Tag Archives: Environmentalism

Unpasteurized and Unashamed

So, I had my little outburst this morning regarding the raw milk story in the Star Trib. I’m cooled off now. Also, it is 11:15 on a Thursday night before I’m supposed to be going out of town for 4 days. I still have more packing to do. I don’t have time to write a well-researched, well-thought response. I guess that what it comes down to is that people either think and research for themselves, or they take everything that they hear from the government and the media at face value. In general, people are going to believe whatever it is easiest for them to believe.

The current outbreak story is not going to make one damn bit of difference to the opinions of anyone who currently drinks raw milk. It might make people more careful about which farmers they will buy from. Most people who drink raw milk do it because they have researched it and have good reason to believe that it is a good choice for them.

I just want to make a few general comments, just to get them off my chest:

  • After the last highly publicized outbreak of E.Coli spinach, nobody pronounced spinach “unhealthy” – this might be a clue that this issue is majorly politicized and it’s hard to get any kind of straight answers.
  • Don’t fool yourself into thinking that pasteurized milk is necessarily “clean”  or healthy. People didn’t pasteurize milk until they started industrially farming cows (I bet your great-grandparents didn’t drink pasteurized milk – and they were obviously fine, right?). They didn’t have to because the animals themselves weren’t overcrowded and in unsanitary and unnatural conditions (re: the farm in the Star Trib had already been cited for poor sanitation).  If you think that the idea of fresh milk is disgusting, visit the average industrial dairy farm. Just because all the shit those poor animals have ingested and lived in is “dead” doesn’t mean it’s not still there.
  • Finally, in any and all cases, please think for yourself. I really don’t think that anything can be taken at face value in this debate (like so many others).  Whatever FDA-approved “food” that you find wrapped in plastic at your local grocery warehouse isn’t necessarily the best choice. Fine, there might be some risk involved in eating some raw foods. But a lifetime of eating industrial food poses definite dangers as well.
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“Plenty”: Good Writers Writing About Things That Matter

plenty

I finished reading Plenty:One man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally on Saturday. You may have heard of “the 100-mile diet.” Well, authors Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon played a huge role in  popularizing this way of local eating. The book covers the couple’s one year commitment to only eat foods that were sourced from within 100 miles of their Vancouver home, their purpose being to reduce the negative environmental impact created from shipping food across thousands of miles. The point is that a lot of fossil fuel is burned unnecessarily while bringing food from across the country, or across the planet, when most of us can live just fine on food found near our homes. Not to mention that we might actually know exactly what we’re eating, since eating locally doesn’t include eating anything processed (most processed food is made from ingredients that were sourced from god-knows-where)!

It was interesting to me to read about the trials and tribulations of Alisa and James as they scrabbled together a healthy diet in the cool and rainy pacific northwest. It made me feel grateful that, if I ever do decide to start the 100-mile diet, I live in central Minnesota. It seems like there are not a whole lot of food staples that don’t grow within 100 miles of Minneapolis; notably, we have a lot of grains here, which was a problem for Alisa and James. Though this was interesting, what really fascinated me about this book was the thoughtfulness and the skill with which the authors lay down the story of their year.

The chapters of the book are each named for a month, and Alisa and James (I know that it is not proper journalistic method to refer to authors by their first names, but I’m a blogger, not a journalist, and I almost feel like I know them after reading this book!) take turns writing about each month. Each chapter is preceded by a recipe and a pertinent quote.  Both of the authors are professional journalists, so they know how to write in a way that is technically excellent. Being a description of a particular experiment, the book could have been a lot more dry than it was – trust me, I’ve read many a dry non-fiction. However, Plenty is filled with personal stories from the lives of James and Alissa. The stories and observations of the couple dovetail beautifully with the nuts and bolts of the diet to create a picture of how emotionally and spiritually connected humanity is with what we eat; and how far we have strayed from that connection. The trials and tribulations are interesting and, at times, instructive, but it is the amount of imagery and emotion in the book that makes it a pleasure to read.

November in Minnesota doesn’t seem like the right time to completely dive in to a local foods lifestyle, but someday I hope to live this way, and I’m taking baby steps all the time. It will be extra challenging with my allergy-induced diet restrictions! In the meantime, Plenty is an inspiration for anyone that wants to feel closer to the earth, and to gain a better sense of how lucky we all are to be here.

Personal Care Products or Pretty Poisons?

Recently I have been reading Big Green Purse by Diane MacEachern. It’s a book of advice on environmental advocacy via responsible consumerism. I didn’t read it cover to cover because a lot of the information in it is kind of second nature to me (and I hope most people!) at this point. For example: biking as opposed to purchasing fossil fuel (duh). One of the striking chapters for me was the one about personal care products. I guess that I was aware, on an intuitive level, that many personal care products are not good for the environment (or our bodies) because they often come in un-recycleable or unnecessary packaging, and contain chemical ingredients that are toxic in some way. However, I never really got into the specifics of what the toxins in so many of our personal care products actually do. I found this user-friendly list of common toxins in personal care products on Green-blog.org. It is pretty comparable to the list found in Big Green Purse. Once you get down to the nitty-gritty of what these toxins do to us (and to the animals and plant life that are affected by run-off from our showers), it’s pretty horrifying that manufacturers are allowed to use these ingredients at all.

MacEachern indicates in her book that there is very little government regulation over the ingredients in personal care products. To find out more, I checked out the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website and found these clif notes to FDA Authority Over Cosmetics (the inclusion of other personal care products is implied). Basically, the FDA says that manufacturers are responsible for guaranteeing the safety of their own product and for providing consumers with a list of ingredients. The implication is that if consumers don’t want to absorb harmful toxins into their skin, they have to do their homework. Obviously manufacturers are typically more concerned with their bottom line than they are with the well-being of their consumers; therefore they are going to keep their definitions of “safety” pretty loose, and are going to make their labels as indecipherable as possible.

I am a general advocate of personal responsibility. I think that people should have the right, and the responsibility, to choose how to live their lives. I’m not big on government regulation. However, I think that if that’s the way we’re going to play it in this country, then there needs to be some guidelines around transparency. If we’re going to allow people to choose whether or not they would like to risk cancer to keep their skin smooth, there should be warning labels attached to these products that let people know the risks. It shouldn’t be so difficult to figure out what is or isn’t “safe.” This is the whole argument surrounding the warnings attached to packs of cigarettes. Why isn’t this extended to other arenas? Because most people probably won’t relate their breast cancer back to their deodorant?

The issue of financial ability to buy safer products could begin to be addressed by warning labels, too. If people know that a product is bad for them, and why, they are less likely to buy it, and more likely to spend their money on a safer alternative. The more people spend money on safe products, the more the price is going to drop until it’s affordable enough for everyone. Until there are better regulations on personal care products, there are organizations like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that are working to bring easy access to information to the masses. I highly recommend checking out their website!

Anyhow, before I get all foaming-at-the-mouth-ranty; I did what MacEachern suggested and took inventory of the products that I use. Her suggestion was to either cut your total number of products used by three, or decrease the number of days each week that you use all of your personal care products. By not using as many products, or by not using them as much, you can then afford to start replacing the products that you do use with safer, toxin-free products. Here’s all the products I currently use each day. Next to each one is a toxicity rating from the EWG (go here for a quick and easy toxicity rating for the products you use, plus suggestions for safer ones!):

Toxicity Rating Scale: 0-2 Low Hazard, 3-6 Moderate Hazard, 7-10 High Hazard

  1. Herbal Essences Shampoo for Wavy and Curly Hair –5
  2. Herbal Essences Conditioner for Wavy and Curly Hair – 5
  3. Dove Soap – 3
  4. Tom’s of Maine Apricot Deodorant – 4 This one surprised me. It must have something to do with the fragrance, since the unscented formula is only a 2.
  5. Sensodyne Toothpaste – 4
  6. Aveeno Naturals Radiance Face Lotion – 6
  7. Covergirl Smoothers Concealer – 2
  8. L’oreal Perfect Match Foundation – 5
  9. Rimmel Translucent Powder – not in the database
  10. Covergirl Blush – 9
  11. Maybelline Stilletto Mascara – 6
  12. Burt’s Bees Lip balm – 2
  13. Burts Bees Face Wash – 2
  14. Coppertone Sport Sunscreen 70+ – 4

The first thing I noticed is that I am kind of surprised by the overall number of products I use. I generally consider myself pretty low-maintenance. I don’t use hair products or a million different facial products. I don’t use a lot of make-up. But 14 items still feels pretty big. I don’t really see myself cutting down on the number right now, but I will cut down on the number of times I use each product each week (with the exceptions of soap, deodorant, and toothpaste – those have daily significance!).

I am actually somewhat surprised by how few of the cheap-o products I use are really bad. I wish that I was surprised that one of the higher numbers on my list, Aveeno face lotion, is greenwashed to make it seem better for you than it really is (the addition of  some natural ingredients justifies them calling their mostly-chemical lotion “natural”) . As a result of this inventory, I will be getting rid of that Covergirl blush immediately. I will be working on finding replacements for the Shampoo and Conditioner first, as those are things that are rinsed down the drain and more immediately affect the environment. Then comes the face lotion and the mascara. Etc.

It could be a learning curve to replace my toxic products with safer, more enviro-friendly products.  Though they are really bad for us and the environment, I can’t deny the power of parabens.  When I happen upon a good replacement product, I’ll post it here! In the mean time, I leave you with 3 questions: 1. How many products do you use each day? 2. What are your favorite low-toxin products, and why? 3. How do you think toxins in personal products should be regulated, and why? Please share your thoughts!