Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What's the deal with cotton?

Cotton. All of us have an intimate (and by that I mean intimates) knowledge of this fabric. It's comfortable, light-weight, breatheable, natural, versatile and omni-present. So why does it seem to be on the black-list of hard-core environmentalists?

Like any crop, a lot goes on behind the scenes to produce this fabric. It is a cash crop, and sometimes the "cash" portion becomes a little domineering, often to the detriment of human health and the environment.

Cotton is guilty of one of the 7 deadly sins: gluttony. Cotton needs a lot - and I mean A LOT - of water to give us those puffy little white clouds we so adore. Couple that with the fact that cotton is often grown in the parched areas of the world, and we've go a problem. Cotton production in these places have intensified drought, erosion, and desertification. The construction of irrigation systems for these fields have carved the natural landscape and permanently altered the hydrology of these areas. Most importantly, drinking water is highly rationed and sometimes unattainable in these areas because it's redirected to the almighty cotton plants.

How about this little tidbit: almost 1/3 of a pound of synthetic fertilizers are used to grow enough cotton to make ONE t-shirt (1). These fertilizers, as most of us are now well aware, leech into our soils, run-off into our water sources, suffocate our lakes and increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Which crop uses the most insecticides? Yup, cotton. Its production accounts for a whopping 16% of the world's insecticide use (1). Not only that, but it uses some of the most deadly and hazardous chemicals. The three most dangerous insectides to humans are all used in cotton production (1). Take this lovely example from the Organic Trade Association:

"Aldicarb, cotton's second best selling insecticide and most acutely poisonous to humans, can kill a man with just one drop absorbed through the skin, yet it is still used in 25 countries and the US, where 16 states have reported it in their groundwater."

Scary, no? And to think that most cotton production is in the developping world, worked by rural farmers without adequate protection from these extremely dangerous chemicals.

Hmm... Does you brand new t-shirt seem a bit dirty to you now?

Image from http://www.organic-cotton.us/

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Good Night's Sleep

My girlfriend and I recently played with the notion of buying a new mattress. Our current mattress is as old as can be, smells, and is just simply not the comfortable thing we want to lie down on every night.

We went shopping to the mattress and furniture stores in the area just to get an idea of what is available, what factors we need to consider, and what price range we'll be looking at. At the very first store, we found a mattress that was withing our price range, was the most comfortable I have ever felt, was "made" (aka assembled) withing 50km of our home, and claimed to be made with an organic cotton lining and a soybean-based rather than petrolium-based foam. We walked away feeling like this mattress was meant for us - How could we find any better? It was everything we could hope for. But, of course, I have to look up the numbers behind this green product before purchasing. Which is causing somewhat of a problem.

I have looked up the mattress model that we liked, and have found it nowhere online. It's not even present on the company website. If something was really so environmentally friendly, wouldn't it be heralded from the rooftops to garner interest and confidence in a company? To make matters worse, I have a slight reason to believe that these claims weren't as wonderful as we, as consumers, were being led to believe (when is that not the case?). At another store, the salesman asked what had interested us so far. When we spouted off enthusiastically what we had found, he cautioned us that matresses made with organic cotton are usually only around 5% cotton, so we shouldn't base our choice on the environmental claims. He, being a salesman, was trying to disinterest us in our choice, of course. But he also mentioned that he has sold that model in his store "for promotion purposes" and so can't just completely discount it (or the company itself which he was still trying to get us to buy a different model of.)

When we first started off to find a mattress, we both agreed that we simply did not have the means to buy an environmentally friendly mattress. I am also of the opinion that when buying one item which lasts for so many years and consumes nothing in that time-frame, such as a mattress, eco-friendlyness is of less importance. But now that the option of a more natural, less chemical version in our price-range has been experience, I am having a hard time letting go.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Summer of Plenty

This summer, I have reached a turning point in the way I view food. It's hard to pinpoint exactly where it started. It could have started way back when I became a vegetarian all those years ago. Or maybe when I had a summer job on a farm which opened my eyes to vegetables unheard of. Most probably, it was my purchase of the book Clean Food by Terry Walters. I learned how to cook a meal that I and others would enjoy. I learned what things like Mirin and millet are, how to make every vinagrette imaginable, how many delicious grains and legumes are out there, and how eating with the seasons just makes so much more sense.
You see, I was raised in a house where foods were a combination of canned vegetables, instant rice or pasta, and chicken and pork. Spaghetti sauce was from a can. Homemade soup only ever happened once every three years when Christmas dinner was at our house and there were turkey bones to stew. My mother hated any cooked vegetable possible, except for corn, and therefore vegetables were few and far between in the meals. I have only in the past two years come to appreciate brussel sprouts, tomatoes, green beans, turnips, parsnips, squash, and cooked greens. These new items are things of beauty to me. Nothing in the world can feel like an eggplant when you tap it. There is no site more beautiful when the leaves start to change color than a stall overflowing with squash. The smell of tomatoes and peppers freshly picked from the garden is undeniably good and healthy and an inspiration for every meal.
And so my obsession with food has waxed this summer. Vegetables and fruits were the basis of each and every meal. Everything was obtained by farmer's markets or our own patio garden. The only things we needed to buy at the grocery store this summer was: milk, eggs, butter, flour, yeast, yoghurt, grains, tofu, and sugar. The 'fresh' department of the grocery store was left alone, unless to comment on how pitiful the choice and quality were. As a result, this summer was the first time I was able to comprehend just how wide a variety of fruits and vegetables are available to us fresh and delicious during the growing season. Trips to the Marché Jean Talon and Marché 440 always turned up at least one object of my enthusiasm which I would talk about incessently.
With the newfound joy in food, there comes a stark realisation. The farmer's markets are slowly closing up shop for the winter. The variety of fresh choices I have come to live by is slowly fading away. Winter will bring with it an extremely depressing need to return to grocery stores for my nourishment. Greenhouse tomatoes, peppers from Mexico, lettuce from the states... I will no longer have the option to buy fresh, local food. Instead, there will be shrink-wrapped brocolli and uninspiring bags of carrots. What is a food lover to do?

Monday, March 1, 2010

I'm trying to find a book.

Of course, not any old book will do. I want something that incorporates every aspect of building a sustainable society, from building construction alternatives, to organic agriculture, to being a low-impact consumer. There should be a chapter on how to eat, one on how to clean, and another on getting corporations to want to be 'green' for reasons other than $$$. It should all be backed up by sturdy references and examples instead of being a bunch of ideological fluff. And of course, the whole thing should be printed and distributed in the the least detrimental way possible.

Am I simply asking for too much? Maybe I should write it myself - it might take less time than searching through a bajillion websites, bookstores, and reader reviews...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The dawn of an era...

First blog, first post - first timer trying something new on for size!

Well, this is bound to be a bumpy ride. I've never followed a blog, only stumbled upon one here and there when searching for stuff online. I really haven't a clue what I'm supposed to write about, or what would interest people, or why people would be interested by what I have to say.

So, true to the studious side of me, I've decided to go for a more informative "magazine" style of entries. Think Canadian Geographic meets Discovery Channel, with a smidgen of TLC to liven things up (minus all the experience, and wisdom, of course). Being a Wildlife Biology graduate with an intense interest in environmental sustainability, my topics will include such things as:

*Green technologies
*How to be a conscientious consumer
*Steps I've taken, or am thinking of taking, to minimize my impact on the environment
*Anything else I've researched and find pertinent

So if you are actually reading this: thanks. And don't worry - I'm sure things will get a lot smoother as I get the hang of things.

Happy reading!