What's good for you is good for the planet
With Earth Day on Sunday (April 22), it's encouraging to remember that what's good for the planet is also good for you. By considering a few environmentally sensitive choices that will enhance your own physical and mental well-being, you really can make the world a better place.
The planet doesn't need any more chemicals, and many fruits and vegetables are doused in them. Toxic by design, substances like the fungicide vinclozolin and the weed killer atrazine are considered endocrine disruptors, which cause changes in normal hormone signalling and can be especially harmful in the developing systems of children. To avoid pesticide- and herbicide-laden produce, look for items that are labelled organic.
The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit Washington, D.C.–based research organization, has devised a shopper's guide that lists the “Dirty Dozen” (the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticides even after washing and peeling) and the “Consistently Clean” (the dozen with the least amount of chemicals). If you like the idea of buying organic but don't like the cost, you can opt for nonorganic versions of the latter.
The most contaminated fruits and vegetables are peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes. The least contaminated are onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapples, mango, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, and papaya.
The shopper's guide—which is available for free download at www.foodnews.org/—is based on results of almost 43,000 tests for pesticides on produce conducted between 2000 and 2004 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.
“There is growing scientific consensus that small doses of pesticides can adversely affect people, especially during vulnerable periods of fetal development and childhood when exposures can have long lasting effects,” the site says. “Because the toxic effects of pesticides are worrisome, not well understood, or in some cases completely unstudied, shoppers are wise to minimize exposure to pesticides whenever possible.”
Besides supporting your own community and reducing packaging, purchasing local foods cuts down on “food miles”, which means not having to rely on foreign oil to ship food thousands of kilometres, thereby reducing fuel consumption and, in turn, greenhouse-gas emissions.
Local produce is also tastier and healthier. Items that are shipped in from other countries can take one to two weeks to arrive in the grocery store, and, consequently, they lose nutrients. To increase shelf life, they're often pumped with preservatives or treated with ionizing radiation.
Eating local also means eating fresh, which means there's less room in your diet for processed foods. Check out farmers' markets (see Your Local Farmers Market Web site at www.eatlocal.org/ for info) and local farms for everything from meat and poultry to dairy products to spirits, and consider growing your own food, whether it's in your back yard or a community garden.
MIND YOUR MAKEUP
Tons of toxic chemicals are found in cosmetics, from nail polish to lip balm to skin cream. According to the Environmental Working Group, only 11 percent of 10,500 cosmetics ingredients have been assessed for safety by U.S. FDA. The EWG has a safety guide called Skin Deep that has information on almost 15,000 personal-care products (www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep2/).
Consider mascara, for example. Estée Lauder's scores No. 45 on the list, the least safe of all mascaras tested. That's because it contains, among other substances, six ingredients that pose potential breast cancer risks; nine considered potential endocrine disruptors, which can impair fertility or development; and 15 ingredients, including hydrochloric acid and acrylamide, that are considered toxic in one or more U.S. government assessments. Plus, it has 20 ingredients that pose a threat “to wildlife and the environment through excretion and disposal of cosmetics and resulting contamination of water, air, or soil”, including benzyl benzoate, copper powder, and phenoxyethanol.
Lavera, by contrast, comes in as the safest of all mascaras. However, even that one has ingredients that are potentially hazardous to the immune system, liver, kidney, and skin. And it contains zinc oxide, which poses the same potential threat to wildlife and the environment.
“The government does not require health studies or pre-market testing for these [personal-care] products before they are sold,” the Skin Deep site states. “And as people apply an average of 126 unique ingredients on their skin daily, these chemicals, whether they seep through the skin, rinse down the drain, or flush down the toilet in human excretions, are causing concerns for human health, and for the impacts they may have to wildlife, rivers and streams.”
It's not enough to look for items that are labelled “organic”, “natural”, or “hypoallergenic”. You still have to check the ingredients. You could also consider going au naturel.
LEAVE THE CAR AT HOME
We all know not driving is good for the environment, but human-powered modes of transportation also provide a great way to fit in your daily workout. It's multitasking at its best.
Among the benefits of regular exercise are a boosted immune system, better cardiovascular health, stronger muscles, increased energy, reduced stress, improved posture and balance, and a decreased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and depression.
FIND OUT MORE
On Earth Day, Choices Markets (various locations) will give out information on environmentally friendly products from noon to 4 p.m. The Kitsilano location (2627 West 16th Avenue) will host an organic barbecue and fundraiser, with proceeds going to Birds on the Bay and the Land Conservancy, and the South Surrey store will have cooking classes using local and organic ingredients.
On Saturday (April 21), Whole Foods Market at the Village at Park Royal (West Vancouver) will have members of the North Shore Recycling Program, Farm Folk/City Folk, and Earthsave Canada on hand, as well as restaurateur John Bishop and organic farmer Gary King.