Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Talking Turkey: Order Yours Now

I know it's only Halloween, but it's time to start thinking about your Thanksgiving turkey. I know, I know, many "green" people are vegetarian and vegan, but I'm not. I try to eat meat consciously and less frequently, acknowledging its greater burden on the planet, but at Thanksgiving, we like to have turkey. Organic, free-range, antibiotic-free, pastured, happy-go-lucky local turkey.

Happy Turkeys at Sunnyside Farm
I'm in Central PA, as most of my readers seem also to be, so here are some local resources to call to reserve your bird now.

Breakaway Farms, Manheim, PA. Offering broiler chickens and turkeys that "roam free in a special protected pasture from the time they’re a few weeks old, and enjoy a varied diet combining grasses, alfalfa, clovers and bugs from the pasture in combination with locally grown organic feed mix."

Sunnyside Farm, Dover, PA. Conveniently located off the I-83 corridor, Sunnyside offers pasture-based, intensive grazed grass-fed beef, chickens, farm fresh eggs, turkeys and raw honey. Now accepting orders for Thanksgiving 2010 heritage breed turkeys. A $40 deposit will hold your bird on the farm, with delivery right before Thanksgiving. Only $5 per pound for heritage breed, moved to fresh pasture daily, hormone-, antibiotic- and worming-medication-free birds.

Eberly Poultry, Stevens, PA. Looking for something more exotic, like a goose, capon or pheasant? Eberly is a larger-scale, organic and free-range type outfit that sells to Carr's at Lancaster's Central Market and to Keener's Poultry in Lebanon, among other retailers. Eberly also sells direct (at great prices) if you can make it to their outlet store not too far from Lancaster.

Jubilee Farms, Myerstown, PA.  Grass-fed turkeys and lots of other certified organic meats, dairy, prepared foods and produce (seasonally).

Are you ordering one? I'd love to hear of other places to try and reports on your experiences with turkeys or other fowl from any of the local farms!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Startup of Note: Healthy Beauty Project

My good friend, Todra Payne, an incredible makeup artist/author/generally great person, has decided to do something about toxic cosmetics. If you've tried to figure out what's good, bad and ugly in this space, taking into account what also works and looks good, you know the challenge she's up against.

Check out HealthyBeautyProject, where you'll find videos, articles and more. Trust me; you will learn something. She's also very accessible. Do you have a question? Do you have feedback on a product you've tried? Have you found something you think is great? Ask her, share with her, tell her.

Best of all, she understands your dirty little beauty secrets. She does not judge you for using Dior Show mascara even though it's not "healthy" in any sense of the word. You evaluate products, you make the best informed choices for you, and you do not obsess. And that's cool.

Hope you like the site. Let me know what you think!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Best of Baby Bottles

My friend, Christina, is pregnant with twins and asked me about baby bottles. Gregory is now five and I had him off the bottle at 13 months. I can't honestly even remember the bottles I used, but I am pretty sure they were plastic and probably nowhere close to toxin-free. For #2, we used inexpensive glass bottles and could not get him off of them until almost 18 months. He just refused sippy cups. Still, a short three months later, I have to wrack my brain to remember the brands and trials I went through in terms of bottles, nipples, etc. Hopefully, this compilation will save more of you from the same laborious process (pun intended, hahaha).

Best of the glass bottles
  • Evenflo Classic Glass Nurser -- a real bargain at about $5 for three 8-oz bottles.
    MY VIEW: I used these as well as the 4-oz size and loved them. Only one ever broke and that was with force from about 4 feet above the slate floor. They can safely go in the dishwasher. The only complaint would be that the plastic ring cracked after I switched from low-flow nipples to faster ones. Also, skip the "Cozy" version with the silicone sleeve. They break and they are just a general pain; total waste of money.
  • BornFree Vented Glass Bottles -- more expensive at $45 for set of 5 bottles with extra nipples.
    MY VIEW: I have never used BornFree, but I know people who have and loved them. I'm sure they are great, but that's a high premium to pay...they are rated very highly online by parents.
  • Dr. Brown's Glass Bottles -- mid-tier at $13.50 for two 8-oz bottles
    MY VIEW: Again, I have not used Dr. Brown's but have friends who loved them. They are rated highly online as well, so I feel comfortable recommending them.
Not so great glass bottles
  • Wee Go Glass Bottles -- very expensive at $13 - $16 each.
    MY VIEW: These are great looking and a great concept but they did not hold up. They were also impossible to warm because this silicone sleeve does not come off. In general, if you go the glass route, just avoid the silicone type acoutrements. They are a pain and unnecessary to boot.
Best of the plastic bottles
  • ThinkBaby Polypropylene BPA-Free Bottles -- a palatable $11 for two 9 oz bottles.
    MY VIEW: I have never tried these, but they are worth having in your consideration set. This company focuses on nontoxic products and ergonomics. Plus, the cost is very reasonable.
  • Dr. Brown's Wide-Neck or Standard Polypropylene Bottle -- $17 for a 3-pack of 8-oz bottles.
    MY VIEW: I have never tried these either, but they are highly regarded among the green moms I follow and a few of my friends. They are BPA-free and have a special anti-air-bubble system.
SafeMama has the best cheat sheets ever and her baby bottle one is no exception. If you want the complete low-down, read it here!

The best thing to do is try a few different types and then, once you know you and your baby(ies) love it, buy a bunch more. A great place to buy baby bottles is The Safe Landing and they even sell assortments, which makes it easier to try different manufacturers.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Twitter Recap: April/May 2010

Gas & oil companies inject toxic petroleum distillates into 1000s of wells, threatening drinking water from PA to WY. http://cot.ag/c2Old9

Want Congress to reform America's broken toxic chemical control policies? Sign EWG's petition: http://cot.ag/9C8GAL

From GOOD: Experiences, not products, provide happiness (it's science): http://shr.gd/cQlZdb

Eww. Triclosan, registered pesticide w/EPA, is in toothpaste & more; FDA allows use even though linked to harm/untested for adverse effects.

Earth City-based project makes pig manure hit the road — as asphalt. http://cot.ag/ap07Qf

One of my favorite companies. Not just toothbrushes & razors anymore: http://www.preserveproducts.com/

Loving this reusable water bottle with built-in filter, plus it's a great-lookin' site: http://cot.ag/dlu5Nn

From Mashable: 5 Charities for Donating Your Old Electronics - http://bit.ly/a9orvH

Via @dkmommy: Tapped the Movie Inspires us to Dry Up the Bottled Water Industry  http://bit.ly/dcRS1F

Routine pesticide exposure linked to #ADHD in kids. [via grist] http://cot.ag/by45R6 Another reason to fight Monsanto's #toxic agenda!

I love the idea of executive compensation tied to making sustainability targets. http://cot.ag/aFsCzZ

Friday, August 6, 2010

Cooking with Ghee is Pure Glee

Years ago, when I was avoiding many many types of food as part of immunotherapy treatment for my migraines, I discovered ghee. The naturopath had it on his list of acceptable foods and I had no idea what it was. Turns out, ghee is clarified butter — butter that's had the water and milk solids (caseins) removed. It's hugely popular in Indian cooking and Martha Stewart sings its praises.

I used it back then, but only lately have come to appreciate it anew. For some unknown reason on our beach trip, I picked up a new jar at the local health food store. The brand I bought is Purity Farms, which is an organic ghee. It's soft, buttery and silky smooth. You use it just like you'd use butter, unless you want to brown it. Ghee will never brown or burn. This works out wonderfully for sautéing or pan searing. We use it for eggs and pancakes, both which cook and taste great.

Need more convincing? Here are some great resources and articles about cooking with ghee:
From TheNibble.com
From Martha
Alton on how to make homemade ghee
From the Nourished Kitchen, including recipes
Wikipedia's listing

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Organic Milk Comparison

Think all organic products are made to the same standards? Sadly this is not the case. Not even with dairy, which seems like it would be fairly easy to regulate. Fortunately, I found a great resource, Cornucopia Institute, that maintains a rating site for organic milk and dairy items. I'm sure it's not perfect, they are, after all, out to protect family farmers, but it's hard to argue with the methodology of measuring operations to "true" organic intentions.

If you're in Central PA, where I am, your best options are: Organic Valley or Wegmans' organic milk and Stonyfield yogurt. These all rate a "4" on a scale where "5" is highest. The worst choices, rated as "0" on the scale, include: Horizon, Organic Cow and Aurora Organic. Nature's Promise (Giant), Kirkland Signature (Costco), BJ's and Archer Farms (Target) are also all scraping bottom with a "1" rating.

If you are closer to Philly, try to get dairy from one of the small farms with a "5" rating in Phoenixville and Oxford. Find them on the ratings chart.

What brands do you buy? I am very loyal to Organic Valley, partially because they also have a Lactose-Free 1% variety that sits well with Gregory. If they are sold out, I will buy Stonyfield (which scores a solid "3"). For yogurt, I buy Stonyfield most of the time. I've found that the quarts are the best deal and they keep pretty well once opened.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

From PAN: Ecuador bans hazardous pesticides

One of the newsletters I like to peruse is from Pesticide Action Network North America. They lead the crusade against persistent bioaccumulative chemicals and neurotoxins and other nasty pesticidical chemicals that harm humans, animals and the planet. I noticed this article, which immediately made me think: Cool, I will buy stuff from Ecuador now if I see it. Truth is, I haven't seen much produce from Ecuador at my grocery stores, but good to keep an eye out for safe imported foods.
Ecuador categorically bans hazardous pesticides
Announced as an act of support for its constitutional commitment to food sovereignty, the Ecuadorian Congress banned an entire category of highly toxic pesticides, slated to take effect September 30, 2010. Ecuador cancelled the registration of all pesticides assessed by the World Health Organization to be extremely or highly hazardous (classes 1a and 1b), including many familiar and controversial pesticides that continue to be used in the U.S. such as the organophosphates and carbamates. These pesticides have recently been linked to increased rates of ADHD in levels found in the average diet of an American child, and have long been concerns of farmworkers and children's health advocates. As of September 2010, Ecuador will prohibits the manufacture, formulation, import, commercialization and use of these pesticides. The decision impacts pesticides used in agriculture; agents used for human disease control are exempt. Dr. Monserrathe Bejarano, Executive Director of AGROCALIDAD, the federal Ecuadorian agency that oversees food and agriculture, signed the public statement and official record of decision.

Ecuador's constitution establishes food sovereignty (in U.S. terms, food democracy) as a strategic objective of their nation - legal language plainly states that it is the obligation of the government to guarantee people and communities ongoing self-sufficiency through access to nutritious and culturally appropriate foods. Impervious to industry claims that industrial agriculture is needed to "feed the world," Ecuador sees the elimination of highly hazardous pesticides as key to secure and safe access to healthy, good food for the nation.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A bit of good environmental news...a bit surprising, too.

Earlier this week, I received an email from Jurriaan Kamp, Editor in Chief of Ode Magazine. I can't find the article on their site anywhere, so I'm cutting and pasting it here rather than emailing it to each and every one of you.

This is an article that may surprise you. I find that almost every Ode article has that affect on me. It's a phenomenal publication that I highly recommend reading or subscribing to. With no further ado, here's the piece:
The Gulf oil spill: How nature cleans up our mess
Scientists report that the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico appears to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected. The New York Times reports that journalists “flying over the area spotted only a few patches of sheen and an occasional streak of thicker oil.” The BBC quotes Jane Lubchenko, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, saying much of the oil had been “biodegraded by naturally occurring bacteria.” Both reports voice a certain surprise: "What we are trying to figure out is, where is all that oil and what we can do about it?"
We shouldn’t be surprised. Somehow we continue to underestimate the power of nature. Bacteria are much more powerful than chemicals when it comes to dissolving and absorbing oil. I remember visiting an oil refinery in Rotterdam, The Netherlands many years ago with a scientist who showed me that bacteria in the polluted, oil-drenched soil of the refinery were cleaning up the mess. As he said at the time, “When we close the refinery and leave this place and come back in a decade or so, nobody will be able to figure out from the soil that oil was spilled here.” Every human activity is met with a cleaning or healing response from nature. And yet we find it difficult to trust this response.

In 2000, reporters from the German environmental magazine Natur went on an expedition to the beaches of Brittany in France, which in March 1978 were seriously polluted by an accident on the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz. The Amoco Cadiz sank off the coast of Brittany and dropped 230,000 tons crude oil on the beaches. Just over 20 years later, the Natur reporters, accompanied by German scientists, spent hours digging in the sand without finding any trace of the oil pollution! A French biologist said, “When the disaster happened, we thought that nature would be spoilt for decades. However, even after six months there was hardly any oil to be found anymore.” Billions of bacteria, supported by the warmth of the sun, had cleaned up the mess.

After the Amoco Cadiz disaster, the Centre of Documentation, Research, and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution (CEDRE) was established in Brest, France. For the past 30 years, the institute has researched many smaller and bigger oil spills. The institute has concluded that clean up operations are generally more harmful than helpful. The chemicals used undermine the power and effectiveness of naturally occurring bacteria. It is also important that an oil slick is not dispersed, as bacteria can be more effective when the oil sticks together. CEDRE argues that the most effective human activity in clean up operations is shoveling polluted sand from the beach.

The Natur team also visited Alaska, where the Exxon Valdez caused a disaster in 1989. The Exxon Valdez lost 40,000 tons of crude oil. In 2000, just over a decade after the disaster, The Natur team concluded that the water and the soil in the area was clean. The team only found remnants of oil when they turned over stones on the sea floor. The scientists argue that the bacterial clean up takes longer because of the cold waters around Alaska. And that’s the good news about the Gulf of Mexico, which is known for its warm, hurricane-provoking waters.

The oil spill in the Gulf is a terrible thing, and is a warning sign for all offshore exploration. There are much better renewable alternatives. But in the meantime, we should be grateful that nature will quickly clean up our mess.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

For Parents-to-Be: Part 4 (Detoxing Your Home)

Finally, fourth in my series for new parents (or parents who are new to OllieOllieToxinFree), I offer some basic suggestions to help you detox your home and help everyone breathe easier!
1. Avoid scented products (anything listing "fragrance" as an ingredient). Also, beware of certain "unscented" products that use "masking fragrance" to cover up the original fragrance—these can be doubly toxic!
2. Avoid fabric softeners, scented dryer sheets and bleach. These products are VERY toxic. There are better options out there: Suck it up and buy the unbleached diapers and natural wipes (Mother Nature brand is great)—I can't find them around here, so I buy from drugstore.com or diapers.com. Bounce fragrance-free, dye-free fabric sheets are okay; Seventh Generation are better. Ecover, ECOS, Sun & Earth, dropps and Seventh Generation make good detergents. Method (Target) is also okay, if fragrance free.
3. Avoid ALL pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and fertilizers (except compost). Pesticides are neuro-toxins (affect the central nervous system), and they don't know the difference between the BUGS and YOU (or your PETS)! For fleas, roaches, ants, etc., use diatomacious earth, boric acid, and nematodes. You can get these from health food stores and pet supply stores.
4. Switch to non-toxic cleaning products. For most jobs, white vinegar and baking soda will clean as well as any product. I unclogged our bathroom sink with baking soda, vinegar and hot water and I promise you, it worked better than Drano! I do not recommend Method, Caldrea, Mrs. Meyer's or other super smelly brands. That "clean" smell is doing your lungs, brain and endocrine system no favors. Let it go!
5. Drink and bathe in filtered water. Taking a shower in chlorinated water causes the chlorine to go right into your blood stream. Buy a shower filter that easily attaches to your shower nozzle from water-supply stores (check your Yellow Pages).
6. Eat organic food when possible. Avoid processed foods, foods with colors and dyes, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, etc.  Also, AVOID products containing "NutraSweet" (aspartame) -- it breaks down into formic acid ("ant-sting poison") and methanol (wood alcohol) in your body! In fact, read Food Rules by Michael Pollan and get Jillian Michaels' Master Your Metabolism. Both will enlighten you in short order.
7. Wear natural-fiber clothing (100% cotton, linen, wool, or silk). Clothes marked "permanent press" or "wrinkle resistant" have been treated with formaldehyde that does NOT wash out! Same goes for the flame-retardant PJs. Skip them and choose kid-friendly cotton, such as Hanna Anderson's "Oko-Tex standard 100" organic line. We love them, especially when they're on sale!
8. Use only 100% cotton, wool, or pure silk bed linens and blankets. Avoid "no-iron" or "wrinkle-resistant". A good brand is Martex's "Simply Cotton", available at department stores. Wal-Mart also carries 100% cotton "T-shirt" sheets! And if you can find organic cotton linens, all the better because you are supporting healthier agriculture.
9. As much as possible, avoid plastics, particleboard, plywood, glues, inks (or look for low-VOC inks), standard paints (try Sherwin Williams' Harmony or Benjamin Moore's Aura or Natura; or even better, Anna
Sova or Real Milk Paint instead), foam rubber, vinyl, carpeting, synthetic rugs, varnishes (look for AFM Safecoat as an alternative), and solvents (try citrus solvents instead). Most plastics contain PVCs but are not labeled as such and these are really bad, especially for young, developing kids. Definitely avoid #3 and #7 plastics, which contain pthlalates (hormone disruptors). Try to find alternatives, for example, replace your PVC shower liner with one made of natural fabric. For more on plastics: http://archive.greenpeace.org/toxics/pvcdatabase/bad.html
10. Open your windows as often as possible! Even in the most polluted cities, the outdoor air has been found to be a lot less toxic than the indoor air! Amazing, isn't it?
11. Certain houseplants are beneficial to remove toxins from the air, such as formaldehyde, benzene etc.  The best plants for removing these and other toxins are philodendrons, spider plants, aloe vera, English
ivy, golden pothos, and boston fern.
12. Recycle everything you can. Reuse anything you can. Reduce—buy only what you need. It's hard to do in our culture today, but this is what it all boils down to.
Have any suggestions to add? Comment it and I'll add it here!


Monday, June 28, 2010

For Parents-to-Be: Part 3 (Toxins Alert)

I got started with all the nontoxic and organic stuff because my firstborn had some respiratory issues—probably a mild case of asthma. It raised my awareness of chemical triggers that—no surprise—are really not good for anyone, least of all a little kid.
My research yielded some great sites for seeing how safe the products you use really are. It's quite eye-opening. And I admit, it's a little overwhelming to take it all in and make the changes necessary. However, I think the better educated you are, the better decisions you can make each time you go to the store to buy stuff for your family.
This site lets you look up products and see if they are good choices or not, based on tests for known toxins in the product. The product list is good but not exhaustive, however you can look at the ingredient list and compare by ingredients. For instance, I was shocked to see that some Mustela products (a favorite of ours) are among the worst choices for baby. I was equally surprised to see that a few other products I use are better than I would've expected. Anyway, it's a great resource to know about. A NOTE: You will see a percentage with each product with respect to the "data gap." This means that testing may be inconclusive on some ingredients and that their confidence level with the score is less than 100%. It makes it harder to evaluate the true health costs, but in my book, better safe than sorry. If there's any indication something is harmful, why not find an alternative?

Chemical of the Day blog by Stephanie Greenwood of Bubble & Bee Organic
Stephanie provides in-depth looks at individual chemicals and explains why she is or is not comfortable with each. Her opinions do not always jive with the Skin Deep Database, but that's a good thing. She is helpful in making sense of the data gap issues you encounter there. She's also totally accessible, so tweet at her or email her with any questions. (Bubble & Bee products are also great.)
If you are suspicious of how toxic basic everyday things really are, check out these statistics. Then go to the EPA.gov site and validate. It will blow your mind. There are products like Teflon that are proven carcinogens but do not have to be removed from consumer products until 2015. The lobbies are so strong that the government can't do the right thing and just pull these off the shelves. Very sad.
www.safemama.com (all about good stuff for moms, kids and moms-to-be)
www.idealbite.com (daily tips but getting more and more commercial) 

www.thegreenguide.com (worth subscribing to)

What sites do you rely on that I've missed? Do tell!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

For Parents-to-Be: Part 1 (Must-Haves)

Sometimes, people ask me what they *really* need as a new parent. I usually email it to friends, but realized it makes sense as a blog post to share with a larger audience. Please comment with your faves that I've missed!
  • The book Baby Bargains. Buy the latest edition and read it. The authors compile feedback from parents — not advertisers — so you know what works, what matters and what to avoid.
  • Boppy pillow (you don't *need* a cover, but it's nice to wash that instead of the pillow itself)
  • Nature Babycare baby wipes (Tushies/Seventh Generation are also safe options) ((cheapest via Subscribe & Save on Amazon.com))
  • Chlorine-free, toxin-free diapers. Good disposable brands are Seventh Generation, Nature Babycare, Earth's Best and Tushies. Don't fall for the mainstream brands' pretend green lines. Another great option are gDiapers. They are cloth with flushable or washable inserts. Very green but pretty inconvenient unless you have a bathroom in your kids' room.
  • BuggyBagg Shopping Cart cover (a little more expensive, but super nice and fits over even the biggest carts - I love mine)
  • Basic Pack & Play (and a sheet for it)--pick one up off Craigslist or from a friend
  • Bouncy Seat (many good ones, in many designs, G liked the Fisher-Price Aquarium one)
  • Kid booster seat (we didn't use a high chair for very long)
  • Blankets of all sizes
  • Swaddling wraps (do not underestimate how swaddling tightly will soothe a baby!)
  • Infant car seat (be sure to check max height & weight. G outgrew his in 3 months which was too soon, so I got a Graco SafeSeat for T and that lasted more like 8 months.)
  • Baby bathtub (we love the Safety First blue plastic one with the green mesh hammock insert but this one is more eco-friendly!)
  • Kiddopotamus Tiny Diner dining out mat
  • Kiddopotamus great rubber bib (sounds nasty, but AWESOME to wipe and use again)
  • Good thick burp cloths, organic if possible (the ones I love were gifts, like Three Marthas)
  • Sturdy but lightweight stroller (we chose MacLaren for the taller handle, but lots are cheaper & good
  • Books (see Part 2...)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guest post: Green Energy—Policy vs. Populism

While Sean and I have enjoyed many a heated debate over politics, candidates and the Constitution, I so appreciated this gem he submitted to a newspaper in California. I thought you'd like it, too. Please share your comments here or on Facebook. Thanks for reading! 

by Sean Michael Dodd

The unabated hemorrhaging of oil in the Gulf of Mexico should be a teachable moment for Americans of all political stripes, as it reveals a hole in government policy just as gaping and destructive as BP’s unpluggable hole a mile under the sea.

The risks of such a catastrophe were not unknown. It is precisely with the Exxon Valdez spill in our collective consciousness that a decades-long debate has been raging between opponents and supporters of offshore drilling.  In the 2008 election, the McCain campaign took a flagrantly pro-oil stance, with “Drill, baby, drill!” while the Obama camp remained demurely noncommittal, leaving it to the public´s imagination as to where the Democratic Party really stood.

But by early 2010, Obama had finally pinned himself to a position, supporting offshore drilling and nuclear power as legitimate concessions to his political rivals in return for bipartisan support of green-energy initiatives. Now, in the wake of the BP disaster, Obama has reversed himself, joining dozens of hitherto pro-drilling senators and governors who have suddenly begun clamoring for a moratorium on offshore drilling.

This is not policy. It is populism.

Policy requires leaders to show courage and to take the political risk of holding to a position precisely because the issue has an enduring ethical importance which overrides any short-term political gains that compromise might bring. Were it not for sound and consistent government policy on issues of public safety and environmental stewardship, we would not even have an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or a Food & Drug Administration (FDA), or an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). But these agencies are only as effective as each presidential administration allows them to be, and we have seen under both Bush and Obama the relative inability of the SEC to regulate markets, or of the EPA to adequately protect the environment, or of the Minerals Management Service to properly oversee offshore drilling operations.

Populism –  swaying to the winds of public opinion and compromising beliefs in order to win favor –  leads to incoherent and contradictory positions which undermine true leadership. When times are good, populism is sweet ambrosia. But at the first hint of crisis, populism quickly turns to kryptonite. Already, Obama is beginning to pay the cost of his populism, in terms of falling poll numbers and lost political capital. But the damage to Obama’s popularity pales in comparison with the real-world effects on the people of the gulf, or the ecological devastation of the ocean itself and the long-term consequences for the global biosphere.

If the BP oil catastrophe teaches us anything, it is that the Obama Administration’s green policies are focused on greenbacks for oil execs, not a green environment for the People. Maybe it is time for us to stop “hoping” for change from well-oiled Democrats and instead start supporting real change by voting for a party which treats environmental protection not as a political football, but as a central plank in its official platform:

“Promoting publicly owned, safe, clean, renewable energy;
 Reducing global warming through efficiency, conservation, and fossil fuel taxes;
 Protecting endangered species and agricultural land, and opposing sprawling developments.”   
  – Green Party of California (www.cagreens.org)
For Greens, environmental protection is not a cheap populist appeal; it is a way of life. A Green president would have sought to ban offshore drilling altogether. Under Green leadership, the government would tax oil and coal to reflect their true costs to society and the environment. A Green president would have pursued a sweeping green-energy stimulus package from Day 1 of the administration.

America’s energy security, not to mention the future livability of the planet, depends on making a dramatic transition to renewable forms of energy. But with the Big Oil corporate power duopoly maintained by Democrats and Republicans, America’s timely transition to a green economy looks increasingly unlikely.

Against this grim tableau, how is it that the Green Party, with its core platforms of environmentalism, sustainable growth, civil rights, and social justice, remains, in the eyes of many Americans, a minor third party? In fact, the Green Party can no longer be considered a third party. On the major issues facing us in the 21st Century, the Green Party is the first and only party for a new era of American peace and prosperity.

Being green means voting Green. Join us.
Sean is a member of the California Green Party and the Napa Greens.

Photo credit: Energy Secretary Steven Chu by Jurvetson@Flickr

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

New Sunscreen Guide and Surprising Research about Vitamin A in Sunscreens

I've been anxiously awaiting the 2010 sunscreen guidelines from Environmental Working Group and today, they were live on their site. If you are gearing up for the summer, be sure to check out the newest ratings because manufacturers change their formulations every year (usually for good, but you never know!). I learned that the one I've been using for the boys (pictured here) contains an ingredient (oxtinoxate) that EWG recommends against. Bummer. In hindsight, anything ending in "noxate" should be a big red flag! Luckily our California Baby stick is cleared for safety and effectiveness. See how your favorite products rank and tell me what products you're buying this year. 

Here's a preview from the site: 
EWG’s Sunscreen Guide to 1,400 sunscreens, lip balms and moisturizers tells you what you need to know to find safe and effective sunscreens. EWG’s exclusive scientific analysis helps you avoid red-flag ingredients like vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) and oxybenzone. EWG gives you straight talk about SPF.
What's the brief on Vitamin A in sunscreen? From EWG:
This year, new concerns have arisen about a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate, found in 41 percent of sunscreens. The FDA is investigating whether this compound may accelerate skin damage and elevate skin cancer risk when applied to skin exposed to sunlight. FDA data suggest that vitamin A may be photocarcinogenic, meaning that in the presence of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, the compound and skin undergo complex biochemical changes resulting in cancer. The evidence against vitamin A is far from conclusive, but as long as it is suspect, EWG recommends that consumers choose vitamin A-free sunscreens.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gift Ideas for Baby's First Birthday

My cousin, Alicia, asked me for some ideas for birthday gifts for her daughter who will be turning one soon. I wanted to provide items that we use all the time, most of which are nontoxic and earth-friendly, and things that were gender-neutral.

While this is not the ultimate Earth Day celebration of gift ideas, we found the items in this list to be durable and indispensable (and the websites are all very eco-oriented).

1. Shopping cart/high chair cover that actually fits over big carts: Buggy Baggs

2. Tiny Diner "rubber" placemat for eating out.

3. Quality hard-cover books (though I admit the library is more sustainable).
4. Clothing gift cards (to offset the ever-present needs, especially with kid #1). Wal-Mart carries organic cotton stuff on their website. Another great quality retailer is Hanna Andersson.

5. A little early for this, but I use the Laptop Lunch Bento Box all the time to pack a meal for my kids.

6. Kleen Kanteen - stainless container that's great for taking milk or juice along. Has a sippy cup top option, but it's probably better suited to older kids (18mos+). The Soft Landing has great stuff like this.

7. I'm not a fan of high chairs, but I love the Fisher-Price Healthy Care Booster seat. Easy to clean, easy to take along.

8. My favorite toy stores online are Oompa and NMCtoys (not made in china). You can sort by age, too.

9. You might want to start collecting for a big kid bed. Be sure to
look for a chemical-free mattress...IKEA is surprisingly good and reasonable ($699 for latex twin mattress with eco-cotton and low chemical load). Another great option is Keetsa out of SF. Very sustainable shipping solution and excellent mattress at a good price ($555 for pillowtop twin, very low chemical). That's what I got my son and we are very happy with it. We did buy the protective cover, too, for about $50.

10. Soy crayon rocks at clementineart.com and they are only $5.49!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Organic Cotton Kids Clothes *Cheap*

Last week's sudden heat wave created a panic in our house to locate summer clothing. For my older son, that was easy, since I stuffed his shorts in a drawer right below his pants at the end of summer last year. For my little guy, it meant a trip to the attic to see if the archived outgrown included any appropriately sized summer pieces. My initial trip did not prove fruitful, so I started looking online to find affordable basics to hold him over until I could hit the second-hand store or dig further in the attic.

Of course, if money was overflowing, I'd just get a bunch of separates from Hanna Andersson and Tea Collection. But I'm not in a free-spending frame of mind.  I needed shorty jammies for both kids and shorts and tees for number two. I checked Gymboree. "Gymmies" were almost $20 a pair. Ouch, that adds up fast. I checked Old Navy and found them for $10 but lamented the flimsy constitution of these jammies. These cannot make it through two sons. Ditto for Gap pajamas and they are closer in price to Gymmies. If I'm gonna pay $20 for jammies, I'm going to pay Hanna $28 (or more) for their superior organic version. They are the bomb. I just hate paying that much for pajamas!

Last, I checked Wal-Mart and was very surprised to see that their selection of organic items has greatly increased. They carry a huge selection online, including two-packs of organic tees for $7. They also had shorts, jammies, polo shirts for dad, maternity shirts for mama-to-be, and on and on.

I had to see these organic kids clothes in person, so I ran over to my local store. In-store, I saw shorts and tees for $4 each. They were not thick and yummy like Hanna's, not by a long shot, but they were cute styles and colors. And I could buy five for the price of one Hanna. Besides, buying them casts a vote for organics, which, when it comes to cotton, makes a lot of sense. Pesticides create major environmental problems and health issues for the workers. I have to say, Wal-Mart is getting organic cotton out there at a ridiculous price, but still 25% more than a non-organic alternative, in this case.

I'm happy to pay the difference. But is the average Wal-Mart shopper going to pay a premium for organic cotton? Will Wal-Mart be able to advance the cause of organics? Remains to be seen...

Twitter Recap for non-followers: March 2010

Watched "Aftermath: World Without Oil" last night on @natgeochannel. Powerful & damn scary. Three more in the series. Hope people tune in.

If you get @organicconsumer Organic Bytes newsletter (oca.org), you get 15% off @edenfoods -- nice site, great products! Use code "OCA"

Interested in the intersection of #technology and #education? Follow @InnovativeEdu - Lisa has great ideas and a promising project.

@thesmartmama If someone wants disposables, I've found Nature Babycare http://www.naty.com to fit great, plus they're compostable. #ecowed

@3greenangels Absolutely! Tried 7th Gen (they leak), Earth's Best (they reek), gDiapers (not practical) & Nature's Babycare (fave). #ecowed

Best innovation I've seen in crib sleep system, but pricey... http://nooksleep.com/ #nontoxic #green #eco #baby

Not a big Kraft proponent, but I love this well-designed initiative for Triscuit, tied to home farms: http://cot.ag/9UOHxy

See if there are big CO2 emitters near you: http://carma.org/ #energy #carbon

Companies like Clorox that offer reformulated greener products but keep selling their toxic versions are #disingenuous and not to be trusted

Cool! William & Mary is first "Do One Thing" university: https://www.wmalumni.com/?tribe_spotlight_0109

RT @odemagazine Winning the war on cancer? http://bit.ly/9cFvWi     

Yikes, Save the apples! RT @Grist: http://www.grist.org/article/whats-driving-our-favorite-fruit-into-decline

RT @marionnestle Michelle Obama to Grocery Manufacturers: Let’s Move!: The First Lady spoke to the Grocery Manufacturers of America ... http://cli.gs/b1PbQ 

FTC warns that bamboo is not an eco-friendly choice: http://cot.ag/dc05lR #eco #fraud

RT @greenandhealthy GAO report scolds EPA for not protecting children's health http://ow.ly/1nWKq  

“Smart” coating for roofing materials knows when to reflect heat [Science News] http://cot.ag/9ikstr

Princeton U confirms: High-fructose corn syrup causes obesity. http://cot.ag/cdbVyf



Sunday, March 7, 2010

Twitter recap for non-followers: February 2010

What's the big deal about #kids and chemical exposure? Great video from @healthy_child: http://vimeo.com/9071036

Holy cow, really? More Dangerous to Give Birth in California than in Kuwait or Bosnia: http://bit.ly/bo4Wkg

40% of world's conventional chocolate is from Africa's Ivory Coast, where Int'l Labor Org and US State Dept report widespread child slavery.

More bad Vday news: Commercial flowers are most toxic & heavily sprayed agricultural crops. I use freshroses: http://cot.ag/99pZqe

RT @enviroblog: Babies are born pre-polluted with 100’s of toxic chemicals. Help us fix our broken toxins law. http://ow.ly/14s64   

I love this business success story about rethinking "advantage" and "disadvantage." http://cot.ag/9QXs6E #autism

My thoughts exactly! RT @thegoodhuman "Green" Olympics? I think not, if trucking in snow. http://s.nyt.com/u/eZK

Good Guide recap of #green myths like "recycling doesn't save energy" and "plastics are microwave-safe": http://cot.ag/c429cY

FDA, seeing link to heart disease, urges consumers to cut exposure to BPA til further studies are complete: http://cot.ag/9PMZRw

RT @missrogue "We have the tools to reverse[ the devastation to oceans], we lack the political will" -- Knights #TED #TEDActive /via @onepinktee     

Not to get into politics, but it's an interesting POV. RT @vinmiller Great healthcare reform article http://bit.ly/bbKh4H

I follow my BPA warning yesterday with good news. Folates and soy appear to block BPA damage: http://cot.ag/a3fmL8 [via @drgreene]

RT @derekmarkham The Environmental Cost of Making 10 Everyday Items: http://digg.com/d31Ilb7?t (via@ecosalon)

Outstanding investigative articles on #BPA: http://cot.ag/bkhk7o (via #EWG)

Book review of The Unhealthy Truth by @AlphaMom -- I'm late to the party, but can't wait to get a copy of it. http://cot.ag/aEdKde

Why Fast Food is “Healthier” Than School Lunches (Public School Review): http://cot.ag/aBEoiC

Fantasmic article on school lunches from Sustainable Table: http://cot.ag/dsMj0C

More recent blog post about school lunches and USDA oversight (or lack thereof): http://cot.ag/b3Twkn        

RT @unhealthytruth NYT: Do Toxins Cause Autism? http://nyti.ms/95Uy1K

WOW. Some seriously cool indoor playsets: http://www.cedarworks.com/product/indoor  

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Twitter recap for non-followers: January 2010

Cool org and they're teaching green tech skills: http://www.homeboy-industries.org

Avoid the "pink slime" or why you should pack your kids' lunches: http://bit.ly/5rrDEu [@NYTimesOnline]

Just found new great nontoxic kids toys site: http://www.maukilo.com

Via @Healthy_Child: 10 tips to detoxify your diet. Not hard either. http://bit.ly/4vGcuV

ECOBIOBALL, ecological & biodegradable #golf ball containing fish food: http://www.albusgolf.com #green

New favorite stylish #green #eco site: http://www.kellygreenhome.com/

Super cute product idea, great #green #kids gift or #favor for party/wedding: http://www.matchstickgarden.com/

Great article by @theeconomist -- Why it is important to put a price on nature: http://bit.ly/7mZRTU

#FairTrade, #Organic Cotton Kids Sneakers and more. Very cool store/concept. (via @zoebweekly) http://bit.ly/55AL0J

By all accounts, crib mattress wraps prevent SIDS. Read more: http://www.eves-best.com/babesafe-mattress-covers.htm

More melamine-tainted milk products found in China [washpost]: http://bit.ly/5N20Li

Buying Fake "Organics"? OCA Spreadsheet Reveals EWG Hazard Ratings for "Organic Cheater Brand" Personal Care Products: http://bit.ly/dCdbbC

RT @jmichaeledwards Book Review by @thegoodhuman: "How To Be An Everyday Philanthropist" http://ow.ly/1nmwW8

Great article about 7 "foods" even farmers won't eat, with ironic Hunt's ad placement. http://bit.ly/9fsPu7 #organic #healthy

LOVE this: Revolution Foods bringing 30,000 nutritional school lunches a Day to nation's cafeterias http://bit.ly/bhpesI @planetgreen    

Monday, March 1, 2010

Will Wal-Mart Beat the FDA/EPA to Chemical Reform?

Recently I started thinking about Wal-Mart's efforts toward reducing its carbon footprint (which they are famously doing by requiring their suppliers to reduce their collective footprint). As I understand it, their position was essentially "while our carbon footprint is big, the carbon footprint of our vendors is many multiples greater, so helping them achieve great energy and materials efficiencies helps everyone." True, but I always thought it was a blatant cop-out as well as a brilliant strategy to extract even lower prices from their vendors.

My new thinking is that maybe they can use their enormous influence to do what government agencies don't have the power or the wherewithall to do expeditiously: Rid consumer products of untested, unsafe chemicals.

Think about it. Tomorrow, Wal-Mart could look at the great body of scientific research from all over the world and say, hmmm, these studies prove that some chemicals are not safe for human exposure. It's our duty to protect our customers from harmful chemicals that are most likely causing cancer, reproductive dysfunctions, neurological disorders, respiratory illnesses and scads of other ailments.

They could issue a mandate: Any company wishing to sell to Wal-Mart will need to reformulate their product -- and submit testing by an independent laboratory to verify product composition -- by 2011 to remove phthalates, triclosan, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, parabens, methylchloroisothiazolinone, PEGs, triethanolamine, BPA, PBDEs, PFOA, perchlorate and PBTs (just for starters).

You know what? A few vendors would cry foul. Wal-Mart would stand its ground. And we'd all end up with a slew of reformulated, healthier products at a fair price with wide availability. Their tagline, "Save money. Live better." would have a whole new meaning.

Suddenly, I'm feeling optimistic. I just hope our chemical reform advocates see the light and shift their efforts from Washington, D.C., to Bentonville.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Slightly healthier and totally scrumptious chocolate chip cookies

I made these last week and a few of you on Facebook asked me to post the recipe. I mistakenly said it was adapted from "The Best Recipe" cookbook; in fact, it's from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything," which I also highly recommend for average cooks.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
Preparation and cooking time: about 45 minutes.

Whole wheat flour chocolate chip cookies

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) organic unsalted butter, softened "just enough"
  • 3/4 white sugar
  • 3/4 packed brown sugar
  • 2 organic free range eggs
  • 2 cups organic whole wheat all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (fair trade organic if possible)
  1. Preheat oven to 375'
  2. Use an electric mixer to beat sugar (both types) and butter together. The softness of the butter is key here. Be sure it's softened, but not melted. It will be hard to mix but the consistency matters.
  3. Add the eggs into this mix one at a time and beat until well blended.
  4. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl and add them to the batter by hand, stirring to blend.
  5. Add the vanilla and chocolate chips and mix in. It might seem that the vanilla does not get well blended at this stage, but it's worked okay for me.
  6. Drop by tablespoons onto parchment lined baking sheets (the ones with the air layer are best; can use ungreased if you don't have parchment paper).
  7. Bake until lightly browned, about 11 minutes.
  8. Cool for a few minutes and then transfer to cooling racks or place on wax paper (or just keep them on the parchment paper and slide off the sheet).
Supposedly, they only keep in a covered container at room temperature for a couple of days, but chances are, they will only last that long anyway! You could freeze half the batch for a nice treat another time.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hair Color: Organic or Safer Solutions?

One of my Facebook friends recently asked: "Where, locally (Philly/South Central PA) can I find a good salon that uses organic hair color or highlights? I hate to color because of the chemicals, but alas, the grays are no fun and being that my hair is dark, I find myself needing to color more often than I like...I try and put up w/the grays as much as I can so that I don't have to color more than twice a year. I've heard Aveda...but have also been told that they are not truly organic? Also, do the organic products take long (hate sitting and waiting, another reason I don't like to color!) and how long do they last? I've been told of henna products, too; I am not sure how the color turns out. I don't get jet black color, more of a dark brown with a tint of auburn for depth."

I, too, feel compelled to color my hair, which so far is not very gray, but is very dishwatery in color. I've tried semi-permanent vegetable dyes (in a salon, I believe they are called Color Shines but could not locate in my research) which don't last long (8 weeks max) but give a really gorgeous rich tone and shine, true to their name. I do recall though that the colorist used to put saccarin into the mix so it would not burn my scalp. Big Red Flag there on two levels!

I also have used home colorants, though I'm sure they were not really natural as the box suggested. I figured it was not on my hair long and I was using plastic gloves, so my exposure was minimal. Probably completely false, but I wanted to spend $8 and not $80 for a single-process color. I've been to so many salons over the years, I have no idea what brands have been used on my hair (not even sure at my current salon, but I can tell you it does not burn my scalp and it has no odor whatsoever. I take that as a good sign).

First, here are some interesting stats I've found in my research:

From thedailygreen -- "A 1994 National Cancer Institute report states dark dyes used over long periods of time seem to increase the risk of cancers such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma. And a 2001 International Journal of Cancer study found people who use permanent hair dye are twice as likely to develop bladder cancer as those who don't dye. The FDA doesn't regulate hair dye ingredients (synthetic or natural)."

Alexandra suggests avoiding the following chemicals in conventional hair dyes: "ammonia, peroxide, PPDs (para-phenylenediamines, the chemical that creates color and is widely thought to be carcinogenic), coal tar (the FDA issued a warning about it being a possible cancer risk back in 1993), lead, toluene and resorcinol."

Now if you go to a salon and ask if their hair dyes contain any of these ingredients, you're either going to get a non-answer or a "yes, but I'm sure they are safe" because most people have no clue, and do not want to admit that they are endangering their health every single day at their job.

From what I can tell, there are two clear favorites: Organic Color Systems (OCS) and EcoColors.

I cannot find a salon locator on the OCS site, which is strange but the website seems to be geared entirely to the trade. OCS does have a nice Facebook page, though it's still mostly professionals sharing results and application tips. You can see before and afters and also get an idea of where you can find the products. (Should not be this hard for consumers to find them!) I saw that Elle Salon in Camp Hill uses OCS. In Philadelphia, JuJu Salon seems to get great press and is fully committed to organic, nontoxic products. Another in Doylestown is Hair Artistry and Skin Care by Edye.

EcoColors Professional Haircolor claims to be "different from all other hair colors" because "the emollient soy base and the essential oils of flax and castor oil make this shine enhancing base stand out from the rest." It purports to provide "super conditioning, long-lasting color" and boasts a 10-year history of safe use on allergy-prone individuals with this thoughtful addendum: "Though Ecocolors works well for many who are allergic to other brands, please order a free allergy test before purchasing, because EcoColors Haircolor is not a 'cure all' for all allergies." Always smart to do a test, though I am too impatient to heed that advice myself at home.

EcoColors offers a home hair color kit for those of you who are brave enough to DIY and save money in the process. I've colored my own hair; if you're just doing a semi-permanent color wash, it's safe and easy. If you are going for a drastic change in color, I recommend finding a professional who provides less toxic dyes.

In the Philly area (Glenside), one salon carries the EcoColors line: Naturalis Studio.

I've tried to sort out all the disparate voices on Aveda. The corporate line seems to be 97% natural (derived from botanicals) with a touch of chemicals needed to bond to the hair. My personal opinion is that they have a lot of experience in hair care products and their products are probably better than the average, however, it's hard to find an unbiased, scientific review of the safety (which is true of most products today, sadly). I also get suspicious of sites that make it virtually impossible to find ingredients. I could not find anything on their professional color products, which signals concern for me. You can check out their products in the EWG Cosmetics Database (see below), keeping in mind the parameters for using this rating system (i.e., understand data gaps).

Additional articles and resources that may be of use:
Hair to Dye For (E Magazine)
EWG's Hazard Scores for Hair Color (not all brands are represented, and most are home kits)

This was informative for me. Thanks, Quyen, for the question. If I ever dabble in the at-home coloring again, I know now where to find a safer dye. Oh, and to answer one last question, I've never noticed that any brands take longer than others, but I've never tried henna, so I am interested in hearing what others' experiences with natural hair colorants has been! Comments are open.

Photo credit: Kvon Photography; Model: Shannon Larkin Haskell