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The Real Price of Cut Flowers

By Leah Kaminsky

Though Mother’s Day has come and gone, it’s taken nearly a month for me to clear all of those “50% off Mother’s Day Flowers” emails from my inbox. Flowers are, after all, the go-to gift for Mom, and I feel just a little bit less guilty about living far away when I know I can brighten my mom’s day with the click of a button.

But have you ever wondered where these flowers come from and how they find their way to their destinations? Stephen J. Dubner at Freakonomics did, and what he found may dull your enthusiasm.

Turns out, 80% of all cut flowers sold in the United States come from places like Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica. These flowers must be refrigerated immediately and shipped, first by air and then by truck.

That adds a lot more carbon to the atmosphere than going out to the garden and snipping a rose. And as Dubner points out, it’s a little strange that we care so much about high “food miles” when cut flowers are crossing the nation, causing extra pollution as they go.

So what’s an eco-minded mommy-lover to do the next time Mother’s Day rolls around? If you live far away, you have a couple options:

1. Send money to your mother’s partner, sibling or friend along with a nice card asking them to make the flower purchase from a local grower.

2. Try one of the new plastic flowers, which, according to Dartmouth geographer Susan Freidberg, are lightweight, great looking, made relatively near you and will last indefinitely. The same goes for Christmas trees, but we’ll save that for another post.

Or, you could think of other gifts altogether, like a new painting from that local artist you know she loves.

Reducing the carbon the cut flowers business produces is well within our reach. We just have to be honest about the environmental impact and get creative.

Natural Makeup: Why and How

By Leah Kaminsky

We are what we eat…and put on our faces. With the potential side effects of the chemicals in makeup including things like cancer, reproductive and hormonal problems, birth defects or brain damage, the more educated we are as consumers the better.

The first step is learning which chemicals to avoid. Check out the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics or the Environmental Working Group for up to date information on new studies. EWG’s Skin Deep database is also a great resource where you can enter the name of a product you use and search for both ingredients and associated health effects.

Looking for labels that explicitly state, paraben-, phthalate- or PCB-free are a good place to start. For products that contain food ingredients like avocado, honey or cinnamon, search for the USDA-organic certified label. Know your organic terms before you go. “100% organic” means the ingredients must be (you guessed it!) 100% organic, while a product with “organic ingredients” must only contain an organic ingredient here and there.

As with all advertising, watch phrasing carefully. Don’t be fooled by the words “green!” or “natural!” which, in some products has as much validity as saying a drink has “natural flavors!” when in fact chemicals outnumber them ten to one.

Your best bet for finding great natural products is to break up with your normal routine. If you can’t find any good products in the store, try a new one. A Facebook post is especially useful for this kind of project, and you’ll connect with other like-minded folks who are concerned with similar issues 

And of course, the world is open to you online. Search one of many sites for great deals on hair care, makeup, personal and skin care products.

The chemicals that make cameos in our beauty regimens are scary, but there are plenty of other great options if you know where to look!

Going Vegan, Going Healthy

By Leah Kaminsky

Veganism has come a long way since the days when every vegan brownie tasted like cardboard. I don’t know about you, but I have accidentally scooped up my fair share of appealing cookies from gas stations around Seattle only to realize after the fact that they lacked eggs and butter. If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of heading down this road, here are a few more reasons why.

Veganism in its simplest form is a diet and lifestyle that excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey, as well as makeup and clothing tested on or made from animals. So, if you want to go vegan you’ll have to stop attending that weekly meat club and wearing great Aunt Dina’s creepy fox fur.

The reasons for becoming a vegan are as diverse as there are people in the world. Ethical vegans have a moral aversion to harming animals, including keeping them in captivity and harvesting their products. Dietary vegans like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton believe the diet to be healthier than all others, while environmental vegans credit the toll animal products take on the earth.

To avoid nutrient deficiencies (which, by the way, you’ll have anyway if you consume the average junk food American diet) enlist your doctor or nutritionist to help you locate alternative sources of protein, calcium, vitamin B12, and iron. An over the counter supplement is always a good idea, but you’d be surprised how many of these nutrients you can get from other foods like spinach and beans (high in iron and protein) and fortified grains such as bread or cereal (high in B12, which is hard to find in plant products).

Start slowly with meatless Mondays, experiment with a new vegan recipe, replace your old makeup with vegan alternatives and step it up from there.

As long as you don’t let your newfound veganism become an “all French fries, all the time” diet, you just might find yourself losing weight and feeling better too.