Thursday, March 4, 2010

sweating the small stuff

By Andrew Wassung

I watched a line of ants moving up my kitchen counter for 30 minutes today. I was making a sarmie and somewhere between the layer of mayonnaise and the cutting of the cucumber I got totally distracted. Ants are incredible. There are over 10,000 species, they have two stomachs and they can lift 20 times their bodyweight. Some even sleep seven hours a day. What struck me the most though is how clean the little buggers are – they actually dispose of their rubbish, recycling the decomposed stuff and enriching the soil when they process their food. Isn’t it funny then that when I went on the search for these ant-eco facts, the only thing Google had that was eco-ant was ways to eco-get rid of them. What also strikes me is how the littlest little creature thinks to clean up after itself when there are millions and billions of them running around like ‘lunantics’.

This tiniest of things actually recycles its waste, turning it into something beneficial for something or someone else in the animal or plant kingdom. Then I returned to my sandwich-making; I realised how selfish we are, in a new and different little way that I hadn’t realised it before. How efficient and impatient we are. How little time we have to look around and admire the small things. It was no wonder then that when I looked at all the mess my sandwich had made, I felt obliged to mention these unsung little guys of our dirty digs kitchens.

Crumbs now lay strewn across the counter, tomato cuttings and juice dripped down the drawers onto my toes, and the sweet chilli sauce on the knife was now sticking to the mayo lid. There I stood, just me, in a fuss (one of those you can only get into when your sandwich skills aren’t up to par), throwing decent bits of tomato that I felt didn’t make the cut onto my sandwich into the bin, creating more waste in one second than a million ants make in a lifetime.

I thought then about how little time I had left to put the top slice on, cut, and eat my sandwich, with enough time to spare to make a cup of tea, maybe catch an episode, relax and enjoy what was left of my miniscule lunch break. Then it was time - books, keys, a mad rush down the hill. As I left I caught a parting glimpse of the ants navigating their way to my mess. I needn’t worry I thought as I closed the door, they’ll clean the crumbs. If only we all had a footprint as small as an ant’s.

Shop with a clear conscience

By Carina Truyts

Buying power. We all have it. Every time we enter a store, it is in our hands to buy responsibly or recklessly. Consumers have the right to ask questions and demand answers, but we can also educate ourselves about companies that are worthwhile supporting.

There are a few fiddly labels that may confuse shoppers. This is due to lots of opportunistic producers hopping on to the bandwagon of organic produce- It’s a fast growing market, with vast opportunities for exploitation. It’s a fact that producing eco- friendly or organic products is more expensive. The Organic Consumer Association (OCA) says that “Limits on pesticides, for instance, mean more hand-weeding. They also mean farmers run a higher risk of losing all or part of a year's crop.” Certifying foods as organic is also expensive. So, some companies use commercial methods of producing, but sell products for “organic” prices with misleading labels such as “natural” “green” or “environmentally conscience.”

You should look out for labels that say “organically certified” or at least “made with recyclable materials” or “not tested on animals”. Bio- dynamic labels are another cup of tea entirely. According to, biodynamic farmers respect and care for soil, water, plants and animals, but also work with natural and cosmic cycles, considering the universe as an indivisible whole that should be managed as such. It’s pretty intense and proportionally priced!

I visited the shop “The Mustard Seed” at Peppergrove Mall this week and found some really reasonably-priced-good-for-mother-nature stuff. It’s really worth a visit. The friendly staff will happily point out the environmentally-friendly products. I found some fantastic Lavendar and Sugar Beet conditioner from Earth Sap Organic. I don’t recommend the Bloublommetjieskloof hair products though- although they smell really good, they’re too runny to apply! However, their Wild Fynbos soap, priced at R8.50 is a total treat. There is also a vast range of cleaning products to choose from- a great way to cut down on your carbon footprint!

Bulk buying is another way to save the environment and your budget when you consider how expensive packaging is for everyone involved. Digs- mates can buy 5 litres of cleaning products and share it. To make it even more worth it, The Mustard Seed also offers a 10% discount on cleaning materials to all GRASS members!

Another long-term investment worth considering is purchasing a ceramic Biowash ball - you don’t need to add any soap to your wash! Manager Louise Krueger owns one and highly recommends it. “It works, and you only have to pre-treat stains” she says. “You can also put it in your fridge to keep your veggies fresh.” Retailing at R479, it’s not bad considering a 2kg pack of commercial washing powder costs R59.99 and only lasts a month or two.

There are several other interesting buys. Instant Organic Miso soup, although it costs about R10, is a good clean convenience, especially for hikers. They also stock Organic Pukka Teas. Its 12.48 am and I just brewed a cup. The flavour I chose is Clarity, with organic ginger, lemongrass and gotu koja tea. It’s amazingly good. No sugar or milk required. Just refreshing lemon grass and revitalising ginger that doesn’t taste raw or astringent. Priced at R3.95 a sachet, I’ll keep it for special occasions like pre-exam stress relief and the night before deadlines!

People in search of healthy food (bird seed, that kind of stuff) will enjoy the Health Connection range. Be aware of the subtle packaging- bright green packets are organic, while the dark green labels are not. Solgar vitamins and herbal supplements are also a fantastic buy; they focus on sustainable production, going so far as to use filtered water in the process. They also have special vitamins that are focused on vegetarian and kosher diets.

We move from the cosy Mustard Seed to the glaring lights of Pick and Pay and are confronted with the moral issue - free-range versus caged chicken eggs. It’s as simple as free versus caged- what would you prefer? There are so many good reasons to buy organic, free-range and eco-friendly. You are in a position to promote healthy soil building, reduction in fertilizer usage and cruelty to animals. Your money also goes a long way to support small and local businesses, which in turn follow fair trade principles. You’re helping humans today, and by supporting planet-friendly ventures - the generations of tomorrow.

Even the simple act of filling up your recycled bottles at the spring near the highway makes a difference. Think of the plastic that goes into packaging water. As a bonus, spring water is deliciously sweet and better than anything you can buy! And don’t forget to take home your green goods in a recyclable or environmentally-friendly bag; it’s just one more step towards a squeaky clean conscience.