Verda Vivo

Verda Vivo means “Green Life” in the universal language of Esperanto.

Book Review: Shift Your Habit March 7, 2010

I recently received a review copy of the book, Shift Your Habit: Easy Ways to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, and Save the Planet. It will be available for sale on March 9. The author, Elizabeth Rogers, an environmental consultant, is also the co-author of the New York Times best seller, “The Green Book”.

The book is packed with practical and easy ways to reduce your impact on the environment and save money at the same time. The book is organized into categories, such as home and garden, kids, pets, work, travel and transportation as well as holidays and celebrations. Each shift is explained in terms of what habit you can shift, how much money you can save, the impact to the planet and how it’s good for you too. If you adopted all of the shifts in the book, an average family of four with a pet would save $48,000. That should make anyone sit up and take notice! The shifts that the author proposes are easy to do and inexpensive. It all adds up!

Since I am a cleaning fanatic, I was very excited to see the easy to use chart of homemade cleaners, including everything from glass and toilet cleaners to wood furniture polish and fabric softener. My copy of the book is already looking well-loved as I have picked it up numerous times to read and re-read sections as I continue to shift my own habits and paradigms. You can pre-order Shift Your Habit: Easy Ways to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, and Save the Planet today at Amazon.

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12 Food Additives to Avoid July 16, 2009

Potato Chips

Thanks to Jean Wiess, regular contributor to MSN Health & Fitness, for compiling the following list of food additives that should be avoided. Seven of the twelve additives have been linked to an increased risk in cancer.

The best way to avoid these food additives is to avoid packaged foods and make it yourself. Prepared foods provide Questionable Convenience at best. They are more costly and do not provide significant time savings for the money. In addition, you could be exposing yourself and your family to these beauties:

  1. Sodium nitrite * – Commonly added to bacon, ham, hot dogs, luncheon meats, smoked fish, and corned beef to stabilize the red color and add flavor. Sodium nitrite is used primarily in fatty, salty foods. Without nitrite, hot dogs and bacon would look gray. Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?
  2. BHA & BHT * –  Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT) are antioxidants used to preserve common household foods by preventing them from oxidizing. Both keep fats and oils from going rancid and are found in cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, and vegetable oils. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers BHA to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Nevertheless, the Food and Drug Administration still permits BHA to be used in foods. This synthetic chemical can be replaced by safer chemicals (e.g., vitamin E), safer processes (e.g., packing foods under nitrogen instead of air), or can simply be left out (many brands of oily foods, such as potato chips, don’t use any antioxidant).
  3. Propyl gallate * – Prevents fats and oils from spoiling and is often used in conjunction with BHA and BHT. This additive is sometimes found in meat products, chicken soup base, and chewing gum.
  4. Monosodium glutamate – An amino acid used as a flavor enhancer in soups, salad dressings, chips, frozen entrees, and restaurant food. It is commonly associated with Asian foods and flavorings. The use of MSG allows companies to reduce the amount of real ingredients in their foods, such as chicken in chicken soup. Ingredients listed as “hydrolyzed soy protein” and “autolyzed yeast” may also contain MSG. Causes headaches and nausea in some people, and animal studies link it to damaging nerve cells in the brains of infant mice.
  5. Trans fats – Trans fats are created when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil. These “partially hydrogenated oils” are used most often for deep-frying food, and in baked goods. Margarine and vegetable shortening may also be made with partially hydrogenated oil. Manufacturers have modified processed products to reduce trans fats. Restaurants, particularly fast food chains, still serve foods loaded with trans fats. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Ruby Tuesday, and Red Lobster are some of the large chains that have largely eliminated trans fat or soon will. Trans fats are believed to increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  6. Aspartame * – Additive found in low-calorie desserts, gelatins, drink mixes, and soft drinks. Also known by the brand names Nutrasweet and Equal. Controversial since it was initially approved by the FDA in 1974. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest “lifelong consumption of aspartame probably increases the risk of cancer. People—especially young children—should not consume foods and beverages sweetened with aspartame”.
  7. Acesulfame-K * – Artificial sweetener found in soft drinks, baked goods, chewing gum, and gelatin desserts. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends that people avoid use of acesulfame-K due to lack of testing concerns.
  8. Food colorings (Blue, Red, Green, Yellow) *Blue 1 and 2, found in beverages, candy, baked goods and pet food, are considered low risk but have been linked to cancer in mice. Red 3, used to dye cherries, fruit cocktail, candy, and baked goods, has been shown to cause thyroid tumors in rats. Green 3, added to candy and beverages, though rarely used, has been linked to bladder cancer. Studies have linked the widely used yellow 6—added to beverages, sausage, gelatin, baked goods, and candy—to tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney. Artificial food color is also suspected of causing increased hyperactivity in children.
  9. Olestra – A synthetic fat that blocks absorption of fat in your digestive system. It also blocks the absorption of vitamins while in your system. Olestra enables manufacturers to offer greasy-feeling low-fat snacks, but consumers would be better off with baked snacks, which are safe and just as low in calories. Found in some brands of potato chips. Be prepared to wear a diaper if you eat a whole bag.
  10. Potassium bromate * – Additive to increase volume in white flour, breads, and rolls. Bromate has been banned virtually worldwide except in Japan and the United States.
  11. White sugar – Too much sugar leads to problems with weight control, tooth decay and blood sugar levels in diabetics. It also replaces good nutrition.
  12. Sodium chloride (salt) – Excessive amounts of salt can affect cardiovascular function, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.

* Linked to an increased risk of cancer.


  1. Center for Science in the Public Interest: Food Additives
  2. 12 Food Additives to Remove From Your Diet
  3. WebMD: The Truth About 7 Common Food Additives

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The Big Bread Lie June 22, 2009

Filed under: food,health — Daryl Laux @ 6:00 am
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Oats, barley, and some products made from cereal
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I just looked at the bread I have in my pantry and realize I have white bread in disguise. Try as hard as I might, I still get tricked.

After watching the video The Big Bread Lie, The Whole Truth, Nutrition by Natalie, I discovered how I’d been duped.

Natalie’s Bread buzzwords:

  1. Whole grain white – White bread that’s been dyed brown or contains a small percentage of wheat flour. This is white bread in disguise.
  2. 7-grain, 9-grain, 12-grain – This can mean the grains you see sprinkled on top of the loaf of bread, not the flour the bread is made with.
  3. Made with whole grain – The majority is white flour, the rest is whole grain flour. The percentage of white flour may be 95%. Unless the label says 100%, it’s not worth choosing.
  4. Good source of whole grain – This claim is meaningless.
  5. Wheat flour – This means the bread is made from 75% white flour, 25% wheat flour.

Regardless of the marketing claims on the bread packaging, the first ingredient list should be 100% whole grain, such as wheat, rye, oat.

I’m no bread baker but if i get ambitious, I’ll try the Amazingly easy, incredible bread on Cheap Like Me. I think she’s got a winner!

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Questionable Convenience March 30, 2009

Filed under: food,green,home — Daryl Laux @ 6:00 am
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Gala (apple)
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I admit it, at times I’ve been a sucker for convenience products. Not as often these days but there’s always room for improvement. For example, I eschew bagged greens and vegetables, preferring to wash and prepare my own, make my own croutons and salad dressings and use vinegar and water to clean my ceramic tile floors. However, I dislike baking so I buy whole grain bread at the market. My most notable baking disaster occurred when I attempted to make a pie crust. After much huffing and puffing, kneading and flour-adding, the dough still stuck to the counter, the rolling pin and my hands. I finally grabbed the entire wad of dough in a fury and threw it up in the air in a mighty heave – where it stuck – to the ceiling. My baking days were over in that instant.

How do convenience products compare to homemade? As part of a research project sponsored by the Arizona Republic, Linda Vaughan, chair of Arizona State University’s Department of Nutrition, and student researchers purchased both raw ingredients and prepared foods to see how they stacked up. By comparing the extra cost of ready-to-eat food to the time it took to make the same thing from raw ingredients, they could determine what buyers are actually paying for the preparation.Vaughan’s group determined that the consumer was paying the equivalent of $80 per hour for the convenience of buying shredded cheese, $75 per hour for sliced gala apples, and nearly $50 per hour for pre-cut celery. Never mind the packaging that can’t be recycled.

The study also found that “convenient” doesn’t always mean “time-saving”. A frozen teriyaki dinner took 20 minutes to prepare while a teriyaki dinner made from scratch took 30 minutes to prepare. Vaughan also found that the quality of prepared meals was usually low and typically high in fat and sodium content. So the frozen teriyaki dinner tastes like oily, salty cardboard and is less nutritious. Sounds like a deal to save 10 minutes, no?

Convenience food goes one step further when “quick-cooking” morphs into “instant”. The author of  The High Cost of Convenience Foods – Case 1 compares instant oatmeal packets to quick cooking oatmeal. Since the oatmeal cooks for the same amount of time, the convenience is that you don’t actually have to measure the oatmeal. You pay twice as much for this convenience.  The High Cost of Convenience – Case 2 compares ravioli in a microwaveable bowl to its counterpart in the original can. Again, cooking time is the same but buying the ravioli in a microwaveable bowl saves you the trouble of getting a bowl out of your cupboard. For this luxury, you pay 70% more.

Nearly eighty cents of each dollar Americans spend for food goes to pay for marketing services – processing, packaging, transportation, storage, advertising, etc. All of these costs are associated with making our food convenient – getting it into the most convenient form and package, getting it to the most convenient location, at the most convenient time, and convincing us to buy it. So, we pay far more for the convenience of our food than we pay for the food itself. In fact, we pay more to those who “package and advertise” our food than we pay to the farmers who produce it. So by far the greatest part of the total cost of food is the cost of convenience. (John E. Ikerd,  Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri)

Think about it the next time you reach for a food that comes prepackaged. What price are you paying for the convenience of having someone else pre-measure, pre-cut, pre-shred, pre-pour, pre-slice, or pre-season your food? Keep that $80 an hour you save in your own account. You’ll need it to pay your taxes.


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New American Farmers Need New American Consumers March 6, 2009

Filed under: food,health — Daryl Laux @ 6:00 am
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An agricultural scientist records corn (maize)...
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My family was in the potato farming business as long as I could remember as a child. In order to create an outlet for our potatoes, our family built their own potato chip factory on the farm. It was a family business that grew; big enough to merge with another company and change the name from Warner Potato Chips to Treat by Warner. Finally Beatrice Foods, with brands like Butterball, Dannon, and Hunt’s, bought the factory and contracted to buy our potatoes. Within a year, the plant was shut down and the contracts were gone. The land could have easily been converted to housing during the housing boom, considering the location (Suffolk County, Long Island, New York). However, one of the brothers reinvented the farm as a wholesale nursery, more than doubling the size of the original farm. While my uncle doesn’t grow food, it’s still a family farm.

Other farmers are not so fortunate. Thousands of farmers have gone out of business; many sold their land to pay their debts. We’ve all seen housing developments spring up on fertile farm land. The number of farms in the United States dropped from more than six million in the 1930s to about two million by end of the century.

“…the largest 10% of U.S. farms now account for more than two-thirds of the total value of production and more than 40% of total U.S. production sold under contract arrangements with the agribusiness corporations that control agricultural processing and distribution (MacDonald and Korb 2008). Non-farm corporations own only a small portion of U.S. farms and farmland, but their span of control, achieved through various contractual arrangements, is quickly approaching one-half of U.S. agriculture.” (John E. Ikerd,  Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri)

The food in your supermarket or fast-food “restaurant” is food that is the most profitable, not necessarily food that is the safest or highest in quality. The market provides food in relation to ability to pay, not nutritional value. Hence the paradox of poor people who are over-fed but under-nourished. The industrialization of agriculture has created a system where corporations make the decisions and the profit. Farm laborers and food industry workers are among the lowest paid workers in the U.S. And when corporations deem U.S. labor costs too high, they rely on cheap imports from low-wage countries such as Mexico, India, and China. Are we now a nation which can no longer feed itself?

“Food is not a commodity like others. We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency. It is crazy for us to think we can develop countries around the world without increasing their ability to feed themselves.” – Former US President Bill Clinton, Speech at United Nations World Food Day, October 16, 2008

That, in my opinion includes us. So, what can you do? Support local farmers and farming, farmers markets and CSA’s. Support farmers who grow grass-fed beef. Local Harvest is an excellent resource. Prepare your own food from scratch rather than buying highly processed, prepared foods. Organizations such as Slow Food, chefs collaborative, help to promote the “locavore” movement. Try 100 Mile Diet for tips and resources. And if you’re fortunate to have enough to share, do that too.


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7 Reasons Not to Drink Bottled Water March 3, 2009

bottled.waterStill drinking bottled water? Here are 7 reasons not to:

  1. Money – For the $2 you spend on a liter of bottled water you can get about 1,000 gallons of tap water. (EPA – Drinking Water Costs and Federal Funding)
  2. Contaminants – Testing of 10 brands of bottled water revealed a wide range of pollutants, including not only disinfection byproducts, but also common urban wastewater pollutants like caffeine and pharmaceuticals (Tylenol); heavy metals and minerals including arsenic and radioactive isotopes; fertilizer residue (nitrate and ammonia); and a broad range of other, tentatively identified industrial chemicals used as solvents, plasticizers, viscosity decreasing agents, and propellants. (Environmental Working Group – Bottled Water contains disinfection byproducts, fertilizer residue, and pain medication)
  3. Regulation and Safety – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates tap water.  The EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water has issued extensive regulations on the production, distribution and quality of drinking water, including regulations on source water protection, operation of drinking water systems, contaminant levels and reporting requirements. The FDA regulates bottled water as a food. Under current FDA regulations, consumers are not receiving uniform quality and purity from bottled water. (Environmental Working Group – FDA should adopt EPA tap water health goals as enforceable limits for bottled water)
  4. Garbage – Where do all those empty plastic bottles go? About 86 percent of empty plastic water bottles in the United States land in the garbage instead of being recycled. That amounts to about two million tons of PET plastic bottles piling up in U.S. landfills each year. ( – Bottled Water)
  5. Oil – Making bottles to meet Americans’ demand for bottled water required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil last year – enough fuel for more than 1 million U.S. cars for a year – and generated more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. (Think Outside the Bottle)
  6. Taste – People say they drink bottled water because it tastes better than tap. However, in blind taste tests, people can’t tell the difference. In fact, one taster in a 20/20 taste test said Evian “…tasted like toilet water”. That sounds pretty dee-lish. (ABC News – Is Bottled Water Better than Tap?)
  7. Water privatization – In the United States, 24 percent of bottled water sold is either Pepsi’s Aquafina (13 percent of the market) or Coke’s Dasani (11 percent of the market). Both brands are bottled, purified municipal water. Water bottlers deplete aquifers and other groundwater sources, and harm local economies by paying too little for the water it takes. Contracts often also give preference to water bottlers over the town’s ratepayers because the company can draw the maximum amount of water it wants, regardless of drought or water shortage. We need to address the question, is water a basic human right or a commodity to be bought, sold, and traded in a global marketplace? How much do you think your food is going to cost when farmers have to pay private corporations for water to grow crops? (Sierra Club – Corporate Water Privatization)

Watch: A World Without Water

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Reason #15 Not to Drink Soda February 26, 2009

Filed under: food,health — Daryl Laux @ 6:12 am
Mountain dew can
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Last week I wrote a post called 14 Reasons Not to Drink Soda. If that didn’t convince you to give up your soda habit, here’s a link to an article about Mountain Dew Soda that might convince you – Mountain Dew Addiction Helps Rot Central Appalachins’ Teeth.

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