About Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.

Latest Posts by Jessica Festa

5 Great Wine Bars in Richmond Virginia

October 4, 2015 by  



Photo courtesy of Sean Pavone via Shutterstock.

The quaint little city of Richmond, Virginia, may be best known for its many local breweries, but it has a thriving wine bar scene, too. From the bustling village of Carytown to the up-and-coming historic neighborhood of Church Hill, there are plenty of unique and friendly spots to enjoy a glass of wine and a snack, or three, in the Virginian capital.

Here are five great wine bars in Richmond Virginia:


Photo courtesy of Secco Wine Bar.

1. Secco

Sleek, stylish and centrally located along the thoroughfare of Cary Street, Secco is a highlight on the Richmond wine scene. Settle in with a bottle of one of their small-production, terroir-driven wines and a charcuterie plate for a relaxed yet sophisticated wine bar experience. Plus this Carytown bar is open late seven days a week, so it’s the perfect spot for a night cap, too.


Photo courtesy of Dutch and Co.

2. Dutch and Company

With pressed-tin ceilings and vintage mirrors strung wall-to-wall, relative newcomer to the Richmond fine dining scene, Dutch and Co, embodies a classic atmosphere of Southern elegance. Though the space is small, the food is brilliant and the drinks list even more so. Dutch is known for its cocktails above all else, but the wine list is a highlight, too. Located on a calm corner of the historic district of Church Hill, Dutch and Co is one of Richmond’s treasures, to be found just slightly off the beaten track.


Photo courtesy of Can Can Brasserie.

3. Can Can

With quaint booths, louvre windows and a great, wide bar, Can Can is a slice of Paris in Carytown. The French flags might be overkill, but their French wine list is a force to be reckoned with, and the food is excellent, too (keep it simple and order the steak frites). Chic, softly-lit and full of mirrors and vintage posters, Can Can is the perfect place for date night in Richmond.


Photo courtesy of C’est le vin.

4. C’est le vin

A hop, skip and a jump from Downtown, in the trendy Shockoe Bottom district, lies C’est le vin, a relaxed bar-meets-gallery with a great range of local and international wines. Perfect for an after-work drink or a lazy Saturday afternoon chat over a bottle of crisp white, C’est le vin serves up tapas-style snacks to go with your wine, with plenty of options for Richmond’s large vegetarian and vegan crowd.


Photo courtesy of Postbellum.

5. Postbellum

On the edges of the fashionable Fan district, Postbellum captures Richmond’s distinctive mix of sophisticated and relaxed, North and South, bar and restaurant. (Virginian bars must serve a range of food by law, meaning even a casual drink out can turn into an unexpected meal.) Come for dinner, stay for drinks, and while the night away in this atmospheric space. The antlers over the bar mean you won’t forget you’re in the American South, either.

What’s your favorite wine bar in Richmond? Please share in the comments below.

By Gemma King

Off-The-Beaten Path List of San Francisco Must Do’s

October 2, 2015 by  


san francisco

Looking to explore San Francisco, California? Here’s a fun list of what to do and see in this eclectic city:

Food & Drink

Savor A Burrito

According to Lee Abbamonte, the youngest American to visit every country in the world, the burrito was born in San Francisco and they still have the best in the world. Top recommendation: Pancho Villa.

7 Days Of Ice Cream In San Francisco

San Francisco also has a sweet tooth — seven days of it — according to Rease Kirchner of Indecisive Traveler. Personally, I’m digging the “Magnolia Stout Secret Breakfast” ice cream with cornflakes and bourbon. Quirky!

San Francisco Coffee Guide

Need a java boost? Arnette of Round The World Girl certainly found a slew of great coffee shops in San Francisco, from no frills cafes to fancier roasts to caffeine paired with sweets. The photography alone is a worth a peek.

san francisco

Photo courtesy of OmniBrain via freeimages.com.

Union Square Cocktail Tour

For a unique sip of San Fran, Carole Terwilliger Meyers of Weekend Adventures Update recommends a Union Square Cocktail Tour, which takes you back in time to the golden era of cocktails (the 1860s to 1920s). If you like it hot — and you all know I love spicy cocktails — try a “Pequito Picante” from the Burritt Room in the Mystic Hotel. Fun fact: Did you know that it was in San Francisco that women first began sitting next to men in a bar?

My San Francisco Food List

For your ultimate guide to what to eat in San Francisco, Anne Lowrey of Part Time Traveler has you covered with everything from the best bahn mi outside of Vietnam at Saigon Sandwich to amazing margaritas at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Yum!

A Local Bite Of San Francisco

For those who love to eat local, San Francisco has some not-to-miss stops, documented thoroughly by Jan Ross of Wanderlust Wonder. Tip: For a guided experience, opt for an excursion with Local Tastes of the City Tours.

15 Things To Eat In San Francisco

How could something called “The Best Damn Cheeseburger” not be amazing? The food porn in this post will have you drooling all over your laptop.

san francisco

Photo courtesy of ettina82 via freeimages.com.

Local Dining Experiences Via Feastly

I’m a big fan of going local when I travel, which platforms like EatWith and Feastly are amazing for, as they allow you to have a themed meal in a local home. Some San Francisco options include Holistic Cleanse Cooking, a Spanish Sherry Feast and a Pasta-Making Class.

The Best Cheap Eats In San Francisco

Stuffed corn cakes for $2.50? Northern Thai Sausage for $8.95? Hanoi-style pho ga for $6.75? Deliciousness that doesn’t break the bank.


san francisco

San Francisco – Mission District Mural “Into This World”. Photo courtesy of David Ohmer via flickr.

Stay Away From The Tourist Zone

Anne Lowrey of Part-Time Traveler gives a slew of great recommendations for those looking to experience the offbeat side of San Fran. For one, stay out of the touristy areas like Union Square, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and instead venture out to iconic neighborhoods such as The Mission, The Haight (home of the hippie movement) and the Castro (one of the nation’s first and most lively gay neighborhoods). According to Anne, there’s plenty to see and do in those areas that is uniquely San Francisco.

Visit The Pirate Store

Anne Lowrey also suggests visiting 826 Valencia, aka “The Pirate Store.” Here, you’ll find pirate-themed items and gifts in a place that is actually the storefront for a writing non-profit for children run by Dave Eggers. The building was zoned as commercial, so they constructed this creative shop that sells everything from books to peg legs. She also adds that the local favorite Smuggler’s Cove is another kitschy pirate spot with the city’s best cocktails and a collection of over 200 types of rum.

Explore The Street Art

According to Anne Lowrey, visitors should seek out the city’s street art, with one recommendation being Clarion Alley Mural Project between Mission and Valencia Streets and 17th and 18th Streets.  It artfully displays some of the contemporary social and cultural issues facing the city today.

san francisco

Burrito photo courtesy of Mr.TinDC via flickr.

 Hidden Things To Do In San Fransisco

Jason McDonald presents a nice list of offbeat things to do in San Fran, like 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, the Cartoon Art Museum and eating the impressive Gordo’s Burrito.

25 Things You Didn’t Know About San Francisco

Not really a travel guide, but a listicle of fun facts from Mental Floss. Did you know the fortune cookie was invented in San Francisco? Or that when Al Capone was held at Alcatraz he was in a band and played the banjo on Sundays?


Andrew Goldsworthy Art Installations At The Presidio

Carole Terwilliger Meyers of Weekend Adventures Update suggests art lovers peruse the three permanent collection at The Presidio by English artist Andrew Goldsworthy. What’s interesting about these pieces is the weave nature into the art, with two of the exhibits being in the beautiful outdoors.

Touring San Francisco (Great 1-Day Itinerary Provided)

Interested in seeing the best of the city? Jan Ross of Wanderlust Wonder tells of her time exploring San Fran, making stops at attractions like the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, the affluent Nob Hill neighborhood, Muir Woods wilderness area and Fisherman’s Wharf, a great spot to hear awesome street musicians.

Take A Victorian Home Walk

Mike and Luci of 1000 Places To Fight Before You Die thoroughly enjoyed their Victorian Home Walk excursion in San Francisco, exploring the beautiful architecture of the Pacific Heights area and celebrity mansions overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

san francisco

The view from The Inn Above Tide hotel. Photo courtesy of Savoir There.

Adventure & Outdoors

Amazing Views

If Jaillan Yehia of Savoir There had to provide one tip to anyone spending time in the Bay Area, it would be “to take the Golden Gate Ferry (which has been voted the #1 ferry trip in the US) over to Sausalito and check out the panoramic view of the bustling city from this quaint village. From this vantage point you have all the sights of San Fran strung out across the bay like a chain of fairy lights in front of you – from downtown San Francisco’s skyscrapers, the Bay Bridge and the legendary island of Alcatraz to Berkeley and Oakland, with the endless view bookended by Belvedere at one edge and the Golden Gate, hidden by hills, at the other.”

Wildlife Activities For The San Francisco Bay Area

SFBayWildlife.info put together a great list of wildlife-related activities for visitors, from taking a guided walk at the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center to going on a whale watching excursion.

Outdoor Adventures: Hiking In San Francisco

The PlanetD fills us in on some awesome hikes near San Fran (hint: the Land’s End Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a must-see).

7 Best Waterfall Hikes Near San Francisco

The Bold Italic is one of the best blogs out there for those interested in San Fran (and who want to pee their pants from laughing so hard). Check out this post on awesome waterfall hikes. Other great outdoorsy guides you’ll find on their site include 10 Best SF Sledding Spots, Best Camping Within Two Hours Of San Francisco and Great SF Bike Spots.

Day Trips

Here are a few recommended day trips from Cassie Kifer.

Discovering Livermore Valley Wine Country

Oenophiles should consider taking a day trip to Livermore Valley Wine Country, about an hour from San Francisco. One great time to go is spring, when the valley hosts their annual Barrel Tasting Weekend, with winemakers showing off their latest creations. The region’s wine history dates back to the 1760s, and interestingly about 80% of the chardonnay grapes from in California can trace their roots back here.

san francisco

Photo courtesy of Daniel Neal via flickr.

Hunting Mushrooms on the California Coast (and Living to Tell the Tale)

Italy isn’t the only place one can forage for delicious edible mushrooms.

East Bay Beer Crawl

Oakland and its surrounds are home to a burgeoning craft beer scene worth exploring. Luckily, it’s a do-able day trip from San Fran.

A Marin County Cheese, Oyster & Beer Tour

Want some cheese and oysters with your beer? Marin is an easy day trip.

Have any San Francisco travel tips to add? Please share in the comments below.

Top photo credit: Photo courtesy of walker_M via FreeImages.com.

Tips on How to Travel Sustainably Around the Globe

October 1, 2015 by  




I was born with the travel bug. As often as I could, I was off visiting and re-visiting places near and far, soaking in sea air, language, and culture. But as my eco-conscience grew, I realized that my growing collection of seashells and jet-fueled flights might be satisfying my wanderlust at the expense of the environment. Because my wanderlust was simply impossible to ignore, I turned my attention to sustainable tourism. Photo courtesy of Ståle Grut/Unsplash

Eco/Geo/Green/Sustainable Tourism

No matter the name, the intent is the same: travel with the lightest environmental and socio-cultural footprint possible to maintain or improve conditions in all communities around the world and ensure their health for years to come. A lofty goal, but with a change in perspective and a little bit of effort, travel can be not only guilt-free, but rewarding in unexpected ways. It all comes down to planning and choices. Let’s start at the beginning.

Whether it’s a weekend getaway, a two-week vacation, or a backpacking trip, the most important thing on your mind will be your destination. Do you want hot or cold weather? Historic or rustic atmosphere? Nearby treasure or far-flung delight? Sustainably speaking, all of these trips are possible, but not all destinations are created equal. What makes a destination sustainable? Here are the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) criteria that sustainable destinations should strive for:

  • A. Demonstrate sustainable destination management (e.g., have a strategy, monitor progress, and plan for climate change and crisis and emergency management)
  • B. Maximize benefits to the host community and minimize negative impacts (e.g., public participation, local access, tourism awareness and education, and supporting local entrepreneurs and fair trade)
  • C. Maximize benefits to communities, visitors, and culture and minimize negative impacts (e.g., protect attractions and cultural heritage, offer site interpretation, and manage visitor behavior)
  • D. Maximize benefits to the environment and minimize negative impacts (e.g., protection of sensitive environments, energy conservation, water management, wastewater, and light and noise pollution)

These criteria are not always easy for communities to meet, especially ones that have already invested in unsustainable tourism practices. However, while the list of certified destinations is currently small, it’s growing, along with the popularity of sustainable tourism. And the more popular it becomes, the more incentive there will be to change.

How You Get There

Different modes of transportation have different environmental costs, but it’s the distance, the fuel, and the occupancy that matters when it comes to efficiency.

Fuel-efficient trains and buses win the day. Both are great choices for short and long distances, with the added bonus of a view along the way and more central stations for pick-ups and drop-offs. If these aren’t available in your area, small cars are the next best thing and, surprisingly, so are long-haul flights. Flying gets a bad rap, but airplanes become more efficient the longer the flight because high-altitude flying is more efficient.

In contrast, hopping onto a short-haul flight is as bad as crossing the country alone in a gas-guzzling truck.

When deciding on your next destination, check out all of your travel options and make a case for the slower travel options, and purchase carbon offsets when flying is the only option. Remember that efficiency is one thing, but the amount of carbon emitted will always be higher the further you go. Staycations can be just as exciting with the right perspective and great for the local economy too, including the very local economy – that is, your bank account!

What You Pack

Weight can have a big impact on the efficiency of your chosen mode of transportation – there’s a reason you pay extra for oversized luggage! But packing light isn’t the only way to pack green.  The key? Eliminate the truly unnecessary, increase the number of multipurpose and reusable items, and minimize the rest. Not only will your transportation be more efficient, but your day-to-day will be too, not to mention how much better your shoulders will feel at the end of the trip.

Where You Stay & What You Do

Whether you want to pamper yourself in a fancy hotel and zipline through the jungle or go frugal with a B&B and catch a sightseeing tour, you should always seek out sustainable options. Water is one of the biggest concerns, especially for hotels, because so much potable water runs down the drain for laundry, landscaping, and guest use. In countries where water is scarce, this can be a hugely damaging waste of resources.

Fortunately, the GSTC has similar criteria for hotels and tour operators as they do for destinations. They include maximizing social, economic, cultural heritage, and environmental benefits, reducing pollution, and conserving biodiversity, ecosystems, and landscapes.

Leave No Trace

There is a best practice and philosophy in the wilderness community. The idea behind Leave No Trace is that you reinforce the idea that we should respect and care for our wild areas and do our part to preserve and protect them as we enjoy them. I like to think many of those principles extend beyond backpacking into the ethic of sustainable travel and the inherent responsibility travelers have.

Living these principles may seem easy, but when faced with “unique experience” and “once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” they can be difficult to adhere to. It means saying no to gathering the vial of sand, touching the ancient monument, and swimming with the dolphins. We place a lot of emphasis on touch when it comes to creating memories, but the best ones are intangible. Rely on the sights, smells, and sounds of your environment to develop truly unforgettable and meaningful experiences.

Ultimately, choosing to travel sustainably puts us in a place of power, a place where we control how we affect our environment as citizens of the world. And we have more power than we think. Supporting destinations small and large that are prioritizing sustainability over profit will drive change in immeasurably good ways from culture, to community and environment.

How to Drink Wine That is Locally Produced & Eco-Friendly!

September 30, 2015 by  


green wine

Photo courtesy of darwin Bell/flickr

From detergent to dog cookies, it can be challenging to make decisions that take your beliefs and tastes into account while trying to be conscientious about the impact of your purchases on the earth. It’s much easier when someone else does the research for you. Here are five green wine alternatives to bottled vino that you might consider pairing with your dinner going forward.

Wine On Tap

Perhaps the best alternative, environmentally speaking. As the name implies, instead of individual bottles or other vehicles (see below), wine is delivered to bars and restaurants in kegs that hold the equivalent of around 25 bottles. The kegs are reusable, and they eliminate all of the glass, corks, boxes and other packaging inherent in bottling and shipping wine. Because the kegs are airtight the wine stays fresh for months, so restaurants can continue to pour by the glass until the entire keg has been enjoyed, further reducing waste.

And if you want more than a glass? Your wine can be delivered to your table in a reusable carafe instead of a one-use bottle. Many producers of excellent wine, including the likes of Miner and Bonny Doon, are driving the trend toward wines on tap, so you don’t have to sacrifice deliciousness when tasting.

green wine

Tap wine. Photo courtesy of N Wong/flickr

Tetra Packs

Think of how fruit juice is often packaged in thin pouches and you get the idea behind Tetra Packs for wine. The main advantage to Tetra Packs is that they are incredibly strong, so that most of the weight of that package is the wine itself; about 95% versus just 5% for the packaging. This greatly reduces the environmental impact of shipping as more wine can be moved in a single shipment. Tetra Packs are also recyclable, lessening their impact on the environment.

Boxed Wine

Boxed wines are becoming increasingly popular for a variety of reasons. A box typically holds 3 liters, or the equivalent of 4 standard wine bottles. The wine is held in an airtight pouch, which preserves freshness, and allows the wine to last for weeks. Like tetra packs, the weight ratio of boxed wine is far superior to bottles, thus reducing the impact of shipping on the environment. The box itself is typically recyclable as well. Boxed wine producers generally focus on the value-conscious consumer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of excellent choices to be found. Last year Wine Enthusiast offered up a list of their top 26 box wines, including Bandit, Black Box and Bota Box.

green wine

Photo courtesy of Bota Box

Single-Serving Cans

This one is a bit trickier. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but drinking wine in single-serving cans instead of out of traditional bottles can still reduce the impact on the environment. The main advantage is that the production and recycling of glass bottles has been deemed the single most significant source of wine’s impact on the environment. In contrast, aluminum is extremely lightweight and highly recyclable, and can go from your recycling bin to the store shelf in as little as 60 days.

While the initial environmental cost of aluminum is high (as it is mined), it is infinitely recyclable, and the Aluminum Association points out that nearly 75% of all aluminum produced in the United States over the last 100 years is still in use.

Drink Local

There are many factors involved in the wine-production and delivery process that have an impact on the environment, from the types and amounts of fertilizers used to how much of the production is aided by machinery (think diesel fuel) versus by hand. All things being equal, a local wine will have a smaller impact on the environment than one that has to be shipped from great distances.

Here in the United States, the “big three” of California, Oregon and Washington produce the bulk of the country’s wine, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy a wine produced in one of those states (although go ahead — so many are delicious!). There is at least one winery in every state, and you might be surprised at how many great wines come from regions not typically thought of as wine country. Amazing wines are produced in Colorado, Idaho, New York, Virginia and North Carolina, just to pick a few. In fact, one of my favorite collections of sparkling wines comes from the Gruet Winery out of New Mexico. So don’t be shy in finding wines that are produced right around the corner from you, wherever you may call home.

By Gretchen Healey 

5 Fun American Pop Ups For Your Bucket List!

September 22, 2015 by  


Pop-ups offer a fun and spontaneous opportunity for people to have unique experiences in fashion, food, art, music and more.  Traditionally, these events utilize empty shops or spaces for performances, exhibitions or restaurants, sometimes bringing life back into areas of town that might have been forgotten.

The informal nature of these spontaneous shops often make these events a social occasion, strengthening the local community.  They could last for a few hours, a few weeks or in some cases have gained enough popularity to become permanent fixtures.

We collected some of the best pop-ups in the U.S., featuring everything from temporary exhibits honoring hot dogs to street parties to surprise dinners at random outdoors locations at a hotel in the Maldives.  All these pop-up events occur over an extended period of time, or seasonally so you have more than one opportunity to take advantage.

Hot dog fest in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Foodseum.

Hot dog fest in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Foodseum.

1. Interactive Exhibits Commemorating Chicago’s Signature Bite (Chicago, Illinois, USA)

Chicago’s first museum dedicated to food, Foodseum opens its doors as a three-month pop up on Saturday, September 19 at Block 37, 108 N. State St. The first exhibit, “The Hot Dog and Encased Meats of the World,” appropriately pays tribute to its hometown. Since food is such an important part of the human existence, Kyle Joseph, the executive director thought it would be important to provide some insight into what’s behind it all. Foodseum aims to engage visitors in interactively exploring food through smell, touch and taste, in the hopes of build a community that will support the eventual opening of a permanent location. The temporary museum will run until December 20, 2015.

Pop Ups

Mingling at the gallery. Photos courtesy of Conception Events

2. Intimate Interactions With Artists (New York City, USA)

Join Conception Events for memorable, bimonthly pop up art events in New York City and around the world. Their happenings showcase art, design, photography and film in a variety of informal locations where collectors can meet and purchase direct from the artist, avoiding heavy gallery commissions. The nights feature the popular “Art Clash” where guests paint onstage in a race against the clock. A full bar and music will keep attendees entertained until late. Past performances have included an all female Brazilian drum group and Philadelphia-based rock band, Skyline Beat. You can find these events at diverse and fun locations throughout the Big Apple including TriBeCa Cinemas, Warehouse Spaces and various bars and restaurants — although these events have started “popping up” in Miami, Philadelphia and the United Kingdom.

pop ups

Musical Pairing event in NYC

3. Music & Food Pairing Dinners (Assorted USA Locations)

Are you a foodie eager to take dining to the next level? Musical Pairing may be exactly what you need. Join Barbara Warner, classically trained chef, owner and author of the book series “Musical Pairing: The Art of Harmonizing Music to Your Meal” for pop up dinners around the country.

Barbara teaches a simple mathematical formula and process behind Musical Pairing in a theatrical meal. Dinners are typically held in existing restaurants with a BYOH (bring your own headphones) twist. Familiar foods are typically chosen so attendees can recognize how music elevates the dining experience.

If you would like to attend a Musical Pairing dinner, upcoming 2015 dates include October 2, October 22 and November 5 in Manhattan. Also check out the Musical Pairing app to create your own tunes tasting menu at home.

Pop Ups

Foothill dinner. Photo courtesy of P.O.P. Art theatre

4. Pop Your Shop (Malibu, California, USA)

Los Angeles-based *Pop Your Shop* offers a seasonal shopping, wine and music experience at the Rosenthal Winery in Malibu, California. You can find them 12-6 PM every other Saturday afternoon from mid April through the beginning of September to prepare you for festival season (Coachella), POPping all the way to Labor Day.

J.D. Luxe Mobile Boutique, the first mobile shopping truck to hit the streets of L.A., provides fashion and accessories for visitors to peruse. Break up shopping with sipping Rosenthal wines, listening live music by local bands, munching on food truck meals, grape stomping and more. Each weekend has a theme and the participating brands are chosen accordingly.

Jump Up. Photo courtesy of Susan Mills.

Jump Up. Photo courtesy of Susan Wall.

5. Jump Up, Pop-up Street Festival (St. Croiz, US Virgin Islands)

Caribbean locals love to dance, but here they often refer to this favorite past time as a “jump up.” Jump Up is a quarterly, pop-up street party in Christiansted, the main town of St. Croix. This tradition started as a way to boost the economy and spread island cheer but has continued as one of St. Croix’s favorite social events for locals and visitors alike. Christiansted comes alive with music, dancing, food, drinks, street vendors and shops staying open late.

Mocko jumbies — costumed dancers — jump around the streets in six-foot stilts navigating crowdsy. Jump Up occurs four times per year, each with a special theme: Valentine’s Day in February, St. Croix Triathlon in May, Alexander Hamilton Day in July and a Holiday celebration in November.

Pop Ups

Dessert Pop Up at Troy Boston rooftop.  Photo courtesy of Modern Gramma.

What pop ups have we missed? Please share in the comments below.

By Katie Foote 

The Moroccan Women Behind Argan Oil

September 19, 2015 by  


Coming across a herd of goats perched on a tree on your way to work can seem surreal, but not in Morocco. Dotting the semi-desert region in Southern Morocco is the Argan tree, which for centuries has been the source of life for the country’s Berber population. Goats brave their way up the tree’s gnarled and thorny branches to forage for its olive-like fruit, the very crop that nowadays dominates much of Morocco’s rural economy.

Argan oil is the latest fad in the cosmetic world, but Moroccan women have been applying it to their skin and hair long before it appeared on our supermarket shelves. This honey-colored oil with a nutty flavor is yielded from kernels found inside the Argan fruit. Traditionally, it was always produced by the delicate touches of the Berber farmers, however the world-wide demand for the product has forced the manual methods to give way to contemporary mechanical extraction tools. Its popularity also poses a threat to the already endangered tree.

In light of this growing hype about these products, women-run Argan co-operatives in Morocco have been employing sustainable measures to protect the Argan tree and the thousands of women who work in the industry.


Photo courtesy of Sam Strickler, via Shutterstock

Buying The Real Argan

The array of Argan products we see around us contain small – if any – traces of Argan oil. The current cosmetic propaganda surrounding the oil is the biggest challenge faced by traditional producers. Rich in essential fatty acids and vitamins A and E, Argan oil makes a great moisturizer for skin conditions, and it is commonly marketed as an anti-aging product; however, cosmetic products that dilute the oil with chemical ingredients do little to support Morocco’s Argan co-operatives.

Organic and fair-trade Argan products are best bought from certified co-ops, preferably on site. Many co-operatives across Morocco still use traditional extraction and manual grinding to produce the highest quality of oil. A liter of hand-pressed oil requires at least 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of kernels, and takes around 10 hours to produce. This time-consuming process calls for long hours of manual labor.

So how does buying organic Argan oil actually help these all-female co-operatives?


evp82 / Shutterstock.com

Helping Women Gain Economic Freedoms

Based on the practice of fair trade, the main goal of all-female Argan co-ops is the financial empowerment of women from marginalized backgrounds. The first women-led Argan co-op was established in 1998 by Dr. Zoubida Charrouf, whose research on the Argan tree has played a vital role in the sustainable and socioeconomic practice of Argan oil production. These co-operatives across Morocco now employ around 3 million people, the majority of employees being women from Berber villages.  In 2011, Tighanimine Cooperative, a project led by Dr. Charrouf, became the first Fairtrade certified Argan oil producer in the world.

Illiteracy is still rife among rural women in Morocco.  In a bid to improve both the economic and educational status of Berber women, a percentage of the profits made by these co-operatives is invested in the rural community. Women working in Argan co-operatives are offered free afternoon classes in rudimentary education, including literacy skills and hygienic practices.

In a male-dominated society, a steady income has been allowing rural women a new source of freedom to become self-sufficient.  Bypassing intermediaries and buying Argan products direct from production helps support these women with their newfound stature.


Photo courtesy of Stepniak, via Shutterstock

Protecting The Argan Forest

In 1998, UNESCO declared the Argan forests in Souss a biosphere reserve. Meanwhile, Argan co-operatives keep practicing sustainable and responsible harvesting to preserve these woodlands. Reforestation projects implemented by most co-operatives encourage each employee to plant at least 10 Argan trees a year.

The regression of these forests would have major environmental impacts on pastoral communities. Situated at the edge of the Sahara, Argan forests offer protection from desertification, while the trees provide shade and food for domestic animals, and its deep, sturdy roots help prevent soil erosion.

The livelihood of women working in Argan co-ops hinges on the availability of the Argan tree and the consistent demand for its oil.  While governmental programs are in place to ensure the socioeconomic and environmental development of Argan forests, many co-operatives are re-investing a percentage of their annual profit in Argan nurseries.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Argan oil is helping thousands of women enjoy newfound economic freedoms, while farmers continue relying on the Argan tree for multiple agricultural purposes. In fact, it is estimated that the Argan region  supports 90% of Morocco’s rural population. Perhaps the Berbers are right when they say that the tree is “a gift from God.”

Have you visited an Argan co-operative in Morocco? Please share your experience in the comments below.

By Daniela Frendo

An Archaeological Excavation or Scientific Voyage Can Be Transformative!

September 19, 2015 by  


archaeological excavation


The desire to be part of something is one of the most human of urges, and undoubtedly one of the main reasons people choose to use their spare time volunteering on expeditions and excavations. These trips offer the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people who are moving the science of the past and future forward. Above photo: DOLPHIN RESEARCH VIA EARTHWATCH.

It all sounds pretty epic, but does the reality match up?

Earthwatch Institute was one of the very first organizations to give laymen and women the opportunity to take part in major studies. Over 44 years of operation the company has now guided more than 100,000 members of the general public on adventures across the planet.

archaeological excavation


Claire Doe, a sales agent in her 40s, has been on nine expeditions with Earthwatch. She says these trips have given her confidence she never knew she had:

Each expedition has different elements, for example on the project in Churchill, Manitoba [Canada] we were waist high in water every day doing surveys and collecting water samples, insects and fish whilst we had a member of staff watching out for polar bears.

Volunteers like Claire are usually expected to work for about eight hours a day, and can pick an expedition to suit their own fitness levels. Kristen Kusek, the company’s Director of Strategic Communications, sees this work as invaluable:

Volunteers have helped us discover new species, designate new national parks, and more. Our scientists repeatedly tell us that they could not do the work they do without the help of Earthwatch volunteers.

The best example of this was in 2001, when volunteer James Murphy uncovered a nearly complete skeleton of a new species of dinosaur in the Ischigualasto Provincial Park in the Argentinian Andes. It emerged that this was an early ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex, and as a dedication to his work the find was named Eodromaeus murphi.

archaeological excavation


Earthwatch, and their main competitor Biosphere, dominate the market because of their clear commitment to ethics – both are non-profit, work towards sustainability and promote education. But, at around $2,000 a trip, this integrity comes at a premium some people simply cannot afford.

Those who have less cash to splash often find themselves on unsatisfying, unethical or badly managed voluntourism trips, simply because there are so many sub-standard companies out there.

There are certain pitfalls that can be avoided. Before booking with a company, prospective volunteers should make sure they know exactly what’s included in the price and have a look at itineraries. It’s important to check staff members are qualified – ideally experts will be on the trip as well as staff trained in health and safety. When researching it’s worth trying to find out where the money is spent; the best organisations publish this on their website. It’s also good to know how the local community is involved in any project. Finally, as with any tour provider, it’s useful to look at online forums like TripAdvisor to find out how they’re rated by people who’ve been there and done it.

archaeological excavation


Whether you find what you’re looking for or something else entirely, archaeological excavations and scientific expeditions are uniquely engaging experiences where you can give back and dig deep.

Have you participated in an archaeological excavation or scientific expedition? Please share your experience in the comments below.

By Joanna Eckersley

5 Great Ethnic Restaurants In Richmond Virginia

September 18, 2015 by  


On a recent weekend trip to Richmond, Virginia to visit a good friend of mine, I was delighted to find he had gone above and beyond as a host, giving me tours of the city by car and foot, filling our 2.5 day schedule with museums (the Virginia Museum of Fine Art and the Poe Museum), outdoor excursions (a canal cruise and two sunbathing sessions at Bell Isle), and a series of satisfying local culinary experiences.

Unexpectedly, we opted out of heavy Southern fare and instead gravitated to a few of Richmond’s many international restaurants—and were thrilled by the global flair found in such a quintessentially Southern city (as in, home of the Confederate White House).

Alex’s Thai Cuisine

I took a 12-hour red-eye bus ride from Atlanta to Richmond, and when I stumbled off the bus and into my friend’s car around 1:30pm, I was ready for real food, not the crackers and gas station candy I’d been snacking on. Just a block from the bus stop, in the historic, cobblestoned Shockoe Bottom neighborhood sits Alex’s Thai Cuisine, a no-frills, quiet restaurant with two front windows that fill the small front seating area with lovely natural light. My sweet and sour chicken was the perfect combination of light yet filling. Surrounded by Buddhist imagery while seated just across the street from Richmond’s famous 17th Street Farmer’s Market, I had the feeling that my weekend in this city was going to be textured and interesting.

restaurants in richmond

Photo courtesy of Sean Pavone via Shutterstock.

Kanoa Latin Cuisine

After a busy Saturday of sight-seeing, we had worked up a big appetite for dinner. We headed into downtown Richmond to check out the recently-opened Kanoa, a restaurant that specializes in Venezuelan cuisine, with some Italian influence mixed in. The menu was extensive yet affordable, and I settled on two types of arepas, ground maize flatbreads, while my friend feasted on a combination meal that featured cachapas (corn cake sandwiches) and tostones (crispy fried plantains). This is definitely a place worth taking your leftovers home, though I’ll admit I polished off both of my arepas, and the menu features plenty of options for gluten-free and vegetarian patrons, too.

restaurants in richmond

Photo courtesy of Fotoluminate LLC via Shutterstock.

Kuba Kuba

My friend is the co-author of the Richmond food blog As Told Over Brunch, so a local brunch stop was a must. On my last morning in RVA, we walked over to Kuba Kuba, a fused restaurant and bodega located in the heart of Richmond’s Fan district. Founded by Manny Mendez in 1998, this joint serves home-style meals inspired by his Cuban heritage. After a weekend of rich food, I ordered a simple breakfast of eggs, toast, and café con leche, but the spinach and salmon tortilla my friend ordered looked like one of the best breakfast frittatas I’ve ever laid eyes on. Kuba Kuba is a cozy and vibrant space, and, again, I found myself forgetting that I was in the heart of the South as I got to the bottom of my glass of coffee, the smell of peppers and sriracha in my nose.

Back For Second Helpings

The brevity of my trip meant that my international food tour of Richmond was cut short, but here are two more places worth trying for those passing through the River City in the near future:

Pho So 1

Described as “no frills” and “a hole in the wall,” Richmonders are nevertheless enthusiastic about the city’s favorite, humble Pho joint, where reviews note that they feel comfortable showing up in even their gym clothes to enjoy a meal. Another plus is the across the board agreement that Pho So provides speedy service, even if it can be terse. Perhaps this Yelp reviewer said it best when she commented: “It looks like a little trailer, but I swear it’s a true Richmond gem.”

restaurants in richmond

Photo courtesy of Ronnie Chua via Shutterstock.

Edo’s Squid

Located in the Fan District, Edo’s is the perfect place for those craving authentic Italian cuisine. Reviews commonly mention that while the space is small and typically packed (and the service thus a bit slower than desired), the food, particularly the “overflowing” seafood pasta dish, makes it worth some patience. Next time I’m in RVA, I’m hoping to fill up on the house red, some calamari, and the eggplant parmesan—after booking a table beforehand, of course.

RVA is clearly a city that seeks to blend tradition, innovation, and multicultural fare against its richly historic backdrop, making it a fascinating Southern city to travel — and eat — through.

What’s your favorite ethnic food experience in Richmond, Virginia? Please share in the comments below.

By Paige Sullivan

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