Archive | September, 2012

Plastic Ocean Pollution From Your Home

I attended an online round table discussion on plastic ocean pollution a few days ago and the panel of experts were amazing. It was hosted by an internet radio show KQED SCIENCE and really expanded my awareness on the toll plastic pollution is having with our oceans. Two points were a surprise to me and since they can be controlled through education and consumer dollars – I’ve expanded the topics below. If you’d like to access a full link to the discussion & panel, there is a full recording on the Surfrider Foundation blog.

We know many of the causes of plastic ocean pollution are not good for your health, so if the topic of ocean pollution seems too broad – let’s dial it back and think of it starting in our washing machines or bathroom sink and the problem will seem closer to home. My thanks to Beth Terry, author of Plastic Free for the invite and your great advice during the discussion!

Microfiber Pollution via Your Washing Machine

A question was asked of Sea Captain Charles Moore about pollution from washing polyester clothing in household washing machines. I’ve always voiced my concern over the amount of plastic on clothing that is washed and heated in dryers, so my ears perked up at this conversation. And Captain Moore would know about plastic pollution because in 1997 he discovered an area in the mid-Pacific Ocean the size of Texas that became dubbed “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. He agreed with the study that polyester sediments are not able to be filtered through washing machines and these microfibers are being consumed by marine life. The life cycle of PET bottles being turned into fleece clothing might not have the ‘green’ story we want. The very small particles are called microplastic and they are no larger than the head of a pin. Until microplastic can be removed from sewage we need to re-think what is going into our washing machines. We avoid polyester in my house because we have eczema skin issues which is aggravated by this synthetic fabric, but because of this new discovery I will really think twice before dropping my microfiber cloths into the washing machine. Panelist Beth Terry recommends using natural fibers for clothing and I agree. 100% cotton, or organic when possible is such a better alternative against skin than polyesters that will leach “more than 1,900 fibers per wash into waste water.” *Sources and sinks. Environmental Science & Technology doi:10.1021/es201811s.*

Microbeads in Facial Scrub

It was Bill Hickman, Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics Campaign Coordinator that was talking about removing every day uses of single use plastic and ways to start at home that mentioned a sneaky culprit that might enter the waterways via a facial cleanser marked as natural *yuck*. Because micro beads are a huge source of plastic pollution I wanted to mention this source and the thought of rubbing plastic on your face to ‘clean’ it is really disgusting. The ingredient in this facial cleaner containing plastic beads is Polyethylene. Here is an image from the Rise Above Plastic fan page that is more descriptive on this topic, but since all of the panelists talked about the problem of microplastic (plastic that is less than 5 millimeters in size), you can see how this size of plastic entering the ocean is going to have huge impact on sea life. Captain Moore mentioned that ocean plastic pollution is killing more animals than climate change – that really surprised me but also renewed my energy with trying to further reduce my own amount of plastic waste since consumer dollars are such a huge way to help. Think of every source of single use plastic in your lives. If you can make this one change – this would be the highest impact and improvement for your personal waste and the environment!

Surfrider Foundation has published some amazing visuals to aid with ocean plastic pollution. They also have a great article with more ways you can help with plastic pollution here. I see how quickly this images travel around Facebook when they are published – I hope they make more! Here are two images they’ve created that have the highest impact to inspire change – photo credits to Surfrider:




Finding Our Way Back

I think our generation is trying to find our way back. We are trying to peel back the layers with 50 years of changes and sort through what were good decisions and not so good decisions by our countries, government, and family. I think people born in the 30s and 40s hold the key to opening many doors for us we just need to make them feel treasured enough to share it. Finding out from an older generation – how did you manage in the kitchen without plastic or non stick to help you? How do you butcher, chop, freeze and prepare a carcass of meat? How do you preserve and can seasonal fruit and veggies? How to you batch cook and freeze so you have meals planned for the week rather than worrying about dinner each day? Don’t you want to know the answers? I do, and I’m pretty sure the grandparent crowd knows the answers and somewhere – the knowledge transfer didn’t happen. I think the 2nd generation of women trying to have it all, working full-time, having kids, and trying to find that balance plays into things. I think this generation is more kindred to our grandparents with not wanting it all and yearning to just have one constant thing to concentrate on and feel truly blessed if they are able to stay home to raise children full-time or have enough support to also work.

The problem I see is the knowledge transfer. Our generation is dealing with things unheard of in the world to date. We are having to battle for a clean food supply. This is something no other generation can relate to. Other generations had to battle for food, with wars and food shortages, which must have been horrifying, but we are dealing with a truly unique problem with our food because of genetically modified manufacturing. If you haven’t heard about GMO food and the health problems we are having because of chemically tainted food, you need to start listening. The rates of every disease is sky rocketing and the time periods of man-made chemicals from 50 years ago and the more recent introduction of GMOs 20-30 years ago seemed to have kicked every disease into overdrive: cancer, allergies, diabetes, autism, Parkinsons, heart, kidney, thyroid disease, infertility, asthma, and more.

I watched a documentary tonight called Genetic Roulette and it’s really well done. It is scary but you should be more scared to ignore the issue of GMO and our food source. The only thing that washes away feelings of being scared, bullied, or feeling like you have no voice is to empower yourself with knowledge. The biggest message I took away from this movie is if I can inspire one person with talking about GMOs I am helping to solve this problem. You might remember the farmer in Food. Inc. that looks into the camera and tells us “you the consumer dictate what farmers will grow – tell us to do it a different way and we will!” This documentary has the same hopeful message; rather than waiting for government or the FDA to regulate the problem of GMOs, stop participating in it’s growth. Purchase organic or from a local farmer you trust. Be relentless at the grocery store and ask questions. Tell your grocer or any food source (school cafeteria, any source of food for children) that if products or food was labelled GMO free, you would be appreciative of that information. You want the right to know what is in your food. Because once the 3 huge food companies that own all the GMO brands see a dip in the American market, they will consider changing American food since they already have to do it for Europe. We have the ability to inspire the change we want to see with our food.

So call upon the generation that knows how to get around the GMO trap by harkening back 50 years ago. Just explain to them that a company called Monsanto has hired the same lawyers the tobacco industry did to convince everyone that smoking isn’t harmful and we need to get back to basics with real food. Wouldn’t it be great to navigate the perimeter of the grocery store so that you are buying very little packaged food? For the next little while we’re going to have to research our food or just purchase organic to avoid bio-engineered food, but after Prop 37 is approved and California forces labeling of GMO food, we can look at eliminating what has become a wide-spread genetically engineered problem. Use your consumer dollars and case a vote for the world you want to have – a world where food is not a science experiment with ripple effects of sickness. We need to get back to having a basic necessity of food for our children so that we stop the cycle of disease and research. The Genetic Roulette documentary was free when I watched it – I hope you still have access when you find this article. If not, it’s worth ordering with a bunch of friends or family – you will feel empowered and feel like you have some changes to make.  Sometimes a visual is best – here is a great quote by Anna Lappe and how consumers can change the world. Close your eyes and visualize the world you want your grandchildren to have – then go make it happen!


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What are GMOs?




What are GMOs?

To truly understand what it means to eat healthier – you need to learn what GMOs are. If you’ve heard the terms: genetically modified food (GMO), Monsanto, or Prop 37 and haven’t been fully able to understand what these terms mean I hope this article will help. GMOs are a worldwide problem and just like the household world of toxins with plastics, flame retardants, phthalates, formaldehyde, etc., understanding there are major problems within our food source is actually pretty scary. Opening our eyes to how widespread the problem of GMOs has become, especially in North America is important. Let’s start at the beginning to understand why GMO, Monsanto, and Prop 37 are all terms to discover on your journey to better health.

What is Monsanto?

Monsanto is a company that has been a chemical giant since it started in 1901 – which immediately leads to the question “what are they doing in the food industry?!” The creation of toxic products that have lead to major pollution & health problems were created by Monsanto in the earlier 1900s: Agent Orange & PCBs. These and other chemicals kept Monsanto busy for the first 50 years of the company but after PCBs became banned in the late 70s, Monsanto shifted it’s focus and wanted to become known as an agricultural company. By 1980 Monsanto had become focused on producing Roundup which is a weed killer or herbicide. The marketing when Roundup first came onto the market declared it was biodegradable and good for the earth. The promise of using Roundup was to be a convenience for farmers to save time weeding. The wording of ‘biodegradable’ has since changed on Roundup bottles because it’s not.  In order to grow food that could withstand the effects of spraying crops with Roundup, Monsanto created genetically modified seeds for soy, corn, sugarbeets, cotton, rapeseed (canola), potatoes, and more, so that the plants would grow, even though Roundup was being sprayed. They actually changed the DNA of the seed and this is when biotechnology was introduced to our food.

So to summarize: Monsanto is the company that created weed killer called Roundup to act as a time saver for farmers….then created a seed that could withstand the effects of Roundup. All of this was passed, approved, with very little testing by the US government. This takes us to understand what GMOs are – genetically modified organisms in the form of seeds.

What are GMOs?

First Roundup ready soy beans (GM or genetically modified soy beans) were approved in the US in 1996. We learn that in the early 90s GMOs were approved by the US government as more of a political decision rather than science which is what makes them so controversial. It’s another example of a product brought onto the market that wasn’t fully tested to prove that it’s safe before entering our homes, bodies, and food chain. Roundup ready soy beans account for 95% of soy beans grown in the US. Between 1995-2005, Monsanto purchased 50 seed companies throughout the world. This massive purchase has led to many foods being born from GMO seeds – view a more complete list here. Some of these foods include: corn, cotton, wheat, soy, potatoes, tomatoes, rice, sugarcane, canola, honey, peas, papaya, squash, sugarbeets, chicory, and sweet corn. At first thought you might think that avoiding GMO ingredients or products is easy but cruise the interior lanes of a supermarket, look at labels and try to find food that doesn’t contain canola.

The future problems of modified food or genetically altered seeds is contamination. Even in countries where GMOs are banned, you have genetically modified seeds appearing. This has happened in Mexico with their corn – which is a problem since it’s one of the largest corn producers. So let’s think about this fact – and it’s one of the scariest facts about how widespread we’ve allowed a company built on creating toxic chemicals has become. Cross contamination is evident and a problem with GMO and conventional food. If there are farmers on the same street, one producing GMO food and the other producing conventional and there is a high wind or a bird carries over a seed into the conventional farmer’s field you now have a contamination issue.

What is Prop 37?

This November 2012, Californian voters will decide if GMO foods should be labelled in California. Proposition 37 requires companies to add wording to their labels if their food had been genetically modified and this is a huge step in the fight against GMOs. It is not a ban of GMOs but a lot of guess work regarding food will be removed for consumers. As a Canadian I think Prop 37 is so important because I think the rest of the US and Canada will follow. 50 other countries already have labels on their food for GMOs – why is North America always so far behind?! If you have friends in California make sure they know about their ability to vote on Prop 37 in a few months!

How to Avoid GMOs?

Buying labelled certified organic food is one way to avoid GMOs. Foods that are labelled ‘organic’ or ‘made from organic ingredients’ cannot contain any GMO ingredients. Foods on my personal shopping list radar are those containing soy, corn, beet sugar, artificial sugars and canola oil which has led to an immediate ban of cereals in my house. Want to see a scary GMO list? Check out the ingredients of Cheerios – yes that first food we give babies (and I feed my kids)…it’s GMO city. Here is a long list of genetically modified food. I think the number of baby formula companies & brands on this list is sick. I would assume the health effect of GMO food would be larger in a babies tiny system…no?

Missing from the below image is ‘growing your own food’. It should be there, but with so many families dependent on buying food, I think the most important action you can take from this article is support local and get to know your local farmers! I’ve spend the summer doing this with my family and the gratitude you feel towards a person that is creating safe, healthy food cannot be measured. Ask questions and find trusted food sources. Farmers markets, organic food stores, and local stores that carry locally produced food is the way to beat GMOs.



Canning Local Corn For Winter Months

I’m so grateful for the people that surround me and inspire me to try new things. I’m especially interested in canning and moving as far away from GMO foods as possible. This is always harder in the winter when the produce isn’t as easy to come by and we end up eating a lot of frozen corn and peas. So when Nancy from Surviving and Thriving On Pennies posted a picture on her Facebook Fanpage of corn niblets in a canning jar, my ears perked up. She doesn’t know, but by giving me a visual and really easy instructions, she gave me the confidence to attempt canning. The idea of taking fresh, local produce and freezing that, rather than store bought, possibly GMO corn stored in plastic, and replacing it with a healthier alternative that I know we’ll eat is a huge blessing for me. It’s these little steps that make me feel like a better mom and encourage me to keep finding ways to improve the food my kids consume. So thank you Nancy (!!) and I hope this prompts more people to support local corn farmers and freeze for the upcoming winter months with canned niblets!

I used 11 ears of corn for this trial canning batch. I overestimated the number of jars I would need (they are large 1 litre jars) so I did sterilize all 12 jars (boiled two at a time in a large pot for 10 mins) but only used 3 jars. We took one of these jars to my moms for dinner tonight and it gave 7 of us a great portion size of corn. Now that I know it works and my kids will eat it, I will purchase 40 ears of corn and do a giant batch with all 12 jars.

So 11 ears of corn filled 3 1 litre mason jars that would feed a family of 6. First I sterilized the jars, then to avoid the BPA exposure from the canning lid inserts, I dumped that batch of water and boiled the corn for a few minutes in freshly boiled water to blanch the ears. I removed the corn and let it cool. Next I took a knife and removed the niblets, just ran the sharp knife down the sides and the corn came off beautifully. Then I added enough corn to fill the jar approx. 2/3 full and added water from the pot the corn was boiled into each jar until the water was 1.5 inches from the top.

I left room at the top of the mason jar for a few reasons: 1) glass expands when frozen 2) I don’t want the corn or water touching the lid because most mason jar lid inserts have a coating of BPA. I figure by only having the food touch the glass, I’m reducing my BPA exposure.

I let the jars open to cool the corn and water combo quicker, then sealed with the lid and insert. These jars are not in my freezer and when we need frozen corn niblets, I’ll boil this corn, rather than the frozen supermarket corn. This is a GREAT first canning food and I highly recommend giving it a try. BC produces delicious corn this time of year, so why wouldn’t I take advantage of local quality?  I’m eager to try a few more canning foods so please post any instructions or links you have! There is so much evidence pointing to the foods we eat causing so much sickness in North America – it’s time to re-think our relationship with food and ‘convenient’ store bought garbage we are consuming. A movement is circling our families – it’s time to re-learn what our grandparents did and improve our health with locally harvested food. It’s an exciting time…let’s embrace it!



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