Home & Wellness

Vertical Gardens Gain Popularity

A vertical garden in Mexico City.Vertical gardens are becoming popular as more and more of the world’s population lives in urban centers. Patrick Blanc has built the world’s tallest vertical garden in Sydney, Australia, with over 450 plant types, of which 250 are local plant species. Blanc learned to make vertical gardens as a child, once he understood that plants don’t need soil; they can grow in water, absorbing nutrients while also filtering the water. According to Blanc, vertical gardens afford a more complete view of all the plants when compared to a horizontal garden. Trained as a botanic scientist, Blanc is able to match plants to their preferred climate easily; this makes him a more time-efficient vertical garden creator compared to competitors.

Offering opportunities for showcasing architectural creativity, vertical gardens can be quite beautiful. Importantly, aside from being esthetically pleasing and well suited to urban populations, vertical gardens also help in “reforesting” urban landscapes, providing fresh air and humidity.  Research also shows that vertical gardens can play a role in adapting to climate change through their cooling effect in office buildings.

Image credit: SanGatchie via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution. 

(Dis)connected: Overcoming Distraction, Isolation, and Separation with Connective Technology

apple-mobile-phone-149689-hIncreasingly, our connectedness is mediated by technology. I know I’m guilty of being an email and Facebook addict; this is how I connect with my parents, relatives, and friends abroad. But what about the relationships we cultivate face to face? Are they suffering? Are we tuning out of life as we flit from our smart phone to the next gadget?

Research suggests yes. And Professor David M. Levy is on a mission to do something about it. He wants to get his students to do one thing at a time, as a way of becoming more present.

Levy’s goal is to reverse the connective technology paradox. The current dilemma is that in our desire to be connected to distant people and events, we use technologies that distract us from connecting with the present moment and the people around us. Levy is using those same technologies with meditation to help his students be more present, and focus on one task at a time, even if that task uses technology. For instance, one of his assignments is to do only email for 15 minutes. For those of us who check email constantly (yes, I mean me), this is an important shift. He also has his students practice meditation in class, which, although at first awkward, eventually helps them mentally declutter.

Says Levy, “A good deal of my focus in recent years has been on exploring how to use our digital tools differently, to connect us to one another and to sources of information in deeper and healthier ways.” Amen to that!

Source: NPR Blog

Image credit: blakespot via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

Cuddling: A Win-Win For Cuddlers and Cuddlees.

Cuddling: A Win-winAt several children’s hospitals around the country, volunteers provide sick newborns with an essential service: cuddling. We all know the power of human touch can be life-saving, and although cuddling hasn’t been researched much, what we do know suggests that consoling infants is beneficial. Caring touch can reduce a baby’s stress levels, promote sleep, and reduce hospital stays.

Especially in a noisy, busy, and often stressful environment like an intensive care unit where mothers are dealing with medical complications or other children, it’s important that the newborns get the loving care and touch they need. It’s also critical that infants receive this loving attention in the first stages of life, so they can avoid the negative effects on brain development that can occur if they have negative experiences such as separation and stress.

Interestingly, cuddling doesn’t benefit only the babies; cuddlers report feeling happier and more fulfilled. It seems that loving human closeness is a win-win.  So, the next time you’re looking for volunteer work, consider cuddling a newborn at your local hospital. You’ll both feel good!

Image credit: Weird Beard via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

Vegan: The New Mainstream?

food-vegan-gourmet-47127-hThe plant-based lifestyle is increasingly in the news. Whether it’s Al Gore announcing he’ll be vegan for life, or Kathy Stevens predicting that America will be vegan by 2050, there’s new evidence everyday that more and more of us humans are drawn to a plant-based lifestyle.

Stevens lays out four reasons for her bold prediction: Americans are eating less meat, supermarkets are carrying more vegan options; so are restaurants, and mainstream philanthropists like Bill Gates are funding vegan startups.

Oh, and Hampton Creek Foods is going to take over the world—and with a mission to make food healthy for everyone, everywhere—well, why not?

The trend is not just that people are opting for vegan choices. The trend is that vegan options are becoming the new mainstream.

As badass music producer and Really Fresh Vegan entrepreneur Mickey Davis put it, “”We want to reach anybody who likes food, not just people who think of it as vegan food.” Because vegans are foodies too,  and set a high bar for flavor and quality (well some of us set a high bar for addressing climate change, lifestyle diseases, land degradation, water scarcity, and animal cruelty, but all that aside), the vegan trend is starting to catch on as cool, climate pun intended.

And the best part? The benefits are truly awesome. According to Davis, who spoke to Beyoncé and Jay-Z about vegan eating, “Even if you don’t do it the whole way, you can still see benefits.” Nuff said.

Image credit: Geoff Peters 604 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

Best Offices Satisfy Core Human Needs

office digital-green-3122210-hOffice design across the world is undergoing a reframe that focuses on human needs, resulting in happier and more productive people. A CNN article summarizes the benefits and showcases examples from different parts of the globe, highlighting Google’s Super HQ in London, which was designed with human comfort and esthetic pleasure in mind. Besides comfort, Google offices are being designed with splashes of color and fun meeting spaces that inspire and encourage creativity. Spaces also keep changing at Google to avoid boredom.

Importantly, designers are finding that bringing nature into offices creates a physically and emotionally healthier environment, reducing stress and enhancing motivation. Amazon’s new office in Seattle will include glass orbs filled with plants. One company has gone even further, inserting its office into a forest: Selgas Cano placed a tube-like office with glass walls into in a forest, allowing natural light, and a view of insects, to inspire peaceful work.

Physical benefits of working with plants around us include a more humid atmosphere, which can lead to fewer respiratory illnesses. There are many other benefits, suggesting that as we reconsider our working environments, we must account for our needs for comfort, play, and our fundamental need to be close to the rest of nature.

Image credit: philcampbell via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution. 

Source: CNN

Using 3D Printers To Save Lives

3D PrinterThere is a medical revolution happening using 3D printers that could have barely been imagined a few years ago. Printers are being used to build human organs and tissue to replace those that may have become damaged or those that were flawed from the beginning. So far, 3D printers have been used to print 75% of a man’s skull, prosthetic nose and ears, and a splint to help a baby breathe. It has also been used to model a baby’s heart to help doctors determine the proper treat for multiple heart defects. Body parts built using 3D printers typically don’t have the issue of rejection by the human body because it is not seen as foreign bio-material. In some instances, stem cells from the patient themselves can be used to regrow organs and tissue.

The first 3D printer was built in 1984 by Charles Hull. However, it wasn’t until recently that the technology has become affordable enough for the average DIYer to start playing with it and unleashing its true potential.

3D printers work by precisely laying down raw materials in a configuration specified by a 3D model made in a computer. Each product is printed layer by layer from the bottom up.

While there are many recreational uses for 3D printers, such as creating sculptures, there are also beneficial uses. Most 3D printers are used to quickly and efficiently build prototypes. This cuts down on energy use and waste that would be created using conventional methods. This method has been used to build simple things like cellphone cases, and more more complex items like spare parts for the International Space Station. A Dutch company has even built a 6-meter (20-foot) 3D printer that can be used to build houses.

As 3D printer technology advances, it will only become more useful. In addition to the things that can be created using 3D printers, their benefits will also lie in the things that are eliminated, like waste and excessive energy use.

Perhaps, most importantly, they will eliminate the need to breed and kill non-human animals, many of whom are genetically modified, to provide spare body parts and tissue for human use.

Nations Embrace Plant-Based Diets

seitan-miso-ginger-5089514-hPlant-based lifestyles are thriving increasingly around the world. What’s interesting about it is the diversity of motivations behind this surge, which points to a higher collective awareness about our relationship to food and where it comes from.

In China, for instance, people are embracing plant-based foods because they want (1) to be healthy, including maintaining a healthy weight; (2) to protect wildlife, since animal agriculture requires a lot of land that could otherwise be forested; (3) to reverse the cognitive dissonance they’ve experienced due to animals they love as pets versus those they eat; and (4) to follow the teachings of Buddhism. Young people in China who care about protecting wildlife skipped the ritual of eating fish and chicken for the Lunar New Year, indicating how their values are changing. 

The interest in plant-based foods points to a higher collective awareness about our relationship to food and where it comes from.

Taiwan is showing a similar trend. Dr. Will Tuttle, on his recent lecture tour of Taiwan, learned that 93% of Taiwanese schools serve meat-free lunches one to two days a week. Much of the motivation centers around Buddhism; Buddhist organizations run vegan/vegetarian hospitals, and operate organic health food stores, promoting plant-based lifestyles. While in Taiwan, Dr. Tuttle had active discussions with politicians about the benefits of plant-based diets, and they were open to a meat tax. The Taiwanese press also plays a strong role in sensitizing the public about such issues through extensive coverage of Dr. Tuttle’s lectures and other efforts to promote plant-based diets. Continue reading

Boost Your Empathy Skills To Become A Better Person

Empathy will make you a better person.We’ve all been in that situation. You know, the one where you explain something a million different ways and still cannot get another person to see your point of view. It can be frustrating. But it might not have anything to do with your argument. It could be how the other person sees those arguments. Is it possible that we are going about making our case the wrong way? Can seeing the situation from the other person’s perspective help you communicate your thoughts and ideas a little better, and in turn, make you a better person?

Chad Fowler thinks so. After reading his advice, you might think that he is sharing common knowledge. It may be the case but it behooves us to pay attention since this common knowledge can easily be taken for granted and forgotten or worse, willfully ignored.

What are the benefits of practicing empathy?

So, what does exactly empathy help buy us. Here are a few selections from the list:

  • You will be more likely to treat the people you care about the way they wish you would treat them.
  • You will more clearly understand the perception you create in others with your words and actions.
  • You will be able to more accurately predict the actions and reactions of people you interact with.
  • You will experience the world in higher resolution as you perceive through not only your perspective but the perspectives of those around you.
  • You will find it easier to deal with the negativity of others if you can better understand their motivations and fears.

How does one actually develop empathy?

Again, the answers seem obvious but they are worth repeating. Listening, instead of just hearing is an important factor in becoming a better person. If you find yourself having a response to something the other person in the conversation is saying, before they are done saying it, you are probably not listening. And if you are not listening, you are probably not understanding the other person’s point of view.

Right or wrong, if you don’t know where the other person is coming from, you will never get through to them. In order to understand others, become them. How would your actions and words make you feel if you were the other person? How would you respond to yourself if you took the opposing position in the discussion?

Fowler also suggests the following to practice empathy even when you are not in a conversation;

…while you wait for the train or are stuck in a traffic jam, look at the people around you and imagine who they might be, what they might be thinking and feeling, and where they are trying to go right now.

Imagining other people’s lives in this way will help you better understand where someone else might be coming from.

Practice these few skills and you will be on your way to becoming a better person. And better people makes for a better world.

Oh, and be careful not to mistake sympathy for empathy. The Royal Society of the Arts has a great animated short explaining the difference.

Image credits: Pete and brokenchopstick via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Source: Chad Fowler via Lifehacker.

Texan Mayor Starts A Health Movement

food-vegan-patties-1515799-hMayor Ed Smith of Marshall, Texas, lives a remarkable story of positive change.

When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008, he began a plant-based diet under his doctor’s care, and eventually scans showed that the cancerous growth had disappeared. Clinical studies have also supported the adoption of a plant-based diet in fighting cancer. 

Empowered by this experience, Smith and his wife started a movement called Get Healthy Marshall, which includes potlucks, supermarket tours focused on healthy eating, and an annual “New Year, New You Health Fest.” Through Get Healthy Marshall, one resident has reversed his diabetes and lost fifty pounds and the program’s website lists other, similar success stories. Restaurants have started adding plant-based menu items to meet the demand.

Without any regulatory intervention, Marshall is making a dent in America’s health crisis, and enjoying it too.

Smith’s story is a powerful one. It showcases the power of voluntary change for good. Without any regulatory intervention, Marshall is making a dent in America’s health crisis, and enjoying it too.

In a similar vein, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago has joined firefighter and author Rip Esselstyn in promoting a plant-based lifestyle, including the Engine 2 Diet, which is a low-fat, high-fiber diet.

As more and more people embrace a plant-based lifestyle in Marshall, they are becoming sensitized to related issues, such as animal rights. It goes to show that change can start anywhere, and spread everywhere. The important thing is to begin. Kudos to Mayor Smith and Mayor Emanuel for backing what works: healthy plant-based food!

Image credit: rusvaplauke via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Source: The New York Times

GenerationVeggie.org – An Online Resource For The Modern, Plant-based Family.

The Branchesi FamilyReannon Branchesi (Ree-Ann-Nin Bran-Kay-Zee) has been vegan since 2001 and a mom to identical twin girls since 2012. She has worked for animal rights nonprofit organizations since 2003, including six years at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Currently, she manages Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals Program. She is a lover of cake, running and exercise enthusiast, and a singer who is currently focused on making up songs about her children brushing their teeth and putting on their socks. She is a native Wisconsinite who, after living in southeastern Virginia for 9 years, is now based Madison, WI with her husband, Jay, and her favorite gals, Isabel and Abigail.

Pregnant with twins and not finding much in the way of online resources to help her through her pregnancy, Reannon decided to create GenerationVeggie.org, a website for vegan and vegetarian families. She has started an Indiegogo Campaign to help raise funds for this project. We reached out to her via email to find out about the project and get some advance tips for plant-based families.

What is your elevator pitch for GenerationVeggie.org? GenerationVeggie.org will be a one-stop resource for everything related to plant-powered kids, including recipes, nutrition advice, product recommendations, community forums, humane education resources, stories from real-life families, practical tips for everyday challenges, and much more!

What inspired you to start GenerationVeggie.org? Is it something you were looking for and didn’t find, and thought of creating? Was it suggested by others? I had the idea for GenerationVeggie.org in late 2011. I was a few months pregnant and shocked by the lack of information available online about vegan pregnancy and family life. I felt especially without an anchor after I learned we were having twins — there is almost nothing online about vegan multiples and it freaked me out. There was no community, in general, and while I found several nice blogs, many were recipe-focused and didn’t discuss things I was curious about — animal-friendly baby products, supplement considerations for pregnant women and young kids, and most importantly, how to help explain animal rights to a young child. It may seem obvious, but I wanted to read something that went beyond “animals are our friends, and it’s mean to eat them.” I’m very lucky to have a large network of vegan friends with kids, but not everyone has that support. When I got pregnant, I had been vegan for 10 years and had worked as a “professional vegan” for most of that time. I realized that if I had doubts and was craving more support it had to be much worse for other pregnant women without my sort of social network. So, the idea for GenerationVeggie.org was born. It’s taken me more than two years to get it off the ground because, well, I’ll refer you to the part about how I have twins. :) Continue reading

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