Conscious Shopping

It’s complicated.  Shopping by one’s conscience takes more time, thought, research and label scrutinizing – pain staking yes, but a worthy challenge.  These are factors I consider –

*Second-Hand – Hand’s down, this is the most eco-friendly shopping practice of all.  Producing fewer products reduces environmental damage, and reuse minimizes waste, averting valuable resources away from our landfill.  While shopping second-hand, sometimes I flex my other criteria. Swap meets are becoming a thing!  My daughter recently helped with a community  Stop ‘N’ Swap event in New York City.  I always enjoy all the laughter, and stories as we model and promote our wares seeking a new owner during smaller swap parties among friends.

*Buy what I need – By avoiding impulsive shopping, I minimize my carbon foot-print.  I’m rewarded by saving both time and money.  Focusing on “need” helps one avoid the emotional therapy shopping trap.

*Made in the USA/Shop Local when purchasing “new” items – Certainly challenging, buying as locally as possible minimizes transporting carbon spewing cargo ships and trucks, keep jobs in the USA, and stops supporting companies that gravitate to countries with lax environmental and labor laws.

*Produce – Grow yourself, or buy at Farmer’s Markets.  When purchasing organics, I consult the Environmental Work Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen groups to get more bang for my buck.  Buying in season reduces transportation emissions when produce isn’t transported from countries all over the world.  Frequently cited, food travels an average of 1500 miles from farmer to consumer in the United States.

*Fair trade/Eco-conscious companies – I always start my day with a strong cup of fair trade coffee.  Knowing those working in the fields aren’t over-worked and underpaid enhances my enjoyment.  While considering products, I frequently consult the Good Guide , as their scientists have rated over 250,000 products on a zero to ten scale rating their health, environment and social impact.

*Quality – I will pay extra for products I that will last longer and always purchase energy efficient appliances.

*Buy Healthy Food – Again challenging, I try to avoid processed foods, unhealthy chemicals (additives, preservatives, food coloring), and hormone fed animals and their byproducts.  I also avoid products made with genetically modified (GMO) ingredients which are unfortunately very prevalent and unlabeled.  If you want to see more healthy options available on our local grocery shelves, speak up.

*Avoid Environmentally Damaging Products – Styrofoam, plastic water bottles, cleaning products with toxic chemicals, heavily packaged products, disposables, single-serve products and healthcare products with micro-beads.  With Good Guide’s assistance and lots of research, I am replacing old standbys with healthier products – shaving cream, toothpaste, sunscreen, lotion, shampoo, and conditioner.

Embrace Consumer Power – When we consciously choose where we spend money, we have the opportunity to support businesses and companies that reflect our values.  Many times those “bargains” come at too high of a price to the environment and workers.

Obesity Epidemic – Part III

Fortunately by wielding our power of choice, we can mindfully choose what we eat and how we move our bodies, enhancing our quality of life. In the late 1970s, I was propelled into a healthy lifestyle while co-managing a natural food grocery store.  Already quite active physically, my diet drastically improved as I voraciously studied all things related to nutrition; those studies continue today. While I have read widely on the topic and found what works for me, I’m not a medical professional.

My approach is pretty simple.  I avoid most processed foods preferring whole and nutrient-dense foods.   I spend most of my time at the grocery store shopping on the perimeter; spend ample time in the produce and health food sections and very little time among the stacks of processed food in the center aisles.  I’m an avid label reader and avoid high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, food enhancers, artificial ingredients, and saturated fats.  I buy organics as financially able, eat very little meat, and avoid products made from genetically modified organisms (GMO) with a vengeance.  Fortunately, it seems my taste buds have evolved along during this process, as I love vegetables and crave healthy foods. That’s good because the closest I come to dieting is limiting my dark chocolate intake!

I feel my best when I exercise regularly, usually a rigorous walk every other day. I have found, if I get too busy and forget to exercise, my stress level increases so I get back out there and walk. I start and stop, still striving to commit to a weight-lifting regimen as it’s empowering when I feel strong.  I also stay quite active while involved with what I like to do. Outdoors is always alluring as I immensely enjoy nature and hiking. I have a large yard to maintain, Food Bank shelves to stock, and litter and cigarette butts always need to be picked up.

I recently watched “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan and highly recommend it, as I like his approach to food.  Here are some of his recommendations – Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants; Eat only foods that will eventually rot; Eat only foods that have been cooked by humans; Avoid foods you see advertised on television; Make water your beverage of choice; Stop eating before you are full; Fill your plate with color, without artificial colors; Eat slowly to maximize the pleasure of food; Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food; Break the rules once in a while – what matters is not the special occasions but the everyday default practices; and cultivate a relaxed, non-punitive attitude toward food.

Progress on Our Behalf

Sweeping changes are occurring in the food industry, perhaps escaping your notice. It’s encouraging to see changes. As we gain momentum gravitating toward healthier choices, the industry responds. They study our patterns and give us what we want, or rather, “need”. Decisions are made based on our feedback in the way of purchases, phone calls, written comments, and petitions. Maybe they see our nation’s health has declined or perhaps they are responding to our feedback and purchasing patterns and realize it makes good business sense.

WebMD highly recommends avoiding the following seven food additives – food colorings, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium benzoate and trans-fats. Recent food industry shifts are focusing on these particular additives. While the level of commitment varies greatly and it’s still not apparent whether all the ambitious time-lines for 2015 have been met, here is progress in the works –

The Aldi Supermarket chain (about 1,400 stores in the US) recently announced by the end of 2015 all their branded products, will be free of synthetic colors, partially hydrogenated oils and MSG.

Taco Bell states by the beginning of 2016, they will remove artificial flavors and colors, added trans fat, high fructose corn syrup, and unsustainable palm oil from its core menu items, introduce aspartame-free diet Pepsi and convert to 100% cage free eggs by the end of 2016. Pizza Hut plans to remove artificial colors and flavors from most of their menu items in 2015. Burger King is committed to converting to cage-free eggs by 2017; whereas, McDonalds and Denny’s plan to convert within a ten year period. Noodle and Company is committed to removing artificial colors, flavors and preservatives from their soups, sauces and dressings by the end of 2015. Panera plans to ditch 150 artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and preservatives from its menus by the end of 2016. Papa Johns will eliminate all synthetic ingredients from its recipes by the end of 2016, removing corn syrup and preservatives. Subway also plans to make changes over the next 18 months removing artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives from their menu.

Chipotle serves GMO-free tortillas and soybean oil. Kroger, Safeway, Aldi, Cosco, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and Red Lobster have all stated their commitment to not stock recently Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved GMO salmon. Sadly against over-whelming public outcry, the FDA approved what many now call “frankenfish”.

Chipotle, Panera and Chick-fil-A all now serve meat raised without antibiotics and McDonalds plans to switch to hormone-free chicken by spring 2016. Milk products are more frequently boasting “hormone free”. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has repeatedly warned about the public health threat of antibiotic resistance due to the overuse of antibiotics in the meat industry.
More good news next week.

Campbell’s announced it will disclose GMO ingredients across their entire product line and are calling for a national, mandatory GMO labeling regimen. Contrary to the chemical’s primary justification against such labeling, they said GMO labeling will not cause food prices to go up. Campbells Soup plans to remove artificial and unhealthy ingredients in all products by mid-2018. Given the Senate recent defeat of the bill dubbed as Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, General Mills has stated it’s intention to start labeling GMO products nationwide in preparation for Vermont’s GMO labeling mandate that goes into effect July 1st.

Nestles says it will remove artificial flavoring and colors, including Red 40 and Yellow 5, from all of its chocolate products by the end of 2015 and reduce the sodium content of their frozen pizza and snack products by ten percent. Krafts iconic neon orange macaroni and cheese will take on a new hue with plans to remove Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 by 2016. General Mills is working on removing their artificial color and flavors by 2017. Trix eaters will lose their blue and green crispies! Kelloggs plans to remove artificial colors and flavors from their cereals by 2018.
Schwann Foods plans to remove artificial and unhealthy ingredients from their offerings as well as high-fructose corn syrup by 2017.

Lowes and Home Depot have pledged to phase out neonicotinoid pesticide tainted garden plants, the chemical associated with the decline of bees and other pollinators. Home Depot reports it has removed neonicotinoid pesticides from 80% of their flowering plants, committed to a complete phase-out by 2018, Lowes being 2019. Pop Weaver and Pop Secret are phasing out neonicotinoid seed coatings. As a side note, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced their plans to ban neonicotinoid insecticide use in all wildlife refuges nationwide by January 2016 and the European Union already has a moratorium on all uses.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports 61 percent of the food Americans buy is highly processed. Removing some of the harmful chemicals is a step in the right direction, but fact remains a diet based on junk food, fast foods and processed food will always be lacking. Basic combinations of saturated fat, calories, sugar with minimal fiber is never healthy. Studies have shown 80% of the contents in processed foods come from just four ingredients – corn, wheat, soy, and meat. Industry is happy to fill our shelves with those ingredients as farm subsidies have made them inexpensive to produce. While removing harmful chemicals is certainly progress, eating whole foods and unprocessed foods will always remain the healthier option.

The Challenge of Living Green

I’ve come to realize, I need to choose my battles wisely.  My quest to live chemical-free can be exhausting!

While cleaning, I no longer mindlessly grab bottles of chemicals that promise to render me a clean surface with ease.  Fortunately I now know how to use vinegar, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide quite effectively after test-cleaning for months – yes months!

Food is always a work in progress as I continue my research.  I’ve found many foods labeled “Natural” aren’t natural at all.  I avoid single serve, over packaged and disposable products as well as farm raised fish full of hormones.  Since GMO (genetically modified) foods aren’t labeled, I call food producers to inquire.  I also study food growing practices to determine the most important produce to buy organic (check out the Dirty Dozen). I have a small organic garden and frequent Farmer’s Markets.  Next I hit the grocery stores – not just one, several!  I try my best to buy locally first and give the store managers feedback about their offerings.  Then I head to Columbia for more healthy food options.

Considering Styrofoam as the biggest environmental irritant of them all, I don’t budge on this one.   Many times I search for the elusive vegetable or fruit not packaged in Styrofoam trays. Worst yet, I absolutely love coffee, at many community events I sadly turn away as I smell the alluring aroma nestled in Styrofoam cups.  As for take-out foods – many times not an option for me.  If only the Styrofoam price tag reflected its environmental damage – then it would be expensive to produce and not so prevalent.

One would think a stroll through the park would be relaxing but no – I’m generally compelled to pick up litter and “mine” recyclables from the trash bins.  Some days, when I need a break, I don’t bring a bag with me but invariably, I see a plastic bag snagged on a tree somewhere so I’m compelled to fill it up!  As for the dispersed cigarette butts – It takes a “full energy” day and gloves in tow for me to grab those.

Reduce/Reuse/Recycle – I’m always considering these principals.  It may take a little more effort but I always save money while conserving our natural resources and Trash Day is always a breeze!

Yeah, being an Environmentalist isn’t exactly glamorous but we do what we have to do.

 

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