Earth Day’s coming up (April 22nd), but I won’t be asking you to save the planet – at least, not all in one fell swoop. :-) I’m asking you is to simply take a few minutes to think about things a little differently, to make small changes that add up over time. I want to empower you to improve your health, and concentrate on those things you can impact directly – your family, friends, neighbors and community. Celebrate Earth Day the Common Sense way.
1. Eat on the Wild Side
“The world’s food supply depends on about 150 plant species. Of those 150, just 12 provide three-quarters of the world’s food. More than half of the world’s food energy comes from a limited number of varieties of three “mega-crops”: rice, wheat, and maize.” (read more)
There are literally thousands of edible plants, but we focus on so very few of them in our daily diets. What if I told you that you could gather free food that’s high in vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, and that this free food came in the form of plants that most people try to remove from their lawns and gardens? In our Weekly Weeder series, we give an introduction to over 40 different common wild plants, many of which are edible and/or medicinal. My friend, Amanda Rose, and her mom, Jeanie, have put together a wonderful book called, “Will Forage for Soup” that features some of my favorite “weeds”:
- Lamb’s Quarters
- Nettle Leaf
- Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia)
along with a handful of other greens. They give detailed instructions for gathering the greens and cooking them for optimum nutrition in delicious soup recipes. There are tips for cleaning and freezing the greens, so you can have them on hand year round. If you’ve ever thought about foraging, but weren’t sure how to cook what you harvested, this is a wonderful resource. You’ll find that wild plants are often more nutrient dense than their domesticated cousins, which is great for promoting health and wellness. Spring is the best time to gather many of these plants, when the greens are young and tender.
2. Make Your Own Natural Beauty Products
Commercial beauty and hygiene products are often loaded with long list of chemicals including fragrances, antifreeze, petroleum derivatives, binders, degreasers, formaldehyde and all sorts of odd bits. Many of these are known carcinogens (cancer causing agents), but are allowed since they are not ingested or are in small quantities. The thing is, when you put them on your skin every day, it all adds up over time. Your skin is porous – things move in and out – otherwise transdermal medications wouldn’t work. Check out “No More Dirty Looks” for more info.
You can avoid this toxic “yuck” by making your own beauty products, such as:
“My Buttered Life” provides instructions to make 5 different natural body care products using healthy ingredients that are good for your skin. They are:
- Foot Protector Bar
- Full Body Conditioner
- Bug Repellent Bar
- Tan Enhancer
One afternoon of measuring and mixing can keep you in skincare products for months, and these make great gifts for birthdays and holidays, such as Mother’s Day.
3. Cook an Amazing Meal
Although I catered through most of high school and college, I am by no means a fancy chef. The “secret” to my great tasting meals is using good quality food prepared simply. There is such a difference in flavor between a tomato plucked ripe from the garden or local farmers market and the bland, “tough enough to ship across the country” tomatoes in the average supermarket. Even green beans taste better fresh. We were eating at a supper club some years ago, and my youngest asked the waitress if they had considered taking out some of the golf course so they could grow a garden and serve beans that tasted better. (I struggled a bit between being proud and being embarrassed by that one…)
The more you can grow yourself or purchase locally, the fewer “food miles” you rack up. Right now, the average American meal travels around 1500 miles to get to your plate. That’s a lot of fuel. Most food grown but large growers is mechanically planted, tended and harvested as much as possible to reduce costs, which also burns a lot of fuel. It’s a lot more environmentally friendly to wander from your garden to your kitchen.
Many commercial foods also contain ingredients I’d rather not eat, like anti-foaming agents, artificial colors and flavors, genetically modified crops, foam rubber yoga mats – just kidding! The chemical azodicarbonamide, an industrial “chemical foaming agent,” is found both in yoga mats and over 500 processed foods, but the foods don’t contain actual yoga mats. Still not yummy.
Contrast this with Cheese Soup in Homemade Bread Bowls, where the bread is made with just five ingredients and not a yoga mat in sight. Or how about some easy chocolate brownies – no box required, and simple enough for the kids to make. Food doesn’t have to be fancy to be delicious. You can enjoy Thin Crust Tomato Basil Pizza in under 20 minutes from start to finish with the recipe in “Pioneering Today” by Melissa K. Norris. She also shares a White Sauce Chicken Pizza, as well as a Fresh Bread in Five Minutes per Day recipe, corn bread, homemade biscuits, and an assortment of other sweet and savory recipes. Cooking in bulk (or just making a double batch instead of a single) will allow you to freeze extra portions for a fast meal when you need it – without the fast food.
4. Plant Something
There’s an old saying that says the best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago, and the second best time is today. Gardening is a wonderful way to reduce stress, heal your mind and improve your diet. It’s very forgiving, too, because if you screw up, there’s always next year. Even if you only plant one tomato in a pot on the patio, you’re reducing those food miles a smidgen and bringing more plant matter into the world.
More plants equal less rainwater runoff, and plants moderate temperature swings by providing shade from intense heat and creating wind breaks – on a big scale for trees and a small scale for other plants. If you look deeper, herbalists like Stephen Harrod Buhner refer to plants as “the planet’s natural healers, stabilizers, and chemists“. Every living plant creates its own complex micro-ecosystem composed of millions of micro-organisms on its surface and in the ground surrounding it. It’s crazy complicated and crazy beautiful, and I could go on about it for ages, but the most important thing to remember is healthy soil = healthy plants = healthy people.
For a crash course in gardening with lovely illustrations, you can check out “The Art of Gardening“. Susan Vinskoski is a woman after my own heart who gardens with plenty of soil building, mulch and composting, focusing on local materials to enrich the soil. Her book also includes instructions on seed starting, seed saving, choosing your garden site, pests and diseases, recipes, and an alphabetical guide to vegetables. I’m in love with her tomato trellis.
5. Change a Lightbulb
We’ve been slowly swapping out the most used lights in our home for LED replacements, and I encourage you to do the same. “Sustainability Starts at Home” notes that American households spend up to 20% of their energy costs on lighting, so making the switch can save big money over time, as well as being good for the environment. In summer, incandescent lighting also adds to your air conditioning load, so you’re hit with a double whammy. Swap out now and save all summer. One other note – if you just happen to have teenagers who stay up way too late reading, LED lights in their clip on bed lamps won’t get hot like other lights, which reduces the risks of fires or burns. They also make great LED nightlights, for those of us who have to stumble around the house in the middle of the night with critters or kids.
6. Get Proactive About Your Health
When we start making choices that are healthier for us, most of them are also better for the environment. Did you know that the majority of the corn grown in the United States is legally classified as a pesticide, not a food? That’s because the bug killing genetic component is spread throughout the entire plant – it’s all toxic. Conventional crops are heavy on the chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, but lower in nutrition and harder on the environment.
In “Common Sense Health: Detox, Diet and Physical Activities“, I talk about removing toxins from your home, your personal care routine, and your diet. I also give clear explanations of which crops are genetically modified, and which are not, and what it means to you. If enough of us vote with our dollars for cleaner food and products, producers will listen.
You can learn more about Common Sense Health in the video below, my very first youtube video. (More to come – you can subscribe at https://www.youtube.com/user/CommonSenseHome1)
Until Midnight EST 4/23/2014, you can get Common Sense Health (normally $8.95) as part of a Green Living mini-bundle featuring 7 great e-books and 4 videos for only $12.95.
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