Tapping into the organic flow (Day 332)…

January 26, 2008


The flow of maple syrup, that is.

It occurred to me during a recent grocery expedition and some follow-up Google searching how important it is to buy organic maple syrup. Earlier on Green as a Thistle, I wrote about honey, and made the switch to organic for the sake of the bees, but today it’s for the sake of the trees.

Why is it so important to get organic syrup? Well, for numerous reasons, but here are just a few, courtesy of Béland Organic Foods:

  • Organic syrup doesn’t use any lead or lead solder in the processing equipment, so consequently there’s no lead in the finished product.
  • During the running season, Béland cleans its line system with natural biodegradable products.
  • In making organic maple syrup, there are no synthetic chemicals used to control foam during boiling; instead, certified organic and Montreal Kosher vegetable anti-foaming agents are used. Often, at least in the past, pig fat was used to prevent foaming (sick!).
  • While brand-named syrups are sometimes made with sap that’s been treated by UV radiation or microwaved, and the “pancake” syrups are mostly just corn starch, organic Grade B maple syrup is pretty much straight from the tree.
  • Finally, organic sap farms don’t mess with any pesticides or GMOs; they treat their trees with respect to ensure a long and natural life.

So from now on, my sweet tooth will only be sated with ethically responsible syrups. All it requires is spending an extra couple bucks, which I think is pretty simple.

Image courtesy of these guys

Vegetarians — avert your eyes! (Day 331)…

January 25, 2008


I know this seems silly, but a part of me wants to make 366 green changes to my lifestyle (yes, that’s 366 — up until now I’ve been saying 365, but of course it just happens to be a freakin’ leap year), without resorting to a vegetarian or vegan diet.

I don’t have a problem with vegetarians; for at least five years of my life I was one of them, and now I only eat meat about once a week — and it absolutely has to be happy meat. Furthermore, I realize it takes a LOT of water, land, energy and other resources to raise and feed the animals, slaughter and butcher them, then package and ship the meat.

But there’s something about those old-fashioned farms with animals grazing outside, being all cute, fertilizing the pastures (and, OK, farting a bit of methane into the air, too) that makes me want to support the people who run them. Same goes for organic dairy and free-range egg farms, even though I don’t actually eat eggs much because they gross me out.

Anyway, like I said, props to the vegetarians out there — you’re leaving a lighter footprint than me, you have great restaurants, but I want my vitamin B12 and I don’t want to get it from nutritional yeast flakes.

Where the hell am I going with this post, you ask? Here’s where:

Wait, have the vegetarians left yet? Because they’re not going to like this.

My green move today was… to sign my father and I up for a butchering class. WAIT! Don’t go rushing to the comments just yet; hear me out. It’s taking place at the Healthy Butcher, a family-run store in Toronto that gets all their meat from local, organic farms. They run these courses where you can go and see where your filet mignon comes from, learn about the different cuts, the different ways to prepare and cook them, and practice your knife skills. This will, I hope, accomplish two things:

One, I’ll have to confront my meat, which will mean I’ll have all the more appreciation for it whenever I decide to consume it; and Two, it’ll help me learn how to cut it properly so that when I try to trim the fat or bone off something at home, I waste less.

OK, that’s it, post’s over. Vegetarians can open their eyes now.

Squeegee to the Bee Gees (Day 330)…

January 24, 2008


This suggestion comes, yet again, from my assistant Eva: Squeegeeing the walls of my shower to prevent mildew and soap scum from building up, which in turn means less cleaning, and thus less product used.

While I may not actually listen to the Bee Gees while squeegeeing, it would be kinda fun. Although when I think of dancing and showers — especially my showers, which take place in almost total darkness — I immediately think of spinal injuries. And that’s just not fun.

Also, don’t even think for a nanosecond that I went out and bought myself a new squeegee for the sake of this change — obviously that would go against my no new plastic pledge. In fact, I was ready to just let out a sigh and toss Eva’s idea in the trash (or, um, recycling bin?) until I remembered that I actually had a squeegee thingy sitting in the back of my storage closet from when I tried to clean my balcony windows last summer.

So from now on, whether it’s here in my condo or in my new house, my shower walls are going to be squeaky, squeegee clean.

Photo courtesy of kittykowalski on Flickr

Lrng shrthnd 2 b eco-frndly (Day 329)…

January 23, 2008


Today I had to cover this press conference for the Charles Taylor Prize and at the last minute realized my digital tape recorder was out of batteries, which meant I was going to have to take notes — good notes. The problem is, I don’t take good notes. I either scrawl everything so illegibly that I can’t read it afterwards, or I choose to write down the least important words, like “books good lots never make try,” which is hardly helpful.

Now while I’ve already greened my reporting in one way, namely taking smaller notes and using both sides of the page, I’m now determined to take it to the next level: I’m going to learn shorthand.

This will mean I’ll use even less paper, and I might not even need a tape recorder if I get fast enough at it, which means using fewer batteries.

I found this site, The Basics of Pitman Shorthand, which explains a lot. Pitman is basically the original shorthand, from what I can tell, and is purely geometric; but there’s also Gregg, which is American (why must Americans always have their own special versions of things?), and Teeline — these are both script-geometric. Not sure which one’s best.

I’m hoping it won’t take too long to pick up, although those diphthongs could be tricky (OK, really, I was just looking for an excuse to say diphthong…. Haha, diphthong).

Um, actually, he WON’T be having the Chilean sea bass, THANKS (Day 328)…

January 22, 2008

ian at moma

This is one of my bestest friends, Ian. He works in policy for the provincial government’s e-health program, likes ironic meditation and isn’t too bad in the kitchen. We’ve known each other for 15 years, so there’s no need for politesse when we hang out together — it’s all bluntness, all the time.

Some of you may remember my recent jaunt to New York — well, Ian came with me on that trip, and it was probably the first time he’s seen my green lifestyle up close. He made fun of my myrrh-based mouthwash, put up with my grumbling about how ugly bangs get without proper blow drying and indulged in my fanatical shopping sprees at every local design store in Brooklyn (I, in turn, put up with him checking his luggage).

Anyway, while we were in Greenwich, we went to this amazing restaurant called Sushi Samba. There was so much to choose from on the menu and we were on a roll — every bite was followed by simultaneous looks at one another of, “Oh my god, are you tasting what I’m tasting? Because I’m tasting something between heaven and ambrosia.”

But in the midst of our ordering frenzy, I heard the waiter suggest the Chilean sea bass, then heard Ian agree to this, and just couldn’t let it happen. I interrupted, explained why this was not cool (it’s practically endangered, to say the least), and he agreed to order something else.

Yes, we were eating lots of other fish, and I didn’t have my SeaChoice list of which ones were good, bad or mediocre in terms of sustainability, but for whatever reason I got my back up about the sea bass (technically called a Patagonia toothfish, which sounds far less appetizing, no?).

This is something that happens a lot in my life now: People around me do something bad for the environment, and I have to decide whether to point it out or let it slide. Part of me doesn’t want to impose my judgment on others, but another part wants to create a gentle ripple effect and spread my newfound green knowledge. I mean, on the one hand, speaking out for Mother Nature is an integral part of being an environmentalist, but on the other hand, self-righteous hippies are annoying.

Ian said afterwards that he thought I handled the situation appropriately — I didn’t create a fuss, I didn’t lecture him about anything else he was ordering, I simply stated my case for why a certain dish on the menu upset me, let him make the final decision and that was that.

In the long run, I think such things will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis. If the person next to me drops a Styrofoam container of leftover factory-farm meat on the sidewalk, you bet I’m going to say something. But if someone standing in front of me at the coffee shop doesn’t have a reusable thermos like I do, I might not.

However, that’s the long run. For now, I’m letting everyone know about all the things I’ve learned doing this challenge. Getting other people to be green in ways I can’t was one change, but this is about didactics — teaching, sharing and initiating dialogue whenever possible, whether it’s with a friend at a sushi restaurant or a colleague at the cafeteria.

Blanketing myself in sustainability (Day 327)…

January 21, 2008


Just because I’m an adult, doesn’t mean I can’t have a blankie — especially when it’s a billion below zero and I’m freezing my buns off with a fixed thermostat, no pajamas and no heating pad (or boy) to keep me warm.

Although the greenest move in this situation would be to go on the hunt for an old quilt at a thrift store or ask friends if they’ve got an extra Bay blanket lying around their cottage, my mother recently took the initiative and got me a nice new bamboo throw. Don’t be too hard on her — she’s managed to furnish my house entirely with used furniture!

It’s from House and Home‘s new eco collection (which isn’t online, for some reason, but can be found in local department stores) and is dark chocolate brown, which already makes me feel warm; it’s super soft, too. I can use it as an extra layer while reading or watching a movie on the couch, or toss it over my duvet on super-crazy-cold nights.

But if it gets to the point where I need two blankies, I’m definitely going all the way and making a quilt out of old sweaters, extra bed linens or some of my used handkerchiefs. Actually wait, that’s just gross.

Quilt image from way the quilt over here

Taxes less taxing on the environment (Day 326)…

January 20, 2008

green roof CSICSI interior

With tax season creeping up, I decided now was as good a time as any to look at how I might green my accounting. For the past few years, I’ve been using my dad’s accountant, who’s fine, but doesn’t make any special effort to work with my individual needs (like, you know, money) so I felt it was time to hire someone better acquainted with my lifestyle.

A few months ago, I wrote a story for the National Post on Base Nine, a local accounting firm that specializes in doing taxes for hipsters who hate doing taxes. Dimitris — who, full disclosure, is also a friend of mine — doesn’t cut any corners but knows how struggling artists, self-employed Gen-Y kids and new entrepreneurs can make the most of every buck.

Besides this, he’s more than willing to green the process in every way possible. For starters, he works out of the Centre for Social Innovation (it’s like CSI Toronto!), which is one of the most sustainable offices in the city. It’s got a green roof (top photo), a bio-wall, a fully stocked kitchen with a no-plastic-cutlery rule, energy-saving lights and something called an “alterna-boardroom”. Just a few of the organizations that share the space include Facilitators Without Borders, Eco Schools, [murmur], Spacing, Forest Ethics and, er, Mammalian Diving Reflex.

Base Nine will also make sure to file everything electronically, so as not to waste paper, and will let you know which forms must be submitted in hard copy and which ones you just need to have stored on your computer.

So from now on, I’m using an eco-friendly accountant come tax season. I won’t make another pun about how you can save this green (ie. money) and that green (ie. the environment), but simply suggest that others do the same — if not by switching accountants, by filing everything online.

Pics above, and more, can be found over here