Archive for April 2010

Detox Lite and Late   Leave a comment

This week I am doing my spring detox, which I usually do a little earlier in the year (not by much, usually the beginning of April, not the end). I know that detoxes get bad press, or at best “there’s no evidence” press, but I kind of like my annual event.

The body has a whole host of natural detoxification systems including skin, lymphatic system, lungs, kidneys, and liver. These systems work constantly to keep us healthy, sometimes with no help from ourselves. By that I mean all of the things that we do that interfere with healthy body functions: not drinking enough fluids, not eating enough fiber, eating too much, eating too much of specific problem foods, not getting enough sleep, not exercising, stressing, smoking, etcetera.

In my mind, my spring detox is a RESET button for my body. This year, because of stress I’m doing a shorter detox but it still involves the following temporary changes.

  1. Modified diet. No meat (big whoop, I’ll miss my one serving of meat during the week, boo hoo). No dairy (it’s a common allergen, so I take a few days off; and it is a big deal, I mean 5 whole days without cheese!). No wheat and other common allergen grains (really big deal; this is what makes the detox diet a challenge, just try to go 5 days with no wheat products). Note: some people do serious fasting or juice diets, which I do not advocate. How that can possibly be healthy I don’t know. Plus I’ve heard that you get really bad constipation when transitioning back to solid foods, so what’s the point?
  2. More fluids. Specifically: more water, a “detox tonic”, and a “detox tea” The water is essential to the body’s detoxification systems so the primary focus is to make sure that throughout the day the body is fully hydrated. The detox tonic is water with lemon (to stimulate the liver), and a dash of cayenne (to stimulate circulation). The detox tea is based on dandelion root, which is supposed to be really good for the liver.
  3. More sleep. Ummm, yeah, I try and I fail every year. It is really sad that I can’t even make myself get enough sleep for 1 week a year.
  4. Supplements. Namely psyllium seed capsules (for colon cleansing) and turmeric (again, for the liver).
  5. Body brushing. This stimulates the lymphatic system, which carries waste from tissue to blood. This feels really good. This is something that I wish I could do every morning all year, but that always falls by the wayside.

Every year I mean to do more research about the stuff in my detox plan; and I never have. Unfortunately, that means I don’t have a lot of facts to share here. Maybe for the rest of the week I’ll make myself do some research to report. Hmmmm.

Posted April 27, 2010 by mayakey in health

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Conscious Kitchen Challenge, Produce   3 comments

One of the blogs that I read regularly, Ask An Organic Mom, is doing a conscious kitchen challenge to promote her new book. I’m taking the challenge and posting my results here. The first week was a self-exam, the second was about shopping, and the third is about fruits and vegetables. I haven’t read her book, so the challenge is limited to what she posted in her blog.

This challenge is about buying organic produce, and locally grown produce. To a certain degree I jumped the gun in the last post about shopping. Since we already shop weekly at a year-round farmer’s market, I challenged myself to start asking questions about the pest management practices of the venders. Some of them are organic farmers and I buy their goods, but most of them don’t say anything on their signs. It will be a little awkward, after 5 years of buying from the same people, to finally ask if they spray and with what pesticides.

The most popular guide to help knowing what to buy organically and what not to buy conventionally is pesticide ranking list by the Environmental Working Group (EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15). Many people use the list for financial reasons and only buy the dirty dozen organically. I prefer to buy everything organic if I can find it, and just not buy the worst offenders at all if I can’t find them organically grown. I heartily encourage everyone to consider buying at least a the worst offenders organically (peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, and pears). Also consider that waxed cucumbers may have pesticide residue trapped under the wax so that it cannot be washed off.

I put a slightly greater weight on buying from the farmer’s market vendors than buying local produce at the grocery story. I’ve heard that pretty much all major grocery stores that buy local produce practice a kind of predatory contracting with small farmers where they put pressure on the farmer to reduce costs and sometimes at the last minute decline to renew contracts, leaving a farmer with no where to send their bounty. Hence, I try to avoid buying produce at the grocery store (I acknowledge that this is a luxury enjoyed only by those of us who live in areas where year-round farming is possible). On a regular basis the only thing I buy at the grocery store is russets because we don’t get them consistently at our farmer’s market. My husband also buys bananas and packs of baby carrots. If for some reason we were not able to go to the farmer’s market any given week, then we typically buy what produce we need at Whole Foods, making sure to get domestic organic vegetables.

As far as exotics go, as I said before my husband does buy bananas each week. I rarely enjoy a banana, mango, or pineapple since they are obviously not to be found in our farmer’s market and I have personally committed to eating seasonal/”local”. When we do have to buy our produce at Whole Foods, I actually tend to buy the exotics because I figure if I have to shop that week at the grocery store I might as well get something I can only get at the grocery store.

Posted April 24, 2010 by mayakey in food, organic

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Revisiting Shampoo   2 comments

I think I may officially make the switch to being shampoo free (if you don’t mind, I don’t particularly like the term “no ‘poo” so I’m not going to use it). After the From A No ‘Poo Inspiration post, I did stop shampooing my hair. It has now been two weeks shampoo free and I have to say I am impressed. I thought I would have to rinse my hair more often than before (2-3 times a week), and that has not been the case. In fact, my hair does seem to be less greasy. The techniques that I tried included baking soda/apple cider vinegar rinses, and conditioner rinse. I want to do more research so that I understand what baking soda really does, because I don’t really understand it right now. That discussion will be for a future post.

Even if you would never consider going shampoo free, there are cleansing techniques that can improve the health of your hair. If I may say, I have very healthy hair, so I hope I can pass on tips that work. Currently, I get compliments on my hair every time I go into a salon, and I have been able to grow my hair long enough to reach my butt. The last time I tried to grow my hair long (high school) I could never grow it longer than mid-back. I attribute this difference to the change in how I care for my hair.

The basic issue with over-shampooing is that hair needs sebum and shampoo strips sebum away. Sebum is the oily/waxy substance that our skin creates to keep skin and hair from becoming dry (intimately home-made lotion, if you will). The theory behind no-shampoo or reduced shampooing schedules is that when you use a harsh detergent to remove the sebum, the sebaceous glands go into overdrive creating more sebum to replace what was lost. So the more you wash, the more oil your skin creates.

Here are some basic techniques that, through personal experience, I know work to keep hair healthy.

  • Shampoo your scalp, not your hair. The hair shaft has no way to moisturize itself since the sebaceous glands are in the skin, not the hair shaft. So clean your hair by brushing it really well with a boar bristle or similar brush, rinsing it in water, or rinsing with conditioner; save the shampoo for your scalp. As you rinse, the shampoo runs down the entire hair shaft anyway.
  • Don’t shampoo every day. In college I switched to every other day and never had any problems with greasy hair. Eventually I got lazy and that became every three days. Then I couldn’t keep track of the days and it became just when my scalp needed it. Also, I know that I’m not the only person who prefers the way my hair looks and feels on the second or third day. Sebum doesn’t just moisturize hair, but it also gives it volume.
  • Rinse your hair in water only. Some days all you need is to stand in the shower, with the shower water beating down on your head, finger massaging and/or combing your hair and scalp. When your hair dries it feels light and clean.
  • Clean your hair using conditioner. Sounds weird, right? But it is the same theory as any cream cleanser (like cold cream). The oils in conditioner act as a solvent to rinse away excess sebum while not stripping it away. I find it works best to rub some conditioner in my hair dry and then rinse it out. I think that when you wet your hair first, the layer of water interferes with the conditioner and doesn’t let it work as effectively as a solvent. (FYI, I found out about this technique in a hair salon.)

Not only can reducing your shampoo use improve your hair health, but it is also an environmental decision, and possibly a financial decision.

  • Less time spent washing hair means less water and energy (to heat the water, and to pump/treat the water to potable standards) that you use, possibly also reducing your utility bills.
  • Less shampoo used means less resource use creating the shampoo and the bottle and then transporting it (what you hold in your hand is only the tip of the iceberg, there’s also the water/energy/materials used all along the manufacturing route)
  • Less shampoo used means fewer bottles of shampoo that you have to buy each year.
  • Less time spent washing your hair also means more time to do whatever else you want.

Posted April 23, 2010 by mayakey in personal care

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Centering vs. Anxiety   1 comment

Centering and meditation are pretty much the best medicine for anxiety; but anxiety is one of the strongest meditation interferences. Which one wins out? It depends on the level of commitment.

I am currently experiencing the worst anxiety of my life, including flirting with anxiety-induced depression for the first time. At the same time, part of my pre-pre-pregnancy lifestyle changes include committing to centering as a way to bring peace into my life. It is either a perfect storm (anxiety preventing meditation and centering), or a perfect opportunity (learning to meditate through anything and using centering to combat anxiety), and the difference is my level of commitment to internal peace.

One would think that a commitment to internal peace is a no brainer, right? Not for us “modern” humans! We feel the need to brag about our discomfort and dramatize our voluntarily adrenaline-packed lives. We are really good at finding internal peace, and then throwing it away. We insist on doing what feels “good” rather than what feels GOOD. It is a real challenge to stop every once and a while, take a deep breath, and just BE. It is a real challenge to silence the voices in our heads long enough to FEEL who we are at our cores, to FEEL what grounds us, and to FEEL our inner strengths. But when we do, it works; it works really well!

Feel an anxiety attack coming? Stop and take a deep breath. Empty your mind for just a moment as you feel the breath filling your body and then rushing away to leave you standing/sitting a little bit taller and a little bit stronger. Find a visual that helps you. My visual is a tree. A tree has a deep and wide root network, and when the wind blows, the top of the tree is flexible and bends. As a result a storm does not move or break the tree, and it will still be standing when the storm is gone. Taking these centering breaks regularly throughout the day, and whenever I feel a surge of anxiety, has really helped to keep the anxiety in check. I have only had one anxiety attack in weeks, and that one was related to my failure to consistently block out the anxiety while meditating.

So the score is tied: Anxiety 1 (for affecting meditation), Centering 1 (for reducing anxiety)

The Deal With E-Waste   Leave a comment

Ever seen a sign or a flyer advertising that on a particular day your city/school/church/other organization will be having an e-waste collection day? Ever wondered what the deal is?

E-waste (electronic waste) is the TV’s, computers, cell phones, appliances, etc that we use and discard. So why not just throw them in the trash? Well, unfortunately a lot of electronic equipment contains toxic metals (like lead or mercury) or other toxic compounds (like brominated fire retardants) that could eventually leach into groundwater from a landfill or that would be emitted into the air by an incinerator, thereby causing human exposure concerns. Also, electronic equipment contains a lot of valuable and non-toxic metals such as copper or gold. Some of these metals are really valuable (the price of copper has been so high for years that thieves will strip electric panels or irrigation equipment and sell the metal to scrap dealers), and it is ridiculous to just throw them away without recovering the valuable stuff.

So we use electronic waste recyclers. Unfortunately, many of them ship the e-waste to third world countries in Asia and Africa, where they are dismantled and recycled often by children, by hand, and with no worker protections or environmental protections. Check out the Basel Action Network (BAN) website to see photos and articles. The Basel Ban was passed in 1994 by a group of developing nations to ban the export of hazardous waste (including e-waste) from the 29 wealthiest industrialized nations of the OECD. There is still plenty of controversy internationally about the Basel Ban, and my understanding is that it has not yet been added to the Basel Convention as a ratified amendment. However, as an individual I find the concept of dumping “my” hazardous waste onto someone else, especially someone who is devastatingly poor and disadvantaged in the Third World already, to be absolutely unconscionable.

So what do I do? I took advantage of BAN’s new e-stewards program to verify that a local e-waste recycling event in my area last weekend was being conducted by a company that would not be exporting the e-waste. When I found that CEAR is an e-steward, I loaded up the e-waste that had been collecting in our house over the years (an old broken kitchen appliance, a broken laptop, a broken cell phone, a broken game controller, and various cables) and dropped them off while I was on my farmer’s market trip.

I have to admit that I have not been proactive about contacting companies to encourage them to reduce the toxic materials in electronic equipment, and I have not been encouraging companies to adopt take-back strategies and support responsible recycling of electronic equipment. Advocacy and speaking up are my big stumbling blocks.

Posted April 19, 2010 by mayakey in environment

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Dilemma at the Dentist’s Office   2 comments

I had a dentist appointment this week, which is always accompanied by a bit of a dilemma. The problem is not the cleaning (I love the cleaning), or the x-rays (I tolerate the x-rays), but the give-aways. You know, the toothbrush, mini-toothpaste, and mini-floss that they hand you on your way out. I don’t want the toothbrush – I use a Preserve toothbrush that is made from recyclable plastic and that I can send back to the company for further recycling/disposal. (Note-it’s the handle that is recycled, not the bristles). I don’t want the toothpaste – I use Tom’s of Maine toothpaste that contains no sweeteners or petroleum-derived ingredients. I don’t want the thick plastic container with 3 yards of floss when I have 100 yards of vegan-waxed floss in a cardboard dispenser.

So what to do? Do I say “no thank you”? Tried that, it just felt too weird, and I would have to say it after every single appointment. Do I just walk away without picking them up? That’s my favorite solution, and I have done it more than once. But most of the time just before I step away they remind me to take the swag. So my third tactic is to just take the stuff. I keep one set as a spare, a guest set, and I put the others in a baggie. When the baggie fills up, I donate it to the Loaves and Fishes, the local homeless services charity.

I have found that in order to live consciously and with conscience I frequently have to balance alternatives. I don’t like choosing the lesser evil. The challenge is to find a solution that does not compromise my ideals. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it isn’t. Occasionally it is paralyzing, especially when there really isn’t a good solution.

Posted April 16, 2010 by mayakey in musings, personal care

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A Non-Frugal Eco Purchase   Leave a comment

At the San Francisco Spring 2010 Green Festival this past weekend I made the absolutely ridiculous purchase of a small printed towel for $6 (festival special price). Even as I made the decision to buy the towel, I was laughing at myself, knowing that I could get/make myself an equally good towel. It is a rare example of a marketing ploy actually working on me. In general I pride myself in ignoring advertising and marketing, and actually tend to lean towards non-advertised products. When I saw a TV ad for Seventh Generation, I was horrified. Apparently in my mind I feel that I can’t trust a company that advertises on TV. I think I may have let my aversion to advertising go a little too far.

Anyway, back to the towel. For probably the last year and a half, about two-thirds of my trips to the restroom at work are accompanied by the thought that “I should bring a towel instead of using all of these paper towels, this is a ridiculous waste of paper.” Note that for about a year and a half I have not actually provided myself a towel at work to use for drying my hands. At the Green Festival I walked past a booth for a company selling small, light-weight, decorated organic cotton towels designed to be carried with you to use instead of paper towels in public restrooms. On the spur of the moment I decided that spending the money right then and there was a better decision overall than going another year and half before I get around to bringing a towel to work.

Sometimes spur-of-the-moment purchases are baaaad, sometimes they’re ok, and sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. But at least I won’t need to keep wasting paper towels at work, and I will give my coworkers another reason to think I’m a little “different”.

Posted April 13, 2010 by mayakey in frugal living, shopping

The Cults of the New and Old   2 comments

One of the things that I see a lot in discussions about living frugally and/or eco-consciously is how important it is to avoid the cult of the new. The cult of the new is when you always have to have new things, and when you always have to have THE new thing. For example: replacing a phone that is only a few months old for the sole reason of getting a newer “better” phone. It is a very enticing cult. I know I am certainly not immune to the charm of shiny new as opposed to the plain-ness of slightly used. Generally, though, it is considered more frugal/eco-friendly to buy used, and only replace something when it doesn’t work any more. The problem with that, though, is that you can flip into the “cult of the old”, a new term that I am coining. I have a family history with the cult of the old, and I can say from experience that it’s not healthy. If you don’t replace an old appliance that still works, you could miss out on newer appliances that work faster, quieter, with less energy, with less water, or otherwise more efficiently. If you don’t replace your blanket/sofa/lipstick/clothes then you risk becoming an island of no-change in a world defined by change. And I’m not talking about being unfashionable. I’m talking about the subtle ways in which your self image shifts when the image in the mirror changes, or when the spaces around you change. Life involves constant change, whether it be seasons and aging or inventions and new advances, but the cult of the old can involve an unhealthy resistance to change.

This musing was brought on by the purchase of a new skirt this weekend at the Spring 2010 San Francisco Green Festival. This skirt will replace one that is currently in my closet. In a sense it is a bittersweet day because I love the skirt that I am replacing. However, I have owned that skirt for at least 15 years and it is just time to move on. The old skirt is beautiful, fits perfectly, and looks good on me. It works great in my wardrobe, is easy to dress up and down, and I love wearing it. So why am I replacing it? Because as much as I love the skirt, I need a change. It is one of the last articles of clothing that I still have from my teenage years, and it is time for me to let it go. Hopefully it will find someone who will get as much enjoyment out of it as I have. And hopefully the new skirt will live up to the bar set by the old one (I’m optimistic).

This is the first time that I have replaced an article of clothing that I like, fit into, and haven’t worn out, hence the soul searching. I want to be sure that I am not just entrapped in the cult of the new by buying the new skirt; and at the same time I am afraid that keeping the old skirt would eventually trap me in the cult of the old. I have noticed as I gradually replaced my old wardrobe that it is absolutely invigorating to find new pieces to love and to let my image (and hence part of my self-image) evolve over time. Hopefully this step will continue that evolution.

Posted April 11, 2010 by mayakey in frugal living, musings, shopping

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From a No ‘Poo Inspiration   5 comments

I have a coworker who decided to try to go “no ‘poo”, the term for shampoo-free (don’t ask me, I didn’t make it up). We’ve had several conversations about homemade personal care products and the green and frugal living aspects. The conversations have been simmering in my head and making me think that it is time to take a fresh look at my own practices. Currently, I do not make any of my own products. A very long time ago I was very interested in making my own products but I was not able to find the ingredients that I wanted, and the labor for some was more than I had time to do.

I first read about no ‘poo months ago and I’ve always just brushed it off. I figured that I don’t shampoo my hair very often, so I didn’t see the benefit; and instead I figured that I would probably end up washing my hair more often. Right now I don’t actually know how often I shampoo my scalp (I never shampoo my hair). My guess is that I usually go just over a week between shampoos, but it’s hard to keep track. In-between shampoos I’ll do a water only rinse or a conditioner rinse every few days. After talking to my coworker, I realized that I could probably try the no ‘poo strategies without much of a transition period just to see if they work. The incentive here is the fact that my shampoo bottle is approaching empty, and considering how long it takes me to finish a bottle of shampoo I should try this now instead of after buying a new bottle. I think I’ll go for it (sorry honey).

A lot of people make their own soap, but I don’t really want to because I enjoy shopping for bars of soap. I love standing at the soap shelf, picking a scent and ingredients, enjoying the variety. This one goes in the category of: when-I-have-kids-this-might-be-a-fun-project, but right now it just sounds like a pain. As for hand soap, I used castile soap in a dispenser for years and finally got fed up with constantly having to remove chunks of dried soap. So now we buy the ONE type of unscented liquid soap that Whole Foods carries. It pains me since it is a disposable pump (oh all that non-recycleable plastic!), but I haven’t found a way to get bulk liquid soap that won’t clump up on the dispenser. And again, making my own sounds like a pain.

There is one category of personal care products that I absolutely have no interest in making for myself: creams. I use a cream cleanser for my face instead of a foaming cleanser, and then there is also facial moisturizer and body lotion. I now know vendors where I think I could get the ingredients, but the thing with creams/emollients is that it is very hard to get all of the ingredients evenly mixed. I’m not sure that I want to use our blender to make myself lotions.

Oh, there’s another category of products that I do not want to make myself: toothpaste. I generally like the toothpaste that we buy (Tom’s of Maine, variety of flavors and types), and I can honestly say I have no desire to brush with baking soda alone. I did it once, and I checked that experience off the list.

I already make most of my own pamper products, except for body wash. I’m still working on the stockpile of body washes and body scrubs that I have received as gifts over the years, and I plan to make my own from castile soap when they are done. I also make my own mouthwash (stored in an old Scotch bottle) using water, peppermint oil, and tincture of myrrh for gum health.

And then there is deodorant. When I first switched from anti-perspirant my underarms rejoiced! They felt great! Fast forward a few years to now and my underarms are irritated almost constantly. I’ve been pondering this one. I can’t go completely bare, I’m uncertain about just using baking soda or corn starch, and I’m uncertain about rubbing essential oils on my skin every day. But obviously the store-bought deodorants are no longer the best choice. It’s still a dilemma…

Posted April 8, 2010 by mayakey in personal care, simple living

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Conscious Kitchen Challenge, Shopping   5 comments

One of the blogs that I read regularly, Ask An Organic Mom, is doing a conscious kitchen challenge to promote her new book. I’m taking the challenge and posting my results here. The first week was a self-exam, the second is the shopping challenge. I haven’t read her book, so the challenge is limited to what she posted in her blog.

Farmer’s Market: I’ve been making weekly farmer’s market trips since grad school (2004). I love going to the farmer’s market. I’m lucky to live in California’s Central Valley where I can go to a year-round farmer’s market, and where I can eat “local” seasonal produce all year long. I put local in quotes because not everything is within the 100-mile radius that is generally considered to be the definition of local food. For example, our avocados come from southern California, something like 400 miles away. We buy our salad fixings, snack vegetables (except my husband’s packaged baby carrots), dinner vegetables, and fruit (except my husband’s bananas) at the market. We also buy olive oil, cheese, bagels, bread, muffins, flowers, honey, nuts, and sometimes eggs and olive oil at the market. As of last week a new vendor came to our market selling meet from organic range grazed cattle as well. My failing in my farmer’s market shopping is that I don’t ask enough questions. My challenge: I need to start asking what kind of pest management the farmers use, and I need to ask our bread vendor if the muffins and pastries are wrapped in vinyl or non-vinyl plastic wrap.

CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm: I had wanted to participate in a CSA since I first heard about the concept in college. A CSA is a farm that sells memberships and then provides a box of produce weekly to the members. Some CSAs also require members to work a few hours on the farm or with distribution. A couple of years ago I got my chance when we split the membership and the weekly box with my sister-in-law. We got swamped by the amount of food and couldn’t keep up (a share is for 4 people, and there were only 3 of us). I have never thrown away so much food in my life. I really struggled with not being in control of the contents of my fridge and not being able to control quantity. You don’t know in advance what or how much is going to be in the box each week, and that can make menu planning a challenge. In our case I make our menus on Friday or Saturday, go to the farmer’s market on Saturday morning, and go to the grocery store on Sunday; but our CSA box was delivered on Tuesday. Also, that variety of foods could include large amounts of food that we didn’t like and small amounts of food that we love. We maintained our membership for a couple of quarters, and then the three of us threw in the towel. We just couldn’t make it work. It was nice getting the weekly newsletter, and really feeling connected to the source of our food, but the cons outweighed the pros for us.

Farm Stands: There aren’t any real farm stands within a reasonable regular driving radius, so I consider this not applicable.

My Own Garden: Oh I dream. I don’t have a good excuse though. One of the reasons I rented the duplex where I currently live is because of the yard and the planters in the back yard. Then I moved in and discovered how much trash is in the planters and any thoughts of growing food in them went out the window. A couple of years ago I started growing a few herbs in pots, but it’s been slow going. I am currently planting new annual herbs, and am thinking about getting a couple more pots to expand. Oh, we also have a pot where we are growing sunchokes, but the harvest was miniscule last year. I do dream about having my own garden, especially an herb garden because my mother spoiled me silly with the best herb garden in the world at our old house. (Thanks mom!) My challenge: Expand our container gardening to include more of the things that are not easy to get at the farmer’s market.

Grocery Store: I shop at Whole Foods, my husband shops at Raleys. He likes to do his own shopping for his lunches and other food that he takes to work, and he prefers to do that at the grocery store down the street. Since meeting me he has been corrupted and now does much of his shopping in the natural food aisle. I shop at Whole Foods even though it is not nearby because I want an entire grocery store, not an aisle. Whole Foods is okay, but it is easy to get complacent and forget that the company practices the same predatory contracting as other grocery stores, and that they sell a lot of stuff that doesn’t meet my objectives.  My challenge: Read EVERY label for ingredients, nutrition, and origin.

Posted April 7, 2010 by mayakey in food, shopping

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