Category Archives: sustainable

Like Wine for Trees

Next time someone asks if you prefer red or white, say, “How about green?” If you had to choose between wine and the environment… But what if you didn’t? Oenophiles and tree huggers, unite and raise a glass to sustainability! A carbon neutral wine is now available in Ontario and British Columbia. Santa Margherita’s Pinot Grigio is not only Carbonzero Certified, but also for every 750ml bottle sold from April 1st to 26th, 50 cents will be donated to Tree Canada in support of creating sustainable forests across Canada.

sustainable wine, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio

The sustainable taste of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, carbon neutral and top seller

Ideally, environmentally and ethically, everything we buy would be sustainably produced down the road at eco-friendly outfits by well-paid workers who loved their jobs. But most things we buy come with an ecological cost. I happen to like Italian wines (and Spanish, French, Chilean, Argentine…), so while I enjoy a number of wines produced in nearby Niagara and though I am conscious of the environmental expense of transporting wine and other products across the ocean and the continent, I sometimes want—okay, often want a wine from some excellent but distant wine producer.

In the past, I’ve had wines marketed as eco-friendly, with names like “Happy Frog” or whatever, some of which taste like what their names imply. But Santa Margherita’s Pinot Grigio (apparently the top selling Italian wine in Canada) I will drink again.

Okay, so I like the wine, but what is its environmental status? At Canada Blooms (on at the Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place, until March 23rd), I spoke with the instigators of this initiative. Federico Trost, Santa Margherita’s sommelier and export manager, spoke of his company’s sustainable production practices “from grape to shelf.” They not only control the growth of the grapes, they even make their own bottles.  When I asked Carbonzero CEO Dan Fraleigh how Santa Margherita earned carbon neutral status for their Pinot, he praised Santa Margherita’s ongoing initiatives, which include emissions reductions and renewable energy production (for details, see http://www.carbonzero.ca/news) and then described three of the projects undertaken with the carbon offsets the winery purchased to make a difference beyond their own efforts and be certified carbon neutral: projects with Bison Transport in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, turning landfill emissions into fuel in Niagara, and repurposing methane emissions in Quebec. He said these aren’t the “excuse to pollute” variety of carbon offsets; they are “buying offsets that wouldn’t otherwise have existed.”

Michael Rosen, president of Tree Canada, which plants 600,000 trees a year, told me the cost, from germination to planting, is $4 per tree. Less than the cost of a glass of house wine, but still an expense. Fortunately, on top of the 50 cents for each bottle sold, Santa Margherita will donate another 50 cents every time you use the hashtag #sm_pinotgrigio. So, give a tweet, and if you want to enjoy a wine with no fossil fuel aftertaste, go to an LCBO or BC Liquor store (by foot, bicycle, public transit, or carpool) and stock up for Earth Day with Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, the one with the plantable basil-seed tag around the neck (750ml LCBO $17.95; BC Liquor $19.99 ). Sustainable wine? I’ll drink to that!

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Theatre Review: The Sacrifice Zone

The Sacrifice Zone

photo by Michael Cooper

Theatre Review: The Sacrifice Zone

If David Suzuki and Tim Flannery collaborated with Cirque de Soleil and the Fifth Estate, they might come up with something like Theatre Gargantua’s new drama The Sacrifice Zone. Toronto’s Theatre Gargantua is a hearty theatrical feast—contemporary, multi-disciplinary, multi-media. In collaboration with Aussie/Brit playwright and human rights lawyer Suzie Miller, they have developed a challenging show which examines how much people might sacrifice for justice, their families, their jobs, and other sometimes conflicting priorities.

The story—which seamlessly incorporates mystery, social commentary, and philosophical dialogue—is conveyed through a collage of dialogue, movement, acrobatic dance and image projection. It’s not one of those things you watch and whisper to your companion “We could totally do that”.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/November-2013/Theatre-Review-The-Sacrifice-Zone/

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Where Your Purchases and Information Come From

“This Headline Is Irrelevant” will never make the front page. The evening news will not say, “Tonight’s top story, Nothing to Report.” You’ll get a lot of “news” about sports, and “Muslim Rage”, but never, “Government Forsakes Tax Payer Interests to Bail Out Acme Corporation” or “Tonight’s top story, our senior business correspondent, fired for investigating our major sponsor”. Likewise, products that admit “may contain nuts” will never admit “may contain cocoa harvested by captive runaway children”.

Spring Meadows Farm

Spring Meadows Farm

If you want legitimate information, you have to get it from the horse’s mouth. So I visited some animals and their farmers two weeks ago on Open Farm Day in New Brunswick. On two farms, I saw turkeys and chickens move about freely in open pens that were not spacious but not overcrowded. I saw pigs that were happy as pigs in…sod (that’s what they’re happy to be in). They ran to me like any family dog would, then scurried off and played. A week later, returning from the farmers market, I ate bacon that came from one of their cousins, smoked by the articulate, charismatic, happy-but-overworked (his words) young farmer with whom I spoke both on the farm and at the market.

Kingston Farmers Market

Kingston Farmers Market, New Brunswick

Another thing I saw on Open Farm Day was grass fed cattle. (Contrary to a popular myth, Canadian cattle can be raised exclusively on their natural diet of grass and hay year round; they just can’t graze in the pasture all year. The alleged “need” to feed beef cattle with corn—which they cannot easily digest, like making a lactose-intolerant person live on milk—is just a way to fatten them up in two years instead of three.) The four dozen cattle grazing in the field were as happy as cattle grazing in a field. The young ones, about 15 of them, were in a barn lined up almost shoulder to shoulder. The barn was clean and quiet, the air was fresh, the young cattle had fresh water and hay. What was distressing was that they were on very short tethers. For their first season, they can do nothing but stand up and lie down. The intelligent and personable farmer explained in plain and unapologetic terms that they are being shielded from pests (horseflies) and predators (coyotes) until they are grown. “We’d take them out for a walk every day if we could, but there are only two of us,” she said. “In the spring, they’ll be out in the pasture with the rest of them.” For a dog or a cat to be chained up like that for a year would be torture. But these are not pets. Compared to conditions for industrial cattle, such treatment is luxury. My first thought was, It’s so unfair. But I looked the cows and the farmers in the eye and, despite my sentimental misgivings, I felt that these were not conditions of cruelty and I did not feel the urge to return to vegetarianism.

If only we could all have such immediate access to the origins of all products we consume. To be able to drive an hour from home and see the very starting point of any item you pick up off the store shelf downtown, and form your own conclusions about how well the system is working. But for most people and most products, going to the source is not so easy. Where, then, do you get your information?

Around 1994, attending a presentation at UNBSJ discussing the emerging World Wide Web, I asked if it could be a reliable source of useful information. The presenter told me it would take time, but he believed it would gradually become a powerful resource.

My immediate reaction upon first reading about Twitter (back when I used to discover things on my own rather than through Facebook, to which I remember having a similar initial reaction) was, “What the hell is the point of that?” But as Oscar Wilde said, “The value of the telephone is the value of what two people have to say.” Although it is damningly faint praise, I can now say that a few minutes on Twitter supplies me with wide ranging information of significantly greater importance and interest than does “the news”.

People who have something valuable to say are finding each other. And, having been away from my own blog for some time, (the rewriting of my novel is going well, thank you), I was pleased to once again find something on my own—an increasingly rare occurrence—while looking for something to read in French.

http://alternatives.blog.lemonde.fr/2012/09/29/sourcemap-le-wiki-qui-simplifie-la-conception-des-produits/

This blog post introduced me to Sourcemap, “the crowdsourced directory of supply chains”. A project of MIT’s Tangible Media Group, Sourcemap “is a social network built around supply chains, enabling collective engagement with where things come from and what they are made of.” Something starts out as some project which then begins to attract a handful of geeks and enthusiasts, and then one day is suddenly indispensable, a tool which becomes to shopping (and selling) as a seat belt is to driving. People are becoming increasingly conscious of the harms their spending can be connected to.

A rant about fair-trade bananas or chocolate gets a pretty small audience. But responsible consumerism may become something in which everyone partakes as a matter of course once it becomes possible to confirm, as easily as checking the weather forecast, whether the thing you are planning to buy is produced under inhumane conditions, grown in night soil, derived from unsustainable sources, or shipped from thousands of kilometres away when a local, ethical, sustainable option might be available.

sourcemap showing sources of laptop

A Sourcemap showing sources of laptop components

With the “era of traceability” now upon us, participating in unsustainable and unethical consumerism is becoming increasingly inexcusable. Even here in backwards old New Brunswick, I am finding with no effort such things as fair-trade chocolate chips and local, grass-fed beef, at multiple locations and reasonable prices (no more expensive than the same products in fancy-ass Toronto where everything other than rent is generally cheaper than on the east coast).

sourcemap reveals shared problem of bottle shipping

Sourcemap shows shared shortcoming of shipping

Take a look, get involved. We can bring meaning to the phrase “guilt-free shopping”. Where did the parts of this computer come from? Where will they go when it is recycled? Who made your T-shirt and where was the cotton grown? Sourcemap is still a work in progress, and it may not dazzle you yet, but watch out. You may soon forget what life was like without it.

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Happy World Fair Trade Day!

World Fair Trade Day, take a step

World Fair Trade Day, Take a Step

 

I discovered today is World Fair Trade Day as I was having my “breakfast” of the Fair Squares (brownies) I made yesterday.

World Fair Trade Day (WFTD) is the largest Fair Trade event in North America, with events happening from May 6 to 20. But the most important event is when spend money on chocolate, coffee, sugar, bananas, and other products that are farmed in far away places, too often in conditions you wouldn’t want to perpetuate, even if it would save you 20 cents a kilo.


 

As my Fair Trade Day gift to you, here is my recipe:

Fair Squares

Mix

  • 1 cup flour (unbleached)
  • 2 tablespoons Fair Trade cocoa Fair Trade

Beat

  • 2 eggs from humanely raised chickens
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1½ brown sugar Fair Trade
  • ¾ cup melted butter from humanely raised cows

Combine, pour in prepared square pan.

Bake at 325°F for 35 minutes. Don’t overcook.

Icing, prepared just before the brownies come out of the oven and poured on while icing and brownies are hot (if you time it right, the icing will spread itself out in a smooth glaze).

In a small sauce pan melt and heat till bubbling

  • 2 tablespoons butter from humanely raised cows
  • 1 tablespoon  Fair Trade cocoa

Without delay, mix until smooth

  • 1 cup icing sugar Fair Trade is available, so if you don’t find it, request it
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 to 1½ tablespoons milk from humanely raised cows

And to be completely fair, share them. And don’t be shy about letting people know that the treat they are enjoying is not the product of abuse, exploitation and child labour.*

*Unless you had your kids make them.

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Water WAnTER: Waste Not Want Not

Water: Think Globally, Drink Locally

Whenever I think about what’s important, water comes to mind. Nothing does a body more good than water. I fill myself with water, I immerse myself in water. The closer I live to water, the happier is my life.

UN Water World Water Day

UN Water World Water Day

Water is it.

I would not claim that I use less water than others, but I think about how I use water, and I appreciate water. We use water the way we use the word “it“, without thinking about it, without considering what it means or where it came from or how we would get by without it. It’s crazy how it is always there for us.

Will water always be there for everyone?

If you don’t know what happened in 2000 when an American corporation bought all the water in [Cochabamba,] Bolivia, including the rainwater, then you have not yet seen the most important film so far this century The Corporation (2003).

Another film that should interest all fresh-water drinkers is Blue Gold: World Water Wars (2008), just one of the films being shown at the Ecologos free Thursday evening film series Water Docs in Toronto from March 22 World Water Day until April 22 Earth Day.

If documentaries aren’t your thing, consider the political weight of Canada’s water as examined in the dramatic Paul Gross mini-series H2O(2004).

Paul Gross mini-series H2O

What can one person do?

Appreciate your water. http://www.davidsuzuki.org/issues/freshwater/

Let others have their water. http://www.blueplanetproject.net/Involvement/index.html

Don’t stop bathing, but think about how much goes down the drain. Here are a couple of habits I’ve acquired:

  1. When running the water till is gets cold/hot, I collect that “waste water” in a pitcher and save it for my plants.
  2. BYOTW. I almost always bring a bottle of tap water whenever I leave the house. I’ve rarely had a day when I didn’t wish I had some water, so I try to always have some with me. (The only time to buy bottled water is when travelling in regions where the local water system carries little beasties my gut is not accustomed to and the other options are dehydration or dysentery. I’ve learned to go for sparkling water to make sure it is not bottled tap water).
UN Water World Water Day, How Much Water Is Needed For That

How Much Water Is Needed For That?

But water is wasted everywhere you look, and it’s not just about tap water and bottled water. Water is inextricable from agriculture, food security, the oil sands, etc., etc., etc. Water is everywhere wasted.

Happy World Water Day!

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Occupy the 99%: How to Shop on Buy Nothing Day

Buy Nothing Day? That’s not 99% commitment. Buy nothing wrong, 99% of the time. Buy ethical, buy fair trade, buy free-run, buy green, buy local, buy sustainable or buy nothing. If, only 1% of the time, you cave and buy into the 1%, the 1% won’t have the numbers they need and they won’t last.

Don’t like banks? Inconvenience them! Put 99% of your money in a credit union, and keep a no-fee account at a bank to pester them with transactions that cost you nothing and earn them nothing (like exchanging pennies for bills).

I thought local politics was a waste of time until Rob Ford made a mockery of democracy. My vote didn’t stop him, but next time I’m taking 99 voters with me to the poles. My vote didn’t stop Harper, but next time I’m taking 99 voters with me. Rant and vote and rant and vote.

Ninety-nine percent commitment doesn’t mean occupying a tent in the park. All that achieved is to get us talking. Now we’re talking! We’re talking 99% commitment. So occupy yourself.

Occupy your power.

Occupy your autonomy.

Occupy your focus.

Occupy your priorities.

Occupy your influence.

Occupy your vote.

Occupy where your dollar goes.

Occupy the change you want to see in the world.

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Conscious Food Festival, Thought for Food

Toronto’s second annual Conscious Food Festival at Fort York National Historic Site, today and tomorrow, is an opportunity to meet local people who bring you good things to eat. Unlike old familiar festivals around town, this festival is new enough that there is no waiting in line, no crushing multitude. Good food, good weather, good space, good music, good karma, good moods, good times all around!

Conscious Food Festival 2011 map of venue

Conscious Food Festival 2011

While other nations starve, most of us in Canada are able to eat anything from anywhere at any time. But think before you consume. Watching what you eat is about more than just your personal well-being. There are other people, other species, and a whole planet to consider.

It’s not as simple as following some no-buy list, or swallowing every “organic” label hook-line-and-sinker. As Dan Donovan told me when his Hooked fish market opened this spring, sustainability is not about which species you buy, it’s about how that fish gets caught. And the same goes for any other food item. It’s important to know where and how that food was grown, and how was it harvested and brought to where you are.

With Chef Martin Kouprie and members of the Pangaea team

With Chef Martin Kouprie and members of the Pangaea team (and a bag of cookies from ChocoSol!)

At the Conscious Food Festival today, I was fortunate enough to have a good long chat with affable, Fredericton-born Chef Martin Kouprie of Pangaea Restaurant. His new book Pangaea: Why It Tastes So Good is available at the festival at a discount. (And the halibut and ratatouille today did indeed taste so good!)

Other books that will give you thought for food are Locavore by Sarah Elton, Edible City co-edited by Christina Palassio, and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.

And if this kind of thing is your cup of tea, keep your eye out for the next Brewer’s Plate fundraiser.

Bon appétit!

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Wave Hello to Ocean Day

Mother’s Day is behind us and Father’s Day just ahead, but today is about where we all came from.

If you don’t know what’s going down in our oceans, read Sea Sick: the Hidden Crisis in the Global Ocean by Alanna Mitchell.

Here are a few other links to look at:

http://shorelinecleanup.ca/

http://www.vanaqua.org/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-notebook/ottawa-moves-to-expand-marine-protections-off-atlantic-coast/article2051915/

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/celebrate-world-oceans-day-on-june-8-and-beyond-2294726.html

http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2011/06/08/UN-marks-World-Oceans-Day/UPI-95141307567223/?spt=hs&or=sn

http://worldoceansday.org/?page_id=9

http://www.oceanday.net/

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Locavore Doesn’t Mean “Eat Locals”

Locavore is a new book (if you read as slowly as I do) by Toronto food writer Sarah Elton ( CBC Radio’s Here & Now). It’s a good book — published locally without pesticides or antibiotics, low-fat and high in fibre — but the title could be misleading.

An herbivore (“a” herbivore? now there’s something to fight about) eats herbs, a carnivore mangia il roastbeef, an omnivore eats a family car “specially designed for India”. So I opened this book expecting to learn something about how to take nutritional advantage of people in my neighbourhood. Sure the Emersons are lovely people, but could they be an important part of my diet?

Turns out “cannibalism” isn’t even in the index. Locavore is about choosing, when the choice is there, to buy food that is produced closer to home. Why is that such an important thing to do? Read it yourself, you lazy bugger!

Locavore by Sarah Elton

Locavore, by Sarah Elton

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