Friday, September 28, 2012

How To: Add More Flaxseed To Your Family's Diet

Flaxseed is rich in Omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid and fiber, nutritional beneficials it is likely your family could use more of. If you have never purchased flaxseed, it is located in the baking section of most supermarkets. It is available as whole seeds or ground—finely ground flax seed yields the most nutritional benefits. Whole seeds can be ground using a blender or a coffee grinder. Here are few quick tips for adding more flaxseed into your family meals.

 Add 1/4 cup ground flaxseed to your favorite pancake mix, and for extra flavor add 1 tablespoon of vanilla.

 Sprinkle 1/4 cup of ground flaxseed on your favorite homemade or frozen pizza. Cook according to normal directions.

Breads: Brush dinner rolls with olive oil, sprinkle the rolls with ground flaxseed, and warm them in the oven.

 Add flaxseed (1 tablespoon – 1/4 cup) to your favorite bread crumbs and use this mixture as a coating for tofu, fish, poultry, or pork, or as a topping for casseroles, stuffed mushrooms, and more.

 Sprinkle ground flaxseed on hot vegetables just before serving OR sprinkle ground flaxseed on a salad and toss with dressing.

Breakfast: Add a teaspoon of ground flaxseed to yogurt, oatmeal, or granola.

Dessert: Sprinkle ground flaxseed on vanilla pudding, ice cream, or apple crisp.

Visit Healthy Flax for more great flaxseed recipe!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Russia Bans GMO Corn Following French Study, Many Scientists Skeptical

Rospotrebnadzor, Russia's federal service in control of protecting consumers' rights and well-being has suspended the import of genetically modified corn made by Monsanto, following a report by the University of Caen in France. Gilles-Eric Seralini, the French scientist behind the two-year long study, says rats whose diet consisted of Monsanto's genetically modified NK603 corn,  or were exposed to it's top-selling weedkiller Roundup suffered tumors and organ damage more often than rats in the control group. 

Published in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology, the study details the animals consuming the genetically modified corn developing mammary tumors as well as sever kidney and liver damage.  According to the final report, 50 percent of male and 70 percent of female rats died prematurely, compared to only 30 percent and 20 percent of rats in the control group. Many Americans as well as people in other parts of the world are calling the study and Russia's decision, clear evidence that humans should not consume modified crops, especially Monsanto's corn. The study prompted Vice-Chairman of the European Parliament's commission for agriculture, Jose Bove to call for the immediate suspension of all EU cultivation and import approvals of genetically modified crops. Bove spoke out about his request saying, "This study finally shows we are right and that it is urgent to quickly review all GMO evaluation processes." 
Does the study in fact prove once and for all that GMO crops are dangerous? Some scientists aren't agreeing with Bove just yet. Members of the European scientific community, not associated with the study have voiced their skepticism, with one French scientist accusing Seralini and his colleagues of going on a "statistical fishing trip."

Tom Sanders, head of the nutritional sciences research division at King's College London says Seralini's team did not provide any data on how much the rats were given to eat, or any documentation of their growth rates. 
"This strain of rat is very prone to mammary tumors particularly when food intake is not restricted. The statistical methods are unconventional…and it would appear the authors have gone on a statistical field trip."

David Spiegelhalter of the University of Cambridge said similar concerns arose when he learned of the study's findings, stating that the methods, statistics and reporting of all results were below standard. Spiegelhalter added that the study's untreated control arm comprised of only 10 rats of each sex, most of which also suffered mammary tumors. 

The French government, who recently decided to uphold a ban on cultivating GMO crops, has asked health and safety officials to assess the study as well as reaching out to the European Union's food safety agency, EFSA for assistance in taking a closer look at the study and its findings. The EFSA plans to deliver their initial review of the study sometime next week. 

With both sides of this study and Russia's recent decision to ban all Monsanto crops from entering their country shrouded in controversy, the only certainty at this the friction between both sides of the GMO debate is heating up.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Getting The Dirt On What's Really Organic

With consumption of organic food throughout the United States on the rise and potential legislative measures, such as California's Prop 37 and private retailer Whole Foods instituting a third-party organic certification system, consumers are more interested in what their food and other products contain than ever before. Idaho news station KTVB recently investigated the cost of local organic foods and what goes into 'organic' certification. As of 2008, USDA numbers show Idaho ranks in the top ten states for organic food sales with more than $71 million in goods sold each year.

How Do You Know It's Organic? by Jamie Grey
"More and more people are concerned about where their food's coming from, and how it's been grown and what's gone into it," said Ariel Agenbroad, Horticulture Educator at the University of Idaho Extension Center in Canyon County.
Agenbroad says people are choosing to buy organic for a variety of reasons, including personal health beliefs, concerns about sustainability, and worries about food treated with chemicals.
Organic vs. Conventional: Cost comparison at the market
KTVB did a quick cost comparison using two grocery stores to check prices of organic produce and conventional produce. Calculating a simple average, recent prices showed organic produce generally costs around 50% more than non-organic.
For example, we found non-organic strawberries selling at $2.00/lb, while organic strawberries were $2.99/lb. Non-organic raspberries were $2.99/lb, while organic were $3.49/lb. The most drastic difference was green peppers: non-organic peppers sold for 59 cents each, while the organic variety cost 153% more at $1.49.
While those prices may shock some, we did find some items priced equally or cheaper. For example, organic navel oranges and organic kiwi fruits were priced lower per pound than their non-organic counterparts at Albertson's.
Is it really organic?
"You can trust the label -- that if it says 'certified organic by' -- that they are being inspected," said Brandon Lamb, organic program manager for the Idaho State Dept. of Agriculture.
Lamb and other inspectors check farms to make sure they're meeting USDA organic standards.
"How they're going to comply with those rules and regulations, how they're going to manage for pests, what their plan is for soil fertility, what their crop rotation is," Lamb said.
Organic farms earning more than $5,000 a year have to get certified through the USDA standards, proving they're using required sustainable farming practices. In Idaho, there are more than 200 certified organic operations, and most are growing crops.
How does a farmer or rancher get USDA certified?
Lamb allowed KTVB to accompany inspectors visiting a local vineyard for an organic re-certification inspection. Rocky Fence Vineyard in Emmett grows organic wine and table grapes and has always farmed organically. The vineyard sells to a local winery and ships table grapes internationally.
"These grapes here are just from the Idaho sun, and from the Idaho mountains," grape grower Michael Medes explains.
We found the several-hours-long inspection got down to the nitty-gritty -- from checking extensive records, receipts and plans, to walking down every row of grapes looking at the vines, to checking sheds, equipment and sprays. The idea is to check for sustainable farming practices at every level of production.
In a certified organic operation, natural pesticides, fertilizers, equipment, and other implements are allowed unless otherwise prohibited by the USDA. Synthetic products are not allowed unless specifically listed. Idaho's organic program (1990) is older than the federal accreditation program (2002), and regulations are continually getting tighter.
Farming organically costs significantly more
The USDA recently surveyed farmers nationwide, and found organic operation and production expenditures around 60% higher than conventional expenditures. The average organic farm spends $171,978 per year, while other farms spend an average of $109,359.
"If I could use a herbicide, it would be a lot easier," Medes said. "If I have to treat my vines when I have problems, the treatments usually cost about three times more than conventional and are about a third as effective."
Medes showed KTVB a gallon container of natural, USDA organic approved treatment that cost between $200 and $300 for one container. Growers say the higher cost has to be passed on to consumers, though they say the product from using organic practices is worth the price.
"We try to get our grapes tasting better so it's worth paying more. I mean that's our goal," Medes said.
Since consumers do sometimes pay more, organic growers say USDA certification is proof consumers are getting their money's worth.
"I'm glad they're real strict, because if the consumer's going to spend for organic produce, they should be protected that we're not spraying these things," Medes said.
Dept. of Ag: Other terms like 'spray-free' are not regulated
KTVB checked out several food labels at a local farmer's market and saw words like "natural," "no spray", "sustainably raised" and "country organic." Experts say those labels could mean the farmer is using organic practices, but they may not be certified or regulated.
"Consumers want to look for the organic label. [There] is the USDA issued label, and only growers that have gone through the process of becoming certified and gone through the paper work and had inspections done on their farm have permission to use this logo and call their produce certified organic," Agenbroad said. "Lots of other people will use terms like 'natural' or 'no spray' or 'organically grown', but those don't come with the seal, so it's not an absolute guarantee."
Knowing that information, experts suggest you check labels and ask questions to make sure a farm's growing practices match up with your personal beliefs about food.
"[If] You're buying based on your values, and if it's important for you to see farming happen in that way, or support a grower who uses those principals or practices, then it is worth the money to you," Agenbroad said.

Small farms don't have to be inspected to use 'organic' labeling
Lamb says small farms earning less than $5,000 a year don't have to get inspected to advertise that they're organic, they just need to register with the state. Lamb's office handles those applications as well. Usually, he says getting a small farm organic certificate is just a quick check and registration process, and does not include inspection.
Boise's Capital City Market requires proof of USDA organic certification from anyone who wants to sell using the term 'organic'. Other terms, like natural or spray-free aren't checked because the market says there's really no way to check because there aren't standards or certificates for those terms.
Fines, penalties and suspensions for incorrect use of 'organic' label
Growers and producers can be denied certification, have their license suspended, or issued a notice of non-compliance with the USDA if inspectors find violations with their methods.
"Every year we have approximately 10 to 15 operations that are suspended, but typically that's for failing to apply," Lamb said.
Lamb and his office also investigate if people report problems or suspect an organic farm or operation is out of compliance. He says they usually investigate complaints within 24 hours.
Additionally, the USDA issues fines to growers or operators found to be using the "Certified Organic" label fraudulently.
New organics health study by Stanford
Looking at the health aspects of organics, a new research study by Stanford University shows practically no nutritional difference between organically and non-organically grown produce -- but does show a big difference in the use of pesticides.
Organic fruits and veggies have a 30% lower risk of pesticide contamination than non-organic. However, no studies found specifically that pesticides at non-organic levels cause harm.
Scientists also looked at pork and chicken. They discovered there's a 33% greater risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in non-organic pork and chicken. They also found higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk and chicken.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Whole Foods Sets New Standard For Organic Beauty Products

Cosmetic companies have been throwing words like 'herbal',  'natural', and 'organic' onto their products for years with no actual definition or standardized requirements to do so. Literally, anyone could put the word 'organic' on a beauty product, whether it actually was or not.

The Organic Consumer's Association started their 'Coming Clean' campaign back in 2004 and have been working diligently to weed out all illegitimate claims, limiting claims of 'organic' to be made only by products that have been certified by USDA organic standards. OCA's mission recently received a huge boost with Whole Foods announcing themselves as the first and only national retailer to implement third-party-certification standards, ensuring that products that claim to be organic, really are.

Leading the fight on organic legitimacy is Jeremiah McElwee, global coordinator of Whole Foods' Personal Care department who recently said,
"Believe it or not, there are no Federal laws that regulate how the word 'organic' can be used on personal care products. Our shoppers don't expect the meaning of organic to change between store aisles, and neither do we. Our suppliers eagerly took on the challenge of making crucial ingredient and label changes. Thanks to their tremendous support, our shoppers can trust that all products in our I.S. stores labeled as 'organic' truly are."
The national retailer undertook this daunting task in June of 2010. 2 years later, all personal care products of the shelves of Whole Foods are in compliance with the following standards:

  • Products making an "Organic" product claim - Must be certified to the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) standard for organic (>95%) products. 
  • Products making a "Made with Organic [ingredient]" claim - Must be certified to the USDA's National Organic Program standard for Made with Organic (>70%) products. 
  • Products making a "Contains Organic [ingredient]"claim - Must be certified to the NSF/ANSI305 Organic Personal Care Standard
  • Products listing an organic ingredient in the "ingredients." listing - Organic ingredient must be certified to the USDA NOP standard.
Joe Dickson, Quality Standards coordinator for Whole Foods went on to say, "People have the right to know what's in the products they're using on and in their bodies. We're confident that this first step for the industry will not only help shoppers make choices with more peace of mind, but also improve the integrity of the organic label in the body care aisle, curtail deceptive labeling claims, and substantially increase the use of certified USDA organic agricultural ingredients in personal care products."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kale: The New Food Superhero

It's no surprise (we hope) that eating a variety of natural, unprocessed vegetables can do wonders for your health. But kale has been standing out amongst it's veggie peers lately, recognized for it's exceptional nutrient richness, health benefits and unique flavor. 

So what exactly makes Kale such a devastatingly healthy superfood? Let's take a look: 

1. Kale is low in calories, high in fiber and has 0 fat. One cup of Kale has 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber and 0 grams of fat. This makes Kale a great tool in helping digestion and elimination. 

2. Kale is high in Iron. Per calorie, Kale has more iron than beef (wow!). Hemoglobin, the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body depend on iron to carry out their essential functions. Iron also promotes cell growth and proper liver function. 

3. Kale is high in Vitamin K. Maintaining a high amount of Vitamin K can help prevent various cancers. Vitamin K also plays an essential role in bone health and the prevention of blood clotting. Recent studies are concluding that Vitamin K can also help those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that vitamin K reduces the overall risk of developing or dying from cancer. 

4. Kale is filled with powerful antioxidants. Chances are you've heard quite a bit about acai berries, strawberries and others as powerful antioxidants. But kale is a big contender as it contains a heap of carotenoids and flavonoids, both of which are powerful antioxidants that help prevent cancer. 

5. Kale is a great anti-inflammatory food. One cup of kale is filled with 10% of the RDA of omega-3 fatty acids. Your body can't produce these essential fatty acids, so it's important to get them from your food. A diet full of kale will help overall brain function, prevent arthritis, asthma and other autoimmune disorders. 

6. Kale is great for the heart. Eating kale can keep your cholesterol levels low. 

7. Kale is high in Vitamin A. Kale has provided carrots with a new teammate to help help your vision as well as keep skin healthy and help prevent lung and oral cavity cancers. 

8. Kale is high in Vitamin C. 1 cup of kale contains about 80mg of Vitamin C which keeps helps keep you hydrated, your immune system strong and metabolism healthy. 

9. Kale does a body good. Per calorie, kale has more calcium than milk which as decades of pop culture ads have taught us, prevents bone loss, osteoporosis and maintains a healthy metabolism. 

10. Kale is a great detox food. Kale is filled with fiber and sulfur, both great for detoxifying your body and keeping your liver healthy. 

Kale is fast and easy! 
  • Kale chips are one of the easiest and most poplar uses of kale! Simply tear the kale off the stem into bite-size pieces. Toss the kale into a bowl with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt and give it a nice shake. Bake in the over for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees and voila! 
  • Make a simple salad with lots of thinly sliced kale, red pepper, onion, raisins, and your favorite salad dressing
  • Braise chopped kale and apples, garnish with chopped walnuts and a splash of balsamic vinegar. 
  • Cover and cook a pound of chopped kale with a few garlic cloves and 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 5 minutes; season with salt, pepper and a tablespoon of red wine vinegar
Check out more kale recipes here!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Organic Brands Caught In The Middle Of Prop 37 GMO Fight

18 other states, including California have attempted to pass laws similar to Proposition 37, The Right to Know Genetically Modified Food Act and failed. With 1 million signatures, Prop 37 is the first such measure to reach the statewide ballot. If passed, genetically modified food products would include the words "Partially produced with genetic engineering" on the label. 

With voting day (Nov 6) drawing closer, giant food companies are dumping millions of dollars into an effort to stop Prop 37 before it even begins. Companies such as Monsanto and Coca-Cola, among others have donated approximately $23.5 million dollars to fund stopping Proposition 37, according to the Cornucopia Institute. Monsanto currently holds the title for largest contribution with $4.2 million dollars, followed by PepsiCo (Izze, Naked) with $1.7 million. Next is Coca-Cola (Honest Tea, Odwalla) with $1.1 million. Kellog (Kashi, Morningstar Farms, Gardneburger, Bear Naked) has contributed $632,500 to date with Dean Foods (Horizon Organic, Silk) contributing $253,000. 
(Full list of companies, subsidiaries and donations to stop Prop 37 below) 

Prop 37's opponents are attempting to stop Prop 37, citing their desire for a federal-level measure on GMO's as a more practical solution, as well as claiming that the passing of the act will burden farmers and the industry overall with exponentially higher costs and make farmers susceptible to numerous lawsuits, alleging that many growers will improperly label their food. 

Coca-Cola and Monsanto are presumably large enough to survive any perceived backlash from consumers for funding the opposition of something that two-thirds of Californians favor. However, smaller organic companies such as Odwalla and Honest Tea (both owned by Coca-Cola) are finding themselves caught in the middle of the fight and left with a lot of the stress. 

Most of the tension is from consumers, who are discovering that their favorite organic companies are owned by those opposing Prop 37. Cornucopia Institute founder, Mark Kastel told the New York Times, "They feel like they've been had." Kastel went on to say, 
"Consumers aren't always aware that their favorite organic brands are in fact owned by big multinationals, and now they're finding out that the premium they've paid to buy these organic products is being spent to fight against something they believe in passionately." 
In an age where voicing opinions online is easier than ever, many consumers have taken to the social media sites like Facebook to post messages of dissatisfaction such as, "I will no longer buy your products since you are spending the $$ on defeating Prop 37...". 

There are however plenty of organic companies coming together with coalitions such as Yes on 37 to get the word out about voting yes on Nov 6. Organic brands on the "pro" side of the GMO labeling measure include Organic Valley, Clif Bar and Amy's Kitchen. (See a full list of Yes on 37's supporters here)

Contributors of $23.5 million to stop Prop 37 (according to Cornucopia Institute)
Monsanto: $4,208,000
PepsiCo: $1,716,300
Coca-Cola: $1,164,000
-Honest Tea
-Simply Orange
Conagra: $1,076,300
-French Meadow
Kellog: $632,500
-Morningstar Farms
-Bear Naked
General Mills: $520,000
-Cascadian Farm
-Muir Glen
Smucker's: $387,000
-R.W. Knudsen
-Santa Cruz Organic
Dean Foods: $253,000
-Horizon Organic
Biotechnology Information: $375,000 each
-Dow AgroSciences
-BASF Plant Science
-Grocery Manufacturers Association

Monday, September 17, 2012

Composting 101

Understanding composting can be a bit intimidating. but fear not!...One of our favorite resources, Earth911 has compiled tons of great information to make the process of conjuring up your first compost pile a not-so-complicated challenge, hopefully increasing your knowledge and not stress! 
According to the EPA, 24 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream is composed of food remnants and yard trimmings. If these materials were diverted to another use that kept them out of the trash, a significant portion of the country's everyday waste could be recovered for reuse.
Enter: composting. Grass clippings, food scraps and yard waste are all ideal materials to add to a compost pile. This means that starting one is about more than just creating a great soil booster for your garden or farm - it can cut down on your waste output as well.
For those who have been thinking about starting a pile for some time now, but are still unsure about taking on the challenge, understanding the basics of composting can make it a less intimidating process.

First Thing's First: What is Composting?

For households, composting is a way to recycle certain materials and kitchen scraps and turn them into a beneficial soil amendment for home gardens and reduce waste output.
For small-scale farms, composting is a way to utilize the residual plant and animal material generated and put it to good use as a fertilizer and soil-builder for future crop production.
In both cases, composting is the natural process of decomposition, sped up by a deliberate strategy in a concentrated environment to transform materials such as grass clippings, vegetable scraps, newspaper and more into a new material (known as "humus") that can then be incorporated back into the soil. Also, composting with worms, or vermicomposting, is another option over traditional composting using outdoor bins.

Break It Down: The Process

So, how does composting work? According to Nance Trautmann and Elaina Olynciw of Cornell University, microorganisms break down organic matter, producing heat, carbon dioxide, water and humus in the process.
When composting is done correctly, a pile undergoes three optimal phases:
  1. The mesophilic, or moderate temperature phase, lasts 2-3 days
  2. The thermophilic, or high temperature phase, lasts anywhere from 3 days to several months, depending on what is in the pile
  3. The cooling and maturation phase lasts several months
In the first stage, what are referred to as mesophilic microorganisms quickly break down the easily degradable materials in the pile. The microorganisms’ output of this breakdown is heat, so the temperature in the pile rise. High temperatures in a compost pile are necessary to ensure that the next phase—where thermophilic (meaning "heat loving") microbes replace the mesophilic ones—ensues.
Thermophilic microbes then kill any pathogens that may exist, as well accelerate the breakdown of complex carbohydrates, fats and proteins that exist in the pile. Important to note is that if temperatures in the pile go above 149 degrees Fahrenheit, even the heat loving microbes can be killed, slowing the rate of decomposition.
Because piles can get too hot, aerating, or turning the pile, is essential if the cooling phase is to be reached. The cooling phase is where the high microbial activity of the other two phases is reduced, allowing for the compost to mature and become ready for application.

The Do's and Don’ts: What to Add, What to Leave Out

Besides the process itself, knowing what ingredients should go into a backyard composting operation is essential for a successful outcome.
“Green” (nitrogen rich) and “brown” (carbon rich) materials are required to be in proper balance to ensure that the pile does not become anaerobic. Anaerobic decomposition occurs as a result of an improper chemical balance, mainly a lack of oxygen.
This lack of oxygen necessitates aeration (turning the pile). If the pile is not properly aerated or has too much nitrogen and not enough carbon, rotting and stinking can occur. A compost pile should never smell, according to the EPA.
So, how to achieve this proper chemical balance? Let’s start with the greens. Green materials refer to those that are rich in nitrogen. Some examples of green materials include:
  • Food scraps - Vegetable peelings are a common material produced by households and make a great compost amendment. However, never add animal-based leftovers (fat trimmings, meat, cheese, milk, etc) as the oils and fats are not conducive to a backyard composting operation.
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Manure - If you have access to manure from horses, cows, sheep, goats or chickens, it is a great compost ingredient because it speeds up the decomposition process. It is not a requisite for a successful compost pile, however. Never use manure from carnivores.
  • Plants and plant cuttings - Just-picked weeds from around the backyard (as long as there are no developed seeds or seed heads) are permissible, as are flower tops. Green leaves from a freshly cut branch work as well (just make sure to shred them).
Brown materials, on the other hand, are rich in another crucial ingredient, carbon. Carbon gives the microbes the energy they need to work. It is useful to shred most brown ingredients so as to lessen the workload for microbes, enabling decomposition to happen faster.
Some examples of brown materials include:
  • Dead, dry leaves
  • Hay and straw
  • Simple paper products - Newspaper, paper and cardboard
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Coffee grounds - tea bags and loose-leaf tea work as well
  • Wood ashes and sawdust - Use sparingly. Wood ashes can make the pile very alkaline, which limits microbial activity, and sawdust can take a long time to break down.

Some Final Tips: Water

According to the EPA, another important factor to keep in mind is the moisture content of the pile, since the hard-at-work microorganisms need an adequate amount to survive. Water also transports nutrients and organic matter throughout a compost pile, which keeps the pile from becoming stagnant.
But how do you tell if water should be added? According to the New York City Compost Project, if you have just loaded the pile with  autumn leaves from the backyard, make sure to add sufficient water to them so that they glisten. Doing so kick starts the decomposition process of the carbon-rich leaves.
Additionally, the NYC Compost Project recommends that "Optimal moisture levels for composting occur when materials are about as moist as a wrung-out sponge—obviously moist to the touch, but yielding no liquid when squeezed."
For advanced-level composting, moisture content instruments are available and can help you to be more precise, although rainfall will often do the trick, as it provides a slow soak that is optimal for a infiltrating a compost pile. For those in a drier climate, however, intentional watering will probably be necessary. Make sure to add water slowly and to turn the pile to incorporate the water so it reaches all sections.

Make It Easy!

To avoid countless trips out to the backyard to dispose of kitchen scraps, put them in an airtight bag and freeze them. This also helps to avoid the smell of old food.
Additionally, freezing will assist in achieving chemical balance in your compost pile. For example, if you have an overload of “green” food scraps from that get-together you had the other night and you do not have the necessary “brown” materials to balance out the pile, freeze the scraps for a while until you have enough "brown" to add to the pile.
Where you live and your particular climate will have a significant effect on your pile, some it occasionally may come down to some experimentation. For more guidance as well as some more advanced composting methods, check out the video below to get started:

Monday, September 10, 2012

All-Natural Air Fresheners

A fun, DIY recipe for making all natural air fresheners that look as great as they smell has been making it's way around the internet today. If you're a fan of natural fragrances we highly recommend you take a look at the post.

While some manufacturers have published data concerning the environmental impact of their products, most commercial air fresheners are met with skepticism in regards to their effect on personal health as well as the environment. One article by the Washington Post speculates that one ordinary plug-in air freshener uses 18.4 kilowatt-hours of electricity…the equivalent of 1 barrel of oil. Aside from any potential health risks, air fresheners can be expensive and let's be honest, they don't always smell so great. 

So why not turn an expensive, mundane chore into a domestic adventure?! But how?! Good question. We did some digging and with the help of some of our favorite resources such as Rodale News, were able to find a few whacky, yet effective ways of cleaning the air around your house. 

#1: Vodka
Ethyl alcohol, found in vodka and other spirits, is a main ingredient in most commercial air fresheners. But cleaning your air with vodka allows you to get rid of musty odors without saturating the air (or your lungs) with added chemicals, like petroleum-derived propellants and harmful synthetic fragrances. Vodka leaves no odor as it dries, so you can spray it straight into your air as is, or add 20 to 30 drops of your favorite essential oils for a pleasant scent.

#2: Kitty Litter
Have a smelly closet or musty basement? Set out a tray of cat litter, specifically, Jonny Cat Litter brand, recommends Joey Green of Joey Green's Cleaning Magic (Rodale, 2010). One primary reason that brand works so well has to do with the fact that the main ingredient is diatomaceous earth, a naturally occurring mineral that, among its many wonders, absorbs odors (it also absorbs moisture in the air, and kills pests that come in contact with it). So if you can't find any Jonny Cat Litter, buy a box of diatomaceous earth and set a few bowls out in the corners of smelly rooms. You can find it online from garden supply stores, such as Planet Natural.

#3: Coffee Grounds
Who doesn't love the smell of coffee? According to Green, it's another weird odor remover that helps cut the smell of winter mustiness. You can use fresh or used grounds, but if going with used, let them dry out a bit first. Place them in a bowl as is wherever you need an odor removed, or wrap them up in a coffee filter or old stocking and hang them in a closet or from a shelf. If you're not a coffee drinker, you can still benefit. Some Starbucks (and many small locally owned cafes) give their used coffee grounds away for free.

#4: A Palm Tree.
We're not talking about palm trees at the beach (though a beach vacation is a good way to get away from dirty indoor air). Palm trees used as houseplants are very effective air purifiers, known to remove formaldehyde, which lurks in paints, furniture finishes, and the glues used to hold pressed wood and particle board together. You'll get similar benefits from a variety of other houseplants, but palm trees are among the easiest to care for. Look for Dwarf date, bamboo, areca, lady, or parlor palm varieties.

#5: Your Skin.
Thanks to all the oils in your skin, dead skin flakes act like natural air purifiers, say researchers from Denmark. According to their study, published in the most recent issue of Environmental Science & Technology, one of the most common oils in skin, squalene, reduces levels of the indoor air pollutant ozone, a respiratory irritant that can trigger asthma attacks. After comparing levels of ozone in a day-care center's indoor air with the amount of squalene from skin flakes in its dust, the researchers determined that dead skin flakes can reduce ozone levels anywhere from 2 to 15 percent. Even we aren't sure how to best make use of this information, so please don't go around leaving skin flakes everywhere. But isn't it nice to know your very presence can make the air fresher? Also, ewwwww.
#6: Elbow Grease.
Ultimately, the best way to deal with smelly or chemical-laden indoor air is to go straight to the source. It's easier to eliminate an odor's cause than to try to cover it up with coffee grinds or cat litter. And indoor air pollutants that collect in dust can be trapped by a good vacuum and weekly dusting with a damp cloth. To prevent further polluting your indoor air, make your own green cleaning kit with white vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, and borax, all of which are also natural odor removers. For cleaning recipes, see How to Make Green Cleaning Recipes That Really Work.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Urban Foraging

Today's post comes from Bistro OneSix, an entertaining blog full of stories about all things delicious. Enjoy this post about urban foraging and then head over to Bistro OneSix for more fabulous tales from the kitchen. 
I hear the term “urban foraging” tossed around more and more lately and knew what my definition of it was but decided to look it up in the Urban Dictionary to confirm.
1.urban foraging
Urban foraging is a process of sorting through the dumpsters, gargbage bins, and other containers of waste to reclaim “wasted” food.

In looking a little further I found : Urban foraging can be defined as foraging for free fruits, vegetables, and other “wild food” around the city.
I walk and bike a lot around my neighborhood, and often come across trees that are so laden with fruit that they droop across the street, littering the pavement and sidewalk with overly ripe little bombs. I have contemplated doing a little harvesting but always considered that to be stealing. It’s someone else’s tree after all.
But then this whole “urban foraging” idea came to light. In fact, there’s a Google map for it in Boise, Idaho, charting out delicacies that can be found all over town. But the sound of my mom’s voice is in my head…”Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right.”
So, I wonder – when is urban foraging stealing?
I love blackberries. Like REALLY love blackberries and there is this huge blackberry bush on a road I cycle on all the time. Year after year I have admired them. This year intoxicated by the idea of urban foraging, I stopped one morning… just to sample a few. Before I knew it my hands were stained dark reddish purple. I quickly rode off like a kid that had just gotten away with something, feeling more than a little guilty. But shortly thereafter, their sweetness overtook my guilt and I returned with a box and picked as many as I could reach. It’s a busy road and with each passing car, I felt like at any moment I was going to get busted by the blackberry police. Or worse…the owner of the property.
But that begs the question, who does own these? They are on the side of a highway, seemingly in the easement. Does that mean they are ripe for the taking?
I like to explore the alleys of my neighborhood (there are lots of interesting things to look at in the alleys afterall) and there is an apricot tree that hangs heavy over the fence, rotten fruit strewn around the ground. Apricots are definitely on my list of summer fruit favorites (although let’s be honest…which summer fruit isn’t?) and so I stand there and ponder. Fair game to take them since obviously the owners aren’t harvesting or because I just used the word “owner” does that denote that indeed they intrinsically belonged to someone else? Are they “wild food” if they are in someone else’s yard?
My parents have gleaned potatoes and onions out of neighbor’s fields for as long as I can remember, albeit certainly with the farmer’s permission because that’s how they roll. Potatoes and onions that otherwise would have rotted. Potatoes and onions that easily fed our family with extras, to give to others, all winter long.
I refer back to the definition that kicked this all off. That of “reclaiming wasted food”. It sounds valiant. Honorable. Or maybe it’s just the way I justify the bowl of apricots on the kitchen counter.