Cancer and Food

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Can you guess which one is organic? Read on to find out

Many people exhibit a sudden interest in organic food when they or someone in their family has been afflicted with cancer. Are they just grasping for links or is there any factual basis for their concern that the way modern food is grown can contribute to cancer? Let’s review how conventional leafy green vegetables, such as Choi Sum or Bak Choi, are typically grown in Hong Kong. All the chemicals listed below are approved and readily available for sale in Hong Kong.

Step 1

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Prior to growing a new crop, conventional chemical farmers spray a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide, such as Glyphosate, to kill weeds in the soil. “Broad-spectrum” means that it is effective against a wide a variety of plants – it is toxic not only to the weeds but also to the vegetables that will subsequently be planted. However, it’s concentration will have been diminished by the time the vegetables are planted. The residual toxicity will still weaken the vegetable. A weaker plant is more susceptible to pests and disease. As such, farmers need to apply higher quantities of pesticide later on to protect the crop from insect attacks.

Several recent studies showed glyphosate potential adverse health effects to humans as it may be an endocrine disruptor. It induces human breast cancer cells growth via oestrogen receptor. 

Step 2 Continue reading “Cancer and Food”

Don’t Get Cheated Buying “Local” Produce

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Due to food safety concerns, some consumers are willing to pay a premium for local organic produce. With almost no manufacturing taking place in Hong Kong, there is little need to worry about local produce being grown in contaminated soils. In addition, many local organic farms have their soil and water tested regularly by the AFCD. Purchasing organic produce alleviates consumer concerns about pesticides.

In spite of these advantages, Hong Kong producers are still only able to capture a tiny sliver of the vegetable market. There are two primary reasons for this. First, high land and labor cost makes local production uncompetitive. Second, Hong Kong’s warm season, from April/May to September/October, is unsuitable for producing some of the most popular vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, spinach, beets, tomatoes and lettuce.

In this highly competitive market, some sellers can earn more if they have these popular vegetables for sale when other sellers do not. Unscrupulous sellers may therefore try to pass off produce imported from the mainland as locally grown in order to gain a competitive edge. Continue reading “Don’t Get Cheated Buying “Local” Produce”

Summer Greens for Hong Kong

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GGHK Editors Note: Eating local, seasonal vegetables has numerous benefits for both our health and the environment. We benefit from fresher vegetables that are more nutritious and contain fewer pesticides. Cultivated in the right season, plants grow more vigorously making them less susceptible to pests and diseases. By eating seasonally, we can help conventional farmers reduce their use of harmful chemical pesticides. Our usual leafy greens: lettuce, spinach, pak choi, choi sum and kai lan are cool season crops that don’t grow well in the summer.   

The article below was contributed by Joshua Keil, a registered dietitian, with a special interest in food security, and community health. Joshua has experience working with groups and individuals to achieve their nutrition goals in a wide range of conditions including chronic illness, weight loss, and general healthy eating.

Ceylon Spinach, Amaranth (aka Chinese Spinach), Sweet Potato Leaf, and Morning Glory (aka Kangkong) are all dark leafy green vegetables that can be grown in the hot Hong Kong summer. Like many leafy greens, they are very nutritious and should be included regularly in your diet.

All are great sources of Vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy skin, hair, and tissue, improve dim light vision, and new cell growth.

Magnesium is another mineral these plants contain in abundance. It is important in maintaining healthy bones & teeth, maintaining nerve function, and recently has been found to play an important role in blood sugar regulation.

Finally, folate is found in large quantities in all of these vegetables. It can help maintain normal digestion, and is crucial in red blood cell production. Folate deficiency can lead to fatigue and anemia.

We should note that spinach and amaranth (both belong to the same plant family) have popularly been labeled as good sources of iron and calcium (thanks Popeye). However the presence of oxalates, especially in amaranth, make absorbing these two minerals very difficult. You should not rely on these vegetables for these two important minerals, but these plants are still packed with nutrients and should be eaten often.

Nourishing the body through food, is a proven way to improve skin health, and overall wellbeing. Skin care, and other cosmetic products, promise results, but there is very little scientific research to back up those claims. Dark leafy greens, and other fruits and vegetables, provide a wide range of nutrients that keep our bodies healthy from the skin inwards.

Another advantage of consuming these vegetables during the summer months is that they are good replacements for more common Chinese greens, such as Pak Choi and Choi Sum, that are imported from mainland China, where pesticide use is out of control. According to a 2013 Greenpeace report, Mainland China uses more pesticides than any other country in the world, and produce analyzed from several grocery stores contained up to 10 different chemicals on a single item. Being able to purchase local, preferably organic, produce can help us avoid these toxic chemicals.

Since these four vegetables can all be grown locally in summer, it is much less likely they will contain the cocktail of pesticides that can be found on some mainland produce. Even better, seek out farmers that grow food organically, meaning that they don’t use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Continue reading “Summer Greens for Hong Kong”

Just Right

PRICE HKD $25 for 600ml size PRODUCT RATING Just Right. Low price. Lightweight. Textured side panel (with the Rubbermaid logo) makes it non-slip. The side is slightly flattened and indented to fit ergonomically in your hand. The large screw-on cap and simple design makes it very easy to clean. The flip-top provides fast, easy access and is just the right size allowing you to drink quickly … Continue reading Just Right

Pre-Owned Clothing – Green Ladies

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GREEN RATING  Deep Green. Putting good clothes to better use.

SERVICE RATING  Good. Sales representatives are friendly and patient.  Equipped with a fitting room.  Locations are not that convenient though – far away from MTR stations.

LOCATION Headquarters:  No. 85 Stone Nullah Lane. Walk from Wanchai MTR exit A3. Phone 2831 3204.

Branch: UG shop 18-19, C C Wu Building, 302-308 Hennessy Road. Walk from Wanchai MTR exit A2. Phone 2110 3482.

WEBSITE http://greenladies.sjs.org.hk/

“Any used clothes for me to wear?”

One day in 2010, I posted the above message online.  Shortly afterwards, a few friends began to give me clothes (and handbags) that they no long wanted. From then on, apart from underwear and socks, I have not bought any new clothing.

When I used to shop for clothing, I always stuck to the same styles and colours, and it was pretty boring.  Now it’s becoming much more fun.  Every time I receive donated clothing from friends, I have a new look.

In addition to “adopting” used clothing from friends, I also go shopping at second hand clothing shops.  The Oxfam Shop located in the basement of Jardine House is very convenient for those who work in Central.  The shop is managed by volunteers, hence has a very easy going, relaxed feel.  One drawback though is the lack of a fitting room, which makes it much harder to figure out whether you can fit into a pair of pants.

In comparison, GREEN LADIES, a social enterprise set up by St. James Settlement is much more professional. Although it’s in an inconvenient locations, the shops are set up in the same way as other boutiques. Clothes are artfully displayed. Shoes are placed together according to size.  Handbags and jewellery occupy their own corner.  There is a fitting room for you to try things on.

These are my purchases.

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DKNY top, 100% silk, HKD128

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Very comfortable pair of shoes, HKD 88

You can donate your worn clothing to Green Ladies, or they can help you to sell them on consignment.

You may be wondering, why don’t I just put unwanted clothing into the recycling box? Continue reading “Pre-Owned Clothing – Green Ladies”

Response from Timberland

A few days after publishing our last article, Earthkeepers or Landfillers? we received a response from Timberland. In addition to offering to replace the boot, they wrote us a long detailed email about their social and environmental sustainability efforts. Please see the below excerpt. We leave it to you to make your own judgement.

We would like to assure you that Timberland is committed to making products that are of high quality and dependability. We pride ourselves in our continuous innovation to constantly improving performance and sustainability, making products that are outdoor-proven and long-lasting; at the same time practical and fashionable. Continue reading “Response from Timberland”

Earthkeepers or Landfillers?

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PRICE HK$699 at the Timberland Outlet Store in Tung Chung

PRODUCT RATING Atrocious quality. Within 3 months, the boots lose their waterproofing, the soles begin to detach from uppers and the fabric tears in multiple locations. On the positive side, the fit is excellent and the boots are very comfortable.

GREEN RATING Greenwash. The most important attribute of an environmentally friendly product is durability. I can imagine nothing worse than sending a product to the landfill after 3 months of use. Nevertheless, I do appreciate that the bag it came in was made of 30% recycled paper.

My experience with Timberland started on a very positive note. I was in love with the fit, comfort and lightness of the boot. I was also attracted by the green image of the company. I remember watching an interview on a financial news channel, where the CEO said ‘although less than 10% of customers considered Timberland’s green initiatives when making their purchasing decision, it was none the less important that company to do the right thing environmentally’ (or something to that effect).

After less than a month of use, my positive feelings began to change when the boots lost their waterproofing and my feet started getting wet. (I have now been informed that Timberlands perform very well when used in environments such as shopping malls and city sidewalks. Being naive, I actually believed the advertizing and tried to use the boots outdoors.)

Shortly after this, I noticed the soles detaching from the uppers and the fabric begin to tear. Continue reading “Earthkeepers or Landfillers?”

Why is organic food so expensive?

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As an organic farmer, I am often asked “Why is organic food so expensive?”

The simple answer is that it’s not. It is that conventional (chemical) food is cheap. Or more accurately, the price of conventional food does not reflect its true cost. Let me explain:

The introduction of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides dramatically increased yields and lowered labor input costs, thereby decreasing the price of food. However, they also imposed costs that are not reflected in the price consumers pay for food, what economist call externalities.

Chemical fertilizers are cheaper and more potent than organic fertilizers, resulting in widespread overuse. The use of these highly concentrated fertilizers has created vast dead zones in our oceans, rivers and lakes. This is a cost, but we as consumers don’t pay for it. To grow an equivalent amount of food, organic farmers need to transport and spread much larger quantities of slow-release, low concentration fertilizer on their fields which results in increased labor costs that is paid for by the consumer.

Chemical pesticide and herbicide use is contaminating ground water worldwide. Atrazine, one of the world’s most widely used pesticides, wreaks havoc with the sex lives of adult male frogs, emasculating three-quarter of them.  So while the price we pay for conventional food is cheap, the cost to the environment is not. Without chemical pesticides, organic farmers suffer greater crop loss from pests. Since consumers will not accept blemished fruits and vegetables, organic farmers end up with significantly less salable produce. Hence, they need to sell the salable produce at a higher price in order to survive.

Finally, there is no such thing as organic herbicides, so the organic farmer must manually or mechanically remove weeds. This again, increases the cost of production and needs to be paid for by the consumer. Continue reading “Why is organic food so expensive?”

Non-petroleum Moisturizer

Coconut Oil

PRODUCT Coconut Oil

PRODUCT RATING Good. It doesn’t have the creamy texture that we have become accustomed to in conventional moisturizers, but it’s not greasy like baby oil either. The fragrance will be familiar to those that enjoy coconut candies and desserts.

GREEN RATING Deep Green. Coconut is a sustainable fruit with many uses. I feel much safer putting an edible oil on my skin than I do using conventional moisturizers. Skin is our largest organ, why take chances by putting synthetic chemicals on it.

AVAILABLE AT The fair trade, organic version pictured above (HKD 159/200ml) is available online at Fair Circle. You can also buy a large bottle (HKD $32/1litre) from your local Indonesian grocer that caters to maids. They use it for cooking, but the shopkeeper told us that the lifeguards at the nearby pool use it as suntan lotion. (NOTE: It comes in a large plastic soda bottle so needs to warmed and the put into a container with a wider mouth for easy use.) According to this website, it is important to buy pure coconut oil, that is not hydrogenated, because it has a lower melting point and will not clog your pores.

Most mass market moisturizers are petroleum-based and contain an ingredient list that requires a chemistry degree to make sense of. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource that is a primary cause of climate change. As petroleum becomes scarcer, we will expand extraction into more fragile ecosystems, such as the arctic. The scarcity of oil has already resulted in the nightmare that is the Canadian tar sands. Continue reading “Non-petroleum Moisturizer”