Walk wherever you go
Halifax is the best city in Canada for walking. Not the kind of walking people do with the dog or with swinging arms and a heart monitor or with a picnic basket and a lover. Actually, there’s a shortage of good leisure trails in HRM. But as far as walking to get where you’re going is concerned, no town tops Halifax. If you live and work on the peninsula, there is no reason why you ever have to drive or take the bus. The landscape lends itself to complete walking pleasure, with infinite routes down quiet, colourful, tree-lined streets with shops, libraries, cafes all a hop, skip and a jump away. Urban planners often rate cities according to their “walkability” based on criteria such as active storefronts, shade trees, fresh air, pedestrian-sensitive traffic, good crosswalks, benches, attractive buildings close to the street—Halifax has all of this. I’ve lived all over Canada, and no place inspires me more to set aside the extra 20 minutes to make a march out of my daily commute—thus saving cash, keeping me fit and preventing my tailpipe from spewing its usual filth into the air.
Shop at the Farmers’ Market
News flash: SuperSobeys sells crap you don’t need. You think you need it because society/marketing tells you so. But every stale spoonful of Kellogg’s Just Right or pasty bite of banana swallowed is your non-verbal support for everything that is wrong with the world. Toxic pesticides and sprays, genetic mongrel vegetables, violated workers’ rights, over-processed and packaged foods, exorbitant fuel usage for transportation, all may leave a bad taste in your mouth. The solution is to do your shopping at the weekly Halifax Farmers’ Market, where you can actually talk to the farmers that grow your food, even if it means you eat root vegetables and sausages all winter long. Actually, there’s more abundance at the market than you think. Winter veggies such as carrots, cabbage, squash, onions, garlic, kale and chard, are wickedly good for you and super-scrumptious. You’ll also find the best of bulk dry goods, meats, dairy, baking, coffees, sweets, even pre-fab take-away meals like the Big Life pizzas that will cure any hangover. Everything you need is right there, week after week, just like the supermarket but so much better. Every Saturday, 8am-1pm at the Keith’s Brewery Building at 1496 Lower Water. See Food Fetish, page 32 for more information.
Use a hanky
No ground up tree, no matter how mechanically fluffed-up or enhanced with lotions is going to match the tested and tender true softness of a reusable cotton hanky. Say goodbye to nostril rash for good and, while you’re at it, save a couple of hundred hectares of boreal forest. Kleenex marketers wiped out the cotton hanky in the 1920s with the slogan “Don’t carry a cold in your pocket,” a campaign that worked so well, they created a new word. It was the dawn of the war on germs, culminating now with an anti-bacterial cleaner for every orifice and application—to the chagrin of healthy bacteria (there is such a thing). True, colds spread through germs, but as long as you wash your hands regularly and keep a fresh stack of hankies nearby, your trusty linen tissue won’t become the flu dispenser they want you to think it is. Now Kleenex manufacturers Kimberly-Clark are subject to a growing international boycott (see www.kleercut.net) because of their refusal to stop clearcutting old growth forests to make tissue and toilet paper. Try a hankie on your next cold and you’ll be hooked. While you’re at it, why not switch to reusable dinner napkins too?
My grandmother Elsie was the regift queen. She didn’t do it to be cheap or to get rid of stuff she didn’t like. In fact her house was full of exquisite arty objects, batik silk scarves, handmade bowls, funky leather purses, all of which she loved, and much of which she had made herself. If there was something she owned that she thought you would like, or if you happened to compliment a piece in her collection, it would be wrapped up at the next possible occasion. Stop shopping for shopping’s sake. Exercise non-attachment with your most prized possessions and wrap them up as presents for the people you love.
Spaghetti Night in Canada
Once a week, on Monday nights, friends and neighbours gather together to share a communal meal. It’s called Spaghetti Night in Canada, and no joke, it’s a dining trend sweeping the nation. Started in 1985 by utopian villagers of Skyridge, Quebec, the aim is for people to consolidate kitchen resources and share a simple meal: a gigantic, bubbling pot of spaghetti. My friend Debbie grew up in Skyridge and taught me about it while I was still in high school in Ottawa. Since then, Debbie, along with myself and many others, have been spreading the tradition across Canada. So far, there are confirmed groups in Vancouver, Victoria, Whitehorse, Nelson, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax, and I met a woman from Saskatoon over Christmas who had just attended her first SNIC there. I didn’t know her or anyone she knew. You invite whoever. You bring what you can: whatever vegetables or meats need to be eaten up, half a baguette, a bottle of homemade wine. You help cook it, you help clean it up and then you go home. It’s not a party, it’s nothing fancy. It may seem like a small green act—rescuing the limp zucchini from the back of your fridge, burning only two stove-top elements instead of 20—but all great movements start out in the kitchen. Spaghetti Night in Canada is really about community—about sharing, friendship and good conversation. It’s a little taste of commune life, without the chanting, nudity or loss of identity.
Heat your home with biodiesel
Wilson Fuel has Halifax’s best-kept green secret. Using waste fish-parts from Ocean Nutrition (Clearwater fish plants), Wilson Fuel has been manufacturing and selling its own biodiesel as heating oil to homes and businesses around Halifax for over a year. Sold at the same price as regular heating oil, its biodiesel can be used in any normal oil tank, can be blended with whatever oil is still in your tank, and is delivered by the same old trucks. Touted as the new green gas not only because of its lower emissions ratings and waste oil recycling, biodiesel also provides a locally available alternative to mid-east petroleum. Astonishingly, Wilson Fuel and Ocean Nutrition are the only businesses in Canada turning fish waste into commercial green gas, the most efficient form of biodiesel currently available (other biodiesels are derived from corn crops and restaurant waste oils). Metro Transit made the switch last October. Their entire fleet of buses now runs on 20 percent Wilson-made biodiesel. The Nova Scotia fuel company is hoping to bring biodiesel to the gas bar soon, so you can run your diesel car on it too.
No, I’m not advocating that the streets become open-air urinals, reeking of asparagus and ammonia. All I’m saying is that once piss hits the soil, it is quickly broken down into completely harmless, even beneficial substances—like phosphorus and nitrogen, two key ingredients in any commercial fertilizer. Imagine the toilet tanks of water you will save each time you fertilize your flower garden or doodle in the snow bank. The average flush sucks away between 5 and 30 litres. At my house, we have a designated outdoor potty spot and at big parties, we encourage people to use it lest we sacrifice a pond’s worth of water for the already gluttonous activity of drinking beer.
Pick your own flowers
Don’t nuzzle your muzzle too deeply into that bouquet of store-bought flowers. Most commercial flowers are drenched in toxic pesticides and preservatives including the notorious fumigant methyl bromide. Coming out of Columbia, Mexico, India and China, typical commercial flowers are grown by short-contract female and child workers in toxic sweat-shop flower factories. One-fifth of the chemicals used in floriculture are banned or untested in the US—many are known carcinogens. Because they aren’t edible, flowers in the US can carry up to 50 times the amount of pesticides allowed in food. And according to a Costa Rican study, over half of flower workers there reported symptoms of pesticide poisoning, including frequent miscarriages and birth defects. With water-tables poisoned and dropping, subsistence farmers are pushed and shoved out of business, threatening local food security. So either grow your own rose bush, pick wildflowers, or ask your florist if they carry organic flowers (as many already do).
Start an indoor farm
If you can keep houseplants alive, you can grow an indoor farm. Start with wheatgrass. This health food, made popular by the modern smoothie, is easier to grow than, well, grass. Fill a tray with soil, sprinkle with wheatgrass seeds, water daily, and ta-dah, you have a beautiful indoor edible tray of lawn. Seeds are available at Great Ocean or ordered off the internet. The second crop that you will want to try out is the sprout. You can sprout almost anything: seeds, nuts, beans, grains. Simply pour a tablespoon of sproutable into a glass jar, fill with water and cover with a cheesecloth. After a day of germinating in the dark, dump the water and rinse twice a day. When they swell up and expel their tender shoots, refrigerate and eat them up. They are mega-nutritious, organic, pennies cheap, as local as you can get, and cute too—like an edible Chia Pet. Other indoor farming ideas: potted herbs, hot chilies, aloe vera, baby spinach.
Pack your own lunch
It takes less time to make a sandwich in the morning than it does to haul your ass down the block to the fast food joint, stand in line, and order your combo. Not only will you invariably eat healthier and spend less, you won’t have to chuck all that packaging into the landfill. If you’re too dopey in the morning, just cook extra chili the night before and slop it into a reusable container. Your body will appreciate the real nourishment—and if you eat your lunch at your desk during work, you’ll have a whole lunch hour free. In that hour you can: hand sew washable cotton vegetable bags (say goodbye to plastic forever), stroll down to the waterfront and pick trash off the shoreline, meander the streets handing out anti-idling stickers to well-meaning drivers, or design a better recycling system for your office where reusable paper gets its own box.