CHALLENGE: Connect with your food

sustainable swaps, weekly challenge

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My latest challenge has been to re-connect with my food. I think a lot of people blindly shop for their food these days. We simply don’t ask enough questions (where did this come from? Who grew this? What are these ingredients? What does this food do to my body? Are these ingredients harmful? etc). By connecting with your food, you connect with your body and health and happiness.

My “re-connection” with food was sparked by a recent dietary challenge* after trying veganism (FYI I was inspired to go vegan after watching the documentary Cowspiracy). However my body reacted so badly (terribly, painfully) to this new seemingly healthy diet that I had to keep a food diary and really, truly, think about everything I ate.

If you’ve watched a documentary like Cowspiracy, Food Inc, or even Jamie Oliver’s Fowl Dinners (I was vegetarian for years after watching that one!), you’ll start to question what (or more importantly WHO) you are eating.

Here are some simple challenges you can set yourself to reconnect with your food:

BUY LOCAL

There really is not comparison to buying your fresh food (fruit, vegetables, meats, dairy + more) from the farmer’s markets. You are buying direct from the grower. You can ask questions and get answers. It’s also a great way to buy food in season (i.e. not buying vegetables flown in from the other side of the world). It’s also a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning!

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EATING MEAT

Spending a good portion of my life as a vegetarian (and that small time as a vegan!), I have had to learn the hard (and emotional) way that I need meat in my diet. Some people make this choice because they simply like the taste. But hey, let’s at least give a shit about how this animal came to be yeah?

Some easy ways to keep meat in the diet in a sustainable and ethical way:

  • Get your portions right. The Australian Department of Health suggests a maximum of around seven serves of protein a week. A serve of meat is around 90-100g raw meat (that’s about the size of a burger patty!). So that means only one meal a day should be meat, or if you have a large portion of meat in one meal then skip the meat the next day. Don’t forget two eggs are considered a portion of protein, so you could forgo the meat all together if you had eggs for breakfast! Some quick and easy solutions: Cut your steak portions in half. Roast a whole chook at the start of the week and you’ll be set for days (you can even freeze the leftovers).
  • Choose ethically sourced meat. Livestock kept in natural habitats (i.e. pasture fed cows and free range chickens) are a better choice. Organic and bio-dynamic is even better. Their livestock are generally given a much better life and the farms they come from don’t use pesticides, herbicides, growth promotors or hormones – and they don’t eat genetically modified food.

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GROW YOUR OWN

I know, easier said than done – and nothing is more demotivating than being a plant killer. I’d suggest starting small; herbs are generally pretty easy and move on to leafy greens from there. Check on your plants regularly to check they’re happy and healthy and look out for pests. More on this later!

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REFUSE PLASTIC

This goes beyond remembering to bring your ‘green bags’ (which by the way, are an environmental nightmare in themselves – the fabric is made out of plastic!). But extending your bag collection to produce bags (some are made from mesh, or you can make your own hessian ones), and bringing plastic tubs with you (for bulk buying fine things like flours or liquids etc).

If you buy through a bulk buy store (who openly welcome you BYO container) or local farmer’s markets it will be a lot easier to avoid this conundrum. I fear that refusing plastic containers at conventional supermarkets will just have them thrown in the bin.

When I went to the farmer’s markets however, it was super easy. I asked the organic farmer if I placed my cherry tomatoes into my own bag would they take the plastic tubs back to reuse them? They were more than happy to accommodate me and even commented that the plastic tubs are quite expensive. I also managed to visit a banana stand just as the lady was about to bag up a kilo of bananas, I told her to not bother bagging them up and to simply had them over. No problem.

So here are some initial challenges to get you reconnected with your food. What will you choose first? What will be your biggest challenge?

 

* by dietary challenge I mean the doctors can’t seem to diagnose why I react to certain foods. I’ve spent the last 10 years eating a self-diagnosed gluten intolerant diet but am now finding myself intolerant of other foods too. The GP has simply handed over a FODMAP diet information sheet and wished me luck.

A local weekend getaway in Instagram photos

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There’s nothing better than getaway weddings – the kind that ‘forces’ you to travel to lovely locations. This past weekend I was ‘forced’ to spend four days in Eagle Bay, three hours south of Perth. It’s located on Geographe Bay and surrounded by wine vineyards and gourmet delights. I love this area for its passion for nature and being very ‘local’ focused. Isn’t it great that I can drive my fuel efficient car (with fuel consumption at around 7.4l/100km) for only three hours and find myself in paradise?

Here are some snaps from the weekend!

The view from our rented holiday house - of Geographe Bay

My favourite cafe "Kombi Cafe" at the Samudra surf and yoga centre. They have a huge vegetable garden where a lot of the food comes from. This is a raw, gluten free, vegan pizza!

Decorations from the wedding (a great upcycling idea!)

Lunch at Cullen Winery - an organic and biodynamic winery whose restaurant serves organic, biodynamic and locally sourced food.

Visiting the local beaches, baby bump and all. This is in Eagle Bay.

And one last stop at the Kombi Cafe - a (gluten free & vegan) live raw muesli with nut milk

With baby on the way it’s great to know a simple three hour car ride can provide a holiday in paradise, which is ALSO super kid friendly. There is so much yet to explore and I am excited knowing I’ll be spending the next few years discovering more wonders, so close to home.

Have you found YOUR local paradise?

Exposure to toxins – from birth and beyond

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I came across this great video from TED about a documentary filmmaker Penelope Jagessar Chaffer’s curiosity with the toxins exposed to unborn babies. With the help of scientist Tyrone Hayes, they discuss just one toxin – atrazine, a herbicide used on corn.

This video isn’t just for pregnant women, it’s an excellent representation of how something you can’t even see, but could unknowingly consume every day, can negatively affect you and future generations.

I’ve personally experienced what toxins can do to my body. When I was eleven I started randomly vomiting every day. This was on top of the various rashes, headaches and other ‘tell-tale signs’ I had been experiencing for years. The GP sent me to an allergy specialist who had no answers. It was only when my mother tried a Kinesiologist that we finally discovered that a red colouring (found in all sorts of things – my food, shampoo, nailpolish etc) had caused my body to have a toxic overload – that was just the final straw. Once I went on a toxic free life-diet I was immediately cured. Whilst my mother was always into wholesome cooking and healthy living, I had still been exposed to enough toxins, at age eleven, to tip my body over the edge.  This was a huge lesson for our family and we were forever educated on the importance of natural, organic products – free from toxins.

In the last few years I’ve become even more stringent with living a toxic free life, which I had fortunately achieved before discovering I was pregnant. When I started reading the holistic and green baby books, they made me realise that creating the best (and healthiest) environment for your unborn baby starts with YOU – your body is the first environment the baby experiences, so of course it’s the first place you should start. But why wait until you’re pregnant to improve your personal environment?

Fortunately I have already made all the essential changes to my life that they prescribed, this includes:

  • Organic food – means no pesticides.
  • Home prepared wholesome food – know exactly what’s in your food and have no unnecessary extras.
  • Organic & natural (no toxins) makeup and body care – your body absorbs through the skin and you wear makeup and moisturiser all day long!
  • Chemical free house cleaning – only a combination of water & microfiber cloths, or otherwise natural ingredients such as vinegar.
  • Plant and mineral based laundry and dish washing detergents – you wear clothes and you eat off plates, so why shouldn’t they be toxic free?

I’ve also found that being sustainable and living toxic free tend to go hand-in-hand. Sustainable living means treating the planet like you’d want to treat your body – with absolute care and respect!

I’ve decided to share my abovementioned experiences in toxic free living in future posts so you can see how easy it can be. Sometimes I forget that I even live toxic free, it’s that easy!

My local fair trade, recycled and organic shop

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I love my neighbourhood. Victoria Park is an old suburb in Perth with a pretty good sense of community. It started becoming even greater with the addition of an awesome cafe with great coffee, a book store, even a place to buy healthy smoothies and gluten free food – slowly but surely it’s getting everything I need so that soon I’ll never have to leave the neighbourhood! I even have my doctor, dentist and hairdresser here. But I feel like the icing on the cake was when I discovered U-Chus Fair Trade, Recycled and Organic Shop.

I am so embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know I had a fair trade store right near my house – walking distance in fact. It was only recently that I noticed it and have been trying desperately to visit the store since!

I met Glennys, the owner, when I arrived. Straight away you can tell that Glennys is really passionate and hands on about what she does. Both herself and her husband try to source great fair trade products from around the world – even visiting the countries themselves!

Glennys told me that U-Chus started as a party plan business where she would bring the products to your home for you to ‘shop’ with a bunch of friends. What a great idea for pre-Christmas! AND she still does it!

As she explains on the website; by purchasing from the U-Chus exclusive range of products at either the shop in East Victoria Park, online or through a party plan, they guarantee:

  • Excellent quality, unique designs and affordable prices
  • A fair price is paid to producers
  • No child labour, sweatshops or any other forms of exploitation in the production process
  • Long-term economic security for producers through regular trading with the same groups
  • Wherever possible organic, sustainable, or recycled materials are used to reduce any negative impacts on the environment.
And let’s not forget, supporting a local business is great too.

I’m so proud to get familiar and support all the businesses in my neighbourhood and to see some really great people trying to make a difference in the world. You should check out your closest fair trade, recycled or organic store. It’s great to know where you can shop for a great gift, something unique, but most of all something ethical!

Find your local farmers market

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In the last year or so I’ve gone from doing all my shopping at the large chain supermarkets to then shopping at the local independently owned markets and now I’ve discovered the local farmers markets. Supporting local businesses means so much more to me than supporting a large corporation with shareholders – and farmers markets are a great way to buy straight from the source in one location.

What is a farmers market?

The Australia’s Farmers Market Association defines farmers markets as:

“a predominantly fresh food market that operates regularly within a community, at a focal public location that provides a suitable environment for farmers and food producers to sell farm-origin and associated value-added processed food products directly to customers.”

Basically, farmers markets promote fresh, local and sustainable food systems. It’s also a great place to find local small businesses and artisans (think preserves, natural body products, arts and crafts).

My local farmers market

My local farmers market is the Farmers Market on Manning located at the Clontarf Aboriginal College grounds in Waterford open on Saturdays from 7.30am to 12.30pm.

There are fruit and vegetable growers (including a few organic and biodynamic ones), a few bakers (including an organic baker), a dairy stall (selling fresh milk and yogurt in glass bottles!), butchers (including an organic one), flowers, gelato, free range eggs, fresh juice stand (who have a great recycling bottle program), organic olives, raw honey…. just to name a few. There is also a bunch of freshly made food options – my favourite being an organic gluten-free crepes stand!

I’ve found everyone is so friendly and approachable, which is great if you want to know more about what you’re buying – you’ll actually be asking the growers/makers themselves. I’ve also noticed everybody brings their own reusable shopping bags. There are two big eating areas and we’ve made a tradition of getting breakfast there before we buy all our food. Even our dog Zeppelin loves the markets – yep that’s right, dogs allowed!

How to find YOUR local farmers market

The Australian Farmers’ Market Association lists association-recognised markets, or a simple Google search will probably put you in the right direction! Give it a go!

What’s so good about ‘Organic’?

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Organic is the latest buzz word around town and if you’re not sure what it is, you at least know it’s healthy… or something like that.

photo (c) Kat Wray

So what does organic mean?

According to the BPA (Biological Farmers of Australia):

Organic produce is grown and processed without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilisers, or GMOs with a focus on environmentally sustainable practices”.

To be certified organic in Australia there are three main focuses:

  • Soil fertility – methods such as crop rotation, green manure crops and composting to maintain natural soil fertility.
  • Pest & disease control – mechanical and natural methods of pest and weed control.
  • No GMO’s (genetically modified organisms)

This means no artificial fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides are permitted creating a more natural product. An organic farm must also adhere to these practices for a transition period of a few years before being certified organic.

Aside from your food being chemical free, you’re also supporting sustainable agriculture which also supports a better ecosystem.

To ensure you are not buying products that have misleading claims of being organic, looking for the accredited logo “Australian Certified Organics” is your best bet.

What does biodynamic mean?

photo (c) Kat Wray

Biodynamic farming is an enhanced version of organic farming (which actually predates it). Whilst similar to organic practices, biodynamic agriculture is all about ‘self-sufficiency’ where the entire farm becomes ‘a living organism’ – the farmer, the land, even the animals play a part – that’s right animals. Animal husbandry plays a part, as animals aid in successful crop rotation and the manure being an essential tool in cultivating the land for crop planting. The animals are primarily fed from the farm itself.

Vegans beware – aside from manure, there are other animal bi-products used to condition the soil, such as “cow horn manure” and “horn silica” HOWEVER, the guidelines depict that the animals receive continuous observant care and must be able to carry out their innate behavioural traits and recognise animals as ‘ensouled beings’.

Soil husbandry is the most important part of the system however, with high standards of soil conditions being vital.

Biodynamic Agriculture Australia explain Biodynamics:

“Biodynamics is a regenerative agriculture, holistic in approach and practice, through which the farmer and gardener bring the substances and forces of nature into a quality and sustainable production.”

The concept of biodynamic agriculture was born from the lectures of Austrian scientist and philosopher Dr Rudolf Steiner in 1924. Dr Steiner wrote the lectures at the request of local farmers who were concerned about the future of agriculture due to their depleting soil conditions and quality of stock. The concept was brought to life by other practitioners and is now somewhat managed by world certification agency Demeter International.

Biodynamic food has been known to stay fresh longer than organic produce and because of its focus on rehabilitating and enhancing soil this is a very sustainable agricultural practice.

Why choose organic (or biodynamic) food?

  • It tastes better (some people will say this is an arguable point, but if there are no chemicals involved in the production how can it not taste better?!)
  • Supports sustainable agriculture practices (not only improving soil, but no nasty chemicals get into our ground water system)
  • The food contains a higher level of nutrients (scientifically proven)
  • Produces chemical and additive free foods
  • Supports the local community

For more reasons why you should check out the Organic Food Directory website.

Don’t be fooled

There are still some products on the market that claim to be organic or biodynamic but with no certification (or at least, a certification you’ve never heard of). If unsure, you can double check for a company’s legitimacy using the Ethical Consumer Guide iPhone app as I have suggested before, or check  the Organic Federation of Australia’s website for current certification labels.

You should also be wary of products such as premade food and beauty products claiming to contain organic produce – whilst there might be one organic item in the mix, this doesn’t mean the entire product is organic or good for you. Organic lavender isn’t going to make a difference if you’re still putting harmful chemicals on your face. It really does pay to read the label.

My experience

Without really knowing what it was all about, I made a pledge for 3things that I was going to buy organic produce, which is how my organic adventure began. I didn’t realise at the time that I’d go one step further and order weekly packaged boxes of biodynamic fruit and vegetables from a local farm called Mimsbrook Farm  in Darling Downs (Perth, Western Australia). Eating only organic produce for a month seemed like the best way to experience the food.

photo (c) Kat Wray

My delivery box only has what is in season and available at the time of packing – you never know what you’re going to get! Eating seasonally is sustainable and nutritional.  Whilst the selection at your local markets appear fairly vast – if you look closer you’ll realise a lot of the fruit and vegetables are from interstate or even international! A few weeks ago I almost picked up some asparagus at the supermarket but noticed it had been shipped from Peru! The carbon footprint on that asparagus was far too much. Locally grown fruit and vegetables ensures freshness and a low transportation distance ensures a smaller carbon footprint.

Because I am supporting a community farm, I have to support their business too – which means I had to pay for a month’s worth of vegetables up front. It might have seemed like a lot at the time, but I barely have to visit the supermarket anymore so I’m certainly not complaining!

In order to not waste anything I also have to pre-plan the entire week of meals – it can’t be about what I am ‘in the mood for’ but more about ‘what can I make with this?’. Personally I am keen for the challenge, but not everyone’s a cook! It requires dedication to get pre-packaged boxes!

There is also the cost. Yes, organic or biodynamic food is generally more expensive. I personally put good food first, so paying extra doesn’t bother me and unless you are on a super strict budget, you have to think that the extra cost comes back in return as extra nutrients, chemical free food and supporting sustainability.

The conclusion?

I have fruit and vegetables that are rich in colour and flavour, I could hear the fresh crispiness when I cut into the produce, I am eating food that is in season – even vegetables I have never tried before (such as kale, which happens to be the super vegetable of the world!) and I feel good knowing I am getting nutrient rich food whilst supporting a sustainable local business and community. It feels good to buy organic!

Are you using dangerous chemicals in your home?

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Think about the roles that the chemicals in things like cigarettes, drugs and pesticides play in the media. The general message is that they are extremely dangerous for our health and that we should avoid contact wherever possible. This is why it shocks a lot of people to discover that the greatest risk of exposure to synthetic organic chemicals comes from within our own homes.

In Australia, the chemicals used in our homes are the least controlled and regulated. This means most Australian households have hundreds of dangerous compounds lurking in their kitchens, bathrooms and laundries that have not been put through adequate (and sometimes any) testing or certification processes. And not only are these potions harmful to ourselves, but the environment is also suffering. Given the poor standard of chemical regulation in Australia it is a fair assumption that we cannot trust industry with our health. We need to take the power back into our own hands by arming ourselves with a little knowledge and acting accordingly. The only way to limit damage to our environment, animals, friends, families and selves is by reducing our exposure to these chemicals and using natural eco-friendly solutions instead.

Why do we use chemicals in products?

Convenience is our generations’ highest priority which has created overwhelming demand for one-stop-shop solutions. To cater for this, ambitious profit-focused companies are developing products that are reliant upon various combinations of highly toxic chemicals (referred to as Volatile Organic Compounds or VOC’s). Already dangerous chemicals then present a whole new set of issues when combined with other cocktails, whether by conscious decision or not (e.g. glass cleaner plus oven cleaner). Toxic ingredients are found in most household cleaning products including all-purpose cleaners, degreasers, polishes, washing powders, shampoos, cosmetics and disinfectants. These chemicals affect us in a number of ways:

  • Long-Term Exposure is the most common form of ingestion. On a daily basis we absorb chemicals by respiration, consumption or direct skin contact.
  • Acute poisoning (through inhalation or swallowing) is a major issue in Australia and children are at highest risk. The Child Accident Prevention Foundation of Australia has released data stating that every year in Australia 3,500 children under 5 years of age are admitted to hospitals because of poisoning annually, and 5 to 10 of these children die (Australia, 2007).
  • Environmental damage. Waterways provide the fastest route for household chemicals to reach and then damage our fragile ecosystems. We then must factor in the damage associated with transportation, manufacture and packaging (individually wrapped dish-washing balls anyone?)

What Effects Can These Chemicals Have?

There are many credible studies that detail the serious side-effects linked to exposure to VOC’s. The Australian Governments Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPC) reports data acknowledging these effects explaining that long-term exposure has been linked to cancer, liver damage, kidney damage, central nervous system damage, fertility problems and birth defects. Short-term exposure or Acute poisoning is strongly tied to eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea / vomiting, dizziness and the worsening of asthma symptoms (Department of Sustainability, 2009).

Shockingly, there are currently no environmental guidelines for the use of VOC’s. The DSEWPC notes that,

“VOCs are environmentally significant mainly because of their role in the formation of photochemical smog. VOCs can have serious effects on animals, birds and plants (aka The Food Chain) and secondary effects may also occur due to the impact of smog. In liquid form and solutions, VOCs can also affect water and soil”

– Department of Sustainability, 2009

Solutions

Luckily there are some really easy steps to minimising your part in the chemical industry…

1. Read the label, know the facts

There are no government regulations or legal definitions for words like ‘Non-Toxic’ and ‘Natural’ – so do not blindly trust the label. Companies do not always use full ingredients lists and are legally allowed to disguise chemical names so you need to look for certain keywords. If a label uses any of the following ingredients or terminology avoid the product;

  • Phosphates, Nitrates and Chlorines
  • ‘Maybe Harmful or Fatal’ or other warnings, cautions and dangers
  • If the product is considered hazardous, corrosive or inflammable
  • Irritant

2.     Buy Environmentally Friendly Products

It is important to note that these labels can still be very misleading. Products made of ‘all natural ingredients’ are often still very toxic, as lots of chemicals can be made naturally. For example, terpene is a carbon compound derived from orange peels, but also reacts with ozone to create formaldehyde – a highly toxic carcinogen (Hubert, 2007). Be careful too of labels claiming to be ‘Organic’ – it is not a legally defined word so you must look for a certification stamp to assure you get what you pay for.

In Australia, credible certification processes include NASAA Certified Organic, Australian Certified Organic, OGA Certified Organic – all logos found below.

3.     Buy Cruelty Free

Manufacturers that test on animals use cruel and barbaric methods to decide whether products are safe for human use. It is completely unnecessary however sadly it is still legal.      Always look for the Cruelty Free logo.  Logically, if animals are put into mini-gas chambers to test a products toxicity it is not something I want to soak my clothes or kitchen bench    in anyway

4.     Make Your Own

Making your own products is by far the best solution for you health and the environments too. It is fun, easy and makes me nostalgic for year 8 science class. You can buy in bulk (avoiding lots of packaging), they are non-toxic, effective, save a bucket of money and you can recycle cute old jars and bottles to store them. For recipes for your own cleaners go to our Home and Garden section.

Reference List

3things can change the world

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Changing the world, 3things at a time” – this is Oxfam’s latest initiative, and we like it. It’s such a simple concept: choose three things that you ‘pledge’ to do to make a difference, no matter how big or small.

The best thing about this concept is it’s not putting too much pressure on people to be eco warriors – just making a change to “make the world a better place” as 3things put it simply.

So last week, I chose my 3 things and pledged them on the 3things website.

What to choose?

Though I try to be a good little greenie, I’ve still got so much to learn, so I decided to push myself with things I’m keen to achieve (but haven’t have the right motivator to do so) – which I assume is the goal behind 3things, to motivate people to change.

Kat's 3things

1.      Buy organic produce

This is something I keep saying I’ll do, but not quite following through. It means going to an organic store that is only open for a few hours on Saturdays, and searching for longer to find the right stuff – but absolutely worth it in the end. I know that eating organic produce is good for me, but I can’t yet explain why. I am going to tell you all about my organic research and adventures in posts to come.

2.      Choose vintage/pre-loved clothes over brand new ‘sweatshop’ cheap clothes

This is a big one. I love fashion and I’m at the start of winter without enough warm clothes to get me through. Despite having the best intentions, it always seems easier to shop at the bargain places (which I know have been shipped directly from asian sweatshops). A great quote I saw on twitter* recently from ethical store owner EthiklWe all love a bargain, but when you are paying only $5 for a t-shirt, maybe it’s time to ask some questions…”.

I think this will be my biggest challenge and I’m going to dedicate quite a bit of time researching and documenting my ethical shopping adventures. Watch this space.

3.      Educate others by continuing to write for www.ecoempire.org

Need I say more?

When I document how I’ve travelled with my 3things challenges, I’ll let you know how these pledges can change the world.

In the meantime, you should check out the website to see what other people are pledging. After I had posted my 3things I noticed so many great ideas pledged by people that I even wondered if 3things was enough for me!

*You can follow EcoEmpire on twitter here