Archive for June, 2008

pesticides are not so peachy

June 30, 2008

No organic onions at the supermarket? Don’t cry — it’s okay to reach for the conventional ones (at least in terms of your health). Out of 44 fruits and vegetables tested, onions were found to have the least pesticide residue. But think twice before eating conventional (ie, not organic) peaches or apples. They ranked highest on the pesticide-residue list. Check out the full list here (there’s also a downloadable guide, courtesy of Environmental Working Group).

how i am spoiled

June 30, 2008

After being away for over 2 weeks, I have a greater appreciation of the kind of food I have access to. I live 2 blocks from a weekly farmer’s market where I can get seasonal produce, pasture-raised beef and chicken, humanely raised pork, fresh dairy, good breads, etc. There are countless supermarkets and gourmet shops selling amazing food products. In the parts of NYC that I frequent, organic is just as accessible as conventional. I can go to restaurants that sell local, market ingredients not mystery meat from a mass distributor like Sysco. I don’t have to rely on Wal-Mart for all of my shopping (more on that in a later post).

Being away from this cornucopia is eye-opening. In and around the national parks, from Wyoming to Canada, it was mostly the same menu no matter where we ate. One night we went to a place just north of Yellowstone that served trout. I asked the young waiter if it was caught locally. “Oh I don’t know, it’s from Sysco.” That’s as far as the provenance went, the largest nationwide food distributor. My boyfriend ordered something I wouldn’t go near: chicken fried steak. I’m not sure you could call what was on his plate “steak,” it was indeed mystery meat. Outside of Glacier, 400 miles north, we went to another place and I swear the menu was the same, barring a few personal twists. I wonder if the people living out there think about where their food comes from.

We did find a few exceptions to the homogeneous dining rule. In West Yellowstone, a cute little cafe with some Thai-inspired dishes. Even within Yellowstone itself, wild Alaskan Salmon and locally caught whitefish that’s Marine Stewardship Council certified; plus fair-trade, organic coffee from Green Mountain (which my boyfriend said was delicious). On the way to Glacier, a cute little sandwich shop in a town called Ovando (pop. ~71). In St Mary’s, Montana, a great little cafe with lots of vegetarian options and good local food. In Waterton, Canada, a restaurant we went back to twice just because it was rare to find well-prepared, quality food elsewhere.

While we did find these rare gems — in most cases at the recommendation of park rangers (don’t worry, we won’t mention your names!) — they were few and far between. What I need to keep in mind is that these were seasonal places we visited. The parks aren’t fully functional for most of the year. They get most of their visitors from July to August with some coming in mid-June and September. And I’m sure most folks who live out there don’t eat out that often — if they do I’d hope there are some local hidden gems the tourists don’t know about yet. Somehow, I doubt it.

interspecies love, or at least friendship

June 27, 2008

As I’ve said a few times before, I freakin’ love animals. And I love it when animals of different species love each other. Like the story about the baby hippo orphaned by the tsunami who befriended an old tortoise. Or this story about the dog and sheep who have a special relationship (purely platonic, of course). There’s a whole blog dedicated to this stuff.

While in Yellowstone, we went on a guided horseback ride through an area of the park where over 100 elk had just settled for late spring (before heading up to the cooler mountainous regions for summer). The stablehands had just told us that they had only arrived two days prior to our being there. They also told us that the horses and elk get along really well. When we went on the ride, we spotted the elk or rather they spotted the horses and us. There were so many. They were gorgeous. But if it weren’t for one of the guides we were with, the elk would have come right up to the horses, and the horses would have forgotten all about us. So the guide did her best to corral the elk. It was an amazing sight. These beautiful creatures all herded together, signaling to each other in their eerie high-pitched calls. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any pictures on the ride because if anyone dropped their camera it would spook the horses. (Image above is borrowed.)

In Waterton, Canada (the northern counterpart of Glacier National Park, Montana), I witnessed what could have been another instance of interspecies love. A bighorn sheep and a mule deer sharing a shady spot in the grass. I can’t be too sure about their relationship, but sheep usually hang out with their kind. Maybe this one was excommunicated? The mule deer in Waterton are very acclimated to humans, and are everywhere munching on people’s lawns all day long. Did this mule deer feel sorry for this sheep, who only had one horn, or was she merely tolerating him?

I’ll never know for sure.

the dirt on cleanliness

June 26, 2008

I’m not a germaphobe, but I know plenty of people who are. And producers of antibacterial soaps and chlorine bleach like to perpetuate the fears that these people have about dirtiness. Unfortunately, the chemicals that make these products “effective” can be harmful to your health.

Take triclosan, for example. This compound has been added to a lot of products in the last few years, from dish soap to toothpaste (treehugger has a good list here). Triclosan is not only a suspected carcinogen, it also can lead to antibacterial resistance. Just like with some antibiotics, antibacterials like triclosan and triclocarban work in a specific way to kill off bacteria. Over time, the bacteria mutate and become immune to the compounds. This has been demonstrated in a study examining triclosan’s effect on bacteria such as resistant E coli.

Some believe that a slightly dirty home environment is better for one’s immune system than a super clean home. There have even been studies linking overly hygienic environments to the development of allergies. And one study in rats helps support this “hygiene hypothesis.”

So what does one do to stay clean in an unclean world?
Good old soap and water is just as effective as antibacterials.

Here are some recommendations:

If your on the go and in a pinch and need a hand sanitizer, try one of these health-friendly options:

Side note: I wrongly badmouthed Purell while in Yellowstone (it was in all of the latrines) thinking it contained triclosan, but its active ingredient is ethyl alcohol (which doesn’t have the baggage of triclosan, though I can’t speak for its other ingredients).

amazing trip

June 25, 2008

There’s so much to say about my travels, including all of the eco-analyzing I did while on the trip. We went from Yellowstone to Glacier to Waterton (in Canada) within 10 days. Saw so much wildlife, mountain ranges, lakes and streams, geothermal activity, and plant life. Such vast open spaces, both in the parks and out. In the next week, I’ll be posting all of the goods, from the food we ate to the greenwashing we saw all around (and some genuine eco-efforts as well).

If you’ve ever thought about visiting this part of the country, I think this was the best time of year to do it (late June). It’s an amazing and unforgettable experience.

Of course, the pictures ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, but you’ll get the idea.

before i go

June 12, 2008

No one will be home to watch Letterman or to update the Netflix queue. There won’t be anyone looking for a late night snack in the fridge or listening to iTunes on the stereo. The only life stirring (very slowly) will be the plants, unless our little mouse friend returns in our absence.

So there are a few things we need to do before we leave for vacation:

  • Hold the mail
  • Stop the weekend paper
  • Unplug everything (powerstrips make this easier, at least until the whole house switch is available)
  • Eat all the perishables in the fridge (this can require careful planning)
  • Water the plants
  • Close the windows
  • Turn down the thermostat (in winter), turn off the A/C (in summer)
  • Give the keys to a responsible friend

Did I miss anything?

waste less

June 12, 2008

This is a great idea: no waste. One company out to rid the world of trash is TerraCycle. They’re using your old cookie wrappers, soda bottles, drink pouches, etc. to package their plant food products. Check it out.

clotheshorse eco-conscience

June 12, 2008

You know the era of conspicuous consumption is at risk of collapse when even the well-to-do are trawling consignment shops, albeit for designer goods. Here, Ruth La Ferla of the NY Times profiles the current prosperity of second-hand boutiques, such as Ina in NYC, and the fall of full-price fashion.

off to commune with nature

June 11, 2008

Air travel is probably my biggest eco-vice. But I can’t help it. I love to travel to far-off places. Last year it was Italy (for vacation), South Africa (tagging along with my boyfriend on a work trip), and LA (another work trip). This year it’s Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. How can one resist the natural splendor of our last great wilderness? And as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for animals — I can’t wait to have an encounter with some wild creatures, from a distance at least (a bit scared about the grizzlies and wildcats!)

We also needed to rent a car on this trip, to get us through the parks and go from one to the next. When I did my search for rental cars, I imagined we’d get some economical compact sedan, like a Ford Focus or something. I even had high hopes for a hybrid. None of these notions manifested in real life. Instead it was either a $3,500 pick-your-car rental, or a $1,400 SUV. And not just any SUV, a big-ass Chevy Suburban. Could it get any worse? I think I’ll start crying in the rental agency when they hand over the keys. And I’ll cry on the inside through the whole trip. How contradictory the whole debacle is, to enjoy the preservation of natural places while simultaneously mucking them up.

So what does one do to lessen their impact on a trip such as this? Of course there’s carbon offsetting for the flight and SUV. And there are other no-brainers:

  • Bringing out what we bring in, not leaving a string of Clif bar wrappers on the trail
  • Sticking to the paths, not traipsing all over some endangered wildflowers or a marmot hole

And maybe the not-so-obvious things:

  • When nature calls, we’ll do our business at least 200 feet from a waterway, bury the unmentionables, and use natural TP (watch out for the poison oak!) (It’s also recommended to carry out TP in a resealable plastic bag)
  • We won’t be camping or bathing outdoors, but if that were the case we’d use biodegradable soap like Campsuds 200 feet from a water source (or you can take the stance of this person who uses no products at all while camping)

Find out more about low-impact camping/hiking:

So as you might have guessed, I won’t be posting anything while on this trip. The point is to get away from technology. There’ll be a little hiatus, and I hope to be up and running again on Tuesday, June 24th. (And of course there will be pictures when I return!)

living off the health of the land

June 11, 2008

I’m a fan of Mark Bittman, the NY Times columnist, foodie, and minimalist chef. I’m even more enamored now that he’s written about some practical advice about eating less meat. Without getting all political or ideological, he offers some easy tips on incorporating more healthy veggies and alternatives to meat in your meals. Here it is in today’s Dining and Wine section of the Times.

Also in the Times, an answer to those who eschew organic because of the price: plant your own! That is if you’ve got the land, of course. Most of us city dwellers don’t have the luxury of a patch of earth to dig into. But there are community gardens, if you’re feeling so ambitious. If you do decide to start your own victory garden, you’ll have to do some research. Here are some sources for organic vegetable gardening: