Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Food for Thought

First, a review of Trader Joe's newly released coconut milk.  Coconut milk is the latest trend in vegan milk-like beverages.  Soy came under fire for causing ovarian cancer if overused, almonds were exposed for having some of the highest pesticide use in their growing process, and celebrities keep promoting the health benefits of coconut water.  I love the taste of coconut and I needed a quick alternative for those days when I don't feel like making my own almond milk, so I decided to give it a shot.  I have tried the "So Delicious" brand of coconut milk, but found it very watery and lacking any coconut flavor, so I thought maybe Trader Joe's would come through for me.
I was reluctant to buy it because the ingredients list was way too long for my taste.  Most store-bought brands of non-dairy milk have all kinds of chemicals added for texture, color, preservation, and nutrition.  Note that the only nutrients in this milk are those that have been added to it, despite the fact that coconut is extremely nutrient rich.  You'll find this to be the case with almond milk as well.  No protein, no fiber, and all that potassium that you get from drinking coconut water?  Not even listed on the label.  Take that into consideration when doing a juice cleanse... imagine what nutrients you're not getting when you strain out the solids from fruits and vegetables.  
I bought it anyway because, like I said, I needed something to add to my tea/coffee and smoothies this morning since I'm out of almonds for almond milk and don't feel like washing the blender today.  It does taste amazing.  It isn't an overly strong coconut flavor, but you can definitely tell that it's made from coconut (of course, maybe the added "natural flavors" have something to do with that).  It will work perfectly for my smoothies, but does nothing for my coffee.  I probably used more than half a cup and my coffee was still basically black.  I haven't tried it in tea yet... it might work better there.  My home-made almond milk is useless in coffee but does make my tea creamier.
Something I love about Trader Joe's, though, is the fact that I bought organic, California-grown strawberries for $3.99/pound (for comparison, the last time I bought organic strawberries, they were $5.99/pound and grown in Mexico).
As for Whole Foods, I have a love/hate relationship with them.  I hate that they're so expensive, but I love that they're the only store in which I can find ready-to-use beans in a vacuum-sealed cardboard box rather than a can and the only store around here where I can buy nuts, grains, and dried fruit in bulk.  I also love that they make an effort to stock locally-grown items.  As I was leaving the store today, I saw a promotion going on for GRASS FED MILK AND CHEESE, which I've never seen before!  I'm trying not to eat dairy, but the next time I buy cow's milk, it will be this kind.  I'm totally nerding out over it.  Maybe it doesn't sound exciting to you guys, but when you feed cows grass rather than corn, it solves a lot of the problems that happen with commercial dairy farming (for example, they don't get sick as often because -- hey, guess what -- cows aren't supposed to eat corn, so they don't have to be given antibiotics).  As opposed to the cholesterol-raising corn fed beef that you normally find in stores, grass fed beef and milk is actually GOOD for you because it's full of Omega-3 fatty acids and other good fats that lower cholesterol!  Anyway, I'll stop now before this turns into a whole post about grass fed cows.  I'm still avoiding meat and dairy, but I'm glad to know that there are good options for special occasions.

You're probably going to hate me for this one, but ever since I heard this story on NPR, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

In light of the recent building collapse in Bangladesh, there have been a lot of news stories re-evaluating cheap garment producers.  Shops like Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters have had other well-known problems that haven't seemed to affect their business much, like lawsuits over stolen designs or offensive material (cultural appropriation of Native American imagery on flasks and underwear or perpetuating negative stereotypes about girls being bad at math).  I know that a lot of companies watch out for the latest trends and then try to replicate high-end looks in a more affordable way, but after seeing a side-by-side comparison, I have to agree that Forever  21 is guilty of completely ripping off independent designers' and artists' work.  But that's not even the worst of it.  In Over Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Elizabeth Cline argues that reduced-cost clothing companies like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 keep their prices so low by using cheap materials, cheap labor, dangerous work environments, eco-unfriendly business practices, and shoddy construction of the clothes themselves.  They're able to do this because by offering the latest trends at relatively low prices, people are willing to pay for the clothes even if they wear them only once or twice.  These clothes then end up being simply thrown away (contributing to our world's waste problem) or donated back to the countries where they were made.  And I've seen first-hand that when you donate clothes to developing nations, they end up being sold in street markets, not simply given away to needy people.  I've always rolled my eyes whenever I enter a Forever 21 because it is quite obviously low-quality and made for tiny teenagers and I've bought clothes from them only begrudgingly.  I've long stopped shopping at Urban Outfitters because I know their profits are used to fund right-wing political causes and they're incredibly culturally insensitive (see above).  But I LOVE Zara, Mango, H&M, etc., so the realization that these companies are horrible for the environment and abusing their workers is a tough one for me.

There are a number of different solutions to this problem.  The best option is actually the most attainable for low-budget families.  You can easily reduce the amount of waste and harm to the environment by simply not buying new clothes.  There are a lot of good finds at thrift shops, second-hand stores and vintage shops these days.  Trends are constantly being recycled.  There's a lot of 90's-reminiscent clothing going down the runways right now, so see if you have older family members who still have their flannel shirts, floral dresses or combat boots from the grunge days.  But I know that shopping is fun and it's easy to be skeeved out by wearing something that someone else has already worn.  Currently, the number of eco-friendly, locally-made boutiques and companies is growing quickly.  There are a lot of mainstream options out there for environmentally/socially conscious shoppers.  Eileen Fisher is a great choice, but there are a lot of more affordable options as well, you just might have to do a little bit of research.  The last option is that if you absolutely must shop at one of the stores mentioned above, make sure that you're buying something that you can wear for more than one season and don't throw it away just because it rips or a button falls off.  If it doesn't fit you anymore, give it to goodwill or another second-hand store or pass it on to a younger cousin or something.  I'm sure that most of you are thinking that you just can't get on board with this cause because you love these stores too much, and that's OK.  If we all lived our lives based on every little thing that had a negative consequence, I think we would die from stress and go crazy from information overload.  But I am a big believer in voting with my money.  Every time I make a purchase, I'm helping to support that company and giving them incentive to continue with their current practices.  So, for me, I've just decided to make more conscious shopping choices because I feel like I'm able to do that.  I've made such a big deal out of changing the way I eat, so it makes sense that I would be equally conscious of what goes on my body as I am about what goes in my body.  I'm sorry to be a Debbie Downer in this post, but I needed to get this off of my chest.  It's an interesting issue to consider, anyway, even if you feel like you aren't ready to make these changes right now.

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