Tag Archive for organic

Nourish your skin

I have to admit to being a bit of a lotion lady.

I’ve long been on the hunt for a good body lotion to combat the ills of the Canadian winter (extreme dryness) and old age (extreme dryness plus wrinkles).

Too many of the lotions that I like at first blush turn out to be below par environmentally. Or else absurdly expensive. Or too greasy. Or overly worthy and thus unstable physically (nothing worse than having a great bath and then slathering on rancid lotion).
First a short rant: I am horrified by the number of personal care items (soap, lotion and the like) that come from China these days. Even seemingly high-end brands are manufacturing there: very many of the attractive and expensive-looing gift sets you find around Christmas originate in China.

Shipping heavy, water-filled items makes no sense ecologically. Then there is the question of what exactly it is you are slapping on your skin. It amazes me how little many people seem to care about that, despite the compelling logic of absorption through a porous surface (ever wondered how nicotine patches work?).

Back to good lotion. I have two recommendations here. Both are well-priced, feel/smell nice and are adequately benign from an eco/toxicity perspective.

ShiKai is a California company that has been around for over 40 years. It makes a whole range of great body lotions in scents ranging from yuzu to pomegranate: I am fond of the cucumber/melon which has a fresh and not-at-all overpowering smell.

The lotions have a lot going for them: they are unctuous without being greasy, come in nice large tubes (8floz or 237ml) at a reasonable price ($6.91 on iHerb or $8.99 on ShiKai’s own site: I’ll never understand that) and generally feel quite luxurious.

The company emphasizes the pureness of its products – ‘All Natural’ is written right across the middle of the tube – though the the body lotion still scores 3 on the Skindeep database. Back to that later.

My new favourite lotion is made by another US company, Nourish. Nourish makes four ‘flavours’ of lotion, plus unscented. These come in the same sized tubes as the ShiKai product but cost slightly more at US$9.99 each (or you can buy all four for $32: they make great presents as the packaging is high-end and  attractive, if a little heavy).

Nourish was apparently the first skincare company in the US to get USDA certification for its entire range. This means that the products are at least 95% organic. For more on this certification – which some other brands now share – and Nourish’s other ‘seals’ (gluten free, Oregon Tilth, etc.) see here.

My favourite Nourish flavour is lavender mint. It’s light and fresh and I’m not sure you can ever go wrong with lavender. I was initially intrigued by the fig flavour: though I like it, it has stronger hints of apricot than fig.

Nourish lotions have a different consistency than ShiKai ones. They are absorbed almost instantly and leave no apparent film on your skin  (both good and bad, depending upon your mood and degree of dryness, I would say). But they feel good and nourishing (appropriately), nonetheless.

Nourish sells through its website and Whole Foods stores, in the US only. Canadian folk can order on-line, though this is not well advertised. The great news is that we Canadians also benefit from reasonable shipping rates. US rates are $5 flat or free when your order is over $50. Canadian orders ship for $5 when the order is over $50.

Nourish also makes deodorant, shea butters and various body washes and polishes, so it’s easy to stock up. If my order is anything to go by, your package will come quickly with paper packaging and a hand-written thank you note.

Like ShiKai, Nourish manufactures in the US. One gripe is that, though pretty, Nourish tubes seem to be made from unnecessarily thick plastic. It makes them stiff and heavy and just seems a waste (though they do claim to be recyclable, we know that depends upon where you live).

But what of ingredients? Nourish products are not rated on the Skindeep database. I asked the CEO about this and he told me that though he supports the idea of the database, he finds the ratings a bit off at times. Alcohol, for example, scores very poorly, regardless of its source. For this reason, Nourish has opted against seeking a rating.

I have actually noticed this problem myself: some quite natural-sounding ingredients, such as essential oils, are given a bad rap by the database for potential allergic reactions which are really not a huge concern for me.

To be complete I have done my own comparison of the ingredients of ShiKai and Noursh lotions. Both use aloe vera, shea (see shea nuts in the picture: hard to imagine they help your skin but they do) and a range of plant extracts. Overall, though, Nourish does seem to do better. Plant ingredients are all organic and the only potential ‘nasty’ is ‘Organic SDA 38B (Alcohol Denat): apparently an organically derived denatured (altered to be non-drinkable) alcohol.

ShiKai has a couple of chemical-sounding things in there: dimethicome, phenoxyethanol and cetyl alcohol and its plant products are not organic.

So take your pick: lotions are a pretty personal decision, after all.

Organic mattresses

I spend a good deal less time than I would like reclining in comfort on my bed. But I still rack up at least 45 hours a week. These, to me, are critical, replenishing hours. I like them to be unadulterated by both stress and toxic chemicals.

Sadly, the former cannot always be banished. The latter, on the other hand, I can control.

bed-box1

My kids all sleep on natural latex, organic mattresses, made right here in Ottawa. I have not yet bitten the bullet and sprung for such a mattress for myself, partly because my present mattress is not that old (its purchase directly preceded my more intense eco-conversion) and partly because it is very comfortable.

A word on replacing mattresses: please look to recycle rather than sending your old mattress to the dump. Mattress recycling is not mandatory in Ontario, though it is in parts of Canada (e.g. in the Vancouver area) and elsewhere. But it is certainly the right thing to do. Ninety five percent of a mattress can be recovered and reused.
See here for a list of recyclers in the US and Canada. Similar services operate in the UK and other countries: I suggest you use the powers of Google to find them.

If you end up replacing your mattress with a conventional one (i.e. if you ignore my advice!), and the company you buy from offers to take your old mattress away, do enquire where that mattress will end up. As far as I know, Sleep Country is the only big retailer in Canada that has made a public commitment to recycle or refurbish every mattress they collect.

obasan logo

But I digress. My kids’ mattresses come from a company called Obasan. It is Ottawa-based but has branches in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. The showroom here in Ottawa (on Colonnade Road) is lovely: blonde wood and fresh white bedding with no nasty off-gassing. It makes you want to buy everything.

The company website is very informative about where they source their materials (natural rubber from Malaysia, organic wool from Argentina, organic cotton from Peru and wood from Canada) and tells you about the customization option that is available for all their mattresses (so you can have an altogether different bed experience than your partner).

Obasan mattresses (and, indeed, other latex mattresses) should last 20-30 years. And when they do reach the end of their lives, they can, I am told, be composted (though I’d be interested to find out how long that would take and whether you could jam one into your home organic waste bin…..).

sheep

All Obasan products (they sell sheets, pillows and crib mattresses too) are guaranteed free from nasty chemicals. Felted wool is used in the mattresses, instead of chemicals, to ensure that they meet north American flame retardant standards. Conventional mattress makers typically use a class of chemicals called PBDEs to do this. However, these are soon to be phased out (as of 2013), here in Canada, due to recognition of their harmful effects.

This new ban serves to confirm what most us us probably suspected: sleeping on chemical-soaked mattresses night after night is not a great idea. Yet manufacturers continue to use them, not just as fire retardants, but also in the adhesives that they use. So, consider the Obasan option.

organic cotton

The company is great: small and personal. When I ordered the wrong length of mattress, they could not have been nicer about replacing it.

The downside, as usual, is price. Mattresses range between $1,599 (for the thinest twin) and $4,299 (for the thickest king size). This is one of those cases where, if you think of this as a 30-year investment, the price looks pretty good: just over $1 a week for the twin, assuming it lasts 30 years. Otherwise it can be daunting, though it is in line with other organic mattresses.

If you baulk, try Ikea instead. Ikea made a commitment way back in 1998 to phase out the use of PDBEs. Its Sultan mattress line, discussed here, is a lot easier on the pocket. The Ikea natural latex mattress is $499 for a twin and $999 for a king. It is, though, a compromise: made in Asia with a mixture of natural (85%) and synthetic latex (15%) it has polylactide fibre wadding instead of natural wool. (However, despite their scary-sounding name, these fibres are plant derived and don’t seem to be too evil.)

Last thing: Obasan has regular and quite generous sales, so, if you are on the fence, make sure you get on their mailing list to find out when the next event takes place. And, if you are wondering, within their delivery (as opposed to mail order) area, they do take old mattresses away for recycling.

Organic fruit on line

When I started this website I did not anticipate covering food items. But as I go on I find there are things that I want to share. So bear with me.

I love dried mango. I used to live in Zanzibar, which is a big mango producer. We tried drying our own in the sun but never quite managed to get it dry enough.

mango

Much of the dried mango in the stores is adulterated with sugar (whose idea was it to add sugar to sweet mango?) and sulphur dioxide (think volcanoes and acid rain…..). The sulphur dioxide preserves and prevents discolouration but it is not something that is on my `must eat’ list. Its use as an additive is regulated: while it is theoretically fine to eat in small quantities, there are known health risks associated with it (see here for a summary). So I prefer my mango straight up.

The problem is that straight-up dried mango is both hard to find and expensive (at least where I live). Not the sort of thing I would be packing in my kids’ lunch boxes everyday.

So when, late one night, I discovered the fantastic Nuts.com site, I was thrilled to see that they sell organic – and pure – dried mango for just $10.99/lb. Except I was sure they would not ship to Canada. But up there at the top of the shipping page I spotted a little red maple leaf and found that they do indeed ship here, at very reasonable cost.

mango bag

To where I live in Ontario (which I guess is not far from New Jersey where the company is based) shipping costs are $11.82 for 5lbs and $14.43 for 10lbs.

I ordered 10lbs of assorted nuts and fruits so effectively paid less than $1.50/lb in shipping. This still makes the mango cheap relative to what I would pay around here, and the choice of nuts is unrivalled.

Shipments to Canada are bulked up and sent by Purolator twice a week, to keep costs low. Mercifully they also deal with any taxes and duties so no nasty surprises. The most amazing thing is how quickly I received my order. I placed it on a Monday, it was shipped on a Tuesday and arrived on Thursday. Few Canadian companies could rival that.

The organic mango is very good and is one of 250 organic products available on the site, including some pretty off-beat stuff (kelp powder, maca powder, yacon syrup anyone???).

This is a family-owned company that has been around for nearly 80 years. They are very responsive to email questions and helpful with everything.

And though the company does not sell itself on its eco credentials, they do note that they are trying to do their best. They use 100% post-consumer recycled cardboard boxes and starch biodegradable packing peanuts. They have installed energy efficient lighting and motion sensors and selling in bulk has its merits too.

So I am now a late-night fruit and nut shopper…..and my kids do get dried mango in their lunch boxes from time to time. We are all happy!

Ever tried smoked tofu?

I am not a vegetarian, though from an eco perspective I know that is the right thing to be. I guess there is always room for improvement, though, as a pig farmer’s daughter, it may take me a while to give up bacon and ham….Anyway, I don’t eat that much meat and am always looking for tasty non-meat options.

I admit, I find tofu a hard thing to cook and an even harder thing to sell to the kids. Smoked tofu, on the other hand, is the school snack of choice of my very fussy five-year old.

I first discovered smoked tofu through my organic delivery box when I lived in Toronto, a whole lifetime ago (or so it seems now). I am big fan of things smoked, so I figured it was worth a shot. And what a great shot that turned out to be.

I have been seeking out Soya Nova Smoked Tofu ever since. The problem is that it is hard to find.

smoked_tofu

This tofu is very dense and dry so can easily be sliced and eaten as a snack, in a sandwich or in cooked food (none of that disconcerting wobble of fresh tofu….). It tastes delicious; you can almost feel the goodness. I have a great recipe for smoked tofu rice (with egg, celery, mushrooms, peas) and, just last night, I ate it it in a sushi roll. Yum.

Soya Nova is a traditional-style tofu shop located on Salt Spring Island in BC (for non-Canadians, this is a small island that lies between the west coast of Canada and Vancouver Island. It’s quite a hip destination, lot’s of good food, plant nurseries and massage…).

It is a family business that has been going for 26 years. They make a variety of tofu products marinated, curried, spread, etc. using traditional Japanese methods and all Canadian-grown, organic, non-GMO soy beans.

The process involves soaking the beans in water (the water they use is from a 250 foot deep well and they tell me it has a perfect pH balance, which is important since half the weight of tofu is water), draining them, rinsing them again and grinding them up with water to produce a slurry. The slurry is added to a large open cauldron of boiling water, cooked for 20 minutes and ladled into a cloth sack which is then pressed to extract the milk, and the soybean pulp (okara).

A natural coagulant is added which turns the soy milk into curds and whey. The curds are placed in cloth-lined stainless steel boxes and pressed with weights for 40 minutes, then cut up and immersed in cold water before packaging or smoking.

Now I have whet your appetite, here is the hard part. Soya Nova sells quite widely on the west coast of Canada and is available even as far east as Winnipeg. But Soya Nova no longer has a distributor in Ontario. In addition, although they have a Facebook page, they don’t have a website, so it is hard to find out about the product.

But there is a solution. Deb is very helpful if you email her direct at soyanova@shaw.ca or call her on 250-537-965. She send out parcels containing 12 x 225g packages of smoked tofu. These will arrive in 2 days and last several months in the fridge.

The cost is $3.50/package before shipping (which costs about $30 to Ontario: a lot, but not too bad if you average it per pack). So, your all-in price is about $6 per pack, which is not much more than the price the tofu sells for in stores on Salt Spring Island ($5.60 per pack, I am told). And it is great to have it delivered to your door.

I think it is worth it to go through this effort. I have tried a more commercial brand of smoked tofu and it is nowhere near as good. I’d be interested to know if there is a good similar product in the US.

And for those who live close to me and are interested: come by for a tasting, I have a fridge full right now!

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