Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring has surely sprung here in L.A.—sprung forward to summer actually, as this weekend temps were in the mid-80's already. Air quality is still what I can only imagine as 95% pollen but hopefully my body will adjust soon and put an end to this 2 week-long allergy attack. Managed to get out for a good quick 2 hour hike in the hills this morning—so unusual to see the hills so green. I know that won't last much longer with more 85ยบ days. Crops are coming up, well something's coming up. At first I believed it the seeds I planted—basil, pansies, cucumbers, lemon balm—but the seedlings all seem to look suspiciously the same in every pot (the hazards of making your own compost, invariably what you thought was dead last year is back after a winter hibernation in the worm bin.) And finally, we have what seems to be some sort of lover's serenade outside—each evening at around 11:30pm, a bird shows up and begins his call and answer—so loud and clear you'd think it was in the room with you. What is most unique is that this bird changes his call over and over, repeating each call only about 5 times before moving onto a completely new call. Ornithologists, assist!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Reading List: "Stirring It Up"

Just finished reading Gary Hirshberg’s new book “Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World”… Hirshberg is the founder and CE-Yo of the Stonyfield Farms Yogurt empire and long time fighter of the good fight in terms of organic farming, recycling and all-around ecological goodness.
Hirshberg is positive about our ability as a society (and specifically business owners) to turn things around and I think that’s an important trait for this type of book. Too much of the ecological reading of late is all doom and gloom without positive solutions to back it up. He presents other companies that are also making headway into making a difference (many of the usual suspects are recapped here) Clif Bars, Patagonia, Newman’s Own, and Timberland but a few others that one might not expect like WalMart, who have come a long way in their struggle to no longer be deemed the root of all evil. Overall, a pretty good quick read with positive themes and important details on why we should all take a little more interest in how companies do business in the age of climate change.

Friday, March 14, 2008

OCA Report on 1,4-dioxane

A difficult article to read today in the LA Times, but something that shouldn’t be ignored: The issue at hand is the Organic Consumers Association, an independent research group discovered that out of 100 “natural” products tested, 47 of them contained 1,4-dioxane, a compound that the EPA has declared a probable human carcinogen because it causes cancer in lab animals. The compound is not intentionally added to products like soaps and shampoos, but is “a byproduct of a process used to soften harsh detergents”. I got the feeling that it was written out of spite (the whole thing has the tone of “ha ha, look we busted all these so-called natural products.) What’s worse, the products listed in the article are all by reputable companies, companies that fight the good fight and that would have (or should have) known better than to let something like this happen. What’s even worse is that because these companies tout themselves as being so environmentally friendly, they will be scrutinized worse than a public official caught with his pants down.

Seventh Generation has already posted a response to the report on their site.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Recycle, Upcycle or No-cycle

Found this link from the good folks at Terracycle, bottlers of the finest worm tea that money can buy:

They have partnered with Clif Bar, Stonyfield Farms, Capri Sun, and Honest Kids to start a pilot grassroots recycling program for energy bar wrappers, yogurt cups, juice drink pouches, and plastic bottles. Each type of material is allocated so many spots for people to sign up to be delivered recycling boxes. (I tried to get in on the energy bar program, since I eat about 300 Clif Bars a year, but they had already filled their 500 member quota by the time I got there. Waiting list here I come.) As incentive, each item submitted for recycling earns .02 to .06 cents for the non-profit organization of your choice. I may track down someone on the list and offer up my collected wrappers, just to get them out of the house. The collected energy bar and juice pouch recyclables are actually "upcycled" into (fashionable?) bags, the yogurt cups are turned into small planter cups, and the 20oz plastic bottles are used by Terracycle to package their worm tea for sale. In fact, while they claim the program as "recycling" and keeping the waste out of landfills, it's actually only delaying the disposal. (Eventually that "graffiti painted flower pot" will have to be disposed of. And they also don't mention anything about what they do with the cups they receive that cannot be used. Direct to landfill then?) A good effort, but this program seems like it's merely something that they can trot out to children to make think recycling is a better idea than conservation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Oopsie. After judging Sara Bongiorni for tailoring her own China boycott to not include gifts bought by friends, I’m guilty of the same thing. Wanting lamps for our new office, I sent my friend out for them and she came back with two floor lamps and a few packs of CFL bulbs… all made in China. Alas, alack, March’s goal is going about as well as February’s.

Monday, March 10, 2008

March Resolution: Keeping track of where it all comes from

So I’m going to be a little retroactive with my China boycott and do a little check in with my (non-food) purchases for the last 2 months:
Bicycle rack for car: remarkably made in USA
Ikea pillow cases: Ethiopia (not very well made, but hard for even me to turn down at 50 cents each)
Thread (3 different brands): Mexico, USA, and Germany
Cell phone ear piece: China, naturally (there may be no electronics produced anywhere else)
Tin toy box with a handle: China, of course (anything with a cartoon character on it is definitely off the slow cargo container from China)
Northface backpack: Vietnam
Target rug: China, (I’m giving myself a little slack on this one, since it’s made of bamboo, and that’s an indigenous product of China…okay, who am I kidding, it’s a stretch.)
Gap Jeans: I had my hopes, but Made in Hong Kong still equals Made in China. No indication of where the fabric was made, but still hoping since the majority of denim is American made.
CVS brand Band-aids: no point of origin, distributed from Woonsocket, RI
4 packets of seeds: Colorado

Saturday, March 08, 2008

12 Resolutions February Wrap/ March intro

February wrap up:
Well it’s very evident that I am a horrible vegetarian. I started the month off and only 2 days later, a slip. I probably slipped about 4 times before I got to the final week of the month, and there is where it all went off the rails as they say…it was just too easy not to think about what I was eating. (I think I finished the last day with a big bowl of Texas chili, but hey, when in Dallas. I'll have it known, I had the tuna when we ate at Morton's.) So I might revisit this goal later in the year to see if I can try to be better at it, but for now, a definite failure. But March is another day, isn’t it Scarlett?

So March’s goal is roughly based on Sara Bongiorni’s book “A Year Without ‘Made in China’.” It was her decision to try to survive a full year without any product purchased for her family bearing that ubiquitous ‘Made in China’ label—a fairly easy undertaking for me who doesn’t shop often and lives alone, but she felt overwhelmed by having to feel like she wasn’t depriving her two children (both under the age of 5). In fact, I disagree a bit with her methods: It is slightly cruel to spend a child’s life telling them that toys are great and wonderful and then all of a sudden change your mind and say “Nope, no more China toys,” cutting them off cold turkey. And then parade them up and down a toy store aisle showing them all the things they can no longer have. When her kid cries to her and asks her to have 2 more children and tell them when they’re born and not when older that China things are bad, even a four-year old gets it. Because nearly every toy sold in America is manufactured in China. Last year’s lead paint scare has probably done little to change the fact that toys are Chinese.

The other issue I have with her boycott is that she is boycotting products that are indigenously Chinese: she feels guilty that she overlooked that Mandarin oranges are Chinese, which seems silly to me—the point of the boycott was to show how China has taken over production of so many products that were originally produced in other places, as far as I can tell, Mandarin oranges are exclusively Chinese.

The Bongiorno’s boycott has made them more thoughtful, more conscious of their shopping habits and that is exactly what I am going to do with my own attempt at a Chinese boycott this year. I’m going with a cold turkey boycott for the month of March, and hopefully continue with a “buy China when it is the only practical option” in the future. But I plan to keep my purchasing traits unaffected: the best way to stay free from China products or (other sweatshop goods) is to stay a conscious consumer: buy only what you need, buy from reputable companies, buy for durability, dual function and take care of it once you get it home!