You’ll Smell Better: 7 Unusual Reasons to Go Veg

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, October 7, 2013

You’ll Smell Better: 7 Unusual Reasons to Go Veg

By now, most of us are aware of the environmental, health-related, and ethical reasons to cut back on meat consumption. And what better time to evaluate your own meat-eating habits than October, which is Vegetarian Awareness Month? If you’re looking for extra motivation to take the vegetarian plunge, we’ve compiled a list of unexpected reasons to put down that hot dog and pick up a carrot. 

1. You’ll smell better. Is your B.O. holding you back with the ladies? Slowly step away from the hamburger. A 2006 study by Czech researchersfound women judge the body odor of vegetarian men to be “significantly more attractive, more pleasant, and less intense,” than that of their carnivorous friends. So, cut out the meat and go in for the cuddle: Your armpits smell “significantly less intense” than that dude’s. 

2. Even Ronald McDonald is a vegetarian. The actor Geoffrey Giuliano, who famously portrayed the cartoon clown in the ’80s in publicity appearances for the “Ronald McDonald Safety Show,” has since publicly apologized for encouraging children to eat the fast food chain’s offerings (and to believe that hamburgers grow in pleasant garden patches). A converted Hindu, Giuliano now encourages parents to raise their children on a meatless diet.  

3. You’ll be better in bed. Well, probably. Primate research suggests soy and soy-based foods might influence hormone levels and increase sexual activity in humans, and veggie advocates have long held that cholesterol from meat and dairy products can clog arteries and inhibit blood flow to our (ahem) vital organs. At the very least, it’s a safe bet that cutting back on meat might give you a little extra energy in the bedroom. 

4. You’ll be an upstanding citizen, according to Russian author Leo Tolstoy. In his 1891 essay “The First Step,” the Anna Karenina author condemned meat eating as serving only “to develop animal feelings, to excite lust, and to promote fornication and drunkenness.” So while you’ll be a pro in the sack (according to the monkeys), you’ll also be super sober and suave about it (according to Tolstoy). 

5. Veggies make you happy. A recent study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found a strong correlation between eating your vegetables and a positive mood. Almost 300 participants kept food journals over several weeks, charting their moods as well as their diets. On days they ate lots of fruits and vegetables, participants reported feeling “calmer, happier and more energetic” than they normally did. The researchers recommend eating at least seven servings to brighten your day. 

6. The ladies love it. Surveys consistently find female vegetarians outnumber their male counterparts. If you have any interest in romancing, befriending, or simply dining with the fairer sex, try whipping up a veggie-based meal for two

7. It’s a smart decision. A British study of more than 8,000 participants over 20 years found that people with higher IQs as children were more likely to be vegetarians as adults. They were also more likely to be working for charities, local government, or in education.

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Backyard Beekeeping 101

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, September 16, 2013

Backyard Beekeeping 101

There are a number of reasons Americans are taking up beekeeping — a backyard colony can help your garden produce more fruits and veggies, harvesting your own honey cuts down on your grocery bill, and honey bees continue to be threatened by colony collapse disorder. Take your pick, and join the growing ranks of urban apiarists.

Keepers of rooftop and backyard hives extol the spiritual benefits of beekeeping, as well as the tasty ones.

“It is a joy to have them around and observe their intricate dance with life,” says Ruby Blume, a Bay Area beekeeper who teaches courses on the subject at The Institute of Urban Homesteading in Oakland. “When the bees come out in spring there’s a huge uplifting feeling in my spirit, and I know it’s time to start gardening and engaging with the outside world again.” 

A single hive in an urban setting can produce as much as 60 pounds of honey, requires less management than a cat or dog, and has relatively low start-up costs, making it an appealing way for city folk to connect with their country roots. Here are a few things to consider when contemplating a hive of your very own:

You will need to do your research. “The more you know, the better beekeeper you’ll be,” advises Blume. There is a wealth of resources out there for aspiring beekeepers, frombooks to classes. Take several classes, says Blume, or find a mentor. Most cities have beekeepers associations full of enthusiasts who would be happy to help. 

But first, investigate your city’s laws — you don’t want to unintentionally become a fugitive while pursuing your apiarist dreams.

Consider the financial investment. While the initial cost is not outlandish, beekeeping will require some funds. A beginner kit can cost anywhere between $150-$400, and doesn’t include bees. But don’t lose heart just yet; some beekeeping organizations have resources to mitigate the financial burden of classes and equipment, and catching your own swarm will alleviate the cost of the insects themselves. 

Will your yard or rooftop make a good home? Bees thrive in many conditions, but your neighbors may not be as adaptable. Your bees will travel up to 5 miles away from the hive to forage, so be respectful and do your best to keep your bees safe and out of others’ way. Provide them water, flowers, and an unobstructed flight path. Most colonies will stick to one route as they travel to and from the hive to forage, and humans routinely walking through the colony’s flight path can upset both the bees and the pedestrians. In Keeping Bees, author Ashley English advises constructing a high hedge or tall fence to encourage bees to fly up and over the heads of passersby. 

When it comes to weather, bees like morning sun, afternoon shade, and very little wind or fog, says Blume, so choose a spot for their hive carefully. 

Procuring your bees. A starter colony can be ordered from a supplier and will set you back $60 – $150, but be careful to consider your environment  — bees shipped from warm weather won’t do well in cold climes. Catching your own swarm solves this problem, as does finding an established beekeeper who will split their colony for you. 

Do you have time? Most likely, yes. “Being a good beekeeper is mostly about observing and only intervening when you can see something is wrong,” says Blume. Depending on the system you choose (Top Bar vs. Langstroth hive), you’ll only need to visit your hive weekly, monthly, or even yearly, depending on the season. When your bees start producing honey, expect to set aside a few hours for extraction. Otherwise, according to Blume, most people interfere too much. “Bees are incredibly developed creatures,” she says. “They do what they do very well without help from us.” 

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How to Cook a Feast Without a Kitchen

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, September 11, 2013

How to Cook a Feast Without a Kitchen

New freshmen and recent grads are learning one of life’s hard lessons right about now: a full kitchen is a privilege, not a right. Cooking green and eating well in an efficiency studio is a challenge, and dining hall food can be questionable at best. Fortunately, being without a stove isn’t a culinary death sentence. Many who have gone without kitchen have found you can eat pretty well with simply a microwave, hot plate, toaster oven, or slow cooker. So fear not: frozen taquitos are not the only cuisine in your future. Brave pioneers of microwave cooking have discovered you can nuke artichokes and even polenta with surprisingly tasty results. They’ve also found it a greener way to cook, as microwaves use less energy than stove tops to heat small servings.

To guide you on your voyage to preparing your own healthy, green, and convenient food, we’ve rounded up a few authors who specialize in convenience cooking to share their favorite recipes that can be made without a stove.

Cold cereal is the obvious no-bake breakfast of champions, but if you’re craving something warm, try this hot plate recipe for Two Bean Confetti Hash from Melisser Elliott, author ofThe Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life.

 “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but who has all morning to make a feast?” says Elliot. “This hash is easy, uses ingredients available at any grocery store, and is super stick-to-your-ribs hearty to get you through the morning. If you don’t eat it all in one sitting, the leftovers reheat well in a skillet on low heat with the lid on. Start your morning right!”…

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Green Your Back-To-School Shopping

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, September 10, 2013

Green Your Back-To-School Shopping

Back-to-school shopping can be a serious undertaking, as anyone who’s dragged a middle schooler through a department store knows. If everyone else in the class is going to be wearing [insert trend here], you don’t want your poor little fashionista ostracized for being sartorially lacking. But in addition to being a serious battle of wills between you and your child, back-to-school shopping can be expensive: Americans spent $8.5 billion at family clothing stores last August, according to the U.S. Census. Avoid the cost and make back-to-school shopping (slightly) more fun with these tips for greening your child’s new wardrobe.

Go thrifting. Hand-me-downs are only a bad thing if they come from an older sibling with questionable taste. “Vintage” is still a magic word for hipster teens, and younger kids with character might enjoy the treasure hunt presented by your local Goodwill. Come prepared with your child’s sizes memorized and the energy to hunt through the racks for hidden gems, and the ultimate find: clean, popular label, and with the tags still on!

Shop secondhand online. If sorting through the racks isn’t your thing, you can let someone else do the hunting for you. Websites like Schoola Stitch sell clean and well-preserved used children’s clothes for a fraction of their retail price.

“There is certainly a negative ecological impact bringing new merchandise to the marketplace to consider [when back-to-school shopping],” says Schoola Stitch CEO Stacey Boyd. “Chemicals used to grow or make cotton and synthetic materials as well as other resources that are depleted in the process leave a pollution footprint we can’t ignore.” 

The best part? Buying used online doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up on shopping to benefit a cause; Schoola Stitch donates a percentage of what they make on each item to the school of its original owner’s choice.

Sew it yourself. Call up your old home ec skills and alter old or pre-worn clothes to better fit those little troublemakers who insist on growing like weeds. Turn it into bonding time (or prepare to outsource this chore) by taking a parent-and-child sewing class, offered by a number of craft stores and specialty sewing shops throughout the U.S. 

Shop new, sustainably. Look for clothing made from sustainable materials like bamboo, organic cotton, or hemp. Many online retailers sell children’s clothing made from organic materials, though they can be pricey. Some larger retailers like Hanna Andersson sell organic options and have stores throughout the U.S., which cuts out the cost and environmental impact of shipping. Carefully choosing timeless pieces that won’t soon go out of style can also help you get your money’s worth. 

While a trip to the mall may sound easier, shopping green for children’s clothes is worth the effort: according to the Organic Trade Association, it can take almost 1/3 of a pound of synthetic fertilizers to grow the cotton needed to produce one T-shirt. 

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4 Unique Picks for National Honey Month

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, September 9, 2013

4 Unique Picks for National Honey Month

For as long as we’ve been preparing food, humans have been using honey. It has become a dietary staple all over the world, eaten on its own for a quick energy boost, and used as an ingredient in everything from sweet teas to insect kabob marinades. But not all honey is created equal. If your go-to honey comes in a generic bear-shaped bottle, it’s time to branch out and try one the 300 different varieties available in the U.S. From the dark and robust to the light and mild, we’ve rounded up four unique and eco-friendly brands to try this September to celebrate National Honey Month.

Rare Hawaiian Great White Honey isn’t actually made from sharks, but it is probably the most badass thing you will ever put in your tea. Who doesn’t want the opportunity to say they just added some shark honey to their sleepytime brew? Dr. Michael Domeier, Rare Hawaiian Honey Company owner and white shark researcher, is celebrating Hawaii’s few great white sharks with a special release of the island’s equally rare Kiawe honey. Added bonus: the company has pledged to donate 10% of the proceeds from the sale of their Great White Honey to shark research. If you aren’t feeling brave enough to tackle the Great White, try one of their other unusual options, like the Organic Sunset Kiawe Honey, named for the unique color and citrus-y taste of the honey produced at the end of the Kiawe tree blooming season. $15 – $21, 

Madhava Organic Very Raw Honey is entirely unfiltered, raw honey that hails all the way from the wildflower fields of Brazil, where the company works with local farmers to harvest the goods. If you need an incentive to try this sweet treat, throughout 2013 for every jar of their organic honey to sold, Madhava will donate ten cents to non-profit organizations working to save bees. Check their website to find Madhava products in a store near you. MSRP: $10.99 – $11.49,

Y.S. Eco Bee Farms offer a number of different unpasteurized and unfiltered options for the honey-curious. Branch out a little with their cinnamon or pomegranate-infused Gourmet Specialty Raw honeys, or go basic with Certified Organic Raw Honey. Y.S. Eco Bee Farms products are sold by a number of retailers online, and in most health food stores. $5 – $13,

Royal Hawaiian Honey products are single-source, organic, and varietal. Royal Hawaiian also advertises their products as the first America’s first certified Carbonfree™ food product, meaning “all carbon emissions generated in the production and shipping of our honeys are calculated and off-set by investing in reforestation, renewable energy, and energy efficiency projects.” They pay close attention to the eco-impact of their packaging, purchasing most materials in the U.S. to cut down on overseas shipping and selling their honeys in entirely recyclable jars labeled with soy-based ink. Try the Organic Lehua Honey for its sweet, butterscotch taste, or the Organic Christmas Berry for a slightly spicy kick. $11.50 for a 12-ounce jar, $17 for a 44-ounce tub,

To find these or other organic honeys for sale near you, check out

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5 Steps to a Bee-Friendly Garden

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, September 3, 2013

5 Steps to a Bee-Friendly Garden

Bugged by aphids in your garden? Spray them with garlic oil. Overrun by slugs? Eggshells will do the trick. Most experienced gardeners know the ins and outs of pest control, and avoid using conventional insecticides that can be toxic to the wildlife in their gardens. But even the environmentally aware may have been caught off guard by the recent news that supposedly bee-friendly plants purchased at big-name hardware stores can come pre-treated with chemicals believed to be fatal to bees. As more and more research linking colony collapse disorder to pesticides use comes out, it’s more important than ever to look out for the bees in our own backyards. Here are some tips for keeping your garden bee-safe:Know your plants. Choose what to grow based on your local environment and begin to prevent infestation even before you plant. Research which plants fare best in your area and in soil conditions, and carefully monitor plant health so you’ll recognize signs of infestation later on.Buy organicBegin with untreated seeds or organic plant starts, and plant them in organic soil. Ask around for a trusted neighborhood nursery or seek out suppliers who have demonstrated a commitment to growing organic. Keep an eye out for providers who’ve signed the Safe Seed Pledge.Know your pest. Learning to recognize your pests is an essential first step in eco-friendly gardening, as you can target your attention on the uninvited guests and keep your essential predators safe. To get a closer look at what you’re dealing with, post sticky cards in your garden to trap a few of your pests.

Be pesticide-free. “In a backyard situation, pest insect problems hardly ever become so overwhelming that a pesticide is required,” says Dr. Eric Mussen, UC Davis apiculturist and honey bee expert. “There normally is some physical way to detach the insects from the plants — picking, dousing with a hose, etc. We have simply become too used to squirting our problems away with toxic chemicals.” The internet is full of safe and chemical-free solutions, from using organic items that naturally repel certain insects to planting trap crops to lure pests away from the threatened plant.

Know your natural predators. It pays to know who’s on your side. Most people know ladybugs can be counted on to take out aphids, but plenty of bugs have a whole host of enemies out to get them. Parasitic natural predators contribute a lot to pest management, says Dr. Andrew Sutherland, Urban Integrated Pest Management advisor to the San Francisco Bay Area. In the right numbers and conditions, insects like lacewings and parasitic wasps can provide great pest control, but only if you provide them the resources they need to survive. Make sure your garden has enough flowers to keep your pollinators happy and healthy, recommends Dr. Sutherland, and you’ll have a tiny pest-control army.

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