Q: Every holiday seems to weigh on the earth. How can I make Halloween different?
A: In the annual sugar-hoarding, costume-hunting frenzy, few of us stop to wonder if all this madness is spooking Mother Nature. Whether feeding trick-or-treaters, taking the kids out on their candy collection route or gearing up for a frightful night on the town, you need to know a few things to make this year's event more eco-friendly.
Let's start with the sweets. Yes, we know, it's all part of the fun. But most cocoa is grown using tons of nasty pesticides on large plantations where workers endure very poor labour conditions, and the industry is marred by slave and child labour.
Sugar cane, the basis of all things Halloween, is also rich in pesticides. For those who don't know their global history, sugar cane was one of those crops pushed on the colonies, which were forced to give up subsistence agriculture to feed the great First World sweet tooth. Now, sugar growers' livelihoods are threatened by the rise of highly processed fructose (which bear no resemblance to fruit sugars) and high-fructose corn syrup as well as more recent biotech inventions like (chlorinated) sucralose.
You'll also find artificial (read chemical) colours and flavours and artery-clogging hydrogenated oils in Halloween toffees, chocolates and candies. And let's not forget the plastic wrap that goes around each tiny piece. Unfortunately, the urban legend about razor-filled apples seems to scare everyone out of eating anything that's not hermetically sealed.
But we wouldn't want to frighten anyone with all this info without assuring you that there are plenty of organic and all-natural goodies to hand out to those innocent trick-or-treaters or grown-up party revellers. Sure, they're a little pricier, but think quality, not quantity.
Chocolate Earth Balls are all natural, dairy-free and sweetened with rice syrup and grape juice. They come wrapped in, you guessed it, a picture of the Earth ($17.49/lb at Whole Foods on Avenue Road, $11.99/lb at Baldwin Naturals on Baldwin, and 25 cents each at Karma Co-op in the Annex). Cococamino makes mini fair-trade organic dark chocolate bars (39 cents each at Karma). Bug Bites are small organic chocolate squares that come with an endangered species trading card. And 10 per cent of profits go to animal and conservation causes (79 cents each at Whole Foods). All the proceeds from Chimp Mints go to saving chimps and gorillas in the wild (59 cents at Big Carrot on Danforth).
You can also get organic coconut haystacks (39 cents each at Baldwin Naturals) or all-natural rice-syrup-sweetened caramels ($19.99/lb at Baldwin). The Big Carrot carries organic toffees ($3.89/12), lollipops (50 cents each), gummi worms ($2.49/package) and chocolate squares (29 cents each). Whatever you buy, make sure to send the young'uns out with reusable cloth bags rather than disposable plastic ones.
If you're getting dressed up, keep in mind that many costumes are made from the scariest villain of all: PVC (or vinyl), which gives off ozone-depleting volatile organic compounds. Soft vinyl costumes are even worse, containing harmful phthalate additives.
Why not hit thrift stores instead? Wander around Courage My Love and Exile, both on Kensington, and get inspired by the second-hand get-ups. Value Village and Goodwill also carry good used gear from $3.99 and up.
Renting is another (though more expensive) way to access great reusable costumes. Malabar on McCaul offers outfits from $45 to $200.
Why not go with a provocative eco theme, perhaps a panda outfit with a big "Endangered" sign on your chest, or a neon-green, three-eyed fish?
As for makeup, check out Big Carrot and Noah's. Or make your own face paint (see www.make-stuff. com).
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