Q: Many spiritual spring rituals involve dyes of some sort. Any tips on getting away from chemical colours?
Q: It seems nearly every culture has a way of celebrating the burst of colour carried in with spring. OK, maybe the tulips aren't in bloom yet, but they're coming, they're coming. And to mark the event (and in some cases some other religious stuff), Christians dye eggs, Hindus throw bright dyes at each other and Jews paint their faces for Purim. This year it's all coming together on the same weekend. Fusion festival, anyone?
You can tell by all the face-painting and dress-up that Purim is more of a celebration than a religious holiday. Way back in the day, Queen Esther (yes, this is the lady behind Madonna's latest name change) saved her people by foiling an evil plot, and kids have been dolling themselves up to retell the tale every since. Many just piece together costumes with whatever's lying around the house (if you're making a tin-foil crown, kids, make sure to toss that foil in the blue bin when you're done with it!), but some go out and buy full-on getups. Instead of buying crappie plastic outfits that break after one wear, consider renting your royale attire from places like Malibar on McCaul, which has plenty of Purim-suitable costumes.
You can make your own face paints with basic kitchen ingredients (check out www.make-stuff.com/holidays/monster.html) or pick up some non-toxic (though not exactly all-natural) stuff at Loomis Art Stores on Spadina or Danforth, Aboveground Art Supplies on McCaul, or Curry's on Yonge (from $4). You can also head to the makeup counter of your neighbourhood health food store if you're willing to spend an extra buck or two on chem-free and/or organic supplies.
If you want to witness a celebration truly dedicated to vibrant hues, you have to check out India's Holi, the country's official festival of colour. The harvest party banishes winter with bonfires, feasting and plenty of coloured-water- and powder-throwing in the streets. Toronto doesn't have quite the street party that northern India does, but powders and water-colours are still thrown at folks wearing white and expecting stains in places like temple parking lots. Trouble is, some of the Holi colours sold are actually industrial hues meant for processes like dying textiles and may contain harmful chemicals and heavy metals.
Better to toss a mix of powdered turmeric and flour or pour some boiled beet-root juice in a water gun!
And what's good for Holi is good for Easter, at least in terms of dumping artificial dyes in favour of natural varieties. Most food dyes are coal-tar- or petroleum-based. We called one major food colouring supplier to find out exactly which dyes it was using, and it turns out its yellow (#5) has been linked to hyperactivity and allergic reactions in some studies. One of its reds (#4) has been linked to thyroid cancer in male rats, but the FDA says the risk to humans is extremely small and considers all these dyes food-safe.
To dye eggs naturally, hard-boil them in a pot with paprika, spinach, pomegranate or grape juice for more intense hues, or just dip hard-boiled eggs in a cooled bowl of veggie juice. (See www.celestialseasonings.com/ research/abouttea/egg_dyeing_article.php for more detailed techniques.)
As for the eggs themselves, know your labels. "Free run" means your chicken got to run around the factory, "free range" means it's actually given access to the outdoors, but neither term is regulated. "Hormone-free" is kind of a useless label considering the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says no poultry can be injected with hormones here anyway. Certified organic eggs might be more expensive, but it's the only way you know for sure that you're buying eggs from chickens that have been fed organic feed and have had some sort of cage-free time. Certified organic eggs are available at virtually every health food and major grocery store these days, but Sobey's and No Frills have the cheapest ($4.69 and $4.89/dozen respectively). Whole Foods on Avenue Road has non-certified organic eggs for about two bucks less than its certified ones ($3.59 versus $5.39), but again, you're relying on trust over systematized auditing.
Whatever you do this Easter, do not give out real live chicks or bunnies as pets. Chicks grow out of the cute and fuzzy stage very quickly, and rabbits aren't good starter pets. People tend to realize this after the fact and try to off-load their "error in judgment" onto the Humane Society. Better to give out chocolate bunnies and hens instead.
Nutty Chocolatier on Queen East has baskets full of all-natural chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies (99 cents to $300). Same goes for Bernard Callebaut Chocolates on Dundas West. If you're looking for extra-ethical treats this Easter, Big Carrot on Danforth carries T.O.-made fair trade organic choco bunnies and hens wrapped in pretty yellow ribbons ($2.99). The holidays don't get much sweeter than this.
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