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How to buy the most sustainable sofa (ever).

Posted on March 14th, 2014

As many readers of this blog know, it’s taken me 40 years to buy a sofa. Which, it so happens, is 32 years longer than it took Steve Jobs.

Image via Favim.com

Image via Favim.com

I’ve previously found some comfort in the fact it took Jobs eight tortured years to find his perfect sofa and quietly repositioned my chronic couch commitment phobia as genius when I read that Job’s indecision was due to the same eccentric perfectionism that created the iPhone.

Perfectionism certainly stalled me, as it does often. In this case I feel (reasonably) justified. I do think it’s super important to make a thoroughly researched and mindful decision when it comes to big house hardware. A lot of resources go into creating, building and delivering them. As well as disposing of them once we realize we made a dumb, fashionable purchase.

I think it’s criminal that many of us now regard furniture as almost seasonal.

I don’t want to be the person chucking out a cheap sofa after three years.

I want to be the person who proudly holds on to it, allows stories to attach to it, has it in her life as a familiar totem and who can pass it on in 30 years to a loved one.

How about I outline a few factors I considered in making my decision, and some tips for buying the most sustainable, toxin-free, environmentally credible, practical, timeless, economical sofa possible. (For those not wanting to read all the way to the punch-line: I arrived at the “Leila” three-seater (deep option) by Jardan.)

First up, let’s be real:

  • The most sustainable option is second-hand. No new resources used, no waste going into landfill. Makes sense.
  • The most toxin-free option is second-hand. Most modern couches contain flame retardants that are not chemically bonded to the foam, they are ineffective in preventing furniture fires and are linked to serious health effects. Formaldehyde is used in pressed wood products and may be present in couches that are stain-resistant. With a pre-loved sofa, someone else bore these toxic loads. Clean sailing for you.

I looked into second-hand options for quite some time, and have previously taken on couches from friends and from off the street etc. But I was turning 40 and felt it was time to invest in something that actually suited my needs.

If you buy from scratch:

  • Be practical with the shape. Think about it. Reflect on how you use a couch. I went for a three-seater (I wanted the couch to be a hero Read more

How bad are microwaves, really?

Posted on February 13th, 2014

In my list of Top 100 Hairy Chestnuts I Get Confronted With When I Talk About Cooking, “But aren’t microwaves bad?” comes in at about #25. I’m a fan of getting more people cooking, first and foremost. For some this involves using a microwave. Thus, my short answer to the above question is: If it gets you cooking with real food, go ahead, use a microwave. Indeed, I use a microwave from time to time. We have one at the office for heating our lunch, for instance. The longer answer, however, follows here…

Paleo Choc Muggin: a one-minute microwave meal

Julie Van Rosendaal’s 2-minute microwave mug brownie. I have a sugar-free Paleo Choc Muggin (a muffin in a mug!) version, available from I Quit Sugar For Life

Microwaves don’t radiate you

Microwave ovens use radio/microwaves to make the water molecules in food vibrate, which produces friction, which heats the food. It uses a form of non-ionizing radiation (it can’t directly break up atoms or molecules). This means it can’t damage your DNA like, say, X-rays do.

But they do emit EMFs

Building biologist Nicole Bijlsma says: Microwaves do emit EMFs three types of electromagnetic fields: electric field (minimal), magnetic field (can be high from the digital clock and also where the transformer is located) and radio/microwaves. The electric and magnetic field (from the digital clock) will be present even when the microwave oven is not heating. The magnetic field will increase when the microwave oven is in use and will drop off to background levels within one metre. The World Health Organisation has classified radio/microwaves and magnetic fields in 2011 and 2002 respectively as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. However, unlike the pulsing nature of the radio/microwaves used in the telecommunications industry (mobile phones and Wi-Fi), the microwave oven uses continuous wave fields so the biological effects are not likely to be as bad.

Do microwaves kill nutrients?

Any cooking will change the nutrients in food in some way. Low and slow cooking preserves the most nutrients, as I’ve shared before. The faster you cook (or heat) your food, the more nutrients and enzymes you destroy.

A study published in The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that the amount of nutrients lost depends on the duration and way in which the food is cooked – steaming broccoli in the microwave for 90 seconds is better than zapping it for 4-5 minutes.

Research from the University of Oslo found that microwaving carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, green and red capsicums and tomatoes led to an increase in the antioxidant content of the foods (in that the antioxidants become more available for absorption).

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the most sustainable prawns to buy this christmas

Posted on December 12th, 2013

I’m not sure if you’re aware but prawns – or shrimp – are an ecological and ethical disaster waiting for a barbie to be thrown atop.

Image via One Bite More

Image via One Bite More

I wasn’t…until recently. My uncle Pete was a trawler. We ate them every Christmas. And in fried rice when Mum made it for one of my brother’s birthdays most years. But I, like many of us, care more about this kind of thing these days. I care, and I want to act right. So prawns…

As with all my sustainable eating posts, I don’t suggest banning foods. I advise making better/best choices. And using up leftovers and the whole animal/vegetable/mineral. Wastage is the real ethical/eco crime, to my mind. In time for Christmas I decided to research this bottom dweller issue and share what I found, so we you, too, can get real to your shrimp.

Why are prawns a problem?

The bycatch is shocking:  I’ve heard anecdotally that

for every prawn caught, 27 other species are caught in the bycatch and tossed away.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) best describes this issue here, claiming:

Tropical shrimp trawling (TST) has one of the largest bycatch rates of all fishing techniques and often damages the ocean´s seafloor.”

Bottom trawling is shocking: it destroys coral and has a detrimental affect on the seafloor. Seafloors are vital to the health of coral forests, seagrass beds, kelp forests and deep sea thermal vents.

Many of the prawns we buy are imported. About 70 per cent of the seafood Australians consume is from OS. Which is an issue because many countries don’t fish their prawns sustainably. Tropical shrimp farms in Asia  - where much of our prawns come from – destroy coastal mangroves.

So, what to look for?

As I say, I’m not about banning prawns. It’s about getting smart and mindful. There are tricks.

1. Look for Marine Stewardship Council- certified. Ask your monger if the prawns they’re selling are as such. MSC is the biggest fishery standard (with more than 200,000 fish covered in over 15 countries) and therefore this first port of call is probably your safest bet, wherever you are in the world. MSC-certified prawns are trawled on sandy or muddy ocean floors and cause minimal impact to the habitat and ecosystem. But, somewhat contentiously, not all their recommended prawns are low-bycatch.

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is also setting up, and when farms start to become certified by them you’ll be able to look out Read more