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12/9/2015

The price of oil plummeted 6 percent on Monday, after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) — a group of the largest oil-producing nations — made a policy decision last week to maintain its current oil production rates. OPEC now produces about 31.5 barrels of oil per day, which is above the organization's 30-million-barrel ceiling for oil output.

Current oil prices stand at $39.97 for crude oil, $2.19 for natural gas, $1.27 for gasoline, and $1.34 for heating oil at the time of this writing. These prices represent a low not seen since 2009. So what does this mean for the cost of your holiday meals?

holiday meal on festive table
Photo by Kaboompics.

Lower Oil Prices Mean Slashes in Food Costs

Since the agriculture industry uses oil in its farm machinery, its agricultural chemicals, and its transportation of farm output, oil prices remain a fundamental driver of consumer food costs.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, energy and transportation costs represent about 8 percent of the total cost of domestically produced food. Fertilizers, chemicals, lubricants and fuel make up about 50 percent of production costs for corn and wheat crops in developed countries. Thus, the year's decline in oil prices will trickle down to food costs, said a January report from Rabobank.

Rabobank, a multinational banking company based in the Netherlands, predicted that lower oil prices in 2015 would lead to a direct drop in food production costs — creating lower prices for consumers. And it looks like that's exactly what has happened.

UN Food Index Reports 2015 Price Declines

According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Food Price Index — a measure of the international monthly change in costs of major food categories — the cost of major food commodities dropped significantly since last year.

Overall, the FAO Price Index averaged 156.7 points in November, 18 percent lower than its value in 2014. This number also represents a 1.6 percent decline since the Price Index's October average.

The cost reductions were driven by a 3.1 percent drop for vegetable oils, 2.9 percent drop for dairy products, and 2.3 percent drop for cereals and grains. Of the major food categories, only sugar saw a price increase since October.

The cost decline for most food commodities since 2014 is charted below.

oil price chart
Figure 1. FAO Food Price Index trends in 2014-2015; Source: FAO.

Robabank predicts that the prices of both oil and food commodities will remain low for the remainder of 2015, leading to a "reasonably comfortable" season.

"For many...people who spend a lot of their budget on food, this is good news," says Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute. "There is a high correlation between oil and food prices."

Benefit to Consumers Not Universal

Still, for the world's poorest, such as rural farmers who are not integrated in the global commodity market, this year's declining oil costs will have only a slim effect on the costs of food. Globally, reports the FAO, around 805 million people suffer from chronic hunger due to poverty.

But there's some good news, U.N. officials report that lower oil prices make it easier for humanitarian groups to provide aid to the world's hungry. The decline in costs has enabled groups like the World Food Programme (WFP) to fuel ships to bring food to conflict-ridden areas like Syria, Somalia and the Sudan.

The WFP says that, since the third quarter of 2014, the organization has saved about $30,000 per month for the three ships it has been chartering.

Lower Oil Prices May Not Last

But low oil prices and the resulting drop in food costs may not last, warned The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in an October report.

Despite continued growth in crude oil supply, "supply increases [will be more than offset by] an anticipated decline in U.S. output in 2016," the EIU predicts.

The EIU expects that the price of crude oil will rise to $60 a barrel in 2016 and $73 in 2017. These price increases are expected to have a direct impact on retail food costs in the next few years.

The bottom line: Enjoy your cheaply priced holiday ham, turkey or vegetarian dishes while you still have time.


Kayla Matthews is a health and wellness blogger who loves jogging, yoga and hiking. Follow Kayla on Google+ and Twitter to read all of her latest posts.




12/9/2015

buildOn Student Volunteer with Students in Classroom

This issue’s charity: buildOn

Why they’re crucial: As children, most of us probably took access to the tools needed to learn to read and write for granted. However, students in poverty-stricken communities—both in the U.S. and developing countries—often don’t get the supplies and opportunities they need. For more than 20 years, the nonprofit buildOn has worked to improve education quality and access in the U.S. and abroad. buildOn works with students in urban U.S. high schools by building leadership skills through community service. In developing countries, the organization builds schools, which include programs for children and adults. Communities who benefit from buildOn schools agree to send boys and girls to attend the school in equal numbers.

What they do

• Run service learning programs in 50 high schools in urban areas in the United States

• Build schools in developing countries • Create safe environments where students can feel comfortable learning • Empower students to improve their communities, respect themselves, and gain leadership and communication skills through after-school programs and service projects

How we can help: Throughout the duration of this issue, we’re collecting donations to this important charity. To join our efforts, visit buildOn. Or mail donations directly to P.O. Box 16741, Stamford, Connecticut, 06905. Include the fundraiser name, Mother Earth Living Gives Back, on the envelope or check, if you wish. It’s our goal to collect $2,500 for buildOn.

Did you know...

• Worldwide, nearly 900 million people cannot read or write.

• Across the world, 57 million children of primary school age have no classroom access at all.

• 94 percent of students who join buildOn service learning programs in the U.S. graduate from high school and go on to attend college.

• To date, buildOn has constructed more than 830 schools in seven countries, including Burkina Faso, Nepal and Nicaragua.



12/9/2015

Upcycling, the process of creatively repurposing old items into something useful, is a great way to downsizeHeart Ornament Made from an Old Sweater on items you don’t use by converting them into decorations, gifts and practical items. Try these ideas for ways to reuse your outdated wardrobe items.

T-Shirt Quilt: Have a stack of beloved T-shirts you can’t bear to toss? Repurpose them into a quilt to combine sentimental value and practicality.

Fabric Rug: Old clothes can be made into colorful fabric yarn and knitted into a unique floor covering. (Read DIY Fabric Rug for full instructions.)

Sweater pillows: Old sweaters can be made into charming decorations by felting (washing and drying wool so it shrinks into a dense fabric) then cutting out shapes, stuffing them and stitching them together. These tiny pillows make a cute addition to gifts, or look adorable tossed in a bowl. Find a tutorial for the one pictured above from the blog Your Homebased Mom.



12/7/2015

As a double Taurus (Moon & Sun), I look for quality and luxury in useful, sustainable items when giving and receiving gifts. I am not a throw away kind of gal and I detest clutter, so for me to buy something it has to be really special. My grandmom Dolores, a Scorpio, was an excellent gift giver. Every year she bought useful, beautiful high-quality gifts that I cherished. Selecting gifts for people is an art, and when you take time to choose the right gift it’s wonderful to see their faces light up with delight. This year, I am sharing five of my favorite gifts from conscious companies to help you buy for all of the special people in your lives. Ranging from modest to decadent, all items are high-quality, sustainable and eco-friendly.

chocolate

Lillie Belle Farms Handmade Chocolate

Chocolatier Jeff Shepherd, voted one of America’s Top 10 Chocolatiers in 2009, makes exquisite chocolates from the finest ingredients available, bean to bar. With options like Ramblin’ Rose Toasted Pecan Caramel Brownies and Lavender Sea Salt Caramels, Lillie Belle Farms’ gift boxes, custom assortments and singles ($8-48) make perfect gifts for everyone on your list.

holiday beeswax candle 

Bee Lux: Handcrafted Beeswax Candles

Bee Lux beeswax candles, from Portland, Oregon, are handcrafted using 100 percent pure beeswax, locally-sourced from Pacific Northwest apiaries. Their goal is “to honor the worker bee and live up to standard by creating the best beeswax candles available,” says owner and crafter Jamie Gilmore. These beautiful candles ($5-$32) make great gifts and unique decorations during the holidays while naturally cleansing the air. Double win!

bottles of wine

Wild Wines

Jazz up your holiday table & gift baskets with Wild Wines' ethically-harvested, handmade wine ($20). Wild Wines offers an array of unusual flavors sought by wine lovers all over the world. I love the ginger, elderflower and aronia berry. Try them for your reds and whites this year. You can’t go wrong with the gift of wine.

eminence organic skin care 

Eminence Organic Skin Care

Who wants chocolate mousse on their face and cranberry pomegranate sugar on their body? I do! This dynamic duo is the perfect gift for the skincare or spa junky on your list. Eminence Chocolate Mousse Masque ($52) feeds dry winter skin with highly concentrated nutrients from cocoa, macadamia, almond and jojoba oils. Their White Cranberry Pomegranate Sugar Scrub ($48) softens and smooths the skin from head to toe, creating a radiant, glowing effect after each use. These are great for mom, daughter, sister, friend or aunt.

bra and panty set by hanna broer

Hanna Broer Designs

Designer Hanna Broer uses sustainable and organic materials to create ultra comfortable pieces for women of all sizes. The Nia Bralette ($36) and Brief ($22) in Merlot is made of 70 percent bamboo rayon, 24 percent organic cotton, 5 percent spandex, and the rings and slides on the straps are plated with real gold. This super soft, high-quality set is a great gift for your wife, girlfriend, daughter or yourself. Every woman needs to have at least one set of Broer’s handmade, organic lingerie!

Have fun this year giving gifts to loved ones, send me an email and let me know which ones are your favorites. Happy Holidays and enjoy this season of giving and receiving in good health!


Shar VedaShar Veda, Southern Oregon’s Premier Alternative Therapist, offers deep healing through loving touch and compassionate counseling. She is an Ayurveda Lifestyle Counselor & Health Educator, yoga therapist and herbalist. Shar has been blessed to study with leading teachers in Ayurveda, Yoga, and herbalism for 20 years. However, it was her adopted grandma, Doe (English-American and Blackfoot Native), who instilled within her profound appreciation for the supreme power of loving touch, healing arts, and world family. Visit her website for a video, full bio, and photos or find her on Facebook!




12/3/2015

Fashion has always been considered a way to express yourself through the clothing choices you make. Still, showing who you are through the fashions you own and wear has quickly moved from “I love it” to “I must have it” as a result of in-your-face marketing placed in various magazines and advertisements we encounter daily.

This seasonal and repeated trend has made us collective victims of not only over-spending, but insensible over-pollution and consequently conscious destruction of our planet. How so? Well, it’s no secret that fashion doesn’t care much about the negative impact it’s having on our environment or lives of the planet’s inhabitants. Constant endangering of animals through fur production and animal testing is just the tip of the iceberg.

fashion show runway
Photo by Denmarkdotdk/Courtesy of Flickr

“Fast fashion leaves a pollution footprint, with each step of the clothing lifecycle generating potential environmental and occupational hazards. For example, polyester, the most widely used manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum. With the rise in production in the fashion industry, the demand for man-made fibers, especially polyester, has nearly doubled in the last 15 years, according to figures from the Technical Textile Markets. The production of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil and releasing various emissions, including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, all of which can cause or aggravate respiratory disease”, writes Luz Claudio in his paper on fashion pollution, Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry.

To all the environmentally-friendly fashionistas out there, sustainable fashion could be a way out and keep us looking good without harming our planet. Although, in all truth, sustainable fashion hasn’t always gained positive critiques in terms of its chic design and variety; candidly speaking, it has rarely even been linked to style. Why? Due to the poor resources it relies on rarely anything could be made so that it parallels the lush, extravagant runway fashion we are usually fascinated by. Well, not anymore!

Luckily for all of us nature lovers, recent years have brought a twist that makes sustainable fashion as chic and stylish as we’ve always desired! The color choices, cuts, amazing use of cheap yarn for incredibly on-trend designs, along with the overall intent of sustainable fashion are in a rapid state of progress and change. We’re sure whether we’re more excited about how gorgeous it is, or about the fact it’s actually happening!

For everyone who is passionate about saving the planet (as much as is in their power), but still not at the cost of looking drab, sustainable fashion has found a way to make it happen.

examples of women's fashion
Photo by ivabellini/Courtesy of Flickr

One of the main problems for sustainable fashion was that it had faced limitations due to the impossibility to manipulate fabrics and colors in such a way they resemble the already set expectations of the fashion industry. People are often in search for the latest “hip and trendy,” without considering what a toxic and harmful impact the trend has had on the environment and the people working with it. Sustainable fashion takes extreme care that all the colors used are of natural origin, usually with pigments made of microalgae, which can be grown in small amounts so there is no over-production. What’s also amazing is that the colors are changing dramatically—from pink to bright orange, for example, or green to blue.

With sustainable fashion you may easily end up owning a pair of trousers you can throw on the compost after years of wearing them, and they will decompose among the vegetables and eggshells, leaving behind nothing but some fertile soil to help grow new raw materials! Isn’t that amazing?!

While sustainable fashion still has trouble positioning itself alongside larger companies due to their burden of history or a production chain, smaller companies and brands are giving their best to introduce real innovations in the world of eco-fashion. Who knows, maybe even huge brands will change their ways as consumers start demanding better—we’ll see!


Zoe Clark is an environmentalist, home decorator and DIY enthusiast from a land down under. When not obsessing about designing perfect homes, Zoe is spending time with her family. You can find her on Twitter.





11/12/2015

Summer seems a long time gone when the nights start to draw in and the temperature quickly begins to drop. This is a time when our thoughts turn to staying warm throughout the winter months. In part, that means adjusting our wardrobe to cope with the chill in the air and making sure we feel warm and comfortable at home, as well.

winter fashion
Photo by Fotolia.

1. Chunky Knit Solutions

Fashion might not always be a priority over warmth, but you won’t have to compromise if you take advantage of some stylish and warm solutions.

Knit jumpers and dresses have been a regular feature on the winter fashion scene for the last few seasons. Gone are the days when people might have viewed cable knit as a bit stuffy and not exactly fashionable. If you want to achieve a combination of warmth and style, you could do a lot worse than to cocoon yourself in this stylish, chunky knit.

You may also want to consider a knitted scarf when putting together your winter wardrobe. Scarves are rightly viewed as a necessity when the temperature starts to drop and chunky knit scarves can keep you warm. Pick up a variety of printed and patterned wool to make them more of an accessory which will allow you to easily personalize your look.

2. Cozy at Home

For many of us, there is nothing quite as inviting as the prospect of a night snuggled up by the fire, enjoying a warming drink, and some quality time with loved ones.

You can look forward to feeling even cozier at home with warm pajama outfits from places like Sleepyheads. You could even get matching PJ sets for the entire family, so you can all snuggle up and feel the warmth together.

Consider footed pajamas for a bit of extra warmth. Plus, these are a great gift option for all ages; they’re great for lounging or sleepovers.

3. Don’t Forget Socks

Socks are mainly viewed as functional attire, but they do an unbelievably good job of keeping your toes nice and warm as you walk through the slush and snow.

As a fashion statement socks can be underrated. Hiding your socks under your boots is perfectly fine, but they can also serve as a cozy accessory. Neutral colored chunky knee-high socks or layered socks peeking out of boots can add subtle interest to outfits.

4. Fashionable Head Wear

Although the belief that we lose the most body heat through the head is a myth. However, we can lose about 7 to 10 percent of our body heat if our heads are left exposed in cold weather.

The good news for your ears is that they can stay toasty through the season with knitted headbands, which are considered a very current fashion accessory. The trend for chunky knit has also influenced head wear and a two-tone knitted headband will keep you warm and on-trend.

If you’re feeling adventurous and have a bit of knitting know-how, you might even want to create your own braided headbands or stocking caps.

5. Wear Tights with Style

Some of the colder days don’t really allow ordinary tights to keep your legs warm. You can now get leggings and tights which use special heat technology to keep your legs warm and cozy, whatever the weather. Several leading brands have produced tights that are able to keep you warm by retaining your body heat.

This means that whether you want to wear black tights or leggings, you can now find versions that use this modern technology and allow you to stay stylish without feeling the winter chill as much as you would before. Opaque tights, which are a bit thicker and heavier than regular tights, and fleece-lined leggings are other great options for staying cozy and stylish.

Even when the temperature drops and you start thinking about extra layers, there are plenty of ways you can look and feel good this winter.


Allison Ernst is a health professional and mother of three. She enjoys the chance to share her insights and observations on family topics online. You can find her posts on a number of relevant websites.



11/3/2015

Fifty-five percent of those surveyed are willing to pay more for products and services from companies who pledged to take real, meaningful steps toward sustainability, according to a 2014 Nielsen survey. And as the demand for sustainable goods continues to increase, these early adopters have positioned themselves at the front of the market. From fashion and manufacturing to home goods, here are just four eco-friendly companies who are extremely well positioned to handle the growing consumer demand for sustainable products.

eco-friendly business
Photo courtesy Depositphotos.

Apple Rubber

There are companies that make products, and then there are companies that make the materials that are in those products. When you make a material like rubber or plastic, which is a necessary component of nearly everything, even a small shift toward sustainability can have a huge effect. O-ring manufacturer Apple Rubber has proven itself more than willing to make the move. They have begun researching a Brazillian sugar cane-based ethanol product that would greatly reduce their demand for crude oil. This organic rubber would also reduce their carbon footprint without any compromise in quality.

The Honest Company

Household cleaning products can have a hugely detrimental effect on the environment, not only by way of the materials and practices needed to manufacture them, but also in the waste created when they are disposed. Based out of Santa Monica, California, The Honest Company is looking to change that. It has created a set of strict guidelines for all of its products that ensure that each one that hits store shelves is safe and sustainable. This starts with manufacturing, where the company relies almost exclusively on sustainably harvested, renewable materials. And once the products leave The Honest Company’s entirely solar-powered headquarters, they travel almost solely by ground shipping to stores across the county. Why? Because it uses six times less energy than flying.

New Belgium Brewing

Started by Kim Jordan in 1991, this Fort Collins, Colorado, company has since managed to become the fourth largest craft beer brewer in the county. And remarkably, New Belgium Brewing has done it while maintaining a reputation as one of the most sustainable companies in the beer-making industry. From early on, Jordan was obsessed with data, and that carries through today. New Belgium tracks all of its energy consumption and waste production, and the company has worked diligently to find ways to reuse or compost almost all of its waste products. New Belgium is also a huge promoter of green living for its employees and customers. It provides bikes and Priuses for employees who are travelling near their home facility. And their traveling Tour De Fat beer festival hits the road every summer to educate the public on the value of commuting by bike.

Zara

Since opening in 1975, this popular fashion brand has held a commitment for implementing sustainable practices into every aspect of its nearly 2,000 stores. From the actual design of the stores to the cardboard used in its packaging, Zara has managed to reduce its carbon footprint by almost 20 percent in recent years. This eco-conscious commitment carries over to the actual clothing as well, which are constructed of organic cotton and delivered to stores in bio-diesel trucks. Zara also instituted a strict recycling policy for one of the most wasteful items in retail stores: hangers. It’s a simple move that will undoubtedly pay huge dividends for the environment.


Aaron Rote is a Chicago freelance writer and poet specializing in quick wit and quick turnarounds.






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