Monday, December 14, 2009

Toxic advertising: Nationwide insurance

While this blog was conceived as a way to keep track of chemical toxins in food and kids products, I decided to stretch the concept in order to draw attention to an ad I'd consider to be toxic messaging.

I was driving to work one day recently and heard an ad for Nationwide insurance. It was a man's voice, speaking as an agent. I believe it had something to do with accident forgiveness, which is a nice thought, but the context of the ad was very troubling. Essentially the man said, if you have a teenage driver, it's not a matter of if he or she is going to have an accident, it's a matter of when.

What kind of horrible social norming is this? We should broadcast to our young people that they are destined to have a car accident, indirectly giving them permission to have an accident? This language is not constructive and, let's face it, while teens are more likely to have an accident than the general population, it's NOT a forgone conclusion. I did a quick poll at my office and most had not had an accident as a teenager. I could not find a file of the exact ad, but I'll keep trying to track that down to embed here or link out to it.

If you're not familiar with the concept of social norming, here's an old article in USA Today that does a good job of explaining it.

I'm not a Nationwide customer and I will not support a company who carelessly bandies about hurtful messages like this, using fear and hyperbole to sell their product. Shame on them!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Three big stories not to miss

1. Sewage is contaminating our drinking water 37% of the time. Gross. Thanks, treehugger and New York Times for exposing some scary facts about our infrastructure and its ill effects.

2. Ground beef contaminated with E. coli is more common than it ought to be. Which may seem like a scare tactic, but not if you read this extremely well-researched article in the New York Times. I'm a big fan of red meat, even though I know it's not the best use of the planet (being completely honest here), but I buy from local sources here or organic, if available. We also eat venison that we kill during season. We meaning my dad. I can't kill it, but I can eat it.

3. Persistent synthetic chemical contaminants found to travel the globe and concentrate in remote places like the Arctic. Sad. Sickening. "A network of more than 40 sampling sites has found evidence of synthetic chemicals that do not break down into nontoxic components--a mix of pesticides, fossil-fuel emissions and industrial compounds--virtually everywhere it looked, from Antarctica, North America, Australia and Africa to Iceland." (ScientificAmerican)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

One night of inspiration & perspiration

One box,
many found objects,
a 99-cent tarp-turned hose,
some inexpensive office supplies,
and voila -- the firetruck stroller float.

We took first prize in our local parade with this beauty, which is a replica of our town's apparatus. You can't see it here, but there's also a hose, which was a great "tether" for our preschooler. :)

The boys had fun and the firemen loved it!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all!

Friday, October 30, 2009

My Review of Milk-Based Organic Formula - 25.75 can - 6 pk

Originally submitted at Diapers.com

Bright Beginnings Milk-Based Organic Infant Formula with DHA - 25.75 oz can - Case of 6

 

 

The First Organic National Brand Baby Formula made in Vermont and certified organic in accordance with USDA regulations, Bright Beginnings ORGANIC is produ...


Thrilled, except its price

By DoriGreenJean from Harrisburg, PA on 10/30/2009

 

5out of 5

Pros: Mixes Easily, No Constipation, Keeps Well

Cons: Pricey

Best Uses: When you can't breastfeed, Newborn, Infants

Describe Yourself: Parent of Two or More Children

We introduced this when I had to cut back on breast-feeding to return to work. It was seamless and my son was and is very healthy (he's almost one, so we're almost off infant formula). The only negative is that we can't get it in any stores, only on diapers.com, which means forward planning is essential!

(legalese)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Recent posts I strongly recommend

On the "Smart Choice" labeling idiocy from blogger MeMe Roth.

On what plastics are and are not safe to put in the dishwasher from TheSoftLanding.

Boring, but important news...Talking Toxics Policy: A Historic stakeholder conversation on Enviroblog by Lisa Frack

From TED MED conference, Alana B. Elias reports for the HuffPost that *where* you live is an important risk factor in your health and should be included in physicians' input gathering from patients. Very logical, yet so far, overlooked.

In Wired magazine, a purely scientific look at vaccinations and the very real risks of NOT vaccinating children by Amy Wallace.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Renovation Education...for you and your contractor

Two years ago, our family embarked on a renovation to make our upstairs family bathroom liveable for tall people (and for people who need to breathe--it was not ventilated), which turned into a complete kitchen renovation, adding another full bath and mudroom, all within the original, modest square footage of a 1915 house. Oh, and we increased the deck from about 10'x10' to 10' x 20.'

I was on a green mission with this reno and tried very hard to find a contractor who could get on board with me. The contractor we chose had a very good reputation and was referred by several people, but he knew pretty much nothing about eco-friendly construction. Once he understood my passion about it, he agreed to work with us as long as I did the research. It seemed like a good plan at the time; well, really, I didn't find any other options. So we started the planning process.

I found an amazing resource on green business practices for contractors (from Building Green), edited it to the basics and gave it to him. Not sure if he ever read it, but I think by the end, he was realizing I was not the only homeowner looking to be greener...and he appreciated that I'd pushed him.

To say it was a labor of love is just the tip of the iceberg. It was expensive, time-consuming, frustrating, scary, nerve-wracking, complicated, detail-intensive and did I mention expensive? He laid out a plan with the standard "allowances" for fixtures and all, but it was not quite in line with the choices I had in mind. In the end, I bought about $20,000 worth of stuff through an interior designer I met and bonded with, another $15,000 on my own and the rest through the contractor (yes, there was more!).

Looking back, I'd like to share my thoughts on the materials we ended up with and decisions we made. First, the "green" products we chose:

  • SolaTube sun tunnel: Love it. We got it with the light kit for evenings and it's just great. It's installed through the roof and obviously needs to be in a sunny spot.
  • Dual-flush toilets: We chose Sterling, an affordable Kohler line. They're fine, but do get a little dirtier than other toilets. If you can afford Toto, they have a special non-marking finish that would be worth the investment.
  • Reuse of materials: We pulled the tub out of the upstairs bath and used it in the new bath off the mudroom. We re-used an old pantry door in that bathroom, too. All our interior doors were refinished or painted and reused (original chestnut solid core doors--why wouldn't we?!). We kept our existing refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave.
  • Benjamin Moore Eco-Spec paints: All our primer and paints were very low-VOC and required only one coat in all cases. If we were doing it now, we'd use BM's Natura line.
  • SpectraLOCK PRO grouts: This epoxy grout is high-performance and GreenGuard certified to be low-VOC.
  • Energy Star windows, sliding glass door, exterior light fixtures & dual-fuel stove: These were all smart choices. The windows and door were Pella's mid-range line--not the architectural stuff, but not contractor grade either. A big investment, but we got a tax credit on this part.
  • Plastic Lumber 's LeisureDeck for decking/railing: I just tried to link to it and found out they no longer do decking. I had to get it shipped to my contractor, but it was much better than most options at Home Depot or Lowe's. It was made almost entirely of recycled soda bottles. The color options were standard. Maintenance is really just cleaning it from time to time. One drawback--it does get really hot in the summer on bare feet.
  • Low-flow faucets: We had low-flow kits installed on all our faucets and both shower heads. You can't really tell. The only place it doesn't make sense is for the tub filler.
  • AMS Safecoat Polyureseal BP: Best stuff on the market. We redid our hardwood floors with it when we moved here three years ago. We used it in the remodel to coat the stain (which was not eco-friendly, but we were not around while it was off-gassing). Both contractors who used it were skeptical, but ended up loving it. It does carry a premium price tag.
  • Greenguard-certified drywall: We were able to get Georgia Pacific DensArmor Plus, which is nontoxic in terms of offgassing (low-VOC). An easy decision and not expensive.
  • KraftMaid Cabinetry: Full disclosure here, I got a good deal on these because my client at the time repped this line. I still did my research, calling the plant and speaking to a product specialist, who insisted that they were green but that they didn't have them certified because they couldn't figure out what certification really mattered. Lame excuse. I'm sure they are not the worst out there, but the packing boxes and custom inserts (like the pull-out pantry) absolutely reeked. I love the look and the price, but if you're really sensitive, go for all-wood custom cabinets. Period.
  • Recycled or donated old cabinets, radiators, fixtures, etc., many to Habitat for Humanity. I went around before the demo and put sticky notes on everything we wanted to keep and where they were supposed to store them.

Now, the less green choices and why:

  • Granite Countertops & Marble Bath Surfaces: We loved several recycled options that were less hard on the earth (Eco-Terr slabs, IceStone & Enviroglas), however, when it came to price, ease of fabrication, resale value and maintenance, granite and marble were the best choices for us. We could have done soapstone instead of the granite in the kitchen, but I doubt it would have been more local and there were no remnants of anything to be had (I did try that route, too).
  • Conventional Water Heater: We pushed and pushed for an on-demand water heater, but the plumber and the contractor insisted we would hate it because our gas line was so far from the upstairs bathroom...and we'd be wasting a lot of water running it to get it hot. We finally capitulated and added a second 40-gallon heater. We are still bummed about this decision.
  • Slate Floors/Backsplash in kitchen and mudroom: One thing we really wanted was stone floors in this area. Slate is a building material consistent with the period of our house. I know there are quarries in Pennsylvania, but I was basically told it's not sold here. Where they are shipping...what it looks like...I could never find out. So we chose China Multi-color tiles that hopefully will last 100 years, rather than tile someone would rip out in 20 years, and again in 20 years, and again, all contributing to solid waste issues. We LOVE this floor. It's the standout of the whole project and really works in our house.
  • PEX Plumbing Lines (out only): We paid for copper in, but were basically told there was no other option except PEX for the rest of the plumbing. I did some research, but could not make headway on this one and decided maybe it was not a battle to fight.
  • Bathroom Tile: I wanted recycled tile, but the price tag was crazy. Triple or four times the cost of standard ceramic, porcelain or glass tile. So we got new tile. Bummer, but we simply could not justify the price tag.
  • Most of the Lighting: Our recessed light fixtures were chosen more than halfway into the project, and honestly, I was getting beaten down. The ones we got are probably not energy-efficient, but we figured we'd use eco-friendly light bulbs in them. We also installed low-voltage undercabinet lighting, which is halogen, so not great, but we use them sparingly and they do make a huge difference when working in the kitchen.

All in all, it was quite the learning experience. I am glad we don't have any other renovations planned anytime soon. But I can already see that eco-friendly options and knowledgeable contractors are increasing in the region. In fact, a co-worker just built a "green" house that would be LEED Gold, if he filed and paid for it (not an inexpensive proposition). The contractor (Haubert Homes) did it for a reduced fee scale, in order to get the experience and learnings under their tool belts.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why Consumers Don't "Get" Green

I read an article today on MediaPost called, "The Green Divide: 85% Missing The Message" by Sarah Mahoney. Here's the lead paragraph to give you the gist of it:

A new survey underscores just how much can go wrong between a company's green intentions and consumer perception: On average, 85% of consumers are either unaware of -- or cannot recall -- the green initiatives of companies like Hewlett-Packard, Estee Lauder and Intel, even though those companies are recognized as leaders in sustainability.

First, no surprise with this research. I am educated on the topic and passionate about learning more and I still have a hard time making sound buying decisions.

To me, two issues are at play:

(1) "Green" is such a broad term. It's referenced unscrupulously everyday in every media imaginable: nontoxic, healthy, organic, sustainable, socially responsible, recyclable, recycled, cradle-to-cradle(R), natural, eco-friendly, animal-friendly, fair labor, energy-efficient, low-impact and more I'm sure I missed. Consumers can easily become overwhelmed, even the ones who care, like you and me.

(2) Green is really a continuum. Is the product green? Is the entire organization green? How many of those adjectives above apply to the product? To the company? Without a seal like the USDA Organic seal for food, it's impossible to know how green most of our purchases really are. I can imagine some sort of scale that takes all of these things into account and assigns a score, kind of like Vanno or GoodGuide (though I strongly disagree with many of their valuations), that gets added to packaging to make it easier on consumers. Who's going to take on that challenge? It has to be an independent party.

As for the companies mentioned as "environmental champions," let's take a closer look at Estee Lauder. They continue to market 21 products under their own label -- not counting 22 other personal products brands they own -- which rate 9 or 10 (highly toxic) by Environmental Working Group in their Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. Sure, EWG is only one group trying to bring clarity to use of chemicals in our world, but this raises some real issues about whether they are truly leading the way. Again, it depends on what green means to you. Obviously, I prioritize "nontoxic" and therefore do not buy Estee products, nor do I remotely think of them when I think of green companies. Focus group of one, I know. But based on my twitter experiences and blogs I read, I am not alone.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Slow Your Oats

My neighbor, JoAnn, is a real foodie. She has been in the food broker business all her life and travels far and wide with her friends to try new restaurants. She also has a killer garden, which I've been known to pilfer for herbs and succulent yellow teardrop tomatoes.

Yesterday she leaned across the fence and got my attention. She wanted to tell me about an outing she attended with the Harrisburg chapter of the Slow Food Movement. It sounded amazing. It was called the Adams County Producer Tour & Lunch. They visited a goat farm where they make artisinal cheeses, a bakery, two farms and, finally, a local winery. All for $30 including the wine tasting. Check out their blog for upcoming events. (I could not find any membership info on there, but I'm sure you can email the adminstrator to find out more.)

For more of an explanation of what Slow Food is all about, this page encapsulates it. Basically, it's about reconnecting with how food is grown, getting to know your farmers, eating for health, embracing fair practices, using earth-friendly methods, and ultimately, enjoying eating.

I have a great cookbook by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse called The Art of Simple Food. It's full of everyday no-nonsense recipes for old-fashioned mouth-watering meals. Not the easiest recipes on earth, but most of it is just about learning that the little things really count. The right pan can make a recipe, as can the right oil or the right type of fish. It's very educational.

Total sidenote: The Chez Panisse website is 100% inspired brilliance. If you're into that thing. I am. Just perfection.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Formula for Thought

Today, I was making bottles for my 10-month-old and discovered to my horror that we didn't have any more cans of formula. First of all, you're probably thinking, why is this "green mama" not breast-feeding (with indignation!)? Well, I did until at 8 months, I just couldn't do it anymore. I was happy to have made it that far and really enjoyed the bonding.

As you would expect, I researched formula ad nauseum and finally settled on Bright Beginnings Organic Milk-Based Infant Formula. I think I've written about this before. It's made by PBM, which also makes formula for WalMart called Parent's Choice (in standard milk, soy and organic milk variations, among others). I really only know all this because today I had to choose something other than Bright Beginnings, which is not carried anywhere local. Argh. I always order it a case at a time online at Diapers.com. Not that a case is any cheaper than six individual cans. But I digress.

Anyway, in my panic to come up with a suitable alternative for a couple of days until the case arrives, I turned to Google. I discovered that Parent's Choice Organic Formula and the Vermont Organics Formula are very similar to Bright Beginnings and the website said you could get it at WalMart. I headed out in a hurry.

Of course, they did not have any Organic variety of PBM formula. They did have Similac Organic, but I've read many posts suggesting that this is very sweet and that it's not well tolerated--did I want to risk it? I stood at the shelves for probably 15 minutes, reading labels and looking at the prices. Do you know that non-organic formula is only $11 a can at WalMart? I'm paying $24 and change, same as the Similac Organic. In this day and age, can you blame families for forgoing organics, when the surcharge is more than double? This is a budget item that in one month, for one baby, is about $55 versus $150? RIDICULOUS.

If WalMart at least carried the organic variety in their store, there would be something moderately priced for budget-minded people to consider! Somebody write a memo.

Anyway, I ended up getting Parent's Choice Immune Support, as a one-time backup for $13. Hopefully, it won't make him gassy or miserable or anything. The Bright Beginnings ordered online today (a Sunday) will be here on Tuesday with free shipping. I think we can make it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Better than zweiback and less messy!


I discovered Organic Baby Mum-Mum Rice Rusks at BabiesRUs recently. We are on our second box, and Timmy is not the only one loving them.

I'm not a fan of zweiback because it's made by Gerber and has a long, crappy ingredient list. If you've ever tried those organic teething biscuits, though, you know what a collossal mess they make! And they can break off in hard pieces, which makes me nervous.
These rice rusks are more easily dissolved, but not as fast-dissolving as puffs. They are just the right size for little hands and little mouths, and did I mention that they don't make much of a mess!?!

Best of all, they are rice. This means they are gluten-free. They have no artificial flavors or colors. No preservatives and no cholesterol. They do have a bit of "quality New Zealand skim milk powder." I'm not sweating that, but I guess if you had a kid with a super-duper sensitivity to milk, this might present a problem.

They come wrapped in packs of two, in a box of 24. I have only seen the original variety, but according to their website, they also come in Vegetable and Carrot. Quite apparently, I am not their only fan. Their website lists only stores in Australia and New Zealand, but they appear to be widely available online, through drugstore.com, amazon.com and many others for about $2.99 a box. Try them and let me know what you think!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Product Review: Mini Chocolate Graham Snacks

I am a sweets person. I'm at peace with it. When indulged in moderation, all is well. Other than the organic agave nectar in my morning coffee, I look for (organic) cane sugar. Most of the time. Except yesterday when I was at Ollie's and saw that Pepperidge Farm came out with a very Teddy-Grahams-like version of their classic Goldfish snack cracker. In chocolate.

Naturally, I had to try it. Lo and behold, they taste exactly like Teddy Grahams, which I happen to love but I don't buy because I perceive them to be unhealthy. But these chocolate fishy grahams are made with "Whole Grain" and contain "no artificial preservatives." Indeed, these babies have a whopping 2 grams of fiber per serving. Okay, well it's better than none. They do contain some hydrogenated oil -- why? Really.

(So, now, looking into it, Teddy Grahams has the world's most annoying website, with a misspelled word in the main navigation, but I digress. They also have 2 grams of fiber, despite being made with enriched white flour, only 1g of saturated fat and 8 g of sugar. Hmmm.)

((Come to think of it, why do I trust Pepperidge Farm? I used to buy their 100% whole wheat cinnamon raisin swirl bread for Gregory until I realized it had SUCRALOSE in it! Disgusting. Why bother making a whole wheat variety if you're going to poison it with artificial sweetener? I notice also that they do not list ingredients on their site when you click for nutritional information, so you would have absolutely no way of knowing this without scouring the ingredients.))

So, here's the rub: If you want to indulge a little chocolate graham craving, they are both yummy and there are certainly worse things you can choose. The challenge is not eating the whole bag/box at once. They are equally small and sneaky like that.

NUTRITIONAL INFO (from their sites)

Pepperidge Farm®
Nabisco Chocolate
Goldfish® Grahams / Chocolate Teddy Graham Snacks
Serv size = 51 pieces (30g) / Serving size = 30g

Amount per Serving
Calories 140 / Calories 130
Sugars 10g / Sugars 8g
Total Fat 4.5g / Total Fat 4.5g
Protein 2g / Protein 2g
Sat. Fat 2g / Sat. Fat 1g
Trans Fat 0g / Trans Fat 0g

% Daily Values
Cholesterol 0mg / Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 180mg / Sodium 160mg
Total Carb. 22g / Total Carb. 22g
Dietary Fiber 2g / Dietary Fiber 2g
Iron 6% / Iron 6%
Calcium 0% / Calcium 10%

Monday, August 3, 2009

Support the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign

I got an email from MomsRising, which "has joined a growing movement of workers, scientists, fertility experts, and advocates for learning and developmental disabilities in supporting comprehensive reform for America's chemical policy." As part of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign, they are "calling for updated chemical regulations so that chemicals are proven to be safe before they are out on the market and in the products our kids use every day!" According to MomsRising, "legislation soon will be introduced to reform and modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act that is failing to protect [us] from dangerous toxic chemicals. PLEASE SUPPORT THIS LEGISLATION." I could not agree more.

I copied their suggested letter to be sent to elected representatives and adapted it a bit to make it more "me." I'm sharing with you so you can see what's at stake. Feel free to adapt this letter text to suit your style and send it to your Senator and U.S. Representative. Send it to everyone you know who might also send it to their reps. It's easiest to use MomsRising's form, which "knows" who your representatives are and automatically sends it along. Here is that link.

My Version of the Letter

Dear _____:

Thousands of toxic chemicals, which have not been tested for safety, have been added to common items found in homes across America: In children’s toys and bottles, in food cans and soda can linings, in our mattresses, computers, shampoos, lotions and more.

THOUSANDS OF UNTESTED TOXIC CHEMICALS, many of which are linked to cancer, reproductive issues, neurotoxicity, etc., bioaccumulate in you, in me, in my baby, in my dog, in waterfowl and fishes.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found toxic chemicals in the blood and urine of all Americans. Babies are born with hundreds of chemicals in their blood, which increase the risks of prostate and breast cancers, diabetes, heart disease, lowered sperm counts, early puberty and other diseases and disorders.

TO SAY THIS IS A PRESSING ISSUE IS THE UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE CENTURY.

Additionally, many of our most significant trading partners are implementing stronger chemical protection policies than we have in the U.S., putting our economy at further risk for not being able to compete in a global marketplace that is rapidly gaining awareness of the problems associated with runaway use of toxic chemicals. The law governing toxic chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), is now 33 years old and has never been modernized. Outdated technologies and unsafe chemicals have created costs too great to bear to sustain our quality of life, with broad implications for our healthcare system and our economy.

Some 82,000 chemicals are available for use in the U.S., yet only about 200 chemicals have been assessed for safety. Even though only 5 chemicals have been removed from use based on health and safety concerns of those 200, that's 2.5% of tested chemicals that had to be removed. Do the math and you'd extrapolate that, at that rate, we're currently exposed to more than 2,000 chemicals that are slowly, softly killing us.

Translation: It's no wonder why healthcare costs are rising!

The time has come to give the federal government enough authority to require that chemicals be tested for safety before they are put into the products we use every day. As your constituent, I urge you to support legislation that will:
  1. Take immediate action to stop the use of the most dangerous toxic chemicals (yes, the EPA already knows which ones these are, as does the EU);

  2. Give the EPA the power to assess the safety of all chemicals so that the health of all people and the environment, especially the most vulnerable subpopulations, including children, workers, and pregnant women, will be protected;

  3. Improve the right to know about toxic chemicals by allowing the public, workers and the marketplace to have full access to information about the health hazards from chemicals and the way in which government safety decisions are made.
Legislation to modernize and update the Toxic Substances Control Act will be introduced soon. I urge you to support this effort to lead us into a new era of safer chemicals and healthy families.

Don't be swayed by the chemical lobby and their "it will cost more" whining. Whatever it costs in the short-term will pale in comparison to the rising cost to treat increased cases of cancers, neurological conditions, infertility and worse, not to mention the emotional toll on the victims and families--yours and mine.

Thank you for your leadership.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Product Review: Flavrz Drink Mix

I read about Flavrz Drink Mix on Zoe b Organic Blog and had to try them. I used the coupon and bought two three-packs. I received one three-pack very quickly and notified them that I had, in fact, ordered and paid for two. They apologized and sent another one out immediately, along with a handy pouring spout "for my inconvenience." Thoughtful. (These are great to have and they sell them for $4.)

The Flavrz three-pack contains Cherry Berry, Tropical and Lemon Lime flavors. I think I like them in that order. They are all delicious and convenient and definitely let you mix just the amount of flavor you want. In our household, we dilute a lot. So it's nice not to pay for water. In fact, it computes to about half the cost of other organic juices I regularly buy, with less to recycle.

What's in it, you ask? Simple stuff: fruit juice, fruit extracts, fruit flavorings, sweetened with organic agave nectar -- so you get the yummy sweetness without all the calories and cane sugar of other organic beverages. When mixed according to "normal" strength, it's got less than half the calories of juice or soda. Plus, it's free of artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and chemicals. Major plus.

We have not tried them with adult beverages, but it seems to me they would be terrific in a martini or the like. They would also be great for sno-cones. Margaritas, too. Ummm...

Anyway, I had to order them online, but they are at retail in stores from Maine to the metro DC area. If you try it, let me know what you think. Cheers!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Zumongous zucchini pic and a recipe

We had big zucchini plants last year. This year, I cannot believe my eyes, but they are even bigger. I'm crediting our amazing compost. However, the enormous leaves are overshadowing our poor peppers, artichokes, tomatoes and cukes. It's also hard to find all the yummy green buggers when they are ripe for the pickin.'

Clearly we missed this bad boy for a long while.

I'm not sure if you can appreciate how big this big zucchini is, even with my stellar photographic skills. The little one is "normal" size, the middle one is a bit big and the biggest one is 19.5" long and 4.25" in diameter at its widest point. If I could weigh it, I would but I don't have a food scale. It probably won't even taste good at this size, but I had to get this on record. I decided not to let Alex take the picture for fear it would (somehow, some way) find its way into an NC-17 rating.

Perfect segue for my Easy Cheesy Summer Squash Casserole (feel free to use reduced fat milk or cheese, but don't you dare use margarine):

Ingredients
4 c. zucchini or summer squash (diced or sliced thinly)
2 c. finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or swiss)
4 eggs
8 T finely chopped yellow onion
2 c. scalded organic milk (heat until not quite boiling and remove "skin")
2 c. Arrowhead Mills Organic Savory Stuffing (or Italian bread crumbs)
6 T organic butter, melted (optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13 x 9 pan with cooking spray. Beat eggs. Add cheese, squash and onions. Spoon into greased pan and spread out. Pour scalded milk over ingredients evenly. If using butter, mix with stuffing (or bread crumbs). Spoon stuffing mixture evenly over the squash. Bake for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbly around the edges. If you like your squash mushy, cook another 5-10 minutes.

Serves 10-12 people as a side dish.

Adapted from Baked Cheese Squash Casserole (cooks.com)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Something called "Ranch" ought to be natural

Holy smokes another two weeks has passed me by. We've been busy entertaining friends for Hersheypark outings and have family coming this weekend to celebrate my son's birthday (4th). So I was grocery shopping today in an effort to be an organized and prepared hostess. Ha.

Anyway, I wanted to get some ranch salad dressing, which is always a favorite. I used to buy Hidden Valley Organic Ranch Dressing but I can't find that anymore. According to their website, they still make it, so my Giant must not carry it. (They also discontinued Welch's Organic Grape Juice, which was stupidly positioned in the regular juice aisle instead of the organic aisle. Shame, it is bursting with juicy goodness, so much so that I have to dilute it. But I digress...)

So I started picking up every bottle of Ranch dressing on the shelves and, lo and behold, every single one had MSG in it, even Ken's "Healthy Options" Ranch, which I find really misleading. There was no Newman's Own Ranch anywhere, which is another good option. Wishbone and Kraft and all those mainstream brands all had MSG, among other lousy ingredients in them. I bought Nature's Promise Organic Ranch Dressing. I can't find any product info online, but it seems to be MSG-free and generally all ingredients you know and love. One word of caution with the Nature's Promise items (and organic items in general, especially if you live somewhere this "trend" isn't hot): Always check the expiration date. One time, I bought NP Caesar dressing that was a year old and didn't realize it. Not cool.

While I'm on my soapbox about discontinued organic/natural items at Giant, I also could not find the Organic Savory Herb Stuffing Mix from Arrowhead Mills. This stuff is delicious, plus it made my cheesy squash casserole SO much better than bread crumbs. I'm going to have to get over to Wegman's and see if they have a better selection, or maybe try the Giant in Camp Hill, which seems to be better stocked with organic-leaning items.

If anyone wants the casserole recipe, let me know. It's basically zucchini or summer squash (which we have now in overabundance), milk, eggs, cheese, onion, butter and stuffing (my way, anyway). It's super quick to throw together and really yummy. And you can modify (skip butter, use skim milk and lowfat cheese) to be healthier.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Eco products I'm digging right now

I've been a little quiet on the posts. Shame on me. I've been doing a lot of reading and participating in social media. It's fun...and time-consuming. Anyway, in my travels, I'm come across some brands I've never heard of before and also report on some of my favorite products right now. Please comment if you've got any favorites I should try.

First, a site I just found through their Facebook ad: sweetpeaproducts.com. They don't have the best website or lots of products, but they do have something called boo-boo balm that is free of harmful chemicals and seems to have quite a loyal following. And it's only $6. Gotta get me some of that, especially considering my boys' tendencies to acquire boo-boos. Their gift basket would also make a very nice shower gift. The founder is an infant massage practitioner, so she has a massage oil and a book on how to massage your infant in the basket. This can be especially effective in soothing fussy babies.

Second, a lot of new alcohol-free hand sanitizers seem to be cropping up. I use CleanWell, both the wipes, which are great for the diaper bag, and the spray, which I keep at work. It smells a little, well, antiseptic, but it's got no triclosan and no alcohol and it's proven to work. My friend, Cobie, turned me on to Grandma Minnie's Hand Sanitizer because she tired of using Giovanni's expensive lavendar-scented wipes. I have not tried this stuff, and it's $30 a bottle! Also, it contains alcohol and triethanolamine, which scores a "6" in the Cosmetics Database. I also shy away from lavendar for my boys, after reading that it *might* be an endocrine disruptor. That research from 2007 has been disputed, however new research has come out just last month on this topic. Read my post about the Endocrine Society's report.

I'm really loving a Korres summer beauty promo package I bought with Face Primer, Watermelon Tinted Foundation SPF 30 and Bronzer (though I've used this the least of the three). I already use their Ginger & Vitamins Foundation SPF 10 and love it. And their mascara is great. Though it's gotten quite gloopy the longer I've had it, which is not long. Still, it's easy to wipe the wand off as I'm pulling it out and it doesn't clump on my eyelashes. Also liking my NVEY ECO Organic Erase and my Tarte Cheek Stain. These all happen to be available at Sephora, which is convenient. They have lots of "natural and organic" products, but some are better than others, so be sure to read the description and ingredients.

Another thing I'm loving is Bubble & Bee's Pit Putty. I cannot say enough good about this product. If you've tried a natural deodorant before, it probably didn't work. Now, I'm not a super sweaty person, and this is not an antiperspirant, but I don't find that I sweat much when I'm wearing it, plus, it does deodorize the pits. It's white and it can get crumbly if the stick gets too warm, but I don't mind as long as it works and I'm not putting aluminum on my body. They also make a Geranium Lime Spray Deodorant that is quite nice and tucks neatly into a purse, as a refresher or backup or "oops, I forgot my deode this morning" (which happens to me!). This product is not officially launched, but you can get it with the "buy two" deal. It's really very lovely smelling. I've also tried the Bubble & Bee Root Beer Lip Balm, and it's yummy and emollient. I also got an Orange Organic soap, and while I liked it, we went through it too quickly for the price, so I'm going back to my basic big olive oil bar soap. I plan to try their hair products and the Geranium Lime Pit Putty when this one runs out. Thanks, Stephanie, for a great bunch of products!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Startling report from the Endocrine Society


In Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement by Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, Linda C. Giudice, Russ Hauser, Gail S. Prins, Ana M. Soto, R. Thomas Zoeller and Andrea C. Gore, published in June 2009, we learn that endocrinology researchers are alarmed at the potential consequences of overuse of these chemicals.

Here is an excerpt from the abstract: "There is growing interest in the possible health threat posed by endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which are substances in our environment, food, and consumer products that interfere with hormone biosynthesis, metabolism, or action resulting in a deviation from normal homeostatic control or reproduction. In this first Scientific Statement of The Endocrine Society, we present the evidence that endocrine disruptors have effects on male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology. Results from animal models, human clinical observations, and epidemiological studies converge to implicate EDCs as a significant concern to public health."

Unfortunately you have to pay to read the full text, but Fanatic Cook has a great blogpost on this. Scary stuff, and I'm glad they are going on record to alert the public and lawmakers to this public health threat.

Monday, June 29, 2009

EPA releases high hazard coal ash waste sites--one in PA!

Gives a whole new meaning to CYA (Cover Your Ash)...I borrow and paraphrase from the EPA site (if you want to read the whole thing, go here):

Fact Sheet: "Over the past several months, EPA has undertaken a concerted effort to identify and to assess the structural integrity of impoundments, dams, or other management units, within the electric power generating industry, holding wet-handled coal combustion residues or CCRs ... electric utilities have so far identified a total of 427 units managing slurried CCRs. Forty-four (44) of these units at 26 different locations have been assigned a high hazard potential rating..."

"The National Inventory of Dams hazard potential ratings address the potential consequences of failure or misoperation of the dam. A high hazard potential rating indicates that a failure will probably cause loss of human life. The rating is not an indication of the structural integrity of the unit or the possibility that a failure will occur in the future; it merely allows dam safety and other officials to determine where significant damage or loss of life may occur if there is a structural failure of the unit."

Sounds scary, but why should you care? "CCRs consist of fly ash, bottom ash, coal slag, and flue gas desulfurization (FGD) residue. CCRs contain a broad range of metals, for example, arsenic, selenium, cadmium, lead, and mercury, but the concentrations of these are generally low. However, if not properly managed, (for example, in lined units), CCRs may cause a risk to human health and the environment and, in fact, EPA has documented cases of environmental damage."

So, where are these sites? AZ (9), GA (1), IL (2), IN (1), KY (7), MT (1), NC (12), OH (6), PA (1), WV (4). See the Fact Sheet for cities and specifics.

What's being done about these sites?
"The list of units was compiled from information submitted to EPA by the electric utilities in response to EPA’s March 9, 2009 information request. The 44 units will receive high priority attention as EPA continues its assessment of impoundment safety. As announced by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, on March 9, 2009, EPA has committed to proposing regulation on the management of coal combustion wastes by December 31, 2009."

I am hopeful but not exactly holding my breath. I do commend the EPA for coming forward with this information.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kate Hudson spotted in Hair-isburg

My source met Kate yesterday while she was here to promote her haircare line with David Babaii (presumably to Rite Aid). Silly me, I didn't know her eternal cuteness was shilling beauty products, much less ones that are eco-friendly and support WildAid.

About the products: "Volumizing vocanic ash. Rich Cupucacu butter. Blue Algae. Wild Orchid. Kiwi. Mango. Jojoba seed. Dead Sea Salt." Ooooh, sounds scrumptious.

"All part of the exclusive blend of exotic natural ingredients in our David Babaii for WildAid products. Free of Sulfates, Parabens, Petrochemicals, animal products. And, of course, free from animal testing." A bit of a red flag for me is that they do not list their ingredients on the website--at least I did not find them. This omission suggests to me that they are not as eco-friendly as they could be. Otherwise, why hide ingredients?

If you know me, you know I love a good tagline: "David Babaii for WildAid. It’s beautiful to be good." I could not agree more (frankly, I'm surprised no one's using line already)!

Next time I'm out, I'm going to check out the ingredients in the Bohemian Beach Spray and maybe the Amplifying Shampoo. I'll report back with a review. If you've tried any of these products, please comment.

Umm...just found the ingredient list for the Amplifying Shampoo on drugstore.com (ones in red pose a risk of 4 or greater, on a scale where 10 is worst):
Water, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Cocamide MEA, Lauramine Oxide, Spirulina Platensis Extract, Glycol Stearate, Cymbidium Grandiflorum Flower Extract, Volcanic Ash, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Theobroma Grandiflorum Seed Butter, Hydrogenated Hemp Seed Oil, Panthenol, Thymus Serpillum Extract, Olea Europaea Fruit Oil (Olive), Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Avena Sativa Kernel Extract (Oat), Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides, Algae Extract, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Mangifera Indica Fruit Extract (Mango), Actinidia Chinensis Fruit Extract (Kiwi), Urtica Dioica Extract (Nettle), Equisetum Hiemale Extract, Orchis Mascula Flower Extract, Cucumis Sativus Fruit Extract (Cucumber), Hedychium Coronarium Root Extract, Zingiber Officinale Root Extract (Ginger), Rosmarinus Officinalis Leaf Extract (Rosemary), Arctium Lappa Root Extract, Hedera Helix Extract (Ivy), Trigonella Foenum Graecum Seed Extract, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Wheat Amino Acids, Phenoxyethanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Butylene Glycol, Amodimethicone, Citric Acid, PEG 150 Distearate, Fragrance, Tocopheryl Acetate, Sodium Benzoate, Retinyl Palmitate, Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch, Panthenyl Hydroxypropyl Steardimonium Chloride, Tetrasodium EDTA.

It's not looking like these products would qualify as nontoxic...though I will say the reviewers on drugstore.com loved the shampoo and commented favorably about its scent. If the scent is naturally derived, it's probably not phthalate-laden, but the chances are slim.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New finds for glamorganic goods

I'm always on the lookout for great organic style (aka glamorganics). Here are a few new finds with some paraphrased descriptions from their websites:

Fierce Hugs packs imagination, sustainability and a healthy eco-friendly lifestyle into remarkably soft, organic baby clothes using 100% organic cotton. Made with fair labor and designed by independent illustrators for cool and original graphics. Packaged in a cool eco-friendly gift box. Risk-free return policy.

Mama Om is "for trendy moms and hip girls." Organic clothing that is trendy and comfortable to promote the wonderful and unique bond between mothers and daughters, by wearing matching clothing, sharing a sense of style, caring for the earth and having a little fun! Fashion and play mix; comfort and caring for the environment are major priorities.

Green Edge Kids offers the largest selection of designer organic kids clothes online. Organic children's clothing is not only good for the environment, but it is very well-made and almost all of it is made in the USA. Offer a 100% price match guarantee. Best deals are reserved for newsletter members only. Also offers everyday free shipping (minimum order applies).

SafeKiddo is an environmentally and safety-conscious store sourcing products that are Organic, Made in the USA, Handmade, Fair Trade, Wood from managed forests, and/or toxin-free...essentially, the purest, highest quality products available. Each product description includes a stamp with an explanation of why it's safe, healthy and earth-responsible.

Care for Me Naturally stocks eco-friendly, nontoxic and organic products for baby and toddler. All are free from harmful toxins and contaminants. Many have been tested and approved by pediatricians and dermatologists, received industry awards and been acclaimed by parents internationally. Strong preference for suppliers showing environmental conscience by deploying only fair trade and eco-friendly manufacturing practices.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kids books that teach earth-friendly ways

When you're reading a book to your child do you ever stop to consider exactly what you're teaching him or her? It's amazing all the "norms" that are engrained through simple, cherished stories we share with our kids. For instance, Three Little Bears reinforces the notion of a nuclear family (mama, papa, baby). Where The Wild Things Are concludes that there really is no place like home, especially for a bratty little boy with his hot supper in his cozy room. The Poky Little Puppy elevates dessert to a God-given right.

While these and most are pretty harmless, many reinforce consumerism, gender stereotypes and wastefulness, most times not with overt themes, but in the actions of the central characters.

But don't worry, you don't have to give up on reading to your kids. Great alternatives do exist. You just have to work to find them. Here are a few I've unearthed (ha ha, no pun intended) that would be nice options for your summer reading lists:

Green Sugar Press "Books to engage, entertain and enlighten children with the wonders of nature."

  • An Environmental Guide from A to Z (ages 8-13)

  • Earl the Earthworm Digs for His Life (ages 5-9)

  • N is for Nature: An Environmental Alphabet Book (ages 2-6)
Simon & Schuster also has a line called "Little Green Books" with titles such as Don't Throw That Away! and The Adventures of an Aluminum Can. The books are made from recycled materials and cover earth-friendly topics.

Want the most comprehensive list anywhere I could find? Here's the site in all its ugly glory.

But, wait. Before you buy another new book from a big bookseller, consider a new model--Better World Books. Their motto: "Buy used books to fund literacy worldwide." When I checked, the stats at the top of the page were staggering, and growing before my eyes:
  • Funds raised for global literacy: $6,427,439.60

  • Books saved from landfills: 24,688,398

  • WOW.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Here's your official notice: You are in charge

Think what you're buying is safe to eat / bathe in / slather on / chow down? Um, in a word, NO, it's not. The government is not doing its job with regard to monitoring, evaluating and regulating chemicals in food, consumer products, etc. In addition to falling prey to heavily funded lobbies, government agencies are not equipped to keep up with the proliferation of chemicals bombarding us everyday from a preposterous number of sources.

Here's a wake-up call: It's up to you to keep your family, your pets, your neighborhood, and our whole planet safer and healthier for everyone. I'm serious. Did you see Erin Brockovich? That was not an isolated incident. It takes people like her (and you) to pay attention, raise a red flag, go the distance [insert more bad clich├ęs here].

Really, if it sounds hard, it's not! It just takes a little determination and a little research. Here are nine things (not necessarily in order of importance) you must consider doing for yourself, your loved ones and our planet. Now.

(1) Vote with your dollars. This means buy from companies you trust. Buy organic when you can. Don't buy disposable crap made shoddily in China or anywhere for that matter. Companies are paying attention to what people are buying and they will make available what you will buy at a price you will pay. You can find out more about companies' track records here, here and here.

(2) Ask questions.
Don't assume the fish is fresh, ask where it came from, whether you're at the grocery store or in a restaurant. Don't assume coffee or chocolate is fair trade, ask the clerk or check the label. If your store doesn't carry a good selection of organic, fair trade or local foods, ask them to stock more. The more people ask about where their food's coming from, the more stores and restaurants will realize they need to pay attention to what they're offering. But it doesn't stop at food. If your nail salon reeks of chemicals, ask them to try eco-friendly brands. If your kid's school still uses noxious chemicals for cleaning, educate them to the dangers of that exposure and suggest greener options. If your neighbor's treating their lawn with chemicals, find a way to peaceably suggest that they find an alternate solution, like tucking a brochure from a safe company inside their screen door.

(
3) Follow the leaders. Lots of smart people have dedicated themselves to righting the ship. They send newsletters out with really good information. Subscribe to them. Some of the best are: Environmental Working Group, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, The Green Guide and Healthy Child Healthy World. I'm sure there are more. Comment with your favorites. (Aside, speaking of leaders, the E.U. is way ahead of the U.S. in protecting its citizens from harmful substances.)

(4) Make your voice heard.
When these esteemed organizations above send you action alerts, read them. Pick the ones that matter most to you and use the automated form to send letters to your elected representatives. It's easy. Really easy. You can even post them to Facebook or forward them to your friends through email to spread the word. Of course, we don't know if these officials are listening to us, but not saying anything is a sure way to go unheard.

(5) Gear up your recycling.
Recycling is not just for cans and bottles. And it's not just something to do at home. It starts by making a habit of only buying stuff you can recycle (reference the little number in the recycle symbol). Then collect your batteries, light bulbs, old TVs, cardboard, junk mail, newspapers, scrap paper, plastic hangers and that pile of unclaimed pages by the work printer. Don't forget you can also compost fruit & vegetable scraps, newspaper, unbleached paper towels & napkins (if you haven't switched to cloth!), even biodegradable diapers and dog training pee pads. Make it a little game to see how little trash you can throw out each week.

(6) Use (and reuse) what you buy.
Beyond recycling, try "Being a Responsible Consumer 101." Buy what you need and nothing more. Really pay attention to what you buy...here are some examples: Do you choose paper greeting cards or online cards? Do you wrap presents in paper or in a reusable bag? Do you buy individually wrapped servings of foods? Still buying bottled water? Using something made from virgin materials once and recycling it is not solving, just delaying the problem. Upcycling once and then throwing it out, also not solving the problem. When you're done with something and it still has life in it, donate it or give it away. Try to think about the impact you're having, what you're throwing away, and challenge yourself to cut that in half. You will be amazed at how quickly it adds up. One day hopefully more products will be Cradle to Cradle.

(7) Cut your chemical consumption.
No more ChemLawn, Roundup or OTC Flea & Tick Treatments. You don't need these toxic chemicals and surely the aquatic life in your local water table doesn't need them either. Natural alternatives exist, or you can grow a garden or plants instead of grass, using native plants that don't need a lot of extra attention to flourish in your area. No more chemical pest control. A Terminix agent told my parents that they use the lowest concentration of the least toxic thing possible to get rid of termites. Same thing that's in Frontline, but far less of it, they said. My mom was convinced; I was not so sure. I looked on the website as the agent suggested and found nothing credible or detailed about the chemicals they use. Proprietary? I doubt it. I suspect their lawyers probably squelched any mention because it's not, in fact, nontoxic. If it was, they'd be touting it. Point is, ask questions. Do your research. Make sure what you're putting on your lawn, in your house, on your body, is not full of harsh, toxic chemicals.

(8) Don't make excuses, make time.
Educating yourself is easy these days. If you have not seen Fast Food Nation, rent it. You also need to see Food Inc., which is coming out this month. Based on the trailer alone, I think this movie will help inspire you. Hot, Flat & Crowded contains sound thinking (and it's easy to pick up and put down because Mr. Friedman kindly drills the points home). Some more good ones are Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, The Omnivore's Dilemma and Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home.

(9)
Keep tabs on your utilities. You know those little brochures they put in your utility bills (or attach to your online bill)? They are chock full of not-so-boring details you should know about the water, electric, gas, etc. that you are consuming. I looked at mine this week and realized that they only filter "the required amount" of cryptosporidium (a microbial pathogen). They went so far as to recommend that immuno-compromised people, some elderly and infants seek advice about drinking water from their healthcare providers. So basically, the water is safe for "normal" people, but the rest of the population is on its own. (Good luck to those infirm and infants getting advice from overburdened doctors.) Needless to say, as a mother of an infant and a six pound dog, these things make me mad. My husband and I are purchasing a whole house water filter this weekend.

I saw a bumper sticker that hit home the other day: "Good planets are hard to find." Think about it. And DO SOMETHING.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Eco-fabulous skincare straight from...Iowa?

I don't remember where I bumped into this brand, but I immediately liked Aguacate & Co.'s branding and the sensibility. So I checked it out and it seems to be the real deal in terms of safe ingredients. Most products are Certified Vegan (honestly didn't know there was such a thing, but now I do). As a company, they are approved by Green America, are a member of the Organic Trade Association, are a signer of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics and participate in 1% for the Planet.

Billed as "premium skin care with organic ingredients," Aguacate offers cleansers, exfoliators, toners, moisturizers, replenishers, gifts sets and -- best of all -- trial sizes. I've been to the site a few times and they are frequently sold out of the trial sizes, though.

You can buy it online at the company site, or a handful of other eco sites. If you happen to be in San Diego you can shop for it at The Hidden Spa. Or if you find yourself in Fairfield, Iowa, stop by the At Home Store.

There's not much in their About Us section, but a little research shows that the company has been around since 2007. It's hard to confirm, but I'm fairly sure they are Iowa-based. In case you're wondering, aguacate means avocado in Spanish, which references the line's key ingredient, avocado oil.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dial down on the 1,4 dioxane

Would you be surprised to find out that a "contaminant" known to be a carcinogen since at least 1988 could be lurking in popular personal care -- and BABY CARE -- products at relatively high levels? And it does not have to be listed because, technically, it's a by-product of a manufacturing process and not an ingredient.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) reported that "EPA May 7 released a draft Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment of 1,4 dioxane that includes a new cancer slope factor that is 17 times more potent than the agency's 1990 IRIS assessment."

OCA did their own 1,4 dioxane testing on personal care products, both "natural" and big brands, and detected 1,4 dioxane at 18 ppm in Dial Clean & Soft Aloe Antibacterial Hand Soap. So-called natural products were not exempt, with biggest offender -- Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Liquid Dish Soap -- registering a whopping 204 parts per million! Testing was conducted in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and some products, like Method's Dish Naturally Derived Ultra Concentrate, have been reformulated to dramatically reduce levels (though it still contains 2.9 ppm).

"The chemical also shows up in nearly half of the personal care products that EWG includes in its 'Skin Deep' database, which compares more than 42,000 personal care products with some 50 toxicity and regulatory databases, the EWG source says."

So what's a safe level? That's up to the EPA to determine, but it's up to us to then calculate all our exposure sources and add them together. That's the part the EPA can't seem to factor. With this toxin showing up in so many products, you have to imagine that your aggregate exposure is 20-50x that of any single source it's in.

Speechless. The more I learn, the more I want answers! Get angry, people, and demand answers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

E.U. spies some suspicious food dyes

I've spent some time with a great book by Dr. Doris Rapp called, "Is This Your Child?" (Discovering and Treating Unrecognized Allergies). Dr. Rapp is a board-certified environmental medical specialist and pediatric allergist in Arizona, who's made a career out of helping parents figure out what's making their sometimes normal children become wildly inattentive or otherwise unwieldy. She figured out that a wide variety of environmental and chemical factors could in fact cause children to experience uncontrollable states, from rage to lethargy. It's a really amazing book, especially because she's got something like 30,000 kids on video tape before exposure to their trigger and after she treats it. I really don't understand why she's so under-the-radar, except maybe that pharmaceutical companies and agribusiness types don't want parents to wise up.

Anyway, I saw this GoodGuide article about the E.U. examining some food colorants that may "have adverse reactions in children" and it made me think of that great book. Anecdotally, a woman I know who did in-home childcare for 30 years told me about a young boy she used to watch who was a hyperactive mess. Finally, the mom found a doctor who tested and found that he was allergic to a certain red food dye. Once she removed it from his diet, he was a different child. How scary is that?

The UK's Food Standards Agency was reviewing (as of March 2009) these six coloring agents and placed a voluntary ban on them (these are the US equivalent names):
  • FD&C Yellow 5
  • FD&C Yellow 6
  • FD&C Yellow 10
  • FD&C Red 4
  • FD&C Red 40
  • Carmoisine

As of May 1, 2009, many UK companies voluntarily removed the above dyes from their products. You can see a list here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hair today: a fungus among us

Nontoxic haircare is one of the most difficult things for me. I've always been worried about how my hair looks, since it's so, well, noticeable. First, there's the products. Kenra works but it's full of sulfates. I tried a Shikai everyday conditioner, but it gets a "4" in the Cosmetics Database, plus I didn't really like it. Giovanni conditioner is rated better but I didn't like it either. I am now using Avalon Organics Biotin B-Complex Thickening Conditioner, which is still a "3" but I do like it. The search continues. If only I liked Dr. Bronner's. It's one of the safer ones and super concentrated (read: economical).

For the kids, I use California Baby Super Sensitive Shampoo & Body Wash (comes in gallon jugs so it's not only super nontoxic, it's also earth-friendly). Sometimes I use it, too. I've also started to use Kiss My Face Orange Shampoo & Conditioner (not the exact name) for Gregory.

I seek out great stylists (my all-time favorite is Christina Liberatore in NYC at Salon Chinois) and I always color it or lighten it to get rid of that dishwater ashy brown-blonde color it's become. I used vegetable-based dyes while I was pregnant and living in Connecticut. Pia at Noelle Spa did my color and it looked and felt great. Was it really healthier? I don't honestly know. I can tell you that the other demi-permanent color she used on my hair would burn my scalp, so I'm guessing that stuff wasn't so great. She used to add Sweet-N-Low to it and it would not burn as much. Evil calmed evil. Bizarre.

Single-process brunette is easy, but I'm always toying with the idea of going back to blonde, so this article caught my eye. A Japanese company is working on an alternative to the standard hydrogen peroxide bleach based on a type of white-rot fungus. While it's better for your hair, for salon workers and the environment, I have to chalk this up to one organic idea that's going to need some serious marketing magic to sell! Sorry, but I'm not easily able to associate "rot" and "fungus" with something I willingly put on my head.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Found art: baby food jar chandelier

Kudos to Natural Home for publishing this pretty darn cool looking project. I have not tried it myself, but I am accumulating jars so if anyone wants to get crafty, let me know and I'll donate as many glass jars as I can. Seems like an inexpensive, creative way to upcycle them.

(Photography from Natural Home by Susan Wasinger)

Don't get burned by lousy sunscreen

I did a post a little while ago about eco-friendly, kid-friendly sunscreen, but it was hidden in a post about Vitamin D. (Getting your R"D"A of Sunshine)

Today, I saw another article about avoiding nanoparticles in sunscreen, and this one actually said why they might be of concern. So I wanted to share. Click through to read, or just try to buy one of these readily available brands, who all refuse to use nanoparticles:

Alba Botanica
Avalon Organics
Black Opal
Bullfrog
Lavera
Soleo Organics

I always recommend cross-checking your selection with the Cosmetics Database from Environmental Working Group.

Also, remember, the average t-shirt is only an SPF of 7, so covering up little ones (and yourself) with SPF-enhanced apparel — in addition to sunscreen — is recommended.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Brush up on healthy dental care for kids

A recent article in Kiwi Magazine made me think more about dental care products for my kids, well my older one anyway. Right now, Gregory does a great job of brushing his teeth, however he does chew through more than his fair share of Dora, Elmo, flashing Firefly and singing Thomas brushes. He doesn't use any toothpaste, mostly because I am sure he will swallow it and partially because I have a vivid recollection of my late uncle, the dentist, saying toothpaste was completely unnecessary if brushing and flossing were done frequently and correctly.

Still, the mister and I use Tom's of Maine toothpaste most of the time. I don't know that it's the best product on the market, but it's definitely better than the mass products and it's readily available (and sometimes even on sale). My husband hates (with a capital H) any unconventional flavors. For instance, I like Cinnamint; he does not. We both intensely disliked the Ginger flavor, but luckily it's been discontinued.

Another brand I've tried and which has its merits is The Natural Dentist. Back when I lived in NYC and was working at a healthcare marketing agency, I worked on this account. It was basically one guy in New Jersey who'd created this line and was committed to growing the business. He was a little ahead of his time, but now I see it's got a shiny new brand and seems to be thriving. When my grandmother was in her late years, she could not have products with alcohol in them (a medication-related, dry mouth thing, if you must know). The Natural Dentist's mouth rinses are all alcohol-free and they were a godsend for her. She really loved the stuff. Of course, they are also perfect for kids, with no artificial sweeteners, dyes or preservatives either. I was not a fan of their toothpastes, but that was awhile ago, so judge for yourself. These products are available at Rite Aid, CVS and Vitamin Shoppe stores and online at drugstore.com, among others.

A European brand that is very eco-friendly and kid-friendly is Weleda. You can get Weleda products at Target, Whole Foods or your local health food store and online at drugstore.com. Their Children's Tooth Gel is likely the first type I'll let my kids use.

For something with ayurvedic underpinnings, consider Organix South's TheraNeem. I am not familiar with these products, but here's an excerpt from their site: "Original Herbal Mint and new homeopathic-friendly Cinnamon Cardamom Flavor toothpastes support healthy teeth and gums with organic supercritical extracts of Neem bark, Neem leaf and more. All-natural, concentrated formulas contain no sodium lauryl sulfate or parabens." You can buy online direct. If you try it, please report back to me with your review.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Greendex is 51. What's yours?

My husband and I try really hard to be eco-friendly in our daily lives. So I felt pretty confident we'd score well in the Green Guide's Greendex.

Of course we can do more, but already we compost, grow our own food, recycle tons, buy local/organic, support community businesses, live close to work, use energy-efficient appliances, wash most clothes in cold water, use CFLs and keep the house temperature low in winter and high in summer.

Our score, 51 out of 100, beats the U.S. consumers' pitiful 43.7 by a decent margin. Of the 17 countries indexed, the U.S. was the least green, India was most at 59.5 and Brazil's 57.3 was second most. Our score took hits for driving to work individually (me in an SUV), eating too much meat and living in a heated, air conditioned 7+ room house. These dings are consistent with all Americans.

Try the Greendex calculator, see how your household is doing and leave me a comment with your score.

From 2008 to 2009, the U.S. was up 1.3 points. I am every hopeful we can make a more substantial jump in 2010. Let's aim for a 10% improvement to a 48!