Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tips to Reduce Your Exposure to Environmental Toxins or How My Wife Sleeps at Night: Part I

Hello friends. No, I didn't give up the computer when we gave up TV in November. Life just caught up with my best intentions to continue regular posts on this blog. But I'm back and thought this particular post is past due and well-aligned (like the chiro humor?) with the mission of this blog.

Ever since the birth of our first daughter just about 7 years ago now, our family has taken small steps towards wellness in lots of directions. My wife, Jeanette, has led the charge down the path to reducing our exposure to environmental toxins. She's become a bit of a zealot about it really, especially after losing her aunt at a young age to breast cancer and now watching her mother suffer through the metastatic stage of the same disease (testing revealed no genetic factors with either case, which leaves the cause in their cases to the environment most likely). And when I hear about stories like the one about the mysterious illness at LeRoy Jr/Sr High School, only 50 miles from here, I'm reminded of the importance of this path. The naysayers often ask Jen how she can live in a world where she sees everything as harmful, but more and more, science is backing up her concern with strong evidence that environmental toxins wreak havoc on the human body and contribute to, or are responsible for, a laundry list of illnesses. This damage begins before we are even born, with common toxins now found in developing fetuses and it persists throughout our life as chemicals accumulate.

So that's the really bad news. But the good news is there are  steps you can take to control your exposure, as much as possible, to some of the more common toxins. I'm not suggesting following the steps I've listed below will "cancel out" your exposure to toxins. These are just the steps our family has taken to hopefully reduce our exposure to chemicals that humans frequently come into contact with in our industrialized, processed edible food product, Made-in-China with toxic plastic, kind of a world. These steps have been taken down a path of many years. One foot in front of the other. Here's the first three.

1. Eat organic, eat local, eat mostly plants.

Five years ago, we planted a garden in our backyard. Jen's concern about soil pollution from the steel plant down the street led us to plant our food in untreated raised beds filled with organic soil. Our garden, which you can read more about here (see page 14-15), serves many of our nutritional needs in the summer. We only grow heirloom organic vegetables now.

Two years ago, we joined a local, naturally-grown CSA (community supported agriculture), Native Offerings, to provide our food in the winter. When Jen and the girls pick up our food, its without plastic packaging, pesticides, and GMOs. It wasn't imported from another country either. It was grown right here in WNY.

We are on-again, off-again carnivores. Currently, we're trying to eat more plant-based meals than not. When we do eat meat (at home at least) its always organic.  Author Michael Pollan's Food Rules can give you a lot more guidance than I can on healthier eating habits.

2. Just say no to plastics.

Jen's environmental crusade began with BPA-free plastic bottles with our first child and built from there. Turns out there are lots of other things besides BPA that make plastic harmful (phthalates and PVC to name two) so "no-BPA plastic bottles" became "no plastic bottles at all"  became "no plastic dishes/food storage/canned food" became "no plastic toys/products" (this is the hardest to control for in our house). Pretty much anything plastic or in-contact with plastic that has the potential to go into the kids' mouths got sent away (don't get me started on the moral dilemma J had of donating "toxic toys" or chucking them in a landfill)...Its taken a few years, but I'd say 90% of the girls' toys are now wood (including this awesome Amish-made, er, Santa-made race track) or cloth and the few remaining plastic ones are "eco-friendly/recycled food grade plastic with no BPA, PVCs or phthalates."

Wonder what we use for food storage? A gift card from Christmas a few years ago was used to replace the Tupperware with glass storage with silicone lids. We also like mason jars. We have lots and lots of them. Paper bags have replaced plastic ones for lunches along with durable stainless steel containers.
And canned food? Unless it has a certified BPA-free lining or preserved in a mason jar by Jen, you probably won't find it here.

3. Use eco-friendly cleansers on your body and around the house.

Once you start down this path, it's hard not to see every chemical out there as potentially dangerous. A weekly grocery shopping trip takes us at least 90 minutes because my wife stops to read every label. Turns out a lot of the stuff we spray on ourselves or use on our dishes, laundry, counters, etc. isn't so good for us either. So stricken from our home are cleansers that use bleach, ammonia, phosphates, etc. And if you do your digging, you'll find that there is a lot of greenwashing out there of these types of products We've found castile soap and vinegar do the trick most of the time with household cleaning. We use a plant-based detergent for laundry and dishes and Jen relies on the SkinDeep Cosmetics database to help us navigate decisions on deodorant, shampoo, soap, body lotion, etc.

None of this (except the vinegar!) is cheap. Even though the CSA and garden save us some money compared to buying organic produce at the grocery store, the rest of our weekly bill is substantial. But we refuse to believe there is nothing we can do but sit back and soak idly in the chemical contaminants.  As far as we are concerned, paying more for healthy food and healthy products is an investment in our children's health and future well-being.

Check back soon for Part II of this series with more tips for protecting yourself and your family from environmental toxins. We realize that our economic privilege allows us to worry about things like the cost of organic chicken, which are completely out of reach for a large number of Americans, so as a follow-up to this series I'd like to give a shout out to some local and national activists/organizations who are making their personal concerns political and aiding those less fortunate in this fight for health and justice. Peace.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thinking Outside The Idiot Box

When I pick my daughter up from school, the first thing she asks is, "What can we do when we get home?"  If I'm not quick enough with a response, which is usually because I don't have a plan, she almost immediately interjects with "Can we watch TV?" She knows from experience that I tend to be more willing to let her watch TV as opposed to the many other more active things she could be doing.  My wife doesn't fall for the coy smile or even the promise of some personal time to relax or catch up on housework, she is far too steadfastly committed to her plans to be duped by her children.  Regardless, I've become particularly concerned lately with the amount of media my children are exposed to on a daily basis, and I'm guilty of contributing to their desire for more passive entertainment. This is not to say that we watch the television all day long; our girls spend much of their time together engaged in imaginative play.  My oldest daughter is particularly resistant to break character, staying engaged in imaginative roles for hours on end. But alas, my children are addicted to images on screen.  This post was not initially meant to be a diatribe about the ill effects of media on children (research has made that point explicitly clear), but I started writing and this is where I end up. Consider for a moment the impact that images children view have on their perception of the world: the roles of men and women, violence, food choices, the value of beauty, and the importance of money; and that's just the commercials.

Earlier this year, filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom made the documentary, Missrepresentation.  The movie focuses on the role media has in shaping the social context in which women and girls are perceived in our society.  I would not have ever seen this movie, which appeared on Oprah Winfrey's cable channel last week, if not for a few independent, strong, female voices encouraging me to see it. This movie challenged my perceptions, and changed my perspective. Here's the extended trailer (probably not appropriate for watching WITH young children, even if you're watching critically).

Being the father of two bright, and beautiful female children, I've come to realize I need to make a change in my behavior and tolerance toward their media diet.  And, that's indeed what it comes down to.  My kids are going on a strict TV diet, in fact, the Koncikowski's are all going on a strict TV diet.  This has been brewing in my mind for some time,  ever since a colleague of mine, a fellow chiropractor, told me that during the summer months, his family turns off all television and the whole family takes in as much reading and recreation as possible.  Our lives right now are extremely busy and we barely have time for all the housework, let alone the recreation we'd like, yet somehow we find time to recreate in front of the boobtube.  That time is a waste, and nothing of value can be garnered from it. Plus, I want my daughters to grow up with the confidence that their intelligence and imagination matter more than their looks or the money in their pockets.  If you agree with this point, then join us by unplugging your television for the month of November.  The Koncikowski's are going to see just how much we can get done without the distraction of the idiot box.  If it works, we may just be forced to sell our television, which brings me to my next point; anyone in the market for a gently used Samsung 42 inch flatscreen? :)

Here is a short list of things you can do with your kids minus television:

1. Practice yoga together
2. Rake some leaves into a pile...jump into the pile
3. Put on some music and have a dance party
4. Teach the kids to help prepare dinner
5. Visit your local library
6. Go through the old toys and children's clothes...donate unused items to charity
7. Assemble a puzzle as a family
8. Take a drive to the country...peep the leaves
9. Write a story together
10. Build awesome roller coasters out of your video cases, books and blocks
I'm sure we'll have to figure out many more.  Wish us luck.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

From Garden to Table

For my first post, I wanted to share a nutritious and delicious recipe for broccoli salad that I made tonight for my family's dinner.  This was no ordinary broccoli salad because the broccoli was grown in our backyard, from heirloom seeds, in organic soil. I want to take you on a journey from farm (or in our case, backyard) to table. My wife, Jeanette, has led the charge in our family not just to grow our own food but to grow it well. I get regular earfuls from her about the importance of soil quality, why we should grow organic as opposed to conventional, and why she starts with pure, non-genetically modified, heirloom seeds.

Now most folks don't know what heirloom seeds are. I certainly had no idea until Jeanette told me. So I want to stop here and offer her quick explanation. Heirloom seeds are seeds that are passed from generation to generation. They preserve our agricultural biodiversity. So for example, most grocery stores and even many farmers at local markets sell only a few variety of apples, even though there are over 10,000 different varities of apples in the world. Those chosen few apple types exist because they hold up well in certain growing climates, are most acceptable for pesticide application, and do better when shipped. If organic farmers and backyard gardeners do not pass down heirloom seeds, we will lose the great diversity the earth has offered us. So let's consider our broccoli. Have you ever seen purple broccoli?  I hadn't, until we grew it.

Homegrown Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli

The funny thing is that our "Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli" sprouted early, but then went dormant in the summer heat. We were about to give up on the patch of broccoli and cauliflower when the weather started to cool and the first heads appeared, just in time for a hearty fall meal.

The nutritional value of broccoli and the health benefits attributed to it make it a true super-food. Phytochemicals in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are linked to prevention of cancer. It's vitamin and mineral profile make it akin to taking a multivitamin in a meal. My advice is to eat more of it and if you can, eat it organic.  I'm sure there are plenty of posts to be written about the importance of organic gardening methods - I'll leave that to another day and get to the good part - the recipe!

Being the main cook in the house, I've grown to appreciate not only the beauty of the heirloom veggies we are growing, but their outstanding taste. And this broccoli was no different. I didn't want to diminish either its pure taste or nutritional load, so I decided to make a raw brocolli salad, bringing together other tastes of fall after raiding our pantry. I invite you, especially if you are one of those people who DON'T like broccoli in general, to try it and leave me some comments with your culinary experience!


1 Head Early Sprouting Purple Broccoli (Don't worry about waiting until next spring to grow your own purple broccoli -  a nice head of organic green broccoli or broccolini will work just as well)
1/2 cup Craisins
1/3 cup slivered, raw almonds
3 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled (omit for a lower fat, vegetarian version!)
1/3 cup chopped Vidalia onion


2 Tbsp Mayonnaise
1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tsp New York Pure Clover Honey
Salt & Pepper to Taste

PREP: Mix dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside. Clean and chop broccoli head into small florets and pieces (especially if serving to children). Put broccoli in large bowl, add chopped onion and crumbled bacon. Add dressing and mix well. Add Craisins and almonds. Mix again and serve immediately or chill. (Serves 4-6)