How To Make This Year's Rosh Hashanah Better For You And The Planet

When you pull out the "good stuff" for the holidays, make sure it's actually, truly good for you.
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On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate the New Year and give thanks for the creation of our world. We dedicate time to family and friends and we reflect on our past year and celebrate the start of the new year. It's the perfect time to make new goals for the year ahead and try to do better for yourself, your family, and our world.

Shopping for the holidays

Be eco-"logical" about planning your family gatherings right from the get-go. Shopping locally for an organic Rosh Hashanah meal, apples and honey will not only help support your neighbours and community, but you will also serve kind, chemical and pesticide-free food. And don't forget, shopping tools can be as important as the food itself. What a shame it is to carry home glorious food in a toxic throwaway.

Tote the right thing

Plastic bags are a thing of the past, but if you're toting a 99-cent reusable, you could be doing more harm than good. Non-woven polypropylene reusable bags are made from the same stuff as disposable plastic bags — petroleum (ick!) and have been found to have high levels of lead. It's time to carry on (literally!). Arm yourself with a bag that will last you all of your shopping to come. Try a fair-trade bag that is lab-tested, lead-free and washable.

A real Shabbat

Make sure that you're buying and serving a pesticide, GMO, chemical and hormone-free Shabbat dinner. It's easy to do when you get into the habit of shopping responsibly. Know your food, and know your farmer. Better (and yummier) food on the table makes for happier guests — and you may have even inspired others to shop more responsibly too once they taste and savour your local, organic goodness. Join a CSA, shop your farmers' market, or grow your own with Young Urban Farmers.

The perfect cover-up

OK, so not all of us can bake and braid a fresh challah, so, if you're picking one up from the bakery, don't suffocate it with a petroleum-based bag. After only being used for a few minutes, it then almost immediately ends up in your landfill where it will remain forever — and where does that twist tie go? (oy!). The Turtle Bag makes fine bamboo bags to holds your bread from bakery to table and also doubles as a challah cover.

Dress your table

In Judaism, the colour white signifies transformation and purity. We strive to ensure that everything is clean, neat and sparkly and we traditionally dress our tables with a white tablecloth and white napkins. In keeping with the tradition, lose the chlorine bleach and adopt safe and responsible practices. Rosh Hashanah is a sacred holiday, so make sure your personal and shared environment is safe for your loved ones and our planet.

Hands off!

Is it worth wearing gloves and feeling like you might pass out just to have shiny happy silver? Harmful silver polish has danger warnings about inhaling it or touching your skin. Do you want that hazard on your soup spoon? I would advise cleaning your silver with natural toothpaste or putting it in a sink with aluminum foil on the bottom — just add warm water and salt. Same sparkly results, but fume and residue-free. Take a whiff of that!

Table toppers

When you pull out the "good stuff" for the holidays, make sure it's actually, truly good for you. I believe that napkins and tablecloths that are vinyl, backed with plastic or even cotton, treated with chemicals (you know the ones that claim they are stain-proof or wrinkle-resistant?), should absolutely be avoided. Some consider cotton to be the world's "dirtiest" crop due to its heavy use of insecticides. Choose natural linens like organic cotton, but regardless of your choice, please make sure they are reusable.

Pure and fresh

Some cut flowers are heavily sprayed with pesticides, fungicides and herbicides (with toxins that are banned in fields in Canada!). Then they are wrapped in plastic. We thought flowers were supposed to signify beauty and purity?! Don't fret, source local — you'll be surprised what's growing in your own backyard.

Prepare the meal

Since you've already gone out of your way to shop the local farmers' market, purchased your organic eats, and unpacked everything from your wonderful reusable bags, it's now time to cook smart so you don't undo all the good you've done! Think about your cooking method (this includes what you're cooking with, and on) before you begin your preparations. Be efficient and plan ahead — it will save you money, time (and energy, too) which only means you will have a few extra minutes to share with your loved ones on Rosh Hashanah.

Back to earth

Taking the time to compost your scraps instead of throwing them in the garbage diverts huge amounts of waste from our landfills and also helps make our gardens grow by giving it soil-rich nutrients.

Composting also reduces methane production, a very potent greenhouse gas that is released into our air from landfills. Stainless steel composters won't take on the smell (or colour) of your food scraps and it's nice enough to sit on your countertop. How's that for accessorizing?

Food for thought

Your food comes into contact with a lot, so choose kitchen stuff wisely. Cast iron, stainless steel, lead-free clay and glass are my ultimate choices for bakeware and cookware. I believe you should say no to non-stick (ick), and keep serveware and storage-ware glaze-free (lead and other stuff) and plastic-free (BPA and phthalates). I like glass best because it's safe and easy to store your leftovers in and to pop in the oven for reheating.

Bless all around

Tikkun 'olam, meaning perfecting or repairing of the world, is a major theme in modern Jewish social justice theology. It must be carried out by humans in partnership with God, and it is an important concept in environmentalism. It is said that our ignorance and our poor choices have damaged the world. The good news (in my opinion), is that this problem can be fixed by switching out bad habits for healthier and smarter ones. As you recite the blessings on Rosh Hashanah, let each be a reminder to take care of our world, and all that constantly gives and takes care of us.

Pure brilliance

While you may think conventional candles serve a purpose, are beautiful to look at, and provide a sense of warmth and comfort to your home, you could be endangering yourself. When we burn paraffin candles, carcinogens fill the room with toxins that coat your walls, furniture, and lungs. Bring pure brilliance to your table and bless candles made from pure Canadian beeswax (the purest and most natural of all waxes — they glow and clean your air, too).

Fruits of the earth

The blessing over the wine (or grape juice for those underage) is about acknowledging the fruits of the earth — so let's make sure that's exactly what we are drinking — pure fruit without pesticides and additives. Research has found that there is at least one form of pesticide found in every conventional bottle of wine, but some wines can have up to 10 different ones.

Clean it up

Now for the dirty talk... Whether you are tidying before the holidays, or on cleaning duty afterwards, you want your home to be truly clean. Studies show that Canadians spend more than $275 million on household cleaning products in a year. (oy!). You can easily make safe and smart cleaning products using ingredients you can find in your own kitchen — and you can save money and won't sacrifice cleanliness (or your health!).

Dirty laundry

You've spent the time purchasing organic cotton linens to dress your Rosh Hashanah table, so it doesn't make sense to toss them in the wash with conventional detergent where they would swim in chemicals. Fabric softeners, dryer sheets and even dryer balls made from PVC should be avoided as they could contain some not-so-snuggly ingredients that are taking a toll on our health and our planet. Although those products are marketed to make us believe that the warm fuzzy bunnies, teddy bears, or babies are safe and comforting, we often overlook the fine print telling us that they might contain hazardous chemicals. (I use this healthy option instead!)

Rosh Hashanah is the perfect time to open up to new possibilities and be grateful for everything we have. More than anything, Rosh Hashanah offers the opportunity to turn inward, and ask ourselves, about the impact our actions have on our friends and family, our communities, and on the earth.

Welcome a fresh start and have a safe, happy, and healthy new year!

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