Saturday, 30 April 2011

Chai latte.

My last post was started with this topic in mind but then I started ranting about Starbucks' responsibility for all the take away cups that they sell that don't get recycled.  So, now that I've gotten that out of my system, let's talk chai lattes!

Chai lattes are really the only lattes I drink any more, and I know that they are almost universally made in North America using a syrup or a concentrate.  So I did some research and found a recipe that had been the subject of some very positive reviews.  The ingredients that I used were the following:

  • 2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into four pieces;
  • three 3" sticks of cinnamon;
  • four cloves;
  • 1/2 tsp crushed cardamom;
  • four black tea bags (I used Orange Pekoe);
  • four cups of water;
  • 2/3 cups of sugar; and
  • 2 tsp vanilla.


Well, for a long time I've been thinking about chai lattes.  I'm a tea drinker, I haven't drank a cup of coffee in over a decade or an espresso of any description in a few years, so my life is pretty basic.  But I do enjoy the occasional chai latte from Starbucks.  I've had a few chai lattes from other establishments (namely Frankly Coffee in Kamloops), that have been just as excellent, but I often find that the mix of ingredients that makes up the chai base doesn't suit my tastes.  But the Starbucks one does.

So as I've attempted to stop using products that are not reusable, Starbucks has slowly fallen from my list of occasional indulgences.  Either I forget my travel mug, and I don't have time to stay and drink from a ceramic mug, or I just forget to tell them that I want a ceramic mug and then they give me my drink in a to go cup, or any combination of the foregoing, and I feel the environmental guilt.  Also, I morally have a bit of a problem with Starbucks because I don't think they do as good of a job as they can of being responsible for the vast quantities of paper cups that they send drinks out in, knowing they won't be recycled.

Almost everyone has the ability to bring a travel mug with them when they buy a coffee, but they don't because there's no incentive.  I firmly believe that Starbucks (and all coffee houses, for that matter), should charge a premium for convenience cups (i.e. and extra dollar, for instance), which will give everyone an incentive to go ahead and make the extra effort to bring a mug.  They could even charge the extra dollar then refund it to customers when they bring them back, then recycle them, which is what happens for the most part with glass milk bottles.  All I'm saying is that they need to take responsibility for their products even after they've left their coffee shops.  That is a basic tenet of corporate social responsibility that many companies are lacking.

Thursday, 28 April 2011


I drink milk.  I really enjoy it.  I have it in my tea and in my cereal every day, and I also use it in baking.  I prefer skim milk (except in ice cream!), and to be honest, without my daily milk quota, I doubt I would be able to get the amount of calcium recommended by health experts for women of my age.

I drink milk, but I am not at all oblivious to the very troubling issues with milk and the dairy industry.  The biggest issue that I have heard of recently is the presence of a certain hormone (insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-1) that is injected into cows.  This hormone is present in the milk of dairy cows injected with it, and there is an ongoing debate about whether it is absorbed by the humans that drink it.  This hormone in higher amounts is associated with colon and breast tumours.

There are actually a number of other issues around milk that I'm not going to go over, because of course all of the studies and science is contested.  No one agrees on anything when it comes to milk.  There appear to be legal limits of the pus allowed to be found in the milk sold by farmers for human consumption, and it's a lot farther away from zero than you would think.  I drink organic milk, but I query whether logically that would mean that the puss count would be higher or lower than in conventional cows.  At least I do know that there are no antibiotics, hormones or other surprises.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011


You may all be interested to know that our seedlings are starting to sprout!  In the tray with the gai lan, bok choi, and red and green lettuces we have sprouts in every single spot.  The other tray (tomatoes, shallots, peppers and eggplants), we have nothing, but those ones will take a bit longer.  I'm shocked by how quick the leafy vegetables are coming up and so excited that we will soon have home-grown lettuce.  The lettuce in the store, even the organic lettuce (specifically the organic lettuce) definitely leaves something to be desired!

The Bottom Line with David Suzuki

I remember a couple months ago when HBO's Big Love finished its fifth and final season, one of my friends posted as her Facebook status something along the lines of "I almost cried at the end of the final episode of Big Love because it was such a great show".  I'm not quite doing her justice, but you get the idea.  Now, I am also a huge Big Love fan, so completely sympathized with this sentiment.  It was a terrific show and I enjoyed every episode completely.  I am sad to see it go, but I think it had to end before it did what so many shows do when they've been around for too long and become a bit self-indulgent.  I was actually thinking there might be a Sopranos-style final season where everything goes wrong, most people are dead and the finale is ambiguous, but no dice.  No cliffhangers.  It's probably for the best since I still debate with Tim what happened at the end in the restaurant.

All of this actually does have a point, which is this: The Bottom Line with David Suzuki conjures up very similar feelings for me as Big Love did for my friend.  I listen to podcasts on my way to work every day, and this morning, I noticed that I was listening to my last downloaded episode of The Bottom Line.  At some point during the episode, Dr. Suzuki mentioned that this was, in fact, the final episode, and I got a bit choked up.  For those of you that know about Dr. Suzuki, he is a Japanese-Canadian academic, scientist and environmentalist.  He has been an outspoken critic of the Canadian government's and other governments' failure to take action to help the environment.  He cares more passionately and more publicly about the environment than any other Canadian I can think of. I genuinely adore Dr. Suzuki in ways I have never felt for any other stranger in my entire life.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Peppermint Nanaimo bars.

My boss's birthday was today and apparently his favourite "cake" is Nanaimo bars.  As we were each chowing down on our bite-sized piece of perfection, one of my co-workers asked whether the rest of us had ever had a peppermint Nanaimo bar.  I hadn't, but I love peppermint, and I love Nanaimo bars... so I thought I would make a batch.  Everything worked out even better than I could have hoped, because Tim is coming back from his work trip tonight, so now he'll have a yummy treat awaiting him upon his return.

I have never made Nanaimo bars before, and never realized how long they take.  They easily take three hours or so, once you factor in all of the chilling of the various layers that must be done prior to adding the next layer.  So first you must form the base.  I used the following ingredients:

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (I made these by processing honey graham bears I bought in the bulk section because I didn't want to buy something in a box)
  • 2/3 cup shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg beaten 
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I used organic chocolate chips, not baker's chocolate)

Monday, 25 April 2011

Homemade ice cream.

It is the weekend, which means that as usual, I must make ice cream to use up any extra cream and milk we have hanging around.  Today I made Skor ice cream, which is really my favourite, so I make it a lot.  It takes about five minutes to make, but it always turns out perfectly, and it's (mostly) organic - there is no such thing as organic Skor bits, apparently.  But everything else is organic and it's a great way to get some use out of the cream you would otherwise have to throw away. It has been about a year since I've thrown away any cream or milk, since that's when Tim got me the ice cream maker!

First, I threw all of the expiring milk and cream into a bowl.  I had about a cup of cereal cream (10% milk fat), two cups of skim milk and a cup of whipping cream.  I added half a cup of organic cane sugar and a tablespoon of vanilla. I then blended the mixture for about two minutes to dissolve the sugar.


For a couple weeks now I had been contemplating making a souffle, given the fact that there are always an abundance of eggs around, and despite all of the hullabaloo about souffles being difficult to make, I had a feeling that they wouldn't be that bad.  I particularly enjoy a nice savoury souffle, so thought that should be the first type I should attempt.  I had some leftover chives from last weekend that were on their way out, so thought I would go with a chive and chevre souffle.  Here were the ingredients that I used:

  • 2 tbsp butter (plus whatever you need to grease the souffle dish)
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 cup cereal cream (10%) - you can use whole milk instead
  • 1/4 cup chevre
  • two small green onions
  • 1/4 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • two eggs, separated


It is a very exciting time of year, not only because it is summer, although that is a part of it, but because it is time to start planting gardens.  This means fresh produce is on the menu very soon!

My understanding of the climate here in the Lower Mainland is that outdoor planting can usually begin in early April.  We missed that by a mile.  We only just did our seeding, and it is going to be at least a couple months until we can transplant our seedlings to our outdoor balcony garden.
We went with two seeding trays like the one above, which have individual little containers in them that are capable of being transferred (without removing the soil) directly to their new spot once the seedlings have grown to about two inches and are ready for transplant.  We planted: two eggplant bushes or plants, nine cherry tomato plants (three different types), six sweet pepper plants (three types), many gai lan, bok choi, shallots, red lettuce and green leaf lettuce.

Our main strategy is to plant things that we eat regularly (or would like to eat regularly).  We both have a salad with lettuce, cucumbers and peppers (and tomatoes for Tim when available) every day, so the components of salad are high on our list.  Tim eats a lot of bok choi and would like to start eating more gai lan, both of which are extremely healthy, so I know I can help him with them.  For some reason, shallots are the only type of onion that Tim and I eat, so we thought it would be worthwhile to grow our own.  We will also be planting herbs (basil, sage, parsley, cilantro and others), but those we buy from the garden centre and then transplant once the growing season is underway. The eggplants are going to be a little more work incorporating into our weekly menu, but it is worth a try. It is a very exciting time of year!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Community gardens.

Vancouver and the Lower Mainland are seeing a pretty impressive proliferation of what are known as community gardens. Vancouver itself has many such gardens, and they are a way for people without the space for a proper garden, or simply without as much space as they would like, to bring their desires to fruition. Some of the gardens have waiting lists, so if you are interested, I suggest contacting the person in charge of the gardens you are interested in ASAP, as planting season in the Lower Mainland began about two weeks ago already.

Last year, the District of North Vancouver (where I live) launched its first community garden.  Although I would love to get involved (as would Tim), there is a wait list.  If you find yourself in a similar situation, you can go to the City Farmer website, which matches people with excess garden space with people looking to rent or use some.  We have contacted a couple people that live near us but unfortunately have received no response, so it looks like another year of balcony gardening for us.

Monday, 18 April 2011


This weekend Tim and I finally acquired an eReader, mostly for Tim, but also for me.  We decided to go with a Kobo eReader because they are cheaper and because Tim doesn't want to use it for anything other than reading.  They are sold at Chapters/Indigo, and I had used up my Air Miles and putchased enough gift certificates from there to buy the eReader.  Tim is a prolific reader, so it makes sense to cut back on our expenses and also on the environmental implications of such a hobby.  Plus, we have quite literally run out of room for our books.  All of my books are still in their boxes from when we moved as all of Tim's books occupy all of our bookshelves.  So we definitely don't need any more books.

The Kobo seems to be great, particularly if you use it as the manufacturer intended (i.e. set up a Kobo account and pay for your books).  Things get a little more complicated if you want to download books on the internet and then transfer them onto your Kobo, not that I have any experience with that, but the salesperson helpfully mentioned it.  So far, we have set it up and Tim and I both have read a couple chapters of some books on it (the Kobo comes with free access to some of the classics, so I am reading Heart of Darkness right now, strange choice, I know, but it was mentioned in a podcast I was listening to and I realized I have never read it, so I thought I would give it a shot).  The screen is very easy on the eyes compared to a computer screen, iPad, or anything backlit, and the size and weight of the Kobo is perfect for an afternoon of reading. 

Sugar scrub.

Yes, indeed, this homemade skin exfoliator smells just as good as it (probably) tastes and is made from all edible ingredients.  I used to buy the product to the left, Giovanni Sugar Scrub, Hot Chocolate, but it was expensive (as you can see from the price attached) and I never really went through much of it.  Tim needed an exfoliator because his skin has been dry and I was wracking my brain to come up with something that he could use.  Then I remembered this sugar scrub that I used to use and wondered how hard, in fact, it was to make such a product myself.

I did a Google search, and it turns out that it is very, very easy to make (maybe I should go into business making my own brand if you can sell it for $25 a container...).  A sugar scrub is just sugar with enough oil to make the sugar moisten a bit (instead of being individual granuals, it will be ready to use once it holds together, but not so much that it turns into a paste because then you will lose the grainy-ness of it, which is what you need to exfoliate with).  Because I loved the concept of the Hot Chocolate one I used to buy, I even put just a bit of Dutch cocoa in it.  In the end I used 1/4 cup of organic cane sugar, 1 tsp of Dutch cocoa, and probably about 1 tsp-1 1/2 tsp of cold pressed sesame oil.  I was going to use some virgin coconut oil I just purchased lately (I'm going to try my hand at makeing homemade deodorant soon), but it is solid at room temperature, so wouldn't have worked very well.  I put the ingredients in a small plastic container and stirred them together until they were well combined.  Probably the simplist homemade skin care product ever!

If you try making some of your own sugar scrubs and have any recipes that work well for you, please leave a comment!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Apartment composting - Part II

To compliment our new composter that now sits on our balcony, we wanted to get a small kitchen pail or pot that we could put scraps in before taking them out to the balcony.  We looked online to get some ideas and fell in love with the little white crock-styled compost collector to the left.  Note that this container is not designed to actually compost (or, if it is, it's only going to make a couple cups of compost), but to act as a place to put your scraps while you're cooking or preparing your food so you don't have to keep running outside.  This particular style appealed to us because it is aesthetically pleasing enough that we can just set it on our countertop (if we were going to put it under the sink I can guarantee you we would not consider spending more than a few bucks for it), AND it is dishwasher safe, so the goo from the scraps would be easily washed out.

Despite the fact that we really liked this crock-styled container, I still wanted to look on Craigslist to see if there was something that we could get second-hand, because we try to buy everything second-hand.  Naturally, there were many many second hand Diaper Dumpers on Craigslist, but nothing for compost.  So Tim and I discussed what we should do and we came to the conclusion that despite the fact that we really liked this crock collector, we would just get a large plain jar from Superstore.

Extra buttermilk.

Tim and I returned home after grocery shopping for a fun morning of baking and preparing foods for the week.  I bought a fairly large carton of buttermilk yesterday because there were no smaller sizes, so I knew I would have a lot of buttermilk to use up, so most of the foods I prepared incorporate it somehow.  I made a small batch of buttermilk waffle batter and Tim made the waffles and then I started preparing the foods for the week that we would need.  I made Tim loads of both lemonade and some pure limeade (the many bottles on the right side of the shelf, our small army of juices):
For the limeade I combined the juice of three limes with 1/3 cup of sugar and three cups of water.

I then made our salad dressings for the week: noosh (nutritional yeast) dressing for me and ranch for Tim, and of course stored them in our 1/2 litre glass milk bottles:

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Baking powder.

Just a short note about baking powder.  I had always thought that it must somehow be related to baking soda and my suspicions were confirmed: it is a combination of baking soda, corn starch and cream of tartar.  I promised myself that the next time I ran out I would make my own and today I did, using 1/4 cup of baking soda, 2 tbsp cream of tartar and 2 tbsp corn starch.  I just used my old baking powder container.  I'm never buying baking powder again!

Apartment composting - Part I

Today is the big day - we've officially put our composter into use!  We obtained our composter from the North Shore Recycling Program earlier this week after giving up on getting a NatureMill Composter, which I had learned tend to break down easily.  So Tim stopped by the depot and picked it up and set it up earlier this week.  Upon reading the instructions, we discovered that we needed to start the composter off with a bed of twigs, so we didn't start putting our scraps into the composter until today (although we were keeping the scraps in the fridge - gross!).  So today we went on a little adventure to the park just down at the end of our street and looked around by the creek and filled a box with twigs and brought them back.  We filled the bottom of the composter with the twigs:
So, since we live in an apartment, we set the composter up on the balcony.  We're really lucky to have a fairly big balcony, so it just hangs out in the corner. Here's a shot of Tim prepping it:
Now that we've christened it with our first load of "green" (over which Tim immediately put some "brown" because he thought it already stunk), in a few months, we'll be able to use some beautiful nutritious compost for our plants!  If any of you compost and have some helpful tips, feel free to leave some comments.  Also, we plan to use mainly shredded paper for our brown material, have any of you done that or do most of you manage to find dry leaves?

Follow up: it's been a couple hours since I posted this and I have done some research on using paper as brown and apparently unless we get some worms (which we're considering), we should avoid the paper. Sigh.

Chocolate cupcakes with maple frosting.

The title sounds like it should be accompanied by some drool-inspiring photos, but alas, I am going to disappoint you today with this particular post.  Or maybe half of this post.  The cupcakes turned out, but the frosting did not.  I will share pictures because I have no shame and, as with most things, my mistakes could help others not do the same thing.

So the recipe I was using for the cupcakes provides for a peppermint frosting.  It always turns out awesome and I highly recommend it, although my cupcakes have never turned out looking like those in the picture accompanying the recipe.  But today I thought I would try out this other recipe that I have for maple frosting because first, it was easier (I had just burned my hand, so didn't really want a complicated icing), and I've done the peppermint icing a few times before and thought it was time for something new.

The cupcakes turned out beautifully.  The recipe requires 1/2 a cup of buttermilk, which I really think is some sort of magical secret ingredient in baking.  If a recipe requires buttermilk, you know it's going to be delicious.  So here's how they looked before frosting:


Last Sunday I finally obtained my very own canner after looking for one on Craigslist for a few weeks.  It was a steamer canner (not a pressure canner, they're different), and I was very excited to try it out.  So this morning I did some research online into "steamer canners" only to find that they are not considered safe.  Hmmm.  I was already quite far into my tomato sauce recipe, and was making way more than I needed so I thought there must be another way.  Indeed, there was.

Apparently, a boiling water canner, which is safe for some but not all canning, is an acceptable method of canning tomato sauce.  So I looked into it, and the only difference between a boiling water canner and a large stock pot is that there is a tray at the bottom that allows the cans not to sit on the bottom.  So the canner that I had purchased, although not working exactly as I had anticipated, was also designed to be used, by flipping it over, as a stock pot.  So then I looked into different ways of getting around the tray at the bottom and some people just use a linen wash cloth underneath the jars to keep them from bouncing around on the bottom.  I decided to give it a try.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Clean Bin Project - Part II

I am very pleased to say that I attended a screening this evening of The Clean Bin Project, a subject of a previous blog entry a couple days ago.  I must say, it was fantastic.  The Clean Bin Project is a movie based on a year long competition between two Vancouverites to see which of them could generate the least landfill-destined waste over the course of a year.  They are not hippies, or anarchists or communists or anything at all out of the norm. They are just average people that wanted to try and see how little garbage they could generate.  And they made a very good movie about it.

I had watched the trailer on the website and the movie was very much like a feature length version of that preview.  The only difference was that the movie actually contained a significant amount of interview and commentary from outside sources that really supplemented the subject matter.  The photographer that photographed the Albatrosses on Midway Island that I mentioned in the landfill post provided an interview, as did the Mayor of Port Coquitlam and a resident of North Vancouver that lives in a zero-waste building.  The interviews definitely contributed to the movie, not that it was lacking without them, but they provided a more convenient vehicle to package the heavier statistics and more somber messages.  The parts of the movie documenting Jen and Grant's year were actually really funny.  The movie was well-edited and put together, more focused on what we all really can do than guilting us into feeling like there is more that we should be doing.

I definitely suggest that you all go out and see this movie.  As a matter of fact, I suggest you grab ten of your closest family members and friends and you all take an evening, either now at a screening, or maybe later when it officially opens (if you would like to check and see if there is a screening coming to where you live, click here) and go see it together.  And then discuss it.  See if your circle of friends and family might be interested in making just a couple changes that have a significant impact.  The movie itself is full of ideas of things you really can do that will make a difference.  If you're lucky enough to be somewhere that is having a screening, you should go just to see their bins (yes, they bring them with them).  I tried to convince them that they should give it to a museum or something if the movie really takes off, because then it isn't really garbage anymore.


I have previously posted on some of the issues with plastics and recycling, but there are other, more immediate and personal concerns that I have about plastics which motivate me to try to limit them or even eliminate them from my life and the lives of those I care about. 

Something that I doubt many people think about very often, judging by the widespread and unchallenged use of plastics, is what the effects are of the use of such plastics on our health.  Chemicals from the plastics can migrate into the food you are eating, potentially posing a health hazard.  Different types of plastics (which are often easily distinguished based on the recycling code stamped on them) each have their own unique considerations, so I won't be able to set out all of the concerns here.  If you want to know more of the specifics, follow this link and scroll down to the table that sets everything out nicely.  I am personally concerned more about the things that we don't know about plastics and their effects on our health.  Ten years ago, BPA (PC7) was considered safe (although even then, there were concerns) and most children's bottles and sippy cups were made from it.  Today it is acknowledged that high levels of BPA in the body are associated with heart disease, diabetes, high levels of liver enzymes, and disruption to the endocrine and reproductive systems.  In Canada, BPA has been banned completely and is classified as a toxic substance.  But ten years ago we thought it was safe.

Carbon offsets.

Are you one of the millions of people out there that doesn't understand what carbon offsets are or how they work or how you might go about incorporating them into your life?  You are not alone.  I don't profess to be an expert, but I can certainly share some information and resources with you to get you started.

I guess it is obvious to most that a carbon offset is something that offsets carbon emissions.  I believe, and please correct me if I am wrong, that on a macroeconomic scale these are known as carbon credits. It is not immediately apparent to me whether there is really any difference between the carbon offsets and carbon credits, as they are each issued at the industry level.  The ability of countries to trade carbon allowances falls under the "cap and trade" scheme under the Kyoto Protocol. 

You may be asking yourself why an individual would care about something like his or own personal carbon emissions, when countries are themselves are presumably addressing the issue.  Well, the Kyoto Protocol is not perfect, and certain countries, such as the US, did not even sign on to it.  Apparently the US's carbon emissions have risen approximately 18% between 1990 and 2005.  Other countries, such as Canada, have signed on to the Protocol, but have done a terrible job of reducing their emissions in accordance with targets (Canada's target was a 6% reduction but instead we have had an increase of 24% between the base year and 2007).  It is pretty sad when we're being beaten by a country that isn't even a signatory to the Protocol.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Compost resources in the Lower Mainland.

Two days ago we finally acquired the one contraption I really don't think we should have been living without: our very own composter.  As soon as I learned about the surprising negative impacts of throwing your waste in the garbage (and therefore into a nearby landfill), I started trying to find a way that we could compost.

The first solution I found, because we live in an apartment, was a composter called the NatureMill Composter, designed to be kept indoors.  It plugs in and uses heat and a rotating mixer arm, to cause contents to break down faster than in a typical composter, usually in about two weeks.  Unfortunately, I did a little too much research.  After I had talked myself into it and started telling people about it, and was making plans to get it, I contacted a fellow blogger that had mentioned he had one, and asked him if he would purchase his composter again.  He said it had broken down twice I believe in a year and that he would not.  So there went that idea. It's too bad, it was a nice looking little box.  I still worry that maybe I jumped the gun and changed my mind too fast, and that maybe the other blogger was just really hard on his and mine would have been alright, but I don't think there's much chance of that, Tim and I go through a lot of produce, so we would probably be even harder on ours.

So then I tried to find local composters and was pleasantly surprised to find that the North Shore Recycling Program sells composters to residents at cost, which is $45 including tax.  They also have composting workshops for those not well-versed in the ways of composting.

Epic! Sustainable Living Expo - Part I.

That is the real name for what is being billed as the "annual celebration of planet-friendly living... with over 300 green companies, inspiring ideas, exciting entertainment, and smart shopping in one jam-packed weekend".  Needless to say, I'm definitely planning to be there.  If you are interested in going, you can buy tickets in advance through the Expo's website, and for buying in advance, you get $3 off the ticket price.  Not a bad deal!  For those of you that don't really want to pay to go, you can volunteer at the Expo and go for free, which is a great option.  

There are going to be some pretty impressive companies at this Expo with some very big ideas.  I'm going to tell you about three that I am particularly interested in speaking to:


Before I made my way into the legal profession, I was a political sciences major at Ottawa U.  I have a lot to say about politics, but to be honest, have become quite disenchanted with our system.  Between the constant negative assaults caused either by a complete lack of focus on the issues or anything resembling a coherent vision or the repetitive elections creating governments that are just waiting for the next election because they know they're not strong enough to do anything with the numbers they have now (you, and we, know who you are!), I'm just exhausted by it all. Nevertheless, Canadians have an election impending on May 2, 2011, so I thought it might be worthwhile not to champion any one party (surprised you, didn't I?), but to implore you to go out and vote.

Many people have their reasons for not going out to vote.  Inevitably there are the usual excuses: too busy, don't like any of the parties, plan to vote for a party that looks like it is going to win, etc., etc.  Really, no matter who you want to vote for and who you are, you can come up with a somewhat plausible reason not to vote. Well, imagine how the results turn out when about 60% of people all come up with excuses.  We end up with governments leading a mass of disenchanted individuals that didn't vote for any party, yet feel justified in complaining about all of them.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Skin products.

In the midst of my seemingly never-ending quest to reduce the amount of plastics and packaging that I bring into the house, I was contemplating what I could do to ensure that I bring in fewer skin care products that have packaging of any sort, particularly those in plastic packaging. This includes plastic bottles. For those of you that purchase such products, I'm sure you will agree that this is no easy task.  How do you find a cleanser that comes with absolutely no packaging?  No cardboard, no cardstock, no plastic bottles, no shrink wrap?  The same question can be asked about a lot of products, not just personal care products. I have managed to find some solutions when it comes to packaging, and hopefully they will give you some ideas of where to look, if reducing packaging is an issue that you would like to address as well.

Let's first assume that you are not going to make your own skin products.  If you plan to, I admire you greatly.  I've looked into it and I'm not going to be able to give you any guidance on that one.  When it comes to day-to-day skin care products, there are some things that I'm probably always going to buy.  With that assumption in mind, you and I are faced with three solutions on the packaging issue:

  1. Accept that packaging is just part of the skin care industry and opt for the most easily recyclable option (recycle);
  2. Find products that come in plastic or other bottles and containers, but are refillable (reuse); or
  3. Search even harder and source products that come without packaging entirely, and bring your own reusable container with you when you buy them (reduce).

Fossil fuels.

I was listening to a podcast by Dr. David Suzuki yesterday where he interviews Dr. M. Scott Taylor, the Canada Research Chair in International, Energy, and Environmental Economics at the University of Calgary.  Dr. Suzuki was interviewing Dr. Taylor about the burying of carbon dioxide emissions, referred to as "carbon capture and storage" or "CCS".  So, I guess this is where we've arrived: we've accepted that we are not wise enough collectively to change our exploitation and destruction of the part of the planet we already inhabit, so we're going to have to aggressively look for other parts to exploit.  There is already a fairly significant amount of space garbage.  I guess this is the opposite.  I would like to note for the record that although the podcast was Dr. Suzuki's podcast, The Bottom Line, which is adapted from his radio show on CBC, he did not appear to be in favour of CCS.  As a matter of fact, I would say he disagreed as strongly as I've ever seen a Canadian disagree with another Canadian (a little joke for the Americans reading this blog).  We are a polite and agreeable bunch North of the border.

Be a tourist in your own town.

Sadly, I realized that it was time to take my car in for servicing.  Something was going wonky with the temperature gauge and I really didn't want to be that person stranded on the side of the highway calling the tow truck on their cell phone looking confused and bewildered.  Maybe with a bit of smoke coming from under the hood.

There is only one place in the Lower Mainland where I can get my car serviced, and it is actually in the City of Vancouver.  I live in North Vancouver and work in Pitt Meadows, so there is just no way to fit something like that into my normal work day and naturally the service centre isn't open on weekends.  So I thought I might take a full day off, because I didn't know how long the car would take, and I thought I would get a couple other things done as well, like stopping by my family doctor to get some prescriptions renewed.

I am now dismayed to realize just how much anxiety the fact that I would be without a car for a few hours caused.  My first solution: ask Tim if he could drive me over to the doctor's office after I dropped off my car.  He was busy and couldn't.  Second solution: take public transit.  So I looked on TransLink's Trip Planner, and was shocked to find out that somehow the amount of time that it was expected that the bus would take to get from Science World to where my doctor's office is (Broadway and Heather), was two minutes.  Granted, I would have a ten minute walk just to get to Science World, but was I really this clueless about how to get around Vancouver that I hadn't realized I was that close?  Apparently I was.

A colleague of mine, Carla, recently spent a weekend in Vancouver, being "a tourist in her own town". So I came up with a third solution to my transportation predicament: I would walk.  Some of you will be amazed that this wasn't a more obvious solution, but I think some of you might be more surprised that I would walk a fairly considerable distance, for fun, no less! MapQuest had informed me that the walking distance in total was 2.3 miles, so I figured, why not?  I had nothing else to do, and quite literally might have had an entire day to waste while my car was looked over.  So I thought that I would take my time, walk all the way to the doctor's office, and make some stops along the way.

If you've never been to Vancouver, there is no prettier city when the sun is shining and it's warm.  Today was not sunny or warm, but it wasn't raining, so I was at least lucky in that respect, particularly since I had left my umbrella in my car when I dropped it off.  I walked up Terminal to Science World and really took in the sights and sounds.

The Clean Bin Project - Part 1

When I look back at the causes and contributors towards my attitude and enthusiasm about doing my part to help the environment, there are many events that stand out in my mind.  I expect that quite a few of them will come up in my postings on this blog, because the nature of this blog is very much driven by what my own experiences have been and sharing them with others in the hope that maybe others can make use of them somehow.

One of the biggest contributors to my desire to start a blog and share in this particular manner arose upon hearing about The Clean Bin Project.  The Clean Bin Project is a movie and related blog, which follow the lives of three Vancouverites as they spend a year not consuming (and trying to produce zero landfill waste).  I've watched the trailer that is available on their website and it gave me a lot of ideas for things that I could do better (that's where the idea of using Ziplock containers when buying food came from).  The reason that I am posting about this now is that there are going to be upcoming screenings of the movie in the Lower Mainland (I am assuming that they will be free but I can't say for certain), this week and in the coming months (check out the schedule here), and also in Squamish, Bellingham, WA, and Edmonton, between now and the official release sometime in the summer.  The website and blog are a terrific resource, if you are unable to attend a screening but want to know more.

If any of you manage to go to the screenings, please let me know in the Comments what you thought.  I will be going on Friday night to the Maple Ridge screening and will most likely do a follow up post about it.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


As an incentive for Tim to stop drinking as much pop and Country Time lemonade, I decided a while ago that I would start making him homemade lemonade.  It's funny that these days the thought of fresh lemonade is so novel.  If you stop and think of how strange and mysterious (and I don't mean that in a good way!) Coke or lemon-flavoured sugar crystals are, maybe I can entice you to try making homemade lemonade one day soon.  I promise you won't be disappointed.

The easiest way to make lemonade is if you have a juicer, but it's not a necessity at all.  If you don't have one, cut your lemons in half, poke the hell out of the flesh, then squeeze the juice into a bowl, then pour the juice into a jug, making sure to strain out the seeds (I do so using the tines of a fork when I am too lazy to use my juicer).  I normally use a juicer I got from London Drugs for $15.00 that looks kind of like the one to the left, except for not as nice looking. I've washed its parts on the lower rack of my dishwasher and melted them a bit so now all the plastic parts are warped.  That's fine, it still works, even if it's not pretty.  If you don't have a juicer, you may have to do a bit more squeezing, but it's really not that hard.  The ratios are 1 lemon: 1/6 cup (about 2 and 1/2 tablespoons) sugar: 1-2 cups of water, depending on how thirsty you are.  Tim like his watered down a bit, I like mine really sour.

My best advice for incorporating something like fresh juices (of any type, not just lemonade, although I personally like it the best for this purpose) into your life, is to make a bunch at a time and put it in separate containers in advance, if possible.  I tend to make about six lemons worth, so each batch contains:

  1. 6 lemons
  2. 12 cups of water
  3. 1 cup of sugar


This is a difficult subject for me to blog about for two reasons: there is a significant amount of debate about the numbers of fish left in our oceans and I don't believe either side of the debate, and I really love eating fish.  So I am having a bit of internal conflict.  I know what I needs to said, but I'm not all that excited to say it.

On the bright side, there really is a lot that can be done, if the wider public just educates itself about sustainable fishing.  Unfortunately, the debate is making it hard for people to understand the issues and the solutions.  This issue has been debated to death, and yet fish stocks continue to decline.  I don't think that it's because people don't care.  If you are interested in watching an excellent, if not a bit one-sided, movie about the issue, "The End of the Line" really covers it well.  I don't think anyone knows exactly what is happening with our oceans' fish stocks, however, even if only 1/10th of the depletion that is discussed in the movie has actually occured or is going to occur, that's sufficient reason for me to cut way back on my consumption of fish.

I believe that the public's awareness of overfishing may have only gained widespread notoriety as a result of the "dolphin-unfriendly" campaign around tuna fishing.  I think it's sad that we need something to happen to a likable animal before we, as a group, decide we care enough to do something about it.  Well, despite the awareness of how tuna fishing affects dolphins, and in spite of the fact that our society has decided we care, dolphin numbers are still suffering.  The scariest part is that tuna, marlin and other fish whose stocks are either declining or have collapsed completely, are not cute enough to build a motivating logo about.  They're scary, they're ugly, and people love to eat them.  Realistically, with the way things are going, in fifty years all the types of fish that we most love to eat are no longer going to be available, and all we're going to have is pollock. 

Aerosol sprays.

In about 1999, my family and I went to visit some friends of the family in Port Alberni, BC.  When the hostess pulled out the can to the left of this paragraph to spray some olive oil on a pan, I was intrigued.  A couple years later, I came across one of these Mistos at The Bay, and purchased it.  They were about 60% more expensive back then compared to now, but I would do it all over if I could.  At the time, I was concerned (mistakenly) about aerosols, because concerns about aerosols and CFCs had somehow become an issue, so in my mind buying a Misto was an excellent way to address that problem.  The issue with aerosols and CFCs was apparently resolved decades prior to that, because now a different propellant is used in aerosol sprays that does not contribute to the greenhouse effect.  I'm not 100% sure I believe that there is no damage caused by aerosols in their current form, but for the sake of this blog entry, I'm willing accept it for now. 

In any event, we will assume that aerosols are safe and that no negative effects arise as a result of the actual act of spraying them.  Are there any other reasons why someone being eco-friendly and trying to save money might still think of investing a little extra money to purchase a Misto?  Well, to start off, there is the fact that I have spent about $1.00 on cooking spray in the past decade that I've had my Misto (other than the initial up-front investment of about $15.00 for the Misto).  I have had to refill it either twice or three times since I got it.  I'm not sure what others spend on cooking sprays, but I'm going to have to guess that even one disposable can costs more than that.  Multiplied by the number of cans that a household might go through in a decade and I think the Misto comes out as the clear winner on the economical front.

Monday, 11 April 2011


To all of those out there that are wondering how to deal with diapers in an eco-friendly yet mentally sustainable way, you are not alone.  The cloth vs. disposable debate dates back to the creation of the first disposable diaper.  All of a sudden something that had been really inconvenient since the history of pooping babies suddenly became convenient.  Then, virtually overnight, disposable diapers started contributing 3.4 million tons of waste per year to U.S. landfills.  In Canada, with only 10% the population of the U.S., we contribute 4,000,000 diapers per day to our landfills.

My friends, Christine and Jason, are having a baby this summer.  I don't know why my brain decided to "go there", but one day, I was sitting around, thinking about babies, and wondered to myself what they were going to do about diapers?  Cloth or disposable?  Close on the heels of those two questions was the question that always makes me get off my butt and do some research: which would I use if were to have a child?  It's always such a nice thought to say that I would use cloth, but would I? Really?

So I started looking around and found a solution which (I am hoping), would be even better than the positives of either cloth or disposable: gDiapers.  These diapers are essentially a colourful outer shell with a replaceable inner liner.  The external shell and the liners are made from ecologically beneficial materials (mostly hemp).  The best part is that there are two options: cloth liners and disposable (biodegradable) liners, and they both fit into the same shells.  The disposable ones are FLUSHABLE!  Amazing.  They are actually intended to be flushed, because you technically don't want anything to have to biodegrade in a landfill, they would biodegrade far quicker in a sewage treatment plant.  So in my opinion, the flushable aspect automatically makes the benefits outweigh those of normal disposables, because being able to flush the liner just makes them so convenient.  It's so much better than having to throw "away" a poopy diaper.

The cloth version is of course almost exactly what you would imagine a cloth diaper to be like in terms of benefits and detriments.  While I must tip my hat to those parents who managed to get their children through their infancy and toddlerhood using the old-fashioned cloth diapers, I don't think I would have been able to do it.  If you are interested and would like to learn more, please visit the gDiaper website, as there is a tonne of information.  Also, something that surprised me, is that gDiapers are actually available at "normal" retailers like London Drugs.

If you or someone you know has used these diapers and have any feedback, I would love to hear about actual user's experiences!

Ice cream.

This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  I LOVE ice cream, so it's always fun to talk about it.  I have a Cuisinart ice cream maker (shown to the left of this paragraph) and at about ten in the morning most Saturdays you can hear it whirring away making my latest concoction.  While I used to be a little more adventurous with the ice cream, I've really fallen into a pattern of Skor or Skor and chocolate chip ice cream or sometimes peppermint candy ice cream.  Occasionally I make a lemon sorbet (so tangy!), and when I'm feeling like a real treat I'll make a custard-style chocolate ice cream.

The best thing about making ice cream by hand is that it allows you to use up ingredients that would otherwise spoil, and it is by no means an exact science.  I know that's not the most exciting reason in the world to make ice cream, but if you think about it, taking milks and creams that would otherwise perish and making them into something delicious that won't go bad is a great idea.  There are two basic types of ice creams that you can make: Philadelphia style, and custard style.  The first is primarily cream-based, the second, although containing cream, also include a substantial amount of egg yolks.  Given that we almost always have milk, light cream or cream on-hand, I have gravitated towards Philadelphia style ice creams.  If the goal is to conveniently use up ingredients, it's easier in our household if I don't have to have eggs available.  Occasionally as a treat I'll make a custard style ice cream, and the next time I do, I'll post about it with pictures to show the process. 


Environmentalism can be motivated by many factors.  Earlier on, my primary motivating factor in the changes I was making was my own health.  This led me to start eating less processed, more organic, whole foods.  I also started trying to find natural products such as shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, etc., because I didn't want my skin coming in contact with harmful (or questionable) chemicals.  I figured in a hundred years we will know more than we know now and we may find out that some of the chemicals in such products are harmful. 

In a sudden turn of events, I became very aware of something that I had been conscious of, but not focused on, for quite some time: landfills.  I have been to landfills a couple times in the past, but for some reason the thought of a giant rotting garbage dump didn't really affect me.  This seems to be a pattern with me: I am oblivious to an issue until something just brings home to me the impact of my behaviour and then I become very passionate about changing it.  For the majority of my life, I considered landfills to be normal and acceptable.  Then I came across a photo of the carcasses of dead Albatrosses from Midway Island, which is near a place in the Pacific Ocean where there is a huge floating collection of garbage.  This really made me question what I considered "normal".  The Pacific Trash Gyre, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a very sad testament to our inability as a species to have any consideration for our planet and its other inhabitants.  It's not a landfill, but they both arise from the same attitude and lack of regard for the planet and the species which we affect.

Sunday, 10 April 2011


If only we lived in a different world.  If that was the case, maybe Tim and I would not have bought a home in North Vancouver when we moved to the Lower Mainland.  In this alternate reality I would not have taken a job in Pitt Meadows, which is 40 km from where we live.  Alas, this is my reality, and it has made me contemplate a number of strategies in order to minimize my carbon footprint.

Before you even suggest that I should change jobs, I love my job and the company I work for.  In a profession which is not known for its eco-friendliness or ability to adapt and modernize, I am blessed with very progressive bosses that actually win awards for their environmental initiatives.  So I want to work where I work and I want to live where I live. It's not a perfect set up, admitted, but it is the situation I find myself in.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Tomato sauce.

Today I had planned to try my hand, for the first time, at making homemade pasta sauce, specifically tomato sauce.  I eat a lot of pasta, so knowing how to make homemade sauce is crucial so that I can reduce the amount of bottles and jars that I need to recycle.  I picked up many of the ingredients at Drive Organics (tomatoes, shallots, tomato paste) and a few from Superstore (celery, basil, fresh Italian herb blend).  And some white wine from a liquor store (the cheapest dry white wine I could find). The rest of the ingredients I already had in my kitchen.  The ingredients I used:
  1. 9 ripe tomatoes (medium to large)
  2. 2 tbsp of oil I had left over from a jar of sundried tomatoes (just use plain olive oil if you don't have anything like this to use)
  3. 2 tbsp butter
  4. 1 shallot, diced
  5. 1 red pepper, diced
  6. 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  7. 1/4 cup fresh basil
  8. 1 tbsp fresh Italian herb blend (less if you are using dried Italian seasoning)
  9. 1/4 cup dry white wine
  10. 2 stalks of celery
  11. 1 small can of tomato paste (mine was 156 mL)
  12. Additional seasonings to taste (I added sea salt, pepper, mustard powder, celery seed, dried basil, dried parsley flakes, dried oregano flakes)

Key lime white chocolate cookies.

I don't know about you, but I love cookies.  They are usually pretty easy to make and so delicious. They're small enough that you don't get full from eating (just) one. They are wonderful.  

When I first started baking most of our food, one of the first recipes that I made was for lemon white chocolate cookies.  Last weekend I made a key lime pit and still had a dozen key limes, so I thought I would modify the recipe and use them up.  To make these cookies, you will require the following ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 3/4 cups of flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)

Bulk bins.

About two weeks ago, I came across a recommendation for Weigh 2 Go, a bulk food sales store in Vancouver, British Columbia.  We live in North Vancouver, but very close to Second Narrows Bridge, which connects us very easily to both Burnaby and East Vancouver, so we have quite a few options for grocery shopping that are reasonably close.  We actually have a Safeway, Superstore and an Extra Foods within five minutes of us.  Nevertheless, I can't buy everything I would like from any one of them, so I'm always trying to find a place that has my favourite three things: bulk dry foods in bins, really good produce and reasonable prices.  Lately my strategy has been to go to Marketplace IGA for my produce and to Superstore for the dry bulk bin items.  Then I heard about Weigh 2 Go.  We tried to go there last weekend but got side-tracked looking for Tim's meat products.  So this weekend we put all of our plastic Ziplock containers in our reusable shopping bags and headed out.

My first mistake was to think that the store was anywhere near where we live.  It is actually in Dunbar-Southlands, which is very difficult to access from where we were.  It took us so long to get there that by the time we arrived I was fairly disheartened, because I knew that there was no way we would ever do this trip again.  The store itself is located in a nice little shopping area that has lots of little shops and a huge Marketplace IGA right across the street.  There was also a Stong's not too far away, so if you live in Kerrisdale or near UBC, this store might be a reasonable option for you for your dried goods.

Friday, 8 April 2011


This post is dedicated to Tim.  I asked him to name an eco-topic and he said "recycling batteries", so here we go.

No discussion of battery recycling would be complete without a discussion of the problems with disposable one-use batteries.  First of all, there is the manufacture, production and transportation of the batteries, which produces chemicals which contribute to photochemical smog pollution and air acidification. Batteries that have been compromised can release toxic substances into the environment. If you buy one-use batteries, then the batteries either go into a landfill or they are recycled, and the latter only happens if the person disposing of the batteries knows where to take them for recycling, which few people actually know.  Older batteries, which contained more mercury than those produced today, absolutely should always be recycled.  The jury is still somehow out on whether the landfill contribution of modern batteries is sufficient to justify their recycling.

If, however, you are using recyclable batteries, some, but not all, of the foregoing issues are mitigated.  There is only a one-time production impact, although there is also the production of the recharger which must be factored into the overall equation.  There transportation implications will, of course, be the same (if not doubled due to the addition of the recharger).

In Canada, you can recycle your batteries (both single-use and rechargeable) at many convenient locations.  To answer Tim's question, and for those of you also living in North Vancouver, you can recycle your batteries at Home Hardware, London Drugs, Canadian Tire and Rona, amongst others.  These locations accept a wide variety of batteries, including those used in computers and cell phones.  There are even 14 places in North Vancouver to recycle your car battery, if you need to.  When in doubt, if living in British Columbia, consult the Recycling Council of British Columbia's Recyclepedia, which will locate businesses anywhere in the province which recycle anything under the sun.

Bamboo products.

Something that I have decided to incorporate more of into my life is bamboo products.  Not solely for the sake of having them, but as my existing bedding, towels and clothing (where possible) wear out, I've tried to incorporate more bamboo.  I'm not sure when I'll ever get to the point where I actually need more clothing, I think I have enough to probably last me the rest of my life, but maybe I'll get some bamboo underwear.  I've never bought any, but have seen them, and have thought that they may be very comfortable, based on their feel and my previous experiences with other bamboo products.

My absolute favourite sheets ever are bamboo sheets.  I can't remember when I first came across them, but it was probably relatively recently because it hasn't been that long since bamboo has become a bit more mainstream.  Tim and I got a king sized bed when we moved in together last year, and since neither of us had a king sized bed before, we had to get new sheets.  We got our sheets from Quilts, Etc. as I had been eying them for months (I very rarely ever buy anything on the spur of the moment and usually think about things for months before I buy them).  We only bought one set of sheets for our bed and have been using them since. They are still in perfect condition a year later.  They are also softer than any sheets that I have owned previously, almost like sateen, but without the static.  They are as soft today as they were they day we got them.

My mother actually got some very nice bamboo towels a while ago, which I have used when I've visited and they seem to be very good quality, quite soft, no strange shrinking problems like you sometimes have with cotton.  I always have to wonder about the quality of things at my parents house because my parents take very good care of their possessions, so it's hard to say if they would survive under more strenuous testing.


For those of you that are interested, I thought I would explain my opinion on consumerism, as I'm sure in time those that read this blog will come to find that my consistency on this issue is questionable.  I find two areas of my life to be in direct opposition, which in many ways has given rise to this blog: my "things" (i.e. products that I have purchased) and the environment.  I, as with most people, am willing to tolerate a certain amount of negative impact in the name of convenience, enjoyment and practicality.  Two years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of making (mostly) my own food.  I think it would be very difficult indeed to have absolutely no negative impact, no matter how hard you try.  I also think that some of the "difficulty" and "inconvenience" that we believe exists in doing certain things is a matter of perception only.  An interesting development for me is that what I used to percieve as inconvenient is now becoming more enjoyable. 

For instance, as I mentioned in a previous post, I love my breadmaker.  I promise not to post about breadmakers so regularly in the future, but it is a kind of first step when you start making a lot of your own food.  Any breadmaker would probably be equally as adored in my eyes because all I really care about is the end product.  I am still a consumer because I bought the breadmaker, but hopefully less so.  It has been quite some time since Tim or I have bought any bread and I imagine whatever my mother paid for the machine many years ago at the time of its purchase, has long since been offset.  I've gotten to the point now where I don't see making bread as an inconvenience. 

Recycling water filters.

Many of us, including me, believe that by using a water filter and not using plastic bottles, we are helping the environment, and we are.  Certainly the avoidance of the plastic that would otherwise be either deposited in our landfills or recycled is a step in the right direction. 

While I do believe that not drinking water out of plastic bottles is a great step in the right direction, I started to find it somewhat ironic that most people that deliberately avoid such practices (including myself) continue to be reliant on filtered water and the plastic-coated filters that produce it.  I, for example, love Brita filtered water.  I've had Brita water jugs in my fridge that use filters comparable (or possibly identical) to the ones at the left of this post, for a decade or so now.  I blame it on the carbon filter, I just love the way the water tastes.

But, the probem is, if I've been thinking that I'm helping the environment by not having to recycle all those water bottles, I'm still using a plastic filter that absolutely cannot be recycled and therefore will end up in a landfill.  While these and other filters do represent a reduction in the use of plastic, this is still a problem.  So I started to try to find a water filtration system that uses recyclable or even reusable filters.  I know there is no way to live "perfectly", but my opinion is that if you can make a change, and its easy and inexpensive, then why not?  The entire purpose behind this blog is to share these small and do-able changes with others.

Well, I was sadly disappointed when I began my search.  I was able to find only one water filtration system that had a filter that was reusable without being recycled, and it was not at all what I was looking for, being both expensive and a stand alone cooler.  However, I then thought of looking into the recycling of Brita filters, which makes sense for me because I'm a current user.  I was pleased to find that used Brita filters can be recycled by Preserve in both the US and Canada.  Preserve is a company that recycles 100% of the filters (and the packaging they are returned in) into products such as those at the left.  If you live in Canada, dry the filters, put them back in the cardboard packaging they came in (so don't recycle it or throw it away when you open the box!), print out a pre-paid shipping label found here, and send them in.  If you live in the US, either take your used filters to a Gimme 5 location, or send them in to Preserve.

I think the questions surrounding water filters taught me something very important about environmentalism: even when you think you are doing something that is good for the envirornment, there is always something more that you can do to reduce your footprint.  For me it is a question of balance.  Nobody will ever be perfect, but each person can always do better.  Depending on how you look at that, it is either inspiring or daunting.  I choose to be inspired.

Thursday, 7 April 2011


There are a number of small appliances in our kitchen which I use regularly.  They significantly reduce my reliance on store-bought goods (good for the wallet and the environment).  The first is my breadmaker, which, although not identical to the one at the left of this post, is similar.  The breadmaker I have now is actually a hand-me-down from my mother.  My former breadmaker was excellent, but the motor for the paddle stopped working so I “got rid of it”.  Looking back, knowing how I feel about throwing things "away" (i.e. into a landfill), I would have rather paid a bit of money to have it repaired, but at the time it didn’t occur to me.

My new breadmaker is pretty basic.  It makes doughs, basic breads, whole grain breads and a number of other things. I don’t remember what brand it is, but it certainly gets the job done.  My experience with my former breadmaker and my current one were both positive, at least until the paddle stopped turning on the first one, so I'm pretty convinced that you don't need to spend a lot of money on all the bells and whistles you can get on a fancy breadmaker.  If your goal is easy-to-make, low-fuss loaves, the more basic models work just fine.

Milk bottles.

If you are excited about baking and cooking your own foods, then you can eliminate the need for many products that require packaging by finding a place that sells foods in bulk (Superstore and Safeway both do, and I am sure there are many others).  I don't drink many fluids other than water, unless I make them myself (such as lemonade and grapefruit juice), so the packaging is avoided for those.  However, I drink milk, and have recently discovered Avalon dairy products, which are sold in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and which have certified organic options available.  The best part: real glass bottles!  I buy mine from Marketplace IGA on Esplanade in North Vancouver and they accept rinsed bottles to be returned, which will then be taken by Avalon, rinsed thoroughly (and disinfected) and reused.  There is no recycling involved, and, of course, no plastic.  The milk tastes better, in my opinion, and I heartily recommend trying it out if you drink dairy (they have skim, low fat, cereal cream, whipping cream, as well as many other products).  If you are living in the US, there are many dairies that deliver or at least produce milk in glass bottles as well.


Purchasing food in bulk is an action that can be taken that lies nicely at the intersection of eco-friendly living and trying to do so economically.  By "purchasing food in bulk" I DO NOT mean going to Costco and purchasing everything there in "Costco-size" quantities, although this may, indeed, reduce some of the packaging that you bring home with your purchases overall.  I am referring to purchasing foods and ingredients from the bulk bins of grocery stores.

Something that I saw on the trailer for The Clean Bin Project was purchasing foods from delis using your own Gladware or Ziplock storage containers.  I know that these sorts of containers are made from plastic, but I haven't always been aware of the detrimental effects of using plastic products, so I have many of these containers.  I use them when I go to grocery stores and I buy as many of the ingredients for my baking as I can using these containers.  I have not run into any problems from the employees at the stores, and in fact, some have told me that they are going to encourage other people to use these types of containers, as this means that customers don't have to use the plastic bags provided by the store.  Once I get home, I transfer the ingredients into their respective glass jars that I keep for just that purpose.  So far I have started doing this with flour and sugar (I go through massive amounts of each), as well as pasta, coconut, some candies, and any other products I need for the baking that I do.  In the future I will start using bulk bins for many more products, because the reduction of packaging and the corresponding reduction of cost makes sense to take advantage of, particularly when it is such an easy change to make.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Plastic and recycling.

There are multiple layers to any debate on recycling.  The considerations are so complex that simply learning about recycling, which I used to look at as a panacea of sorts, has contributed more to my "environmental guilt" than probably any other cause.  There is no way that I could come close to explaining or even summarizing all of the considerations and concerns about recycling, so I will focus on some factors that have given rise to my worries.

Recycling, by which I mean placing an item in a blue bin or taking it to a recycling depot, depending on where you live/what services you use, is the last of the "Three Rs".  It seems to be the one with the most widespread acceptance, and given our consumer-driven economy, it is understandable why.  Advertising, marketing and product development are all geared towards a disposable mindset where products are designed to fail within a short period of time, at which point they will be disposed of (or, at best, recycled) and new products will be purchased to replace them.  There is no space in this method of production for products that are designed to last indefinitely.

Teenage vegetarianism.

The first eco-friendly step that I ever took was when I turned vegetarian at the age of 17.  The change was quite illogical and poorly-planned.  I had many friends that were vegetarians, some of whom had never before eaten meat, but that had never phased me.  My roommate in boarding school was a vegetarian and I distinctly remember her showing me a fairly disturbing PETA pamplet.  Still, unphased.

One afternoon, however, I was in the school's library, poking around, and came across a Buddhist textbook.  Although most of the content has long-since been forgotten, there were repeated passages about respecting life, which for whatever reason impacted me greatly.  Since that afternoon I have been a vegetarian, although the strictness of my diet has changed as my attitudes and opinions have evolved.  At one point I thought about returning to eating meat but then read "Diet for a New America" by John Robbins and that was that.  I am currently a lacto-ovo vegetarian, but I also eat fish, so in many ways I do not consider myself to be a "true" vegetarian.  I'm at a point in my life now where the labeling is not very useful as it is always followed by such a long explanation, or worse yet, an argument about ethics, which I'm not inclined to get involved in.  For the record, I personally do not take issue with anyone else's food choices, nor do I want others to try to convince me of the merits of theirs. 

It is time.

It has been a matter of months, if not years, that I have been thinking of blogging.  The problem was that I never felt like I had anything important enough to say that I thought was worth sharing with the world.  In recent months, I have started to realize that I am accumulating a wealth of knowledge about becoming both more eco-friendly as well as more economical in many areas of my life.  These two goals are worthwhile pursuits for most of us, so sharing knowledge, as it accumulates, is the primary goal of this blog.