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.

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