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Strawberries: Organic vs. Local

There are 11 varieties of strawberries grown in Quebec from the beginning of June to mid-October. This is when I used to have my eye out for locally grown, organic strawberries. However, I have recently learned that strawberries have many natural pests and are susceptible to mildew, making it very difficult to grow them organically.

My husband did the grocery shopping this week and came home with three baskets of locally grown strawberries. He told me that the organic variety was three times the price of the locally grown and unsurprisingly came from California. It came down to the old organic vs. local dilemma.

First and foremost, I want to point out we are not perfect and do not suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. We're just trying to choose the best food available. But like every other working couple with two kids, we have very (berry?) busy lives and cannot spend our days grocery shopping for local, organic produce. It often comes down to choosing between local and organic.

This executive decision is made during the hour we spend grocery shopping. As strawberries are number 6 on the Environmental Working Group's dirty dozen, the fruit and veg with the highest pesticide levels, I opt for organic. To see the EWG's dirty dozen click here.

My husband is a greater proponent of buying local than I am, as it supports local farmers, reduces green house gas emissions and ensures fresher, tastier (he says) produce. As I have mentioned in a previous post, produce shipped from California is picked and shipped before it ever reaches peak ripeness or contains all its nutrients. It further loses these nutrients on the haul north. In addition, in last year's Green Guide, David Suzuki advocated buying local over organic.

However, because I have read about pesticides, which are carcinogenic and wreak havoc on children's developing neurological and reproductive systems, I tend to buy organic over local. Opting for local produce over organic is fine if you are an adult, but children are at greater risk because they cannot metabolize or inactivate toxins the way adults can. I opt for local if the fruit or veg is on the EWG's clean 15, a list of conventionally grown produce with the lowest pesticide levels.

But as in all couples, compromises have to be made, and in our organic vs. local debate, life eventually takes over. When you walk into a grocery store, you have to come out with something, or else chaos awaits you in the days ahead. I shop weekly for vegetables at a small organic shop, and between the two of us, we eat quite a mix of local and organic produce.

I must admit that this week I was won over by the locally grown strawberries. They were delicious! In addition, their baskets were made from number 1 plastic, which is both safe and recycled in our borough. This was as close as we could get to the perfect strawberry.

Food for thought: a geneticist's perfect strawberry

If you buy conventionally grown fresh strawberries from California throughout the winter, you may want to freeze your own locally grown berries after viewing this short video.Although it is being phased out, methyl bromide is the fumigant used to treat the soil on strawberry factory farms in California. It is a suspected carcinogen and has been responsible for numerous deaths.

NB: I have checked, and this fumigant is used much less in Canada.

After seeing the video, I have a much greater appreciation for the organic farmer.

Related Posts:

Meet the Clean 15 (Produce with lowest pesticide levels)
Evironmental Working Group Updates its Dirty Dozen (12 fruit and veg with the highest pesticide levels)
Buying Local: Vegetables Year Round

3 Simple Q&As about Children and Pesticides

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A Welcome Type of Advertising

In previous posts, I have written about how advertisers target insecurities in order to sell their products. If advertisements are not making mothers feel guilty, then they're making women feel fat, old and otherwise unappealing.

Well, recently I came across just the opposite--an advertisement for an ice cream store that made me feel great about not being rail thin and 20 years old. What's surprising is that I have walked past this ice cream store thousands of times without ever seeing the sign.

My husband and I decided to meet up here with our two kids. I knew that the gelato and sorbets were expensive but made from natural ingredients, so I relented. When I took a look at the flavours, I was mesmerized. They were all so appealing. I felt like a kid again....The final decision--espresso and chai Masala, and they were heavenly! So heavenly, in fact, that I decided on seconds. Now, I can see you all cringing, but eat your heart out! THE SECOND WAS EVEN BETTER THAN THE FIRST! Grapefruit sorbet and coconut gelato! Thanks for asking.

I did, however, explain to the owner that I was slightly embarrassed to be bellying up to the counter a second time, and she said, "I chose my sign for a reason."

I looked up to see a picture of a woman who was neither thin nor young, but unique, happy and elegantly dressed. Oh yeah, she's also wagging her finger to show her indifference to the weight scale at her feet.

The name of the ice cream store is "Plus que Parfait," which translates into "More than Perfect." It's up to you to decide whether the more refers to your weight or just how freakin' great you are.

I've been back since...

Related posts:
Gold Standard of Beauty: Targetting Insecurities
In Response to Impossible Beauty Standards
More Impossible Beauty Standards
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MomActivism: Reply from O'Sole Mio

As you may recall in my previous post, I wrote to O'Sole Mio, a Montreal-based Italian food retailer, to inform company brass that I found no recycling symbol on their pesto sauce and agnolotti pasta containers. I informed the company that without the recycling triangle and resin identification code (the number inside the triangle), the plastic containers could not be recycled and would go straight to landfill.

I added that we could no longer buy O'Sole Mio products, products that we previously enjoyed. That is until we knew what type of plastic was used, as some plastics are safer than others, and not all plastics are recycled in our borough. I also asked for a timeframe when recycling symbols and resin identification codes would appear on O'Sole Mio products. The following is the reply from Mr. Napolitano, the company VP:

Hi Heather,

I want to thank you for taking the time and effort in writing this email to me concerning our packaging material used for both our fresh pasta and sauces. As you are most probably aware we have two sizes for our sauce containers, 400ML and 200ML. The 200ML is used exclusively for the pesto sauce. I verified the containers and on our 400ML cup the recycling symbol with the number 5 is moulded to the bottom of the container, and the same should have appeared on the 200ML cup as the same identical material is used.

We have already addressed this issue with our purchasing manager and supplier and they will be correcting this on there next production run. I estimate that the new 200ML container with the proper recycling symbol should be in full distribution within 120 days.

As for the material used for the fresh pasta, I am told that the number that should appear is 7, and this as well has been addressed and will be corrected in the near future.

I want to thank you again for reaching out to us and do appreciate your comments, and hopefully you can in the near future still enjoy our products.

Fiore Napolitano
Les Aliments O’Sole Mio Inc.
4000 Alfred-Laliberté
Boisbriand, Quebec
Canada, J7H 1P7

As you can see, my raising-retail-awareness plan was partially successful. I have to say that I was stunned by such a prompt reply. The company is now aware that there was no recycling symbol or resin identification code on the two products I purchased, and immediate action was taken to ensure that this information would appear in the next production run, some 120 days forth. We also now know the types of plastics used, plastics #5 and #7, both of which are recycled in my borough. So far so good. I can taste the pesto already!

I say partially successful because, although plastics with the number 5 (the pesto) in the recycling triangle are safe, most plastics bearing #7 are not. Number #7 plastics usually contain bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone disruptor which in minute doses has been linked to breast and prostate cancer, infertility, obesity and hyperactivity.* Those at greatest risk are foetuses, infants and children entering puberty.

In my next post, I will be asking Mr. Napolitano whether or not the number #7 plastic used in O'Sole Mio containers is BPA-free.

*Slow Death By Rubber Duck, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, Knopf Canada, 2009 pp. 220, 232-235.

Previous post:
MomActivism: Raising Retail Awareness About Eco Friendly Packaging.

Related posts:

Plastics: Of The Three Rs, Your Best Bet Is To REDUCE

Why We Should Compost--Even Urbanites

Part 1: Eco-Entrepreneurs Do the Right Thing

Part 2: Eco-Entrepreneurs Do the Right Thing

Meet the Clean 15 (Produce with lowest pesticide levels)
Evironmental Working Group Updates its Dirty Dozen (12 fruit and veg with the highest pesticide levels)
Buying Local: Vegetables Year Round

3 Simple Q&As about Children and Pesticides

Read more »
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MomActivism: Raising Retail Awareness About Eco Friendly Packaging

I decided a long time ago that I would try not to buy any products that came in packaging that could not be recycled. This has drastically cut down on our options at the supermarket. I also discovered that there was a lot of confusion among consumers and retailers alike as to what is "recyclable" and what is actually recycled by our municipalities. I have posted a number of times on this phenomenon and decided that I would change my awareness-raising approach. I would write directly to food retailers who make products I like and gently ask them to change their packaging practices.
My first open letter was to O'Sole Mio, a local Italian food retailer.
Les Aliments O'Sole Mio Inc.
4000 Alfred-Laliberté
Boisbriand, Quebec
Canada J7H 1P7
August 24, 2009
Dear Mr. Fiore,
I recently bought O'Sole Mio Pesto and Roast Veal with Garlic and Rosemary Agnolotti for my family. Although you may question my mixing rosemary and basil (as neither can be fully appreciated), we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch. In addition, my husband and I try to support local companies like yours whenever possible.
We have absolutely no complaints about your products. In fact, they are beyond reproach. However, upon washing the plastic containers your products came in we noticed that there was no resin identification code (RIC) or number in the tiny recycling triangle (click here for a picture of an RIC). Workers at recycling stations must see an RIC in order to sort plastic. (Plastic resins cannot be mixed without compromising their integrity and spoiling their resale value.) From my research, I have learned that discarded plastic without an RIC goes straight to landfill. Please bear in mind that it takes nine times the energy to create plastic as it does to remold it.*
In the interest of the environment and future generations, your children and mine, I am kindly requesting that you use a plastic that can be recycled in our province and ensure that the RIC is clearly displayed in the recycling triangle.
Many well-intentioned companies are duped by plastic retailers who claim that all plastic is recyclable. Yes, all plastic is recyclable, but whether it will be recycled or not depends on the municipality's recycling capacities where the item is discarded.

For instance, the Plateau-Mont Royal borough recycles plastics 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7. As you can see polystyrene, number 6 plastic, cannot be recycled in this borough or in the vast majority of Quebec municipalities for that matter. According to RECYC-Québec, the provincial body responsible for recycling, plastics 1, 2 and 5 can be recycled almost anywhere in the province. Don't worry about the other provinces, they tend to be ahead of Quebec in this area.
In addition, we avoid plastic 7 because it may contain Bisphenol A (BPA). Although plastic companies may dismiss the dangers of BPA at low levels, we have chosen to embrace the precautionary principle, or the better-safe-than-sorry approach, and avoid any products bearing the RIC 7. To help us remember the types of plastic that are safe, we use a little rhyme taken from the recently published book Slow Death By Rubber Duck: " (plastics) 4, 5, 1 and 2, all the rest are bad for you."
I realize that a change of this nature cannot be implemented overnight. I would just kindly request that you give some indication as to when a change might occur so that we can begin enjoying your products again.
I realize that this recycling and plastics business is very confusing. I know. I have been researching plastics since it came to light that there was BPA was in the major brands of baby bottles in the fall of 2007.
As I stated in our August 24 telephone conversation, I will be publishing this letter on my blog (www.AKAmamma.blogspot.com). You can respond either in the comments section or by e-mail. Please note that I will post your e-mail reply.
Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter. I look forward to hearing from you.
Best regards,
Heather (AKAmamma)
Related posts:

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An Unexpected Turn

At the end of July, I received some bad news. My mother had been hospitalized in a small rural hospital in Eastern Ontario. After a CT scan, it was discovered that she had cancer. My family was in a state of shock. My mother did not have a history of cancer in her family, and she had always led a healthy life. Her condition deteriorated before our eyes, and she died three weeks after being admitted to hospital, even before we had the results of her biopsy.

Although this is a very personal event, I have chosen to share this with you because I've tried countless times to write about the many exciting things I have seen in the last month to no avail. It's as though I had to address this issu
e before I could move forward...

To all of my friends who are also readers, I'd like to thank you for your loyal support. I would also like to offer special thanks to my friends who came with their respective spouses to the funeral in the tiny rural community where my mother lived. You've all been wonderful.

The picture below is of my mother's garden.
The following is the eulogy I wrote in the wee hours of Saturday, August 15:

My mother's passing has taken us all unexpectedly. Nevertheless, to those who have gathered here today, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to meet all of you and hear your kind words. What is more, your kind words have shed some valuable insight into my mother's public life. I knew that she liked social events, but I had no idea that she was involved in so many community groups.

I was aware of her involvement in the Osgoode Township Museum, the Women's Institute, the church choir, the Historical Society, the TOPS weightloss group and that she was a member of a film club. But I had no idea that she also took part in groups for gardeners and walkers or that she enjoyed shuffleboard enough to join a group. I was also surprised to discover that my mother was a deacon in the Orange Lodge, as, to my knowledge, we don't have a drop of Irish blood. However, I did notice that the ladies in this group have a wonderful sense of humour and that would have been incentive enough for my mother to join.

In addition to being very social, my mother could be described as a compassionate person. She worked with the mentally disabled at the Kingston Psychiatric Hospital for over 20 years, a job that she told me she found rewarding, and on more than one occasion, my mother invited one of her patients to join us over the Christmas holidays. After she left this job to move with her new husband to Ottawa, she often spoke of her favourite patients whom she missed.

My mother was also a great lover of animals, particularly the young of any species. We had many cats and a more than a few dogs, and there was some fairly stiff competition among them to see who would get to sit on her lap after dinner. On countless post-super occasions, we had a dog-eat-dog or cat-eat-dog situation on our hands.

My mother also had a keen eye for design. As a child, she often refused to buy clothing if the garment in question had a crooked seam, a potentially faulty zipper or if the design was just too simple to warrant the forking over of any cash. My mother was a sewer, and if she could whip something up in a night at a fraction of the cost she would do it. As a Westerner and cowgirl, my mother had a holster that she wore around the house, carrying her weapon of choice—her scissors because "you never know when you might need'em." Danger in the form of dangling threads lurked everywhere. Remember Heather, cut don't pull.

She also came up with some very creative Hallowe'en costumes over the years. One year my brother was an owl. She had taken an old canvas raincoat and sewn layers of newspaper cut into strips to it. In the morning, when my brother left for school, he had a gorgeous thick newsprint plumage that fluttered in the wind. At the end of the day, however, he had some very noticeable bald spots, plucked clean by other kids who had succumbed to temptation.

This seamstress was also able to sew without a pattern. In fact, her children were not the only ones to don her creations. Her dogs also had this pleasure. Imagine the creative mind that concocted a bunny suit and a tutu for some lucky whippet.

But sewing was not enough to satisfy my mother's creative desires. In the 1970s, she moved on to batiquing, tie dying, macramé, weaving, soap making, oil painting and woodworking. In the mid-eighties, her focus shifted from crafts to medieval history. She went to university at the age of 44 and completed a BA in History from Carleton University. Her subsequent craft was stained glass, an interest that I shared. Her most recent endeavour involved watercolours, and I know that some of her paintings were displayed at the North Gower Library and have heard that another is hanging at the Osgoode Township Museum.

My mother's curiosity resulted in her living a very full life. She did a lot in her 68 years, and she was always excited about learning. I believe that my mother's ability to accomplish so much stems from her background as a farmer. I know that, at a very young age, she had labour-intensive chores to do before she could move on to her hobbies and interests. Her leisure activities were in a sense a reward for a hard day’s work. My mother never shied away from difficult tasks, and woe betide any of her children who did not give something a worthwhile try before throwing in the towel.

My mother was all of the above: social, compassionate, creative, curious and hardworking. She was also my mother, and her passing has led me to realize just how privileged this relationship was. My mother was my first exposure to life and my first experience with love, nurture, understanding, disappointment, resolve, perseverance and respect. My mother’s presence in my life is everywhere, and her passing was a little bit like the unearthing of the roots of a tree. The sheer depth and reach of the roots reflect just how much I loved her.
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Plateau Mont-Royal Treasure Hunter

Last Saturday morning, as I was unlocking my bike, I was approached by a woman who asked me if she could look for cans and bottles in our recycling bins. I have seen this woman on several other occasions, usually on the weekend, and I've always been curious about what she finds.

"Be my guest," I said.

I continued to look in her general direction, as I put on my cycling helmet. She sensed this and sheepishly asked me if I thought there was something wrong with what she was doing.

"On the contrary," I said, "I'm pleased that someone finds some use for these things."

Then my curiosity got the better of me.

"What exactly do you find?" I asked.

"You wouldn't believe it if I told you," she said. "I find clothes, magazines, toys, even jewelry, and they're all in perfect condition. I find magazines like Wallpaper and Architectural Digest that cost more than books."

Then she told me that magazines are one of the things she likes to collect. She apparently has two 80-year-old neighbours whom she gives the magazines to. One of these neighbours then takes them to the neighbourhood barber who, in turn, takes them to a seniors' residence where additional reading material is greatly appreciated.

"That's wonderful," I said. "I'm so happy to hear that so many people are enjoying these things."

"You'd never know that we're in a recession," she said. "People from Outremont (a wealthy Montreal neighbourhood), and the people in this condo complex throw out a lot of perfectly good items."

"People often buy things they don't have room for, so they end up in the recycling," I said before saying good-bye and riding off.

I wanted to ask our treasure hunter more questions about the things she finds, if she sells them, how much she gets for them, etc, but I didn't want to make her feel uncomfortable. These questions could wait until I saw her the next time.

This short but insightful chat got me thinking about a number of things. For one, this woman was finding clothes, toys and jewelry in our recycling bins. These three items are supposed to be taken to the City of Montreal's Eco-centres, and if they are put in recycling bins they go straight to landfill.

You may recall that my husband and I found soiled clothing in our recycling bins last Christmas, and in light of what our treasure hunter had just told me, this problem sounds as though it's fairly widespread. Is it because our fair city has not made it clear what can and cannot be recycled? Or is it because residents don't have the time or can't be bothered to take their old clothes, toys and jewelry to the Eco-centres?

People often mistakenly believe that if something is "recyclable" that it will be recycled. This is just not the case. Each Montreal borough Web site posts a list of all the things that can and cannot be recycled. I've checked, and clothes and toys must be taken to our borough Eco-centre. However, I'm sure most people probably don't know where the closest Eco-centre is. I admit, I don't. I take all our old clothes and toys to a charity for battered women.

Anyway, our treasure hunter is doing a lot more than earning a little extra cash. She is performing a vital public service. Not only is she extending the life on a number of items and helping others, but she is also unwittingly collecting some valuable information about people's habits. It might be a good idea for the City to hire someone like her to get a better picture of the shortcomings of our recycling and waste disposal systems.

For a list of the Eco-centres, their addresses and phone numbers, click here. (French only)
For a list in English of what is accepted at the NDG/Cotes St-Luc Eco Centre click here.
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Begonias Through a Water Glass

The condensation on the water glass bears testimony to a warm sunny day. At least, we now have proof that there was at least one summery day this year. We're crossing our fingers that the fine weather will continue throughout August.

We are heading out to the wilderness, or to parts where there is no Internet connection...gulp. We aren't even sure if there is cell phone reception, so we'll be checking in with our loved ones periodically when we head into town for supplies. I have scheduled a few posts, so you should still check in periodically.

I'll leave you with this joke a wonderful senior told me.

A father is talking to his 18-year-old daughter about the birds and the bees.

Father: You know this young man. Well, he is going to ask you to go for coffee, then a movie and then for dinner. He will work up the courage to ask you back to his place, but you mustn't go because it will bring shame on the family.

Several weeks later...

Daughter: Father you were right. First, he asked me to go out for coffee, then a movie and then dinner. But then I tricked him Father. Instead of going back to his place, I asked him to mine, and now there is shame on HIS family.

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3 Compelling Reasons For a Bike-Share Program in Your City

This spring the City of Montreal rolled out its bike-share program. There are 271 Bixi stations located throughout Montreal. You simply take a bike at your starting point and drop it off at a station that is closest to your destination. You can find all rates and membership fees posted on the Bixi site.

Although there have been more than a few reports of problems with broken lock mechanisms at bike stations and thefts, the program has been extremely successful.

Effective July 22, 2009, the Bixi system had 7,671 members and 63,403 occasional users who had cycled enough kilometres to go around the world 57 times.

Because of Bixi's resounding success, the system has implemented Phase II ahead of schedule, expanding into Montreal's neighbouring boroughs. To give you a better idea of the success of the Bixi and its impact on the environment, take a look at these three stats that are continually updated on the website under the Bixi Effect:

To date, effective August 2, 2009,

The total reduction in green house gas emissions: 762,710 kg (1,681,486 lbs)
This stat is calculated using Transport Canada's April 2008 Urban Transportation Emissions Calculator. The primary input is the distance travelled in kilometres.

The total savings in terms of litres of gas: 212,184 litres (56,053 US gallons)
This is calculated according to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy norms for tourist vehicles based on an average gas consumption of 8.5 litres /100 km.

The total distance travelled (km) using the Bixi in Montreal: 3,031,199 km (1,883,500 miles)
This is calculated using an average speed of 12 km/h (Source: Vélo Québec).

These are three compelling reasons that you might use in proposing a bike-share program in your city. I will give an update of these three vital statistics later in the cycling season.

Transport Canada
Environment Canada

Related posts:
City Cycling: Why Renting Beats Owning
A Review of Montreal's Bixi Rental Bike
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