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The Dilemma of Ethical Shopping

Though I am somewhat reluctant to admit it, my wallet does contain Old Navy and Victoria’s Secret credit cards, and yes I do use them.  The part of me that values ethical business practices cringes each time I pull them out, but my addiction to shopping wins the fight every time.  All that has changed, though, and I’m going to tell you why.

First, the bad news, that way we can end on a good note.  I did a little research on Victoria’s Secret’s business policies, and it was bad news bears.  I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve known about the ongoing accusations of child labor and sweatshops, but I avoided looking into the subject just in case the accusations were true.  Their panties are just so darn comfy!  But I can only hide from the truth for so long before my conscious starts kicking and screaming, and today it finally forced me out from underneath my rock.  I had to face the fact that one of my favorite clothing brands is owned by a company infamous for using toxic ingredients and testing on animals.  Victoria’s Secret is owned by The Limited, which also owns Bath & Body Works, whose products are chock full of parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, and lead. Check out The Limited’s ingredient info: “Parabens are safe and approved for use in many of the major international markets… [and] Phthalates play an important role in everyday life and are used in a variety of products, including cosmetics” (LimitedBrands.com).  The sad thing is, people actually believe this.

But don’t worry, they test all their products animals before they sell them to you.  The best part is, they flat out admit it.  Well, sort of.  B&BW’s website says this: “We believe all living creatures deserve respect and would never think of testing any of our products on animals. Likewise, we don’t ask anyone who may be helping us develop or make our products to conduct these kinds of tests on our behalf,” but The Limited’s website says, “Company policy prohibits the testing of our branded products, formulations and ingredients on animals except in rare cases.”  Get your story straight, Limited.  You obviously do think about testing on animals.  Which means I will no longer think about buying your brands.  Bye bye, Vicky Secret credit card.  I will miss you.  Sort of.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely need some good news right now.  Thankfully, my favorite clothing brand readily supplied some.  Not only does The Gap ethically source its materials and labor (yes, there were some accusations of sweatshops conditions, but these have been addressed) but it does not test any of its products on animals.  The company adheres to a Human Rights Policy it developed in 2010, as well as a Code of Vendor Conduct, which you can find on their website: http://www.gapinc.com/content/csr/html/OurResponsibility.html.  Gap also participates in several environmental organizations, including the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy.  As if that weren’t enough to make up for my disappointment in The Limited, Gap also supports several social organizations around the world.  The article that sparked the investigation into the pockets of my wallet was from Athleta, my favorite of the Gap brands.  They’ve recently partnered with an organization called Girls on the Run, a group working to keep young girls happy, active, and confident in themselves. Molly Barker, the founder of Girls on the Run, aims to teach girls that, “EVERYONE comes to earth with a set of gifts… these gifts are uniquely ours and how when we use our gifts the world’s work gets done” (Athleta.com).  Kudos, Gap.  I won’t feel bad about keeping your credit card.  Or using it.  (I have a feeling my card balance is going to sharply increase because of this post.  Dammit.)

Here are some good websites about ethical shopping:

http://www.greenamerica.org/programs/responsibleshopper/learn_hub.cfm
This website is an awesome resource for info about companies’ policies.  They have profiles of every major company, detailing the labor and sourcing policies for them and their subsidiary companies.

http://www.ethicalshopping.com/
A cool site with lots of info on ethical shopping

http://www.peta.org/living/beauty-and-personal-care/caring-consumer.aspx
PETA’s list of companies that do and do not test on animals.  (I would like to state that the woman who runs PETA is a fucking lunatic.  In her will, she states that when she dies, she wants to be made into a human barbeque.  But first, she wants her skin made into leather, her feet into umbrella stands, and other body parts sent to countries and organizations they protested.  Fucking fruit loop.)

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Tea Break #2: The Art of Steeping Tea

Welcome to my Tea Break series!  Here is the second part of Republic of Tea’s Tea 101 newsletter. Today’s topic is the art of steeping tea:

You will extract the most pleasure from premium tea, steeped with care. The Minister of Fire & Water suggests the following step-by-step ritual for steeping tea:

Heat Your Water
Tea begins with the water – the element that brings tea to its full potential. Fresh water yields a better cup. We recommend using filtered or spring water.
Fill your kettle with fresh, cold water and heat to a rolling boil – unless you’re making green tea or 100% White Tea. In that case, stop short of boiling to avoid “cooking” the delicate tea leaves.
Use one teaspoon of tea or herbs or one tea bag per 6 oz. cup. One 6 oz. cup is the size of a traditional tea cup, not a mug. If using full-leaf loose tea or herbs, place tea in an infuser or a teapot.

Time Your Steeping
Pour the heated water over the tea, cover, and infuse to taste. Different teas take well to different infusing times. Experiment to find your ideal time, but take care – don’t steep for too long or you’ll find your tea has gone bitter.

White Tea
water: short of boiling
tea bag: 30-60 seconds
full leaf: 2-3 minutes

Green Tea
water: short of boiling
tea bag: 1-3 minutes
full leaf: 2-4 minutes

Black Tea
water: boiling
tea bag: 3-5 minutes
full leaf: 3-5 minutes

Oolong Tea
water: boiling
tea bag: 3-5 minutes
full leaf: 5-7 minutes

Red/Herbal Tea
water: boiling
tea bag: 5-7 minutes
full leaf: 5-7 minutes

Enjoy Your Tea
Remove the tea bag or infuser, or use a strainer for the leaves. Pour the steaming tea into a cup and let it cool for a moment.  Sip. Enjoy the nuances, the complexity and character.

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Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.

“If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response [of gratitude] to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day in your life and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well.”

This is an amazing, inspiring video about the beauty all around us that we seldom stop to admire.  Photographer Louie Schwartzberg uses time-lapse photography to capture the stunning motion of life around us – in nature, in cities, in faces.  Paired with a simple yet moving speech by Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, this video is definitely worth ten minutes of your time.  So take a moment, take a breath, and enjoy the simple beauty of the world.

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Water, Water, Everywhere, Nor Any Drop to Drink

Today is World Water Day.  The H2O Thanksgiving.  Today, we give thanks for the clean water that nourishes and cleans our bodies.  Today, we stop our faucets to conserve this precious liquid instead of watching its whirling dance down the drain.  Today, we take a moment and pray to whatever divine energy we choose for those forced to live without clean water.  Today, we tell our government to stop polluting our water with fluoride and chlorine and other toxins that defile the liquid of life.  Today, all hail water.

Ah, there are so many controversies surrounding water!  You wouldn’t think something so simple could be the center of so many arguments, yet the topic of water is muddier than a swamp.  Glaciers, poverty, fluoridation, health, agriculture, weather… all of these issues have water at their heart.  Though all of them are equally important, I want to explore another of water’s many facets: fracking.

The word sounds more like a toned-down curse word than a dangerous environmental hazard.  It’s actually quite fitting, I think, since fracking is fucking our planet.  I mean that literally – what else would you call shoving man-made liquid into a hole?  Here is the definition given by the Food and Water Watch:

“Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a modern form of drilling for gas in tight shale rock. Water, sand and toxic chemicals are injected into the earth at high pressure to crack the shale rock to release methane gas. Each fracking well requires millions of gallons of fresh water, mixed with sand and toxic chemicals. Once used, this frack fluid becomes wastewater with no safe way of disposing it. Our freshwater resources are depleted or contaminated with toxic chemicals.”

That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?  (Aside from the giant waste of water.)  Natural gas, unlike coal and oil, is a clean-burning source of energy, so the results must be worth the risks.  Right?  Well let’s examine the process a bit more.  Since it’s World Water Day, I want to reiterate just how much water fracking wastes.  Each fracking site requires millions of gallons of water to crack open the rock, not only depleting local reservoirs but making this precious liquid unusable for the rest of its time on this earth.  (And think about the gas needed to haul all that water!  Seems counterproductive to me…)  The ingredients for this soup de jour differ for each company, but they include such things as methanol, uranium, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, and mercury (dangersoffracking.com).  Then you add the extremely salty, possibly radioactive sediment and gas particles dredged up from the bowels of the earth to give it a little spice.  A sip of this juice will do more than upset your tummy, it will poison your entire body.  And if you live in an area where fracking is happening, it’s in your water.

Any sane person would be wondering how this is legal.  Doesn’t the EPA protect against things like this?  Of course they do.  Let me show you how they regulate fracking:

“When oil and gas are extracted, large amounts of brine are typically brought to the surface. Often saltier than seawater, this brine can also contain toxic metals and radioactive substances. It can be very damaging to the environment and public health if it is discharged to surface water or the land surface. By injecting the brine deep underground, Class II wells prevent surface contamination of soil and water.

When states began to implement rules preventing disposal of brine to surface water bodies and soils, injection became the preferred way to dispose of this waste fluid. All oil and gas producing states require the injection of brine into the originating formation or into formations that are similar to those from which it was extracted.” (http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/index.cfm)

See?  Our government has everything under control.  All we have to do is pump the waste water deeper into Mother Earth and forget about it.  Happy World Water Day to you too, EPA.

If you want to know more about fracking and what it’s doing to our planet, check out these websites:

http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/fracking-the-new-global-water-crisis/
F&WW’s report on fracking.  They cover all aspects of the issue, not just water pollution.  Shale gas development not only leads to air, soil, and groundwater pollution, but it produces significant amounts of greenhouse gases, enough to accelerate climate change, according to the report.  Lovely, yes?

http://dangersoffracking.com/
Probably the best explanation of fracking I’ve found yet, and interactive, too!

http://www.time.com/time/video/player/0,32068,876880045001_2062814,00.html
A short video about homeowners’ whose properties were irreversibly damaged by fracking.  Shockingly, the only interviewee in support of the fracking industry is a hotel owner whose rooms are booked indefinitely by the gas company for its workers.

http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/wells_hydroreg.cfm
The EPA’s take on fracking.  Or rather, the bullshit regulations the EPA wants you to believe are keeping our planet safe.

http://www.emagazine.com/daily-news/the-mortgage-and-fracking-minefield/
An article about the USDA’s decision not to investigate fracking.  Bad decision.

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10 Reasons The Rest Of The World Thinks The U.S. Is Nuts

In order to avoid deepening my disappointment in this government, I’ve been avoiding any piece of news about the current War on Women.  But after a friend shared this article, I couldn’t ignore it anymore.  I sincerely hope the government’s new chauvinist reign of terror frightens you as much as it does me, whether you are a man or woman, whether you are feminist or not, pro-life or pro-choice.  Let’s put all those issues aside and face the awful, basic truth: the government wants to control every aspect of your person, from the food you eat to the people you marry and the children you bring into this world.

Say you’re a young, twenty-something couple who are still finding their way in the world.  Maybe one is just out of college, struggling to pay student loans and still looking for a job.  No savings, no insurance, no big white house with the picket fence.  Maybe a dog, who won’t mind going on moving adventures every year or so.  And an unexpected bun in the oven.

Or a mother who almost died in childbirth once and is facing the same danger again. She doesn’t want to leave the children she already has without a mother.  And he does not want to lose his wife.

Or a young college girl who is date raped and is stuck with the consequences.

According to Big Brother, we don’t have a choice.  Forget planning your life, the government will now do that for you.  You just have to sit back and shut up.

Oh, and women, you no longer own your organs.  Big Brother will handle those for you, also.

I’m not for abortion on a moral level.  I’m a vegetarian – it would make me a hypocrite to get an abortion but not eat animals.  Though I do understand the complexity of the “personhood” issue, and I admit there are times when abortions are necessary for financial or medical reasons.  My beliefs are personal, and I would never judge another woman by them.  Because her womb is part of her body, the most sacred part, and the source of all women’s power.  No man, no government, has any right to place laws on it.

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New Chapter Sells Out to P&G

Not that I wish depression on anyone, but I hope this piece of news disappoints you as much as it does me.  New Chapter, a company I admired for its organic ingredients, ethical business practices, and great employee benefits (I had hoped to work there, as well) has just sold its soul to the devil.  Actually, to the company Proctor and Gamble, but they’re pretty damn close.  Not only do they sell chemical-ridden cleaning products and pharmaceuticals, but they are one of the top animal-testing companies.  I, therefore, will never support New Chapter again.

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Tea Break #1

Hello, my name is Lyndsey and I am a teaholic.

Did you know that tea is one of the two most consumed beverages in the world?  (The other is beer, and I find that dichotomy immensely amusing.)  So if you’re a fellow Camellia sinensis enthusiast, you’ll understand my passion for this delightful, soul-warming drink.  Personally, I think tea is much more deserving of the title “drink of the gods” than ambrosia; it not only soothes the soul, but also most bodily ailments, from muscle cramps to headaches to insomnia.  And, it’s simply delicious.  Especially chai, yum.

Now, if you’re like me, you like to know about the things you love.  My favorite tea brand, Republic of Tea, published a book called Tea Chings (clever, no?) filled with everything you could possibly want to know about tea.  They also have a wonderful library on their website (http://the.republicoftea.com/library/) and they offer a series of Tea 101 newsletters for those who subscribe to their mailing list.  Being a teaholic, I signed up to recieve the email series, and being a blogger, I’m going to share them.

Tea 101: An Introduction to Tea

Tea dazzles us with its diversity. One plant, many dimensions. While the teas of the world reveal endless complexities and variations, all tea springs from a singular plant species: Camellia sinensis.  The four varieties of tea include:

Black tea
*Average caffeine content is 50 mg per 6 oz. cup.
*Black tea is produced when withered tea leaves are rolled and oxidized causing the leaves to turn dark. Once the desired color and pungency is reached the tea is dried. A robust cup with bright or lively notes is produced.

Oolong Tea
*Average caffeine content is midway between green and black tea.
*Oolong gains its alluring character by withering and briefly oxidizing the tea leaves in direct sunlight. As soon as the leaves give off a distinctive fragrance—often compared to apples, orchids or peaches, this stage is halted. The leaves are rolled, then fired to halt oxidation when it is about halfway between black and green tea.

Green Tea
*Average caffeine content is 25 mg per 6 oz. cup.
*Green tea is produced when tea leaves are exposed to heat stopping the oxidation process just after harvest.. This allows the leaf to retain its emerald hue. Next, the leaves are rolled or twisted and fired. A bright, cup is produced with fresh grassy or vegetal notes.

White Tea
*100% White Tea contains only trace amounts of caffeine.
*100% White tea is the most minimally processed of all tea varietals. The fragile tea buds are neither rolled or oxidized and must be carefully monitored as they are dried. This precise and subtle technique produces a subtle cup with mellow, sweet notes.

(Herbal teas are not technically “tea,” as they don’t come from the Camellia sinensis plant.  We’ll learn about them later.)