Thursday, 16 September 2010

5 Reasons to Buy Organic

As Organic Fortnight draws to a close I'd like to give you some reasons to change to organic produce.

1. For me the most important reason is that organic farming is not dependent on artificial fertilisers and chemical sprays, both of which are derived from fossil fuels, result in carbon emissions during production and are bad for the environment.  Excessive nitrates leeching from the soil can be toxic.

Organic farming methods use natural products such as manure, dried animal blood, fish and bone meals, and seaweed to fertilise crops and use more natural methods to control pests.

2. This means organic farming is better for wildlife.  Some people think the high number of dead bees found in recent years is partly due to the bees being weakened by the chemical sprays used by many farmers.

3. Organic standards for animal welfare is extremely high and at least as good as free range.

4. Many people believe that organic food is better for us as it does not contain traces of chemicals and may well have higher levels of nutrients.  The resulting improvement to the environment is certainly better for us all if we live near organic farms rather than farms using potentially harmful chemicals.  There have been reports of people experiencing health problems due to farmers near their homes spraying crops.

5. If you buy fresh organic produce in season and grown locally can reduce your carbon footprint as transport will be only over a short distance and plants won't have needed artificial heat to grow.

Visit local farmers' markets and farm shops or check out veg box schemes in your area for fresh, local organic produce, which may even come without plastic wrappers.

You could even start to grow your own organic fruit and veg in your garden or on an allotment.

The Soil Associations 5 reasons to choose organic.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

What is the Best Bin Liner for the Planet?

Are you as confused as I am about how to line your kitchen bin?

If yours is like mine it probably has a plastic bucket inside it's metal exterior and we could just wash it out regularly and not line it at all, but if you are like me you probably don't have the time to wash it out more than once every week or two, and at this time of year when there isn't much sunshine to dry it but the heating isn't on indoors it could be tricky drying the bin.

So should we line our bins with regular bin liners or degradable bin liners, or should we use one of those thin carrier bags in which we brought our shopping home from the supermarket?  What if you don't take bags from the supermarket but use your own reusable bags and no one else in your house brings them home either?  Could there be an alternative to plastic even?

Well the answer to the first part of the question is, that buying regular bin liners means you are using precious fossil fuels merely to dump them straight into landfill. You are perfectly entitled to do that, but it isn't great for the planet.

What about degradable bin liners?

Well, it seems they don't degrade when packed tight in a landfill site where they aren't reached by air or sunlight, so they aren't such a good idea either.  I've been hearing this from various reliable sources for some time, so I'm as sure as I can be that it's true.

According to 'Science Man' the best sort of plastic bag to use is one containing at least 55% recycled content:
"In fact, if every household in the US replaced just one package of 20 count tall kitchen trash bags made from virgin plastic with trash bags that have 55% recycled content 720,000 cubic feet of landfill space (equal to 1,100 full garbage trucks) would be saved."
I'm sure it would make a sizeable impact in this country, too.

Of course, it will also help if people take all the carrier bags they won't reuse to a carrier bag recycling point, which most supermarkets around here seem to have.

If you are like me and you find that most of your rubbish is plastic bags that once contained rice, raisins or loo roll etc, then sometimes you can put other rubbish in these, or use a large one to stuff all the smaller ones into.

I presume our grandparents wrapped messy things in newspaper before they had plastic bags.

My supply of supermarket plastic bags is coming to an end as my son goes off to university and I've nearly finished the packet of degradable bin liners I bought in a misguided moment some months ago - at least I've made them last quite well. In a few more weeks it will just be me and hubby, so I shall see if we can create a lot less rubbish than we did with the kids around and if we can avoid using plastic bags.

What do you line your bin with?


Monday, 13 September 2010

Organic Sugar

Buy organic sugar.


Because, conventional sugar beet is the most highly sprayed crop on the planet, but organic crops result in less pollution and so are better for wildlife.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Reasons to be Generous

80% of people in this world live
in substandard housing

If you are reading this you will be probably be part of only 20% of the world's population who do not live in substandard housing. 

If you can read this you are among only 30% of people in the world who can read.

You are probably among the 50% who are not suffering from malnutrition.

If you have food in the fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of the people in this world. 

If you own a computer or have a college education you are among a mere 1% of the human race.

If you have money in the bank and change in your purse you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthiest people. 
Did you know you were so fortunate? Amazing, isn't it?

(Figures based on Time magazine article of 10/05/2003)

Saturday, 11 September 2010

A Day to Make Peace?

The world did not change for me on 11th September 2001, I am very glad to say, but I know many people felt it did change. Those who lost loved ones in such dreadful circumstances on that day will have been engulfed in grief and for some of those their lives will have been completely shattered.  Many people who were not directly affected still stopped feeling safe as they went about their daily lives.  Peace-loving, law-abiding Muslims suddenly came under suspicion of being a terrorist.

Fear and misunderstanding breed hatred and even violence as a certain pastor from Florida, and the response to his threat to burn the Koran by some Muslims, have shown.  It transpires that his threat was an attempt to force a group of Muslims to change their plans and build their Islamic Centre further from 'Ground Zero', the spot where the 'twin towers' used to be before terrorists flew planes into them and destroyed them.  His tactic could be described as bullying or blackmail.  He seems to feel very threatened by the plan to build this Islamic Study Centre and is doing everything in his power to stop it.  However, we have already seen how this attempt to force others to do things your way can escalate into more and more violence as there have been already been riots in Afghanistan and people chanting 'death to America' and this sort of thing can spread like wildfire thanks to modern communications systems.  Trying to coerce others is not a way to promote peace.

So perhaps 11th September is a good day to do something to make this world a bit more peaceful, or even to begin to work for peace more long-term.

Should we buy a Koran (Quran)  today to show Muslims worldwide that many Westerner 'infidel' do have respect for it?  Would it be better still if we started to read it, or read about it and Islam to find out what Muslims believe?  We would do well to remember that Islam, like Christianity has more than one expression and this can depend on the social culture prevalent in the different countries where Muslims are living.

If you know anyone who is a Muslim find out what they believe, but gently.  Don't give them the third degree.  Be prepared to listen to them explain what they believe and why, even if you don't agree.  Perhaps, when you understand their reasons you can help them to see things from a different perspective.

If you are a Muslim, try to find out more about Christianity.

If we want to foster peace in the world it is important to show respect for what other people hold dear, even if it is something you strongly disapprove of.  With gentle questioning you may discover why they think something is right and necessary even though you believe it to be very wrong.  This may give you new insights that help you see the matter differently.

Remember that religious faith along with non-religious spirituality, is closely tied up with a person's identity and view of the world, if you try to undermine that they will feel under attack in some way.  If you were to destroy someone's faith you will destroy the foundation of their life and that could have dire consequences for them and others.

Whoever you speak to, remember they won't represent everyone from within that religion.

While all the world's major religions advocate peace, people's perception is increasingly that religion is a cause of violence. Greater understanding decreases suspicion and increases friendship.

I believe I have a copy of 'Islam, a very short introduction' somewhere, so I shall track it down and start reading it this weekend, what will you do?

Friday, 10 September 2010

Organic Veg Box

Confronted with all the plastic wrapping, which my organic fruit and veg from a local supermarket was wrapped in I decided on Monday to try an organic veg box from Riverford Farm.

A number of years ago we had an organic veg box from Able and Cole, but I gave it up in the end because some of it wasn't very fresh and we had trouble eating everything before it went off.

More recently I used a home delivery service, which sourced everything locally, either in our county or from the three adjoining counties and I was happy with that for a few years until they dropped a lot of the suppliers I'd particularly liked.  As it happened I received an e-mail from them just after placing my order with Riverford, to say they had decided to stop home deliveries.

The main cardboard box will be re-used by Riverford.
I had been reluctant to use Riverford because they are based in Devon, but what I hadn't realised until more recently is that it is now a kind of franchise with local hubs, known as sister farms, and my hub is based in neighbouring Hampshire. This means that a lot of the food is from that area and pretty local, probably more so than most of the organic produce in my supermarket, although it does try to source things locally when possible.

Well my box arrived about half past one and the produce looked very fresh and in good condition and apart from the blueberries I'd ordered separately as a treat because they were grown in the UK, there was not a trace of plastic in sight.

This cardboard punnet will be great for
growing seedlings come the Spring.

Some more lovely looking veg

I also ordered a couple of loaves as the bakers in the town has stopped selling organic bread. It was wrapped in tissue and came in a brown paper bag that could be used to line a compost bin when it is no longer of use.

Interview with 'No Impact Man'

I've just heard an interview with 'No Impact Man' aka Colin Beavan on You and Yours.  It lasted about 10 minutes and Colin came across as just as thoughtful as he did in his book.

The interview was intended to promote the fact that the film 'No Impact Man' is now being screened at selected cinemas around the UK.  I felt Peter White didn't make this as clear as he could have done, though.

You can listen here.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

(Jewish) New Year, New Start

Happy New Year to you, if you are Jewish.  If you are not Jewish, then you might like to know that today is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.

I found that out when listening to Good Morning Sunday at the weekend.  One of the guests was Rabbi Pete Tobias, who explained that originally the new year was the time when the Jewish community apologised to God, as he put it, so he wouldn't be angry with them, because they wanted him to bless their harvest and the new crops they were sowing and planting for the year ahead.

Traditionally the word the Bible uses rather than apologise, is repent, which I've been told means to change direction.

It seems to me that now would be a good time for all of us, whether Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Atheist or whatever to repent of all the things we're doing to upset the balance of our beautiful, life-sustaining planet and change direction to a new way of doing things that means we tread much more lightly on the Earth and do what we can to avoid harming others.

Something I read this morning could help us to change the way we think about the food we eat:
'We have to look deeply to see how we grow our food, so we can eat in ways that preserve our collective well-being, minimize our suffering and the suffering of other species, and allow the earth to continue to be a source of life for all of us.  If, while we eat, we destroy living beings or the environment, we are eating the flesh of our own sons and daughters*.  We need to look deeply together and discuss how to eat, what to eat and what to resist."
* This is a reference to an allegorical story the Buddha is said to have told, known as 'Discourse on the Son's Flesh'. The meaning is that we are thoughtlessly consuming our children's future, or at least the resources they will need to live well, and maybe to live at all.

From 'The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching' by Thich Nhat Hanh.

A Tasty Use for Stale Bread

As it's National Zero Waste Week I have been thinking more than usual about food waste, but I do think it was also a coincidence that we had two stale ends of loaves in the bread bin. Hubby didn't want sandwiches yesterday and my son made a cooked lunch for himself and his sister. He's finished work in readiness for going to university next week.

approx 12 oz stale bread
As a result I was left with about 12 ounces (300g) of stale bread. The white bread already had small blue dots of mould in places and the crust which no one had eaten was very mouldy, so I did throw that away. There was also half a wholemeal loaf that was getting a bit stale.  Part of the problem is that the white organic loaf from Waitrose is a bit dry, so it goes stale quickly.

So, what did I do with all that bread? I made cheese pudding of course. Perhaps you have heard of it, but I don't know many people who have. It's a recipe my mum often made, which I believe she got from her own mother and is a kind of easy to make souffle, although the bread means it's not as light as the real thing.  It's quite an economical, vegetarian dish, and very tasty, too.

Cheese Pudding for 4 people


8 ounces (250 g) stale bread

15 fluid ounces (400 ml) of milk (soya or oat milk should be fine)

1 medium egg

8 ounces (250g) of strongish cheese according to taste

1 .Grate the bread into a large mixing bowl.

2. Grate the cheese in with the bread.

3. Add the milk and the egg.

4. Stir well.   The mixture should be
   like sloppy porridge, but not too runny.

If it seems too runny and especially if you didn't put quite enough bread in you can add a handful or two of porridge oats.

Pour the mixture into a greased oven-proof dish or individual dishes.

Possible variations

If you want a bit of a zing without using too much cheese add a pinch of mustard powder to the bread crumbs and mix well in.

You could also experiment with adding fried onions or sun-dried tomatoes to the mixture, and using just a little less milk to compensate for their moistness.

Serving suggestion

Serve with carrots, broccoli and a jacket potato for a nutritious, balanced meal.  This is probably fairly high in fat due to the cheese, so not suitable for anyone following a low-fat diet.

I didn't have a jacket potato yesterday as hubby and I ate cheese pudding for 4 between the two of us.  I made a separate, small one for daughter as I had so much bread.  She forgot to tell me soon enough that she was going out, so she had it cold when she came back in.  The half she left will go to the chickens.  I don't think it's as good cold as hot.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Record Output from British Wind Farms

Good news.  According to this report from Business Green, British wind farms delivered a record output last Monday.
'Britain's wind farms reached record levels of output on Monday providing five per cent of all electricity to the grid over the course of the day.

National Grid confirmed that 40.5GWh out of a total 809.5GWh was provided by wind farms during the 24-hour period, with output peaking at 1,860MW at 8:30pm. At its peak the wind energy sector was providing electricity equivalent to that produced by three nuclear power stations.

A spokeswoman for the grid operator said that when so-called embedded wind generation from turbines that are not connected to the grid is taken into account it is estimated that on Monday around 10 per cent of the UK's electricity was delivered by wind power.

"Overall about 10 per cent of total electricity demand would have been met by wind power," she said. "It is a pretty big landmark for the industry."
The record will be taken as further evidence that the grid can cope with growing inputs from intermittent energy sources such as wind farms. "Matching demand with supply is changing by its very nature because of the intermittency of wind energy," said the National Grid spokeswoman. "But that does not mean it can not be done."'

If you would like to see more of our energy from wind farms why not switch to Ecotricity, Good Energy or another supplier of 'green' electricity.

Monday, 6 September 2010

National Zero Waste Week

National Zero Waste Week

In case you didn't know today is the beginning of National Zero Waste Week.

This was started by 'Mrs Green' of My Zero Waste in 2008.

The idea is to encourage people to focus on the rubbish they create for a week and to consider if they could have avoided accumulating it in the first place or if it can be re-used or recycled.  The hope is that people will take a few better habits with them after the week is up.

To put it another way, it's reminding people to




This year 'Mrs Green' is encouraging us all to think about the food we waste.

According to the Love Food Hate Waste website, which is run by WRAP, a staggering 8.3 million tonnes of food is thrown away by households in the UK every year.* 

On average we are wasting £50 worth of the food we buy each month, which represents a hefty chunk of most people's food bills.  As some people are not wasting this much, then others are wasting more than £50 worth of food a month.

Not only is it costing us our hard-earned money, rotting food waste in landfill creates the greenhouse gas, methane, and so makes climate change worse.  In fact if we stopped wasting all this food it would reduce the UK's green house gas emissions just as much as it would if one in four cars were taken off our roads!

So, I'm sure you want to know how you can save yourself a lot of money and stop climate change from getting any worse by not buying food you will only throw away.

Here are my tried and tested tips for keeping food waste destined for landfill down to a minimum.

1. First of all, it helps a lot to plan your meals for at least the next few days.

2. Secondly, check the fridge, freezer and cupboards to see which ingredients you
already have.

3. Then make a list.  You may think it's old-fashioned, but it really is the best way.

4. Fourthly, don't be tempted by offers in the shop unless you can really use the items,concerned and it really will save you money.I would also suggest that you buy the best ingredients than you can afford, and as it is also Organic Fortnight, consider buying some organic food items.  These are probably better for you because they haven't been sprayed with potentially harmful chemicals, and good organic farming practices are certainly healthier for the environment, the thing we don't always notice, but which we depend on for our survival.

The other benefit of buying good quality ingredients is that because they cost a bit more we will be more committed to making the most of them.  I wonder if 'buy one get one free' offers encourage us to waste more food than we otherwise would.

5. It can also be helpful to buy food only for a few days in advance, if you often end up not making what you had planned due to a change in circumstances later in the week.

6. Check the sell by date is one you can work with.  No good buying mince for Friday's dinner if it's use by date is several days earlier.

I hope you are now inspired to cut back on food waste this week.  If so, go to 'Mrs Green's' National Zero Waste Week post and make a pledge, saying how you are going to do that.  You could win a prize!

'Mrs Green' has more tips to help you throw less food away here and here.

I've just looked at all the plastic wrapping in that photo which, it seems, is the only way supermarkets can distinguish organic and non-organic fruit and veg and, as it's also Organic Fortnight I've decided to try an organic veg box again.  I'll let you know what it's like when it turns up on Friday.

*According to this article in the New York Times Americans waste about a third (27%) of the food available for consumption, but this isn't just the food they take home, the waste starts in supermarkets and restaurants.  It seems we also waste around a third of our food here in the UK.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Organic Fortnight

Organic Fortnight starts today and runs until 17th September. The Soil Association have a variety of suggestions for things you could do from visiting an organic farm to trying some organic beauty products. 

They even have some tips for how to buy organic on a budget.

Why not try out a new organic product each time you go shopping, whether it's fruit or veg, an item of clothing, a new lipstick or shower gel.

Take a look and see how many organic items you can find in your local supermarket or take a trip to a Farmers' Market near you, where you will probably find all sorts of organic goodies for sale.

Traidcraft have a wide range of mostly edible products that are organic as well as fairly traded.  Bishopston Trading Company, Greenfibres, Gossypium and Liv have an even wider range of clothing and household items. 

I've been using organic toiletries and cosmetics for several years. I use lovely organic cleansers and moisturisers from Weleda as well as their deodorising sprays.  I've been pleased with mascara from Alva or Lavera, which both have staying power and give good coverage. I've been pleased with eye-shadows from both companies as well as from Dr Hauschka whose lipsticks keep lips well moisturised. I've found that the Dr Haushka deodorants work well, too.
Herb Garden at Ryton Organic

If you are anywhere near Warwick I'd  recommend a day out at Ryton Organic, which is a large garden with lots of sections demonstrating all sorts of ways you can grow things organically.  There is an excellent organic restaurant as well as a cafe, plants for sale and a shop selling gardening products and a range of planet-friendly goods from Ecover washing up liquid to Infinity Foods.

See another angle on Organic Fortnight at My Zero Waste.

Do you have any tips about buying organic?  Perhaps you have a favourite product or producer, in which case let us know.  It would also be interesting to hear if you are blogging about Organic Fortnight yourself.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Let the Sunshine Chase away the Laundry Blues

Make the most of the sunshine and dry your washing outside if you can.

Nothing beats the smell of sunshine and fresh air the laundry has when dried this way.  Sunshine is a mild, natural bleach, too, so spread any stained items out to get the maximum effect.

If you would otherwise have dried your washing in a tumble drier, then you'll save money, too and your carbon footprint won't be so big.

I'm so pleased we've had enough good weather while I've been home so that I could finally catch up with my hand-washing this week, as well as drying the normal weekly wash outdoors.  When we're all trying to dry our washing indoors we run out of room on the airers, even though we use the tumble drier for some things.