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LIVING GREEN
Ask An Organic Mom

Choosing the Right Beverage Is As Easy as Turning on the Tap. Except When It's Not

I divide beverages into two categories:

Water
Everything else

glass of water

1. We are water. Literally. So we need to be drinking a fair amount of it daily. I say in The Conscious Kitchen what many in the environmental movement – including writers on this website – say: drink tap water in reusable bottles. Unless there is something very wrong with your municipal water or you know your well water is contaminated, there is no reason to drink bottled water. Bottled water is a farce. It usually is the very municipal water you think you're avoiding by buying tap. So you're spending several dollars on something that is free – and less regulated than municipal water, I might add. A total rip off. And then there are all of the eco-implications and repercussions of the actual bottles. Think of the energy used to make those bottles, fill them with water, and then transport them all around. Sure, most places recycle the plastic most water bottles come in (PET #1) but many of those bottles wind up in the trash or in the gutter, not in the recycling bin. And they take 1,000 years to break down in a landfill. Spending money on something that is free and then drinking out of virgin plastic for maybe an hour that will then sit in a landfill for 1,000 years doesn't sound like good common conscious sense to me. So I don't do it.


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The Shower Curtain Rod Laundry FAIL and Other Adventures in Urban Laundry Drying

I try hard to do my part, environmentally speaking. When going green, some steps are more important and have bigger impact than others. But the big impact ones might not always be practical. Take laundry. Changing how we all wash our clothes can have a monumental impact. Cold water washing with a "green" detergent and line drying your clothing is the ideal. For years, I've been doing the cold water washing and eco-detergent part (well, minus my bedding, which I wash in warm or hot water to kill allergy-triggering dust mites). I do this to avoid skin and lung irritating not to mention hormone disrupting synthetic fragrances as well as non-renewable petrochemicals. According to Seventh Generation, if every household in the U.S. replaced just one bottle of 100-oz. 2X-concentrate petroleum-based laundry liquid with their 100-oz. 2X-concentrate plant-derived product, we could save 466,000 barrels of oil, enough to heat and cool 26,800 U.S. homes for a year. (Full disclosure: I'm currently under contract with Seventh Generation, writing a book with co-founder Jeffrey Hollender. It comes out in December of this year, and it has a laundry chapter that details the pros of line drying.) Plant-based detergent residue is also far better for our waterways. And I use cold water because the amount of energy it takes to heat water is unfathomable. And it mostly comes from coal-fired power plants, which I like to rely on as little as possible. Warm or hot water washing will also up your electricity bill. According to Project Laundry List, using cold water can save people as much as $70 a year. Trust me – and many studies – when I say that clothes get perfectly clean in cold water. So I'm happy to avoid the coal (for me and my neighbors).

But when it comes to line drying, I have much room for improvement. I'm a semi-line-dryer. I dry (most) clothes briefly, then let them finish drying on hangers or towel racks. This preserves your clothing. What do you think lint is? That's your favorite outfit disintegrating. I prefer them to last as long as possible. Sheets and towels, however, I put in the dryer. I happen to live in New York City and have no access to outdoor space. My (small) indoor space isn't very well ventilated. It takes a while for towels to dry post shower, so I have my doubts that I can effectively air dry them post wash. And though I do know that the EPA estimates indoor air is actually 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air – even urban outdoor air — I'm not sure I want to dry my pillowcases outside in New York City, then breathe in car exhaust residue nightly. But this is unscientific paranoia.

I know people who manage to "line" dry everything in their apartments with similar constraints. I have been meaning to try it but haven't yet. Thankfully, unexpected motivation arrived not too long ago via email. Seventh Generation invited me to take part in a line-drying challenge/experiment. I jumped at the chance. They sent me detergent, a laundry basket, and a drying stand to make it all possible, plus a Flip camera to document the experiment. In return, I pledged to cold water wash in their detergent and line-dry for a month, and capture the process via words, photos, and film. What ensued was a tragicomedy! And a lesson learned.

My Laundry
A few words on my own laundry situation: My family of three does about two very full loads of laundry per week. We're well below average; according to a survey conducted by Seventh Generation, one quarter of Americans (24%) who do laundry do 21 loads or more a month. The average American does 15 loads a month. I don't have a washer or dryer in my apartment; I use the building-maintained communal ones on my floor. This means that unfortunately my eco-detergent loads are tumbling around with residues of the conventional products (including bleach) my neighbors favor. There is one front-loader washer (more efficient) and one top-loader. On either, I can choose the temperature. They're pretty big as washers go. The building's dryers are industrial. I can only buy an hour at a time. This is a problem. I wish I could buy 10 minutes or so – enough to de-wrinkle things before I hang them to dry. On some weekends, I do my laundry at my parents' house. I'm probably too old to do this, and a sucker to admit it in print, but I take my laundry with me when I go see my family. Don't get me wrong, no one is doing my clothes for me. And I usually do theirs. I like that with their dryers, I can dry (most of) my clothing to damp, then air dry.

The Challenge
For this challenge, I settled on doing a few weeks of urban air drying and a few weeks of back yard rack drying.

shower curtain rod line drying fail

Urban Air Drying
Week One in my apartment didn't go well. The drying rack turned out to have lines made of PVC/vinyl, AKA "The Poison Plastic." I didn't want it offgassing into my breathing space as I dried the clothes, so I didn't use it. But without a rack, I didn't have enough room to air dry all I had stuffed in the washing machines. I hung as much of the wet laundry as I could over every part of my apartment – on hangers on the shower curtain rod, on the backs of chairs etc. – but had to dry the rest. Not an entire failure but a failure nonetheless. Week Two was a mixed bag. I had a more organized approach and plans on where I would drape things in the apartment. I was relying heavily on the shower curtain rod until it broke; it gave out under the weight of the wet clothes. I wound up doing a third week of indoor drying (we didn't go visit my parents) which was by far the smoothest week. My new shower curtain rod was up to the task, but I still didn't manage to avoid the dryer completely; the towels were taking too long to dry and I didn't want them to start smelling, so I gave in and put them in the dryer. But at least one dryer load for two wash loads is better than two.

Outdoor Stand Drying
The rack with the PVC ropes did ok in a yard but wasn't big enough for all I stuffed in the washer, plus it tipped over when the wind picked up. I'd prefer a line. Getting the sheets on the stand was a challenge in its own right and just as I finally had everything on there, the sky opened up. It was pouring. Rookie mistake; I vowed next time to check the weather before outdoor drying. And to read some instructions. By the time we had to leave to head back to the city, the sheets were actually dry but nothing else was. So we had to enlist the dryer or go home with wet, mildewing clothes. Several weeks later, after the challenge was over, I successfully used the rack outside on a sunny, breezy day.

Conclusion
I will absolutely continue to air dry as much as possible – indoors and out. Reducing the amount of dryer time is a step in the right direction. I am actively searching out the best collapsible dryer rack for my apartment (if wood, I want it FSC-certified, and I have my eye on a metal Ikea rack, and many of the contraptions sold on Project Laundry List). I need to get better at what and how to put on the rack – and when. Currently, it takes me too long, which isn't practical. I now know to check the weather before drying outside. And I also know to set aside extra time when air drying, and have been reading various sites for tips on how to save time – putting the clothes from the washer directly onto hangers to dry saves some time. Got tips for me? Please post in comments! If and when we move – and we do have vague plans to – I will take air drying into account. We want a little outdoor space for many reasons; I will add "line drying" to the list.


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How to Find Safe, Sustainable Fish

Week 5 Challenge: Fish

The Issues
I write this post with a heavy heart. I cannot think of fish right now without thinking of the Gulf Coast oil disaster, including what that is doing to aquatic life and the fishing industry. Who knows at this point how wide reaching the repercussions will be. But it's devastating on just about every level.

Seafood has always been a tough topic for me. The wild versions are woefully contaminated, as our waterways are the runoff basin for all of the environmentally destructive activities we humans do (mercury from power plant emissions, PCBs that were banned so many years ago but still linger, hormone disruptors from the cosmetics we wash down the drain), and the farmed fish are very similar to factory-farmed animals. I would never willingly eat the crap they feed the fish – including hormones, antibiotics and dyes – so I don't eat the fish that eat it. To top it all off, eating locally – something I try to do a lot of – can be particularly difficult if your local waterways are known to be contaminated, which mine are. Further complicating things, 80 percent of the fish in the US is imported from Central America and Asia, where regulations are iffy. Their wild stuff tends to be fished in ecologically destructive ways, and the farmed stuff usually raised in what are essentially sewage pits. No thank you.

Knowing all this I have always had a hard time telling people who want to eat seafood what they can safely eat. I skirted the topic as much as possible in my first book, The Complete Organic Pregnancy, only talking about contaminants to avoid when pregnant. So I made seafood my own challenge to really tackle for The Conscious Kitchen. By and large I feel I succeeded. It wasn't easy (ask my editor!), but I'm more comfortable now than I have ever been with the seafood I eat. Overall it's still fraught, because we're still polluting and harvesting unsustainably, and we haven't cracked the code on the right ways to farm fish. If we could all eat the Spanish fish that Dan Barber highlighted in his Ted talk (right), that would be lovely, especially if it were local. But the sad fact remains that if you want to eat seafood consciously, you have some navigating to do. Here's how to do it.


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How to Buy Ethically Raised, Organic Meats, Even at a Chain Supermarket

As a longtime The Daily Green blogger, on the occasion of the publication of my second book, The Conscious Kitchen, I'm using my "Ask An Organic Mom" space for the next 8 weeks – give or take – to invite you to join me on the Conscious Kitchen Challenge.

What does it mean to have a Conscious Kitchen? It's a little different for every person, but at its heart, it means knowing where your food comes from, what it is, and how good it is (or isn't) for you and for the environment. It also encompasses the energy it takes to cook, what you're cooking on and storing food in, and even how you clean up and handle waste.

We all know we need to be eating better foods – local, organic, local and organic, humanely raised meat, wild and well-caught fish, packaged foods containing five pronounceable ingredients or less – but they're not always so easy to find. Or it's not always so easy to motivate to find them. Think of this like you think of New Year's resolutions. Choose your own personal goal – make it attainable for better success – and then together we'll methodically get you there. Keep in mind that any conscious steps are better than no conscious steps – 10 percent is better than no percent.

Week 1: The Kitchen Self-Exam
Week 2: Food Shopping
Week 3: Fruits and vegetables

Week 4 Challenge: Meat

beef

If you eat meat, and I do, eating only the good stuff is a great way to get a conscious bang for your buck. As I write in The Conscious Kitchen, "It's well documented that the conventional factory-farm method of raising animals for food – especially cattle – is an energy-intensive, inhumane (for animals and workers), water-guzzling, poisonous-emissions-releasing, earth-polluting endeavor... Omnivores who have no interest in giving up their bacon or steaks should switch to sustainable, humane versions of their favorite proteins. Immediately."

So: this week's challenge involves several parts.

1. Eat less meat.

2. Buy carefully. Source, purchase, and cook meat from humanely raised local animals that lived reasonable lives on pasture – not in cages – and ate a good diet that didn't include hormones, antibiotics, animal byproducts, or genetically modified feed. Yes this costs more than conventional meat. But you're saving money by not eating as much meat. Use your saved cash on less of the better stuff.

While this kind of meat sounds a bit like a needle-in-the-haystack product, it's not. That said, it is difficult – but not impossible – to find at your average supermarket. If you have access to a butcher who specializes in grass-fed and organic meats, you're all set. If you don't, try picking up a chicken or a steak while you're shopping for your fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets and natural food stores. These are the places that are the most likely to stock good, safe, humane meat.

But wait! Before you go shopping I need to tell you that pastured meat isn't the same thing as conventional meat – it tastes, feels, and smells different. In a good way. Animals that have been roaming around grazing, pecking, and rooting also often need to be cooked a little differently. Attention must be paid to fat content. The parts of them that get the most exercise – and practically all pastured chickens – benefit from braising and other techniques that will break down the muscle. If not, you may wind up with rubbery, chewy meat. This isn't the meat's fault. Cook it right and it'll be delicious. You can always ask the person selling pastured product for cooking directions.

Ok. Now: time to shop. Below is a description of how to procure meat at the where-to-shop spots discussed in Week Two of The Conscious Kitchen Challenge.

FARMERS' MARKET
You're likely to run into a whole host of meats at the farmers' market. I have a list of things to do and questions to ask when buying meat in Conscious Kitchen that are invaluable for any shopper. Basically, you need to decide what you want. What are your own must-haves? Is organic more important to you than animal treatment? Do you want fresh or frozen? Then you need to ask questions as you shop to find out if what you want is available in the market. Ask how the animals were treated, what they were fed, and even how they were slaughtered. If someone is feeding soy in a part of the country where there isn't much soy, or there is only genetically modified soy, find out what they're using and where it is from. Inquire about hormones and antibiotics, too. Many small farmers will give antibiotics to sick animals. This is vastly different than feeding it prophylactically to caged animals. If you want 100 percent grass fed beef, make sure to ask how the steers are finished and what they're given to eat in the winter when grass isn't on the ground. If you buy something, get it home, and don't like what you got, don't give up entirely. Ask more questions the following week. Explain what you didn't like and how you cooked what you bought. The farmer may know just the cut for you.

CSA/MEAT COLLECTIVE
With a CSA (short for "community supported agriculture"), you know more about what you're getting. You're not going blindly up to a new farmer at a market and attempting to establish trust. You'll be able to read about the farm or farms making up the pastured meat collective before you join, so all of those questions about feed, treatment, drugs, and slaughter might already have been addressed. When you buy a share, they tend to be delivered once a month, typically frozen. Some give you whatever they choose to give you; others allow members to order cuts and parts. If you're looking to get hooked up with a meat share, ask your vegetable farmer if they know of one. Or look one up on LocalHarvest.org. If you want a specific cut or offal that isn't being offered, speak up. A farmer might be more than happy to cut to order. And these are nose-to-tail collectives. They might not be offering hearts or kidneys because they don't sell overly well in America. But that doesn't mean they don't want to. Speak up to get what you want.

FARMS AND FARM STANDS
Ask the same questions here as you're asking at the farmers' market: What's organic? What's local? How are the animals raised – are they outdoors on pasture? Are they caged? Who is growing them? Check all labels and packaging. If you go to the farm and it doesn't have animals, you should be very curious about where what they're selling comes from. Farm visits are a great way to see how the animals look, and to peek at their living conditions and feed. But remember this isn't Disneyland or a museum or a kid's fairy tale. It's a working farm. Farmers are busy and animals tend to be quite dirty creatures. You would be too if you were outside all day long rooting, wallowing, pecking, scratching, and grazing. You can sometimes buy a whole animal through a farm and share with several friends. This will certainly fill your freezer and is a great option for people who are interested in doing things like making sausage or doing some cutting at home.

certified humane

SUPERMARKET
You need to be an educated and excellent label reader to find good meat at a supermarket. It is – no joke – hard work. The odds are stacked against the conscious eater in this arena. Here is where you will run into copious amounts of pre-cut and pre-ground flesh, fresh and frozen. And inevitably all of the plastic packages are covered in claims. Most of them trigger trust in consumers, but many are ultimately bogus meaningless and unregulated terms. For more information on what meat labels and terms mean ("natural," "cage-free," "no hormones administered" and so on) and if they can be trusted, check out Consumer Reports GreenerChoices Eco-labels glossary at GreenerChoices.org, or pick up a copy of Conscious Kitchen. Once you're educated, you'll still want to give yourself time to try to find the best items in a supermarket. It takes a while. Looking for meaningful third party certification helps -- like USDA organic, Animal Welfare Approved, and Certified Humane. These labels mean different things and some are more regulated than others, but packaged meat bearing any of them is vastly preferable to its conventional counterparts overflowing the supermarket shelves. While you're there, ask for the meat you really want by dropping a comment in the comments box or talking directly to the meat guys themselves. And rally friends and neighbors to do the same thing. Demand equals supply. Squeaky wheels do tend to get oiled. Squeak up.

conscious kitchen book

Next week, we'll move onto dairy. Meanwhile, let me know how you're doing or if you have any questions by posting in comments. Or, if you happen to be in the New York area, come tell or ask me in person. Check my website for times and dates of ongoing Conscious Kitchen events http://www.alexandrazissu.com/events/.

The Conscious Kitchen: The New Way to Buy and Cook Food - to Protect the Earth, Improve Your Health, and Eat Deliciously is an invaluable resource filled with real world, practical solutions for anyone who has read The Omnivore's Dilemma or seen Food, Inc. and longs to effect easy green changes when it comes to the food they buy, cook, and eat.


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When to Buy Organic Fruits and Vegetables, When to Buy Local

strawberries

So by now you've checked out what is – or isn't – in your crisper and fruit bowl (Week 1) and found the store, farmers' market, or CSA you'd like to be getting your fruits and vegetables from (Week 2). This week's challenge is to stock up – consistently – on the good stuff. And (you can do it!) to cook and eat it.

Pick your shopping day(s) and get going. In The Conscious Kitchen, I mention a bunch of online places where you can find out what's in season near you, or you can head to the farmers' market and see for yourself. Once there, stock up on the widest range of color you can find – green, red, orange, brown – to get all of the flavor and nutrients in. Spring is such a lovely moment for this – there will be new seasonal items rolling into markets weekly. Pea shoots and ramps, then asparagus, and before you know it: strawberries! Yum. But not all produce (even local produce) is created equal and not all venues will have the same range or variety.

Here's how to choose your fruits and vegetables at the where-to-shop spots discussed in Week Two of The Conscious Kitchen Challenge....


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How to Make Food Shopping Healthy

Week 2 Challenge: Shopping

To procure conscious food, stack the odds in your favor. It takes an education to get the good stuff at a supermarket, but you have to work really hard to get the bad stuff at a farmers' market. If you join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm or grow (some of) your own food, it's literally impossible to get the bad stuff. So your challenge this week, if you choose to take it, is to back slowly away from the supermarket and attempt to up the ratio of food you buy outside supermarkets. If you only have supermarkets as an option, pick up a copy of The Conscious Kitchen. It will offer you the education needed to shop in them, and plenty of resources for locating farms and other options you might not know are truly just around the corner from you.

Places to Shop (Other than Supermarkets) for Conscious Food

farmers market shopping

FARMERS' MARKETS
There's no better way to get a wide variety of what's growing in season than to shop at a farmers' market. It's one stop shopping, much like a store. If you want organic and don't see the sign, ask questions to find out what, how much, and when farmers are spraying their crops. Many small farmers grow organically but are not certified, or only spray if absolutely necessary. More and more markets now have stalls for cheese, bread, prepared food, meat, eggs, and even soaps and lotions. Some markets have requirements regarding how the food at the stalls was raised and where it comes from. Others don't. Get to know the governing rules at your market. And always ask questions when shopping at these stalls. If you're interested in pastured eggs, find out if the quiche or baked goods contain them. If you want local cheese, find out where the cheese is from. Sometimes a local cheese shop sets up a stand and can sell any kind of cheese from any country. Be extra vigilant when buying meat and fish, even at a farmers' market. Animal treatment and feed varies from farm to farm, and local waters may not be safe to eat seafood from. I'll address meat and fish more in upcoming weeks. And remember, local junk food is still junk food – keep this in mind as you inhale those (delicious) cider donuts, or fried first-of-the-season asparagus. Whole foods are the most conscious choices at any farmers' market.

Challenge: Identify a farmers' market in your area using the "Get Local Info" tool on The Daily Green's homepage (or at Local Harvest) and make a plan to make your next shopping trip include a trip to the local farmers' market....


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Food Ingredients: Can You Identify What They Are? Can You Even Pronounce Them?

girl looking in kitchen cabinet

As a longtime The Daily Green blogger, on the occasion of the publication of my second book, The Conscious Kitchen, I’m using my "Ask An Organic Mom" space for the next 8 weeks – give or take – to invite you to join me on the Conscious Kitchen Challenge.

What does it mean to have a Conscious Kitchen? It's a little different for every person, but at its heart, it means knowing where your food comes from, what it is, and how good it is (or isn't) for you and for the environment. It also encompasses the energy it takes to cook, what you're cooking on and storing food in, and even how you clean up and handle waste.

We all know we need to be eating better foods – local, organic, local and organic, humanely raised meat, wild and well-caught fish, packaged foods containing five pronounceable ingredients or less – but they’re not always so easy to find. Or it’s not always so easy to motivate to find them. Think of this like you think of New Year’s resolutions. Choose your own personal goal – make it attainable for better success – and then together we’ll methodically get you there. Keep in mind that any conscious steps are better than no conscious steps – 10 percent is better than no percent.


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Save You and Your Boss Some Money
5 Tips for Going Green at Work

1. Bring your lunch
Pack good food (organic/local is preferable) in reusable containers (glass and stainless steel are preferable). Beyond contributing so much less to the already overwhelmed landfills, you will save money and your health. Don't forget to pack a (stainless steel) bottle of water, real utensils, and a cloth napkin. If you prefer to eat take out, try bringing reusable containers with you for your over-the-counter soup or salad or more.

2. Get involved
If your management isn't interested in making overall changes, you can still bring in a green cleaner for your desk, or put a bottle of eco dish detergent in the break room. Bring your own plate/cup/mug/bowl/utensils and store them in a desk drawer. People will notice and it might start a (good) trend. Start a green committee and together you can all advocate for going greener by doing gestures that will get people talking. Start a compost. If your company travels a lot, suggest people use a hybrid car service to get to the airport. Find an electronic waste recycling event and help facilitate the office to bring old stuff there. Put signs on office doors and bathroom doors reminding people to recycle and to shut off their computers at the end of the day....


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5 More Tips for Going Green at Work

1. Cleaning Products
Whether you're using an independent cleaning person or the building management has a staff in place, now is the time to switch cleaning products to greener versions to drastically reduce indoor air pollution and to avoid adding questionable chemical residue to our waterways. Obviously this is easier to do when you don't have to go through building management. But even if you can get a building to change one product to green, you'll really be making a difference.

2. Energy Initiatives
Change light bulbs to LEDs and compact fluorescents, put up signs reminding staff to pull the plug at the end of the day on things like coffee makers and microwaves, and to turn the power off on their computers. Standby times many computers equals energy hog. If your electric company offers green energy sources like wind power, switch to these....


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My Blue Kid or How To Avoid Artificial Food Dyes

We're trying to get back into the swing of things post holiday. Like everyone, I'm finding this nearly impossible. We had a busy week-plus of holidays and family, and although my daughter was on school vacation, there was really very little "vacation" going on. I'm busily working on my next two books and with other family members off work, I took the opportunity to do my own work.

So it was a relief of sorts to return to our little routine Monday. My daughter went - ran! -- back to school, having missed it tremendously, and I was able to cram more than humanly possible into the three hours I had at home without her. I headed out into the bitter cold to make the 5 minute trek to pick her up (ah, the joys of city living - her preschool is within walking distance of our apartment), looking forward to the rest of our routine: the smile on her face when I show up, the happy banter on the way back home, our lunch together during which she tells me everything that happened that day. I was looking forward to hearing her take on a new classmate starting today.

I arrived a little late and half-heard another parent say something to me about food dye. My hat has earflaps -- I can't hear through them. I didn't want to linger outside. I smiled and ducked in the door. One of her teachers was staring at me, slightly grimly, and also saying something about dye and an incident. Before I could focus enough to hear, my daughter came bounding at me, grinning, her face as blue as a smurf.

Let me just say for the record that my daughter loves this school. Which means so do I. It's a co-op so I'm often there as a helping parent. It's nurturing and lovely. Last school year they allowed me to help them change their cleaning products and tweak some of the offerings at the school fair (no more frozen beef patties, hello grass-fed burgers). This school year they've used no-VOC paint for touch ups, committed to greener snacks, and permitted me to form a "green committee." They're open and willing to change, and gentle with me when I push too hard. Just like they are with my kid!

I also love that even in the deepest darkest winter, they bundle the tots and put them in the yard for air and exercise. Apparently the 4s class (a year ahead of my daughter's class) did an experiment on some unmelted snow with blue food dye before the 3s class went outside. And it inadvertently was left outside. My daughter and a friend found it, and dug right in. Their coats, hats, gloves, and faces were blue as can be. The poor teacher -- of all the kids in the class to turn a synthetically derived, questionable color, it had to be mine.

She apologized and apologized. I gently suggested what I have said before: the school can and should use organic food dye for their play dough (which they make themselves). She asked me to send her a link and promised to buy some. Then I took the kid home and we made (different color) faces in the bathroom mirror as I soaped it all off. Then I used the same washcloth to go over her jacket. It mainly came off.

Later, after we'd had our fun lunch, and she filled me in on birthday cupcakes for one classmate, and all of the details about the new girl, my phone buzzed. It was the director of the school emailing everyone to wish them a happy new year, to welcome the new family, and to apologize about the dye incident.

I did a little research and sent her back links to a few places to get organic food dyes if our local health food store didn't have them. They're not cheap. But they go a long way. Personally if I ever want to dye anything, I boil some beets then use the resulting water. But that's pretty limited in the color department.

The moral of this long story? Nothing is too obsessive to think about when it comes to our children. I should have followed up re the food dye months ago but I worry I push too hard or nag too much. Is it the end of the world that she was blue today? No. Would I prefer she not come home covered in questionable dye? Yes.

Here's to another year sharing environmental and environmental health knowledge with community members, families, and friends. It's not enough to live green within my own apartment. The way to make a more systematic difference is to share and educate, and to ask that the people you teach and learn from also teach and spread the word.


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This Organic Mom Fails: Buying Truly Safe Toys Is Impossible

Parents of older children may not be surprised to read this confession: as my daughter gets older, shopping for safe toys - holiday presents and otherwise - is getting harder. Even for an "expert" like me. I find this endlessly infuriating. And confusing.

This holiday season, I have been trying to follow my own advice as I do (pretty minimal) holiday shopping. I've asked the grandparents to buy her tickets to shows and classes. So in January, she'll start a dance class at a cute spot across the street. Great. She'll also go see some of her favorite kids' music with us (haven't listened to Elizabeth Mitchell yet? Do!).

In years past, I mainly curated whatever toys she was getting, based on what was developmentally appropriate and what she was most fond of playing with at friends' houses. I have tried to find safe, hard wood, preferably local(ish)ly made versions of things like train sets, doll houses, musical instruments, blocks, play fruits and veggies for her play kitchen, and more. Any of these items that are painted only come from certain companies, crosschecked on HealthyStuff.org....


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Why Flame-Resistant Pajamas May Not Be the Best Choice for Baby

I always know the weather is getting colder around the country when my email inbox fills with questions on safe pajamas for young'uns. This week I got a Facebook message from someone I knew in high school ("I'm so curious to know what you think about flame resistant sleepwear. Hope you're well! Xo") and an email from a mom who has a son in my daughter's preschool class (just wondering... what is the harm in the clothing that is treated. i am assuming that the chemicals that are used are considered harmful to children???? grandma just got pajamas and they say "flame resistant" on them.) So I knew it was time to write a pj post. Luckily my co-author on The Complete Organic Pregnancy, Deirdre Dolan, tackled the chemical side of the topic last September. So my post will be mainly how to....


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10 Tips for Buying Toys and Alternative Gifts for Children

As much as I'd like to ignore holidays devoted entirely to acquiring stuff, I cannot. I live in the modern world. And my almost four-year-old - who isn't a stuff-ist, actually - would notice. So would other relatives and friends.

So here's my top ten list of what to think about and look out for when gathering holiday presents for any small family member or friend.

1. Give Without Giving Stuff
Can you gift items that aren't stuff? Tickets to shows or a series of classes are a personal favorite. We always ask the grandparents for these. They support local theatres and businesses, are a great shared experience, and, in the case of classes, are really a gift that keeps on giving, especially in a long winter when getting out to go to a class (soccer, dance, music, etc.) is a much needed break from being indoors at home. Bonus: tickets and classes do not clutter the house, they do not later become landfill fodder, and they do not contain potentially harmful chemicals you do not want your children playing with! (See 15 more ways to give without giving stuff.) ...


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Babies Are Exposed to 100 or More Chemicals Before Birth

A new study enumerates prenatal exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Here's what you can do to protect your child.
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H1N1 Vaccine: Pros and Cons

Normally this organic mom steers clear of the vaccine debate. We skirted it in The Complete Organic Pregnancy on purpose - parents need to discuss the issues (real and less real) with their doctors and trusted advisers, and to make educated decisions that are right for their families. That's what I do. But what's right for me might not be right for you.

I cannot tell you how many emails I've gotten in the past few weeks asking me what to do about the H1N1 vaccine, and I don't feel like I can ignore them all. These are from pregnant moms, parents, and even concerned grandparents from all walks of life. These are people who have never given their kids shots, people who have delayed vaccinations and never done flu shots, people who do give shots for deadly diseases but tend to think of flu shots as unnecessary. It's a real conundrum. And it's made that much worse by the media hype and misinformation. There's even a pediatrician in my neighborhood telling parents there's something in the H1N1 shot that has been linked to Gulf War Syndrome, and that we therefore don't know what might show up years down the line. The parent spreading that story didn't bother to ask what it was, or to see the studies her doctor was referring to, but was busily repeating it others, scaring/horrifying them. After a little independent research, I gather the doctor was referring to squalene, which isn't, as of this moment, allowed in vaccines in the United States and so isn't even an issue here....


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A down-to-earth expert answers your questions about raising children toxin-free... read more.
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Alexandra Zissu

Alexandra Zissu

Alexandra Zissu is co-author of The Complete Organic Pregnancy and author of The Conscious Kitchen... read full bio.
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The Conscious Kitchen: The New Way to Buy and Cook Food — to Protect the Earth, Improve Your Health, and Eat Deliciously
Real world, practical solutions for anyone who longs to effect easy green changes when it comes to the food they buy, cook, and eat.
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