You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘consumerism’ category.

It’s always surprising to see the places my foods have been! If only plants could write their history…earth-437670_1280


This winter, when I shopped for some of my kitchen staples, I paid attention to how far food travels to get to my kitchen. The lemons, garlic, mushrooms, avocado, carrots, celery, canned tomatoes, and assorted frozen berries now in my kitchen are renowned world travelers — visiting my home from Argentina, Chile, Italy, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, Spain, Turkey, oh and yes, unknown states in the USA.

While I do like to have many of these particular foods on hand for nutritional and gustatory reasons, there are many downsides to this long-distance relationship with the foods I love.

Photo by Lisa Missenda

Photo by Lisa Missenda

First, quality: To be packaged for shipping, many times these vegetables and fruits and picked before they are ripe. This is particularly true of tomatoes. At some point along the route to my table they might be sprayed with a little ethylene gas to make them appear riper. Truth is, in spite of shippers; best efforts, many fruits and vegetables do not continue to ripen once taken off the vine, out of the ground or once they stray too far away from the sun’s reach. So, when they get to my kitchen counter, they may look ripe, but they just don’t have the fresh taste of the ones I can get at the farmers’ market.

Second safety: The more food travels and the more hands it passes to get to my table – the more risk there is of food borne illness. Over the past 10 years the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has rejected numerous shipments of plant foods like green beans and mushrooms due to illegal pesticide violations, excessive filth and unsanitary conditions of the products. Luckily, the FDA is looking out for us.


Strawberry Harvest Pixaby photo – Public Domain

Third – labor standards: I am never sure what the working conditions might be in the country of origin. Where children skipping out on an education to work in the fields and harvest my berries? Did a woman give birth in that same field because she was not allowed to take a day off? Where workers exposed to dangerous pesticides and fertilizers that we would not use in the USA?

While ultimately, I would love to be a locovore, eating only foods in my bioregion, I am happy these labels exist; they can be found at almost any grocery store. Consumers and non-profit groups like Food and Water Watch and National Family Farm Coalition fought hard to make the 2008 rule for mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL), for meat, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and several kinds of nuts. While the law is not perfect, at least I do know more, and have a choice when I reach for lemon and start my day. Learn more about the foods you eat using Food and Water Watch’s interactive shopping cart.

As some of my close friends could attest, up to a year after my return from living in rural Nicaragua, a trip to a supermarket was traumatic for me; I would become catatonic after a simple trip down the breakfast aisle at the local grocery store. There were just so many boxes, so much stuff to read and way too many choices. It took me several years and a lot of research to realize that in spite of all those apparent choices, with most any purchase of cereal, I was handing money over to one of four global food corporations.

According to Food and Water Watch, Kellogg Co., General Mills, PepsiCo and Post Foods control 79.9 percent of cereal sales, making shoppers hard pressed to find a box of cereal that is not owned by one of these big manufacturers. So, guess what? As long as our hard-earned dollars are primarily going to huge food companies, the real “choices” we are left with in the cereal aisle are more about how much sugar, artificial flavorings and pesticides we want to ingest first thing in the morning.

Nutritionally, most of the cereals that populate the breakfast aisles of grocery stores are loaded with highly refined carbohydrates that may satisfy you for a couple of hours, but lack enough grams of protein to get you past 11am. I am a big advocate for a good, high protein breakfasts. Moreover, most cereals are made with corn or wheat, two grains that dominate a nutritionist’s list of common allergens, and the farmers’ lists of crops needing the highest quantities of pesticides. To learn more about the cereals’ typical ingredients, see: Do I know what I’m eating?

I don’t watch a lot of broadcast television – so I have been isolated from most of the marketing that TV-watching-consumers see daily… but I have been taken in by more than one supermarket display…. The displays at the ends of the aisles (I call them end-caps) in supermarkets are highly valued supermarket real estate; these end-cap displays encourage impulse purchases.

Think about it – items offered on end-caps are not lined up with other options – so you as a consumer no longer have the handy capacity to compare prices with similar products. More than once my assumption has been that items displayed on end-caps are sale items and the best deal. According to Food and Water Watch, more than one-sixth of grocery purchases are tied to brand display advertisements, which are typically some of the most expensive items.

When it comes to breakfast don’t be taken in by marketing campaigns sponsored by one of 4 major food industries. Here are some basic rules:

  1. Eat breakfast.
  2. Make sure that protein is featured in your breakfast.
  3. Limit added sugars in your breakfast choices.
  4. Eat breakfast within an hour of waking.
  5. Drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages only after you have “broken your fast” (I always advice to ensure that there is at least some kind of food in your stomach before taking in caffeine).

To find out more about why I give this advice, subscribe to my blog.

You know the old story of the tortoise and the hare – every new year I fancy myself the hare – come January 1, my life is destined for drastic change. Out go the sweets, the coffee, the alcoholic beverages, the wasteful purchases I made in the previous year and in comes the fruit smoothies, the fitness gear, ardent recycling and loads of veggies – all the tools I need to excel at living an enthusiastically healthy, green and virtuous year.

Big changes like the big, fast start the hare had in the famous race, are hard to maintain. If you want proof check out that expensive exercise equipment sitting in the corner and collecting dust since last January. When I look back at my life, I find that the most lasting changes have been the slow and steady ones – not the radical changes I vowed to make overnight.

So below I list seven slow and simple changes that can improve your health, and fitness while contributing to greening our planet. Happy New Year!

  1. Add more laughter. Physiological changes take place when we laugh. We stretch muscles throughout our face and body, our pulse and blood pressure go up, and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen to our tissues. Some researchers believe that laughter may offer some of the same advantages as a workout. Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of calories burned in laughing — 50 calories burned in only 10-15 minutes of laughter.
  2. Drink green tea. Tea contains antioxidants that can help slow down aging and help your cells to regenerate and repair. Teas of all varieties contain high levels of antioxidant polyphenols that can help keep your body healthier and some studies suggest even ward of some cancers. Tea has less caffeine than coffee, and drinking lots of caffeine is hard on your heart and other organs. Tea can provide the pick-me-up of coffee with less caffeine, making you less jittery and helping you get to sleep when you want. Personally, I like to drink tea in the morning – I feel that my breath feels fresher after a cup of tea than it would after a cup of coffee!
  3. Drink more tap water.  Most North Americans walk around somewhat dehydrated – and often mistake thirst for hunger. Hydration, through drinking more water is a positive change that can improve your health; and choosing tap water can have a positive impact on the environment. The energy required to produce and transport plastic bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year! More often than not, plastic water bottles are not recycled—they end up in landfills, litter roadsides, and pollute waterways and oceans. The bottled water industry sold 8.8 billion gallons of water in 2010, generating nearly $11 billion in profits. Yet the industry is not required to report testing results for its products. Independent studies have shown that some of the most popular brands of bottled water contain pollutants like pharmaceuticals, fertilizer residue and arsenic. Public tap water, on the other hand, is subject to strict safety regulations, and you are paying for it anyway –so drink more! If you have any concerns about your tap water, install a water filter.
  4. Buy local! Instead of relying exclusively on large supermarkets, consider farmers markets and local farms for your produce, eggs, dairy, and meat. Food from these sources is usually fresher and more flavorful, and your money will be going directly to these food producers. Author and consumer advocate Michael Shuman argues that local small businesses are more sustainable because they are often more accountable for their actions, have smaller environmental footprints, and innovate to meet local conditions—providing models for others to learn from.
  5. Go for a ride. Carpooling and using public transportation helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, and your gasoline usage. This year I renewed my membership to City Bikes in Washington D.C., a bike sharing programs that allows me to rent a cool red bike for short trips. As long as I keep the bike for under 30 minutes, my one-time a year membership fee pays for it. More time comes at extremely affordable rates. Similar programs exist in other cities, and are in the planning stages in other places. This is a great baby step for my health and for the planet. It takes me about the same time to ride the bike from one stop to the next as it does to ride the metro – it saves me the metro fare and gets me moving at the same time!
  6. Reduce your meat consumption. You don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan, but the small baby step of substituting one meal day with a vegetarian option can go a long way toward improving your health and that of the planet. In general, meat consumption is higher than the daily recommended amount, so cutting back one meal a week is a great baby step. Meat lacks fiber and other nutrients that have been shown to have cancer-protective properties; it is also high in saturated fat –which contributes to a number of preventable diseases. Livestock production accounts for about 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 23 percent of all global water used in agriculture. Websites such as Meatless Monday  offer numerous vegetarian recipes that are healthy for you and the environment. 
  7. Take 20 minute walks. It turns out that simple, regular walking may provide all the mental and physical health benefits you need. Walking has been proven to lower “bad” cholesterol, raise “good” cholesterol, lower blood pressure, reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, manage weight, and improve mood and energy. And what’s more, walking is convenient and cheap – you don’t need a gym membership or any fancy equipment. It’s good for the environment as well – cutting down on the greenhouse gas emissions your car would be making. Try walking to work, and if you work miles from your home try other strategies – short walks through your neighborhood, parking in the last row of the parking lot when shopping or parking at work. Remember it’s about small steps and every step helps!

This was something that we were told perhaps many time when all of us were growing up. It seems, however, some people have forgotten how to do so. Over-consumption is not making anyone happier. If fact many of us complain that we have too much stuff, or that we are too “stuffed” and literally weighed down by what we consume. Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers, authors of What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, are convinced that the pendulum is swinging the other way — mainly because social media has made it much easier to share! Check this out, and think of the implications for your own life.

One of the connections that many people miss is that plastic shopping bags are made of non-renewable fossil fuel, that’s right – in every plastic bag has its origins deep inside the Earth where dinosaurs once walked the planet. If we all do our part in decreasing the demand for these ubiquitous bags, while pressuring our policy makers to invest in renewable energies, we may just have a shot at saving our environment  by leaving this fossil fuel chapter of our collective human history behind. But it will take a mass movement of people to do this!

Ashel Seasunz’ and Alli Chagi-Starr’s inspiring Earth Amplified music/video campaign, featuring the video below on plastic bags, is one tool that is absolutely needed to help masses of people understand what’s at stake. This project is expected to go viral on YouTube – something that will take the artists’ work and message to a new level. You can click here to download the album:, and you can go to to contribute seed money toward the project.

This is a re-post from August ’10. I wanted to post this edited version since February is here. Please consider taking the action I include below.

Do you know what you’re supposed to be doing this month? No? Well, there are some brilliant minds out there who say you should be SNACKING! Since 1989 February has been named by those at the Snack Food Association and the National Potato Promotion Board as National Snack Food Month.

In 1989 the Snack Food Association noted that as a nation our snack food consumption slumps in February. So it designed a month to get all of us back on the wagon. Why not February when Halloween candy has long ago gone stale and the winter holiday temptations have been gobbled to the last crumb? The month is literally “kicked off” with the Super Bowl. Where would we be without bowls of munchies in front of a TV set radiating as many ads as it does plays in the game?

If we took a snapshot of the snack food section of the grocery store in 1989 and compared it to now, we’d be floored by the hundreds of new products available to us. Collectively, as a nation we have become quite efficient at snacking. In many homes there are few meals eaten at a table where people take time to prepare food and share it together. Many people snack right on through the day. Our growing rates of obesity and other diet-related diseases are testimony to this.

As a health coach I work with a lot of elementary and secondary school teachers who plan their February entire curriculum around Black History Month. They often complain to me about the negative impact that snack stuff that is ever-present in children’s lunches. Cheese doodles, potato chips, ring dings and other sugary, salty snack stuff have kids literally bouncing off the walls. Hello Snack Food Association and National Potato Promotion Board people – you’ve done your job! We know how to snack – can we please go back to reserving February to honor the history of African-Americans in our country?

Take action!

Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI) and others have launched a mini counter-campaign of their own here They are reclaiming February for the good food cause — making it into a 28 or “20-ate” day celebration of real foods.  One way you can support them is to “outlike” the cheese puff fanpage on facebook by the end of the month. Here’s the score as of earlier this week: KGI: 4058 fans Cheese Puffs: 5469 fans.  Please add your support by going to and click on “like” at the bottom of the page!

Given the financial challenges many people are still experiencing as well as the current stresses endured by Mother Earth, below you will find seven ideas for greening the earth while adding some greenbacks to your wallet Consider incorporating at least one of the following practices into your new year.

1-    Eat the foods that keep your body fit: Most health conscious and/or weight-loss diets advise you to eat your vegetables, to cut out fatty red meat and to avoid processed foods. Incorporating these three suggestions in your diet can help you to save money while easing some of Earth’s burden. Vegetables and grains are the least amount of energy for production, while meat production often involves a number of inputs and processes that a 2007 UN Food and Agriculture Organization study has linked to global warming. Processed and packaged snack food and packaged prepared  meals are popular for people with little time to cook, but they tend to cost more – for the planet, your body and your wallet. Packaging in all shapes and sizes (plastics, paper, aluminum, Styrofoam, foil etc.) is taking up a lot of real estate in landfills throughout the United States. Processed foods take their toll on your health as they can be much harder to digest, and processed foods are often more expensive when all the costs hidden by subsidies and health risks are added up. Consider reducing your intake of highly processed foods by replacing them with whole foods purchased in bulk – especially fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and dried fruit.

2-    Walk if you’re going less than one mile or bike for slightly longer trips: This simple action will reduce your spending on fuel and maintenance for your car and decrease your carbon foot print. An added benefit is that you will be building muscle and melting away unwanted pounds while doing your errands.

3-    Minimize your exposure to toxic chemicals: If you make your own cleaning solutions you avoid the standard hazardous chemicals (ammonia, bleach, lye, formaldehyde and alcohol) that are included in most cleaning products. Look through your pantry and pull out some of these eco- friendly and less harmful cleaning products (baking soda, Borax, Castile soap, white vinegar, lemon juice). Learn more about using these here

4-    Use reusable bags when shopping: Over 50,000 bags are used every 5 seconds in the U.S. For a visual on this, click on this image put together by artist Chris Jordan in his exhibition “Running the Numbers.” Using your own bag lightens up the plastic load in city dumps. Reusable shopping bags are available at many grocery stores. In Washington, DC and in other cities around the country laws have been established to charge an extra fee (about 5 cents) for each plastic grocery bag you use. Every little bit adds up – so if you consider how many bags you bring home between shopping and picking up a sandwich here and a bottle of wine there, you could be saving about $40 – $50 a year by using your own. Try it – you will find that it does not take long to make it a habit that sticks.

5-    Cut back on paper towels: paper towels are a bottomless pit of expenses especially if you are reaching for one every time you clean your hands while cooking or eating, when you wipe up spills, clean your windows, counters and appliances, scrub the bathroom, etc. Why not make the switch this year to using a few old cloth rags for spills, cleaning and messes, and fabric napkins at the table. The advantage is that cloth versions can be washed and reused. You will save money and help to cut down on the 3,000 tons of paper towels that end up landfills every day.

6-    Eliminate Phantom power: You could cut your energy bill by as much as 10 percent over the course of the year simply by eliminating power leaks throughout your home. Unplug the charger for your cell phone, i-pad, mp3 player, etc. You can also invest in chargers that stop drawing current when the device’s battery is fully charged. Put those goods that are always on like your television, DVD player or stereo on a power strip to turn off all your appliances at once, or on a timer so that they automatically shut off overnight.

7-    Responsibly recycle e-waste: did you get a new electronic gadget for Christmas, or have you recently upgraded your cell phone? Do you have a stash of old gadgets, chargers, etc? Most people feel paralyzed because they don’t know what to do with all this electronic stuff so they stash it in a drawer. Especially after hearing that some enterprises that say they’ll recycle these gadgets for free end up shipping them to foreign countries where often women and children are not given protective gear while using dangerous chemicals and processes to extract microchips, gold and other recyclable materials from them. If what you want to recycle is relatively new, an option is to donate them to a reputable reuse organization, like the National Cristina Foundation or World Computer Exchange. They will match donated computers to charities and agencies, or send requested working items to educational institutions in developing countries.

Sorry Buffalo! I shuttered when I read the report of hundreds of motorists stranded for hours on the New York State Thruway when over two feet of snow fell over two days this past week. Yes, winter is upon us – at least for those who live in northern climates!

One of the most obvious ways that we use energy in the U.S. is to heat (or cool) our homes. We are keenly aware of this when the bill comes and many of us do all we can to insulate well and keep the thermostat low to avoid sending most of our paycheck to the oil, natural gas or to electricity companies that provide the energy.

Most U.S. electric plants use mainly coal, nuclear, natural gas, hydroelectric, and petroleum to generate power. Each of these entails a huge economic cost as many of the fossil fuel-based sources of energy grow scarce. But the environmental and societal impact is also enormous for each of these – think oil spill, nuclear meltdown… At the same time, ridiculously small amounts of our electric energy come from solar, tidal harnesses, wind generators, and geothermal sources, all of which have a tendency to work with nature rather than depleting natural resources.

Like I said, in the winter we’re totally aware of the costs of heating energy, but in other times of the year do we carry some of the same awareness about what energy we expend in everyday tasks? The truth is that as a nation we consume lots of energy – and about 20 percent of total energy consumption comes from normal people like you and me just doing what we do in our homes every day.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency backs energy-efficient appliances and consumer products with the ENERGY STAR label. These products meet energy efficiency requirements aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants caused by the inefficient use of energy; and allow us consumers to save on energy bills through a trusted system to identify and purchase energy-efficient without sacrificing performance.

Check out your own energy use by scrolling over each of the appliances that appear on this website.  Note which appliances have ENERGY STAR models available. If you are in the market for a new major appliance and choose an ENERGY STAR product or renewable energy system for your home you may even be eligible for a state or federal tax credit for energy efficiency. 

I am always challenging clients to get rid of what is in their way to having the healthy life they were meant to live. And in terms of naming the obstacles, I have to say that the holiday season ironically ends up being one of the biggest obstructions to living a balanced life. Holiday parties with their rich food and lavish drinks throw people off healthy eating routines, and gift-giving rat-race turns the whole holiday season into a material frenzy.

It’s often hard to remember that we have choices during days like BLACK FRIDAY. We can consciously decide to spend the day far away from the commercial chaos and instead find ways to reconnect with ourselves and the people we love. Mother Nature Network featured a blog last week encouraging people to buy nothing on Friday, November 26.  I encourage you to think through the four reasons to buy nothing, and see how much of this is true for  you.

It the face of Black Friday and its corresponding ads and  gimmicks it is easy to forget that living a balanced, well-nourished life has nothing to do with stuff.  For many of my family members and friends Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday because it is about being together with people you love around a table. Yes, there is eating and often over-eating involved, but what really nourishes us on a day like Thanksgiving is our gratitude for the relationships in our lives that we hold dear.

Stay tuned for future blog posts where I intend to write more about consumerism’s impact on Earth and its people as malls around the country declare open season for shopping. Happy Thanksgiving!

Health & Nutrition Counseling

An integrative approach to health and nutrition which includes Earth consciousness.


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 320 other followers