Eco-Conscious, Green Consumer, natural foods

Why Organic Food Is Becoming An Even Better Choice

For years, I’ve compromised. I prefer organic coffee, but it’s always been so pricey that I’ve mixed it half and half with cheaper Fair Trade but not organic coffee. Every once in awhile, I’d check the prices of organic coffee, but every time, even the store brand was much more expensive than the generic non-organic.

That’s why I was stunned when I checked it a few days ago and found that the store brand organic was actually cheaper per-pound than the generic non-organic coffee I usually buy. What’s going on here, I wondered. Well, whatever is going on, it’s going on with other foods too. The organic cereal that Daughter loves is cheaper than the giant cereal conglomerate’s non-organic and so were dozens of other items.

I have no actual proof for why this is happening, at least here in the Northeast, but I have a theory. Organic food production doesn’t use chemical fertilizers. Most organic producers didn’t have to adapt their growing practices when prices started rising, because they’d started out with a business model that uses less energy than big agro-businesses.

I suspect that their delivery fleets are more fuel-efficient also, because the kind of business owner who believes that organically grown produce is better is generally more eco-conscious. So as fuel prices rise and chemical fertilizers and pesticides add to the cost of the corn in your frozen dinner, Annie’s macaroni and cheese dinners are priced to compete with that orange-colored competitor from the Big K.

It will be interesting to see if this trend continues.

Authors: Rachel M. Gonzales from Rentbestcars.com

Eco-Conscious, Green Consumer, Plants and Gardening

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make a Safe Weedkiller

That’s what the folks at Nature’s Avenger Organic Herbicide did. I know, because Stephanie sent me a bottle to try and I have to say that I’m impressed. Not that I hate weeds or use a lot of herbicide, but there are some places – like in front of our garage door – where the dandelions and sow thistles are starting to take over. Even better, Geekdaddy got a chance to use something with a name that sounds like it belongs to a superhero without me yelling at him for destroying the environment. (He belongs to the school that thinks that if a product isn’t toxic, dangerous, flammable, glowing in the dark and able to render you unconscious when used in enclosed spaces, it won’t work.)

Nature’s Avenger’s most active ingredient is d-Limonene which is citrus oil from lemons and other citrus fruit. You may have noticed it in your shampoo (Aubrey makes a great one with Shea Butter) where it leaves your hair squeaky clean without drying it out. It’s also in pet shampoos to help with fleas and odor, and in cleaning products and detergents as a degreasing agent. It works on weeds by stripping away their waxy cuticle and dehydrating them.

What I find amazing about Nature’s Avenger Herbicide is how fast it works and how easy it is to use. Stephanie and the instruction booklet emphasized that it has to be shaken just before use, so Geekdaddy shook it up well. He reports that the spray nozzle on the bottle is very well made, unlike a lot of sprayers that practically sprain your wrist after a few sprays. You just spray it until the plant is covered, which is easy to tell because Nature’s Avenger forms a white emulsion.

The product brochure says that it takes an hour or two for most plants, although some large stubborn weeds may need a second application. The geek said it worked even faster than that on narrow-leaved weeds and, yes, the huge, mutant dandelions that tower over our walkway took two applications, but they ARE the weeds that laugh at weed whackers and the kids have reported hearing “Fee-fi-fo-fum” in that area.

The brochure also says that you can plant where you’ve used Nature’s Avenger in four hours or so, which I find remarkable. I’m a skeptic though, so I waited four and a half hours and planted some pansies. That was two days ago and they’re still looking very healthy. Grass is starting to come up where the dandelions were and the dandelions haven’t come back, so the taproot must have been killed.

I think this is an excellent product, because it could knock other toxic herbicides out of the market. It’s gotten lots of press and was even used when the EPA and National Park Service de-weeded and then replanted the National Mall in Washington, DC. The Discovery Channel’s News featured it in an interview with Paul Tukey of SafeLawns.org, as I mentioned in a previous article, which is where Stephanie noticed it and offered to let me try a sample.

So, if you think that the only effective way to kill weeds is with Roundup or other chemical herbicides made from synthetic chemicals such as glyphosate, you might want to read about glyphosate’s alarming effects on humans here and turn to the only natural organic herbicide that works in two hours or less and is completely non-toxic to humans.

One last note: My favorite weedkiller, up until now, has been vinegar or boiling water poured full strength on them. However, the vinegar didn’t work very well, even with several applications and the boiling water splashed my foot and gave me a nasty burn. I was thinking of getting some so-called “natural vinegar” herbicide, but I’m glad I didn’t.

The stuff is 20% Food Grade Vinegar (Acetic Acid), so wouldn’t you think it’d be safe? Turns out that any concentration of acetic acid over 11% can cause serious burns and even blindness if you splash yourself with it, as I am so prone to do when I pour anything from coffee to wine. Worse, Acetic Acid at high concentrations is extremely flammable, so storing it in the garage may not be such a hot idea, no pun intended.

Then there are the “soapy” herbicides, which are fatty acids and don’t work well unless the fatty acid is synthetic, expensive and not-organic. Corn gluten works so-so if you spread it before the weeds show up, but it attracted mold and our Black Lab, Jetta, who ate enough of it to have digestive problems.

That’s why I’ll be sneaking up on a dandelion this afternoon with the spray bottle of Nature’s Avenger in hand. I love the bright little yellow flowers and will let them have our four acres of fields around the house, as long as they share it with the other wildflowers. But when they get to the point where the car can’t get into the garage for weeds, it’s time for them to go. Thanks, Stephanie.

Eco-Conscious, Great Green Sites, Green Consumer, Health Alert, In the News

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Into The Water – 1,4-dioxane

Sometimes I feel like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland, running just to keep up with developments in Green products. Bisphenol-A is discovered, then it’s banished, then we find out it didn’t really go completely away.

We learn which companies to trust – then find out that some of them have been lying on their labels or just leaving ingredients out of their label list. What’s a concerned consumer to do?

Take 1,4-dioxane, a known carcinogen and petrochemical. Now, wouldn’t you think that companies like Seventh Generation, Ecover, Method, Nature’s Gate and Aura Cacia – to name just a few – would do the right thing and list it on their products that contain it? And how can they get away with NOT listing it if it’s in their products?

Well, there’s a little loophole in the labeling laws – one that I wouldn’t expect ethical companies to take advantage of – but they do. 1,4-dioxane is considered a “contaminant”, not an ingredient. So, it doesn’t have to be listed as an ingredient. It’s produced as a by-product when a process called “ethoxylation” is used to cheaply make products milder when they contain harsh ingredients.

So, it’s in the product, but they don’t tell you it’s in the product, so you don’t KNOW that it’s in the product and that makes everything all right. Right? After all, consumers won’t mind when they find out that they’ve been putting this carcinogen in their dishpan, in their washer, on their kids, on their pets and on themselves.  And, so what if a little bit of it gets into the environment and filters through to the water table and into the soil. It’s not on the label, therefore, it’s not really there and it can’t hurt anyone, right?

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty burned up about this. If you can’t trust supposedly ethical, Greener than thou companies like Seventh Generation and Ecover, who can you trust? I’ve been paying more for their products over Clorox and other mega-companies who’ve just jumped on the Green bandwagon, because I wanted to support the companies who were Green before it was popular. Now, I’m rethinking that whole idea.

Do they really deserve my loyalty if they’re willing to lie by omission about a known carcinogen? I expect this kind of thing from mainstream manufacturers who have been doing it for years and getting away with it. It’s not a shock when I find that Dial, Lever, Johnson and Johnson, Ajax, Palmolive and Olay, for instance, also sell products with 1,4-dioxane in them and don’t list it on the label.

I need to hear from these companies that they’re not going to do this kind of thing again. I want to be assured that they’ll tell me everything – and I do mean everything – that’s in their products, no matter if it’s an ingredient, a contaminant or something that leeches out of the container into the product.

In the meantime, if you’d like to make sure that your personal care and cleaning products don’t contain 1,4-dioxane, The Organic Consumers Association, where I got most of this information, has a really nice Pocket Safety Guide to Personal Care and Cleaning Products that you can print out and take with you when you shop.They also have a lot of information on this and other subjects of interest to Green consumers.

Or, if you’d like to read about alternatives to products with carcinogens and hidden ingredients, you can stop by “Best of Mother Earth” where my friend, Karen recommends and sells several. I’d like to thank her for her post which alerted me to the 1,4-dioxane scandal in products from “natural” companies and for all the posts she writes about something she’s passionate about – the earth and all who live on it.

Eco-Conscious, Green Consumer

A Little Idea That Could Change The World

Everyday, it seems that some big company or other announces “the biggest solar/wind power project yet” and everyone oohs and aahs. “We can power the United States with solar panels in the southwestern deserts”, they say, and everyone applauds. And why not? Wouldn’t it be nice to be out from under our dependence on foreign oil and dirty power plants? Well, yes, and no.

While I’m all for using the sun and the wind to produce energy, I’d prefer that it be a little smaller and closer to home, rather than from some huge, major grid project that has my Maine home’s electricity coming from solar panels in Nevada or windmills in the mountains of Vermont. And instead of covering acres of wilderness and mountaintops with solar panels and wind turbines, why can’t we use the rooftops of structures that already exist for solar panels and reclaim the mountaintops Big Coal scraped and scarred for wind turbines?

My idea of a better system for generating power includes more individual control. Allowing big corporations to control the oil supply for decades led to the mess that we’re in now in the Mid East and in the United States. Having a huge grid system to deliver power to each region of the country leaves us vulnerable to equipment failure and weather-related outages. No one owns the sun or the wind and everyone can use solar and wind power, as long as their location will support it.

So, am I saying we should all go out and buy solar panels, climb up on the roof and install them ourselves? Well, it’d be nice if we all could do that, but not all of us are spry enough or good at building things. Some of us can, if we’re able to afford the materials and handy enough with tools to follow directions like these at Your Green Dream, where there are several plans for DIY home solar and wind projects.

For those of us who are hammer and nail challenged, it would be very helpful if there were low-interest loans available for home solar and windpower – and hydro and geothermal also. There are new heat pumps that work even in cold climates and small hydropower generators that are suitable for homes or clusters of homes. How about a planned community – maybe Section 8 or for elderly people – with its own solar power, small wind turbines or hydro-generator?

Thin-film solar panels are competitive in price with metal roofing and there are new, more compact, quieter wind turbines that can be installed on the roof of apartment buildings, schools and factories. Because they’re vertical axis, they don’t pose a hazard to birds or ruin the aesthetics of a building’s roofline. I would think that wind power could be shared by several homes, also. What if developers included the renewable energy source from the beginning of the planning stage and included the cost in the price of the homes? If buyers realized that they’d be saving a bundle on energy costs in future, it could be a strong selling point.

More tax breaks to encourage consumers to use renewable energy, drive more fuel-efficient cars, use public transportation and conserve resources should be part of the next president’s plan to both free us from our dependence on oil and also address global warming and environmental degradation of our soil, water and air. Instead of giving millions to big companies, why don’t we invest money in many smaller projects on rooftops in every city and town? After all, freeing consumers from high energy bills would give them more money to spend and save, which would be good for the economy.

If this post has inspired you or if you already have solar in your home or life, here’s a link to a company that will give you a free t-shirt just for sending them a photo of your solar-ness. They even say that they’ll send you something if you draw them a picture of “an avenging sun god doing battle with an army of winged zebras.” I wonder if they allow stick-figure zebras?

Green Consumer

Health Care is Neither, Here’s Why

Everyone is weighing in on what type of health care plan we should have. Some people think it should be universal – a government funded and run system that covers everyone from cradle to grave. Other people think that’s too radical and prefer a system that more closely resembles what many people have now – privately run, for-profit health care insurance companies funded by employers and employees. My opinion is that it doesn’t much matter which of the current versions of health care plans eventually gets through Congress and into circulation. None of them will help very much because they don’t address the real health problems in America.

They’ll work for the pharmaceutical and food companies, who are the real cause of our health care crisis. They’ll work for the lobbyists who make sure that the drugging of America and the sorry state of our food supply aren’t even mentioned as a contributing factor in why so many people are sick in America or not as healthy as they could be. They’ll work for the Cancer Society and the Heart Association and the other organizations that have people wearing pink and donating money to “cure” the big diseases that kill so many of us. But they won’t help most of us get cured or – more importantly – prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes and the conditions that are so intimately connected with the “Big Three”: Obesity and Poor Nutrition. Nor will they do anything to address the fact that almost half of the population takes at least one prescription drug and almost all of us eat way too much sugar, empty calories and food with pesticide, fungicide and herbicide residue in it.

How in the world can we expect to be healthy when we eat crap? Sometimes, in the case of animals that have eaten feed made from other animals – literally. Does no one else think that it’s ironic that so many people take prescription medicine for heartburn, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes rather than make better food choices, eat less or exercise so that they’d lose enough weight to reduce or eliminate these problems?

And, even if everyone of us gets a health care plan, where are the doctors who will care for us? There aren’t enough general practice physicians now to see everyone who can afford to go to them. So, if all of a sudden there are millions more people able to go to a doctor, how will this work? It’s obvious that the educational system we have for producing doctors needs an overhaul immediately and that should be part of any health care plan. However, there are still quotas for how many doctors can be trained and it still costs way too much for that training. How about if doctors could get subsidies if they “gave back” to communities that need physicians? That would allow them to start their professional lives without the burden of huge loans to pay back.

And, how about if we go back to billing for doctor’s visits and not for procedures? That all started when insurance companies got involved, because the bean counters needed to have a code for every little thing that happened during a doctor/patient visit. It’s also how visits went from around a half hour to between ten and fifteen minutes. And, back to increasing the number of doctors again, that also would help with the time factor. A doctor just can’t get to know a patient in fifteen minutes. A patient can’t cover everything they need to say in that amount of time. Maybe if doctors had more time to talk to patients about eating healthier, losing weight and exercising, more people would get the message.

Unfortunately, because most people spend a lot more time watching TV than they do in their doctor’s office, it’s the drug companies with their endless commercials that are listened to and taken to heart. When did we accept the completely irrational idea that most of us need a prescription drug every day? Think back to as recently as twenty years ago. How many prescriptions did it take to keep you alive then? How many pills did our parents and their parents take? My grandfather lived to be 89 and never took so much as an aspirin. My mother lived to be 87 and, until the last few years of her life, never took anything except for two prescriptions for antibiotics for a urinary tract infection. When I heard about it, I told her about how cranberry juice can prevent them and she started drinking a small glass daily and never had any more problems.

And this leads to my last concern about how health care is viewed in this and other industrialized nations. Natural is bad and unreliable and only doctors and pharmaceutical companies know what’s good for us. Now, I’m not advocating that we completely avoid allopathic drugs. There’s a place for them in modern medicine and it would be foolish to say that they’re bad or worthless. On the other hand, I’m really tired of reading about how dangerous it is to rely on natural methods, because they’re unproven, don’t work and are outright dangerous. Dismissing all naturopathic treatments, herbs and home remedies as worthless is just wrong. There are many time-proven natural remedies that work as well – or better – than anything. I’m thinking of a recent study I just read about that found that dark honey worked better than dextromethorphan for coughs in children and another study on Manuka honey’s ability to cure MRSA infections – even ones that are resistant to Vancomycin.

I know from personal experience that drinking vinegar and honey helps my digestion and lowers my blood pressure. I also know that ginger helped my friend’s morning sickness and that cinnamon lowers blood sugar. Not all natural treatments are worthwhile, but then again, neither are all allopathic drugs and treatments. We need to use common sense for health care, which brings me back to why our nation’s brand of “health care” doesn’t care for our health. It focuses on fixing what’s wrong with us, instead of preventing what goes wrong if we don’t eat and live the way we should. Until we understand that, we’ll just keep getting sicker and no amount of drugs or money will be able to save us.

Frugal Tips, Green Consumer

I’ll Say It Again: You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Be Green

It’s summer and I’m busy, so here’s a post I wrote back in March that’s even truer today.)

Most of us are feeling the economic pinch of higher prices these days. Rising fuel and heating costs are contributing to higher prices for just about everything. So how can the average family combine cutting back on luxuries with going greener? True, many organic, natural and eco-mindful products cost more than the cheapest alternatives, but that just doesn’t mean that we have to give up and buy generic detergent at the dollar store. It means that we have to be ever more creative, innovative and clever. It also means that we might have to trade time and/or convenience for cost.

For instance, I love 7th Generation products. I’ve used them for years and I know that they work as well or better than their polluting, less ecologically sound counterparts. At my supermarket, they’re usually priced higher than the generic brands, but sometimes only a few cents higher than the big national brands like that detergent that comes in the orange package, for instance. What really helps is their newsletter and the coupons they almost always have on their site.

I signed up for their newsletter a while ago and have enjoyed several of their coupons since then. Here’s the link if you’d like to sign up to get the Seventh Generation newsletter. And here’s the link for their coupon page. Last time I looked, they had coupons for cleaning products, diapers and detergent. I really like their new 2X concentrated detergents.

Here are some other sources for green coupons: Pristine Planet always has a good selection. My favorite coupon site for everything RetailMeNot has a long list of coupons for green goods. However, be sure that you check the expiration date on the coupon you want to use. Some of them are out of date. OrganicCoupon.org also has a very good selection of online, offline and printable coupons.

If you can’t find a coupon, maybe you can use something else. A couple of pieces of aluminum foil for dryer sheets. White vinegar in the fabric softener ball instead of that blue softener that has formaldehyde in it. Hey, you want to soften your clothes, not embalm them, right? Ditch the paper towels and say what we do when we dust. Holey socks, Batman! (Since my only method of darning socks involves dropping them into a trash can while muttering, “Darn these socks!”, dusting with them works better than darning them.)

Use your ingenuity and figure out how to do things without all the gadgets and plastic junk they sell at Wally World. You can do it. You might even find that it’s fun to think outside the box. (And after you’re done, give the box to your kid to play with instead of buying them a lead paint covered cute little toy from the discount store. Kids love boxes.)

If you think of anything that can help save money and the earth at the same time, share it in a comment. I’m always up for new green info – and saving green too.