Ode’s annual pick of favorite fair and fun products from around the globe.
Elbrich Fennema and Andi McDaniel | December 2007 issue
Why organic matters
Isn’t it just marketing hype? A way to get you to pay more and get less?
Sure, you ingest a touch fewer chemicals and toxins. But of course there is no scientific evidence that a handful of organic eggs a week is going to change your life. Isn’t organic just food porn for rich people?
I don’t think it is. And the reason has very little to do with whether or not you are ingesting a molecule or two of this or that when you sit down to dinner.
In a very selfish world, organic is one of the most selfless things you can do. There are three reasons for this:
First, organic means that the side effects of your actions are diminished. The runoff from an organic farm is far cleaner. The life of the organic farmer is much healthier. Your decision to pay a little extra for something may not benefit you nearly as much as it benefits your neighbours.
Second, you are investing in systems that are holistic and sustainable. Organic requires that farmers avoid shortcuts. The shortcuts, poisons, antibiotics and dangerous processes seemed like they worked in the short run, but like most shortcuts, it turned out they came at a price. The cool thing is that one the shortcuts are abandoned, people discover the longer way is in fact faster, cheaper and more efficient. You are acting like an investor, a venture capitalist, funding work that pays off for everyone in the long run.
Third, consumers are the most potent force in the world. Not just the tail, but the whole dog. If 2 percent of the population starts paying extra for organic, people notice. Markets change. Behaviours change. Next thing you know, the world has changed.
All ‘cause you spent an extra few pennies on eggs.
Seth Godin is the bestselling author of business books. sethgodin.com
A real clean water act
The world’s water shortage has no parallel in the bottled-water industry. Dozens of brands crowd grocery shelves, each claiming to be healthier than the next. The irony is that this spring water is polluted by its own packaging. The plastic leaks such toxins as antimony, bisphenol and phthalates. Tests on laboratory rats show antimony harms the liver, spleen and thyroid. Bisphenol A disrupts brain development in mouse embryos. And phthalates, which make plastic pliable, imitate estrogen and have a gender-bending effect on animals and humans.
So what can you do to protect yourself? Until now, you could either filter your tap water or hold out for glass bottles. But British activist Reed Paget had another idea: He co-founded Belu, which sells water in biodegradable bottles made from cornmeal. All these bottles discharge are traces of harmless lactic acid. They aren’t easy to compost but Belu.org offers tips on how to do it. Another plus: Company profits go toward expanding the world’s supply of clean drinking water.
A bottle of Belu costs just over $1 and is available only in Great Britain. belu.org
Duchy Originals Cookies
Prince of Organic
Once upon a time, the Prince of Wales wanted to turn the oats produced at his Highgrove Farm into organic cookies. Prince Charles looked far and wide for the best cookie-maker in the land, and at the factory of the winning confectioner, Walkers Shortbread, staff tinkered for 18 months to perfect the recipe for a crispy texture and refined taste. In 1992, these cookies marked the beginning of Duchy Originals, which nowalso sells other organic products.
A packet of Oaten biscuits costs $4.25. duchyoriginals.com
Made to last
Yvon Chouinard, founder of the outdoor clothing manufacturer Patagonia, believes people who love to hike, climb, ski or surf are more apt to go the extra mile—and pull out the extra buck—to preserve the environment. With that in mind, the company has gradually stopped using conventional cotton, which requires substantial use of pesticides and insecticides that harm the environment and the people who work on the plantations.
Patagonia is also a pioneer in the area of plastics recycling. It was the first outdoor clothing manufacturer to make fleeces from recycled soft drink bottles. Over the past 10 years, 92 million fewer bottles made their way to rubbish dumps. And Patagonia is working hard to make all its products recyclable. One-fourth of the collection—including cotton and Polartech undergarments—is already made so it can be turned in and reused. But it could be a while, since clothing from Patagonia is made to last.
Light organic cotton jackets run $75 to $100. patagonia.com
Hi-Tech Wealth Cell Phone
Talk as long as you want
Like so many other modern amenities, cell phones have their drawbacks—such as the electricity it takes to keep them powered. The new S116 solar-cell phone from the Chinese company Hi-Tech Wealth, however, requires only a dose of sunshine or lamplight to charge up. An hour of direct sun wins you 40 minutes of talk time. The S116 includes a 1.3 megapixel camera and an MP3 player. But it’s the tiny photovoltaic exterior that makes it unique—if expensive.
An HTW S116 costs $500 and is available only in China. htwchina.com
Saving the world with chocolate
Biting into a warm homemade brownie at Kallari Chocolate Lounge and Café in Quito, Ecuador, is a moment you won’t easily forget. Grown in the Ecuadorian Amazon and harvested by Kichwa organic cocoa producers who are part of the Kallari Association, the main ingredient in the brownies, hot chocolate, is as delicious as it is ethically produced. The Kallari Association is a coalition of artists and cocoa producers that includes more than 800 families in the Amazon. It began in 1997 as a way for Kichwa indigenous people to produce income without logging the rainforest or selling their land. In addition to cocoa products—such as gourmet dark choco- late bars—Kallari sells jewelry, bags, belts and other crafts
in the café.
A bar of Kallari chocolate costs $4. kallari.com
The spice is right
The Westcountry Curry Company makes sauces using authentic recipes from their native countries.
That doesn’t sound particularly noteworthy, but it is. “Most manufacturers make their own varieties by adding tomatoes, onions and oil. That adds volume, but is in no way related to the original curry,” explains chef and company executive Chris Carnegie. But when you open a small jar of Westcountry, you get the real thing: herbs that smell as fresh as if you had crushed and roasted them yourself. Last year, Carnegie’s Malaysian Stir Fry sauce won Westcountry a prize from the
Soil Association, the British organization that campaigns for organic farms and foods.
A jar of Malaysian Stir Fry or Sumatran costs $6. westcountrycurry.com
Drainbo Drain Cleaner
Going with the flow
If you’re facing a severely clogged drain, it’s probably too late for the wonders of Drainbo. Used at regular intervals, however, Drainbo’s non-toxic, environmentally friendly formula can prevent such problems. Rather than killing bacteria, Drainbo encourages its natural digestive process, allowing billions of microbes to break down the grease and oil that cause materials like hair to get stuck. Because it’s non-abrasive, Drainbo can be used in all sorts of water containers—from R.V. holding tanks to portable toilets.
Drainbo costs $7.99 per quart. drainbo.com
Eden Foods Products
Not a company out to cash in
The explosive growth of the organic food industry has made it hard to know which products to trust. That’s why it’s such good news there’s Eden Foods. Founded as a food co-operative in Michigan in 1968, this natural-foods-industry leader spoke out against genetic modification long before it became lucrative to do so. These days, you’ll see the brand name on a wide variety of items, from whole wheat pastas to miso, sea vegetables, tea and rice vinegar. More than 75 percent of the foods are prepared within 250 miles of headquarters.
Eden Foods are available only in the U.S. edenfoods.com
Dr. Hauschka Eye Cream
Natural cosmetics go mainstream
anthroposophy, a philosophy developed by Waldorf education founder Rudolf Steiner. Thanks to a professional alliance with Swedish cosmetologist Elisabeth Sigmund, Hauschka extended his work to body-care products that incorporated healing plants and herbs. More than a century later in 2007, a jury at Vivaness, the trade fair for natural cosmetics, ruled his work a lasting success by giving Dr. Hauschka eye cream a prize in the “sales hit of the year” category.
Dr. Hauschka eye cream costs $33. drhauschka.com
Organic Pastures Raw Milk
This milk is a natural
“Only living milk brings life,” Organic Pastures Dairy Company (OPDC) founder Mark McAfee likes to say, pointing to the biodiverse bacteria, enzymes and amino acids that milk contains but mostly loses above 110 degrees Fahrenheit (82 degrees Celsius). He explains that milk allergies, rather than being caused by the milk, often stem from reactions to pasteurization, which kills healthy bacteria and releases histamines that can cause allergic responses. OPDC’s milk has been tested for pathogens 6,000 times by many authorities—and none have been found.
A half-gallon of Organic Pastures raw whole milk costs $5. organicpastures.com
Canaan Olive Oil
Historic olive oil with a future
Nasser Abufarha wants Palestine to become known for something other than violence and political tension. “We produce delicious tomatoes, almonds and olives in Palestine. But no one knows that. Some of these products are exported, but only as raw materials. Soap, for example, is made using our olive oil. But it is marketed as an American product. I want products on the market that are clearly Palestinian in origin.”
This goal is not without its challenges. “It isn’t simple to comply with delivery agreements because it’s often unclear how long a shipment will be en route due to the unpredictable border checks,” Abufarha explains. So perishables are not exported. But olive oil isn’t anywhere near as perishable as, say, tomatoes, and is therefore the cornerstone of Abufarha’s organization, Canaan Fair Trade. The farming methods used in rural communities allied with Canaan Fair Trade are traditional enough to allow a number of products — including olive oil—to be certified organic. A dollar from each bottle sold goes to fund education and plant more olive trees.
A bottle of olive oil costs $11. canaanfairtrade.com
Traditional pasta manufacturers mix their flours. Not so at the Italian pasta-producer Valentino Felicetti. Riccardo Felicetti, Valentino’s great-grandson and chairman of this 100-year-old family firm, says making organic pasta takes more care—and yields a better result. “If you mix flour, it is nearly impossible to trace its origins.
And if, like us, you want to make organic pasta, it is particularly crucial to know exactly where the grain comes from and how it was grown. We made a choice to maintain short lines of communication with our grain manufacturers. We looked for regions that are best suited to produce the grains we like to work with: durum wheat, spelt and kamut. Then we looked into the best way to make pasta while maintaining the characteristic flavour and quality of every type of grain. The result is a perfect pasta that can be directly traced back to the farmers and the land that supplied the grain.”
A 500-g (18-oz) package of Kamut linguine costs $5. valentinofelicetti.it
Xerox Solid Ink Printer
When crayons won’t do
Even an environmentalist might need to print a flyer from time to time. But is there a way to do it without killing trees, generating waste and producing toxins? Xerox’s line of “solid ink” printers represents a move in that direction. These printers, which use crayon-like ink blocks in place of plastic cartridges, greatly reduce waste. According to the company, solid ink printers create five pounds of waste per 100,000 pages—compared to 157 pounds with the average colour laser printer.
And solid ink printers are more compact, operate with fewer mechanical (read: breakable) parts, and print on a wide range of media—including recycled paper. They also allow for easy double-sided colour prints, and the ink is non-toxic, so the ink blocks are as safe to touch as crayons.
A Xerox Phaser 8560 solid ink printer costs between $699 and $1,999. http://www.office.xerox.com/solid-ink/enus.html
Sun Frost Refrigerator
Cooling with the sun
On a solar-power system, Sun Frost refrigerators require only 15 kilowatt hours of energy per month, compared to 90 KWH for most fridges. In on-the-grid homes, Sun Frost refrigerators can cut energy consumption by 80 percent.
They’re designed to keep food fresh longer, by maintaining high humidity—making it unnecessary to keep your salad greens or leftovers in airtight containers.
Sun Frost also produces vaccine refrigerators for developing countries where power is intermittent, as well as composting toilets and home composters.
A Sun Frost refrigerator costs $1,400 to $3,000. sunfrost.com
Cyber Rain Sprinkler System
Almost as good as stopping the rain
If you’ve ever seen someone watering the lawn with rain soon to fall, you can understand the inspiration behind Cyber Rain XCI, a wireless sprinkler-control system that relies on weather forecasts to determine the best time to water. Once you’ve installed the software, any time your computer accesses the Internet, it will download weather updates. This way, Cyber Rain saves tons of
water—and can cut your bill by 30 to 70 percent.
The Cyber Rain XCI System costs $295. cyber-rain.com
Trying to compete with sugary sodas
Like so many good ideas, Honest Tea was born out of a dilemma. Seth Goldman had been searching fruitlessly for a thirst-quenching bottled beverage that tasted good without being too sweet. With the help of a friend, Goldman got to mixing things in his kitchen, and after experimenting with whole tea leaves from India, Honest Tea was born.
The company offers both bottled tea and tea bags—all organic, most fair-trade—with an emphasis on therapeutic blends such as “Pearfect White Tea,” which teems with antioxidants. Honest Tea is expanding its presence in public schools too, where soft drinks have long reigned.
A bottle of Honest Tea costs $1.95. honesttea.com
ahhNatural Spa Maintenance Solution
High life, low price
The pleasure of soaking in a hot tub on a cold night comes at a price. To maintain hot tubs, users typically rely on chemicals like chlorine and bromine, which are harsh, unpleasant-smelling and harmful to rivers, lakes and oceans. ahhNatural, a non-toxic spa-maintenance solution, contains minerals, sea salts and antioxidants that clean the water while providing a therapeutic salt bath. It looks like a square pad that sits at the bottom of the hot tub.
A year’s supply of ahhNatural costs $239. ahhnatural.com
Newman’s Own Organics Popcorn
All in the family
When Hollywood actor Paul Newman started a food-manufacturing company in 1982, all profits from his pasta sauces, popcorn and juices were earmarked for good causes. That profit has increased to more than $200 million annually and the money has gone to upwards of 2,000 charities. Inspired by her father’s example, Newman’s daughter Nell launched a division of the company in 1993: Newman’s Own Organics, which distributes organic items including cookies, snacks and juices. The business became independent in 2001. Meanwhile, parent company Newman’s Own has begun marketing its own organic products.
Newman’s Own Organics popcorn costs $2.99 a bag and is available only in the U.S. newmansownorganics.com
“Benromach Organic Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky” is quite a mouthful for the world’s first certified organic whisky. It is brewed in one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries from organic barley and yeast using spring water from the Romach hills, and aged in oak vats. What do experts say? The colour is golden brown, the “nose” is fruity and the palate is vanilla and toffee with an aftertaste reminiscent of green apples and orange peel. What do initiates say? Order ahead.
A bottle of Benromach costs $70. benromach.com
Your own tree
The ultimate DIY
Cleary, there’s no shortage of wonderful companies out there dedicated to helping you green your life. But don’t forget about the ultimate organic invention: your own two hands. Invest in a fruit tree or a vegetable garden and you’re sure to harvest a lot of produce—and a greener world.
Purchase an apple tree seedling at your local nursery or online for $30.