Vegan Shark Week cupcakes recipe

A highly anticipated weeklong holiday begins on Sunday: Shark Week!

In honor of the occasion, I made my annual vegan, sharky cupcakes and thought I’d share the recipe with you!

 

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp flour
  • equivalent of one egg (I used Ener-G Egg Replacer, but you can also use ground flaxseed.)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup of soy milk
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup water

Directions:

Stir dry ingredients together — sift if anything is clumpy — and then add remaining ingredients. Mix together in a large bowl and then poor into cupcake tins, filling about 2/3 of the way. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes.

 Vegan Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance vegan butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup vanilla soy milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • blue food coloring
Directions:
Beat shortening and vegan butter together until mixed. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Then add remaining ingredients.
Chocolate shark fins

Sometimes vegan chocolate can be difficult to find, but if you have a Trader Joe’s you’re set because they’re pretty well stocked. I’ve tried melting their chocolate chips and molding shark fins and let me tell you: This is a terrible — and ridiculously messy — idea. Don’t do it!

This time I simply bought a few vegan chocolate bars and cut out the fins. If you try this and the chocolate breaks, simply soften it on the stove or in the microwave for a few seconds.

Ice your cupcakes, top them with chocolate fins and take a bite while you tune in for Shark Week, which kicks off at 9 p.m. Sunday!

And because I can’t help but bring in the environmental angle…

My greatest fear in life — besides attending a Creed concert — is death by shark attack. (Yes, I know I’m more likely to be killed by a vending machine or a left-handed person using right-handed equipment.) But despite this insane fear, I worry about the little sharkies. I really do.

A report came out this week that threatened shark species are being found in soups in cities across the United States. Up to 73 million sharks are killed each year to satisfy demand for shark fin soup. Bowls of the soup can sell for around $100 in a restaurant, which is absurd. Imagine how many vegan Shark Week cupcakes you could make with that money!

So skip the shark fin soup and whip up some yummy cruelty-free cupcakes. Besides, studies show that people who eat shark fin soup are *85 percent more likely to be eaten by a great white.

*I might have made up this statistic.

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Goodbye, detergent. Hello, soapnuts!

A few months ago I used up the last of my eco-friendly laundry detergent and bought some soapnuts as part of my ongoing quest to eliminate plastic from life. I’d considered making my own detergent, but I’d read a lot about soapnuts and their many uses, so I thought I’d give them a try.

For those who aren’t familiar with these amazing little things, soapnuts are berries that grow on small trees and shrubs in Asia. The pulpy insides contain saponins, which are a natural surfactant.

You can buy a large bag of soapnuts for just a few dollars, and they last quite a long time depending on how you use them. We’ve been using them in place of laundry detergent for about four months now and have barely put a dent in the bag, and I’ve also created an all-purpose cleaning solution with them by boiling them.

As for the laundry process, it’s ridiculously simple.

1. Crack the soapnuts if they’re not already open. If you need assistance with this step, cats are quite helpful.

2. Place five to six soapnuts in a small cloth bag.

3. Drop the bag into the washing machine with your laundry.

4. Again, ask a cat for help if this is your first time, and then run the wash as normal.

Soapnuts don’t really have a smell, but they leave your clothes with a rather fresh, clean scent. In fact, a friend of mine has started using them in the wash because she has sensitive skin and often has an allergic reaction to even unscented detergents.

Soapnuts have a variety of uses other than laundry though. Like I said, I’ve used them to make my own all-natural cleaner, and I’m tempted to try them out as a shampoo or insect repellant soon.

No chemicals! No plastic bottle! (Remember: Plastic can’t be recycled!) Plus, fun with the cat!

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Earth Day: Change one small thing

It’s Earth Day! Yaaayyy!

I’m sure you expected a lengthy post where I preach to you about pollution, green living and the horrors of plastic. You’re probably thinking, “I can’t stand to read another post about Laura and plastic.” And while it’s tempting to emotionally torture people yet again with the two-minute video that changed my life, I thought I’d go the more uplifting route today.

So, yes, while learning about the devastation on Midway had a huge impact on how I live my life thousands of miles away in Atlanta, there was another documentary — a much more positive one — that also had an effect on me.

I wrote an article for MNN last year about bloggers who made yearlong green commitments and shared their journeys online, and one of the people I interviewed was Jen Rustemeyer of The Clean Bin Project. Here’s the gist of the movie: Jen and her boyfriend compete for a year to see who can avoid buying any new “stuff” and produce the least amount of waste in a year. But instead of your typical apocalyptic, depressing documentary, Jen and Grant have made a genuinely fun movie with a positive message.

“We’d seen so many environmental films that left us feeling hopeless, so we wanted to show that living zero waste can actually be fun,” Rustemeyer told me.

Now, I didn’t get to actually see the film until I attended the EcoFocus Film Festival this year, but I watched the trailer countless times and I’ve read the The Clean Bin Project blog from beginning to end, which inspired me to do all those crazy things like making my own deodorant and crackers and buying compostable toothbrushes. (Cody calls me an “extremist,” but I’m all, “No! I’m not doing enough for the planet!”)

So, this Earth Day, find something that inspires you to change and work for a better, cleaner, healthier planet. You don’t have to do something huge — start small, change one small thing, and then change another small thing.

As Rustemeyer says, “Just start with one change, and when that becomes a habit, you can move on to the next one.”

Check out The Clean Bin Project trailer below. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Photo: Grant Baldwin, The Clean Bin Project

Climate change: 24 hours of reality

Regardless of your time zone, closet GOP affiliation, feelings toward Al Gore, aversion to science or secret desire to live in a modern-day Water World, I hope you’ll tune in tomorrow to catch The Climate Reality Project‘s “24 Hours of Reality.”

What is it?

24 Presenters. 24 Time Zones. 13 Languages. 1 Message. 24 Hours of Reality is a worldwide event to broadcast the reality of the climate crisis. It will consist of a new multimedia presentation created by Al Gore and delivered once per hour for 24 hours, representing every time zone around the globe. Each hour people living with the reality of climate change will connect the dots between recent extreme weather events — including floods, droughts and storms — and the manmade pollution that is changing our climate. We will offer a round-the-clock, round-the-globe snapshot of the climate crisis in real time. The deniers may have millions of dollars to spend, but we have a powerful advantage. We have reality.

Now, I don’t expect you to run out and purchase a copy of “An Inconvenient Truth” (yes, there were a few errors in it) or begin buying carbon offsets for your daily commute. Just spread the word, tune in and perhaps learn a little something. Or simply make a post about it to piss off your Palin-loving, “I-know-climate-change-is-a-hoax-beause-it-snowed-this-year” Facebook friends. We all know it’s fun to read their comebacks — especially the ones that cite Glenn Beck as a legitimate source.

What’s that? You’ve already seen “An Inconvenient Truth”? Why should you watch? Well, word on the street is that Gore has some new slides in his PowerPoint presentation. *Commence jumping up and down.*

Still not convinced? Tweet me and we’ll turn it into a drinking game*. #climaterealityshot For every new slide you identify, that’s a shot! If you’re under 21, well, you’re just going to have to watch for the pure fun of it. After all, climate change is cool…well, actually it’s kind of hot at times…er…you know what I mean.

*I’ll be joining you in spirit — not spirits. Wednesday is a workday!

http://youtu.be/PY-mboZkhD0

Moukisacs: It’s what you’re getting for your birthday

I’ve been on a Moukisac-giving spree lately.* If you recently had a birthday or anniversary, you likely received an “eco-friendly shopping bag system” and feigned excitement and appreciation for the gift. (Unless you’re my sister-in-law — in which case I had to ship you Moukisacs three months prior to your birthday so you wouldn’t buy your own and steal my only gift idea.)

If you’re unaware how awesome — and fun to pronounce — Moukisacs are, let me bombard you with more information than you actually want. They’re reusable bags and produce/bulk bags that wrap up into this nifty little bag that you can even wear as a purse or fannypack if you so desire. Please, please please, do not desire the latter.

How do I love these so much? Let me count the ways… (Elizabeth Barrett Browning is turning in her grave right now.)

  • Having my reusable bag and produce bags together means I never arrive at the store or farmer’s market and realize that I’ve left one or the other at home. However, I have had those times where I leave both at home. Perhaps if I wore mine as a fannypack I could avoid this problem…
  • Not only can I throw broccoli, tomatoes and apples in there, but I can also purchase bulk items like rice and lentils! Isn’t it every girl’s dreams to have a bag that holds both fruit and lentils?
  • You can throw them in the washing machine!
  • They make a statement. People don’t notice the lack of plastic packaging and processed foods in your cart, but they do notice your bags of oats and cucumbers in reusable produce bags. I’m often asked where I got them and then I get to be all, “OMG! Moukisacs are super neat and have drawstrings and you can put them in the washing machine. And look: My lentils are in here!” *shakes bag vigorously* (Yeaahh…it can be a little overwhelming to talk Moukisacs with me at the store.)
  • You can get Moukisacs in a variety of colours. That’s right: colors with a “u!” This mostly excites me because I feel like I’m purchasing magical reusable bags from DiagonAlley.com instead of Moukisac.com. You see, in my mind, anything in British English is automatically Harry Potter-related. (I admit, these bags aren’t local — they’re made in Vancouver — but I think their awesomeness outweighs the lack of localness.)
  • They’re entertaining. I was shopping at Kroger recently and a large, loud woman and her leopard-print-jumpsuit-wearing friend saw my bags and howled with laughter. They told me the bags were “hilarious.” I don’t know about you, but if I can bring a smile to someone’s face and do something nice for the planet, I consider the day a success.

(No, I’m not endorsed by Moukisacs, but I would make an excellent — albeit, overly enthusiastic — spokeswoman.)

*Consider this post fair warning if you plan to invite me to your housewarming, bridal shower or child’s birthday party. I read somewhere that little kids love reusable bags.

Photos: Moukisacs.com, my iPhone

How green is Harry Potter?

I was recently asked how my passion for all things green and my job at an environmental website mesh with some of my other interests — namely, my YA lit addiction and Harry Potter obsession. That got me thinking, and you know what? The world of Harry Potter is actually pretty green.

Let me explain. (Oh, I’ve really outnerded myself this time.)

 

Transportation

The Hogwarts Express: The train that transports students to Hogwarts was built in 1936 and powered by a steam engine, according to Harry Potter Wikia; however, by the 1990s it was running exclusively on magic. While the Hogwarts Express is cinematically depicted with smoke billowing from it, this is clearly just a bit of Hollywood embellishment. (Although, steam engines have inspired alternative fuel sources.)

Seeing as magic releases no detectable carbon emissions or any other greenhouse gases, this is undoubtedly one mean green “steam” engine. (Prior to 1936, students arrived at the school “in any manner they pleased” — with the exception of apparating onto school grounds, of course. Yes, I’ve read “Hogwarts, A History.”)

Broomsticks: This popular mode of wizard transportation is also emissions-free, and unlike an emissions-free electric car that recharges on a fossil fuel-dominated power grid, you don’t even have to plug it in — it’s powered completely by magic.

On the other hand, brooms — like so many other consumer goods — are made from wood. It’s probably safe to assume that not all broom-makers would use locally sourced, Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, but for the sake of argument, let’s take a look at the most coveted of wizard brooms, the Firebolt. This broomstick boasts an ash handle and a tail of birch twigs, and both ash and birch can be found in the UK and are not considered threatened woods, according to Friends of the Earth. I’d say that’s one sustainable flying broomstick!

The Floo Network and flying cars

As China pointed out in the comments, the Floo Network is another low-emissions form of transport. While even small fires do contribute to air pollution, that’s nothing compared to actually driving to Surrey from Ottery St. Catchpole. But I must commend Arthur Weasley for his purchase of the 1959 Ford Anglia 105E because it actually gets 41.2 miles per imperial gallon. Not bad at all for a flying family car!

Food

We’re never told exactly where wizards get their food, but surely there’s a market or grocery store nestled somewhere in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade — after all, wizards can’t exactly eat what the local apothecary is selling. Although lacewing flies are edible, I think we can all agree those are better left to polyjuice potion.

Now, while I can’t argue that all wizard food is organic, locally sourced and free of excessive packaging, I can attest that some of it is. For example, both The Burrow and Hogwarts have gardens and the occasional chicken running around. Fresh vegetables and free-range eggs, anyone? And while eating meat is hardly an environmentally conscious choice, I think it’s safe to say that all the dead fowl hanging in Hagrid’s hut weren’t shipped from a factory farm.

And remember those pumpkins Hagrid grows in “The Prisoner of Azkaban?” He doesn’t spray them with pesticides or inject them full of growth hormones; he simply uses an engorgement charm to help them “swell to the size of garden sheds.” Those aren’t just exceptionally large pumpkins — they’re exceptionally large organic pumpkins. Not even Professor Sprout, the Herbology teacher, would dare feed her precious plants chemically enhanced fertilizer. She keeps it all natural with dragon dung, her “preferred type of fertilizer,” according to “The Goblet of Fire.”

While it would be planet-friendly to simply conjure food from thin air and skip any and all chemicals, pesticides, carbon miles, etc., wizards just can’t do that. After all, as Hermione reminds us in “The Deathly Halllows,” food is one of the five exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration.

Wands

As all Potter fans know, a wand contains a magical core — typically a phoenix feather, unicorn hair, dragon heartstring, veela hair or thestral tail hair. While it’s conceivable that veela could be kept in miniscule pens much like modern-day calves and that phoenixes could be shoved into tiny cages much like egg-laying hens or be euthanized for their feathers (you know,  like we’re doing in the name of fashionable hair), a close reading of the text lends itself to the theory that these magical creatures are treated with respect and never harmed for wand-making.

In “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” Ollivander tells Harry, “It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather — just one other.” He did not say, “It so happens that when I attempted to wrench feathers from that phoenix in its tiny cage, I managed to get another feather — just one other.” Although unicorns are hard to catch, Professor Grubbly-Plank managed it just fine, but there’s no need to pluck hair from its mane or tail when you happen upon it easily enough. As Hagrid says, it “gets pulled out of their tails, they catch it on branches an’ stuff in the forest.” And surely an “‘air from ze ‘ead of a veela” would be nearly impossible to acquire against the veela’s will. They’ve got some nasty tempers, am I right?

As for the wood, we can draw a similar conclusion to that we did with broomstick manufacturing. While it’s possible that Ollivander is using sustainable FSC-certified wood, there’s just no way to know. But it would be quite unmagical for him to be contributing to deforestation, and thankfully the wand shop is not on Asia Pulp & Paper‘s client list.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

The Weasleys may not have two knuts to rub together at times, but on the bright side, it enables them to live a much greener lifestyle. They buy used books and secondhand robes, and Mrs. Weasley darns socks and knits sweaters. The Weasley children may long for new broomsticks and more fashionable dress robes, but it’s commendable that the family isn’t widely participating in a throwaway culture of mass production and consumption. All the Weasley’s need is a bit of rebranding: Their robes aren’t secondhand — they’re vintage. That furniture isn’t old; it’s antique. They could buy expensive clothes at muggle shops, but DIY is so in right now. Knitting is trendy, you guys! Now let’s go yarn bomb Knockturn Alley!

Although I can’t quite compare the wizarding world’s use of resources to say, Native Americans’ use of every part of the buffalo, I will argue that wizards seem to be fairly thorough when it comes to using every part of an animal. You don’t just slay a dragon for its hide, make some gloves and boots, and then send the rest of its carcass to the local magical landfill. Oh, no. There’s heartstring for wands, liver for blast-ended skrewt feed and teeth for “horrible great fang” jewelry — not to mention all those potion-making ingredients. And then a certain someone came along and discovered the 12 uses of dragon’s blood. You see? Dumblebore is all about sustainability!

Causes for (green) concern

Animal welfare issues: I’d be a terrible witch because I would undoubtedly be looking for TVP replacements for bat spleens and vegan alternatives to eye of newt, and I’d be throwing around “relashio” curses in attempts to save that poor abused dragon from Gringott’s. Yes, these things are necessary for potion-making and vault security, but that doesn’t mean it’s morally or environmentally justifiable. On the bright side, I’m sure the Hogwarts house elves would be only too happy to cook me up some locally sourced vegan meals — they’re exceptionally helpful like that. (Then again, as a card-carrying member of S.P.E.W., I might have some reservations about that.)

Water usage: Not surprisingly, the books never address magical water treatment methods — they have better stories to tell — but we do know a little bit about the plumbing at Hogwarts. For instance, we know that the pipes are large enough to easily accommodate a basilisk, which does seem a bit absurd from an architectural standpoint. (That’s what happens when you let a Slytherin handle the plumbing.)

We know that the prefect’s bathroom features a “swimming-pool-sized bathtub,” which is a little much, am I right? Save water, bathe with a friend, Harry! (Moaning Myrtle doesn’t count.) But perhaps this excessive use of one-time water usage is offset by the fact that Hogwarts students rarely seem to bathe. While bathrooms are referenced numerous times in the books, I don’t recall anyone toting around towel caddies or slipping on their shower shoes. Hey, I’m not judging — Hogwarts is located in a cold climate, and many people believe the daily shower is no longer necessary in modern society. The students are just doing their part to conserve water, and I can respect that.

But what’s most concerning about the Hogwarts water situation is that the sewage apparently flows directly into the lake, as illustrated by Moaning Myrtle’s trips to the lake whenever “someone flushes [her] toilet when [she's] not expecting it.” That’s hardly sanitary — there’s a giant squid, merpeople and grindylows trying to live down there! Ugh. That’s a serious health code violation, which means that the second task of the Triwizard Tournament was clearly a danger to public health.

Waste: Speaking of sanitation issues, where does all the Hogwarts trash go? The used parchment, the half-eaten treacle tart, the slimy things that Snape doesn’t pickle in a jar? Are the house elves composting? Do red wigglers in the wizarding world have magical digestion capabilities? Are there sanitation wizards performing vanishing spells? Is the trash buried, burned or dumped in the wizarding landfill alongside Voldemort’s body? There’s just no way to know! But I bet it’s simply magicked away — unless we’ve run into another exception to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration.

While I could go on at length about the green and not-so-green aspects of modern magical life, I’ll call it a day for now. Did I miss something? Do you have pressing questions about recycled parchment or hippogriff welfare? Let me know and I’ll try to address it.

Photos: PopCultureGeek.com/flickr, Wikimedia Commons, ben.snider/flickr, tsuacctnt/flickr, HP Fan World

Sharing a toothbrush

My compostable toothbrushes arrived yesterday!

But when I woke up this morning, my toothbrush was missing. I searched and searched and finally found it. In the jaws of Fiver.

So it’s now time to test the brush’s compostability against the worms.

This is the first and last time I share a toothbrush.

Get your own Environmental Toothbrush!

Be a part of the solution, not the tragedy

It’s not often that a two-minute video clip changes your life, but a few months ago, this one changed mine.

This is a moment in time, a chance to witness and understand our role in an astonishing environmental tragedy. This is a place that provides context. Here, reflected in the beauty of the Albatross, is an unfolding horror. Yet it is a horror in which we see our own lives, a snapshot of our impact on the planet that challenges us to consider how to move forward.

You can’t watch that and not be moved by it. Hopefully you’ll be moved into action. (Learn more here.)

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the problems of the world, disconnected from them, unable to make a difference. But you have an opportunity here to make small changes that have a large impact, and that impact becomes even greater when you live in a manner that inspires others and prompts them to action.

When I first announced I was doing something as simple as giving up straws, I was the subject of some serious mocking — both by family and friends and even by restaurant waitstaff. But now I have friends who refuse straws, roommates who rinse and reuse Ziplocs, family members who take reusable produce bags to the store.

We’re not crazy environmentalists by any means. (Well, maybe I am.) We finally just realize that saying “no thanks” to straws really isn’t so absurd and that passing on plastic really isn’t that hard. It’s simply the right thing to do.

It’s not about recycling the plastic you have — plastic “recycling” is a myth. It’s about introducing a third “R” into “reduce, reuse, recycle.” The first and best “R” is refuse. There are tons of alternatives out there so you don’t have to buy all your food and consumer goods wrapped in toxic plastic. Call me optimistic,  but if more of us start refusing and begin making healthy, sustainable choices, I think the industry will get the message.

For some suggestions on easy ways to use less plastic, check out this article I recently wrote: 16 simple ways to reduce plastic waste.

To learn more about the Midway Journey and to support Chris Jordan, his project and the albatrosses of Midway Atoll, here’s what to do:

Be a part of the solution, not the tragedy.

Photo: Plastic Pollution Coalition

Pluck Fastic. I don’t need (all of) it.

I almost pulled a plastic bag over a woman’s head today. Well, not really, but she did irk me a bit.

You see, I was hitting up the salad bar in my office building and I hear this woman loudly complaining that her sauce can’t touch her chicken fingers so she’s going to need two separate plastic cups with plastic lids to put in her plastic container. Is it just me, or does this seem a bit excessive since she clearly plans to dip said chicken into the sauce?

Loud lady is in line in front of me as we wait for the register and she picks up a plastic bottle of water, which she shoves into her purse next to another half-empty plastic bottle of water. She then “stocks up” on some plastic silverware, which also go into the purse and then asks the cashier for a plastic bag to put her single plastic container. Why, oh, why is that bag even necessary when she’s holding no other items?

What she was holding was similar to this:

But what I saw was this:

80 percent of this albatross' body weight was the plastic in its stomach.

Now, I’m not completely guiltless. My salad was also in a plastic container, but I saw no need to prevent my dressing from touching my salad during the short trip to the 40th floor, and I had a metal fork from home in my bag. Why was I carrying a fork around in my purse? Because lately, plastic is really getting on my nerves.

Have you ever considered the irony of plastic? It’s often thrown away in a matter of seconds — after we unwrap a piece of candy or open a package — but it lasts thousands of years. I finished my salad in about 10 minutes today, but the container it came in will be around for the next 1,000 years. This is unacceptable.

I was working on an article this week about eco-bloggers and the one-year green challenges they took on — everything from going vegan to living without a car. But there were two blogs that really got me thinking: Plastic Manners and The Clean Bin Project.

In an interview with Jen Rustemeyer of The Clean Bin Project, I asked her what advice she would give someone who was looking to become a little less wasteful and said, “Just do one thing. Once that becomes a habit, do something else.” Simple. Brilliant. World-changing.

I already reduce my carbon footprint in many ways: I don’t eat meat. (Why eating less meat helps the environment), I recycle religiously, I carry a refillable water bottle with me everywhere (I’m well hydrated), and I usually bring my reusable bags to the grocery store — but this isn’t enough. So here are my first steps to help wean myself off such plastic dependence.

1. You’ve been there for me when I needed you, plastic bags, but I’m moving on. I will always, always, always bring my reusable bags. If I forget, I guess I’m just going to have to acquire a new one at the store.

2. Goodbye, steam-in-the-bag vegetables. I’ve adored you and you’ll forever hold a place in my heart, but not in my freezer. I don’t have to purchase your toxic, disposable plastic in order to eat broccoli florets. Besides, fresher is better.

3. Our courtship is over, disposable produce bag. If I’m not steaming vegetables in the microwave, I’m certainly not going to put my apples and broccoli in you for that brief trip from produce aisle to my refrigerator. You’re no better than your checkout-bag cousins. Helloooo, reusable produce bags! *I bought these today because they’re made of cotton — many of these reusable bags are made from nylon or polyester. You know what those materials are? Plastic.

4. We’ve shared many a kiss, plastic straw, but I’m kissing you goodbye. You know the adage: A moment on the lips, forever … in the landfill.

5. Peace out, plastic bottles of juice. Yes, this means you V8 Fusion. I have a wonderful plastic-free juicer that will give me fresher juice, less sugar and zero guilt.

6. What’s that, disposable plastic silverware? You think one day I’m going to need you? I think not. It won’t kill me if I can’t eat that fruit cup one day. You, on the other hand, kill a whole lot of animals. It’s just not an acceptable trade-off.

The things I’m giving up are simply matters of convenience, and I can live without them. I interviewed Taina Uitto of Plastic Manners this week and she had this to say: “Convenience isn’t what makes life colorful.” True story.

If you need any other reason to reduce your plastic consumption, think of the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch. Have you heard of it? It’s a swirling vortex of plastic bags, bottles and trash that’s as large as a continent. Plastic outnumbers plankton in some areas there by 48 to one. This garbage entangles marine life like sea turtles and is eaten by fish, birds and other animals — often killing them. Plus, sunlight can break down some of the plastic and leak toxins into the ocean that enter the food chain.

Gross. And unacceptable.

If this disgusts you, make one change. When it becomes a habit, make another. You may not think recycling that bottle cap — or just saying no to that bottle of water or soda to begin with — will make a difference, but it’ll make a HUGE difference to that bird or turtle that could have ingested it.

For more information:

Pluck Fastic: No, I’m not clever enough or vulgar enough to have made that up on my own.

Plastic Manners: Taina has TONS of helpful tips on her site. Plus, her story is just inspiring.

The Clean Bin Project: Very cool. Very inspiring. Just check out this documentary trailer.

Photos: eflon/Flickr, PlasticManners.com, Cesarharada/Flickr

Bubble trouble: Going cruelty-free

CrueltyFreeLogoThirteen years ago I quit eating meat. I wasn’t one of those “vegetarians” who gave up red meat or who still ate seafood — those aren’t vegetarians, those are just picky eaters who want a better label. I gave it all up. Seven years ago I gave up eggs. Five years ago I gave up milk.

I still indulge in cheese and yogurt. I’m not perfect. I’m not climbing onto my soapbox to make you feel guilty about the hamburger you just ate or the foie gras you indulged in this weekend. (If you realize ignorance isn’t bliss and you want to know the truth about your food, educate yourself. Make a change. You can even get a free vegetarian starter kit — coupons, recipes, general cruelty-free deliciousness.)

For the most part, I don’t have to feel guilty about my diet — except those times I overindulge in Vortex fried zucchini (OMG. Yum.) — because I know that no sentient being suffered and died for my dinner. Plus, it’s nice to know that my veggie burger or soy buffalo wings are free of hormones, antibiotics, large amounts of fat, etc.

But while my diet is cruelty-free for the most part, I’m still guilty of financially supporting industries that use and abuse animals so that I can safely wash my clothes, lengthen my eye lashes and condition my hair. That’s not OK with me. To some degree, I was allowing myself to ignore what’s going on in laboratories worldwide. (Do you know what happens to rabbits, cats, dogs and other animals every day? You probably don’t want to. However, if you need motivation to make a simple lifestyle change, educate yourself.)

Starting now, I will no longer be spending my hard-earned money to support such inhumane practices. If I claim not to be speciesist, then I need to truly live a life that’s not speciesist. In other words, if I’m going to talk the talk, I need to walk the walk. So, goodbye, shampooTide — I’m not OK with the Draize Test. I love your scent, Glade Fabric & Air, but I can’t freshen the furniture with a byproduct of pain and suffering.

This is going to be a long personal process full of baby steps for a variety of reasons. I’m not going to throw out that Neutrogena moisturizer just because I know how it’s tested. I’ll use it up — I won’t create unnecessary waste. And I’ve yet to find a website or database that provides me with a comprehensive list of cruelty-free products, prices and consumer reviews, so some Laura-style market research needs to be done.

I’m starting with shampoo and conditioner. After all, I have to keep my locks shiny and clean! And while I’m super intrigued by the soap-free, no-poo movement (as in shampoo), even this girl acknowledges that it’s not right for people with my hair type: long, straight, fine. If you have curly or wavy hair, though, check this article out: One green girl’s story of ditching shampoo altogether. It’s a good read.

So I picked up two shampoos and conditioners last week: Shikai moisturizing shampoo and Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Citrus n12603255_32390895_1731Grapefruit shampoo. While the 365 smells amazing (You have to understand my love of citrus scents — if I could have my skin infused with the scent of an orange or a grapefruit, I’d totally do it), it doesn’t lather as well and it leaves my hair fairly dry and difficult to brush. The Shikai, on the other hand, was perfect. My hair looked good.

It smells great, it cleans well, it leaves my hair silky — total win. The only downside is the price: $10 for a smaller bottle than the $4 bottle of 365.

However, unlike the 365, my Herbal Essences and every other mass-marketed shampoo out there, I can actually pronounce the ingredients. Now that’s refreshing. Plus, my Shikai contains just nine ingredients. Nine! My Herbal essences contains 23 — three of which are dyes that the FDA hasn’t conclusively tested, and after “water,” the remaining ingredients are a long, confusing list of tongue-twisting “oxides” and “sulfates.” No, thank you.

I realize this is my choice; it’s probably not yours. I understand the ease and simplicity of choosing to remain uninformed about how your dinner, clothes and soaps make it into the stores — my own mother refuses to learn what goes on simply because it would ruin beef stew and ham sandwiches for her. She’s actually forbidden me from ever telling her how that turkey makes it to Thanksgiving dinner. It’s her choice — I may not necessarily agree with it, but I respect it.

In situations like this, I can’t help but think of how my environmental ethics professor once paraphrased Peter Singer: “Think of it this way: You’re sacrificing an animal’s greatest interest — its very life — for your most trivial interest: the taste of its flesh.”

That really hits home for me. I may love the scent of my Tide with Febreeze, but do I love it enough to allow bunnies’ eyes to be smeared with chemicals? I sure don’t.

I challenge you to make the same ethical choice. You can even take the pledge. For a full list of companies that DO and DO NOT test on animals, check out these sites:

In Defense of Animals: cruelty-free companies

PETA: searchable list of cruelty-free companies and products

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