Eating Green

What does it mean to “eat green”? Eating green means eating whole, nutritious, minimally-processed foods that are healthy for you and the environment. Two important considerations for eating green are how the food is grown and where it comes from. Does that mean that everything you eat must come from a local, organic farm? Obviously not, but eating green is actually quite simple. Here’s what you should take into consideration.

Is it organic? The arguments for eating organic are plentiful: Organic foods are free of not only pesticides, but hydrogenated fats, artificial colors and sweeteners, and preservatives as well. Organic foods are not genetically modified, when the long term health effects of GM foods are still unknown. They taste better and studies show they are more nutritious and richer in vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids than non-organic food. And when it comes to the environment, organic farmers avoid the pesticides and herbicides that contaminate groundwater, erode soil, and damage local ecosystems. Now on the flip side: Who can afford to only buy organic food and are all conventional foods really so bad? Knowing which organic food is worth the extra cost can be confusing. Fortunately the Environmental Working Group offers a great resource with its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of the 12 conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides, along with a list of the 15 cleanest fruits and vegetables. According to the EWG, you can lower your pesticide consumption by nearly four-fifths by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and instead eating the least contaminated produce. You can print out a wallet-size list or download the iPhone app at ewg.org/foodnews.

Is it local? Purchasing from local farmers is a great way to get fresh, healthy food that hasn’t been chemically modified to keep its appearance after traveling half way around the world. Find farms and farmer's markets in your area at localharvest.org. What if the farm you like isn’t certified organic? Earning organic certification is a lengthy and costly process that not all farmers can afford. Instead you can ask your local farmer if they use organic practices or, if they’re not organic, if they use non-synthetic pesticides and/or practice minimal spraying. If they answer yes to any of these questions, then you're likely buying from a conscientious farmer who’s producing good quality, minimally-processed food.

Is it in season? Even if you don’t get to the farmers’ market, you can still make an effort to purchase local produce at the grocery store. To buy local means to buy in season. Yes you can buy pretty much any type of fruit or vegetable any time of year, but what sacrifices in quality and impact to the environment do you have to make? By purchasing local foods when they are in season, you avoid the environmental damage caused by shipping foods thousands of miles and you’ll get fresher tasting fruits and vegetables. You can better plan your meals around what’s in season with the seasonal produce guide available at sustainabletable.org.

How else can you green up your diet? You can cut down on your waistline and your food budget, while doing the environment a good turn, by swapping one or two meat-based meals a week with a vegetarian or seafood dish. One of your best options for fish is Wild Alaskan Salmon. Because it is wild-caught, it's purer in flavor than farm-raised salmon (which is fed pigment and antibiotics) and higher in omega-3 fatty acids. Another great option is canned sardines. Unlike tuna, sardines aren't in danger of being over-fished and are low in mercury.

Finally, one cost-efficient way to eat green is to simply cook at home and pack a lunch (in reusable containers) as often as you can. By preparing your own food you'll be better able to avoid preservatives, cut down on packaging (think of all those ketchup packets and napkins in take-out bags), and save money. Now that is eating green.


Water Filtration Options

Avoiding bottled water is an important part of being green. By switching to tap water in reusable bottles, you help keep plastic bottles out of landfills and avoid Bisphenol A (BPA) and other contaminants that may be present in bottled water. Unlike bottled water, tap water is regularly tested with test results reported publicly.

Most municipal water sources are safe for consumption, but the chemicals used to treat the water may leave an unpalatable aftertaste. And some private water sources may, at times, contain unhealthy levels of certain contaminants. Both issues can be resolved with a home water filtration system. Determining which system is best for your home depends on your current water quality. Before purchasing a filtration system check with your local Department of Public Works or the EPA website for your city's water quality report.

Once you know what issues you need to address, consider one of these options for home water filtration:

Faucet-Mounted Filter. Most faucet-mounted systems use a carbon filter. Carbon is a porous material that absorbs impurities as water passes through. These filters remove lead, PCBs, chlorine byproducts, certain parasites, radon, pesticides, herbicides, MTBE (a gasoline additive), trichloroethylene (a dry-cleaning solvent), some volatile organic compounds (VOCs), certain pharmaceuticals, and some levels of bacteria. You will need to check the filter package for more specific details about what it removes. It's best to select one labeled as meeting NSF/ANSI standard 53. A filter that is NSF-certified is third party verified to reduce health-related contaminants under specified conditions. For most people an activated carbon filter with NSF Standard 53 certification will be enough.

Reverse-Osmosis System. If your water quality report shows you need a greater level of filtration, a reverse-osmosis system may be a better option for you. Installed under the sink, these systems treat water as it comes into the home. Reverse-osmosis systems push water through a semipermeable membrane that works as an extremely fine filter removing impurities. Often used in conjunction with a carbon filter, these systems remove all the contaminants listed under faucet-mounted filter, plus perchlorate, sulfates, arsenic, barium, nitrate/nitrite, fluoride, industrial chemicals, heavy metals (like cadmium, copper, and mercury), chlorides, certain parasites, and pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately, these systems waste a significant amount of water during the filtration process – 4 to 9 gallons (15 to 34 liters) of water for every gallon (3.8 liters) filtered. Some systems will store that used water and re-purpose it for toilet flushing.

Ultraviolet Light Unit. In the rare case that your tap water contains unsafe levels of bacteria, an ultraviolet light unit can help. These under sink systems use high frequency light to kill living organisms. Class A systems kill bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Class B systems reduce nuisance microorganisms and are not intended for disinfection. It is recommended these systems be used in conjunction with a carbon filter to remove additional contaminants.

While your water quality is a (if not the) major factor is selecting a system, it's also important to compare initial purchase price, installation, filter prices, and other operating and maintenance costs. Faucet-mounted filters cost $20 to $50 and require a replacement cartridge that costs about $10 every three to six months (more often if you have hard water). Reverse-osmosis systems can range anywhere from $100 to $1,000 depending on size and quality. The membrane must be replaced every two or three years for $100 to $200 and filter cartridges every six months for $40 to $100 each. An ultraviolet light unit can cost anywhere from $100 to $300 for a basic, self-installed unit to $700 to $900 for a whole-house, plumber-installed system. The filter and lamp must be replaced annually for about $150.

Regardless of which option you choose, it will have to be properly maintained to be effective. Make sure to follow the manufacturer's maintenance directions to keep your water filtration system working properly.



All-Natural Cold Remedies

Cold season is upon us. Instead of using over-the-counter treatments that can leave you feeling groggy or out of sorts, consider some all-natural home remedies to alleviate your symptoms and get you feeling better as quickly as possible.

Fighting off illness takes a toll on the body. When you start to feel a cold coming on, it's best to get plenty of rest – conserving energy to bolster your immune system. If congestion makes sleep difficult, try propping yourself up with a pillow to relieve some of the pressure on your sinuses.

For a sore throat try the tried-and-true salt water gargle remedy. Gargling with a tablespoon of salt dissolved in a cup of warm water four to six times a day helps sooth a sore throat. The salt draws out excess fluid in the throat, reducing swelling and the associated pain.

There are a variety of natural treatments for congestion and a runny or stuffy nose. To start, garlic, with its antiviral and antibacterial properties, has been used to prevent and to treat colds for centuries. If you can stomach it, try eating one or two raw cloves as soon as you feel a cold coming on. Otherwise, you can boil a couple chopped cloves to make a tea or add a few lightly cooked cloves to your food. You may be able to ward off a cold completely or, at the very least, relieve your congestion.

Drinking plenty of warm fluids is another natural way to help clear up congestion. Drinking water, herbal tea, broth, juice, sports drinks, and ginger ale can also help prevent dehydration and keep your nose and throat moist. Just avoid dehydrating drinks like soda, coffee, and alcohol. One hot toddy (hot herbal tea, honey, and whiskey or bourbon) is fine.

Keeping nasal passages moist helps alleviate nasal congestion. Try inhaling steam, running a humidifier, taking a hot shower, and/or using a saline nasal spray. A Neti pot (available in most pharmacies) can help irrigate your nasal passages and provide some congestion relief.

A natural salve made with menthol, eucalyptus or camphor placed under the nose can help open breathing passages and sooth the irritated skin on the nose. Applying a heat pack to congested sinuses can reduce congestion and the pain and pressure with which it comes.

Finally, many people turn to natural supplements for a holistic way to fight off colds. There are several products in the market touting zinc as the way to reduce or eliminate cold symptoms, but the most recent research shows in has limited effects fighting cold viruses. Many people swear by echinacea to either prevent or treat colds. If it has any effect, it's only in a preventative capacity. If you want to try using echinacea, it's best use it daily during cold and flu season. It will be of little use once you're actually sick. Currently, the best bet in cold-fighting supplements is vitamin C. It does not prevent colds, but taking an 8 grams megadose as soon as a cold begins can help shorten the duration of a cold. This is my own personal go-to remedy and I did not suffer a single cold last winter.

And, of course, there is always Nana's go-to remedy – chicken soup. There is, in fact, scientific evidence that supports the idea of chicken noodle soup as a cold remedy. And, even if there wasn't, there's something to be said about a dose of nostalgia to make you feel better.

Eat Green by Avoiding the Produce Dirty Dozen

Buying only organic produce is not an option for anyone and knowing which organic produce is worth the extra cost can be confusing. The Environmental Working Group offers a great resource with its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of the 12 conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides, along with a list of the 15 cleanest fruits and vegetables. According to the EWG, you can lower your pesticide consumption by nearly four-fifths by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and instead eating the least contaminated produce. You can print out a wallet-size list or download the iPhone app at foodnews.org. You will spend your grocery money more wisely, send a message to the food industry about how you want your food grown, and cut harmful pesticides from your diet.


Think Twice Before Topping Off at the Pump

Here’s a word of advice for the next time you go to top off your gas tank: Don’t! Once the gas station pump nozzle clicks off the first time the gas you're paying for is not going into your tank. You’re wasting money on gas that is stuck in the hose or getting ready to spill on the next person. Topping off your tank damages the vapor recovery system that's designed to minimize the amount of vapors released into the air. Gas vapors pollute the air with volatile organic compounds that are harmful to our lungs and our environment.


Making Your Child's School a Green School

What better contribution can you make to your child's school than to help make it a green school? After all, a green school is a healthy school and a healthy school is more conducive to learning.

According to the American Lung Association, schoolchildren miss more than 14 million school days a year because of asthma exacerbated by poor indoor air quality. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), poor indoor air quality can reduce children's ability to perform mental tasks involving memory, calculations, and concentration.

While some environmental factors can be an impediment to learning, others can help bolster learning. Studies show that students in classrooms receiving the most daylight during the school day perform up to 20% better on math tests than children in classrooms with artificial lights.

There's also schools' environmental impact to consider. According to the EPA, 50% of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed when machines are turned off. Imagine what's happening in schools! Now factor in all the faucets left on by small children, the paper carelessly wasted by students of all ages, and the countless recyclables being tossed in the trash and that is one major carbon footprint.

Green schools strive to reduce their ecological footprint, while making the school environment more conducive to learning and all around healthier for students and staff.

Here are some ways you can help green up your child's school.

Pack lunches in reusable containers to avoid plastic and reduce trash.

Have your child walk, bike, or ride the bus to school. Alternatively, you can organize a carpool.

If driving, don’t idle your car at the school's pick-up/drop-off area.

Ask your child's teacher if the school has a formal policy about unplugging computers and turning off lights at the end of the day and during down times like lunch and recess.

Volunteer to make signs for your child's teacher reminding children to turn off the faucet when they're done washing their hands.

Donate an air-cleaning plant to your child's classroom. NASA spent two years testing 19 different house plants for their ability to remove common pollutants from the air. The most effective plants were proven to be philodendron, English ivy, spider plants, dracaena, weeping fig, golden pothos, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, bamboo or reed palm, and snake plant.

Offer to help your child's teacher with green projects and activities, such as nature walks (children can keep a journal of what they observe), making recycled crafts like milk carton birdhouses, growing plants in the classroom, planting a tree outside the school, or starting a recycling program.

Be an example for other families. Check out Raising A Green Kid to learn more.

Ready to go bigger? Organize a group for these green school initiatives.

Start your school's PTA or Wellness Committee (any school receiving federal funding for lunch programs is mandated to have one) on a get green campaign or establish a separate Green Team or Eco-Committee. The Green School Initiative offers a variety of resources to get you started.

Take the individual measures you've taken to a school-wide level. Encourage all parents to pack waste-free lunches and carpool. Install air-cleaning plants throughout the building and develop an energy conservation policy for the entire school.

Implement a no-idling policy for all cars and buses.

Seek out transportation companies with bio-diesel, clean diesel, natural gas or hybrid school buses.

Replace incandescent light bulbs with LED or fluorescent ones. Consider the installation of skylights.

Start a school recycling program.

Opt for eco-friendly, non-toxic cleaning products. Many of the products used to clean school buildings contain toxic chemicals that pollute the air and threaten children's developing respiratory systems. Look for products with the EcoLogo or Green Seal label (a list is available at greencleaning.ny.gov/Products.asp), use micro-fiber mops and cloths, and convert to high efficiency equipment such as HEPA vacuum cleaners.

Convert to environmentally-friendly school and office supplies. At the very least, try to avoid products made of PVC or #3 plastic.

Go to epa.gov/iaq/schools/actionkit.html for a free Tools for Schools Action Kit. The step-by-step guide shows schools how to carry out a practical plan to improve indoor air problems at little, or no, cost using straightforward activities and in-house staff. The kit provides best practices, industry guidelines, sample policies, and a sample IAQ management plan.

Make sure school grounds are maintained using Integrated Pest Management to reduce the use of chemical pesticides.

Consider a garden as a school-wide project. A school garden can be used in a variety of lessons – from art to science.

Remove vending machines and any other sources of processed foods from your lunch room. Promote fresh produce instead. This may involve that school garden or a CSA or Food Co-op program available from local farmers.

Green your school events. Cut back on disposable paper products and opt for reusable decorations.

For fundraisers, try selling energy efficient light bulbs, crafts made from recycled materials, or experiences instead of wrapping paper or candy.

Green up the curriculum. Earth Day Network's national GREEN Schools Campaign, in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and The Clinton Foundation, offers a variety of resources, including free K-12 environmental lesson plans and activities.

The Earth Day Network's goal is to green all U.S. schools within a generation. Help make that goal a reality by helping to make your child's school a green school.


Why Organic Costs More

If organic foods don't use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, why do they cost more? I've heard the question multiple times, so let's finally discuss the answer.

To start, organic foods don't necessarily always cost more. Some products cost the same or even less than conventionally grown foods. So shop around, compare prices, and don't always assume organic will be more expensive.

Economic law tells us that as the demand for organic foods continues to grow, the cost will continue to decrease. In the meantime, consider the following reasons for the higher cost of organic foods:

Organic foods cost more to produce. Organic farming is more labor intensive and involves greater operational costs. Instead of using pesticides with known health and environmental risks, organic farmers rely more on hand-weeding. This also means that these farmers run a greater risk of losing all or part of a year's crop. Also, the chemical fertilizers used by conventional farmers are inexpensive to buy and to transport. Organic fertilizers, like compost and animal manure, are bulkier and more expensive to ship. Even organic feed for cattle can cost up to twice as much as conventional feed.

Organic farmers rely on crop rotation to keep their soil healthy. This means that up to a quarter of their land at a time may be left to lie fallow. Most conventional farmers, on the other hand, use every available inch of land to maximize profit despite the fact that planting the same crop on every acre every year is an unsustainable practice.

Government subsidies are geared towards agricultural conglomerates that use chemically intensive farming practices. So, while you may pay less for conventionally grown foods at the supermarket you're actually already paid a price for them through your taxes.

Organic farms tend to be smaller and, despite their growth, only account for 2.5% of the U.S. food market, so they don't benefit from the same economies of scale as larger conventional farms.

Some of organic foods' higher cost comes from the retail sector rather than the grower. Some organic foods do not sell as quickly as their conventional counterparts, so the retailer increases the price in order to make the same amount of money per shelf space.

It's also important to be aware of the less obvious costs of conventionally grown foods. While many conventionally grown foods cost less at the market, you still have to factor in the cost to human health and the environment. Consider the higher incidence of some cancers and other diseases among farm workers and their families, as well as the environmental cleanup (e.g., contaminated water supplies and air pollution) paid for with our tax dollars.

According to the World Resources Institute, when measured with traditional cost analysis methods the average farm shows an $80 per acre profit. But after factoring in the external costs of soil loss, water contamination and environmental degradation caused by farming practices, the average farm shows a $29 per acre loss.

Then there is the loss of our traditional farming industry. Large corporate farms have forced millions of family farms into bankruptcy. In fact, over 4 million farmers have disappeared since the 1970s. Most of today's organic farms are small scale operations just looking to stay solvent. When you support organic you support farmers that are putting sustainability before profit.

The organic food market is still small, but it's growing quickly. Just over the past five years there has been a significant decrease in organic food prices and that is due, in large part, to all those people making a statement with their grocery dollars and buying organic. The power of the purse.

So if anyone ever asks you why organic food costs more when it requires less chemicals, tell them it's simple: Organic food is better quality food grown in a sustainable manner that preserves human health and the environment. Hopefully that will help loosen a few purse strings.