Archive for the ‘organic’ Category

Furnishing a Nursery, My Way   1 comment

Preparations for Baby’s birth are slooooowly happening. I hope that I don’t regret the balance that I have right now between experiencing the pregnancy now and preparing for the baby. Of course one of the big tasks is getting the nursery ready. If you walk in our house, though, I have to confess that it doesn’t look like we’ve gotten anywhere on that task. But looks can be deceiving. I hope.

Decor is a third of the way done: The room was painted a year and a half ago, with no-VOC paint for the top half and very low-VOC high gloss cabinet paint on the bottom half (hopefully easy to clean). The carpet isn’t installed but I’m working with the contractor and trying with some success to not get too frustrated at the slow pace (we’re installing the same carpet as in the other two bedrooms). The curtain rod is sitting on the floor (hopefully to be installed this weekend), and I’ll order the same organic black sateen as in our room to make the back curtain. The decorative front curtain can wait; we might as well see what the kid’s personality is first. The ceiling light installation will have to wait until the highs are no longer triple digits so we can hire someone to go into the crawlspace (yes, even always-cold me is ready for temps to drop from the 90’s and 100’s). We’ll get some black construction paper and make a fun black shape mobile, eventually to be replaced by a fun colorful one in a couple months. I plan on taking the “full length” mirror that I bought in grad school, flipping it sideways and installing it somewhere on the lower wall. And I have an adorable old calendar that I’ve been keeping so I could mount the pictures and put them on the walls to make it fun for me while we wait for kid personality to rise.

Furniture is two thirds of the way done. Rocking chair? Check, I have the one my parent’s bought when we lived in Costa Rica. Comfy chair? Check, we have the love seat from the old sofa set that has a few more years in it. Dresser? Sort-of-check. We’re not going to get a dresser right away. I have a hanging sweater rack that seems like it would be really convenient for storing the “clothing that fits right now”. And we’re going to move our old TV cabinet into the nursery to provide additional storage. Changing table? Sort-of-check. We have an office table that we were using as our dining room table when we moved into this house. I’m going to cover it with organic cotton batting (which I have), and a fabric cover (which I need to order still). It’s big enough to be able to fit a changing pad and have room to lay out the diapers and stuff.

The only big-ticket items that we don’t yet have are the crib and bassinet. The crib has been ordered but there’s a three-month lead time. We’re getting a solid maple wood crib, handmade in Oregon, with a low-VOC finish. In a week or two the mattress should be here: an organic cotton and wool mattress. The wool puddle pad and fitted sheets (Fair Trade organic cotton with natural dyes and no formaldehyde or other problem finishes) have already arrived.

The bassinet has been a sticking point. I have found some absolutely adorable Amish-made wooden ones, but they cost the same as a full-size crib. I’m really struggling with spending almost a thousand dollars on something that’ll only be used for a few months. I have looked into the Arms Reach bedside sleeper, and I’m thinking that we might go that route if I can see one in the bedside sleeper configuration first. It is plastic, but according to their FAQ it is nylon and polyester, not vinyl. I just need to confirm that I can get an organic and untreated mattress for it. It’s a trade off. I’d rather not be buying something plastic and probably-not-low-VOC paint, but it doesn’t really look like there’s a really practical alternative. And our bed is a conventional mattress anyway, which I’ve been sleeping on throughout the pregnancy, so I think this is a choice I can live with as one that doesn’t make a situation worse but only maintains the status quo.

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Posted October 3, 2012 by mayakey in fair trade, home, organic, pregnancy, shopping, simple living

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Figuring Out How Important Organic Fabric Is For Baby   3 comments

One of our first decisions to make in the preparations for Baby is our(my) fabric type preference. It’s an interesting decision because it’s the first where I have to make a decision for my child that is separate from the decision I made long ago for myself. For myself I insist on organic natural fabrics. Natural fabrics are plant/animal: cotton, hemp, linen, wool, silk, and to some degree fabrics derived from bamboo or trees. Organic means grown without pesticides. A small amount of synthetic fibers is ok when stretchiness is needed/useful. It’s been almost a decade since I bought anything that was not made of organic natural fibers with the exception of running gear and secondhand clothing. It’s interesting suddenly finding myself in lots of synthetic fabric secondhand maternity clothes. So itchy! I am committed to organic natural fibers or secondhand for myself due primarily to my desire to reduce pesticide usage and impacts on workers and the environment.

But what about Baby’s wardrobe? The situation is different. We need a “full” wardrobe immediately and don’t have years to transition a wardrobe piece by piece from conventional to organic. And while I’m not growing and can plan on wearing any given piece of clothing for 10 years or so, Baby’s clothing will last weeks or months before needing to be replaced. We need to balance financial cost and environmental cost for baby clothes, and other fabric baby stuff. I’ve been mulling this over for a few weeks now and here’s what I’ve decided.

Natural fabrics are a must; synthetic fabrics are to be avoided whenever possible. In my own experience natural fabrics are just SO MUCH MORE COMFORTABLE, and I really don’t need to clothe my baby in plastic. This should be easy for clothing, blankets, and such. However, things could get a little more complicated when we get to car seats and strollers. Stay tuned.

Untreated fabrics are an absolute must. I’m not so worried about dyes here, but treatments like urea-formaldehyde, fire retardants, and any of the other multitude of treatments applied to fabrics in our world. So that means no pajamas, since my understanding is that all clothing marketed as pajamas for babies in the US must be treated with fire retardants. That means no permanent press (treated with urea-formaldehyde). Anything else that might have some kind of treatment can be washed several times before use to try to remove it.  Again, though, things could get a little more complicated when we get to car seats and strollers, so stay tuned.

But what about organic? As near as I can tell there isn’t a concern with pesticide residue on the cotton fibers since the pesticides partition into the oil in the cottonseed instead of the fibers. But there’s just so much at stake that at first I don’t want to take any chances. Newborn babies are still doing so much developing that could be affected by any trace exposure. So I’m thinking that for the “newborn” phase I’ll play it safe with organic cotton, but then relax a little and get secondhand clothes for a while. My preference is organic, but I just don’t see the point of buying new clothes that will be worn for a month or two and then replaced. As long as it’s not permanent press, several washings should be good enough. After the first year I’ll have to figure this out again, I guess. I didn’t like hand-me-downs as a kid. But as an adult I just can’t actually bring myself to walk into a conventional retail store and buy conventional retail clothing for anyone at all, let alone my family.

Posted August 9, 2012 by mayakey in organic, personal care, shopping

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Awash in Greenwashing   Leave a comment

Environmentalists are a picky lot. It’s definitely true that there’s really no such thing as “good enough” when it comes to being environmentally and socially friendly. As a result every green claim can be considered greenwashing to a certain degree. There are some outstanding companies that are committed to fair trade, organics, zero waste, 100% renewable energy use, and beyond the buzz words, but those are a definite minority. There are also a few companies that don’t use their sustainable practices as part of their marketing. However, then you have companies that blow one little change way out of proportion. For some reason lately it seems like I’ve seen a higher of the latter lately; and even worse seen things advertised as “green” that most definitely aren’t.

The one that sticks out to me the most is Quiznos. We had Quiznos for an all-staff meeting at work last week and the napkins and boxes were all emblazoned with this “Eat Toasty, Be Green, Do Your Part” logo. I spent most of the meeting, the remaining work day, and the following day puzzling over how eating Quiznos could possibly be a “green” choice. That catch phrase is designed to make you think that by eating one of their sandwiches, you are doing something good for the environment, or at least that’s how it reads to me. I was stumped by how eating a non-organic, meat and cheese sandwich wrapped in paper, made in a chain restaurant with a very wide distribution network, and served with an overabundance of napkins, could possibly be a decision that could be considered “doing your part”. Especially since if you compare Quiznos with many other sub shops, wouldn’t Quiznos have a higher energy usage since they toast all of their sandwiches? After mulling this over for a while I read the fine print on one of the napkins that I had kept while I figure this out. It says: “Our first step is making environmentally responsible choices with our packaging.” All this marketing, the super catch phrase, the green ink printing, the fancy logos, big recycled symbol, is all because the use 100% recycled paper for their napkins, towels, and tissue. That’s it?!?!?! And further investigation reveals that it says 100% recycled, not 100% post-consumer recycled, which makes the claim even less impressive. As I said, environmentalists are good at saying “but you could do more!”, but this case is a great example of greenwashing where one minor change is blown up into something way more than it is. For as little effort as converting to recycled napkins requires, the marketing is huge.

It is hard not to succumb to greenwashing, since it requires always thinking (that’s part of the “conscious” living thing) about the claim. Does the claim make sense? Does it even apply to the product (like a big “fat-free” sticker on a bag of hard candy that is 100% melted sugar, flavor, and color)? How trustworthy is it? Third party certification is best because that means an unaffiliated party agrees that it meets a specific set of criteria (think USDA organic certified by Oregon Tilth, sustainable forest products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, or fair trade goods certified by TransFair). Self-certification claims often hold no water or are not backed up with any publicly available evidence. Of course some things have to be self-certified because there are no certification programs. And there are, unfortunately, non-reputable third party certifications. Finally, I always ask myself if the particular product is the best option available, because if it easy to “go greener” (or not too difficult anyway) than why not do it?

Conscious Kitchen Challenge, Beverages   Leave a comment

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 part was a self-exam, the second was about shopping, the third was fruits and vegetables, the fourth was meat, the fifth was seafood, and the sixth is beverages. I haven’t read her book, so the challenge is limited to what she posted in her blog. When I saw this part of the challenge I said “ooh, an easy one!”

The first half of this challenge deals with water. And that’s what I drink mostly. At home I drink straight out of the tap, at sit down restaurants I drink water that is probably tap water, at serve-your-own-drinks type restaurants I get water from the water button on the soft drink dispenser so I think that is probably just tap water, at work I drink filtered tap water. We used to have those 5-gallon water bottles but just as I started seriously preparing for pregnancy and thinking that I needed to leave behind the convenience of the water cooler, the water delivery guy suggested that we switch to a new water cooler that gets the water through a reverse osmosis filter hooked up to our tap. (My concern with the 5-gallon water bottles was the plastic type; I think they are polycarbonate and hence have problems with BPA/estrogenic compounds.) I do plan on getting my water tested when we move into our new house, and I still need to download the water quality report, but I plan on continuing to drink tap water.

As for water bottles, I’ve really never gotten into the whole disposable water bottle thing. I do use the disposable water bottles for trips, but I’ve been carrying around a refillable water bottle since I was a freshman in high school. At that time it was a plastic water bottle. Then a few years ago I got a Sigg (which I thought at the time was stainless steel). Then when it came out that Sigg was shading the truth and their bottles are actually aluminum with a plastic coating, I decided I didn’t trust the company and replaced my Sigg water bottle with a stainless steel bottle from Green Bottle.

The second part of this challenge is “everything else”, which for me is pretty much just tea. I drink hot tea at work all day every day pretty much. I have 19 types of tea at my desk, including black, green, white, and herbal/medicinals. I insist on fair trade certified tea, and even some of my herbal teas are fair trade. Generally they are also organic; actually I think they all are organic. I’m currently getting ready to transition to almost all loose-leaf whole-leaf teas on the theory that there is less energy/material inputs than for bagged tea. At home in the summer I make sun tea, which is of course fair trade and requires no energy input for the brewing.

Every once in a while I will enjoy an alcoholic drink and I do have to admit that I don’t focus too much on organic in this realm. I’m allergic to barley and hence have to drink wheat beers. Since it is already a challenge to find beers that I can drink without getting a horrible stomach ache, I don’t complicate it further by insisting on organic. As for wine, my husband buys that as he’s the wine snob. For the most part I think we have California wines. I would be very interested in organic wine, but as I said I’m not the one doing the shopping. When it comes to hard alcohol and mixed drinks again I defer to my alcohol snob husband. We have some amazingly high quality liquors on our counter (especially Scotch and tequila)! I really could care less if they are organic because they are essentially artisan made goodness. When it comes to mixers, though, I start getting picky because I think high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) tastes disgusting and I don’t enjoy mixers made with HFCS. That pretty much rules out 95% of commercial drink mixers. Even tonic water contains HFCS! Instead I tend to buy juice and then never finish the bottle so it sits in our fridge for months and months and months and months (it’s actually amazing how long juice can last in the fridge; especially if you don’t mind a little fermentation). Not exactly a great choice, but I haven’t worked out a better system yet.

And then there’s the unmentionables: sodas. I think I’ve had one soda, maybe two so far this year, I can’t remember very well. I pretty much stopped drinking soda early in my high school years. And I’ve never looked back.

I used to make myself drink juice, but I gave that up. One should not have to force oneself to drink something that’s supposed to enjoyable. I don’t know why I don’t gravitate to juice, but I don’t.

Posted July 30, 2010 by mayakey in food, organic

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Conscious Kitchen Challenge, Meat   2 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, the third was about fruits and vegetables, and the fourth is about meat. I haven’t read her book, so the challenge is limited to what she posted in her blog.

The first part of the meat challenge is easy for my husband and I. Eat less meat. Check. We rarely cook meat for dinner more than once a week at home, and usually cooking meat entails throwing one sausage apiece into a stir-fry or having a sausage on the side of some other dish. When we go out for dinner (once or twice a month, typically) we do eat meat most of the time, and when we go over to our friends’ house every Saturday dinner always revolves around meat. My lunches rarely include meat since I’ve stopped eating frozen lunches, and my husband’s lunch varies as far as the meat content goes.

Conscious shopping for meat has been a priority for me for about a decade, but I didn’t really buckle down and get really serious until the last year. When I bought meat previously (at the grocery store) it was always organic, but I didn’t make sure that it was free-range (which is a totally meaningless word anyway). Now the only beef I buy is grass-fed. Thankfully I never buy chicken so I haven’t had to figure out a way to buy good chicken (my understanding is that most of the chicken labeling is green washing).

We recently got two beef vendors at our farmer’s market; and at least the first one is grass-fed organic local beef. We have purchased a couple of packages from them so far, and plan to continue doing so. There is no other meat sold at our farmer’s market. I believe that there is a meat CSA or cooperative near Sacramento, but we don’t eat enough meat (or have freezer space to store) right now to justify such a regular source of meat. When we move into our new house I understand we will inherit a chest freezer from my in-laws and will hopefully soon be able to fill it with a half or quarter cow (or any form of meat other than poultry). I do need to ask questions at the grocery store when I buy pork, lamb, or buffalo to verify that the meat is consistent with my values, so that is my challenge for now. I find raw chicken disgusting and plan to continue avoiding it for the foreseeable future, so I don’t have to think about that labeling mess.

A note on the sausage. We buy all of our sausage from Whole Foods, sometimes fresh and sometimes packaged, so it’s at least not the worst sausage. I personally give sausage a lot of leeway since I consider it to be my carcinogen of choice (some people smoke, others tan, I eat sausage). I am honestly afraid to ask too many questions about the sausage ingredients since I don’t want to restrict my choices. I also have no intention in the near future of trying my hand at sausage making. So not practical for my life right now.

Posted May 9, 2010 by mayakey in food, organic, shopping

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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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