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Alice Waters and some thoughts about food

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First, a quick note to say I’m sorry it has taken me a while to write a new post. The past few days have been very challenging, with S sick with some nasty virus, maybe roseola, or teething (for sure), or some combination that is making her really unhappy. She’s slowly getting over it and we’re starting to get (some) sleep and feel like actual human beings again. Anyway… you know how it is!

I picked up a copy of the food magazine Lucky Peach on Friday and it had an interview with Alice Waters, the renowned chef at Chez Panisse. (I’ve never been there but it’s on my list of restaurants that I’d like to try).

I didn’t really know who Alice Waters was until fairly recently. But once I knew who she was, her name just kept coming back to me. Waters is an activist for “real food”, if you will, and her thoughts on everything from farming, to eating, to our role in teaching our children about real food really resonate with me.

Instead of explaining this, I want to share with you two excerpts from the interview so that you can read her thoughts in her own voice.

Good night!

On being called an elitist

A couple of years ago I went to a conference in DC organized by a major publication around “the future of food.” They arranged a panel with me and basically representatives of the big food producers and their lobbyists. Predictably, they tried to box me in as an out-of-touch chef from Berkley, California. What annoyed me most is that they were pretending that they were somehow on the side of people, looking out for their health, the environment, democracy. They are not. They are on the side of profit, and I said as much. Truly the real elitism is a food system controlled by a handful of corporations. We need to call that out.

On Educating our children

Real food should be a right and not a privilege. I think the way we are going to change is by feeding every child a nutritious, delicious lunch for free in school. It is about democracy. An edible education for everybody on the planet that teaches children at an early age about the care of the land and about how to feed themselves and how to communicate at the table.

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Avoiding toxins during pregnancy (and beyond)

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You don’t have to be pregnant to read this post! I promise you this is important info that matters to all of us.

As I mentioned in my earlier post about products, at home we try to minimize our exposure to harmful toxins by buying certain products and avoiding others.

As a follow-up, I want to share this info about the toxins all women should avoid during pregnancy (and, obviously, beyond as well):

Jamie McConnell, of Women’s Voices for the Earth, has put together a brilliant list of harmful toxins that we should all avoid. Please take a few moments to read and think about it. (I copy the whole list below. For the original post, click here.)

I found especially useful the information regarding Teflon-coated pans. I knew already about Teflon’s links to cancer because I was aware that Dupont, the maker of Teflon, faced a lawsuit related to this in 2005. (The case was later dropped, but not because of the nature of the claims). I do have a Teflon-coated non-stick pan but I only use it on low heat. And now with this reminder I might just get rid of it and buy a Green Pan instead. (We got a Green Pan wok for our wedding and we love it).

Toxic Chemicals to Avoid During Pregnancy

1. Make Your Own Cleaning Products

  • It’s easy, fun, and cheap to make non-toxic cleaners from safe and effective ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. Find recipes here.

THE FACTS: Certain chemicals in cleaning products have been linked to reduced fertility, birth defects, increased risk of breast cancer, asthma, and hormone disruption.

2. Avoid Synthetic Fragrance

  • Look for cleaners, laundry detergents, and personal care products labeled “fragrance-free” Warning: “unscented” does not mean fragrance-free!
  • Discontinue use of air fresheners. Click here for tips to reduce odors around the home.

THE FACTS: Synthetic fragrance can be made up hundreds of chemicals, all of which are kept secret from consumers. Common fragrance chemicals include phthalates (reproductive and developmental harm) and synthetic musks (break down the body’s defenses against other toxic exposures, linked to increased risk of breast cancer).

3. Give Your Personal Care Products a Makeover

  • Read the label to avoid chemicals like parabens, sodium laureth sulfate, and oxybenzone.
  • Check the Skin Deep database at www.cosmeticsdatabase.com to find safer products.

THE FACTS: Over 12,000 chemicals are used in personal care products—89% of them haven’t been reviewed for safety.

4. Go “BPA-Free”

  • Ditch the canned foods and opt for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead.
  • Look for products packaged in glass or lined cardboard instead of cans.
  • Look for plastics labeled “BPA-free.”
  • Don’t take paper receipts from ATMS, grocery stores etc,  if you don’t need them

THE FACTS: Bisphenol-A (BPA) is commonly found in can liners, plastic products and coated on paper receipts. BPA exposure is linked to a host of hormone-related health impacts such as increased risk of cancer, infertility, obesity and diabetes.

5. Watch Out for Triclosan

  • Avoid anti-bacterial hand soap with triclosan listed on the label.
  • Reduce your use of disinfectant products.

THE FACTS: Triclosan is a hormone disruptor that builds up in our bodies, and it’s been found in blood and breast milk. Studies show that it’s actually no more effective at removing germs or preventing illness that plain soap and water.

6. Choose Plastics with the Recycle Symbols #4 & #5

  • Look for plastic products with these symbols signifying PVC-free plastics.
  • Use glass jars or bowls to store food.
  • Never microwave plastic.

THE FACTS: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), known as the poison plastic, is found in plastic products from toys and cookware to shower curtains. PVC is linked to hormone disruption, reproductive and developmental harm, and other serious health problems.

7. Keep Chemicals Out of the House

  • Take of your shoes before entering your house to avoid tracking in oils and chemicals from the street outside.
  • Use a door mat to catch dirt at the door.
  • Dust with a micro-fiber cloth or wet cloth and vacuum your house regularly (with a HEPA-filter vacuum if you can).
  • Don’t use pesticides to kill bugs or rodents in your home
  • Don’t use chemical flea colors, dips, or baths on your pet

THE FACTS: Shoes can track in toxic chemicals like lawn pesticides, coal tar from a driveway, etc. Dust carries harmful chemicals that shed off of household furniture, electronics, and other household products.

8. Turn Down the Heat on Non-Stick Cookware

  • Keep the stove at or below medium heat when using Teflon or non-stick cookware.
  • Opt for cast iron or stainless steel pans for cooking when possible.

THE FACTS: Teflon releases perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) when heated to 450 degrees. PFOA is linked to developmental harm and cancer.

9. Avoid exposure to paint.

  • Have your partner or a friend paint the nursery
  • Have them use a low or no VOC paint (HomeDepot, Lowes, and Ace Hardware carry a wide variety).

THE FACTS: Paint can contain volatile organic compounds (or VOCs) which have been linked to cancer and respiratory irritation. Though I’m sure you’re tempted to help your partner paint the nursery—don’t!—even if you use low or no VOC paint they may still contain other chemicals of concern such as heavy metals in pigments, or preservatives which prevent mold growth.

10. When possible, try to eat organic food.

  • Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to find veggies and fruits that are low in pesticides (after all, not everyone can afford to buy organic all the time!)

THE FACTS: Fruits and vegetables can contain harmful pesticides linked to birth defects and reproductive harm.

11. Avoid getting certain beauty services done during pregnancy.

  • Beauty services like Brazilian Blowout (and other hair straightening symptoms), hair coloring, and perms can release nasty chemicals.
  • Check out WVE’s list of salon ingredients to avoid. Make sure your stylist isn’t using products that contain these ingredients.

THE FACTS: Some hair and nail salon treatments can contain chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene, phthalates, and other nasties that are linked to birth defects, reproductive problems and even cancer.

12. Check out WVE’s Green Momma Party Guide

  • The guide is a how-to for detoxing your home in preparation for baby. Included in the guide are some inexpensive, do it yourself recipes to try out with friends!

Lastly, if this list of tips seems overwhelming and exhausting…take a deep breath.  There is so much new stuff to learn and know during pregnancy, and you can only do the best that you can do given your individual circumstances. Take comfort in knowing that taking care of your health, by getting good sleep, eating healthy, and getting exercise also goes a long way in boosting your body’s defenses against toxic chemical exposure that can be hard to control.

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Recipe: vegan peach muffins

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If you went a little overboard with buying the last batch of fresh summer peaches, this recipe should solve your abundance problem. These muffins are totally versatile, so if you’re out of peaches, you can use apples instead. Feel free to adjust the sugar amount to your liking. Also keep this in mind if you want these to be baby friendly. (I made mine low in sugar because that’s how I like them–and Sophie loved them, too!)

If you’re not familiar with apple cider vinegar, I highly recommend that you try it. It’s a common ingredient in vegan baking and it has no flavour once it is cooked.

I made these on the weekend for breakfast and it took no more than 40 minutes total. Having a toddler means you’re up early (don’t you know it!). The positive side is that on a weekend you can take your time to make a special breakfast for your lil’ family 🙂

Vegan peach muffins. Adapted from the original from Post Punk Kitchen.

2 1/2 cups organic spelt flour*
1/4 cup pure maple sugar (can substitute for brown sugar, coconut sugar, demerara sugar… your call)
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/2 ts. salt
1 ts. cinnamon
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup almond milk (or soy milk)
1 ts apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup olive or canola oil
1 ts vanilla
1 1/2 cup chopped peaches (with or without peel. I left mine on)

*I didn’t have enough spelt flour left so had to use 1 cup regular flour. Feel free to use any flour you have. It’s no big deal to make some adjustments!

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease a muffin tin. Sift flour into large mixing bowl. Add sugar, baking powder, salt and spices and stir gently until just combined. Mix all the wet ingredients in separate bowl. Add wet to dry ingredients and stir gently until just combined. If the mix is a bit too dry, ad one Tbs. more oil. Add the peaches and stir again until just combined.

Scoop batter into muffin tins, making sure it doesn’t go over the edge. Sprinkle a little bit of sugar on top of each muffin. Bake for 28-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Leave to cool in tin for 5 minutes, then transfer onto a cooling rack or simply place gently on a wooden board. I like covering the muffins with a slightly damp towel to keep their moisture while they cool.

Store your remaining muffins in an air-tight container. Don’t put them in the fridge. They will keep at room temperature for two or three days.

Enjoy!

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Reuse: adorable products that help you do it

My great friend Alex, who works at boutique bummis (a Canadian cloth diaper maker) sent me this post with 15 products that can help us reduce our waste.

There are some things I’ve been using already but others I didn’t know of. It’s a great list. I particularly love the sandwich bags, which I’ve meant to buy and always forget. I also love the bambooes reusable paper towels. They’re now both on my shopping list!

(Original post taken from naturemoms.com)

Produce Bags –  You can get thin cotton bags, see-though nylon bags, and even mesh bags that can hold loose produce like this. Skip the plastic! The photo above is one of the brands I use…Flip & Tumble. Love them!

Panty Liners and Sanitary Napkins – Plastic based panty liners and sanitary pads are bad for the planet in much the same way baby diapers are and there is no need for them. Cloth pads and liners are not only washable they are infinitely more comfortble. After giving them a go you will never want to go back. Try Sckoon Organic or GladRags.

Straws – Sometimes it is preferable to drink though a straw. I know I prefer to drink smoothies with a straw but there is no need to buy plastic straws when there are other great options out there that will last you a long time. Stainless steel straws and glass straws work great and you can take them with you to restaurants and eateries. You can even buy straw sleeves and cases for trips and eating out. How much more convenient could it get?

Cotton Balls and Rounds –  Okay I have yet to see an reusable cotton BALL but rounds work just as well and those are available. They make it easy to remove makeup, apply toner, etc.

Sandwich Bags – These are one of the biggest lunch time waste items and it is understandable because they do make it super easy to package up all sorts of foods for easy transportation and consumption. They are also hugely wasteful though since we only use them for a few hours and then relegate them to the landfills where they will remain entombed for hundreds of years. Are Cheetos in our lunch box really THAT important? Try some of these great reusable lunch baggies.

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Wrapping Paper – Birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions need not be so wasteful any longer. There are several companies that make reusable fabric bags that you can use instead of paper. Imagine how much time and money will be saved too.

Coffee Filters – No more paper coffee filters. Get one filter and use it over and over again. I am not a coffee drinker myself but my husband insists that these perform very well.

Dryer Sheets – These products are especially bad for our health because they have lots of nasty chemicals but they are also very wasteful. These reusable cloth dryer sheets last for more than 500 loads and they eliminate static and wrinkles just like conventional ones.

Furnace/AC Filters – We are supposed to replace our furnace and AC filters every four months. This ensures that our unit runs smoothly and efficiently and also that our indoor air is cleaner and free of allergens. There actually is a filter though that can be washed and reused instead of completely replaced. Each one last for about ten years.

Paper Towels – The standard for replacing paper towels is usually cloth rags but there are some options that look and feel like paper towels. Bambooee makes bamboo towels on a roll that look just like the real thing.

Sweeper Cleaning Pads & Mop Heads  – Ditch the plastic and use microfiber pads and mops covers.

Chopsticks – If you love sushi and Asian restaurants, like I do then you might be interested to know that several companies make reusable chopsticks that you can take with you. The ones in the eateries are wood and wrapped in paper so why waste them if you can bring your own? If you are serious about your sushi then be serious about bringing your own chopsticks. I have and use a pair of Collapsible Compact Chopsticks. They fit nicely inside a purse or pocket.

Squishable Food/Juice Pouches – The squishable pouches filled with applesauce and juice seem to be all the rage right now but the disposable ones are a big waste. You can still provide these in your kiddos lunch box just get the ones you can wash and reuse. Sqooshi makes some that are adorable plus they can be put in the dishwasher and freezer, and they are BPA, PVC, Lead and Phthalate Free.

sqooshiTake Out Food Containers – Plan in advance and you will never have to use the Styrofoam takeout boxes found in restaurants.  There are several small lunch containers that can double as takeout boxes. One that comes to mind immediately is the LunchBot. Perfect size for takeout! You can also take a Tiffin box with you and then you have space for a couple different meals…perhaps your leftovers and your child’s?

Electric Shaver – Yes, they make these for ladies too. You can ditch the disposable razors and the cuts that come along with trying to make them last longer than they should. This Panasonic shaver for ladies can be used wet or dry.

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Why we don’t have a TV at home

D and I have moved a lot in the past 10 years. We lived in several places in Vancouver, then Toronto and now in our Ottawa apartment. In the packing and unpacking that has been our life, we lost one item along the way: our TV.  I can’t recall when or why exactly we decided we would live without a television. But the fact is that we have never looked back. Let me stop for a second and say this: I love television. I think The Wire is the best show of our generation. I am a fan of Mad Men, Girls, and House of Cards (both the original British version and the American adaptation –go Zoe!). But not having a television, that big, black thing that takes the prime real estate in our family rooms, has been completely liberating. (More wall space for art, for one thing).

Not having a television has freed most of our nights to do other things. Sit on the balcony. Play a game. Learn to draw. Read a book. Listen to the radio. I’m still amazed at how that minor adjustment transformed the way we spend our evenings. It made us much more aware of the time we have together and think more about how we spend it. And then some nights we still watch the shows we want to on Netflix or rent them from a local video store (I know. They still exist. Some of them).

Now that we have a toddler, taking a critical approach to our society’s passive obsession with TV has become ever more important to us. A few months ago, while visiting my cousin in Montreal, we talked about his family’s decision to forgo a TV. He and his wife have three beautiful daughters. He said this to me: “We’ve never had a TV. The best part is that our 13-year-old has never watched a TV commercial [at least at home…].” I found this really striking. It made me think that most other 13-year-olds have spent most of their lives being the target of insidious advertising campaigns. It made me think that, maybe, not having a TV will be one of those small gestures that will have a major, positive effect in our daughter’s life: that it will buy her time to find out who she is without being told who she should be by a big, black box in our living room.

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Products, products, products

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It’s been about five years since I started paying attention to what type of products I buy. It started with food, right about when D and I began our quest for a healthier, meatless life (I’ll write about this in a separate post soon). As reading ingredient lists and nutrition tables proved to be an eye-opening experience, I began questioning my choices on everything else I buy: cleaning products, beauty products, even clothes.

There are different opinions about whether it is our responsibility as consumers to buy ethically sourced products. (I use this expression in the broadest sense: I mean products that are manufactured safely and without cruelty to animals or workers; I mean products that are made with components that don’t harm us or the environment; products that are intended do do good, not just earn a profit). D and I decided to live by better ethical standards; we made a conscious decision to be better consumers, at least more informed consumers, in order to support not only our well-being but to support people and companies trying to make this a better world. Like everything, this is just an attempt to do things better.

Not everybody agrees with this approach. It takes too much time, and too much effort, the argument goes, to figure out where and how everything is made. It’s up to governments and companies and regulatory bodies to clean up their act, not to consumers, to make this a healthier marketplace. I completely agree that being more informed takes a lot of time and effort, and that people in positions of authority should definitely be the ones leading the way. But I think individual choice can have a huge impact. In a sense, I vote with my wallet.

Anyway, this is getting long! What I really wanted to do is show you a list of products I buy or look for that fall into this category of “better for you and for the planet”. This is just to give you an example of what I buy and why –and to get you thinking next time you go to the store.

Food (this is a huge category so I’ll just touch on organics).

I try to avoid the middle aisle in the supermarkets, and rather go for the bakery, the cold, and the fresh produce sections.

Pesticides are known to be harmful, especially for children (read this). I buy organic when it’s not absurdly expensive and I’m selective: apples, grapes, and fresh berries I try to get organic as much as possible. The same with Tofu. And the same with food for lil’ Sophie: she gets as many organics as possible.

Personal products

Parabens and phtalates are said to be harmful, yet they’re common ingredients in products like shampoo and deodorant (read this from the Campaign for Safe Cometics). I buy paraben and phtalate-free shampoos and conditioners, and try to get the ones with a “cruelty free” label on the back (or the label that looks like a rabbit, which means it hasn’t been tested on animals). The same goes for face and body moisturizers. I like the Jason and Attitude brands.

I only buy deodorant and not anti-perspirant, because some research has linked the aluminum-based anti-perspirants to breast cancer–although this is controversial. See here.

D has eczema, and the only soap he can tolerate is natural pine tar, by The Soap Works, so that’s what we get. It’s an all vegetable soap and I like that it has no packaging –I still don’t get why soap bars are being replaced by liquid soap in wasteful plastic containers. I like soap bars!

As far as baby stuff goes, I try to get anything that’s labeled all-natural, plus fragrance and alcohol free–that includes her baby wipes. I also don’t use soap for Sophie’s bath-time every day, but rather every two or three days. We’re currently using Baby Bee for her.

Cleaning products

Everything from detergent, to dish soap to all-purpose cleaners can accumulate over time in your clothes and on your skin. So I try to buy brands that contain no petro-chemicals, that are unscented, and that have as few ingredients as possible. I love everything by Seventh Generation. I also just use hot water and vinegar most often for general cleaning purposes. And I don’t use fabric softeners. They’re not only unnecessary but they have been linked to –you guessed it– cancer: read this.

This list can go on and on, but I think I’ve bored you already with this long post. Do you have any tips about products you prefer to buy? Any comments? Please do share! Have a wonderful day.