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 turns out that that 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 are 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 by mass food producers and poor standards of labelling, it is rare to find a vinegar that states the acetic acid percentage or even what it is made from.  Generally the ingredients just say "Vinegar".

Some "vinegar" is made from petrochemicals

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

Acetic acid is the chemical name for the naturally occurring substance known as vinegar that is created from distilling or fermenting a grain or plant.  However, it is also the name given to the synthetic product 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 "acetic acid" often used in foods as an acidity regulator and is labelled E206.   

I have a hunch that "home brand" bulk White Vinegar is most likely acetic acid and is not made from fermented grains.  While it is found in the supermarket with the edible vinegars and I assume must pass Australian Food Standards, I think you would be consuming synthetic acetic acid. 

I was pleased to find this Australian Vinegar company that states it specialises in technically challenging 'Clean Labelled' vinegar which is free from allergens, sulphites, artificial colours and flavours and all 'E' numbers.  Their brand is LiraH Vinegar.

Thank you to the TheEcoMum blog for your detailed article on this topic.  This blogger recommends that to avoid synthetic vinegar look for mentions on the label of "distilled".  Please read that article if you are interested in delving further.

Vinegar to kill germs

Back to using vinegar to kill germs.  If you are trying to eliminate petrochemicals from your home, then the choice of which vinegar may be important to you.  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 and alcohol wipes are 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" -- again like some brands are already doing in the US.

But with your consumer purchasing power and questioning of the companies selling "vinegar" on Australian shelves without transparent labelling, it can change.  Watch this space ....

Source: 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 Scenicrim4realmilk.com.au
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 Flavourcrusader.com  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)

SA
Bd Paris Creek Farm
Fleurieu Milk Co
Alexandrina Milk

NSW
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)

VIC
Organic Dairy Farmers

WA
Brownes

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 Flavourcrusader.com 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?

"Eco-effective"

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" - posters-for-good.tumblr.com
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.
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