Archive for the ‘health’ Category

how do you ring in the spring?

April 13, 2010

Weather warming. Trees greening. Birds chirp-chirping. Flowers blooming. All signs point to Spring! Mother nature is awakening her creatures from Winter’s slumber – that includes you, too!

What do you do to signal the arrival of Spring?

It’s a reminder of vitality, of becoming active after a dormant season, so maybe you join a gym or take up jogging.

It’s a time to shake things up, a season of drastic change, so maybe you clean out your closet and donate clothing to Goodwill or sell it on eBay for some extra dough.

It’s a time to wake up the body and spirit, so maybe you do a juice cleanse or yoga immersion (the latter’s what I did!)

It’s a time to clear out the cobwebs, shake out the rugs, clean the curtains, so maybe it’s time for a new Spring cleaning routine.

If that’s the case, here are a few tips to brighten your home without harming your health:

Keep it simple
Just a few key ingredients are enough to clean your whole house: vinegar, lemon, baking soda, borax, and soap. Some great recipes available here.

Read the labels
If there’s a precaution, warning, or other such exclamatory phrase on the back of the bottle, think twice about shining up the counters or mopping the floor with it. You have to breathe the air in your home, ya know!

Use your senses
Do you get a headache after cleaning the bathroom? It could be the products you’re using to clean, as well as poor ventilation. See the first tip for less toxic cleaning materials.

Learn more!
Next month (May), I’ll be leading a workshop (the first in a series!) to help you identify household products that may be doing more harm than good. Stay tuned, full details coming soon!

Happy Spring!

When will demand for virgin resources be exhausted?

February 19, 2010

This post can also be seen on Greenopolis.

Aluminum seems like a fairly innocuous and ubiquitous material. It has many applications: foil for wrapping food, take-out containers, soda cans, electronics components, appliances, cooking wares, car parts. It’s all around us. But how many of us stop to think about where metals like this are coming from?

The great thing about aluminum is that it is considerably easy to recycle, it uses less energy and is extremely less polluting than creating virgin aluminum. Plus recycling it is cheaper than extracting bauxite ore (the base for aluminum). So why are we still creating virgin aluminum? And at what cost?

Virgin materials for making metals like aluminum are often found right in the middle of someone’s homeland, their source of health, wealth, and livelihood. The extraction of these materials requires the removal of people from their land.

The Dongria Kondh people of Niyamgiri mountain in India know what will come of them if a British mining company gets their way. Vedanta Resources wants to mine bauxite ore for making aluminum from their sacred land. But the Dongria Kondh will not have any of this. They’ve seen the destruction that has ensued on neighboring villages from Vedanta’s refinery. The naturally abundant water that comes from mountain streams is used not so much for drinking, but to keep the refinery processes running. Giant toxic slurry pits are a blunt forboding of what could come of Niyamgiri mountain.

The type of mining that would occur on the mountain would involve open pit mines that would eventually completely destroy the mountain. Here’s an example of an exhausted open pit bauxite mine in Kosovo:

This short film gives us a small hint of what would be lost if the mine operation goes forward. After watching the film visit Survival International’s website. They’re the only international organization supporting tribal peoples worldwide.


There are a few small actions you can take to prevent the destruction of people, cultures, and land.

Buy less: Simply keeping the things you have longer rather than buying new will help keep virgin resources from being extracted.

Buy used: Used cars, used appliances, used cooking ware – you get the idea.

Buy recycled: Support brands like If You Care, who make 100% recycled aluminum foil.

Close the loop, recycle: One of the reasons why the US is not a global leader in aluminum recycling is because its citizens are not recycling. Be sure to sort out your aluminum goods from your other trash, regardless of whether you’re at home, at work, at a picnic, on vacation, or on the road.

Post inspired by this one at Elephant Journal.

Photo sources:

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Survival International
  3. Independent Commission for Mines and Minerals



why are costa ricans smiling?

January 29, 2010

From what I’ve read and heard from friends who’ve visited Costa Rica, it is the happiest nation on the planet. Why is this?

According to the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica ranked #1 out of 143 countries across the globe. The NEF measured national happiness based on the ecological footprint and the health and happiness of a nation’s citizens. Perhaps not surprisingly, the US ranked #114.

Yes! Magazine reported on the happiness of Costa Rica last year, pointing out that the nation dissolved its military in 1948 to focus their spending on health and education.

The focus on education is not just about academic achievement. From the Yes! article:

Central to Costa Rica’s promotion of peace is the Rasur Foundation, which organized the summit and lobbied for the creation of the Ministry of Justice and Peace. Rasur is a teacher in a Costa Rican poem who tells a group of children, “Before directing the lightning in the sky, we must first harness the storms in our own hearts.” Through its Peace Academy, the Rasur Foundation works with the Costa Rican Ministry of Education to introduce techniques of conflict resolution and “being peace” in Costa Rican schools.

Read more…

Considering the emotional wealth of the country, it seems this major shift towards health, education, peace and environmental stewardship has paid off.

And I’m about to find out firsthand. This here blog is going to be quiet for the next week – I’m heading to Costa Rica!

Stay tuned for my observations and photos, and in the meantime, check out these videos about environmental education and stewardship in Costa Rica from

upcoming events at 388 atlantic

January 25, 2010

There’s a budding new meeting space in Brooklyn. It’s at 388 Atlantic Avenue (between Hoyt & Bond) and there are some great events happening that I thought you should know about…

388 Atlantic Ave – Brooklyn – closest to A, C & G, but near the B, M, Q, R, 2, 3, 4, 5, and F

Andrew Faust Ecological Literacy vs. Environmental Education
Tuesday, January 26 (tomorrow!)
7-9 pm
Suggested donation: $10

We need to embrace our responsibility for the well-being of each other and the entire web of life. This new worldview requires a whole new philosophy of education.

Beekeeping: Find out how to get ready for spring; making it legal
Saturday, January 30
1:30-3:30 pm
Suggested donation: $10

John Howe, founder of the Brooklyn Bee, lives in Fort Greene where he has three beehives on his roof. The bees make honey that John sells; he also makes soap, lip balm and candles from beeswax. Come learn how to keep bees. Plus, this is the week that the City Council holds hearings to legalize beekeeping in NYC (Wednesday, Feb 3). Just Food will speak briefly about the legislation and what we can do to make sure it passes.

Staying Healthy through the Seasons: Thriving in Winter Workshop
Sunday, January 31
3-5pm *optional potluck after
“recommended exchange”: $10-15

Curious about staying healthy this winter? Come learn tips for how to live in balance during the cold winter days with food, yoga, and herbs!
In this workshop we will discuss natural cold and flu prevention and care, eating in balance with the seasons and with your Ayurvedic constitution. Learn cheap recipes and how to eat well, fresh and local during the dreary winter months. Abby will teach you some great yoga poses to keep your energy up and blood flowing and Liz will enliven your spirits with great herbal teas and foods.
Come join Abby Paloma and Liz Blake for an educational and fun gathering!
bring a mug for tea!

Also, mark your calendar for the New York premiere of an inspiring new film:

The Turning Point: a film about the importance of local networks and connections
Friday, February 19
7-9 pm (film is 45 minutes; discussion afterwards)
Suggested donation: $10

From Findhorn, Scotland, a positive and inspiring film about our transition to a low carbon future. Featuring visionary leaders and pioneers in the fields of Human Ecology and Global Transition, this film takes an inspiring look at our potential to create a life-sustaining society as we face the twin challenges of Peak Oil and Climate Change. “The combination of serious, funny and beautiful was perfect!”

the seemingly benign white vinegar

January 24, 2010

I think it was my dad who said if you shop on the outer edges of the supermarket, instead of going up and down the aisles, you’re more apt to eat healthier. When you think of the way a supermarket is laid out, this makes sense. All of the whole foods – fresh fruit and veggies, meats, dairy – are on the perimeter of the store, as opposed to the processed foods stacked on shelves in the aisles.

But that simple rule doesn’t seem so simple anymore. It’s easy to become neurotic over food choices these days. Even Michael Pollan’s tome, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” deserves some caveats.

With genetically engineered and/or modified, chemically treated, and irradiated foods going unlabeled on supermarket shelves, and with all of the strange industrial food additives in packaged foods, it can be difficult to figure out which foods may have unintended long-term consequences on our bodies and on the planet.

One way to overcome this decision-making hurdle is to know the source of your food. I’m fortunate enough to live a couple of blocks away from one of NYC’s best greenmarkets, and so we buy most of our food there. But there are certain items that cannot be purchased at the greenmarket.

One food item that I like to buy at the supermarket is white vinegar. I don’t use it for cooking however. I use it to clean surfaces in our home. Vinegar has so many household uses (which I wrote about a while back). I got to thinking about how white vinegar was made when reading the label:

Heinz® All Natural Distilled White Vinegar is Always:

Sourced from sun-ripened corn.

Ultra-filtered to guarantee sparkling clarity.

Diluted to 5% acidity and bottled at peak freshness.

Naturally Good Since 1869!

Seems pretty wholesome and benign, right? Not when you know that at least 60% of corn grown in the US is genetically engineered (Source: USDA). Currently, it is up to the manufacturer to disclose whether their products contain genetically modified organisms (GMO). The only labeling you’re likely to see is a product label touting that it is non-GMO and not the other way around (no one seems to want to brag about their GMOs).

Why am I so anti-GMO? The answer is, we don’t really know enough about the consequences of GMOs to have unleashed them wholesale onto our complex ecosystems, our complex bodies.

And this recent study has just begun to unveil the potential outcome of the introduction of GMOs into the food web.

So what to do? I may have to splurge and buy organic white vinegar or use the pricier organic apple cider vinegar in lieu of the cheaper GMO variety. It’ll still be cheaper than buying chemically based cleaning solutions (which I wouldn’t do anyway) and I’ll be supporting agriculture that is less likely to have damaging effects on the planet or my body.

More info about GMOs in vinegar and other everyday products:

the story of blair mountain

January 15, 2010

Reminiscent of a particular Hollywood film you may have seen recently…


The battle to protect the historic battlefield on Blair Mountain has been waging for the past two decades. In March of 2009, dedicated local activists were rewarded when Blair Mountain was named as a Historic Place.

However, last week we learned that, after heavy lobbying by the coal industry and their allies, Chief of the National Register for the National Park Service Carol Schull took the unprecedented step of actually delisting Blair Mountain, paving the way for coal companies to pursue permits for mountaintop removal mining on the mountain.

Blair Mountain is a sacred place, and we believe that we can provide for a better future for Appalachia by honoring our past. But Blair, and other Appalachian mountains, will be destroyed if we do not spread the word about the injustice that is happening today in Appalachia with mountaintop removal mining.

Read more about Blair Mountain:

the gift of peace

December 16, 2009


Feeling anxious about what to get your loved ones for the holidays? Fret not. Follow the advice of Waylon Lewis over at Elephant (and HuffPo). This gift is one-size-fits-all.

The Greenest Top Ten Holiday Gift List of Them All

What to get for that-special-someone who has everything.

1. Nothing.

Why buy anything? Will more stuff make you happier?

2. You’ve been looking for it all your life and it’s right here. Right here is boring, hard, lonely.

3. But just sit. Do nothing. Keep your eyes soft, open. We’re not shutting out thoughts. We’re not shutting out anything. If you notice yourself thinking, just notice the thought, and return to the present moment.

4. If you can’t find the present moment, rest your attention on the breath. In, pause, out, pause. Or perhaps more realistically; in, thought, pause, thought, out, thought, pause, thought…. Just come back to the breath. Come back to your relaxed, upright sitting posture.

5. Come back to nothing.

6. Come back to yourself. Loneliness is your only friend. Loneliness is good, true, honest, deliciously sad and romantic.

…keep reading…

the story of cap & trade

December 9, 2009

Remember that great video about the history of our consumer culture called the Story of Stuff? (See sidebar for link.) Annie Leonard has a knack for simplifying complex and controversial topics for people like me, whose eyes can sometimes glaze over at the vast amount of information that exists regarding climate science and other environmental issues.

Well, Annie’s done it again. This time she’s talking about cap & trade. It’s a seemingly sensible solution to the carbon emission problem. But like many seemingly sensible solutions, the devil is in the details. According to Annie, the way cap & trade is structured, it ignores the triple bottom line of ethical treatment of people, ecological stewardship, and fairly created wealth. Instead, cap & trade supports business as usual (remember Enron? Goldman Sachs? These are the guys designing the cap & trade scheme!).

But just like any controversial topic, there are many opinions about the validity and focus of this video. Here’s another take from David Roberts of Grist (via Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones).

Check out the video (below is a teaser) and let me know what you think.

restoring the ecuadorian amazon with mycoremediation

November 14, 2009

Macrolepiota procera [image: Wikipedia]

Between 1964 and 1992, Texaco (now Chevron) dumped over 18.5 billion gallons of oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Birth defects, cancer rates and general malaise are exceedingly common in the city of Lago Agrio and other communities living near the 627 open, unlined waste pits that remain full of crude petroleum. The toxins have seeped into the groundwater, poisoning crops and livestock while leaving many residents with no choice but to drink contaminated water. Mycorestoration uses a host of mycological technologies to rehabilitate ecologically degraded habitats. Mycoremediation applies the natural capacity of mycelium to break down or remove toxic substances such as petroleum hydrocarbons, PCBs and heavy metals.

Cloud Forest Institute & Amazon Mycorenewal Project
Ecuadorian Political Ecology, Oil Pollution, and Mycoremediation
Service Learning Course with Spanish Language and Science Labs
Dec 15, 2009 – Jan 15, 2010 (or select dates)

The Cloud Forest Institute in collaboration with the Amazon
Mycorenewal Project and The Clean Up Oil Waste Project invite
undergraduate, graduate and lifelong students to attend our 2009
Winter Service Learning Course on Ecuadorian Political Ecology, Oil
Pollution, and Mycoremediation.

Mycoremediation is a developing scientific field experimenting with
mushrooms to sequester toxins. Mycelium is now being tested in Ecuador
in an effort to clean up billions of gallons of toxic oil wastes left
behind by Chevron Texaco during its 20 years of operation there (for
which the company is currently on trial in perhaps the largest
environmental lawsuit in history).

This course will take students to Quito, Lago Agrio, Mindo and
Cuyabeno to experience the striking biological and cultural diversity
of Ecuador’s many regions including the Andes Mountains and Amazon
Rainforest. Students will participate in the development of ground
breaking mycoremediation technology and study Latin American political
ecology. Service learning with local community members will help heal
lands polluted by the oil industry. Students can receive independent
study credit through their existing college or universities.

Students may enroll in four week-long sections individually or for the
entire month long course in which we will examine Ecuadorian cultural
traditions, political ecology, oil economics, toxicity and
bioremediation. You may also pick and choose which courses you would
like to attend in sections of one-week, individually.


A Country Study: Introduction to Ecuadorian Culture, History and Ecology

Monday, December 14th: Arrive in Quito, evening introductions, welcome
and orientation. Tuesday, December 15th: Morning tour through colonial
Quito, we spend the first day learning about Ecuador’s history and
culture, including do’s and taboo’s and the importance of respectful
behavior while in a foreign country. Afternoon travel to Lago Agrio
for the first Mycorenewal Workshop.

Section 1 – Field Study: Mycorenewal of Toxic Sites
Wednesday, December 16th – Monday, December 22nd

Students journey to Lago Agrio with the Amazon Mycorenewal Project.
This Service Learning mycoremediation course will run in conjunction
with community workshops training locals to utilize mycorenewal
techniques to clean toxic petroleum pollution. A seed germination
toxicity experiment will be installed to test the effectiveness of
previous AMP experiments of soil mycoremediation by observing seed
ability to germinate and grow. This will take place during two week-
long workshops.

Section 2 – Cloud Forest Conservation Holiday Retreat
Tuesday, December 23rd – Sunday, December 28th

While the seeds germinate, students journey to Mindo where they enjoy
the cloud forest while learning about Ecuador’s incredibly diverse
ecology. Students will be able to participate in a wide range of
activities while in Mindo including bird watching, hiking, mushroom
hunting, river rafting, visiting waterfalls, orchid and butterfly
attractions, and just relaxing by the riverside amongst the
butterflies and hummingbirds. Topics to be covered include Biology of
the Cloud Forest, Threats to the Cloud Forest, and Conservation of the
Cloud Forest. Spanish language instruction is available during this
session. Sunday 28th: Leave Mindo and go back to Quito for the night.

Section 3 – Journey Into the New Year
Monday, December 29th – Monday, January 5th

In this session, students foray into the Amazon wilderness in Cuyabeno
to observe an intact Amazonian environment. Activities include hiking,
mushroom hunting, swimming, fishing, and canoeing. Students will meet
with indigenous community members and spend time in ritual with
shamans of the community.

Section 4 – Myco Workshop II
Tuesday, January 6th – Thursday, January 14th

Peak Oil Issues – Production: Destruction of Ecology, Community and
Traditional Ways of Life

The course then returns to Lago Agrio for the final session and
completion of the seed germination experiment. Stops along the way
introduce students to communities and show toxic sites abandoned by
the oil industry, including pipeline ruptures, abandoned wells, and
communities located near active wells. Thursday 14th: Farewell dinner.
Program ends.
Itinerary dates subject to adjustment.

$1,000 per section or $3,600 when enrolled in all four sections. Cost
covers food, lodging and in country transportation, special gear, as
well as all activities listed in the itinerary. Spanish language
instruction is optional and costs $10 per hour for individual
instruction; this cost may be split between up to 5 students of the
same ability level. Additional costs not covered may include, but are
not limited to: airfare, required travel insurance, optional travel
immunizations, suggested reading, beverages, souvenirs, tips and
donations. $100 articulation and curriculum fee for students seeking
college credit through independent study. Spanish instruction is
included in the $1000 individual section cost for the Cloud Forest
Holiday Retreat.
Limited scholarships are sometimes available. Students may inquire
with Cloud Forest Institute to find out more.


Freeda Alida Burnstad, Director Cloud Forest Institute
Course organizer and promoter. Acts in a supportive capacity to the
course and course leaders while in Ecuador. Guest speaker during Cloud
Forest portion. AMP team member.

Lindsay Ofrias, The Clean Up Oil Waste Project LLC Founder
New York City liaison. Person of contact for students interested in
attending the workshops. Collaborates with universities, NGO’s, and
Ecuadorian leaders. Spanish translator and project coordinator.
Assistant teacher, Globalization.

Cristian Vaca, Environmental Activists and Eco-tourism Organizer
Cloud Forest Institute coordinator in Mindo. Provides in country
logistical support. Guest speaker during Cloud Forest portion.

Mia Maltz MS, RITES Project Founder
Permaculturist and Mycoremediation Specialist. Workshop presenter for
this course, Solar Living Institute, and many other venues. AMP team

Auriah Milanes, Environmental Engineer
Cloud Forest Institute Alumni. Course leader.

Donaldo Moncayo, Amazon Defense Coalition
President (Mayor) of the community Santa Cruz. Local host and
experiment lead. AMP team member.

Nicola Peel, Eyes of Gaia
Amazon Mycorenewal Project Founder. Documentary Artist. Guest speaker.

Dr. Robert Rawson, International Wastewater Solutions
Bioremediation and Waste Water Specialist. Course workshop presenter.
Part-time faculty for Santa Rosa JC. AMP team member.

Silvia Sornoza, Executive Assistant Cloud Forest Institute
Provides in country logistical support. AMP team member.

Ricardo Viteri, Ecuadorian Mycological Society Kallambas
Commercial mushroom grower in Quito. AMP team member.

Language instruction is provided by the licensed instructors of
Amazonas Spanish School. Other guest lecturers and local experts will
be featured in the course.

Amazon Defense Coalition, Amazon Mycorenewal Project, Cloud Forest
Institute, Ecuadorian Mycological Society Kallambas, The Clean Up Oil
Waste Project LLC.

***Contact Luz at the Clean Up Oil Waste Project for questions or inquiries regarding this program:, (631) 645-0021.

green books campaign: the raw milk revolution

November 10, 2009

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights
by David E. Gumpert
(with foreword by Joel Salatin)
Chelsea Green Publishing
Printed on recycled paper

What do government regulators have against raw milk?

The Raw Milk Revolution is an exploration of this and other relevant questions in a time when the entire industrialized food system is coming into question.

Based on his blog, The Complete Patient, David Gumpert provides a reasonable, balanced, and straightforward account of the pros and cons of raw milk consumption and the legal constraints placed on its production.

The book provides historic context of the dairy industry, from about the time of the Industrial Revolution to more recent regulatory history regarding food safety. It balances past events with the current trend toward consuming raw dairy, explaining both the purported risks and benefits of the product that comes unadulterated from the cow (or goat or sheep).

A taste of the past
Pasteurization was a response to the increasingly deplorable conditions and industrialization of dairy farming. As dairy operations crowded into cities and were coupled with distilleries for “efficient” use of grain (as cow feed, something cows do not naturally eat), cows became sicker, farms became a breeding ground for pathogens.

An emotionally charged debate
But is the method of pasteurization – slow on the uptake at the turn of the century, yet widely used today – still valid? Is it making us safer? The answer is somewhat unclear. The rates of raw-milk–related illness are debatable, depending on who you ask. According to some groups, like [grass-fed] raw-milk advocates the Weston A. Price Foundation, the rates are inflated, while state and federal agencies argue that raw milk carries an inherent risk to health. As do parents of children who may have become seriously ill from it.

Raw milk is outlawed in 28 out of 50 states. But the incidence of other food-borne illnesses is just as high, if not higher, than that of raw milk. Even pasteurized milk carries some risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the highest rates of listeria illness are due to deli meat. If deli meat is 10 times more likely to expose you to listeria illness than raw milk, why isn’t it restricted or outlawed?

Another question I kept asking is: Why can’t we just put a label on raw milk and let consumers decide whether they want to take the supposed risk? Or more to the point, why don’t consumers have the right to choose their foods, raw or treated?

A question of rights
Joel Salatin, now famous farmer of Polyface Farms in Virginia, posits in the foreword,

The only reason the right to food choice was not guaranteed in the Bill of Rights is because the Founders of America could not have envisioned a day when selling a glass of raw milk or homemade pickles to a neighbor would be outlawed. At the time, such a thought was as strange as levitation.

Indeed, what good is the freedom to own guns, worship, or assemble if we don’t have the freedom to eat the proper fuel to energize us to shoot, pray, and preach? Is not freedom to choose our food at least as fundamental a right as the freedom to worship?

Due to the current laws regarding the sale of raw milk, people who choose to produce it are putting themselves at risk of government crackdown in order to fulfill a growing demand. Something is compelling consumers to, in many cases, cross state lines to obtain raw milk. Often, these consumers are pregnant women and mothers. Why are people putting themselves and their families at risk of breaking the law in order to potentially put themselves at risk of illness?

Having tasted raw milk and, unknowingly, carrying it over state lines illegally, The Raw Milk Revolution left me wanting to take the risk again, maybe in order to prove that the benefits are worth the risks.

I think I now have more questions than answers regarding the raw milk debate, but perhaps this is the point – to keep the questions coming with regard to food and our right to choose what we consider healthful to eat.

For more on the raw milk debate, visit The Complete Patient.

Founded in 2007, Eco-Libris is a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. To achieve this goal Eco-Libris is working with book readers, publishers, authors, bookstores and others in the book industry worldwide. Until now Eco-Libris balanced out over 110,000 books, which results in more than 120,000 new trees planted with its planting partners in developing countries.


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