Where there is a will there is a way

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bill Peet's Autobiography

I have a new hero - I love dearly the work of Bill Peet. It just so happens that until recently, I didn't know the person behind the best stories many of us have loved throughout our lives. He generated The Sword in the Stone, Jungle Book, much of Cinderella - particularly the mice, wonderful scenes in Dumbo, a short movie adapted from an existing children's story, The Little House, much of Peter Pan - the list goes on but in particular my favourite children's books (in particular the masterpiece The Wump World, that was formative to my young brain about the environment).

Interestingly - in his autobiography he says that the wizard Merlin in the Sword in the Stone was inspired by Walt Disney himself - a real world wizard - even to the point of having the same nose. I watched Sword in the Stone recently, as I wanted to watch it as an adult with the awareness of its creator (my favourite children's book writer). The screenplay is masterful, and also very funny. The story is full of nature's lessons, with layers of meaning.

His autobiography was of course illustrated, each and every page. He made it as easy to process for the reader as a children's book, and you can get a great sense of the characters of his life from the drawings - including Walt Disney.

Very importantly, now I understand far more where this special, creative person came from. He played in woods and streams as a boy, drawing many lessons - but also drawing (literally and figuratively) the magic of those places.

Here is an important story from Bill Peet's autobiography - a lesson he learned from nature as a boy, from the creeks of Indianapolis. You can really see where the seeds of The Wump World were sown.

"They were much too alert to be taken by surprise, and if you came within ten feet of one he slipped away into the shadowy depths of the creek.
"I do remember catching one full-grown frog, and I remember it well because of a snake. The frog was swimming near the surface of the creek unaware that I was only a few feet away.

In one quick grab I had him by a hind leg. Then, at the same instant, a snake shot out of a hole in the bank and seized the frog by the head.
"Suddenly we were having a frantic tug of war with the frog caught in the middle.

"It was touch and go until I finally jerked the frog free. Then in a flash the snake was back in his hole.
"I thought [for] sure I had saved the frog from certain death until I plopped him back into the water and he went drifting downstream limp and lifeless."

"The snake was a deadly poisonous water moccasin, and his fangs had punctured the poor frog. All I had done was cheat the snake out of his lunch.
"It has always been difficult for me to accept nature's cruel ways of keeping a balance among the animals - all the savagery and the suffering, with so many being sacrificed for others to survive.

"Yet nature's merciless ways were never more cruel than the slow, silent death caused by poisonous waste spilling from pipes down in the creek, spreading a brownish purple scum over the water, where dead fish floated belly up and a nauseating stench filled the air.

"But I prefer to remember the life and beauty of the creek, the brilliant blue dragonflies darting among the cattails, the lazy mud turtles sunning themselves on warm rocks, schools of minnows flashing in and out of the sunlight, and the water striders gliding lightly over the glassy surface in the shade of the willows and sycamores."

- story from Bill Peet's autobiography

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Palm Oil in soap - Good magazine article

I never shared this article on my blog - as I had shared it on an ill-fated Facebook group instead. However, I digitized every word of it and saved it. So here it is - the words of this article have been reproduced exactly for education and benevolent purposes - published by Good magazine in their June/July 2009 issue.
Not having a bar of it 
Horrified to learn where the main ingredient in her soap comes from, Jean Hedges goes in search of a bar with a clean conscience“I've just been watching a programme about palm oil,” my partner Ed blurts as he bursts into the bathroom. “They're cutting down rainforests to grow palm oil, so you can have it in your soap. And your brand is one of the worst!”

I dive into the cupboard for a pack of my Dove Sensitive Skin soap. “There's no palm oil in here,” I say, spitting out toothpaste. But I suspect I'm wrong. Sodium palmate, the label says; I later learn it's made by reacting palm oil with lye. Unilever, which owns the Dove brand, is the biggest single buyer of palm oil in the world.

“Okay,” I sigh. “I'll add palm oil to the list of things I won't buy,” along with caged eggs and chickens, unnecessary food preservatives, colours and flavours ...the list keeps growing.

The documentary was right. Global demand for palm oil is increasing by six to ten percent a year. Producers of palm oil are cutting down huge tracts of rainforest to make room for plantations of oil palms, primarily in Malaysia and Indonesia. At the current rate of logging, the UN estimates that 98 percent of Indonesian forests will be destroyed by 2020.

As well as contributing to climate change-- tropical deforestation accounts for one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions -- accelerating palm oil production is destroying orangutan habitats. The Auckland Zoo says orangutans will be extinct in less than ten years if the current growth in oil palm plantations continues.

To be fair, only about seven percent of palm oil is used in the cosmetics industry. Much greater amounts are used in biofuel and food manufacture. Palm oil is the second-most widely used consumed oil, after soy. It's an ingredient in many food products -- cookies, cakes, crackers, processed foods, pet food -- but I can easily find food that doesn't contain palm oil. There are very few alternatives for commercial beauty products, as I soon discover.

At the supermarket, I look for soap without palm oil, also known as arecaceae elaeis (its botanical name), palm kernel oil, sodium palm kernelate, sodium palmate, sodium palmitate…pretty mucn anything with the word 'palm' somewhere on the label. Lauric acid and glycerine may also indicate palm oil has been used. It can also be labelled 'vegetable oil', since New Zealand has no law making it compulsory to label a specific vegetable oil.

I pick up soap after soap from the supermarket shelves. All contain palm oil in some form or other. Spying the Ecostore soap, I grab it happily. Palm oil-free soap, at last? Well, no. All Ecostore soaps contain palm oil—although the company is committed to buying it from the most ethical suppliers it can find.

Ecostore is an affiliate member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oll (RSPO). Founded in 2004, the Malaysia­based organisation oversees an audit programme to certify the sustainable production of palm oil. The first shipment of RSPO-certified palm oil was made in November 2008.

Greenpeace, however, believes the RSPO's sustainabillty criteria are inadequate, and says it's failing to enforce even those minimum standards. It investigated RSPO-certified palm oil supplier United Plantations, andfound it received its certification for plantations in Malaysia while continuing destructive practices in Indonesia.

Ecostore chief executive Malcolm Rands acknowledges the RSPO is far from perfect, “but it’s the best initiative out there”. Many suppliers have been around for centuries, he says, and the issue is far from black and white.

Still, I’m determined to find an alternative. I go to my local health food store—and leave empty-handed. The local farmer’s market leaves me similarly disappointed.

The soap sold at your local farmer’s market may not even be handmade. You can buy soap blocks at Trade Me, melt them, add fragrances and pour the result into moulds. Such soaps are ‘handmade’, even though the maker doesn’t know what ingredients went into the base of the soap. I consider making my own soap from scratch, but lye is caustic and highly corrosive, so I decide against it. Instead, I hit the internet to continue my search.

Palm oil-free soaps from Lush (http://www.lushnz.com/) will be available in New Zealand by the end of the year. The company has switched all its UK soap production to a new base of rapeseed, coconut and sunflower oils, reducing its annual palm oil consumption by 250 tonnes. Lush’s Sydney kitchen, which supplies New Zealand stores, will begin manufacturing palm oil-free soaps in August 2009.

Another ethical retailer, The Body Shop, has taken a different approach. One of the first RSPO members, it felt the industry-run group wasn’t moving quickly enough, so in 2007 The Body Shop began sourcing organic palm oil from the Colombia-based Daaban Group. Daabon is certified by the Rainforest Alliance, SA 8000, EcoCert and the FLO (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International), and has pioneered organics in South America.

Closer to home, a couple of small companies producing genuine handmade soap offer to make me palm oil-free bars, but warn me it’ll cost more. “I have to use more coconut oil so the soap isn't too soft,” explains Linda Wilkinson from Just Soap (http://www.justsoap.co.nz/). Coconut oil is more expensive, so her palm oil-free soaps cost 30 cents extra.

Liz Brook from LizzieBee Soaps (www.lizziebee.co.nz) also offers to make me some palm oil-free soap and, as she lives near me, I take her up on the offer. The resulting soap is soft, smooth, lathers well, and leaves my skin feeling moist and supple. I love it.

And my Dove soap? Following public pressure led by Greenpeace last year (www.greenpeace.org/dove), Unilever has committed to purchasing all its palm oil form certified sustainable sources by 2015. It’s good to be reminded that people like me can make companies change (see page 103 for more info on what you can do)—but now I’ve gone palm-oil free, I won’t go back.

How is soap made?Our ancestors made their soap with tallow (aka beef fat) but nowadays soap is usually made with vegetable oil and lye (better known as caustic soda). The oil and lye react to produce natural glycerine, water and soap. Good soap retains glycerine, a moisturizer.

Palm oil is a very cheap vegetable oil that sets hard at room temperaure, like animal fat and the more expensive coconut oil. This makes the soap solid.

Tallow soaps are still available, so if you want an animal-product-free soap, avoid sodium tallowate as an ingredient. Tallow can also block pores, so you may want to avoid it for that reason.



PHOTO: A palm oil plantation next to native forest.

Palm Oil is found in 90% of margarine (in NZ) - except Alfa One (Rice Bran Oil based)

Just wanted to pass on something I learned from the great NZ show, "What's
Really in Our Food?" Season 4, Episode 2 - Table Spreads and Oils.

Most importantly "Over 90% of table spreads contain palm oil, however it can simply be listed as ‘vegetable oil’."

Palm oil is a problem as it is very difficult to buy sustainably produced oil. It's cheap, but responsible for the deforestation of rainforest in places such as Borneo and Sumatra - removing the habitat of orangutan and causing their extinction.

I knew that they used it in soaps, but was clueless about table spreads (as in margarine). Apparently the only table spread that doesn't use palm oil here is one which is based entirely on rice bran oil, Alfa One. Guess which one we buy now? (I think also a few letters are in order.)

Something else just for health info - virgin olive oil is just less refined - the terms refer to how it is processed. And there is no such thing as "light" oil (meaning less fattening). All oil is 100% fat.

From the "What's Really in Our Food?" website:

Cold pressed oils undergo minimal processing – the fruit or seed they’re made from is simply pressed so that the oil comes out. These oils usually have strong flavours that get destroyed by heating so they’re better used on salads or breads. Not all olive oils are cold pressed. Extra virgin and virgin olive oils are the result of the first and second pressings of olives.

But, more refined oils can be cooked at higher temperatures (before they start smoking). And...

Unlike wine, extra virgin olive oil is best enjoyed fresh. Over time, the oil degrades – both heat and light also contribute to this. Italian olive oils have a great reputation but if you’re an extra virgin olive oil fan it’s probably better to buy locally produced olive oils because they’re likely to be fresher.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The world conference on melting polar ice caps dream

Last night I dreamed of seeing a place broadcast from the internet – it was – the polar ice caps. The ice caps were melting. There was an area, an outdoor ampitheatre, open with walls, and many seats inside. This is what was on the broadcast – with a label above the entrance that it was the polar ice cap region.

It was an international zone, people from all over the world were coming to see. Then, in my dream, I had arrived there and was looking around. I actually carried a bike with me, but not at first. First I saw the place, and there was a beautiful cliff I was making my way down, holding on the the grass at the sides, to get there. When I was there, I remember when I walked through the seats, the conference area full of seats, the area was filling with water. The water had risen up to the seat level.

Then I walked along a path people were walking. There was a beautiful tree, it was a beautiful area. I left my bike behind (which had appeared at some point) so it wouldn’t wreck the grass. I wanted to take a photo then – and this is where it gets a little silly for a moment - people were going down a slight hill and taking pictures of themselves standing in the trees – with these gnome people. I was trying to get someone to use my camera as I was alone, to take a photo of myself and the people in these trees. Then I gave up as the lady I had asked couldn’t work the camera. What I really wanted to do was to take photos myself of everything. So I think I tried to do that – although I had already flowed past, I went back intentionally back where I had come to take photos. At some point I saw Jasmine around – I often dream of her in relation to environmental things – she was my first friend who was aware of the environment at a young age.

I think sometimes dreams can go back and forth and can lose and gain focus – but what was very real in this dream was the international room of chairs, the world’s attention on this melting polar ice cap situation. Like the world was taking notice, meeting – convening there and talking about it. Like this was an opportunity we shouldn’t miss out on for the world to join.