Caring about the environment is patriotic.
February 26th, 2010
Hold your hats, climate change activists: A colossal iceberg about the size of Luxembourg (read: Rhode Island) broke off an Antarctic glacier earlier this month after being clobbered by another giant iceberg. It’s a monumental event — the new iceberg is one of the largest recorded in several years — but as of now, the calving isn’t being blamed on global warming.
But despite the collision’s apparently natural cause, the two icebergs now floating side-by-side could have serious impact on the world’s oceans, since the area they’re located is of crucial importance to global ocean circulation.
Undoubtedly, climate researchers will be studying these icebergs closely to help us understand what may happen if and when more icebergs break off as global temperatures rise over the next several decades.
Do this now: Fascinated by icebergs? Still deciding what you want to do with your life? Here’s how you can become a climate scientist (hint: hope you like physics!).
February 25th, 2010
Whenever a company sends me a new green product to test out, I instinctively want to like whatever that product is. It’s like a casting director auditioning actors: I don’t want you to suck; I want you to come in and blow me away with that special something so that my job is easy.
So when the folks at Activeion Cleaning Solutions were kind enough to send me a brand-new Ionator HOM to try, I really wanted this to be the miraculous breakthrough in chemical-free cleaning that the company avowed it to be. After all, who wouldn’t want a device that ionizes tap water to become a mean, green, degreasing machine, allowing you to sparklingly clean every surface of your home, not to mention kill 99.9 percent of harmful bacteria and the H1N1 virus? So I used it to clean my apartment not once, but twice — waiting a whole week in between cleanings (and for my place to get dirty again) so that I could give the thorough review this kind of cutting-edge technology deserved.
So after all this, how did the Ionator do? Well, let’s just say it had a less than stellar performance. Here’s the lowdown:
Along with the Ionator, I used two other “cleaning” solutions to act as comparisons: my favorite store-bought green cleaner, and a spray bottle that I filled with regular tap water. While the Ionator did an adequate job cleaning surfaces like my kitchen table (lacquer), my bedroom nightstands (wood), and the bathroom sink (tile), here’s the rub: In every instance, the results were identical to that of the spray bottle filled with plain tap water.
What’s more, neither the Ionator nor the control bottle were as effective as the green cleaner at these simple tasks, and mysteriously left behind a trail of lint from my cloth rags with every wipe (something the green cleaner doesn’t do). And when it came to tougher tasks, the Ionator didn’t stand a chance: Mirrors were left a foggy, streaky mess; soap scum didn’t budge from the tile in the shower; and my glass nightstand lamps still felt dirty to the touch once the water had dried.
Of course, third-party lab testing shows that the Ionator, in fact, is a highly effective sanitizer, but you would never know it from the sight of your home after you’ve cleaned with it. I’m sorry to say, but if you want a cheap, chemical-free, highly effective cleaning solution — not to mention one that doesn’t require electricity and isn’t made of questionably recyclable materials — pass on the Ionator and its $169 price tag, and invest in a box of baking soda, a bottle of white vinegar, and some lemons.
Do this now: Baking soda and vinegar to DIY for your taste? Look for cleaners that are free of ammonia, chlorine, triclosan, petroleum, phosphates, and artificial fragrances.
February 23rd, 2010
It seems like compostable packaging is all the rage right now, even though I would wager that the majority of Americans don’t even know what composting is. (To wit: Los Angeles’ largely ignored green bins.) Now, Frito-Lay is the latest company to jump on the biodegradable bandwagon, with the unveiling of SunChips‘ completely compostable snack food bag. It’ll be on Canadian grocery store shelves next month, and here in the US just in time for Earth Day 2010.
[Watch video on YouTube]
Of course, as with the biodegradable hotel key cards I profiled in January, you can’t just polish off a bag of Harvest Cheddar chips, toss it in the trash, and think you’ve done your part for the planet — these bags have to be placed in a hot compost pile or bin to break down in the estimated 12-16 weeks.
And also like the hotel key cards, these SunChips bags are made from Ingeo, a plant-based plastic manufactured by NatureWorks. While there’s been some controversy as to whether or not plant-based plastics do more harm than good (once you factor in the possibly genetically modified corn used to make these biopolymers — not to mention the pesticides and fertilizers used to grow the corn), NatureWorks has said it remains committed to sustainability, which you can read more about here.
We could debate for days as to whether these biodegradable bags will have a measurable impact on carbon emissions, but I think the greatest boon to the environment won’t be the bag itself; it’ll be the awareness this campaign brings to the general public about composting and why it’s so important. And that, in my opinion, is pretty cool.
Do this now: Learn how to compost.
February 22nd, 2010
Maybe it was last night’s dinner of chili (OK, plus two chocolate chunk cookies for dessert), or maybe it was the first hint of spring in the air that surfaced this past weekend in Southern California (yes, we have a winter here, too), but I woke up this morning feeling like it might be time for a good spring cleaning. For my body, I mean.
And of course, I’m always looking for new and inspiring ways to incorporate more meatless eating into my diet. Today is Meatless Monday, and I must admit, I’m a bit sick of stick-to-your ribs vegetarian stews and cheesy casseroles — it’s time to lighten things up a bit.
Thankfully, one of the most inspiring meatless eaters I know — Christy Morgan, Los Angeles–based vegan macrobiotic chef to the eco-conscious stars and author of The Blissful Chef blog — has just come out with her first eCookbook, The Blissful Chef: Cooking With the Seasons – Spring Edition.
For those who are new to vegetarian eating, macrobiotic can sound a bit intimidating, but it’s really about creating balance in your body by embracing foods that are in balance with the seasons. So in spring, you eat foods that encourage that fresh, “spring cleaning” spirit — leafy greens like lettuce and kale, and refreshing fruits like grapefruit and and granny smith apple. Sounds a lot like being a locavore, right?
There’s a bit more too it, of course, which Morgan explains in the eCookbook; but the truth is that you don’t need to know any of it to make her healthy and simple-to-prepare recipes. I follow neither a vegan nor macrobiotic diet (not yet, anyway), but all 19 recipes in the book sound amazingly delicious and satisfying: Love Your Heart Beet Soup packs an extra protein punch with the addition of red lentils; Soba Noodles With Basil Pecan Pesto uses white miso for that extra umami oomph; and Apple Pie With Flaky Homemade Crust will indulge my sweet tooth without the addition of refined sugars.
The Blissful Chef: Cooking With the Seasons – Spring Edition is available at a special pre-order discount of $5.99 until the end of today; after that, the price is $7.99 (still a bargain for a season’s worth of recipes — click here to order). I’ll also be giving away one free eCookbook to the commenter of the day. Just tell me your top reason for eating less meat in 2010.
OK, I have to stop writing now — time to run out to the farmers market so I can snap up some fresh veggies and start cooking!
Do this now: Live in Los Angeles? Learn the basics of eating and cooking a plant-based diet at one of Morgan’s upcoming vegetarian cooking classes.
More Meatless Monday posts:
February 18th, 2010
All vaccines carry the slight risk of adverse reactions, but the release of the H1N1 vaccine last fall seemed to provoke even more fear-based chatter than usual: Sixty percent of parents surveyed said they would pass on vaccination for their children — with nearly half expressing concern about side effects. Health care workers also appeared leery of the vaccine, with nearly half surveyed saying they would refuse the shot.
But no story struck more fear in the hearts of vaccine skeptics than that of Desiree Jennings, the beautiful Washington Redskins cheerleader who was supposedly stricken with dystonia after receiving the H1N1 vaccine. I’ll admit: I was on the fence about getting vaccinated; but after watching this horrifying video of Jennings struggling to walk and talk, I decided against it.
Now, Jennings has made a miraculous recovery, and it appears that her affliction may not have been vaccine-induced after all. Watch:
[Watch video on YouTube]
Side effects of the flu vaccine can be severe, if rare — nearly 564 “serious” health events have been reported in the US so far, including 42 deaths — but to date, the H1N1 vaccine has proven no riskier than the seasonal influenza vaccine.
Do this now: Should you get vaccinated? Read about the risks from Dr. Steven Novella, the Yale University neurologist who was interviewed for the Inside Edition piece.
February 16th, 2010
With all the focus on buffoons like Donald Trump (lauded climatologist that he is) pointing to this winter’s nonstop snow storms as evidence that global warming isn’t real, I’d like to reiterate that what we’re really talking about here is climate change. In this sound bite–driven world, semantics matter; the term global warming, while it describes what is likely happening to our planet, doesn’t paint a clear enough picture of the more visible changes in weather patterns that may be occurring as a result.
Case in point: California’s ancient coastal redwoods may be threatened due to declining summer fog levels, according to a new report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the study, fog levels were found to have diminished by nearly three hours a day over the last century, increasing the likelihood of drought stress and eventual loss of trees.
The researchers aren’t certain if the cause is natural climate variations or human activity (they’ll be looking at that in a future study), but I think we can all agree that the loss of these trees would be absolutely devastating, not just to the organisms that are part of this unique ecosystem, but to humanity as a whole.
I had a chance to visit Redwood National Park in October, and at the risk of sounding hokey, it was one of the great experiences of my life. To walk for hours among the very trees that had been there since before Christ was born — had stood in this same place at the time the Incas built Machu Picchu, and when Mozart wrote his first symphony, and while John Adams signed the Declaration of Independence…well, there are no words to describe it. I get choked up even trying to write about it.
The bright side is that these trees are incredible survivors: Coastal redwoods (or their very close relatives) existed as far back as the time of the dinosaurs, and goodness knows the climate has undergone myriad changes since then. But with just 5 percent of the world’s ancient redwoods left standing, it remains to be seen whether there will be enough to withstand the climate change we may be facing in the years ahead. We can only hope.
Do this now: Send a donation to the Save the Redwoods League, which has been working since 1918 to protect and restore our redwood forests.
February 12th, 2010
I’ve always been skeptical about the push for people to move to downtown Los Angeles. The sheer joy of living in LA is the California lifestyle — ocean breezes, long alfresco dinners at home with friends — why would anyone want to trade that in for a high rise in the smog? I guess if you’ve lived in California your whole life, then a truly urban existence might have some appeal, but as far as I’m concerned, I left that all behind when I moved out of Manhattan.
I formed all these notions, typical me, without actually ever having stepped foot inside a residential building in LA’s now-burgeoning downtown district. So when I was offered a sneak preview of the Evo Designer Showcase before it opens to the public this Saturday, I decided to put my preconceived notions aside. The showcase features five apartments custom-decorated by five amazing designers, including eco-designer Daniel Vandenbark, in LA’s only LEED Silver–certified high-rise. How could I in good green conscience say no?
Besides, I’d get a chance to see how five of LA’s hottest designers are incorporating environmentally friendly materials into their work. And I wasn’t disappointed: Sustainability is very much on the minds of all the designers involved in the showcase, even the ones who weren’t specifically tasked with creating a green dwelling (that was left to Daniel Vandenbark). Renown interior designer David Desmond and I chatted about the importance of investing in pieces that will last for generations; but he emphasized that those classics don’t have to cost a pretty penny. Check out the gorgeous coffee tables in his showcase (shh, they’re Ikea!):
Australian-born Mark Cutler, named one of the Robb Report’s top 40 designers in the US, talked about incorporating the “50-mile rule” (embracing local materials and craftsmen) into his work. And while his taste is undoubtedly sophisticated, Cutler told me that the raw materials don’t necessarily have to be, especially if they’re eco-friendly: He used old-fashioned burlap to construct elegant table skirts and window shades for his showcase’s muted, earthy bedroom.
Take your own sneak peek at more of the eco-conscious designer showcases:
From Room & Board:
From Daniel Vandenbark:
I’m still not convinced that living downtown is the ideal way to experience Los Angeles, though I will admit that the view from the 20th floor of the Evo was pretty glorious — unobstructed views of the city and snow capped mountains, and nary a streak of smog in sight. But more importantly, the showcases reminded me that green living isn’t only for people who are lucky enough to have beachfront property or trees in their backyard. A whopping 3 billion people — a majority of the world’s population — now live in cities, and we need to find ways to make those areas more sustainable as well.
Do this now: If you live in Los Angeles, check out the Evo Designer Showcase this weekend.
February 11th, 2010
Wow. Dasani (or Coca-Cola, I should say) is really working hard to make you feel OK about drinking filtered tap water out of a plastic bottle. I caught sight of a new Dasani PlantBottle ad in the March issue of Glamour, and there’s one thing I have to give the company credit for: effective advertising.
Lovingly caressed in the dewy leaf of a plant and topped off with a bright green plastic cap, even I was momentarily seduced by the seemingly pristine looking bottle. That’s a bold step for a company as large and mainstream as Coca-Cola, I thought.
Wait a second. This is water I could get from my tap. For free. And it’s served up in a plastic bottle. The PlantBottle may be manufactured from 30 percent sugar cane-based plastic, but this is still a completely unnecessary product. The Dasani website boasts a new section entitled “Eco-Living,” but there is absolutely nothing eco about this.
At best, it’s a small improvement for an incredibly wasteful industry. The plant material supposedly reduces the bottle’s carbon emissions by 25 percent, but consider that the bottled water industry produces more than 2.5 million tons of CO2 a year. And that it takes three liters of water to produce every single liter of Dasani. I suppose you could also argue that using plants for plastic lessens our dependence on foreign oil, but you know what else would lessen our dependence on foreign oil? Not having a bottled water industry.
An advantage of a lot of the new plant-based plastics is that they’re compostable, which helps cut down on pollution (e.g., the Great Pacific Garbage Patch). This Dasani PlantBottle can only be recycled though, since the remaining 70 percent is still made from good old-fashioned petroleum-based plastic. Too bad only about 20 percent of the 34.6 billion single-serving plastic water bottles bought in the US every year actually make it to the recycling plant.
I apologize for the rant, but nothing revs me up more than a massive case of greenwashing. Is it great that green has reached a critical enough mass that Dasani’s customers would even care about a plant-based plastic bottle? Of course. The bottled water industry isn’t going to disappear overnight; isn’t it better that Dasani is using 30 percent less petroleum-based plastic? Sure. But the model wearing a T-shirt on the Dasani website that says “Make Your Plastic Fantastic” is where I draw the line. No wonder she’s hiding her face.
Do this now: Buy a reusable water bottle. I like Klean Kanteen.
February 9th, 2010
Most of you know by now that I’m not really big on buying things just for the sake of buying, even if those things are eco-friendly. There’s an interesting theory out there that the biggest contributor to global warming is not the incandescent bulbs in our homes or the gasoline in our cars — it’s all the stuff we buy.
Even so, I admit that when it comes to Valentine’s Day, part of me says, What a load of consumerist crap; while the other part of me says, Hey, where’s my chocolate? I’m not a total grinch, after all. And I do love chocolate.
But when it comes to the Valentine’s green gift guides floating around out there in the blogosphere, a lot of the stuff makes me cringe. Organic flowers shipped across the country? Panty sets made from recycled pine tree fiber? I hate to see green reduced to little more than a creative marketing tool.
Instead, why not use your own creativity to plan a thoughtful V-Day for your sweetie, without buying something you don’t need (even if it is green)? A few fun ideas:
Breakfast in bed. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better way to pamper someone than the classic, home-cooked B in B (to my husband: hint, hint!). Some delicious and festive ideas: eggs benedict with red chile hollandaise, heart pancakes, or a french toast casserole.
Romantic picnic. If you live somewhere warm, pack a cooler with tomato and mozzarella sandwiches, a bottle of wine, and a chocolatey dessert. Then, hit your local state park or beach for a picnic. If you’re in a colder climate, pack it all in a basket and spread a blanket on the floor of your living room for an indoor outing. (Nice touch: Download a “nature sounds” track from iTunes to play in the background.)
Movie marathon. Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, so why not whip up a big batch of spicy cinnamon sugar popcorn and crawl back into bed for a rom-com movie marathon? (Or go for an anti-V-Day flick fest; check out the Syfy channel‘s scary lineup for this Sunday.) Of course, you can also rent DVDs from your local library, video store, or use Netflix on demand.
Cupid cocktail party. If you’re single or just feel like adding more merriment to the mix, why not invite over a few friends and whip up a big batch of Valentine’s-inspired libations? Cut costs by making it a potluck: Ask each guest to bring a favorite drinking snack.
And the best part about all of these ideas: They’re perfect for all you procrastinators (myself included) who haven’t yet decided what to get your honey for Valentine’s Day!
Do this now: Oh, and don’t forget to send Valentine’s e-cards instead of paper cards to your friends and family. Check out the stylish ones at Cocodot.
February 8th, 2010
Now, normally I don’t like to associate the word fun with food — of course, the act of eating should involve a certain amount of pleasure — but healthy, real food is delicious enough in its own right that it doesn’t need to be shaped like a Disney character or dyed a fluorescent color to convince someone to eat it.
But once in a while, even I (a broccoli raab-craving health nut) get a nostalgic craving for a little comfort food, a scrumptious — dare I say fun — meal from my childhood. I was reminiscing about this the other day: The Celentano stuffed shells or the Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese I was allowed to have on the rare occasion my parents went out and left me with a babysitter; the peanut butter and jellies my mom packed for my school lunches; and the buttery grilled cheeses that I would devour at The Lunch Box when we lived in Weston, CT.
Guess what all of these meals have in common? They’re vegetarian! So this Meatless Monday, why not revisit one of these old favorites and feel like a kid again? I’m not suggesting you should eat like this every day of the week, but if you use wholesome ingredients, even these meals can be a healthy, meat-free addition to your diet. A few faves to try:
English muffin pizzas. Loved this brilliant suggestion by loyal RWG reader Andrea Duwel, who eats vegetarian the majority of the time (and has the slim figure to prove it). She loves to make these for an easy veg-head snack. For a healthier version, use whole-grain english muffins and top them off with organic tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, and fresh basil.
Peanut butter and jelly. The PB&J Campaign is working to reduce greenhouse gases by promoting this protein-packed sandwich powerhouse. I say make yours with whole wheat bread, all-natural peanut butter, fruit-juice sweetened jam, and enjoy it guilt-free.
Mac and cheese. Sure, it’s a bit more labor-intensive than a PB&J, but macaroni and cheese made from scratch is arguably one of the world’s best comfort foods. Any time-tested recipe that doesn’t come from a box is top-notch in my book; for a slimmed-down version, try this recipe that uses butternut squash to cut the fat.
Grilled cheese. While we’re on the subject of cheese… Obviously, there’s nothing more delectable than a grilled cheese griddle-fried in butter (like the ones from my Lunch Box past), but I’ve found that making a less artery-clogging open-face version in the broiler is just as tasty: Add sharp cheddar to two pieces of whole-grain bread, top each with a few tomato slices, add a dash of oregano, and pop under a preheated broiler for a couple minutes until the cheese is bubbling and brown at the edges. Don’t forget to serve with a piping hot bowl of tomato soup (or try the recipe in the photo, above).
And the best way to feel like a kid again when you enjoy these Meatless Monday treats: Eat them with your own kids, too!
Do this now: Click here to take the Meatless Monday pledge.