Friday, August 31, 2007

Pop your own: DIY popcorn

Scrolling through Treehugger today, I was reminded of one of the many tasks on my blog to-do list: Spread the word about making your own popcorn!
A few months ago at work this became my favorite mid-afternoon-slump snack when some bulk kernels and paper bags surfaced in the kitchen (I think a coworker was trying to avoid the caloric-rich microwavable stuff). We should all be avoiding it, and not just for our own health. You've probably heard by now that the "butter" is well, quite artificial--its real name is diacetyl, and that workers who handle the stuff are developing a kind of lung disease. Definitely not something I want to be contributing to, or ingesting. Besides, the real stuff tastes so much better. It's easy: Get some bulk kernels at your favorite health food store (another point for ye 'ol bulk bins), and put them in a small paper bag. You pop it for about the same amount of time you would do a pre-bought bag, but stay close to listen for the pops slowing down. Treehugger suggests adding a slab of butter at the beginning, but I prefer to melt the butter separately and pour it over once I've transferred the popped corn to a bowl. That way you can save the bag for the next popping, and there's something delightfully gluttonous about pouring melted butter over, well, anything. An alternative, as one smarty-pants commenter noted on Treehugger, you can avoid the paper bag by heating some oil in a pan and cooking your kernels that way. I've yet to try it the slower way, but I do have vague memories of my dad popping corn over the stove, and I'm sure it doesn't really take that much longer. Add some salt and it's a totally delicious snack (and low-cal if you forgo the melted butter). Not only are you avoiding a nasty "butter-like" chemical that I can't even pronounce, but anytime I replace food from a factory with something I "make" myself, things feel a bit more right in the world.

Here's an incredibly sad Washington Post article about a worker with "popcorn workers' lung". The stuff still isn't regulated.

And here's Treehugger's take on DIY popcorn.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

This post is about women's periods. Read on.

Ok, this is ridiculous. For a couple months now I've been trying to write about my experience of starting to use reusable menstrual products, and for some reason, I just can't do it. The problem is, when I've broached this issue with friends, the reaction has been less than enthusiastic. There seem to be really deep-seeded assumptions that women's periods are "gross", something to just suffer our way through every month--and that the last thing we'd want to do is reuse anything associated with them. There's quite a duality when it comes to our thinking about our nether regions, isn't there? They have their acceptable functions (sex), and the gross ones (peeing, periods). Of course, as we know, sex can also be lumped into the "dirty and gross" category, and has been historically for many cultures.

But we are postmodern and it would be sexist to classify women's sexuality as dirty. We know better than that, and indeed, in popular culture, the female orgasm has lately become synonymous with feminist empowerment. But while the covers of women's magazines are plastered with headlines about achieving the perfect orgasm and helping your partner find your g-spot, we never question the assumption that menstruation is something dirty that needs to be sanitized. At least, I didn't give much thought to the assumption, until I started using reusable menstrual products--specifically, Lunapads products. I'm not saying that I wish my period was all month long, but my relationship with it has completely changed over the last year since I began using reusable menstrual products. A dissertation could be written on our fixation with sanitizing menstruation (and I'm sure plenty have been), but for now, I'll just talk about why I no longer use tampons and why this post isn't titled "Girls only! No boys allowed!" Let's grow up, folks!

A couple years ago my sister told me that she had started using a cup to catch her menstrual flow, which at the time, seemed like the most crunchy granola thing I’d ever heard. I had never given much thought to what might be wrong with tampons or pads (besides maybe that one "dangers of tampons" email that went around a few years ago), and I definitely didn’t know there was an alternative. Then last year, as most of you know, I started swearing off all things disposable: bags, silverware, bottles, cups, chop sticks, you name it. So one day when I was browsing the aisles of my local health food store and came across The Diva Cup--a reusable alternative to tampons, suddenly the idea of a reusable menstrual product didn’t seem so far out there—it actually made a lot of sense. So, I made my purchase and haven’t looked back since. (Full disclosure: I was a guest blogger on Lunapads' blog and they sent me additional products to try out. But I would still be raving about their products even without the free schwag--I swear!)

Here are the stats on disposable menstrual product usage: The average woman will use about 12,000 tampons or pads in her lifetime. In the U.S. alone we use--and of course throw away--around 20 billion tampons and pads a year. That's a lot of waste, and doesn't even count all the individual packaging and boxes. And don't forget about all the pollution caused and resources used in the manufacturing of single-use products. Switching from disposable to reusable in as many areas of our lives as possible is an important piece of the sustainable puzzle.

If the waste issue doesn't convince you, maybe the health angle will. Turns out there seems to have been truth to that email touting the dangers of tampons. To start with, contrary to the pure, white image Tampax and others would have us believe, tampons are chock full of chemicals and bleach. They're not even 100% cotton! Synthetic fibers are added to increase absorbency but also amplify toxins of a certain bacteria and that’s what can cause the dreaded Toxic Shock Syndrome.(Remember, tampons actively absorb the flow, they don't just catch it naturally.) So in the last few years, when people started realizing that these synthetic fibers weren't really the best thing to have inside us, they've phased out all but one kind--viscose rayon. Manufacturers say it’s harmless, but the FDA relies on testing by the manufacturers themselves, and we all trust what companies say about their products, right? Also, while tampons are no longer bleached with chlorine, the "chlorine-free" bleaching process can still generate dioxin, aka, a scary, known carcinogen. Then there are the chemicals that are sprayed on the cotton in the farming process, etc. etc. Funny what we let inside our most intimate areas without questioning the origins, isn't it? :) Here's more info on tampon safety.

Enter Lunapads. Founder Madeline Shaw--a former fashion designer from Vancouver--was having health problems associated with her periods and sought an alternative. She started using cloth pads, then created her own product that turned into her own company. Not only did she start a thriving company with a great product, but she also created a great model for running a sustainable business--good for the earth, good for our health, and good for the workers (kids are welcome in their office). All in all, it seems like a totally rad company that I am happy to be supporting, and the kinda warm and fuzzy place I only dream of working at.

So, what is the Diva Cup? It's a small cup made out of medical-grade silicon, which means nothing will leach into your body. (This is the same kind of silicon used in baby bottle nipples and joint replacements--NOT in bad '80's boob jobs). It catches the flow, and you empty it every 12 hours. You wash it and store in a little pouch. It's that easy. Here's more info on the Diva Cup.

The Diva Cup did take some getting used to after a lifetime of tampon usage. Difference #1: You actually have to touch yourself. Scandalous, isn’t it?! The only thing I can say about that is, if you let others touch you there, you should be comfortable in the area also! Difference #2: Using the cup, you get to see your flow. Amidst our hide it-clean it-bleach it culture of female “hygiene”, this is a radical moment. Not only is it simply cool to see the amount of flow, but there’s also something totally liberating about it being visible. It’s not something to be hidden away like a dirty little secret. Anyone who’s been in psychoanalysis knows that it’s what we keep hidden that is what really traps us, so taken on a cultural level, as long as our periods are something to be hidden and cleaned up, as a culture we’re ashamed about the essence of our womanhood. So, without question, using The Diva Cup has made me feel much more connected to my femaleness, and has brought me face to face with the sexist presumptions lurking in my unconscious.

In addition to the Diva Cup, Lunapads also sells actual Lunapads (pictured above). I'm not a huge pad person, but these are amazing for night usage. They come in great bright colors, and you simply rinse them after using them, then wash them in a normal load. Oh, and they also have really cool products like Lunapanties which are underwear with a thin liner sown in for backup purposes. You can tell this is a company run by women.

I can say "it's not gross" until the cows come home, but it's a bit of a catch-22: Using the Lunapads products is what has caused the paradigm shift in my thinking on this issue. All I can say is give them a try. And, since I was a guest blogger on their site, Lunapads is offering a special contest for my readers! Check out their website and send me the names of the owners' children. The winner will be drawn randomly from those who send me the correct responses. The winner will receive a package of sample Lunapads products...woohoo, who can resist schwag?! DEADLINE: September 15th, so check out their page and email me your answers!!


Also, I'd love to hear why you guys think we've collectively swallowed the "periods are gross" pill...

UPDATE: Here's the link to my post on the Lunapads blog...and a big picture of my head!