Your Daily Green Bit

The humane organic turkey trot

The day of the feast approacheth, but you’ve still got time! If in good conscience and in solidarity with all those suffering turkeys in factory farms, you don’t want to serve an unhappy, un-green gobbler to your friends and family, don't fall for greenwashing labels such as "free range," which is deemed "not a meaningful label" by Consumers Union's eco-label watchdog site. Many of these turkeys never leave the barn and some, like their conventional cousins,have their beaks and claws removed to prevent injury in crowded conditions.  

So consider obtaining an organic and humanely raised fowl for the occasion. It does cost more to buy certified organic, but the richer taste (in our opinion) and personal health benefits are worth it. And, if you buy a bird with a third-party humane certification, you’ll help increase demand for birds who’ve had a real life and a death that, if not by definition cruelty-free,  was torture-free and as painless and quick as possible. 

Which turkeys are the most environmentally benign? Look for pasture-raised, antibiotic-free turkeys raised near you at Local Harvest; even better if they bear the USDA Certified Organic label, which means they were raised on all-vegetarian, certified organic feed (no mad turkeys in these parts!). But when it comes to a bird’s, well, lifestyle, while the organic rules require that livestock have access to the outdoors, and enough room in which to lead a natural life conducive to their species’ needs, there’s no guarantee that animals actually do spend time in the open air. For that, look for the Certified Humane , Food Alliance and Animal Welfare Approved labels.

Visit or call your local supermarkets or butchers, and ask whether they have certified birds; if the answer's yes, grab or reserve one now. Our local Whole Foods butcher promises they'll have plenty of organic turkeys up to T-Day, but advises that, if you want a smaller specimen (10-12 lbs.), reserve one now. If you can’t locate turkeys with these labels, Sustainable Table has a list of questions you can ask retailers, or poultry farmers at your nearest farmers’ market, to determine whether the turkey was humanely raised and fed a green diet. If enough people ask for something, the store will likely try to find it. You can also order an organic turkey from Diamond Organics and they’ll ship it to your door.

Or, you can throw up your hands, stay out of the kitchen and use the search engine on Chefs Collaborative to find a sustainable, eco-friendly restaurant serving Thanksgiving near you!



Don't microwave in plastic, period.

So-called "microwave-safe" plastic actually leaches toxic Bisphenol-A (BPA), according to a report last week in the Journal Sentinel,a newspaper in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that commissioned lab tests of 10 products, all of which released the chemical in potentially toxic amounts. Products included frozen microwaveable meals, which were heated as directed on their labels, plastic food storage containers labeled "microwave-safe," plastic baby bottles and canned foods, including baby formula and baby food.

Some of the products would be expected to contain BPA, such as a Rubbermaid Premier container with a #7 recycling code, which includes polycarbonate plastic, known to be made with BPA. But to everyone's surprise (including ours), BPA was also found to leach from containers with recycling #s 1, 2 and 5. This flies in the face of standard advice for avoiding BPA. 

No need to panic and toss all your plastics. But we do suggest not heating food, and especially not baby's, in any kind of plastic bottle or dish, given the National Toxicology Program's expression of concern about the developmental risk of exposures to the very young.  Kudos to our  consumer sentinels at the Sentinel Journal, whose report has spurred federal and state lawmakers to  start calling for the elimination of the controversial chemical from food and drink containers.


Jewelry: lead & conflict free, vintage & new

Just because there’s a recession going on doesn’t mean you can't look your best for the holidays. What would winter be without the bright-red candy cane brooch, the New Year's Eve rhinestone necklace? If you don’t want to expand your carbon footprint by buying brand-new  jewelry, it’s time to hit the vintage stores. While it's true that you’ll probably spend less at the secondhand store, as we noted in our blog on secondhand clothes, the selection and quality is almost always better at a vintage place. That's because people tend to be attached to their jewelry and are more likely to sell better pieces or give them to friends and family rather than donate them to Goodwill.

The online store Absolute Vintage has a big selection at reasonable prices. Then there's new jewelry made from vintage materials: Eda & Betty turn old chandeliers into necklaces and bracelets Mazel Tov! Jewelry recycles watch faces, computer chips, and chunks of old costume jewelry to create unique works of art. Eco-Artware is another good site: try this recycled magazine bracelet or vintage vinyl record bracelet.

One note of caution about jewelry, vintage or new:  Pieces, especially very cheap ones, made of unspecified soft metal rather than pure stainless, silver, platinum or gold, can contain neurotoxic lead. These should be kept away from children, especially those younger than six and most to likely to shove the nearest shiny thing down the hatch. If a retailer can't assure you what a piece is made of, make sure you can return it and then screen  with lead testing strips.  The Center for Disease Control has a list of “toy” jewelry and jewelry-making kits that were found to have lead in them and have been recalled.

We can’t mention jewelry without  conflict diamonds. As our eco-hero Leonardo DiCaprio showed in his 2006 film Blood Diamond, these shiny bits of rock fuel wars in Sierra Leone, Angola, and Liberia. The United Nations recognizes the role that diamonds play in these international conflicts and the World Diamond Council has a zero-tolerance policy for buying and selling conflict diamonds. Fortunately, Canada is the world’s third largest producer of diamonds, which also come to us using fewer fuel miles.

By Rachel Brown

Green gifts: Bottle with a cause

Wash those bottled-water blues away with Riverkeeper's lightweight stainless canteens in festive red, silver, aqua and blue. Sales benefit the non-profit organization, which protects the Hudson River watershed. And it's not just for New Yorkers:  As a member of Food and Water's Take Back the Tap (TBTT) campaign, Riverkeeper helps protect all our rights to clean public drinking water.

Why take back the tap? If we don't, private companies may take it away from us. One plastic liter of bottled water takes five liters of water to make; this hidden water cost, known as virtual water, attaches to food and other commodities, from cars to computer chips, that use water in their production. It's a hidden cost because the private sector, including bottled-water companies, gets the water virtually free. At the same time, "It's very important that we say water is not a commodity," Maud Barlow, UN senior adviser on water issues, said in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal. When a price is put on drinking water, which should be provided by the public sector as a service, the poor can be "denied access because they can't pay," Barlow explained.

More reasons to TBTT:  Thirty-one billion liters of bottled water are gulped by Americans every year, and 50 million barrels of oil are used to make the plastic bottles, transport and store them, Riverkeeper reports. Instead, give and drink from their compact, ultralight bottle with the slogan, "I Bottle My Own." Plus, of course, it's pure stainless steel and BPA-free. Buy the Riverkeeper bottle here ($20).

Other lightweight stainless bottles can be got from Kleen Kanteen and Bilt (the latter also makes vacuum bottles, as does Guyot. ) Trade in that leachy Lexan plastic waterbottle for identical-looking, but BPA-free, Tritan polyester from Nalgene or Camelbak

Want to take further action to protect our water resources?

*If you have a favorite, green-sympatico eatery that serves bottled water, take them TBTT's restaurateur's pledge to switch to offering only tap.

* College students, download these tools for de-bottling your campus food service and vendors.

*Get great water conservation tips and use the new personal water calculator from TBTT partner, H20 Conserve. 

Makes us thirsty. Odd how one little bottle can say so much.

Heritage turkey: Renewing tasty tradition

This Thanksgiving, rather than serving a Broad Breasted White, the factory-farm breed most commonly sold in supermarkets, consider ordering an heritage turkey. According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) these vigorous, long-lived Native American birds mate naturally (not requiring assistance), and their slow natural growth rate allows them to develop a strong bone structure and enjoy the great outdoors. They taste better, too, because they get a more varied diet, foraging around. Compare this to their poor factory cousins, which spend most of their short lives fattening up in cages because their undeveloped legs can’t support the weight of their enormous breasts.

Two of the most popular heritage breeds, the Bourbon Red and Narragansett, were sold commercially alongside the Broad Breasted White as recently as the 1940s and 1950s. The American Poultry Association also recognizes the Black, Bronze, White Holland, Slate, Beltsville Small White, and Royal Palm as heritage breeds, and the ALBC recognizes all of the above as well as the Jersey Buff and the White Midget. All of these breeds almost disappeared when the Broad Breasted White took over the market, greatly threatening the genetic variety of turkeys in North America. Ironically, you can save the turkeys by eating one, as renewed demand for these breeds has led to a resurgence in their cultivation.

Where you can get one of these marvelous pedigreed birds? Don Bixby at ALBC says, “Availability varies from region to region, and the demand contracts and expands from year to year, but you can probably still find one.” The price will likely be greater than if you were to buy a store turkey, but Bixby says, “It depends on where you are. In New York City, they might be $7 a pound, but if you’re in Wichita, Kansas it may be only $2.50.” Local Harvest has a search engine that will help you find small, organic turkey farmers in your area. The Heritage Turkey Foundation, dedicated to protecting the surviving heritage turkey strains and re-introducing them to the American marketplace, lists retail outfits where you can buy a bird. Another good resource for heritage food and small farmers is Slow Foods USA, with their wonderful Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) project. To learn about more Native American foods, see the beautiful new book RAFT: Renewing America’s Food Traditions, edited by Gary Nabhan. Even if you can't get your hands on an heirloom turkey this year, you can look at the photos and dream.

Who knows, your local Slow Foods chapter, or members thereof, may even be holding an heritage Thanksgiving feast near you!

 By Rachel Brown

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Issue 25

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