Monday, September 27, 2010

Wellesley Street Fire


Shawn and I live just a few minutes away from St. Jamestown in Toronto, so it definitely hit home when we heard about the terrible fire there on Friday. While our apartment is just a two minute walk from the one where the fire hit, we actually have very little contact with St. Jamestown at all. It’s like a community unto itself, one of the most densely-populated areas in North America and housing many lower income families and people in need of public housing. While our comfy co-op is just blocks away, we rarely have any reason to go into that neighbourhood.

When the fire hit, I was on my way home, but I didn’t even realize it was happening. It’s not uncommon to see emergency vehicles in St. Jamestown and I didn’t smell smoke or see anything in the distance. When my best friend called to see if we were OK – she had heard the cross-streets on the news – I was sitting down to watch some TV after a busy workday. I looked out the window and still didn’t see any smoke coming from the white buildings clearly visible from my front door, so I thought maybe it was just a small fire.

It wasn’t until hours later when I saw the masses of emergency vehicles still blocking our street that the reality really sunk in. This was a major incident. When we learned that 1200-1700 people were forced to leave their homes because of the fire we were shocked. These are the most vulnerable people in our city – the poor, the disabled, new immigrants. They live in public housing and many left their apartments with just the clothes on their backs.

A friend posted on Facebook that there was a need for toothpaste and other personal hygiene products and that really struck me. I can’t imagine being left without even a toothbrush! We went through the house and collected all the spare toiletries that we had – anything unopened went into a bag. We took the bag, along with a bag of food donations, and went over to the Community Centre across the street, where the victims of the fire were living.

It was such an eye-opener. People were everywhere. Many were huddled together smoking out front, others were lined up for medical attention. We took our donations to one area and were thanked so much for the toiletries, which were badly needed. We had to take our food donations into the gym. Usually, the gym is full of kids playing ball or adults doing fitness classes, on Saturday it was full of people laying on tiny cots or lining up for pizza. There were children playing, but it was heartbreaking to know that they had nowhere else to go that night – for now, this gym was home.

We went home and I sent out requests on my Facebook page and to friends at work, asking them to please consider donating. I called our friends downstairs and asked them to see what they had on hand. I wanted to do anything I could to help these people. Now, knowing that many of them will not be able to go home for days and possible weeks, I am even more determined to help.


And I hope you will consider doing so. These are people with no where else to go – no family to take them in, no money for a hotel… they are our neighbours and they need our help. These are the times when even the smallest things can make a huge difference.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cha-Ching

Living a clean lifestyle isn’t cheap. That was one of the first things that Shawn and I realized when we decided to give it a try. You might think that when you decide to eat fresh produce, lean proteins and a less-processed diet overall that you would be able to spend less on groceries. You would be totally wrong. We try to eat organic when we can, but often the difference in price is just too astronomical to justify. So we wash things well and hope for the best. We do buy organic when we can and we try to always eat free-range eggs, but it can be tough to stomach the added cost of not poisoning yourself with chemicals!

Even feeding our cats a natural diet, a choice that we made, is costly. The healthy all-natural food we buy them is double the cost of the name brand stuff from the grocery store. But at least we know what every ingredient on the label actually is. We recently switched them to a corn-based litter too, which is more expensive, but doesn’t involve a whole lot of potentially toxic dust getting into their lungs and ours. Is it worth the cost? I think so, but as I move towards potential unemployment at the end of the month we may find ourselves letting them kick up the old, cheap dust again. We’ll see.

When we decided to start greening up our lifestyle as a whole, we found that it was equally as pricey. This weekend I bought a spiffy glass sandwich container with a BPA-free lid to replace my current plastic ones. It cost a cool $8.99 + HST. I could buy a whole box of the plastic ones for that price! We also switched our plastic water jug in the fridge for a glass one at the same time and, while it was a bit more affordable, we couldn’t find a glass one in the size we wanted for the price we were willing to pay, so 1L it is.

It isn’t lost on me that Shawn and I are in the enviable place of being able to afford these things. We can decide to get rid of our plastics and replace them with glass. Sure, it’s a slower process as we do things bit by bit, but we have the means to make that happen. We are also able to make the decision to buy organic bananas and all-natural cat food. We can choose to pay extra for organic pasta sauce in a glass jar and for organic milk. But what if we couldn’t? How unfair is it that so many people can’t afford to make healthy food and lifestyle decisions?  

There is something so wrong with the fact that heavily processed and unhealthy convenience foods are often cheaper than fresh, healthy food. Why is organic fruit so expensive with Fruit Roll Ups aren’t? The more I learn about this stuff the more I know that I need to do something to help bring about change on this issue. I’m not quite sure what just yet, but I’m working on it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Costco is Killing Me

O.K., not really, but it's a catchy title!
Since I started reading Slow Death by Rubber Duck I’ve been more aware of the chemicals in things around me. I just finished reading the chapter on antibacterial overload. The germophobe in me recoiled at first, but then I was slowly won over as I realized that, while my beloved Purell might not be totally without merit in some instances, the overload of antibacterial everything really is.

Triclosan is a chemical that we shouldn’t be finding in such large quantities in people. But we are. After reading the chapter, I took a look around our house to see what antibacterial things we have around. Other than Purell (which actually doesn’t even list Tricolsan as an ingredient – I just checked), I don’t actively look to buy antibacterial products, so I wondered if we had much. We do.

We buy a lot of our bathroom products at Costco. It’s cheaper to buy things like toothpaste and liquid hand soap in bulk. It just makes sense. But I’d never really noticed that the liquid hand soap we get is antibacterial. And the huge package of family-size tubes of Colgate Total that I just bought on sale there? Antibacterial! Why do I need antibacterial toothpaste? Why does anybody? I know that we have antibacterial dish soap at the office (thankfully, not at home), but the lovely scented hand soap I love from Bath & Bodyworks? Full of triclosan and for good measure some phalates too. Yuck.

We’re planning another trip to Costco this week and I will definitely be paying attention to any products that we purchase. Now that I’m aware that Triclosan can be in anything from socks to garden hoses and all things in between, I want to be a more conscious consumer. Chances are I’ll finish up the products that I do have, because I think that waste is pretty evil too and just adding them to a landfill seems wrong, but that will be the end after that. I’ve realized that clean eating and non-toxic living go hand in hand and I feel good about making those choices.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Slow Death by Rubber Duck

At the recent Vegetarian Food Fair I was talking to one of the vendors about how when you start to think about how you eat it becomes inevitable that you become more aware of the rest of your environment. That’s been the case with me recently for sure.

I’m reading Slow Death by Rubber Duck, which is a fantastic book about the toxic chemical stew that we all currently live in. Shockingly, the book isn’t a total downer. It’s well-written, funny and informative. I’m flying right through it and learning so much.

It’s made me really re-think how I live my life. I had already started making changes over the years as I became aware of the potential problems that chemicals could bring, but I don’t think I ever had a real idea of how many dangerous chemicals touched my life every single day.

From my morning shower with scented soap, shampoo and lotion; to my kitchen full of products encased in plastic packaging; to my non-stick, Teflon-spewing cookware and stain-guarded and flame-resistant couch, my life is full of chemicals that can cause all sorts of health issues. And, like so many others, I had no idea about how many places these chemicals are hiding.

In Canada, BPA has been banned from baby bottles, but it’s still cropping up all over the place in the plastics that we use every day. And it seems like every time I turn around there is another toy recall because of lead or other contaminants. It’s scary.

But the book is also uplifting. It talks about the successful campaigns that have sprung up over the years and how they have done so much to reverse the hazards in our lives and to help our bodies clear out so many of the horrible things that have snuck in. It is wonderful and inspiring to know that as more people become educated about the products that we are using, the more likely that manufacturers will be forced to stop using toxic chemicals and to re-think how they do business. We are already seeing that with BPA and perhaps it’s only a matter of time before others are outlawed.

Until then, I’m choosing to voice my displeasure with my wallet. We already traded in our Swiffer for a steam mop and we are slowly phasing out all the chemical cleaners in our home. We’re also phasing out any non-stick cookware we own and going Teflon-free. And once my current crop of scented lotions and potions run out, there will be no more coming in. Unless I know that it’s safe, I am not slathering it on.

It may be impossible to go completely chemical-free – as the book points out, it can be a dizzying prospect. But by paying more attention, I can start to at least improve things. I pay attention to labels on the food that I eat, so now I know that I need to really look at everything that I bring into my home. Clean eating can certainly transition into clean living if I put my mind to it!  

The book's video trailer:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Jancee Dunn is My Hero

I’ve been reading “Why is my Mother Getting A Tattoo?” by Jancee Dunn this week. It’s a great book and I’m really enjoying it, but it’s also making me feel, well, a little old. Jancee’s last book, But Enough About Me, was about her job as a celebrity interviewer for Rolling Stone, MTV2 and a host of other publications. Her new book is about her quirky family and her life at 40. It’s full of funny, slice-of-life stories and its been a blast to read, other then the whole making me feel ancient thing.

I guess partly it’s because Jancee has always been a role model for me. When I was working as a music writer it was on a much smaller scale than her, but I dreamed about one day reaching her level. When she wrote her first book it made me remember that time in my life and it made me realize how much of what I wanted to achieve I actually had. But now, as I creep through my 30s and closer to 40, I realize that my life and Jancee’s are sort of similar.

She may have my dream job writing for O Magazine now (that girl really is living my fantasy life), but she is also caught up in all sorts of funny family drama. My family is dysfunctional on a much different level, but reading her stories has made me realize that suddenly my dream isn’t to be the next Nick Kent (or Jancee Dunn) anymore. I still want to publish my novel, write a health book and travel the world, but my youthful dreams are just that – youthful.

These days I’m starting to look through life with a mid-life lens. I’m still hoping not to become my mother, but I’m not fighting it tooth and black-laquered nail the way I used to. And I’m going through that same struggle Jancee talks about in her book as she tries to decide if she really wants to completely transform her life by having a baby. I have had those exact same thoughts and arguments myself – they seem to be part and parcel with making it to your 30s and not having procreated. But it still makes me a little sad to think that I’m getting older. I don’t feel especially old (well, except when the youngins at my office look at me blankly when I name-check the things I loved as a kid), but it’s hard not to feel older.

Maybe I need to cleanse my pallet with a little Twilight after this book or something. Of course, the goth in me still dies inside a little every time I see a vampire glitter in the sun, so maybe not.

Jancee's MTV2 blooper reel - so cute:



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Toxic Bathroom

Living a healthy lifestyle is hard. This should be obvious simply by comparing the number who manage with the number who fail miserably. I think I do OK. I try harder than most people I know and I’ve stuck with it longer than many do. But each time I make a positive change in my life I realize that I’ve only made a minimal amount of progress in the drive to live my best life.

Sure, I eat mostly clean, I work out three days a week, I turn off the TV more often and I read and write more than ever, but there’s still so much more to do. We’re working on cutting down our sodium levels, increasing our protein levels and, for me, eating more vegetables (fruit is easy, veggies more challenging).
And recently I’ve started learning more about the chemicals that are invading all our lives. I was aware of those things before, but never really paid as much attention to that as I should have. We try to buy organic when we can afford it, I look at food labels and I don’t buy things with ingredients that I don’t understand. But then I read this amazing web post on Strocel.com It’s about The Story of Cosmetics, a powerful video that you should really watch: 


Now, I confess, I am a princess when it comes to my products. I like my skin soft and polished, I love pretty make-up and I adore sweet-smelling lotions and body washes. But I thought I made good choices overall. The companies I purchased from seemed to be more ‘natural’ ones. So imagine my horror when I went into The Cosmetics Safety Database and discovered that so many of the products I slather on all the time are full of scary chemicals. The Vaseline Cocoa Butter lotion that I love was a very scary 8 out of ten!!

Shawn and I have been slowly switching from plastic containers to glass, we recycle and we use environmentally friendly cleaning products (including a whole lot of vinegar and baking soda) to keep the chemical count in our home lower, so this was particularly scary for us and it was a reminder that trying to live healthy is hard. Really hard. I applaud this group’s fight to get the government to regulate what is allowed to be put into our personal products. Looks like I will be cleaning out my bathroom cupboards this weekend!