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What is the planet happy to give me to eat today?
Let's flip around the concept of looking in a recipe book for something that we would like to cook,
heading off to the supermarket to buy the required ingredients then coming home to make that for dinner.
20 Mar 2016
Looming health hazards of chemical repellents
As temperatures rise and mosquitoes hatch in swarms,
the danger of toxic chemicals loom in common household repellents.
9 Feb 2017
Glass Containers for safe food storage by Wean Green
Fabulous new larger size glass containers from Wean Green make it even easier to use glass at home for all your food preparation and storage,
as well as for lunch boxes, picnics and outdoor catering.
20 Mar 2016
Tanjung Puting orangutan sanctuary expedition
In September 1996, my mother, father and I shared a truly remarkable journey to "Camp Leakey"
at the heart of Tanjung Puting National Park in the south of Kalimantan, Indonesia.
20 Mar 2016

17 February 2017

The true environmental costs of disposable coffee cups

Society’s increasing addiction to coffee has become a major cause for concern for environmental groups and conscious consumers worldwide. With Australians using over 1 billion disposable coffee cups each year and Americans using 58 billion alone, it’s no surprise this single use product is now the second largest contributor to landfill waste after water bottles.

Environmental awareness around disposable coffee cups is usually centred on its end of life impacts however, the social costs and negative production externalities is deeply concerning and an issue that needs to be discussed more often. When considering the impacts of disposable coffee cups, its negative production externalities far exceed the convenience they offer with the average disposable cup being used for approximately 15 minutes before being discarded.

What are the true costs?

 Each year over 20 million trees are cut down and 12 billion gallons of water is used to manufacture disposable coffee cups. Along with this, tonnes of crude oil is used during the production and transportation process. This results in significant loss of natural resources, ecosystem degradation, reduced carbon absorption and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

The most common misconception about paper cups is they are recyclable. Most paper coffee cups are coated with a plastic resin (polyethylene) which prevents them from being recycled. Some waste collection centres can recycle disposable coffee cups by extracting the plastic from the paper however, this can be very costly and time consuming. This also raises a valid health concern about carcinogenic chemicals leeching from the cups and being ingested.

The plastic lining of paper-based cups. Image by Choice.

After use, disposable coffee cups are discarded in landfill where they are left to degrade. During this process, they release countless CO2 emissions and the plastic breaks down into smaller fragments polluting the soil and waterways, potentially harming wildlife. 

How can we make a difference?

Sitting in the coffee shop and drinking from a ceramic cup is the best way to avoid using a disposable coffee cup but this does require time – a luxury not all of us have. A realistic alternative for our time conscious society is to use a reusable ‘on-the-go’ coffee cup such as a KeepCup. It only takes 15 uses for one KeepCup to break even, every use thereafter benefits the planet.

If we can all begin to reduce our reliance on ‘convenient’ disposable products by simply being prepared with our own reusable products, we will significantly reduce the pre and post production environmental impacts of these products. It’s time for consumers to stand up and start leading change themselves rather than waiting for it to happen. The more we use single use disposable products, the longer businesses will continue to offer it to us.

Refuse or reuse!

10 February 2017

What is in your sunscreen?

Choosing a sunscreen can be hard. There are numerous options on the market that offer various levels of protection and contain countless ingredients both of which can be good and bad for your health and the environment.

When purchasing sunscreen, our main aim is to protect ourselves from the sun’s damaging UVA and UVB rays. Our relentless quest for sun protection can sometimes lead us to believe the chemical produced sunscreen products developed and marketed by multinational corporations offer the best protection, but the question remains - how are these products affecting our health and the environment?

Luckily, the earth produces a natural sunblock that is just as effective at protecting your skin from the sun without the potentially harmful synthetic ingredients. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are two natural ingredients that protect your skin from sun damage. They form a topical layer that physically blocks the sun’s rays from penetrating the skin.

Titanium dioxide comes from titanium which has a natural white chalky appearance that is highly reflective. Zinc oxide comes from mineral zinc and is manufactured into a substance that is a highly effective sunblock. Similar to titanium dioxide, zinc oxide makes your skin look white when applied and feels slightly heavy on the skin.

Both substances are effective at protecting your skin from the sun however, zinc oxide provides the most protection due to its ability to block out various types of rays. UVA (UV-aging) and UVB (UV-burning) are separate rays that affect the skin differently. Titanium dioxide protects the skin from UVB and short UVA rays, whereas zinc oxide blocks long UVA rays providing further protection against various rays. To offer broad spectrum protection, zinc oxide is often combined with additional UVB blockers.

Conventional sun protection products are commonly made with a concoction of synthetic ingredients that pose a threat to your health and the environment. The ingredients listed below are commonly included in most chemically produced sunscreen products and ones you should avoid using.

1. Oxybenzone is a penetration enhancer that helps the skin absorb additional chemicals. When this substance is exposed to UV rays it experiences a chemical reaction which can irritate the skin and cause allergic reactions. This chemical has also been recognised to disrupt hormones.

2. Octinoxate is a chemical used in most commercial sunscreens that contain SPF. Our skin absorbs this substance easily and promotes the absorption of other ingredients. Octinoxate isn’t known for causing allergic reactions, however the substance has been linked to effecting hormones and endangering wildlife if leaked into waterways.

3. Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate) helps to improve the anti-aging properties of sunscreens. Retinyl Palmitate is a combination of Vitamin A and palmitic acid. Studies have linked this substance to numerous health concerns including the ability to increase the development of malignant cells and skin tumours. When retinyl is exposed to UV rays, it breaks down and releases toxic free radicals that can damage cells, DNA and promote cancer growth.

4. Homosalate is a substance that helps sunscreen penetrate your skin and absorb UV rays. The chemical is easily absorbed through our skin and accumulates in our bodies at a rate much faster than our body can process it. As this chemical accumulates in our body, it becomes toxic and can disrupts hormones.

5. Octocrylene is a UV ray absorbing chemical that produces oxygen radicals when exposed to UV light which can cause further damage to cells and cause mutations. This substance also has the ability to accumulate in your body. This substance can be toxic when released into the environment.

6. Paraben Preservatives have been known to cause allergic reactions when applied. Studies have also revealed the substance can disrupt hormones, and cause developmental and reproductive toxicity.

Although sunscreen is an important product to use to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays, the best form of protection it to cover up and stay out of the sun as much as possible.

09 February 2017

Looming health hazards of chemical repellents

As temperatures rise and mosquitoes hatch in swarms, the danger of toxic chemicals loom in common household repellents. 

Chemically produced mosquito repellents pose a threat to user’s health and the environment.

N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET) is a chemical used in most commercial repellents and can reside in the form of liquid, lotion, spray and permeated material. DEET is listed as an insecticide and is part of the toluene chemical group, a chemical used in glues and paint strippers. Rather than killing insects, DEET works by making it difficult for them to sense humans. The most common application for DEET repellents is to apply them directly to the skin which pose a threat to user’s health.

Our skin is the largest organ of our body, therefore almost anything applied to it has a significant chance of being absorbed and carried through the bloodstream. Research completed by The Medical Sciences Bulletin uncovered up to 56 per cent of DEET is capable of penetrating the skin when topically applied with up to 17 per cent being absorbed into the bloodstream.

It is not only topical repellents that are dangerous, mosquito coils are equally toxic. Mosquito coils contain a combination of chemicals including various pyrethroids and when burnt release numerous known human carcinogens including aldehyde, formaldehyde, small particles and several benzene derivatives. Some coils can contain Octachlorodipropylether (S-2) which expose humans to bis-chloromethyl ether (BCME), an extremely intoxicating lung carcinogen.

Studies have revealed one active mosquito coil produces the equivalent particulate matter as burning approximately 75 to 137 cigarettes with the percentage of formaldehyde emissions equal to burning 51 cigarettes. Chest Research Foundation has revealed the lung damage caused by one mosquito coil is equivalent to inhaling 100 cigarettes.

There are effective natural alternatives that pose no threat to user’s health. Essential oils such as lemon eucalyptus, geranium, soybean, citronella, fennel, thyme, clove oil, celery extract, neem oil and picaridin are effective at repelling mosquitoes and are available in various application forms. Sandalwood is also an effective natural repellent and provides a safe alternative to mosquito coils.

Although mosquitoes can be irritating, it is important to protect yourself and your family’s health by reducing the number of toxic chemicals they are exposed to.

19 January 2017

Why is BPA the only concern?

The humble rubber duck made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) receives less recognition as a harmful product but places equal health concerns to Bisphenol A (BPA).

The term ‘BPA-free’ is well-known due to the Australian Government’s regulated actions in 2010 to declare a voluntary phase out of Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles. Research has found BPA to cause numerous health concerns due to its ability to percolate food and beverages, however the chemical Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) used in many everyday products places equal health concerns but is significantly less recognised.

Similar to BPA, PVC contains phthalates to make the plastic soft and malleable and is used in various consumer products including raincoats, shoes and rubber duck bath toys. PVC is currently one of the most common plastics produced and is made using numerous toxic chemicals that are harmful to both humans and the environment including lead, cadmium, organotins, colourants, fire-retardants, anti-oxidants and phthalates. Approximately 95 per cent of phthalates made in the world are produced specifically for the production of flexible PVC attributing it to the world highest environmental pollutant.

The use of BPA and PVC in certain consumer products is banned or restricted in many countries around the world including Europe and the United States of America. Australia is very slow to prohibit the use of certain chemicals that other countries have ruled out and I feel that as consumers we shouldn’t leave it up to the regulators. Consumers are choosing products that are being put before them by companies that are purely profit-driven.

As a society, we need to make a different choice that has no questions around its safety. There are many products on the market that offer a natural alternative to chemical produced plastics. Natural rubber is nontoxic to humans and biodegradable as opposed to chemical produced plastics that can take over 450 years to decompose. So why do we continuing to produce toxic plastic when we have safe and natural alternative?

I believe it is up to us as a society to decide what is good for ourselves, our families and the environment and we can influence change through our purchasing power. So why choose a PVC synthetic rubber duckie when you can choose a truly from nature rubber duckie?

Make a change by signing our petition to ban Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) in products for children under 12 years of age in Australia!

05 September 2014

About Vinegar, Imitation Vinegar, Acetic Acid, and E260.

Beauty and the Bees Tasmania

Following our last blog post questioning whether all vinegar was 'eco' and may have been made from petrochemicals, Australian Vinegar CEO, Ian Henderson (whose Australian made distilled vinegar we referenced in the article) received a lot of emails from people eager for more information.  We are thrilled that so many people are interested in questioning how products are made, what from, and where.  We love being part of a an engaged community of conscious consumers who want change for the better.

Ian was also pleased about the interest in vinegar, but has clarified that my hunch about home brand bulk vinegars being made from petrochemical derived acetic acid was not correct.  I was so delighted to receive a phone call from Ian and his help by preparing this blog post.  Please check out their Australian Vinegar family company.

In his post below, Ian explains that Australian Food Standards dictate that when pure acetic acid that has been made from petrochemicals is mixed with water and sold as food, it must be labelled “Imitation Vinegar”.   Ian says that if we buy a product made in Australia that is labelled as vinegar, it will be made from ethanol that is either grain based or sugar based. 

Everything you ever wanted to know about Vinegar, Imitation Vinegar, Acetic Acid and E260.  By Ian Henderson, CEO and principal Vinegar Maker at Australian Vinegar. 

Vinegar is a great cleaning tool. It’s a good weedkiller and a great preservative of food. It has so many uses. We thoroughly recommend its use in cleaning.

However, there is miss-information around Vinegar, Imitation vinegar, acetic acid and E260 that I would like to address so everyone can make their own educated decisions.

Q: What is Synthetic Acetic Acid
A: There is no such thing. There is only acetic acid, which can be made a number of ways. But regardless of how it is made it is still just acetic acid made of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules. C2H4O2 There is several ways to make acetic acid, and some confuse the method with the term Synthetic.

Vinegar always contains Acetic Acid. Plus maybe flavour, sweetness, or malliard Sugars (they make Balsamic black, but that’s another story)

Q: How can Acetic Acid be made?
A: There are 3 methods:
1.       By oxidation under high temperature of Ethyl Acetate (from oil usually, but not always)
2.       By fermentation of Ethanol by a bacteria called Aceterbacter.
3.       By Fermentation of sugar by a bacteria called Gluconobacter.

Method 3 is very rare, slow and difficult.  Almost all vinegars are made using method 2 from ethanol derived from yeast fermentation of grain or sugar.  Vinegar fermentation is simply a part of the carbon cycle, returning carbon back to the soil from fruit that hasn’t been eaten and fallen form the tree.

Q: So what is the difference between the three products produced above?
A: Method 1 produces pure acetic acid, that if mixed with water can be sold as food under the label “Imitation Vinegar” and not the term “Vinegar”.

Methods 2 and 3 can be sold as vinegar provided the amount of acetic acid is greater than 4%. This is for food safety as this is the level required to stop moulds growing in vinegar.

Imitation vinegar is pure acetic acid (yes, petrochemical derived) and water.  Whereas fermented vinegar is pure ethanol (usually from grain or sugar) fermented into pure acetic acid and then mixed with water.  We have done the trials ourselves, even under mass spectrometry analysis the two vinegars are essentially chemically identical. 

Acetic acid vinegars must be declared as “Imitation Vinegar”.  If it is fermented it can be declared as just “vinegar”. The law surrounding this is governed by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (Called FSANZ).   The FSANZ law on this is very clear (see the extract below).

If you start with wine, instead of pure ethanol you get wine vinegar, is you ferment apple cider you get apple cider vinegar. The source of the alcohol defines the end product.

Q: What is food additive 260?
This is pure acetic acid. It may or may not come from fermentation. But it probably does not come from fermentation, so it is best to assume is the pure acetic acid form (method 1 above).

Q: What is Distilled Vinegar? Why is it different to just “Vinegar”?
Sometimes, because the ethanol used to make white vinegar is fermented to a low concentration it needs to be “distilled” to remove excess water and concentrate the ethanol.  Sometimes you will see “Distilled Vinegar” on the label. Distilled Vinegar and just plain vinegar are the same product. Its just a bit of marketing.   Rest assured, if it had added acetic acid from oil it would not say “Vinegar” or it would have to have food additive 260 on the label.

Q: So what does my cheap white vinegar at the supermarket contain?
The plain white vinegar you can buy at the supermarket, if labelled “Vinegar” is fermented. If it is not from grain or sugar it will declare “Imitation Vinegar” or food acid 260.
Its actually rare to see imitation vinegar in retail. Its used a lot in industry, and a lot of preserved foods are declared with food acid 260.  I have never seen it for sale at a grocery store, only real “Vinegar”.

Q Cleaning vs cooking vinegar?
You can cook with white vinegar, but don’t.  Its flavourless.  Use a nice wine vinegar or apple vinegar. You get the acid that will make the dish lift, plus you get some extra flavours.  Choose cooking vinegars with lots of colour, lots of flavour and ideally with no sulphites or added colours. Know your producer, know how they make it and where they source the alcohol from.

Vinegar also has health and digestion benefits. But not all vinegars do. That’s a whole other topic for next time.

About Australian Vinegar and Ian Henderson

Ian has two science degrees and a diploma in vinegar making from Austria where he studied and worked in 2006. Ian was awarded a Churchill fellowship to study vinegar making in Europe. Ian is the CEO and principal Vinegar Maker at Australian Vinegar. Australian Vinegar is Australia’s leading vinegar maker.  LiraH is the retail brand of Australian Vinegar and makes a range of caramelised balsamics, wine vinegars, apple vinegars and Verjus.

An interesting tidbit: Ian started with a vinegar 'mother' from his wife's family of third generation winemakers, and after much trial and error  launched his first commercial product under the LiraH brand-Oak Aged Shiraz vinegar.

Excerpt from the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act

FSANZ  Standard 2.10.1      Vinegar and related products
       Note 1  This instrument is a standard under the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 (Cth). The standards together make up the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. See also section 1.1.1—3.
       Note 2  The provisions of the Code that apply in New Zealand are incorporated by reference into a food standard under the Food Act 1981 (NZ). See also section 1.1.1—3.
2.10.1—1           Name
                This Standard is Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code — Standard 2.10.1 — Vinegar and related products.
2.10.1—2           Definitions
          Note  In this Code (see section 1.1.2—3):
                                      imitation vinegar means a food that:
                                            (a)     is prepared by mixing water and acetic acid; and
                                            (b)     contains no less than 40 g/kg of acetic acid.
                                      vinegar means a food that:
                                            (a)     consists of the sour liquid prepared by acetous fermentation, with or without alcoholic fermentation, of any suitable foodstuff, and including blends and mixtures of such liquids; and
                                           (b)     contains no less than 40 g/kg of acetic acid.

29 August 2014

How does vinegar kill germs? And is vinegar eco friendly?

Australian Vinegar makes distilled traditional vinegar in South East Queensland.
 Answering a quick question is not so simple in some matters eco-friendly!

Because we are often suggesting vinegar as an eco friendly household cleaner and disinfectant, I wanted to understand how vinegar does kill germs.

It is the acetic acid in vinegar that kills bacteria and viruses by denaturing (chemically changing) the proteins and fats that make-up these nasties (source: Professor Peter Collignon, see below).  Most general purpose white vinegars contain about 5% acetic acid.

The stronger the acetic acid content the more effective the vinegar will be at disinfecting. 

Unfortunately, due to the lack of transparency in food labelling by mass food producers, it is hard to find a vinegar that states the acetic acid percentage or even what it is made from.  Generally the ingredients just say "Vinegar".  You may find some boutique brands of cooking vinegar that do give the percentage. 

Some "vinegar" is made from petrochemicals (but will be labelled "Imitation vinegar")

What we are presented with as vinegar today is not necessarily the vinegar "that our grandmothers used to clean with".  As with many products in our modern world, cheap petrochemical processes are corrupting how nature intended things to be done.

All vinegar contains acetic acid.  Acetic acid is the chemical name for the naturally occurring substance that is created from distilling or fermenting a grain or plant.  However, it is also the name given to acetic acid that is made from petrochemical derivatives such as butane.

Companies such as Monsanto and BP manufacture acetic acid on large scale that involves using carbon monoxide and methanol to create a chemical reaction, or heating butane in the presence of metal ions such as manganese, cobalt and chromium, which decomposes to produce acetic acid.

This is the pure acetic acid often used in foods as an acidity regulator and is labelled E260

Given the lack of any information on the packaging, I had a hunch that "home brand" bulk white vinegar most likely contained acetic acid not made from fermented grains, rather petrochemical-derived ethanol. However, Australian Vinegar CEO, Ian Henderson, has explained that Australian Food Standards dictate that when pure acetic acid that has been made by oxidation under high temperature of Ethyl Acetate (including from oil) is mixed with water and sold as food, it must be labelled “Imitation Vinegar”.  This appears to be different to the Food Standards in the USA.

Ian is adamant that if we buy a product made in Australia that is labelled as vinegar, it will be made from ethanol that is either grain based or sugar based. 

The home brand vinegar I looked at says on the label "product of Australia".  And according to the ACCC, 'Product of' means that each significant ingredient or part of the product originated in the country claimed and almost all of the production processes occurred in that country.

However, Ian does say that E260 pure acetic acid may or may not come from fermentation, but probably does not (instead coming from petrochemicals), so it is best to assume it does not.  Thus it appears worthwhile to avoid E260 in foods.

We were pleased to find an Australian vinegar maker based in south east Queensland making vinegar from distillation.  See here a post Ian has written for us to clarify any miss-information around Vinegar, Imitation vinegar, synthetic acid, acetic acid and E260.

Australian Vinegar specialises in technically challenging 'Clean Labelled' vinegar which is free from allergens, sulphites, artificial colours and flavours and all 'E' numbers.  LiraH is the retail brand of Australian vinegar and makes caramelised balsamics, wine vinegars, apple vinegars and Verjus.

Thank you to TheEcoMum blog for your detailed article on the topic of petrochemical derived acetic acid.  Please read that article if you are interested in delving further, although the information about Australian Food Standards is not correct according to Ian.

Vinegar to kill germs

Back to using vinegar to kill germs.  According to Ian Henderson, whether acetic acid is made from petrochemicals or distillation, the end product is the exact same chemical structure (the magic of chemistry).  That said, if you are wishing to reduce the use of petrochemicals in our world, the source of the ingredients is important.  For others, using any white vinegar to clean is still a far preferable solution than toxic bleaches and ammonia.

Professor Peter Collignon recommends that when cleaning at home we should keep it simple.
Rather than concentrating on disinfecting or killing the bugs, we should focus on cleaning with hot soapy water and good old-fashioned elbow grease to physically scrub away organic material.
"You've got to clean the surface first and that's usually enough. Then you have to ask yourself whether you need to disinfect at all," he says.
"For the kitchen sink, for example, you probably don't need anything except cleaning."
However, that dirty chopping board might warrant disinfecting – but only after you've given it a good scrub with hot, soapy water.
It's only the act of rubbing and scrubbing a dirty chopping board that can break down the slimy matrix around certain types of salmonella, allowing the disinfectant to then get to work.
As for commercial cleaners, Collignon says we don't always need the level of disinfection in the home that these products provide.
"We over-use chemicals," he says. "Instead of using one unit, we use 1000 units, and the benefits are marginal."
"All of us would like to use a magic potion so that we don't have to use the elbow grease. But that's a false premise."
If you do need to disinfect, clean first, then disinfect with the least toxic, most biodegradable product that does the job.  Vinegar is at the least toxic and most biodegradable end of the scale when it comes to disinfectants.

I have yet to find in Australia any "cleaning vinegar" labelled with a stronger concentration of acetic acid such as you can find in the United States.  Nor have I found any vinegars promoting that they are made from "non petrochemical sources" as is also happening in the States.  Perhaps due to the fact in Australia it would need to be labelled Imitation Vinegar.

With your consumer purchasing power and questioning of the companies selling "vinegar" on Australian shelves we can achieve greater transparency in labelling.

Ian Henderson has two science degrees and a diploma in vinegar making from Austria. Ian was awarded a Churchill fellowship to study vinegar making in Europe. Ian is the CEO and principal Vinegar Maker at Australian Vinegar. 
Professor Peter Collignon, infectious disease physician at the Australian National University's Medical School, who was interviewed for and ABC article

16 May 2014

What is the planet happy to give me to eat today?

Yallingup Wood Fired Bakery, Dunsborough, Western Australia uses locally grown biodynamic flour. Photo credit: my bro.

Let's flip around the concept of looking in a recipe book for something that we would like to cook, heading off to the supermarket to buy the required ingredients then coming home to make that for dinner.

Most of us love a little food homage whether admiring the artfully plated meals on MasterChef or glistening images in Donna Hay magazine.  They entice us to create such a delectable dish, but often without thought for whether the planet has those ingredients to offer us sustainably right now.

If we reverse that process, we can instead go the local farmers' market or grocery store, buy what we know has been grown locally and freshly harvested (or even browse our own veggie patch), then look in our recipe books to find a dish that can be crafted from the produce.

For me, the meal at the end of this approach nourishes our family with more than nutrients, it connects us with the earth and the people that grew the goods, and enhances our contentment with life.

Some tips to help you move towards more sustainable food choices:
  • Do what you can.  Don't be overwhelmed by changing everything, just open your mind to the possibilities and start!
  • Try researching just one food a week to see if you can find a locally grown alternative. 
  • Choosing a final product made in your area is a great start, but you can also move on to thinking about where the ingredients were grown.
  • Define your own limits for "local" - for example, 200 km may work in the city but not for those living in remote areas.
  • It may be challenging to find alternatives, but there are resources to help - seek and you'll find. 

One of the greatest joys of a local, seasonal food approach is that it simplifies life.  You might think it is more complicated, but actually, limiting choice is liberating.

About Yallingup Wood Fired Bread

We visited Yallingup wood fired bakery in December 2013.  Hand crafted, traditional wood fired bread is baked fresh every afternoon (check the time, but usually comes out around 4pm).   Western Australian Certified Biodynamic grown grain is stone milled to the finest flour, gently kneaded in a slow moving dough mixer and fermented over many hours. The loaves are hand-moulded and rested, then baked in wood fired ovens built from volcanic stones.

08 May 2014

Dairy farmers direct

Dairy farmers direct are local producers such as
Since the supermarket price wars, many consumers have made a conscious decision to support Aussie dairy farmers by choosing branded milk (such as Dairy Farmers, Pura, Pauls) over the supermarket home brands. 

We think that by choosing the more expensive milk we are helping the farmers.  It's an important gesture, showing with our purchasing power that we believe the production of milk has a true value of more than $1 per litre.  Unfortunately, according to The Checkout on ABC1 by buying those big brand names we're not helping the dairy farmer.  The farmers are actually paid the same for the milk because the milk that ends up in either branded or home brand bottles is bought from the same farms and is processed in the same plants (by Lions and Parmalat) - it's just different packaging. All we're doing by paying more for these big brands is increasing the profit Coles and Woolworths make on the same milk!  

This episode of The Checkout explains, recommending that the best way to help dairy farmers is to buy milk from collectives or direct from a farmer who produces the milk in your region (see a list below).

For those that can, the benefits of buying from local dairy farmers include:
  • the milk is less processed and more fresh (retaining more of the nutritional value)
  • it has travelled less food miles
  • we know the actual farm that produced the milk and thus we can learn more about animal welfare and sustainability practices
  • they tend to offer more unique choices such as unhomogenised and glass bottles.  
The welfare and treatment of dairy cows is also of great concern to many people - that is why growing numbers of people choose not to eat any dairy products at all, or want to know specifically how the cows and calves are treated.  Calves being sent to abattoirs is a concerning reality of the dairy industry.  When you know exactly which farm the milk is coming from you can ask the farmer (or even visit to check for yourself).  For example, Barambah Organics gives this statement on its website:
At Barambah Organics all the calves that are born on our property stay within our care. Our calves are not considered by us to be waste products.  At the age of 6 months we take the females and males to our other properties... No Barambah calves are sent to the abbatoir.  We often get asked the question "When are the calves separated from their mothers?" Each calf is different and needs to be individually assessed and monitored after birth... The calf is not separated from its mother until it is truly on its way and fit and healthy.


We started a list of dairy farmers direct milk that may be local to you, but then we found this very comprehensive list by  Thank you to them for the research to help us all.  We have not assessed the sustainability or animal welfare practices of the below.

SE Qld
Scenic Rim 4Real Milk (only distributes within a two hour drive of their South East Queensland farm)
Barambah Organics
Maleny Dairies (seen at FoodWorks)
Cooloola Milk (Gympie region, seen at IGA - Rainbow Beach)
Cooloola Jersey Organic milk (available at Food Connect)

Bd Paris Creek Farm
Fleurieu Milk Co
Alexandrina Milk

Liddels for lactose free milk (Murrary Goulburn Co-operative)
Devondale long life (Murray Goulburn Co-operative)
Norco (seen at HIlls Bakery - Ferny Hills, Megafresh - Carine, Woollies - Annerley)
Country Valley (Picton)

Organic Dairy Farmers


For unhomognised and unpasteurised (straight from the cow) you can consider raw milk marketed in Australia as "bath milk" (i.e. apparently for bathing in, not for human consumption).  Heavenly Bath Milk from the Northey Street Markets in Brisbane and Cleopatra's Bath Milk at organic/wholefood stores.

As says:
While supermarkets compete over the price of milk, dairy farmers step out of the ring and compete with quality. For distinct flavour, seek low temperature pasteurisation and milk from a single-origin herd. For creaminess, look for Jersey and Guernsey cows, or unhomogenised milk. For a better world, support those who cultivate rich soil, minimise plastic and go above and beyond for animal welfare.

31 March 2014

Are you "eco-effective"? Inspired by No Impact Man.

How much of our consumption of the planet's resources actually makes us happier and how much just keeps us chained up as wage slaves?
This week in Brisbane we've had a 'No Impact' immersion.  We watched the film No Impact Man, and as Biome founder I was fortunate to take part in a Q&A panel afterwards.  I'm also reading the book, which explores in more depth the impacts that New York City-based author Colin Beavan attempts to negate in his year long lifestyle experiment.  It's a great read that I am finding more effective at changing my habits than other environmental books.

I connected with Beavan's philosophy and the messages that we have conveyed over the years with our eco-retail business--and, based on the world wide interest in his project it seems to be working for many others.  He delves into the motivations of why 'we' spend our lives working to earn money in order to be able to spend it on buying more convenience and material excess in the pursuit of elusive happiness.  These words stood out:  It's not that while trashing the planet the human race is having a party. Quite the opposite. We feel a malaise and guilt that at another time in history might have motivated action, but at this time seems instead to be coupled with a terrible sense of helplessness.

Beavan wanted to find a way to encourage a society that emphasises a little less self-indulgence and a little more kindness to one another and to the planet.  But, if he was to write a book about changing other people, he realised that he ought first to worry about changing his own actions.

And so began his year of inquiry--to put the habitat first and see how that affected his family; and, most importantly when it came to his own despair, was he as helpless to help change the imperilled world we live in as he thought?


Beavan followed the words of the environmental scientists William McDonough and Michael Braungart: "Saving this planet depends on finding a middle path that is neither unconsciously consumerist nor self-consciously anti-materialist. The idea for No Impact Man is not to be anorexic but to be abundant, not to be eco-efficient but "eco-effective."

His philosophy is based not only on reducing consumption but also on changing what is consumed so that it actually helps or at least does not hinder the world.  He argues that humans need to figure out what our world is able to productively offer us rather than considering only what we want.

After all, this harmonious existence is how most other species on earth live.  He illustrates this with the simplicity of examples from nature.  "Lions neither starve themselves nor gorge to the point of wiping out the gazelle population. Instead, they promote the health of the gazelle herd by culling its weaker members and preventing herd overgrowth which in turn prevents overgrazing of the savannah. Animal waste does not poison the ground but fertilizes the soil so that it can produce more vegetation for the animals to eat. Bees feed on the pollen of flowers but far from damaging them they provide the crucial service of pollinating them."

Beavan references the book Cradle to Cradle, where McDonough and Braungart discuss the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin, who have harvested wood for sale from their forested land for many generations.   He writes: "In 1870, the Menominee inventoried 1.3 billion standing board feet of timber on their 235,000 acres. Since then, they have harvested nearly twice that amount--2.25 billion board feet. Considering the "clear-cutting" methods of the corporate lumber merchants you hear about, which completely strips land of its trees, you'd expect that the Menominee would have barely a single tree left...In fact, they have 1.7 billion board feet left, more than they had in 1870, and a thriving forest ecosystem."

"That's because the Menominee tend to cut only the weaker trees, leaving behind the strong mother trees and enough of the upper canopy for the arboreal animals to continue to inhabit. They have figured out what the forest can productively offer them instead of considering only what they want to take from it."

Stage one: No waste - not even toilet paper

No Impact Man sensibly approached his project in stages, taking on one impact before tackling another. His first stage was to live without making garbage.  Beginning with an inventory of all the rubbish AND recycling they generated, Beavan and his wife committed to producing not a skerrick of output.

"wash the spoon" -
This concept of recycling not being as 'green' as we believe is building momentum.  In Junkyard Planet,  author Adam Minter, says recycling has the tendency to absolve our conscience about acquiring the next new thing.  The vast majority of rubbish and recycling are items used for less than 10 minutes.  Beavan talks about the loss of the "waste not, want not" ethos his grandparents held dear.   Items pass through our hands with little gratitude for the precious resources that were consumed in their production.

Recycling is in fact not very different to rubbish - there is no "away".  Many of the health and environmental issues of dealing with the massive global recycling industry are pushed onto the poorer nations - China for example, where Australia sends container ship loads of toxic, dirty waste for "recycling".

The holy grail is an empty recycling bin--and that is what Beavan recognised and lived by for the year.

How can you achieve this?  No Impact Man showed us: do not accept anything in to your life that needs to be recycled or thrown away.
  • buy food with absolutely no packaging (by shopping at farmers markets and whole food stores) - even their milk was purchased from a farmer that refilled the same glass milk bottles
  • take your own containers and cheesecloth and produce bags to the take out store or food market
  • use reusable cloths instead of toilet paper, napkins, baby nappies
  • bake your own bread, make your own yoghurt
Any 'waste' you do produce should be organic matter that can be composted at home with a worm farm, Bokashi or compost heap.

Beavan's family ate a pretty simple diet based around shopping direct with the producers, only eating what is in season and only eating food that was grown within a 250 mile radius of New York. This helped with eliminating packaging waste - but Eating Sustainably was the third stage and we will leave that for another blog post.

Read more about the No Impact Man project here and consider participating in the week long experiment.  See more activism quotes on Biome's Pinterest.

25 February 2014

Recycling plastic bags

Green newsflash!  You can stop throwing away flexible plastic bags like bread bags, grocery bags, frozen food, pasta and confectionery plastic packaging.  Recycling plastic bags is now possible in Australia.

We all know that hard plastic such as plastic bottles and containers can be recycled through kerbside recycling bins, but until now our household has been putting flexible plastics in the rubbish (meaning off to landfill).

We now gather all soft plastic in a separate bag and take them to our local Coles supermarket to the Redcycle bin located at the front of the store.  From there, the bags are used by Australian recycled plastic manufacturer Replas to make a range of products such as outdoor furniture, bollards and decking.

For those not able to visit Coles, we have asked Redcycle to let us know whether there are other options for non-metro residents to drop off bags.

The greenie ideal is for product manufacturers and distributors to take responsibility for their product throughout its entire lifecycle, including what happens to it at the end of its life.  Redcycle is a true product stewardship model where everyone involved in the life cycle of a product, including the consumer, has a role to play.

Soft plastic bags are a great scourge on our environment, ending up in our waterways and oceans. Alternatively, they are dumped in landfill or transported overseas to be dealt with there (that's another story!).  Recycling plastic bags not only helps reduce the pollution, but it also reduces the need to use precious resources to make virgin plastic.

What types of flexible plastic bags can be recycled?

  • ✓ Bread bags
  • ✓ Biscuit packets
  • ✓ Frozen food bags
  • ✓ Rice and pasta Bags
  • ✓ Confectionery packets
  • ✓ Cereal Box Liners
  • ✓ Newspaper wrap
  • ✓ Plastic shopping bags
  • ✓ Old green bags

Find more info here about Redcycle, an initiative of  Melbourne based consulting and recycling organisation Red Group.

Greenie fact
According to Clean Up Australia, Australians are sending 429,000 soft plastic bags to landfill every hour.  That seems an incredible number!

10 October 2013

Glass Containers for safe food storage by Wean Green

Fabulous new larger size glass containers from Wean Green make it even easier to use glass at home for all your food preparation and storage, as well as for lunch boxes, picnics and outdoor catering.  

Wean Green by Glasslock glass containers are made from strong tempered glass with leak-proof, high quality snap lock lids made from BPA free plastic. Pictured above are the Meal Cube on the bottom, Meal Bowl and Lunch Bowl.

Here's the fabulous full range of glass food containers.  These glass containers can be used for limitless uses - see some clever ideas below.

 Glass container Volume Available in
Meal Cube 900ml Singles
Meal Bowl 720ml Singles
Lunch Cube 490ml Singles, 2 pack
Lunch Bowl 400ml Singles, 2 pack
Snack Cube 210ml Singles, 2 pack, 4 pack (garden mix)
Wean Bowl 165ml Singles, 2 pack, 4 pack (garden mix)
Wean Cube 120ml Singles, 4 pack (garden mix & one colour)

Uses for your Wean Green glass containers

Soak your nuts and seeds: activated nuts and seeds boost their nutritional value and make them more easily digested by your body through reducing physic acid and neutralizing enzyme inhibitors. Some great nuts and seeds for soaking are cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Simply take your nuts and seeds, put them in separate glass containers, cover them with reverse osmosis or purified water, let sit overnight, drain and rinse and then use as desired. You might try a yummy raw cashew cheesecake.

Storing Homemade Flavours: Create your own spice mixes, sauces, salad dressings and spreads. This will be a fun new way for you and your family to explore new tastes and flavours! Try adding some great detox flavours to your creations such as cayenne pepper, ginger and cinnamon. The wide variety of Wean Green glass container sizes makes them perfect for holding all of these homemade mixtures so that you always have quick access to your favourite flavours to add to meals.

Make Single Serving Raw Avocado Chocolate Pudding:  Awesome idea for school and work lunch boxes rather than pre-packaged single serve sweet treats. Make a simple and delicious raw chocolate mousse with avocados, raw cacao powder, unsweetened almond milk, raw almond butter, agave and soaked dates for a nourishing snack or dessert on the go. You can add in additional flavours and raw food toppings such as raw cacao nibs, goji berries and coconut. Use Wean Greens snack cubes or bowls to have the perfect single serving size. Find a gorgeous vegan avocado chocolate pudding recipe here.

Ideas from the Wean Green blog written by Marni Wasserman is Culinary Nutritionist  & Health Strategist at Toronto’s First Plant Based Food Studio. 

Lunch boxes:  And of course, glass containers are absolutely perfect for everyone's lunch boxes!

  1. Today I Ate A Rainbow Kale Chips
  2. The Pioneer Woman Fruit Salad 
  3. Organic Celery with Not Enough Cinnamon’s Homemade Peanut Butter
  4. Raw Organic Almonds

08 September 2013

Tanjung Puting orangutan sanctuary expedition

In September 1996, my mother, father and I shared a truly remarkable journey to "Camp Leakey" at the heart of Tanjung Puting National Park in the south of Kalimantan, Indonesia.  This precious place is where a young Birute Galdikas arrived in 1971 under the mentorship of Prof. Louis Leakey, beginning 42 years of relentless endeavour to save the orangutans and their forests.

Without the work of Dr Galdikas and the Orangutan Foundation International and its supporters, this tiny peninsula of jungle would certainly be clear felled like the thousands of clear-felled hectares pressing at its boundaries.  It is one of the last havens for the orangutans and the other species that share this wild jungle home, such as the proboscis monkey and toucan (read more about Dr Galdikas below).

Dr Galdikas is one of my heros and shining lights. When I question what we are doing at Biome or I struggle with the pressures of the competitive retail industry, I try to remember what she endured and achieved.  How she dared to dream, lived her dream and helped our planet.  We can't all devote our lives to such significant work in the wilds of Borneo, but we can do something to help the environment each day in the sphere over which we have control.

Avid readers of National Geographic Magazine, our family was drawn to primates and we hoped to see them up close one day.  The opportunity came to visit Camp Leakey 17 years ago while I was working in Jakarta for a public relations firm.  It was a time before the internet and mobile phones!  I remember organising the trip via a chain of land-line phone calls and messages in broken Indonesian.  There were no blogs to read the advice of other travellers.  So when we hopped off the tiny plane that flew us to Pangkalan Bun, we had very little idea of the expdetition that lay ahead.

As in most jungles of the world, rivers are the highway and so we set off on a long narrow boat called a Klotok up a small tributary of the Kumai River. Our four crew were enthusiastic and entertaining hosts. For the next few days we lived a dream.  We saw proboscis monkeys leaping from high branches to land as far as they could across the river and then swim like crazy to beat the crocodiles.  We swam in the river at Camp Leakey so smitten by the adventure we forgot about the massive crocodile we saw sunning itself earlier. One gloriously serene night our boat was lit up by a galaxy of fire flies shining from the long river reeds all around us.  And of course, we saw up close many orangutans of all ages, from playful orphans to a massive male with large cheek pads. 
Feeding time at one of the stations where young orphaned orangutans are reintroduced to the jungle.
Poking her or his tummy out for a tummy tickle from me - 17 years ago!

Hee, hee ... Spot the similarities!

Breakfast on the Klotok. One of our crew, Dad and I.

As we now know so well, the orangutans' rainforest home is being destroyed for palm oil plantations and illegal logging.  There are a number of amazing organisations fighting to protect them.  Please consider volunteering your time to help them out or making a donation through sponsoring an orangutam.

Today, similar organutan tours to the one undertaken by us are run by the Orangutan Foundation International to raise vital funds to continue their work.  Some include the absolute honour of being accompanied by Dr Galdikas!

This video captures some of what we saw.  It was wonderful to come across this as we did not have any video memories of the trip. 

About Dr Birute Galdikas

In 1971, Birut√© Mary Galdikas and her then husband, photographer Rod Brindamour, arrived in one of the world’s last wild places, Tanjung Puting Reserve in Borneo. There were no telephones, roads, electricity, television, nor regular mail service. The reserve was being logged and the laws protecting wildlife were not enforced. The rhinoceros had already been hunted into extinction in the area. At this time, very little was known about orangutans in the wild.  Before she left the U.S., she was told by her professors and others that it “couldn’t be done”; she wouldn’t be able to study orangutans in the wild.  They were too elusive and wary, living almost entirely in deep swamps.
Before long, however, her hard work and determination had paid off. She set up “Camp Leakey,” named after her mentor and began documenting the ecology and behavior of the wild orangutans. Four years later, she wrote the cover article for National Geographic Magazine, bringing orangutans widespread international public attention for the first time. The article was illustrated with Brindamour’s photographs.

Camp Leakey is the site of the longest continuous study on any primate. She has also protected one of the last havens for orangutans in Borneo despite the tremendous pressures from illegal logging and mining interests.  Read more of Dr Galdikas' life work and achievements for the orangutans

31 May 2013

5 Rawsome Protein Ball Recipes

Raw, real, unprocessed, containing just the ingredients you want and nothing else!  It's easier than you think to whip up these protein balls or bars at home (also known as a bliss ball, goodie ball, treat ball!).

Here's five of our favourite rawsome protein ball recipes, perfect for a pick me up any time of day.

1.  Tree Nut, Tahini and Loving Earth Cacao Protein Ball

Protein ball recipe image copyright

We whipped up this raw, vegan protein ball recipe to celebrate the arrival of Loving Earth raw cacao at Biome. Woo hoo!  Super simple recipe (free range with your preferred substitutions): place approx. 4 tblsp Loving Earth raw cacao, cup or so of dates, 2 tblsp tahini, cup of mixed nuts like almonds and cashews, and 1 tblsp coconut oil into a food processor and whizz! Adjust ingredients till you can scrunch together into small balls. They set hard in the fridge or freezer.

2. Walnut and Raw Cacao Nib Bliss Balls

This recipe is from Thermomix super-cook Quirky Cooking.  Jo says the mixture of dates, nuts and raw cacao make these balls like mini 'high protein power bars' - but they're much better for you than commercial power barsWhy are they called 'bliss balls'? Because raw cacao contains "naturally occurring phytochemicals like theobromine (considered an aphrodisiac), phenylethylamine (PEA – released when we fall in love), and anandamide (the ‘bliss' chemical)."  See the full recipe at

3. Coconut Lemon Meltaways

Contains almond flour (you can make this, or buy it - however most store bought Almond flour is not raw), dried shredded unsweetened coconut, coconut flour, salt.  Combine wet ingredients separately: agave, maple syrup or honey, lemon juice, vanilla and lemon zest.  Strem wet ingredients into dry in a food mixer. Then mix in coconut oil to thicken (buy coconut oil here).  Form into balls.  The trick now: warm them in a dehydrator or oven (set at it's lowest heat, leaving the door cracked open) for an hour or longer.  Finished balls will be dry on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth moist on the inside. Leave to chill and set in the fridge before you eat. Full recipe at 

4. Carob & Tofu Balls

 Made with medium firm tofu (patted dry and mashed), dates, maple syrup, carob powder, vanilla, tahini, ground almonds and dessicated coconut.  Mix together and shape into balls with your hands.  Full recipe at

 5. Raw Cinnamon Orange Energy Bars with Orange White Cacao Icing

A bar rather than a ball, but still raw, delicious and packed with protein from chia!  Contains almond butter, dates, organic coconut oil, orange juice and zest, agave or other sweetener, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, raw oats, cinnamon.  Uses a food processor to blend and then press out ingredients in tray and leave to dry overnight.  For the Orange White Cacao Glaze use raw cacao butter (not coconut butter), sweetener and orange zest.   Full recipe on

Find more protein ball recipes on our Pinterest collection. And for even more delicious inspiration check out NaturalNewAgeMum's post 10 amazing bliss ball recipes.

07 May 2013

Ta‘Kaiya Blaney - children are our future

Image from

Young Candian, Ta‘Kaiya Blaney is a Sliammon First Nations singer, songwriter and environmental activist. Now about 12, she has campaigned more for environmental protection in a few years than most adults. 

This is an incredible TEDx talk she made at TEN years of age - she lays out the issues with oil and consumerism so beautifully.  At the end of this talk she has a message for children: "You have a gift - a voice - be heard". Wow!

In Ta'Kaiya's words: 
Hi, my name is Ta’Kaiya, I’m from the Sliammon First Nation and I am 12 years old.    I feel that as humans, as participants and beings that walk upon  this earth, it is our responsibility to help the earth. We all need to take steps towards a clean and healthy future regarding animals, humans, plants, and the various ecosystems. Our earth is our home. Over the past four years I’ve been an advocate for providing better qualities of living in Indigenous First Nations territories, and ending the oppression, racism, and corruption we face from our government and within our community. I’ve spoke at UN meeting across the globe, including The TUNZA UN children and youth conference on the environment in Bandung Indonesia, and the Rio+20 UN conference on the environment In Rio de Janiero. I advocate to change not only the human condition, but also in the condition of our planet. In my culture it’s a fact, and an understanding of life, that everything is connected, and we were put on this earth to be stewards and caretakers of the environment. In my culture, it’s a teaching to do more than connect the dots, to see the picture as a whole.  I feel that advocating, and speaking at mere conferences isn’t enough. Actions speak louder than words.

You can also see her original song "Shallow Waters" on You Tube here.

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