Friday, November 26, 2010

Back at the Sugar Shack

A few of you have been kind enough to ask about my clean eating/sugar fast recently. For those who don’t know, a year ago last July I decided to mend my sugar addict ways and go cold turkey on the white stuff and the artificial stuff too. I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams and dropped my sugar intake substantially.

That was the start of my clean eating and exercise kick and has led to the green living that you’ve been reading about recently. Having a healthy body inevitably leads to wanting a healthy home and planet too. It’s something I’ve become incredibly passionate about, but I won’t lie and say that it’s been easy or that I haven’t fallen off the wagon a time or ten.

Recently, I’ve found the sugar creeping back into my life. I always made allowances for special occasions or moments that I didn’t want to miss, but with the loss of my job I found that I was making more excuses to eat sweets. As with any addictive behaviour, it can be easy to slide back into it, especially during stressful times. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that sugar can be a wonderful thing – I’m just one of those people that tends to go a bit crazy with it, so I need to be more mindful. I also didn’t realize until I started my sugar purge just how much sugar was in the food I was eating. These days sugar is in far more than candy and baked goods – it’s in just about all processed food items, so even giving up desserts isn’t enough to get sugar out of your system.

So I haven’t been great lately and that’s something I’m determined to change. I’ve been working out more than ever, making green changes, eating lots of fresh produce, eating more locally-sourced food and doing so many of the positive things that I know are good for my body and my mind. It’s just made me realize that I need to increase my resolve and try harder to say no to the sugar that I don’t really want or need – it makes the occasional treats that much sweeter and I know that I’ll feel a million times better when I get back on track.

Thanks to everyone for all the support I’ve received on this journey. I realize now that you can’t make these kind of sweeping life changes without a few cheerleaders and I’ve been lucky to have far more than a few!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Sins of Greenwashing

Green-wash (green’wash’, -wôsh’) – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. – The Greenwashing Report

When I made the connection between eating clean and living green I quickly realized that both would take a considerable amount of effort to achieve. While eating clean has taught me the value of reading labels, it’s much harder to make that leap with the living green part. Typically, I don’t purchase a food item if I don’t recognize or understand what is listed on the label. The more ingredients an item has the less likely I am to purchase it – especially if there are chemicals, processed food additives or refined sugars. That’s pretty easy to figure out.

With other household items it’s a whole lot harder. As I mentioned in my Parfum and Gloom post, the ingredient lists on beauty products are almost impossible to decipher without a degree in chemistry. Household cleaning products and other items are even more complicated. That’s why I was so irritated when I read The Greenwashing Report 2010, which outlines just how many corporations are misleading consumers about the environmental impact of their products. The report found that, “more than 95% of consumer products claiming to be green were found to commit at least one of the ‘sins of Greenwashing.’” It was a startling number.

I learned with cosmetic products that often those labeled as natural or organic still contain potentially toxic chemicals. If you aren’t able to pick out the toxins from the ingredient list you are left with only the marketer’s claims about how green the product is. And those are wholly suggestive. With Greenwashing you also have to consider things like ‘The Sin of No Proof’ or “The Sin or Irrelevance.” You realize that you really need to look beyond marketing to figure out what is truly safe and truly green.

The report is not all doom and gloom – it also shows that consumer awareness and interest is helping to change things for the better. And that’s a great thing! The more we know about what we’re purchasing, the more likely we are to make good decisions and to steer corporations towards making greener products. I encourage everyone to read the report and to look at the ‘green’ products in your home. If you find any that are Greenwashing, be sure to complain to the company and post your findings on Facebook and Twitter to let others know. Leave a comment here too, as I would love to hear about your findings!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

Yesterday Shawn and I decided to venture out to the Metro Convention Centre for my very first Gourmet Food and Wine Expo. I’d heard good things and was looking forward to checking it out. We had a 2 For 1 coupon from my Toronto Life coupon book and at $16 per person ($13 if you purchase online with a coupon) it was really the only way to go for a reasonable price. Once we arrived we realized that you also have to buy sample tickets to try anything (all samples are priced from $1 up, depending on their value). That meant another $20 added to the $16 for us to get in. We ended up buying another $20 sheet of tickets in the show, so it’s not cheap entertainment, but we agreed that it was worth it overall. If we had both paid the full price to get in it wouldn’t have been as reasonable, so make sure you look at deals and options if you’re planning to attend.

When you enter the event you’re given a real wine glass to use, which really impressed me. Each time you purchase a sample the vender washes out your glass first, so you don’t have to deal with a million little plastic cups. The green girl in me was super impressed with that. They also had waste receptacles throughout the event for organics, plastics and paper, which I thought was fantastic. I noticed several people were using them incorrectly, but the event was definitely trying hard to be green.

There are tons of venders at the show, including many of the best brands of wine, liquor and spirits. Shawn and I grabbed our first sample ($1 for about a quarter glass of regular white wine). It was good. Then we had some excellent sushi and decided to walk through and see what else was available before choosing our next samples. There is definitely a lot to see and it can be hard to choose, especially if you aren’t yet a wine expert!

On our walk-through I discovered the Muskoka Lakes Winery’s cranberry wine and spoke to the owner about Twitter. I thought he was the cranberry wine guy that I was following and we had a great chat. His Cranberry Blueberry wine was to die for and turned out to be my favourite of the day. I like a sweet wine and this is very much so, but not in that artificial way that so many sweet wines are. It was a very natural, clean taste. Like pure, slightly tart juice almost, but with a definite kick. I loved it and we picked up a bottle when we left the show.

When I got home I realized that it was a different cranberry wine guy that I had been following (what are the chances?), but I ended up making a new Twitter friend and discovering a great wine, so all good. Twitter was a huge help with this show because it allowed me to see what others thought and which venders they were recommending before we arrived. That was helpful when trying to determine what to try out of a huge number of options.

Once we got the feel for what was there, we had a lot of fun trying different brands. The samples are fairly small, so I wasn’t too concerned with mixing. Shawn tried several different beers and I was even talked into trying an apple beer by one vendor. I have a severe beer aversion and had heard many times that flavoured beers would change my mind, but this was actually the first one that did. I might even consider trying one again.

We both sampled several vodkas and Shawn’s favourite was Still Waters, followed by Three Olives Espresso flavour. I liked the pomegranate one by Pearl that we tried. Again, it was sweet, but not in an artificial way. We picked up a bottle of that as we were leaving too. One thing about the Expo is that you definitely end up spending on new finds too – so that adds to your total.

I was happy to see that Flourish was there. I discovered that Ontario wine at the LCBO and have been buying it recently, especially for parties. It’s a nice, lower-priced wine. I had a sample and chatted with the lovely ladies working there who were so sweet. They even gave me a flowered Flourish bag, which is so cute. I will definitely be using that.

In terms of food, there wasn’t as much as we expected, but there were good options. Besides the sushi, we had an excellent chocolate-covered strawberry, a pretty good peppermint macaroon (I think I would have preferred a different flavour) and some not so great seafood paella. There were several things we would have liked to try, but it gets pretty expensive when most food is $5 and up. We did sample quite a bit of cheese and Shawn purchased some of that.

Overall, it was a great time. We tried several new brands and learned a lot, especially about local venders. We had some fun things like an ice cream cone shot and a tiny little martini and we left feeling like we’d want to visit again, especially at a time when we weren’t watching our pennies so much. Neither of us felt drunk after all our samples, just slightly tipsy, but it’s definitely not an event you would want to drive to, so keep that in mind.  

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hot Buttered Chemical Cocktail

When I was a kid we had one of those old-school popcorn poppers where you poured in the kernels and watched them pop out fully-formed from the mouth of the machine a few minutes later. It even had one of those neat warmers on the top to melt the butter. Sure, it wasn’t the most efficient process in the world, but it was effective and even kind of entertaining.

Then microwave popcorn became all the rage and my mom dutifully filled our cupboard with family-size boxes from Costco. It was simple, quick and seemed like an awesome way to get my popcorn fix. I must have downed a million of those bags over the years. When I moved out on my own I continued the popcorn tradition, even buying those adorable single-serve bags sometimes. What could be better?

When Shawn and I moved in together I schlepped my over-sized Costco box of microwave popcorn goodness along with all my stuff and was shocked when he told me that he never ate it. “Those bags are full of toxic chemicals,” he explained patiently, as I hid them in our top cupboard. Really? Would Orville do that to me? But we were such good friends, Orville and I; we’d been through so much over the years – how could microwave popcorn, of all things, be toxic?

Because my husband is the king of our half-kitchen, microwave popcorn bags hit the road in our house and were replaced by a neat contraption that pops kernels in the microwave, but without the chemical stew that the bags contain. It’s not the giant, red, air popper that he put on our wedding registry, but he’s content with it.

Our popcorn maker isn’t perfect. It takes a little longer than the bag stuff and it can be tricky to get the timing right, but it tastes just as good and it’s comforting to know that my snack isn’t coming with something called polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters. Not eating that seems to make the extra effort all the more worthwhile. Still, I found myself being kind of nostalgic for my childhood popper while reading the news today – how can you not miss something with its own butter warming dish?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What Portia De Rossi Taught Me

One of the great luxuries of being unemployed is that I can tune into daytime TV when the mood strikes. This is a surprisingly rare occurrence, but when I saw that Portia De Rossi was on Oprah this week I decided to tune in. I like De Rossi. She seems funny and interesting and I’m sure there are reasons other than her stunning good looks that she snagged the ever awesome Ellen DeGeneres.

I was also interested because she was talking about her struggles with anorexia and bulimia, which she chronicles in her new book, Unbearable Lightness. I had no idea how powerful that hour of television would be for me. I don’t have an eating disorder, but I am always concerned about how easily women can fall into that trap. Watching someone as smart and beautiful as De Rossi talking about her own struggles with self-esteem and self-loathing, I found myself wishing that every young girl was watching the show.

When I made the choice to start living a cleaner lifestyle many of the decisions that I made involved my nutrition and fitness goals. I started working out, cut down on refined sugars and processed foods and began paying attention to the chemicals that surround me. It has felt like a good shift in my life and in my health, but it has also meant that my weight has changed drastically. That’s something I’ve blogged about often – it’s hard not to feel good about going from a size 10 to a size 4, especially when you are feeling stronger and healthier. It’s the sort of goal that we are conditioned to applaud.

But I can see how easily the weight loss could become addictive. I haven’t paid much attention to the pounds I’ve lost. I’ve never been one to weigh myself and I wasn’t particularly unhappy as a size 10, so my transformation was never about losing weight. But every time my pants got looser it seemed like cause for celebration. And, even though I never worried much about my weight before, I now find myself scrutinizing my body and analyzing it in a way that I might not have in the past – I look at my stomach and still see a flabby little paunch instead of seeing a waist that has slimmed down considerably after all those crunches.

This warped body image that women seem unable to shake disturbs me, especially when I see how easily anorexia and bulimia can take hold of even the smartest, savviest of women. I think that the choices I have made have been smart ones in terms of improving my life and my health, but De Rossi’s interview made me more aware of the need to also nourish the soul and remind yourself that it’s not about that little belly bulge, but about the feeling of strength and happiness that I get whenever I work out.

After watching her interview, I really want to read her book. I want to know more about how she overcame her issues and how she keeps from slipping back into them. I think that I could learn a lot from her. I’ve already realized that I need to work harder at being happy about who I am and embracing this healthy body that I’ve worked so hard to create.