This one’s for Beth…

April 26, 2009
Sickatating plastic crap on the beach

Sickatating plastic crap on the beach

I just had a beautiful day on Toronto Island, biking around, eating good food, flying my new rainbow kite, playing frisbee, and generally being as wholesome as it gets — but when I took a walk on the beach, there was so much plastic junk everywhere, I couldn’t help but feel a bit depressed (if only Beth at Fake Plastic Fish could see this… actually, if she did, she might have some sort of petroleum-induced seizure, so perhaps it’s better that she didn’t). Anyway, I wanted to start cleaning it up, but there was so much, it really would require an entire afternoon’s worth of labour, not to mention a few garbage bags and a pair of rubber gloves. For a second, I thought maybe I should wait for the TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup to roll around, so I could at least tackle the job with some other volunteers, but apparently this doesn’t start until September.

Ugh. Do any of you find your beaches horribly cluttered with garbage? Or is it just Toronto? What do you do when you see all of this junk? Start picking it up, or hope someone else does? And what do you find is most often tossed on your shores? Because while the plastic cups weren’t that surprising, I was somewhat taken aback at the giant Listerine bottle. Maybe these things were thrown in the water by careless drunken morons on their powerboats and the lake just barfed them up here.

Either way, I think I need a return visit for the sole purpose of once again fixing other people’s mistakes.

I heart the Fairmont hotel chain!

February 10, 2009


I’ve loved Fairmont ever since the lovely Toronto publicist Melanie Coates emailed me a few years ago, offering to sneak me into their kitchen and show me their crazy organic waste disposal system — it basically involves a conveyor belt and a huge slop bucket — which had been in place years before the city’s Green Bin composting program started (also, when it comes to excess food, the hotel is a big contributor to Second Harvest).

As I would later learn, this chain has been into the environmental scene since the late 1980s; Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York hotel has a full rooftop garden (which is beautiful and full of berries, vegetables and herbs) as well as three fully operating beehives, a restaurant menu focused on local, sustainable food and wine, policies about not cleaning towels and linens every day, discounts for employees who take public transit or ride bikes to work, and on, and on, and on.

Now, they’ve taken yet another step, and it’s one that I’m pretty sure no other hotel (at least in this city) has done:

Serving only sustainably raised and caught seafood.

This is huge. I have one of those Seachoice cards in my wallet and even still I find it impossible to find fish that isn’t on an endangered list, or full of mercury, or shipped from a million miles away. It’s one thing to offer local, grass-fed burgers at a restaurant, but honestly, sustinable seafood is NOT easy, so I fully commend Fairmont for attempting this.

Here’s the official press release:


TORONTO, February 5, 2009 – As a pioneering voice on environmental stewardship within the hospitality industry, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is proud to announce an extension of its brand-wide Green Cuisine program to include sustainable seafood choices in support of a global effort to conserve precious marine species.

As the latest environmental initiative undertaken by the brand, Fairmont’s hotels and resorts worldwide will remove threatened fish species like Chilean Sea Bass and Blue Fin Tuna from their restaurant menus and will also align themselves locally with reputable seafood watch organizations, ensuring guests continue to be provided with a comprehensive selection of sustainable seafood choices. By Spring 2009, Fairmont’s seafood purchases will be made with the guidance and consultation of these well-respected groups and in consortium with local suppliers.

Put into practice, Fairmont’s commitment to ocean sustainability means working with reputable suppliers who purchase fish that are resilient to fishing pressure and harvested in ways that limit damage to marine or aquatic habitats.  Specifically, Fairmont has identified two seafood choices that are most at risk – and has eliminated them from its food service operations. They include:

Chilean Sea Bass – also called Patagonia Tooth, this is a long-life  fish, meaning it does not reproduce quickly.  Due to worldwide popularity of this  menu item, their numbers have been dwindling dramatically from illegal and  aggressive fishing.

Blue Fin Tuna – heavily over-fished in international waters, the plight  of this species is so serious that the World Conservation Union lists Southern  Blue Fin Tuna in its grouping of most threatened wildlife.  Their numbers have declined by 97%  over the last four decades.

In the face of these findings, Fairmont will no longer serve these two fish varieties on menus and will also make it easier for guests to make informed food choices by identifying responsible seafood choices on its restaurant menus. The end result: healthier practices flowing down to suppliers, who then offer better choices to restaurants.  In addition, by promoting awareness and sustainable alternatives among its guests, Fairmont will play a role in influencing and shaping the tastes and preferences of guests who care about the future of the planet.

Already, a number of Fairmonts have taken up the sustainable seafood call.  Mexico’s Fairmont Mayakoba has partnered with local communities in a nearby biosphere to purchase lobster that is sustainably harvested.  To date, the resort has purchased more than 4.8 tons of the lobster, which comes with a certificate affirming the lobsters have been locally sourced in a responsible fashion. On Hawaii’s Big Island, The Fairmont Orchid goes to great lengths to purchase locally sourced seafood and actively participates in regional moratoriums on any threatened fish stocks. And in Vancouver, The Fairmont Waterfront and The Fairmont Vancouver Airport have joined the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program, a conservation platform created to educate and empower consumers about the issues surrounding sustainable seafood. Ocean-friendly menu options at The Fairmont Waterfront’s Herons Restaurant range from Top Seared Halibut to Pan Seared Sablefish.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts’ dedication to the protection of the environment goes well beyond helping conserve species that reside in the sea. On a wide-ranging basis, the luxury hotel brand maintains a comprehensive commitment to purchasing local, organic and sustainable food items whenever possible. But it’s important to note that good environmental practices do not mean guests at Fairmont restaurants miss out on world-class cuisine.  Instead, they feast on various fish caught or sourced in ways that ensure their continued survival.

For close to two decades, Fairmont has strived to minimize its impact on the planet through its award-winning Green Partnership program, a comprehensive platform focused on key areas such as waste reduction, energy management, water conservation, and innovative community outreach programs. In a sign of corporate leadership, the company also encourages others to follow in its footsteps and has developed the Green Partnership Guide, a how-to text that any company can obtain to create or grow their environmental programming.  For more information on Fairmont’s Green Partnership program, please visit

Photo courtesy of here.

How could we let Deadmonton win this?

February 1, 2009


I received this press release in my inbox the other day and was agog — aGOG, I say! — to read what it said:

(Toronto, Canada, January 29, 2009) Today, Corporate Knights magazine unveiled the third-annual Corporate Knights Most Sustainable Cities in Canada list. The comprehensive ranking identifies Canadian cities whose practices leave the smallest environmental footprint possible and create a healthy, thriving population.

But then… then I read this:

The top cities in the 2009 Corporate Knights Sustainable Cities Ranking are as follows:

Large city category: Edmonton, AB
Medium city category: Halifax, NS
Small city category: Yellowknife, NT

EDMONTON?! Is that, like, a typo for Toronto? Or Vancouver? How could a city in such close proximity to dirty oil, a city renowned only for its enormous mall where you can swim with captive sea lions right after eating in a completely indoors “Chinatown” be considered the most sustainable in all of Canada?

Before I could even let my confusion take hold, I read on:

With the lowest unemployment rate of all cities and the second-lowest unemployment rate of immigrants, Edmonton wants to be an “innovation centre for value-added and green technologies and products,” and is measuring progress by the percentage of green collar jobs created. Edmonton is also the only city in our consideration set to have inclining block pricing on water to encourage conservation.

Um, all right, as much I don’t want to knock the city for their green-collar jobs and negative-reinforcement water-conservation strategy, are these actually the most important factors in being sustainable? What about wind turbines, deep-lake cooling systems and green roofs? What about public transit and bike lanes? Carbon taxes? Population density?? FARMER’S MARKETS AND COMPOSTING INFRASTRUCTURE AND A MILLION OTHER THINGS TORONTO IS DOING?!?

OK, so maybe I’m just a sore loser. It’s just that, while I can see why Halifax won in the medium city category (although, I’d vote for Guelph, personally), this whole study seems suspicious to me. Yellowknife? Honestly? It’s frozen solid up there! They’re just sustainable by default.


Cue the Hallelujah Chorus!

January 10, 2009


All my fellow Torontonians, please note: Our fair city now recycles plastic bags and Styrofoam! While this doesn’t exactly mean you can forget about tote bags and coffee thermoses, it does mean that when you screw up, you’ll be hurting Mother Earth a little less… kind of like slapping her across the face rather than punching her in the gut.


Photo courtesy of meckleychina on Flickr.

The skinny on bathing suits (Day 356)…

February 19, 2008


Let’s face it — trying on bikinis and bathing suits is depressing. In my case, I don’t think it’s depressing because I’m ugly or have too much junk in the trunk (sadly, I barely even have a trunk at all), it’s more due to the fact that standing in a cramped closet under fluorescent lighting in the middle of the afternoon after eating a carb-heavy lunch and listening to idiotic tweens in the store giggling about spandex thongs just isn’t very fun.

But recently, as I was browsing through the archives of Ideal Bite, I found this cute little tip: frequent nude beaches and skinny dip.

This effectively gets around the entire issue: you don’t have to wear anything, try anything on, blow the bank account on ill-fitting spandex or waste water cleaning it afterwards.

Now, while I’m more than happy to sleep in the nude, swimming naked is a bit more tricky. I can’t exactly go to any beach I want and just strip down to the buff, and if certain people are around — like coworkers, fathers, and, well, just about every dude I know except for maybe two or three ridiculously close friends — it’s not going to happen.

However, the next time I have the opportunity to go swimming, be it on vacation or at a cottage or while camping or just here in Toronto during the summer, I’m going to make a point of hitting the nude beaches and bonding with Mother Nature in my birthday suit.

I realize this is kind of cheating because I probably won’t have the opportunity to do this in the next 10 days (omg! 10 days left! w00t!), but how’s this: I, Vanessa Farquharson, hereby solemnly swear that regardless of my year-long green challenge coming to an end, I officially pledge to swim naked the next time I am anywhere near a body of water and my boss and/or father aren’t around. That work?

Photo towel-snapped from Warner Strauss on Flickr

A green map quest (Day 355)…

February 18, 2008


I just discovered this wicked green map of Toronto, which not only unfolds to show you all the parks, ravines and bike paths in the city, but also lists every green-minded hotel, eco-friendly dry cleaner, vegetarian restaurant, community garden, farmer’s market and even all the different recycling organizations in town. It’s an amazing resource, perfect for anyone who wants to explore the city in as green a way as possible.

Turns out, it was created by this company called Green Map — they’ve done other great work, too, like the super-stylish Stockholm Green Map, a Beijing Green Map (perhaps with a list of not-so-smoggy areas?), and my personal favourite, a Compost Map of Manhattan.

You can even poke around and meet the mapmakers in your city, or become one yourself.

So as today’s change, I’m going to try to green my tours — of Toronto, when people visit me, but also of other cities when I visit them. Because while organized eco-tourism is all fine and dandy, sometimes it’s nice to just go off on your own, map in hand, and figure stuff out for yourself.

Recycling my cycling (Day 319)…

January 13, 2008

This is Mike, of Mike the Bike. I discovered his underground repair shop the other day while in Kensington — poor Deni was suffering from a squishy front brake and some rust spots, and I figured I should tend to these ailments now before the Springtime rush of tune-ups.

Now, I usually go to Sweet Pete’s for all my cycling needs because I love Pete and he knows what he’s doing. But his shop is also somewhat out of my way, so when I drop Deni off, it’s a long, lonely walk home. Mike, on the other hand, is right around the corner.

But more importantly, he specializes in recycling bikes, and has a whole wall full of used parts and equipment. Plus, he even gave me a loaner to keep overnight (it was single-speed, bright blue with red handlebars and back-pedal brakes — I felt like some sort of hipster Mary Poppins on it!).

Aaaand, get this: Turns out, he also has this delivery company, where for as little as $5 you can get your take-out food, laundry, office supplies, etc. dropped off right at your front door, courtesy of Mike and his custom-made bicycle with two honkin’ baskets on either end — so there’s no carbon guilt attached! (Well, except for the Styrofoam container holding your curry roti; you should definitely feel guilty about that).

Finally, you’re guaranteed service with a smile, maybe even a few jokes, too. When I got home yesterday, I looked at the bill he gave me, and instead of writing “half tune-up” as he said he was going to do, he had written “1/2 tuna” — cute!

So from now on, I’m greening my bike maintenance by only getting used parts and tune-ups from someone who understands the importance of recycling and refurbishing.

Photo courtesy of torontofotobug on Flickr