassurance that cooking is not that difficult.

Here are a few recipes from SmartLifeways that may also inspire you.

Chard and Poached Eggs

Basmati Rice and Vegetable Salad with a few serving options

Farmers Market Pizza/Quesadilla

There are more throughout SmartLifeways so you can get started with a variety of ideas right here. When you can cook with organic, local choices and you will be doing yourself, and the planet a favor.

Bon Appetit and happy cooking. Feel free to share your creations here too.

A Great Way to Start the New Year….

We all can make a difference and stop climate change. Photo: Johnny Johnson/Getty Images

Going through my mail today I had something from the EDF-Environmental Defense Fund and I decided to share it here because it is something all of us can do to make a difference.

10 Things You Can Do to Fight Global Warming-It truly is up to each of us.

1. Recycle and buy minimally packaged goods as much as possible.

2. Wash clothes in cold or warm water, not hot.

3. Install low-flow shower heads to use less water. (I will add, turn off the water when you brush your teeth.)

4. Run the dishwasher only when full and don’t use heat to dry dishes.

5. Replace standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs-CFL’s (you can read more about them here).

6. Plug air leaks in windows and doors to increase energy efficiency (I did this where I live and it made a huge difference-heating bills way down and I’m warmer too).

7. Replace old appliances with energy-efficient models.

8. Walk, bike, carpool or use whatever public transportation whenever possible (A nice way to get some exercise, enjoy your environment-wherever you are and maybe meet someone nice).

9. Adjust your thermostat-lower in winter (put on a sweater), higher in summer (take off some clothes).

10. Share these simple steps with friends and family and increase awareness?

This last one really sums up what needs to happen next. More people need to become aware and learn what they can do to make a difference. Big business is already moving in this direction, because it saves them money and creates good p.r. for them. So while the politicians argue, and maneuver, and delay, the rest of us can get busy and then the politicians might wake up, especially when we don’t vote for them if they don’t start taking care of the environment.

I would add one more suggestion that is really important and can make a huge difference. Shop at farmers markets when you can and support your local farmers.

The EDF is making a difference. After the Deepwater Horizon disaster the White House appointed the EDF to a special commission with the mission to improve offshore drilling safety and environmental standards. They are the only environmental organization to serve on the commission. So while the problem at times seems insurmountable, it isn’t. We still can stop global warming in its tracks by taking action now and supporting organizations that are doing the same, but our window of opportunity is getting smaller. 350.org is another place you can go to learn more about climate change.

Imagine everyone around the world starting 2011 with a commitment to do whatever they can to make a difference. Want to join me?

Alternative Energy-Good Enough for the Military

Alternative energy from solar, wind and bio-fuels really do work, and the military is proving it.

Over the last year I have read a few times about the Navy and Marines going “green” and it has me wondering if it is good enough, and efficient enough, for them what about the rest of us?

The idea that solar and bio-fuels are somehow inferior to coal and oil will have to be put aside as we find out that a 50/50 blend of conventional jet fuel and camelina aviation bio-fuel (made from pressed mustard seeds) powered a F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet past the sound barrier. The Navy is only testing fuels that do not compete with food supplies, so no corn made ethanol will be part of these test programs since it does not have enough energy density for the costs involved, it has a relatively high carbon footprint, and it uses valuable cropland that should be used for food (and I will add, food that humans eat directly not grain for factory-raised animals).

The Navy’s maiden voyage of the U.S.S. Makin Island assault ship-powered by a hybrid gas turbine/electric motor-from Mississippi to San Diego saved $2 million in fuel. Testing is also underway for algae produced bio-fuel as well as solar powered base camps.

While lobbyists have had continued success keeping the country on an unhealthy energy diet of coal, oil and other ineffiecient, high carbon footprint fuels (and our leaders seem to lack the will to act on what is really in the country’s best interests), the military has the power and clout to say no to continuing on this dangerous energy diet. You can read more about this exciting transition in what may seem like an unlikely place in this New York Times article.

I just ask, if it’s good enough for the military when will the rest of the country get to join up?

Joining Together to Save Our Food Choices

Eating well is up to each of us. photo by Karin Lau from Fotolia

I doubt that there are many of us who do not recognize the increasing influence of big business that has been creeping into the political process over the last decades. The most recent election was a free for all when it came to campaign contributions, and for many of these contributions we the public are unable to even know who they came from. I don’t know about you, but to me something seems very wrong with this development in what is supposed to be a democracy. We the people. are supposed to be where the power comes from, not corporations who have plenty of cash to fund candidates.

I often write about the power that we do have, and that is when it comes to how we spend our money…where we shop and what we buy is a powerful force and one being recognized by the large companies trying to get our shopping dollars. Recently Starbucks has been opening new shops and not even calling them Starbucks to appear to be “local” coffeehouses, not corporate ones.

Shopping local is one way that we can support our local economies, farmers and artisans, and  maintain diversity in our food choices and maybe more importantly really know what is in our food and other products that we use regularly.

Did you know that personal care and cosmetic companies do not have to tell us all of the ingredients that are inside the products that we use? They say they will be disclosing trade secrets. When you read “fragrance” on a label it is often synthetic chemical compounds (you can read more about this at The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics) that may be dangerous to our health. I think that we have a right to know. These secrets should not be allowed but since they are we can buy products that do tell us what we are putting in and on our bodies, and we can chose what we buy with more knowledge. You can learn more about what may be in the products that you use regularly by watching Annie Leonard’s The Story of Cosmetics.

We also can buy our food from local growers and ask them directly what they use as pesticides and if they use GMO seed. Most small farmers would never use GE (genetically engineered) seed since it is expensive, is designed to withstand more pesticides and farmers cannot use the seed that the plants produce at the end of the season. No one benefits except the big companies like Monsanto that produce this seed.

When we buy non-organic products we may be eating genetically modified ingredients and we have no way to know because the corporations that create genetically engineered seed have lobbied to not have to disclose this. Now we only know if the product says Non-GMO on the packaging. That seems strange to me…the companies using GMO’s don’t have to put it on their labels so now the ones that don’t use it are putting it on the label.

The Organic Consumers Association-OCA-has a new campaign called Breaking the Chains. “The campaign is focusing consumers’ attention on how each purchasing decision can lead to a safer, greener, and more equitable society. Millions of green minded consumers around the world have broken the chains of corporate control in their own lives, by supporting organic, Fair Made, and locally produced products and businesses.”

Read their Declaration of Interdependence and join the campaign to break free from corporate control of what we eat and use daily. Their web site explains why it is important to break these chains and how organic and shopping local benefits so many more than supporting big-box buying. This is where we consumers have so much power and it is up to us to use it.

So while the political process may seem to be driven less and less by we the people we can show the big corporations that we do have a voice and we will use it. In the end business is in business to make profits and we can show what kind of business we will be supporting from here on out. It is our choice, our dollars and our future…let’s make more conscious choices in all of these areas.

Delicious Chocolate For You and Your Holiday Shopping…

Nicobella's Vegan Organic Pumpkin Chai Truffle...A Holiday Favorite.

I have been meaning to post this story for some time now about some incredible organic, vegan chocolates that I was lucky to discover, but now I realize that I never got to it so that now I could give you a holiday shopping suggestion that anyone would love.

Nicobella Vegan Organic Chocolates are the creation of registered dietician/nutritionist Nichole Dandrea…yes that’s right a dietician gave us something good for us and amazingly, melt in your mouth delicious too. This will show any doubters that eating vegan doesn’t have to mean giving up being indulgent and enjoying delicious chocolates.

Nichole’s vision was to create chocolate truffles that would actually be healthy…and she has succeeded. Starting with 70% dark chocolate, and rather than adding cream and lots of sugar she adds even more anit-oxidant rich ingredients like blueberries, green tea and even omega 3 rich walnuts and flax seeds.

Nicobella's Vegan Organic Walnut Flaxseed Truffel

She even uses agave or brown rice syrup to sweeten the ganache centers. On the Nicobella website you can even read about the health benefits from the ingredients in each of the different truffles. Most chocolates out there should have a warning sign about what is inside, but these could have a label on how they are good for you.

Her commitment to her product is to be applauded, and that means ingredients are sustainably obtained, organic and fair-trade, which translates to good for the earth, good for the people who have worked to produce the ingredients, and good for us who are lucky enough to eat them. There are so many shared benefits when food is grown, processed and then packaged with a commitment to not do harm. And lucky for us this includes not doing harm to our health when we eat these moderately.

What I have discovered is that the better the product the less I need to eat of it at one time to feel satisfied. The flavors are so much more intense and I really taste every ingredient. Foods that I might have enjoyed some years ago just don’t have the flavor that I now demand, and what a relief to not need to eat as much-weight becomes less of an issue for almost everyone when they start eating better quality food. There are so many benefits that come when caring about consumers and the food producers, rather than just concern about marketing and profit.

We really are being poisoned with our industrial food system. Toxins used in growing food are making farm workers sick, as well as those who eat the final product. Our water supplies are also being polluted and the continued growth of genetically modified food, when we don’t even know the long range health ramifications, are all a part of our corporate food system; many doctors are even telling their patients not to eat GMO food…But back to chocolate.

Nicobella's Vegan Organic Ginger Green Tea Truffle

You can rest assured with Nicobella vegan, organic truffles that what you are eating is actually beneficial for your body and did not contribute to the degradation of the earth and farm workers. The chocolate is manufactured for Nicobella by Theo Chocolate, the first organic, fair-trade, bean to bar chocolate factory in the US. Theo’s commitment to sustainable manufacturing (you can read their story here) is equal to Nichole’s-it took a year of her persistence to come to an agreement for Theo to produce Nichole’s creations but she knew they were the company to partner with.

Certified organic and fair-trade means even more than a better wage for people producing ingredients but also partnering in education and often in providing health care.

There is no reason to give up chocolate, just switch to chocolate that is really chocolate not something brown that is filled with additives and chemicals. You can also make a commitment to shopping with more social responsibility when you buy fair trade products and there are many organic brands of chocolate that are fair-trade, as well as other products from coffee to rice, so look for the fair-trade label and feel even better about the products that you buy. We have so much power with every purchase that we make to show that we are concerned about the planet and all of the people who we share it with.

Nicobella's Vegan Organic Blueberry Almond Truffle

Right now you can order these great chocolates as gifts (and don’t forget some for you too) and receive a 20% discount. If you order a three pack of truffles Nichole will also send a free bag of Munch (just enter SmartLifeways in the gift message box), her latest creation and I can vouch for it being delicious-I was able to sample some the day that we met up and made a short video.

If I seem a little giggly in the video it’s because the truffles were just so good. Order some of these healthy and delicious chocolates and experience what chocolate is meant to taste like.

SmartLifeways and Nicobella Vegan Organic Chocolate Truffles from SmartLifeways on Vimeo.

SmartLifeways and Nicobella Vegan Organic Chocolate Truffles from SmartLifeways on Vimeo.