As you may have heard, we're now well into Fairtrade Fortnight, which spans from 23rd February - 8th March. I always find it kind of surprising when people tell me they're suspicious about buying Fairtrade goods - mainly because they have no proof that any good is being done, and that they're spending more for the same products. Because of this, I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight by delving into its projects and seeing what good is actually being done - if any - when buying products with the famous Fairtrade logo.

The word "Fairtrade" actually represents a number of things. Firstly, it's the familiar blue and green mark that represents certain environmental, labour and development standards are being met in producing the item you're holding. While you may have noticed that products with the Fairtrade logo are often dearer than their non-certified counterparts, it's because the extra percentage paid goes to ensuring that farmers and their workers are paid a "fair" wage (in comparison to the industry standard), while also ensuring working conditions are safer and there is a chance for the surrounding community to develop. This can come in the form of education, healthcare, economic developments - whatever the producers themselves deem necessary.

Fairtrade is also used to refer to the Fairtrade Foundation, which created the practice and licenses use of the logo, and Fairtrade International, the standard-setting body and overall body that the Fairtrade Foundation, its producers and partner organisations make up.

WHAT YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT FAIRTRADE
So far, the process seems pretty simple - pay more, give more back to those in the supply chain that are often marginalised (i.e. workers in countries that do not legislate or enforce better working conditions - Fairtrade attempts to stimulate that kind of environment by avoiding political influences). However, there are a number of facts you may not know - and for some of them, neither did I! - about Fairtrade that may just make you want to pick up that bunch of bananas or those coffee beans.
  1. 50% of Fairtrade International is owned by producers - giving them an equal voice
  2. Fairtrade is the only certification scheme that offers such a unique minimum price protection for farmers
  3. The Fairtrade minimum price is consultative - it is set on a case-by-case basis when meeting producer organisations, rather than a percentage of goods sold
  4. There are over 4,500 Fairtrade products in the UK
  5. Almost 1 in 3 bananas sold in the UK is Fairtrade
  6. Fairtrade certifies food products and non-food products (see below for the full lists!)
  7. Fairtrade doesn't certify large-scale producers as its mission is to make trade work for marginalised or disadvantaged producers
  8. Certain Fairtrade products are helping fight against climate change by supporting local producer-led environmental projects
  9. Not all Fairtrade products are organic
  10. No Fairtrade producers use GMOs (but cross-contamination is a growing concern)

WHICH PRODUCTS ARE FAIRTRADE?
Fairtrade has grown over the years to include both food and non-food products in its certification. In the UK, you will be able to find following products certified as Fairtrade:

Food products
  • Bananas
  • Cocoa
  • Coffee
  • Dried fruit
  • Fresh fruit
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Honey
  • Juices
  • Nuts
  • Oil
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Seeds
  • Spices
  • Sugar
  • Tea
  • Wine

Non-food products
  • Beauty products
  • Cotton
  • Cut flowers
  • Ornamental plants
  • Sports balls
  • Gold
  • Platinum
  • Silver

SPECIAL PROMOTIONS DURING FAIRTRADE FORTNIGHT
Considering these two weeks are a celebration of all things Fairtrade, there are plenty of special offers and competitions to take part in! So far, I have spotted:

Special offers
25% off Green & Blacks Personalised Chocolate
Free Toffee & Salt bar when spending £10 at Divine
Free Coffee with any purchase at Gregg's
50p off Fairtrade Espresso at Starbucks
Free pack of Clipper Tea at Waitrose
£1 off any tub of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream
20% off Seed and Bean Chocolate
Triple Boots points when buying Extracts Range
20% off Fairtrade food at Oxfam
Special reductions at LIV

Competitions
Win £100 at The Co-operative
Win £500 at People Tree
Win 6-month supply of Coffee at Cafe Direct
Win £50 worth of shopping at Sainsbury's
Win a box of Cadbury's Dairy Milk Buttons
Win £250 of Squire's Kitchen International School Vouchers
Win £65 Seed and Bean Hamper

Hopefully you'll enjoy some of the great offers and competitions above and continue supporting Fairtrade throughout the year, now you know just what an impact that little logo stands for! If you'd like to know even more, there's also a full-length film available on their website.

Sources: City Girl at Heart  -  Fairtrade Fortnight  -  Fairtrade Foundation  -  Fairtrade UK
This has been a question I've been researching for a while now, more and more hurriedly as my current bottle of cooking oil gets closer and closer to being empty. Which plant-based oil is best? And for that, I'm really looking for three things:
  1. An oil suitable for cooking at high temperatures
  2. An oil that tastes great
  3. An oil that is nutritious - or at least can be classed as the healthiest of the group
First off, a little fact I learnt a while back was about regional oils and the strange prejudice that comes with them - while there is the general assumption that oils shipped from regions that are renowned for good produce, for example olive oil from Italy, it has actually been shown that due to the shipping and storage process, the majority of these oils are older than those produced more locally, therefore they are less fresh and more acidic. Local oils made as close to the purchase date as possible ensure the freshest and tastiest oil possible - as well as providing the best in terms of nutrients.

Also necessary to note when reading through the summaries I have compiled below is how oils are broken down. Oils are mainly composed of saturated and unsaturated fat - the first of which should be limited in the diet. Saturated fat chiefly occurs in meat, dairy and pastries, and greatly raises cholesterol levels, whereas unsaturated fat comes from oily fish and nuts and seeds. Considering I have adopted a vegetarian diet, I don't really worry about saturated fat, but I do ensure I only use oil where necessary! That being said, all of the oils outlined below have a percentage of saturated fat in them, so I have highlighted this to clearly show which oils are healthier than others.

My final point is that, in researching this burning question about oil, I decided to discount the majority of citrus and nut oils, simply due to their unavailability in most shops (the exception being peanut oil), and also my complete lack of using them in the kitchen - perhaps I'm missing out, but for now all I use my oil for is frying and dressing salads (let me know if you have any good tips about these oils, seeing as I'm clueless!).


COCONUT OIL
Smoke point: 175 °C
Saturated fat: 91%

Coconut oil is usually solid in consistency, and has a slightly nutty flavour. The oil is made from coconut meat and kernels, and is unusually high in lauric acid, a saturated fat that increases the amount of both high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the body. While LDL is good for blood cholesterol levels, the combination of both hasn't been proven to be a way of avoiding high cholesterol levels if it features heavily in your diet. Due to its recent popularity, mainly down to its beauty and household uses, this has now become well-stocked at most food shops and is available raw, unrefined and Fair Trade.


CORN OIL
Smoke point: 232 °C
Saturated fat: 13%

Corn oil is a liquid oil that is extracted from the germ of a corn, and is considered flavourless. It is classed as a flavourless oil and is ideal for frying due to its high smoke point - corn oil is one of the main components in generic cooking oil. Depending on where you live, corn oil can be genetically modified, and is refined, deodorised, and bleached during processing.


OLIVE OIL
Smoke point: 193 °C
Saturated fat: 14%

Olive oil is a golden liquid oil that has a fruity taste (unless refined). It comes in a number of varieties, with each "grade" denoting quite a lot. Put simply, extra-virgin and virgin olive oil is not chemically processed and has a fatty acid content of 0.8% and 1.5% respectively. The lower the fatty acid content, the fruitier the taste and smell, making these two the best for using on salads. Virgin olive oils are also cold-pressed only (not heated over 27 °C), meaning it is unrefined and is suitable for a raw diet. Refined or light olive oil has been chemically processed and heated so as to remove the flavour, which also makes it suitable for cooking at high heat. The name is a little misleading though, as it has the same amount of calories and fat as virgin olive oil.


PALM OIL
Smoke point: 235 °C
Saturated fat: 49%

Palm oil is a liquid oil that, depending on type and processing, has a strong taste before cooking. Red palm oil is often cold pressed and makes up part of generic cooking oil.

Palm oil cultivation is terrible in terms of being green - it is heavily linked with deforestation, endangering indigenous species such as the orangutan, and the Sumatran tiger. Due to its relatively high sales price, it makes the deforestation of natural habitat and plantation of palms profitable - the best way to stop this is to lower demand and boycott it.


PEANUT OIL
Smoke point: 225 °C
Saturated fat: 17%

Peanut oil is a liquid oil that is available in a number of types: unrefined, cold-pressed and smoked all have a distinctly nutty flavour, but refined is considered flavourless. Due to its high smoke point, it is ideal for frying. Surprisingly, refined peanut oil is considered safe for those with peanut allergies.


RAPESEED OIL
Smoke point: 204 °C
Saturated fat: 7%

Rapeseed oil (also known as canola oil) is a liquid oil that is classed as flavourless. It is one of the oldest cooking oils, but has always been limited in use due to its high erucic content, which makes it damaging to cardiac muscle. Unless organic, rapeseed oil is subject to pesticides, and can be genetically modified. During processing, it is exposed to high heat and can therefore "weaken" its Omega 3 content. On top of that, if it's not organic, it is usually refined, deodorised, and bleached.


SESAME OIL
Smoke point: 177 °C
Saturated fat: 14%

Sesame oil is a liquid oil and is available in two types: light and dark. Light sesame oil has a high smoke point suitable for frying, whereas dark sesame oil is preferred as a flavour enhancer. While not particularly noted for its taste, toasted sesame oil has a strong, nutty flavour. It is considered to have a longer shelf-life than most other high smoke point cooking oils when left out in the open.


SOYBEAN OIL
Smoke point: 238 °C
Saturated fat: 16%

Soybean oil is a liquid oil that is one of the most widely used cooking oils, especially in the United States. Considered a flavourless oil, it is also used in many other products, such as margarine, salad dressing and mayonnaise. Soybean oil is usually refined, deodorised and bleached. Unless organic, it can be genetically modified.


SUNFLOWER OIL
Smoke point: 225 °C
Saturated fat: 11%

Sunflower oil is another popular liquid cooking oil due to its high smoke point. When refined is considered flavourless. If unrefined, it has a more pungent taste. Sunflower oil is typically refined, deodorised and bleached when processed.


SO, WHICH OIL IS BEST?
Based on all the comparisons, I will be sticking with my love of extra virgin olive oil, but I have yet to make my mind up on an oil suitable for frying - it seems that the majority of those with a high smoke point are often refined, deodorised and bleached. The main surprises for me were the high saturated fat content of coconut oil, the real meaning of light olive oil and how refining oils not only heightens their smoke point, but also destroys all taste. Which oil do you usually buy - and will you still be buying it from now on? Let me know in the comments!

Sources: Eating Rules  -   NHS  -  Say No to Palm Oil  -  Wikipedia 
Skincare has always been a nightmare for me - going from using nothing but teatree oil soap in the hopes of cleaning up spots, to using heavy lotions to cure blemishes. In the past few months, I've widened my skincare regime to include a natural cleanser, toner and moisturiser, using a gentle soap in the evenings too and a weekly face mask. So far, so good!

Today I've decided to give the Yes to Carrots Rich Moisture Day Cream for normal to dry skin a review, as I've been using it for just over a month and thought you guys should know about it! I've grown to be a bit cynical of widely available skincare products simply because the majority take advantage of some crazy chemicals, but this is made from 95% natural ingredients (which they clarify as renewable resources found in nature) and no parabens, phthalates, SLS, petroleum, silicones and chemical sunscreens, making it in fair standing for my shelf of green beauty products. All Yes to Carrots products are also cruelty-free, certified by the Leaping Bunny Program.

The moisturiser is relatively light and soaks into the skin quickly, without stickiness or an oily feeling. It smells pleasant and as a girl with combination skin, it really keeps the dry patches of my face soft throughout the day - even under makeup. The one downside is that I have to target only the drier areas of my face as it does cause me to breakout if applied to the "normal" areas. I guess this way I get to conserve the amount that I use, but I would ideally like to find something that was suitable for all over.

Another thing that I have noticed is that without application of my weekly face mask, it doesn't quite handle the dryness of my skin, nor does it reduce redness. I'd say if you have serious dry skin, to try something a little more intensive than this - perhaps a true moisturiser rather than day cream. However, for a high-street purchase that only set me back £10.00, it's a good start to finding the perfect option!

After checking the Yes to Carrots website, it seems that this version has been discontinued but they do have SPF 15 and unscented versions still available (although you can still pick up a bottle of the version I'm reviewing from Boots, ASOS and other UK sites and shops). 
Happy pancake day! I whipped up this recipe this morning for my breakfast, and thought it would be a crime not to share it. This super healthy makeover of regular pancakes not only makes them full of protein, but also completely gluten-free and delicious! They also still go pretty well with the regular toppings, lemon and sugar being my favourite, but you can add berries, maple syrup, or anything else you can find in your cupboards!



BANANA PANCAKES
Serves: 1

1 banana
1 egg
2 tsp coconut oil
+
Toppings of your choice!

  1. In a bowl, mash a banana with a fork (better if ripe or overripe, but it still works if they're green!)
  2. Crack an egg onto the mixture and slowly whisk until its beaten into the banana
  3. In a pan, heat one teaspoon of coconut oil and then add in half the mixture
  4. Fry for a while, until the edges are crispy, and then (attempt!) to flip, or use a spatula
  5. Fry the other side for less time, then serve
  6. Repeat for a second pancake and top with whatever you have handy!





So, a little while ago I mentioned that I was making my first ever batch of homemade hummus on Twitter - naturally, it was the first thing I'd gleaned from my new food processor! I've always been a big fan of hummus, and seeing as a side dish of salad was an almost daily occurrence when growing up, the number of times I've eaten it is beyond countable.

It's for this reason that the first recipe I started off with needed a little tweaking - I'm the first to notice if a recipe hasn't quite hit the spot. First off - it was way too garlic-y with two crushed cloves. And second, while you can tweak (or even remove) the amount of sea salt that I've outlined, I would recommend keeping it in. I started off by shying away from it as much as I could, but I'm of the opinion that if you're going to make something well, you need to make sure the ingredients are in balance with one another, and have a smaller portion instead, if you are wary of consuming too much fat/salt/sugar/etc.

Also, as you may have noticed in reading the title of this blog - hummus is and should always be raw and vegan. Making the most of seeds (tahini), legumes (chickpeas) and fresh flavoursome produce (lemons and garlic), it's a pretty awesome!



HUMMUS

400g tin of chickpeas
3 tsp tahini
1 garlic clove
3 tsp sea salt
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 fresh lemon

  1. Crush or finely dice the garlic clove
  2. Drain the chickpeas, retaining the water for use later
  3. Put the chickpeas, tahini, crushed garlic, salt, and five tablespoons of the retained water into your food processor
  4. Juice the lemon and add to the mixture
  5. Turn on the processor to its first speed, and very slowly pour in the olive oil
  6. Once the mixture is fully combined, take a little taste and tweak to your preferences (everyone likes a slightly different taste!)
  7. Use a spatula to spoon into a bowl and cover. You can keep this in the fridge for just over a week.



It's funny how we fall into routines. Since moving to Birmingham, I've been walking past the Puro Organic Hair Salon daily and yet still visiting the first hairdressers I spotted near university. The pretty sign out front and its calming interior were always nice to look at as I walked past on my daily commute, until one day I realised how unobservant I was being - this place holds the same ethos that I do! I need to get my hair done there!

Having now popped in, had my hair washed, cut, blow dried and styled with some delicious-smelling products, I can officially say that I'm a loyal customer. A somewhat silly irrational fear, I've always been nervous about getting my hair cut, no matter where or who the stylist is. But even on booking my appointment, the staff were friendly and welcoming, even managing to spell my name right on the first try!

So, what makes Puro an "organic" salon? In my opinion, it's not just about the products they use. While striving to use only natural hair colouring products, and everything else being paraben-free, etc., it's also the atmosphere of the place. In the waiting area were the latest Om Yoga magazines, and of the free drinks available to customers, most of them are fair trade and organic. On top of that, the staff really do care about hair health - I was taught how to check my hair's health by wetting it and checking its elasticity. Plus on the wall are a number of recycling and environmental awards, proving the place goes above and beyond to be earth-kind. They even recycle hair cuttings!

To round up the review, I also need to mention price - Puro is very competitive (matching the price of my previous hairdressers) and for the area that it's in, it's probably below average. Their website has a great page about all the hairdressers and stylists working there, so you can check who you're going to be with in advance too.

Overall, I'm really looking forward to my next cut, and I'm no longer worried about the origins and toxicity of the products put on my hair too!
If you think back a couple of years ago, organic cotton was quite popular - high street retailers were coming out with new organic fashion ranges by the dozen. And while they were more expensive than "normal" pieces of clothing, it seemed like a step in the right direction. But if you go looking for it today, it seems organic cotton has become less and less present on the high street.

So why did it stop? It's not like cotton workers have all been given the equipment needed to safely handle pesticides - nor has the demand for chemical-free clothing disappeared. Rather, its expense may have been exploited along distribution channels, and GM cotton crops continue to expand and stamp out organic operations. On top of this, organic cotton avoids triggering allergies, eczema, and often uses less water during processing, while securing habitat for wildlife and the wellbeing of cotton workers. It's for these reasons that I have been actively seeking out organic options for anything cotton-based - beauty, fashion, or otherwise.

One item that I really consider essential is TOTM's organic feminine products. TOTM offers a full range of products that are a great alternative to chemically produced ones, as well as the daunting moon cup. It was quite a revolutionary moment when I came across their range, as I had never considered other, generic brands to have been exposed to harsh chemicals. And considering so much green skincare is based on the absorption of nutrients and anti-bacterial properties through the skin, it seems only logical that our feminine hygiene routine considers this - and is therefore organic!

On a side note, TOTM is offering a free trial of any of its products to new customers - the product and shipping is free, so it's a real bargain too!

As for clothing, I'm aware of a few organic outlets too (please let me know if you know of any others too!), so I'll list them here, and after my next spending spree, I'll give you a review or two!


While these products are often more expensive than their high-street alternatives, its definitely worth making a conscious decision - something that this blog is always encouraging! So, be aware, be mindful, and indulge in these as and when you can.

You might not have guessed it, but I am a serious chocoholic. I really can't help myself when it comes to those deliciously creamy bars of chocolate, but crossing to the path of healthy eating has made this addiction a little hard to sustain! I'll argue with myself each time I get a chocolate craving, especially because they're ridiculously high in fat and refined sugar, contain palm oil (which is directly causing deforestation and ruining wildlife habitat) and they barely have any cocoa in them anyway.

So it seemed rather heaven-sent when I found out I had won a set of Rawr raw chocolate bars - one of every flavour! - thanks to a competition that Claire at Flake and Cake had held. Being completely raw, dairy-free, refined using only organic ingredients, the lovely folk at Rawr had made my sinful treats guilt-free!

It's only right, therefore, that I present to you my latest discovery on the path to healthy eating. Even the caramel flavour, it being the least chocolatey-tasting yet still delightful, has over 50% cocoa solids, so I'm very much a fan. I do have a few specific favourites out of the six bars that Rawr currently offers. The collection features Purity (milk chocolate), Intensity (dark chocolate), Zest (orange flavour), After Dinner (mint flavour), Passion (goji berries and vanilla flavour) and Gold (caramel flavour). My top three have to be Zest, Gold and Purity, because their flavours are distinctive and classic, while still living up to conventional chocolate's sweetness.

In regards to the Passion bar, I really liked the idea of using goji berries to add texture, however in practice the berries themselves can be bitter so I wasn't the biggest fan. After Dinner was also slightly weak on the mint flavour but still tasty. Really what is astonishing, is the fact that the texture of the bars is still melty and satisfying, while the ingredients are much better for you.

The bars retail for £2.45 each on the Rawr website, and are 60g in weight, so they are a little pricier than your average chocolate bar but definitely worth it in terms of nutritional value, and having that raw, organic halo to curb your chocolate-induced guilt afterwards!

Sources: Ecowatch  -  Rawr Raw Chocolate

In celebrating the final day of #BreakfastWeek, I've gathered up all the new intriguing information that has been floating about and thought it would be great to post something in celebration of our most important meal of the day!

My journey to a healthier breakfast has taken a long long time - even during this week I found out things I'd never heard of and had fallen for! When I was younger, I always woke up to a big bowl of cereal and milk - normally something from the supermarket, with chocolate cereals being weekend treats. In reality, the majority of these cereals contain surprising amounts of sugar, even without the chocolate. Then, when moving away to University, I started on the path of faster options - something I could grab before rushing to my morning lectures. This usually consisted of cereal bars, or shop-bought smoothies. What I didn't realise, is that these are even worse than the cereals I was eating as a kid!

Despite the claims of no added sugar, and all natural ingredients (a term that was debunked a while back), my two ex-favourites both had the same amount of sugar as a can of coke! Innocent's Strawberry & Banana Smoothie has 26g of sugar per 250ml, and Naked's Blue Machine Smoothie has 29g of sugar per 240ml, almost the same as the 27g of sugar in 250ml of Coca-Cola. Horrifying!

What I learnt this week, was that even moving away from sugary smoothies, you can get into quite a trap with juices from concentrate. If you're a big fan of orange juice, you'd probably be surprised to know that one serving of orange juice per day over the course of one week contains the same amount of sugar as five cans of coke!

All in all, it's been a bit of a learning curve to finding a truly healthy, nutritious option that will keep me going until lunchtime. This is where my favourite hearty porridge comes in - super quick and easy to make, it's full of protein, and a tasty treat too!



BERRIES + PORRIDGE
Porridge oats
Almond milk
Handful of frozen berries
Pure maple syrup
Cinnamon

  1. Mix up porridge oats and almond milk in a bowl, and either cook on the hob, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, or pop into the microwave for 1-2 minutes
  2. Once the mixture is thick, with the oats absorbing the milk, remove from the heat and place in a bowl
  3. Sprinkle on top frozen berries (I like blueberries the best, but a mix is good), maple syrup and cinnamon and enjoy!
Considering that this recipe does involve around 10 minutes of preparation and eating time, I would also recommend making up breakfast bars in advance (I'll be posting a recipe for these soon!) or even now widely-available options such as cold press drinks like Savse smoothies and all-fruit and nut bars like Nakd bars. I always feel so much happier after indulging in these rather than sugary snacks!

Happy February! It's high time I posted this month's list of seasonal produce, despite having to sit on a hard wood stool in the middle of a café for internet...

As always, it's important to be scouting out the best fruit, vegetables and other fresh produce available at your local markets to ensure all that you eat this month has the highest nutrition possible - even better if its local too! Here's what's in season in the second month of the year - please note that the more exotic produce is imported.

FRUIT IN SEASON IN FEBRUARY
  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Clementines
  • Grapefruit
  • Guavas
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Kumquats
  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Passion fruit
  • Pears
  • Pineapple
  • Pomegranate
  • Rhubarb
  • Satsumas
  • Tangerines


VEGETABLES IN SEASON IN FEBRUARY
  • Beetroot
  • Black truffles
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celeriac
  • Celery
  • Chicory
  • Cress
  • Endives
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Horse radish
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lambs lettuce
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Pak choi
  • Parsnips
  • Pepper
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Purple broccoli
  • Radicchio
  • Red cabbage
  • Rocket lettuce
  • Salsify
  • Shallots
  • Spinach
  • Spring onions
  • Squash
  • Swede
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Turnip
  • White winter radishes

NUTS IN SEASON IN FEBRUARY
  • Almonds
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts

HERBS IN SEASON IN FEBRUARY
  • Bay leaves
  • Borage
  • Chamomile
  • Chives
  • Garlic chives
  • Lavender
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme

Sources: BBC Good Food  -  CUESA  -  Eat the Seasons  -  Eat Seasonably  -  What's in Season?