The Health Benefits of Green Construction

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While green construction is often touted for its ability to save companies a great deal of money on energy costs, the health benefits it offers may have a much greater impact on your business. According to Syracuse University’s Center of Excellence in environmental and energy innovation, insufficient indoor environmental quality (IEQ) costs Americans between $40 and $258 billion each year in lost worker productivity. These poor working environments cause health problems in 30 to 70 million Americans each year.

When a building has poor indoor environmental air quality, its inhabitants often suffer from respiratory problems, skin rashes, nausea, headaches, and allergies and other ailments. These health issues are caused by factors such as poor air circulation, bad lighting, mold, tainted carpeting, dangerously high levels of pollutants, extreme temperature discrepancies from one area of the building to another, pesticides, and toxic fumes from paint and adhesives.

Advantages of Green Construction

Environmentally friendly structures offer a much more pleasant and healthier place for their occupants to work. Two of most highly praised benefits of green construction include:

  • Improved Indoor Air Quality

Improving indoor air quality (IAQ) is one of the main goals of green construction. When a building doesn’t have proper ventilation, it can’t get rid of fumes and odors.  Green buildings are constructed from low-emitting materials, but even low-emitting materials need ventilation. During construction of a green building, 100% outdoor ventilation is used to improve air quality. This helps building occupants to be more comfortable, improves well-being, and results in higher productivity. Improved IAQ can have a great long-term impact for companies, including decreased absenteeism and healthcare costs.

  • No Asbestos Risk

Many older buildings were constructed with harmful asbestos insulation, which can cause a type of cancer called mesothelioma. Individuals often aren’t even aware they’ve had contact with asbestos until they’ve been exposed to the deadly material for years, as it often takes a long time for symptoms to become present. When people opt for green construction, they’ll never have to fear exposure to asbestos. An alternative, blown-in cellulose insulation, made from 80% post-consumer recycled newspaper, is commonly used in the construction of green buildings. There are no known negative health consequences associated with this type of insulation, and it’s also treated to resist mold, fire, and insects.

Going Green with Construction

If you’re getting ready to break ground on a new building, consider the many benefits of green construction. The idea may seem overwhelming at first, as there’s a lot to take in, but you don’t have to do it on your own. Look for a green construction company that can help you through the building process, from the first stages of design to completion. Not only will your new green building be environmentally friendly, it will also serve as a much more pleasant place for your employees to spend their days. The resulting higher productivity and lower rates of absenteeism will yield greater profits for your business.

Brandon Hodzic

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Brandon Hodzic writes for LEED consultant Gaia Development, which assists businesses and home buyers with green construction projects.

FOOD FIGHT! – Hip Hop Video Teaches Dangers of Processed Foods

We are fighting for our lives every day with the food choices we make. Photo: Courtesy New Message Media

We are fighting for our lives every day with the food choices we make. Photo: Courtesy New Message Media

In FOOD FIGHT!, a video released early this morning by filmmaker Ben Zolno (New Message Media), a boy runs for his life after witnessing a murder in a convenience store. This murder, however, isn’t done with conventional weapons but with junk food.

What ensues is a life-and-death struggle as citizens of the boy’s community come together to fight against the snack foods that fill store shelves by brandishing real food. It’s billed as a comedic musical, but the message is far from funny: We are dying from the foods we eat while the corporations that manufacture, market, and sell them to us get rich at our expense.

Odd as the story setup is, the battle between healthy and disease-inducing foods is a reality; with every bite and sip we take, we determine how long we will live and how healthy we will be.

I can almost hear readers saying, “Well, that’s obvious.” If it’s so obvious, why are we in a health crisis of obesity? Is it just that we have no self-control? Or does much of the problem lie in the “foods” themselves?

Professor Boyd Swinburn, with the World Health Organizations Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention in Melbourne, Australia, is quoted by CNN Health as saying that nearly all countries, save the very poorest, are experiencing an obesity epidemic. “ ‘There is quite a lot of evidence now coming out that this is being driven by changes in the food system,’  he says. ‘The food supply: increasingly processed, available, affordable and highly promoted tasty food.’”

And, though we say we know better, as a society we persist in our bad eating habits, succumbing to marketing as much as to the addictive appeal of super-sweet, super-sized, super-convenient, processed foods.

What can we do about this (partially self-inflicted) epidemic that is leading to a future in which our children will die at younger ages than their parents?

Taking on the Problem

Zolno and his New Message Media colleagues address the obesity issue through a video their publicists describe as a “cross between Boyz N’ The Hood [sic] and The Matrix.” They’re hoping the video will be picked up by junior and senior high schools, a demographic old enough to understand the implications of the food choices they’re making and young enough to redeem their futures by changing their habits.

The promotional literature accompanying the release describes the match-up between the two films parodied, by saying,

Turning the Boyz N’ The Hood [sic] dynamic on its head — where bad guys robbing a convenience store are now actually putting bad food into the store — seemed a natural response to the irony that people in suits get rich for helping kill kids through diabetes and conversely starving large parts of the rest of the world, while people most affected by it in the US often go to prison for decades, often for crimes largely inspired by circumstances partly created by this corrupt system.

Adding Matrix elements should remind us all that while the odds are against us — that we will escape and rebuild the food and marketing system we blindly participate in like drones — it is ultimately the choice of many individuals who will step up, once we are awoken [sic] by leaders in the movement who can show us that choice.

Watch the video here:


To make life easier for teachers who may want to use the video in their instruction, curriculum expert Vanessa Carter has designed lessons to accompany it. Carter is self-described as “an interdisciplinary high school teacher dedicated to cultivating ecoliteracy and critical thinking skills in youth.” She writes,

FOOD FIGHT! invites students to question their relationships to food, food deserts, food access, global food sovereignty, ecological justice, stereotypes, drug use, racism and more. Young people are experts at consuming media. This film asks them to polish their media literacy skills, question their relationships to the systems around them and join a movement.

While a semester course could be devoted to deconstructing all of the issues raised in the film, I encourage teachers to include FOOD FIGHT! in their students’ experience, if only for one lesson!  They’ll find the video online and continue to explore the questions most salient to their communities.

The artists dedicated to making this film a reality are all solutionaries, engaging in the world at critical leverage points and inviting change towards a more healthy, just and vibrant world.

Shaking Things Up

FOOD FIGHT! and the curriculum accompanying it provide a powerful one-two punch that promises to shake viewers out of the complacency that plagues us. And it promises to shake up the consciousness of some of the most vulnerable kids, those who live in food deserts in our inner cities.

Recognizing the problem is a first, giant step, and the video makes the problem very clear. But recognition is nothing unless we are also willing to change our behavior. And that’s the purpose of the curriculum.

Julia Wasson


Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)B

Oh, My Aching Back! (Before Topricin)

January 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, Front Page, Health, Reviews, Slideshow

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Topricin Pain Relief and Healing Cream

Topricin is a soothing homeopathic cream that reduced the swelling from my injury and relieved my pain. Image: Courtesy Renee Hewitt

Though I definitely don’t like pain (what sane person does?), I’m not a fan of taking anything but absolutely necessary prescription medicines, chemical-laden ointments, or drug-store pills and potions. So I have to be pretty desperate to resort to a new pain reliever. And when I do, I want it to work pronto! That’s rarely the case in reality. But Topricin Pain Relief and Healing Cream has been a very pleasant surprise.

As Draco raged around us in December, Joe and I worked to maintain a clear path for pedestrians so their snow-packed footprints wouldn’t make our sidewalk even more treacherous. This meant we were in and out of the house a few times during the blizzard.

Joe, Wearer of Sensible Shoes (with actual tread), had no trouble remaining upright. I, Wearer of Ancient, Comfortable Shoes (with worn soles), wasn’t so lucky (or so smart, I suppose). Coming in from outside, I slipped in our kitchen and fell. My bruised hip complained a bit for a few days, but the worst damage was a dislocated rib.

My rib pain increased over the next few, housebound days. When a rib is “out,” that’s no small thing. Sleeping hurts. Standing hurts. Sitting hurts. There’s not much that doesn’t hurt.

Worse yet, our chiropractor was on vacation. Ibuprofen might have helped, but it’s just not friendly to my body. So, I gutted out the pain and tried not to move much. Sleeping was the worst torment, as no position was comfortable. Weary from lack of restful sleep, I finally remembered I had an unopened sample box of  Topricin Pain Relief and Healing Cream that had arrived before Draco roared in. Why not try it now?

I was lukewarm to the idea, as I don’t find the much-touted creams and ointments much more than a distraction with their cold/hot aftereffects. Still, I was ready to try most anything, so I picked up the Topracin box. I was surprised to read that, instead of a lengthy list of possible dangers associated with its use, the box stated, “No side effects.” NO side effects? Will this stuff do anything? I wondered.

Ah, Relief!

Fairly desperate for distraction, if not relief, I asked Joe to rub Topricin on my painful back one night. Surprisingly, it didn’t sting, but felt creamy and soothing.

After shifting my weight oh-so-carefully in an effort to get comfortable, I managed to fall asleep. Unlike the previous three nights, I stayed asleep. I awoke in the morning feeling refreshed. I still had pain, but it wasn’t as intense; some of the swelling seemed to have gone down. So, after my shower, I applied it again. That day, I had several hours of tolerable pain — not quite comfort, but definitely more tolerable than the day before. The effects seemed to wear off by afternoon.

For three days, I followed the nighttime and morning Topricin-application ritual. And for three days, I was able to focus on something other than my aching back. But, as so many of us do when we think we’re “better,” I forgot to continue the treatment. The swelling and more-intense pain returned. Back to Topricin I went.

Eventually, my chiropractor came back to work, and he popped my back into place, removing the need for creams of any kind. Now, that was complete relief; no more creams required. (Thanks, Dr. Jason Bradley!)

A Variety of Uses

Oddly, when I rechecked my inbox to find the product information to write this post, I realized that Topricin is not necessarily intended for aches and pains like mine. It has a host of other uses, including soothing “winter skin.” The following is from the press release I received.

Topricin brings soothing relief to uncomfortable dryness of the skin on the face, hands and feet and provides rapid healing and relief for symptoms associated with:

• Rosacea
• Eczema
• Psoriasis
• Calluses and dry flaky heels
• Dry, cracked skin
• Sun and wind burn

So what happened? Did Topricin really work? Or was this simply a case of the placebo effect operating in full force? I will concede that possibility; after all, I had desperately wanted it to work.

What’s in Topricin?

Concerned that I might be inadvertently extolling the virtues of a product without real merit, I checked the ingredients list on the Topricin website (we’d already recycled the box). Here’s what I found.

Topricin® Ingredients:

Aesculus hippocastanum 6X……….. Relieves pain in the lower back, hip and spine
Arnica montana 6X…………… Treats pain of impact, falling injuries and contusion to muscles and joints
Belladonna 6X…………….. Treats muscles spasms, night leg cramps
Crotalus horridus 8X……… Relief of impact injuries and deep muscle bruising
Echinacea 6X……………… Relieves sharp stitchng pain in joints and muscles
Graphites 6X………………. Relieves skin conditions
Heloderma 8X…………….. Relief of burning pain in the hands and feet
Lachesis mutus 8X………. Relief of sciatic pain and carpal tunnel
Naja tripudians 8X……….. Relieves nerve injury pain
Rhus toxicodendron 6X…. Pain relief for muscle cramping, joint and post-surgical pain
Ruta graveolens 6X………. Relief of injuries to the knee, shin and elbow

Purified Water with solvent-free Coconut Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Medium Chain Triglyceride

Some folks dismiss homeopathic remedies as hokum. I can’t say I have an opinion on those remedies in general. But I firmly believe (and Joe can testify) that Topricin greatly reduced my pain and swelling after my fall. Whether it was due to my overactive imagination or the homeopathic ingredients, I can’t say for sure. Either way, it worked wonders for me.

Give it a try for one of its myriad uses, then let us know if your experience was the same as mine.

Julia Wasson


Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

The Fine Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a complimentary sample of the product reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided. Our policy is to review only those products we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a product more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free products and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.


What’s the Big Deal about Asbestos?

March 31, 2012 by  
Filed under Asbestos, Blog, Cancer, Front Page, Health, Slideshow

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Tiny asbestos fibers from industrial waste cut like glass shards in the lungs. Photo:

Tiny asbestos fibers from industrial waste cut like glass shards in the lungs. Photo:

They sound so harmless: tiny mineral fibers, interspersed throughout rock deposits, mined for their natural insulating qualities. Just how bad can these asbestos fibers be?

Just ask any of the 3,000 Americans who are diagnosed with mesothelioma in any given year – or any of the thousands of others diagnosed with different asbestos-related diseases: Asbestos is much more dangerous than it sounds.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is commonly found in old construction materials, such as these broken tiles. Photo: (c)

Asbestos is commonly found in old construction materials, such as these broken tiles. Photo:

Found all across the world, including major deposits in Canada, China, Russia and Australia, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that can be classified into six different types:

  • Chrysotile
  • Amosite
  • Crocidolite
  • Tremolite
  • Anthophyllite
  • Actinolite

Each of these types of fibers was found to be excellent at fireproofing industrial materials, and they were used in countless industrial products until the 1980s. Inexpensive and readily available, asbestos was a preferred ingredient in insulation, paint, shingles, tiles, caulking and various other construction products.

However, even during the peak of industrial asbestos use, many health professionals were warning companies about the health risks that asbestos industry workers faced. Use of asbestos fibers continued on – unregulated – until the 1980s.

Why is Asbestos Dangerous?

Despite its popularity in the industrial world, asbestos is a class A carcinogen for its association with cancerous diseases.

Since the 1960s, asbestos has been linked to an aggressive cancer called mesothelioma. This primary asbestos cancer is typically terminal, spreading rapidly and causing disabling side effects until it has reached its final stage.

Asbestos is also known to cause ovarian cancer, laryngeal cancer and lung cancer, with up to 4 percent of all lung cancer cases having a link to asbestos. Other several studies suggest a link between asbestos exposure and gastrointestinal cancer and colorectal cancer, while asbestos may also be associated with the following cancers:

  • Kidney cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer

In addition to these cancers, asbestos can cause conditions such as asbestosis (a progressive scarring of the lungs), pleural effusions and pleural plaques. Asbestos exposure can also cause lung damage that makes existing cases of COPD worse than they already are.

How Does Asbestos Cause Disease?

Asbestos exposure – when someone either inhales or ingests asbestos fibers over an extended period of time – can lead to the development of these diseases.

Because asbestos fibers break apart very easily and any sort of disturbance can release them into the air, asbestos exposure can occur any time asbestos (in its natural form or in a finished product) is handled.

Once asbestos has been inhaled, the thin, sharp fibers can easily become lodged within the body. Over time, the fibers cause scarring, inflammation and biological changes that can lead to cancerous and non-cancerous diseases.

For some illnesses, these changes can occur over a period of years, with a latency period of up to 50 years for pleural mesothelioma. As a result, anyone who has been exposed to asbestos during their lifetime should consider regular screenings for asbestos-related diseases.

Faith Franz

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Author bio: Faith Franz is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in whole-body health and medical research to educate the mesothelioma community about the newest developments in cancer care.

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The Healthy Home, by Dr. Myron Wentz & Dave Wentz, with Donna K. Wallace

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The Healthy Home provides a room-by-room description of health hazards that exist in many homes. Photo: Courtesy Vanguard Press

“Is it even possible to make a big enough difference in the world to redirect the current trends? Or will we be battling a new revolutionary challenge of man-made toxins, in which degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s are the norm?” asks Dave Wentz, co-author of The Healthy Home: Simple Truths to Protect Your Family from Hidden Household Dangers.

It’s not a rhetorical question. Wentz really wants to know the answer. He has a young son and, like other conscientious parents of a newborn, he’s concerned about his child’s health and the world he will inherit.

Wentz’s father, co-author, Dr. Myron Wentz, is a noted physician and, according to the introduction, “one of the world’s leading authorities on cellular nutrition.”

Together with author Donna K. Wallace, the Wentzes wrote The Healthy Home. Their motivation? In Dave Wentz’s words, it’s because of—

The hidden dangers of everyday things we consume or that surround us—things that have a direct impact on our health. Yet our governing agencies don’t have the time or means to regulate them, medical professionals choose to ignore them until they reveal themselves as physical symptoms, and regular people don’t even realize they’re an issue…. The deeper I dig, the more I’ve learned that the vast majority of people remain blissfully—and dangerously—unaware.

Reading about the various toxins within our homes can be overwhelming, paralyzing sometimes. Some of us shut down at the seemingly endless reports of parabens in cosmetics, BPA in plastics, fluoride in our water, mercury in our fillings, and on and on and on.

Four Basic Steps

Dave Wentz suggests four steps we can all take to protect ourselves and our families. They’re rules of thumb to live by, even when we don’t know all of the hazards that surround us:

  • Count the cost of convenience. Decide what you can’t live without and reassess the rest, because convenience can kill.
  • Live by the Precautionary Principle—”It’s better to be safe than sorry.” In the process, listen to your instincts. Don’t assume that because something’s common, it’s safe.
  • Let your senses be your guide. In this toxic world, the nose knows.
  • And although the government may choose economy over ecology, do the opposite. Health is more important than money. Don’t wait for others to protect your family—do it yourself, starting in your own home.

Every Room of the House

The Wentzes (with Wallace’s considerable help) walk us through Dave Wentz’s home, doing a room-by-room examination of potential hazards in five sections: Bedroom, Bathroom, Kitchen, Living Areas, and Garage and Yard.

In “The Bedroom,” we learn about clothing so tight that it leaves red lines that constrict the flow of the body’s lymph system. For women, the cause may be a bra, as professional fitters often recommend tight bras for more support and “lift.” For men, it’s more likely to be the waist of pants that no longer fit or too-tight collars and ties that actually impair blood flow to the eyes. In my case, I realize, those tight-fitting winter socks will have to go.

There’s more, of course. Including not only how to get a better night’s sleep, but how to improve your libido by uncluttering your surroundings and getting more exercise. Why “fresh-smelling” laundry contains petroleum compounds that may cause cancer. And how dry cleaning is dangerous to your central nervous system (unless your dry cleaner uses a “green” process).

They also talk about eliminating as many electrical devices as possible from your bedside because of electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Is your cell-phone charging on your night stand next to your alarm clock? Not good.

I was also chagrined to read that the Wi-Fi in our home (and favorite coffee shops, among other hangouts) is potentially dangerous. Darn.

Even Your Clothes May Harm You

Already, in Chapter 1, I see areas where our family can improve—areas I haven’t really given too much thought. Like the fabrics we wear and sleep on.

Back in the 1970s, most adults I knew were so excited to finally have clothes that didn’t have to be ironed. Polyester was, we thought (I certainly thought) a godsend. Not so, the authors say, “polyester is manufactured from petroleum products through a process that involves the use of a metal called antimony. Extended exposure to antimony can adversely affect the heart, digestive system, eyes, skin, and lungs.”

A quick check of my closet reveals a few synthetic items. Maybe not polyester, but definitely not natural fibers. Still not good, I learn:

Perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, which include the nonstick additive Teflon(R), are added to fabrics for durability, stain resistance, and wrinkle resistance. PFCs are extemely persistent in the body because they cannot be metabolized,or broken down. They accumulate in the cells and have been linked to reproductive and developmental toxicity as well as cancers of the liver and bladder. Clothing labeled “no iron” will typically contain PFCs.

What about cotton, silk, and wool? You might think they‘re safe, at least. But not if they’re colored in a process that uses “metals such as cadmium, cobalt, and antimony in the manufacture of dyes.” I begin thinking that I should rid my home of everything but organic fabrics with organic dyes. Yet, that’s not really practical for a person who can’t afford to replace it all.

Tidbits of Health Wisdom

Dave Wentz and Dr. Myron Wentz, authors of THE HEALTHY HOME

Throughout the book, Dr. Wentz provides bits of health wisdom that I find fascinating to learn. It’s not necessarily what I expect in a book I think will be about pollution and dangerous additives, but it’s a pleasant surprise.

For example, Dr. Wentz asks, “Did you know that too little or too much sleep shortens life? Each person’s body is different, so adults need to figure out what is the optimal amount of sleep for them individually.” No. Didn’t know that.

Dr. Wentz also points out, “Your hormone balance, which controls proper cellular function and repair at night, is driven by melatonin. Melatonin is produced when it gets dark, and its production can shut off with just a flash of light.”

I feel like I’m walking through my own home with the good doctor. The lighted clock at our bedside will be turning its face to the wall tonight. (And, it will be moved a little farther away from our heads.)

Because of Dr. Wentz’s expertise in cell biology, the authors have included a series of sidebars, called “Cellular Truths,” which provide medical information about the interaction between various environmental hazards and our cells.

In the “Ask the Scientist” sidebars, Wallace poses questions to Dr. Wentz, and he provides in-depth explanations that explain the scientific answers in easy-to-understand terms.

Don’t Let It Paralyze You

All this information could get a little depressing, if there weren’t something to do about it. At least about some of it. The book provides advice, tips, and helpful ideas for making our homes safer. Not necessarily cleaner, mind you, as Dr. Wentz tells us,

In fact, good, unpolluted dirt is actually good for kids. It’s the “chemical clean” that worries me, along with fire retardants. Our air is actually full of contaminants. We err in thinking that if we can’t see it, there’s nothing there. It’s those microscopic contaminants we need to be concerned about.

Fortunately, the book isn’t intended to instill deep guilt over what we can’t afford to change and can’t completely control. That would be a total turnoff for me, as well as most readers, I suspect.

As Dave Wentz says,

We can’t let it become overwhelming. Once we learn the truth, it’s easy to become despondent about the onslaught of toxins bombarding our bodies each day. Our readers must understand that they don’t have to accomplish everything we recommend in this book. Adopting even one good habit will make a person healthier; several positive changes can improve a person’s quality of life; and with each added step, our readers can extend their lives—and the lives of their family members—by years.

The 284-page book is jam-packed with information that will help each of us make many of those positive changes. And, The Healthy Home is a good read. It’s the kind of book you can pick up with a few spare minutes to yourself and learn (or be reminded of) something that will make you healthier. It’s also a book that you can sit and read for a longer stretch, because it’s just so interesting.

Arm Yourself for Action

Recognizing and understanding the hazards, which this book does well, is just the beginning. It’s time for consumers to face the hazards squarely and correct what we can in our own homes. Then, we can arm ourselves with the information. We can demand that our legislators stop listening to the lobbyists over the scientists who have the public’s best interest in mind. (And then vote them out, if they don’t listen.)

The Fine Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.

Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to review only those books we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by free books and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.

Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with If you purchase this book or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a very small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Slow Death by Rubber Duck

When friends and family ask, “What are you reading?” they can pretty much expect my answer isn’t going to be a mystery or a romance or even an engaging novel (though I do miss great novels), at least these days. So, when my sister-in-law, Judy, and I discussed books the other day, she probably had a pretty good idea of what she was in for.

When I said I’m reading Slow Death by Rubber Duck, at first she laughed — it sounds like a lighthearted title or maybe a bizarre mystery where the victim dies from having a rubber duck stuffed down his throat.

“No,” I said, responding to her quizzical look. “It’s not a mystery. It’s about the toxic chemicals found in all sorts of items we come into contact with each day — including toy rubber ducks.” That got her attention; Judy has grandchildren, one of whom is just six months old. The full title of the book is Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things. (Titled Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health in Canada.) Not exactly a bodice ripper, legal thriller, or gumshoe tale.

Taking Risks in the Name of Science

The information in Slow Death by Rubber Duck doesn’t make for relaxing reading, even though the authors, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, do a masterful job of translating statistics and technical data (sometimes very technical) into highly readable prose. The problem is, the book is about a very unsettling topic.

When I first received my review copy and read the introduction, I was struck by the experiment that forms the basis for the book: The authors voluntarily and quite deliberately exposed themselves to toxic chemicals — lots of them.

Now, why would these men risk their health by loading their bodies with toxins? Isn’t that irresponsible? I wondered. It sounded so dangerous. And, from the way they tell it, their families were none too thrilled by their participation, either.

How They Did It

The scary thing is, the test the authors ran on themselves, the one in which levels of toxins in their blood and urine shot up (“from 64 to 1,410 nanograms per millilitre” of urine for monoethyl phthalate [MEP], for example), involved ordinary exposure to regular household items. They didn’t do anything extraordinary, other than to purposely select products they knew contained high levels of toxins.

Just try avoiding plastics — they're everywhere. Photo: © Maurizio Targhetta -

The authors tried to stay away from products containing the chemicals and metals in question before immersing themselves in products heavily laden with toxins.

Bruce avoided eating fish for one month before the tests, and Rick tried to steer clear of phthalates, bisphenol A and triclosan for 2 days [48 hours] prior to the tests. We measured any increases or decreases by methodically taking blood and urine samples before and after performing our planned activities.

It wasn’t easy to eliminate phthalates and Bisphenol A, as Rick recounts: “This is a lot harder than it sounds. Try it. I dare you.” Because he couldn’t be sure which plastics contain these chemicals, he decided to avoid plastics completely. “I sort of knew it already, but once you start carefully keeping track, it really hits you: plastic has taken over our lives…. I started to realize that virtually everything … with a few notable exceptions … are [sic] covered in plastic.”

To control their exposure to the chemicals they were testing, the men spent two 12-hour days together in Bruce’s condo in their “test room”:

About 10 by 12 1/2 feet, the room was much like any bedroom, TV room or home office in any apartment across North America.

Mimicking Real Life

Looking at their test schedule, I’m struck by how ordinary their testing days were. The only thing that seems at all unusual (to me, a recently converted vegetarian) is that they ate a large amount of fish during the two days. (Fish is a staple in many people’s diets, of course, so I’m the odd one out here.)

Otherwise, the two Canadian environmentalists do mundane activities like drink Earl Grey tea, “drink coffee brewed in a polycarbonate French press,” have a carpet company come “to protect/STAIN-MASTER the test-room carpet & couch,” use antibacterial soap, microwave chicken noodle soup & canned spaghetti “in Rubbermaid microwavable containers,” wash dishes, use lotion, brush their teeth and wash their hands, and so on. Nothing really out of the ordinary at all. In fact, they write, “We set only one ironclad rule: Our efforts had to mimic real life….”

As we started consulting experts and poring over scientific studies, it frequently felt as if we were assembling a giant puzzle. the critical pieces that needed fitting together were a list of chemicals for which there was mounting human health concern, a good sense of daily activities that might expose the average person to these chemicals and the outline of an experiment that would reveal whether these daily activities measurably affect the levels of the chemical in question in our bodies.

Finger-Lickin’ Bad

The authors alternate writing the chapters, each one chronicling his own chemical exposure and test results.

Children ingest phthalates by putting everything into their mouths. Photo: © ping

In Chapter 2, “Rubber Duck Wars,” I found it touching to read Rick’s worries about the phthalates his own small sons are consuming as he writes about the ubiquitous chemical and how impossible it seems to avoid it.

He has very real concerns, as Dr. Ted Schettler, the Science Director at the Science and Environmental Health Network, tells him —

“The child is going to encounter the same environment as an adult but in a different way. They’re going to be playing and moving around in it in a different way and putting their fingers in their mouths much more frequently than you are. They’re going to be more intimately in contact with their physical environment than adults are, and this will be reflected in their level of exposure.”

In other words, by virtue of being closer to the dust bunnies, licking their fingers relentlessly and chewing on phthalate-containing items that they shouldn’t be putting in their mouths, my kids are sucking in more of this stuff than I am.

And so are everyone else’s kids.

It’s Everywhere

In Chapter 3, “The World’s Slipperiest Substance,” Bruce writes about perflurorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a major chemical ingredient in Teflon, Silverstone, and Capstone, non-stick coatings for cookware. PFOA “is considered by many scientists to be toxic and to cause birth defects, developmental problems, hormone disruption and high cholesterol. The EPA has labelled it a ‘likely carcinogen,’ and it’s now found in every corner of the globe,” he writes.

Pans coated with nonstick surfaces contain triclosan. Photo: © ZTS -

To no one’s great surprise, PFOA is also found in drinking water in the town of Parkersburg, West Virginia, where Teflon is manufactured. Bruce writes of the class action lawsuit filed by some of the town’s residents against DuPont, the sole manufacturer of PFOA. It’s an intriguing story, and about as close to a legal thriller as the book gets.

Parkersburg is at the center of the PFOA story. We can all likely think of more than enough examples of people being polluted by the chemical factory or toxic waste dump ‘next door’. And this is one of the dimensions of the Parkersburg experience. But the tale of Parkersburg may be the first environmental-disaster story in which a small town is also responsible for contaminating the entire world and almost every living thing in it.

“It turns out that DuPont knew of health risks associated with PFOA as far back as 1961,” Bruce writes, though the company wouldn’t admit to it when sued in 2001. This chapter alone makes the corporation seem to be out for profit at any cost, and damn the consumer. ” ‘They knew [PFOA] was in the water, they knew it caused deformities, they knew of the problem and they knew how to solve it,’ ” said Joe Kiger, the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against DuPont.

But there was one surprising result. The authors tried to raise their own levels of PFOA during their experiment, but two days of exposure to what they believed to be Teflon Advanced stain protectant on the test room’s furniture didn’t do the trick. Why not? They later learned that the buildup of PFOA in the blood takes time. Still, they, like just about every other living thing on this planet, already had some levels of PFOA in their bloodstream.

Recommended Reading

I don’t want to spoil the read by giving you a blow-by-blow account of every chapter. And, I really couldn’t, because there’s just so much information woven into each one. But here’s a taste of what you’ll find if you give it a read (and I recommend that you do, whether or not you have kids or grandkids).

Children's pajamas treated with flame retardant chemicals may contain PFOA. Photo: © Lisa Eastman -

In Chapter 4, “The New PCBs,” Rick learns about flame-retardant clothing and “brominated flame retardants, a family of compounds that seems to be repeating the nasty history of PCBs.” Again, Rick uses his own small children’s clothing as an example of the dangerous toxins we unthinkingly expose our little ones to.

Chapter 5, “Quicksilver, Slow Death,” explains how all that fish Bruce ate quickly elevated his blood mercury level. “After seven meals/snacks in three days, I had managed to more than double the mercury levels in my blood! Almost two and a half times, in fact…. After reading these results, I got a firsthand understanding of how communities that depend on fish in their diets can quietly poison themselves.”

Chapter 6, “Germophobia,” Rick explains that the chemical triclosan, which was originally used only in hospitals, is now ubiquitous. You can’t get away from “antibacterial” products. And even if you want to, you’ll find that many people around you are trying to use more and more of them.

The Environmental Working Group has found the chemical in household items as disparate as liquid hand soap, toothpaste, underwear, towels, mattresses, sponges, shower curtains, phones, flooring, cutting boards, fabric and children’s toys. One hundred and forty kinds of consumer products in all.

He goes on to say that, by 2007, the Canadian government had “registered 1,200 brands of cosmetics containing triclosan.”

Who cares?

We all should. According to Stuart Levy, Director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at Tufts University, “wide-scale antimicrobial misuse and related drug resistance is challenging infectious disease treatment and health care budgets worldwide.”

The (Im)Perfect Lawn

And then there’s Chapter 7: “Risky Business: 2,4-D and the Sound of Science.” Here we meet up with pesticides and herbicides. We learn about the health effects of DDT, long-since banned, but still present in our environment, it contributes to both testicular and breast cancers.

And let’s not forget the herbicide named in the chapter title. 2,4-D is used to “beautify” lawns (a matter of opinion), but it’s been banned in some parts of Canada:

Like many pesticides 2,4-D is associated with a number of potentially serious health hazards for humans. In fact, the list of known or suspected health effects reads like an inventory of the worst possible things that could happen to a human…. non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a form of blood cancer), neurological impairment, asthma, immune system suppression, reproductive problems and birth defects….

[I]n a subsample of the U.S. population between the ages of 6 and 59… one-quarter of Americans who had their blood tested in 2001 or 2001 has detectable levels of 2.4-D in their bodies.

So why isn’t 2,4-D banned everywhere?

Danger Lurking in Sippy Cups

In Chapter 8: “Mothers Know Best,” Rick talks about the power of moms to persuade the Canadian government to ban bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that’s frequently found in children’s toys, baby bottles, and sippy cups. It’s also found in the lining of food cans, in microwaveable containers, and in plastic thermal mugs, among a whole lot of other things.

Even your baby's sippy cup isn't safe if it has BPA in the plastic. Photo: © Roberto Anguita -

Rick describes his diet and the containers he used for cooking and eating. It’s not much different from most people who haven’t gone organic and natural — the majority of North Americans, I’d wager: lots of canned food and a couple of Cokes (there’s BPA lining the cans). He made coffee in a polycarbonate French press he purchased at Starbucks, drank it from a child’s plastic bottle, and microwaved his food in a Rubbermaid microwaveable container.

And the result? His BPA levels shot up “more than sevenfold from before exposure to after exposure.”

But there was also BPA in his blood even after trying to detox before the test. I was amazed to learn some of the sources, as was Rick.

So-called “carbonless” paper—the very white, glossy, coated paper that most cash register receipts are printed on these days—has very high levels of BPA. High enough levels that absorption of BPA through the skin on the fingers is likely an increasing source in daily life. printers ink used in newspapers also contains BPA. Because these high-BPA-content papers end up in the recycling bin in many places, levels of BPA in recycled paper are generally extremely high.

Maybe you’d like to know why BPA is such a bad thing to have in your blood. It’s a hormone disruptor that has potentially disastrous effects. In 2005 —

the U.S. National Toxicology Program … raised concerns regarding BPA’s links to early puberty, breast cancer, prostate effects and behavioural problems and highlighted that pregnancy and early life are especially sensitive periods, given higher exposure to the chemical and limited ability to metabolize it.

Remember, BPA is in baby bottles and sippy cups! As I checked on line to find out if the U.S. has followed Canada and the E.U. in banning BPA, I’ve found mention of two bills being “introduced” in the House of Representatives in March 2009. Their intent was to ban BPA in food and beverage containers in the U.S. But I haven’t seen anything that says either bill has been passed. What are we waiting for?

Still, There’s Hope

There’s so much that’s worth reading in Slow Death by Rubber Duck. And it’s not all depressing, despite what I’ve written above. I’ll leave you with a short excerpt from Chapter 9: “Detox.”

It would be easy, given the daunting nature of the toxic dilemma we’ve laid out, to be either paralyzed into inaction or driven to distraction with anxiety or both. But there’s no need for this. We’re trying to instill some concern, not worry. As we outline in this chapter, there are many things you can do to protect yourself and your family. And many that will start to take effect almost immediately.

So buy the book. Learn about the perils of the chemicals discussed in it, then find out what you can do to make your home — and your family’s — a safer, healthier place to live. The book cover lists the price at U.S. $25, and, in my opinion, it’s worth every dime.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living

Fine Print

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Blue Planet Green Living is an Amazon associate. If you choose to purchase this book or anything else by clicking on our Amazon link, we receive a very small percentage of your sale, which goes toward the operating expenses of this website.

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Preventing the Elders You Love from Falling

November 18, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Elders, Family, Front Page, Health, Iowa

Our 90-year-old mother fell and broke her arm. Now we're on a mission to prevent another fall. Photo: Julia Wasson

Our 90-year-old mother fell and broke her arm. Now we're on a mission to prevent another fall. Photo: Joe Hennager

Two weeks before my mother’s 90th birthday, she fell. She stubbed her toe on the carpet while reaching for a light switch, lost her balance and, Bang! She broke her right wrist.

I hustled over to my trusty computer for a little research. Yep. According to the National Security Council, the older you get, the more likely you are to end up in an emergency room from an accidental fall. Each week, more than 30,000 Americans over the age of 65 are seriously injured by falling, and nearly 250 per week die from their injuries.

And this is from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): “1 in 3 seniors fall every year, resulting in 90 percent of senior hip fractures. Of these seniors who fall” — and this is the scary part — “60 percent of them die from complications (Murphy 2000).”

In 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that unintentional falls were the “#1 reason adults over 45 visited the emergency room.”

According to the CDC, here’s how falls in the United States broke down by age group that year:

Ages 45-54:         817,043
Ages 55-64:        633,428
Age 65+:           1,840,117

Following are some more interesting stats from “Preventing Falls in the Elderly,” by K. R. Tremblay Jr., and C. E. Barber (2005).

  • The risk of falling increases with age and is greater for women than for men.
  • Two-thirds of those who experience a fall will fall again within six months.
  • A decrease in bone density contributes to falls and resultant injuries.
  • Failure to exercise regularly results in poor muscle tone, decreased strength, and loss of bone mass and flexibility.
  • At least one-third of all falls in the elderly involve environmental hazards in the home.

Preventing Future Falls

After our mother’s fall, my brother, sister, and I began to analyze all that we have to do to make sure she does not fall again.

We had eliminated all of the obvious trip potentials years ago. She has no steps to go up or down. We have hidden all loose electrical cords and gotten rid of her step stool and her throw rugs, and made sure no pets were underfoot. We put a nonslip surface in her tub, and got her to buy shoes with tread on the soles.

About a year ago, Mom traded in her cane for a good, solid walker. This one has a seat she can use when she gets tired. Aside from wrapping her in bubble wrap, we thought we had her well guarded. Still, she fell.

Risk Factors for the Elderly

In the trial-and-error process of learning how to care for Mom after her fall, we discovered several factors that made her unsteady on her feet. If you are caring for an elderly person, you might want to consider these factors, too.

Eye Glasses: Older people sometimes forget to put their glasses on. And they may not notice just how dirty their lenses are. That’s what happens with our mom. And even though we all pitch in to clean them for her, they’re dirty in no time.

Vision Checks: For most people, vision rarely gets suddenly worse. Most of the time, an elderly person will slowly lose visual acuity — so slowly that they may not always notice that their prescription is out of date. Getting regular eye exams and updating their eyeglasses is especially important for older folks.

Lighting: Dim lights hide all sorts of things, not the least of which are small items on the floor that an elder can easily trip over. Increasing the lumen level in your loved one’s living space might just save their life.

Medications: Check all medication labels to see which ones indicate the possibility of causing drowsiness. You’ll be surprised how many do. The American Academy of Family Physicians provides a list of Drugs that May Increase the Risk of Falling. Another good resource is, which provides essential information about drug reactions. You might also look up your elder’s medications in the Physician’s Desk Reference. Talk with your elder’s doctor or pharmacist if you have any concerns.

Poor Sleep Cycles: Many elderly folks develop poor sleep patterns, waking frequently to go to the toilet or to get a drink of water. Whatever the cause of a broken sleep pattern, the result is often increased drowsiness. By early morning, when an elder feels the urge to urinate, they may collapse from weariness.

Sleeping Pills: To combat this lack of sleep, their physician may prescribe sleep medication. The positive effect is often sufficient rest. But the side effects may include an increased likelihood of dizziness, disorientation, sleepwalking, and falling.

Dry Air: If a dry mouth is one of the reasons your elder gets up at night, consider using a very good humidifier, especially during the winter months. Keeping the bedroom humidity at about 80% will reduce the dry-mouth symptom. Be sure to use an anti-bacterial agent in the humidifier water. And check the water filters frequently to evaluate the need to replace them.

Urge to Pee: If an urge to urinate is the deciding factor for interrupted sleep, limit liquids after dinner to keep the bladder as empty as possible. This may eliminate half of those toilet runs.

Even a simple family birthday party can add to an elder's stress. Photo: Joe Hennager

Even a simple family birthday party can add to an elder's stress. Photo: Joe Hennager

Caffeine: If caffeine keeps your elder awake, eliminate it from their diet after lunch. This includes all caffeinated sodas and chocolates.

Supplements: Some dietary supplements can also excite the metabolism. Most vitamins and supplements are taken in the morning to reduce the chance of a raised metabolism at bedtime. If you have questions, check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Fiber: Eating enough fiber during the day regulates bowel movements, another of those urges that may catapult your senior out of bed.

Calcium: Calcium is necessary for bone strength. Milk, cottage cheese, cheese, white and navy beans, tofu, soy beans, oats, cereals, grains, nuts, almonds, sesame, broccoli, okra, oranges and orange juice, fish and turnip greens all are rich sources of calcium.

Make sure your senior (and you) get the proper dose of calcium to build and maintain strong bones that aren’t as susceptible to fracture.

But be forewarned: calcium supplement pills can cause constipation. Irregularity is another reason elderly folks get up at night. It may be less stressful for your elders to get their calcium via food rather than dietary supplements.

Exercise: If your senior citizen is not getting enough exercise — if they’re sitting all day, as our mother prefers to do — they’re losing muscle tone and may be lowering their total blood pressure and heart rate. Extremely low blood pressure can cause dizziness upon standing. The heart is a muscle that needs to stay active. It is incredibly important to maintain a regular pattern of movement and exercise throughout one’s whole life.

An age-appropriate exercise program will help build physical strength. Consult your loved-one’s physician about the advisability of a regular physical therapy program. Building strength and stamina will decrease the likelihood of falls. Physical training also helps improve coordination and balance. The Oregon Research Institute found that “a Tai Chi program based on a randomized controlled trial … reduced the frequency of falls by 55 percent” in people aged 65 and older.

Stress: Don’t underestimate the stress that even seemingly small changes can cause — let alone major events like a 90th birthday party. Our mom finds every trip to the doctor exhausting and nerve-wracking. She was apprehensive for a full month before her 90th birthday party — though it went off without a hitch, and she reported having a great time. When an elder is stressed, this too can lead to poor sleep patterns, which then can result in tiredness, dizziness, and possible falls. (And, as if you don’t have enough to worry about, don’t forget that every trip to a doctor’s office is another potential exposure to H1N1 and the regular flu.)

The Child Becomes the Parent

So, here we are, making sure our mother has someone with her every time she stands and walks. We have begun to adjust her diet, her supplements, and her medications, including trying different sleep meds. We are working with her exercise program, getting her to walk a few laps up and down the hallway every day. She is getting stronger, and with better sleep, she’s less disoriented. We’re hoping that, together, we can help to prevent a second fall.

We feel blessed that Mom only broke her wrist and not her hip. According to the AMA, 24 percent of all people suffering a hip fracture die within a year of falling, and another 50 percent never return to their prior level of mobility and independence; they never get out of their wheelchair. Mom is not ready to live in a wheelchair, and none of us is ready for her to die. So our vigil continues.

If your elder loved one is in danger falling, assess their surroundings, their diet, their medications, and their sleep. Falling is one disaster you may be able to prevent.

And while you’re caring for your parent, don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Joe Hennager

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

An Upside to the Downturn – One Psychotherapist’s View

It's time to get off the treadmill and focus on more important things. Photo: © Monika Adamczyk -

It's time to get off the treadmill and focus on more important matters. Photo: © Monika Adamczyk -

Green living isn’t just about being eco-friendly in ways that prevent pollution. It’s also about a way of life that values the world around us and honors it with our attention. Or, so it seems to us at Blue Planet Green Living. The treadmill life keeps us from enjoying the world around us, and if we can’t pay attention to it, we tend to forget to care for it. Contributing writer Abby Seixas provides us with reflections on the value of getting off the treadmill. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

One of my favorite cartoons from The New Yorker shows two mice with two exercise wheels side by side. One mouse is running frantically around his, while the other, sitting still on the edge of the wheel, says, “I had an epiphany.”

The cartoon speaks to the territory I deal with all the time in my work as a psychotherapist specializing in issues of life balance: the elusive change of mind and heart that enables a person to shift from running endlessly on the treadmill of our culturally sanctioned 24/7 way of life, to being able to slow down, or, dare I say it, even to stop every now and then.

I’ve spent the last 15 years helping women intentionally slow their pace in order to experience less stress and more depth and meaning in their everyday lives. In a culture that so highly values speed and efficiency, that’s a humbling proposition, in my own life as well as that of my clients and the women in my groups.

However, the task becomes much easier when certain life circumstances come into play. Circumstances such as:

  • death of a loved one
  • serious illness
  • job loss
  • divorce
  • some other major life crisis

Difficult life events tend to throw people off the treadmill, forcing them to slow down. Often, this downshifting results in asking themselves tough questions, reevaluating their priorities and ultimately (though certainly not without pain), making significant positive changes in how they live their lives.

The experience of a client of mine whom I’ll call “Louise” is a good example of a difficult event leading to a major, positive life reorientation. A mother of two who worked full-time, the event that shifted Louise’s own life dramatically happened to someone she was close to. Louise had worked hard for fifteen years at a job in sales which, she said, “sucked the life right out of me.” Looking back at her life then, she described it as “totally externally focused, driven, and very out of control.”

Relaxing together is a great way to enjoy each other. Photo: © iofoto -

Relaxing together is a great way to enjoy each other. Photo: © iofoto -

During that time, one of Louise’s friends was in a very severe car accident. It was unclear whether she would survive. During one of the first nights that her friend was in the hospital, Louise slept only intermittently, thinking and dreaming about her and her family for what seemed like most of the night. She said, “Toward morning, just as I was awakening, I had this thought about my friend: ’Even if her life is over now, she can know that she has done a great job as a mother.’ Then all of a sudden, I applied that thought to myself, and I remember the clutching feeling in my chest. It was a visceral reaction as I thought: ’If I were to die tomorrow, that couldn’t be said about me.’”

She saw that she had been run so ragged by her job that she wasn’t “living her values,” which to her meant putting her children first. The incongruity between what she believed in and how she was living was so stark and jolting to her in that moment that she had to act. “I gave my notice to a job that I’d had for fifteen years. I didn’t go for options. I didn’t think about how else I might resolve this. It was completely: I’ve got to stop this freight train, and get off.”

The next several months were hard in a different way for Louise. She was at home and spending much more time with her children, but she still felt driven and could not settle down. “I was sewing pillow-covers with a vengeance! I felt enormous stress, but now most of it was self-generated.”

Eventually, in an effort to address the stress she was feeling both physically and emotionally, Louise attended a weekend retreat that included some guided visualization. At first, she had trouble focusing her attention inwardly, but on one of the “inner journeys,” she found herself able to truly go inside, and her inner world opened up. She went in her mind’s eye back to her childhood home, and re-contacted a deep sense of loneliness that had been with her often as a child. She realized that in her adult life, the “freight train” energy that caused her so much stress was fueled in part by trying to avoid the old feeling of discomfort with loneliness from her childhood. This awareness helped her with the changes she wanted to make.

Later she said, “I had lived my life for so long in an outer fashion, and I was so out of synch and so screwed up. I had some sense that I needed to look inside, but it was so hard. I didn’t know how to do it.”

Her weekend retreat was the beginning of an inner exploration that led Louise to one of my groups, and eventually, as her children got older, to an entirely new career that connects back to that early-morning moment that affected her so profoundly: She teaches, trains and writes about parenting skills.  She says, “What I’m doing now uses all of who I am: my professional experience, my skill, my education. And it’s married to my passion. So it’s very powerful for me. And now, because what I’m doing is inner-driven, there’s an energy and an authenticity about it that keeps me going.”

*     *     *     *     *

I see a striking parallel between this process of personal transformation and the societal shift we are experiencing with the economic downturn.

We are in crisis.

We have been thrown off the treadmill.

We have an enormous opportunity to ask tough questions and reevaluate our priorities. What is sustainable growth? How much is enough? What is real wealth? How do we go forward from here?

Australian environmental business expert Paul Gilding has called this time, when we have hit the wall both economically and ecologically, “The Great Disruption.” Thomas Friedman of The New York Times quotes Gilding: “We are taking a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder. No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply.”

This is precisely what so many of us are doing in our daily lives: pushing our wonderful systems — our bodies and minds — to the breaking point with over-crammed schedules, incessant distraction and interruption, and non-stop busyness. Because the laws of physics and biology still apply, some of us do reach the breaking point. And it is there that transformation often begins.

As a psychotherapist, when I see continuing headlines about layoffs, rising homelessness and other forms of bad economic news, I take heart from having witnessed so many individuals who have reached the breaking point and from there, fashioned new lives that are slower and more balanced, healthier, richer with meaning and purpose, and more conducive to happiness. My hope is that the economic crisis can lead us, collectively, along a similar path.

Abby Seixas
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Contributing Writer
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Go Shoeless Indoors for A Healthier Home

August 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Contamination, Front Page, Health, Homes, Kids, Pollution

If the whole family takes off their shoes, the floors stay cleaner for everyone. Photo: © Sean Prior -

When the whole family goes shoeless, the floors stay cleaner. Photo: © Sean Prior -

Several years ago, when picking up my preteen daughter from her friend’s house, I was invited into the living room to say hello to the girl’s mother. The family had immigrated to the US from Korea a few years before, and the mother looked at my feet in silent consternation. Although she politely refrained from mentioning it, I followed her gaze to the shoes on my feet and realized I’d made a mistake. I’d noticed the family’s shoes lined up on a rug near the door, but had thought little about them. I was only there for a moment, and didn’t take the time to take off my shoes.

I was unaccustomed to taking off my shoes indoors. And, until that moment, it didn’t occur to me that I was being rude as a visitor in their home. For years afterward, I thought it simply a reflection of their culture that the family chose not to wear shoes inside. Now, I finally understand that there’s also a health reason for going shoeless.

Of course, none of us want mud and dirt tracked into our homes. It’s messy and requires clean up. For a long time, that’s the only consequence I considered. Then, when reading a blog post by Laura Dern at Healthy Child Healthy World this past April, I learned that “dirt” is only part the story.

I thought about this topic again on Saturday, after helping family members renovate a rental house that had been trashed by their tenants. The filth the renters left behind was incredible, and we were all forced to walk in it as we tried to clean the mess and repair the damage. When Joe and I got home, weary and grimy, I trudged up to the bathroom to take a shower. As I was undressing, I realized that I had tracked through the house wearing athletic shoes contaminated with all sorts of disgusting things on the soles. I’d forgotten to take them off at the door. The thought nearly made me ill.

Where Have Your Shoes Been?

Where have your shoes been? Photo: © Mark Lively -

Where have your shoes been? Photo: © Mark Lively -

Even if you haven’t been cleaning up after irresponsible renters, when you or your visitors walk inside your home wearing outdoor shoes, you may track in a host of unhealthy substances without even knowing it:

  • Herbicides and pesticides from neighboring lawns
  • Antifreeze, tire rubber, hydrocarbons, and even lead from nearby streets
  • Lead dust and asbestos particles (from remodeling), concrete dust and drywall dust from construction sites
  • Animal (and sometimes human) urine, feces, and  dander, and dead bugs from sidewalks, lawns, and alleys
  • Overflowed-toilet water and urine from public restrooms
  • Gasoline, antifreeze, motor oil, and spilled beverages from gas stations

These are just the examples that come readily to mind as I write this post. But there are so many more unhealthy chemicals and unsavory substances that cling to the bottoms of our shoes, depending on where we trod.

Wipe Your Shoes

Fortunately, the solution is simple: If you do nothing else, buy a good-quality doormat and wipe your shoes. According to CleanLink, “ISSA [the foremost cleaning industry trade association] estimates that roughly 80 percent of all the soil, dust and contaminants found within a facility are tracked in on the shoes of staff and building occupants. The use of entry mats can reduce this percentage and help lower housekeeping costs.” Although the ISSA statement is about businesses, it’s not much of a leap to apply the same rule of thumb to our homes.

Even teens like to lounge on the floor sometimes. Photo: © IKO -

Even teens like to lounge on the floor sometimes. Photo: © IKO -

CleanLink goes on to say, “Experts comment that the cost of removing a pound of dirt can exceed roughly $500. The average-sized building with comparable people will track in on their shoes over a pound of dirt a week in just one entryway. If there are five entryways, that is five pounds of dirt or $2,500 in cleaning costs, a significant savings if matting is implemented.”

It’s the rare home that gets as much foot traffic as an “average-sized building.” But if you have carpeting at home, dirty shoes will cost you in cleaning bills, too — though far less, because your traffic is substantially less.

While you may not lounge on your carpet, if you have kids — from babies to teens — the carpeting in your home likely comes into contact with your children’s skin and is in close contact with their respiratory systems on a daily or weekly basis. Eliminating 80 percent of the dirt and contaminants can make a huge difference in your family’s exposure to toxins, many of which you can’t even see.

Take ‘Em Off

Babies deserve clean floors to crawl and explore. Photo: © Monkey Business -

Babies deserve clean floors to crawl and explore. Photo: © Monkey Business -

Better yet, after wiping your shoes, take them off and leave them on a rug or mat by the door. If bare feet are not to your liking, put on socks or slippers. As long as you aren’t tracking in outside dirt, your floors should be clean enough for naked feet — and crawling kids.

But what about guests? Do you ask them to bare their tootsies (or the holes in their socks)? That’s up to you, of course, but I find that most people offer to take off their shoes when they see the host or hostess doing so. If someone refuses, it’s not the end of the world — and needn’t be the end of your friendship. (You never know why they don’t want to show their feet. Maybe they’ve got an ugly mole or bunions or some disfigurement they’re embarrassed of.) It is fair, however, to ask that they wipe their feet carefully. If you have kids, you might even gently mention that you remove your shoes to protect your children. Most folks with a heart will respect that.

Julia Wasson


Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

T. I. Williams, Contributing Writer

T. I. Williams is a baker and live foods chef-educator based in New York City and, on occasion, Jamaica. Williams explains her philosophy at Live Sip this way:

T. I. Williams, owner of Live Sip. Photo courtesy: T. I. Williams

T. I. Williams, owner of Live Sip. Photo courtesy: T. I. Williams

Every food that is perfect is in easy reach. Live Sip teaches people about food in their most vital states to help folks eat a lil’ bit of what’s perfect and good every day… slow foods, traditional foods, raw foods, complete foods, grandma’s foods… We support the foods that have sustained humankind for most of our existence.

T. I. Williams

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

T. I.’s Posts

Farm to Table’s 100-Mile Menu Coming Soon to NYC

Good Beer at BAM Fundraiser Is Something to Savor

The New Deal Supper Club – A Moveable Feast

The New Deal – A Progressive Supper Club

Zamu – A Healthy Blend of Fruits and Herbs from the Amazon Herb Company

The Amazon rainforest is full of plants, herbs, and wildlife. Because of this, the Amazon rainforest has gained a reputation as being one of the best natural pharmacies for not only known remedies that originate in the forest, but for its massive potential healing powers as well. The Amazon Herb Company is one organization using the power of exotic fruit to bring health benefits to its consumers.


The Amazon Herb Company produces and markets herbal remedies for all kinds of ailments. These herbal remedies emerge from various wild herbs and fruits found in the Amazon rainforests. Their products range from a Rainforest Treasure Tea, to the natural skin care product line, Lluvia, to their most popular product — Zamu — a blended drink of Amazonian fruits and herbs.  The company is most concerned with environmental conservation and delivering natural health products to consumers without causing any detriment to the rainforests or its inhabitants.

The recommended daily dose of Zamu is only two ounces. Photo: Julia Wasson

The recommended daily dose of Zamu is only two ounces. Photo: Julia Wasson

The founder of the Amazon Herb Company, John Easterling, describes his products as “natural compounds [that] reinforce the body’s vitality.” Dubbed “Amazon John” because of his extensive work in the Amazon, Easterling is passionate about the natural healing properties of the plants in the Amazon and the role the rainforest plays in contributing to a healthy global future. He is especially excited about the company’s most recent offering, Zamu.

Zamu, a drink made from superfruits and herbs, is certified USDA organic and contains no preservatives. It also has a highly concentrated source of immune-boosting vitamin C, which helps to eliminate any free radicals in the body. Other benefits reported by consumers include emotional stability and mood enhancement, anti-aging properties, improved cardiovascular health, and nutrition that supports healthy skin, hair, and nails. It is important to remember, however, that although many people have experienced health benefits from the blended drink, these statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A Synergistic Blend

Each ingredient serves its own purpose in Zamu and is said to function synergistically with the others: Cacao is said to increase blood flow to the brain and is recognized for its antioxidant and mood-enhancing properties. Cinnamon helps to maintain healthy glucose levels. Pineapple contains a high level of bromelain, which has anti-inflammatory potential. And the beta carotene found in mangoes helps improve memory.

Amazonian fruits are also said to pack a powerful punch.  The acai berry is said to contribute to overall good health and may assist in weight loss.

Sangre de drago is also said to promote a natural anti-aging process in the body. Sangre de drago is the Spanish name given to the Dragon’s Blood Tree, which is most commonly known by its Spanish name, even in English-speaking countries. The tree is of medium height, and was named after the red-orange sap that seeps when the tree is injured. The sap itself is particularly useful, because it has many medicinal qualities ranging from treating diarrhea to relief from insect bites. Many naturopaths claim that the sangre de drago contains beneficial anti-aging compounds called proanthocyanidins. As of June 2009, no official research has been completed by the FDA or other recognized institutions to confirm these statements.

What may sound the most foreign to consumers not from South America is the main ingredient in the Zamu drink: the Camu Camu fruit. The Camu Camu tree grows on the edge of the Amazon Basin in Peru. It is most commonly sought after for its fruit. Four months of the year, the roots of the Camu Camu trees are covered by flood waters. When the flood waters settle, so do the nutrients contained in them. These nutrients are then absorbed by the trees.

Some scientists believe that the Camu Camu fruit contains the highest concentration of naturally occurring vitamin C, approximately 30 times more than oranges. The fruit is also rich in iron, niacin, and riboflavin. Camu Camu even contains very high amounts of essential amino acids, which are not naturally occurring in the human body and need to be consumed daily.

The fruit contains significant amounts of luecine, which promotes the production of growth hormones and increases energy; serine, which supports a healthy nervous system, including brain and emotional function; and valine, which is used as a primary energy source in muscular activity and promotes mental health and emotional stabilization. It also contains limonene, a compound thought to reduce appetite, which could then aid in weight loss.

Of course, as with any new food or medicine, consumers should watch for any signs of allergic reaction, stop taking it immediately if one should occur, and consult a physician.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certifies that Zamu is made from an organic blend of fruits. And unlike many of the companies promoting açai berry scams, the Amazon Herb Company received an A+ rating on the Better Business Bureau’s reliability report. In the past 36 months, only one complaint was submitted to the BBB about the company, and the report shows the company responded immediately to the situation.

Giving Back to the Amazon

Amazon Herb Company gives back to the rainforest in several ways. The company employs members of the Shipibo tribe to harvest the fruits and herbs. This benefits the local communities and prevents machines from destroying the land. The Amazon Herb Co. is in partnership with the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER) Foundation, a group dedicated to promoting the conservation of the Amazon Rainforest.

Easterling also said that the company gives 10 percent of its profits to other projects that benefit the Amazon rainforest and its inhabitants. The indigenous people determine how the money should be spent, whether on a new community center, mosquito netting, education, or something else that will meet the community’s needs.

Although clinical studies have yet to be conducted that support all of the health benefit claims of the Zamu drink, in a world full of fast-food joints, you can never get enough fruit in your diet. By consuming the recommended amount of Zamu each day, you can feel good about your body and have a guilt-free conscience, knowing that the rainforest is not destroyed while creating this product. If the drink itself doesn’t give you an extra spring in your step, then knowing that you are supporting the rainforest and its indigenous inhabitants should.

Amazon Herb Company products are available for purchase from independent representatives on the web.

Sabrina Potirala

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Is Your Fish High in Mercury? Safe Harbor Knows

Safe Harbor products are available at select retail locations. Photo: Safe Harbor

I once heard a story about a lonely man who ate a tuna sandwich for lunch every day for 20 years. His cause of death? Mercury poisoning. I can’t say if this is true or not, but it certainly gets the point across: There could be something fishy in your fish.

For years, we’ve been hearing about the potential hazards of eating fish with a high mercury content. But what have we done about it? What can we do about it? Do we eat fish anyway? Or must we say goodbye to the fish we love?

Malcom Wittenberg founded Safe Harbor as a way to help consumers know which fish are safe to eat. Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke by phone with Wittenberg about his revolutionary technology. — Megan Lisman, Intern

WITTENBERG: Safe Harbor sprang from my interest in mercury’s effects on human physiology. In 2000 – 2001, the mercury issue was being widely talked about in the media. I heard commentators noting that humans consume high levels of mercury from seafood. But the problem was difficult to solve, because the only way to test the levels of mercury at the time was in a laboratory, which is very expensive.

I saw a problem with no solution, so I took it upon myself to connect with people I’ve had relationships with for years, who are skilled in science, math, and physics. We sat down and tried to find a solution to this problem. It took us from 2001 to 2004 to create our technology, and we began testing fish commercially in 2004.

BPGL: How did the first test kit work in 2004, and is it the same technology that you use today?

WITTENBERG: Initially, we developed a test kit for the consumer to use at home. The idea was, the consumer would buy the fish and put a small piece of it into a vile, shake it up, and see their results. This way the consumer would know how much mercury was in the fish they were about to eat.

After we spent about a year trying to develop that technology, we conducted several focus groups. We found that most people were not interested in testing the fish at home; they’d rather have the product tested before they bought it. If the test showed a high mercury level, what were they going to do with the fish? They can’t take it back to the store, so they either eat it or discard it. We discontinued research in that area and went back to the drawing board.

Founder Malcom Wittenburg (third from left) stands with Safe Harbor Staff

Founder Malcom Wittenberg (second from left) stands with Safe Harbor Staff

We began developing a robust, electromechanical device that can be brought into a processing facility to test fish as they are caught. Our machine is accurate and fast. It is capable of testing fish at a rate of better than one a minute, and it’s sensitive to 10 parts per billion (ppb).

BPGL: When you say you can “test fish as they are caught,” do you mean that you have someone on board the ship who is doing the testing?

WITTENBERG: Our operators are stationed at docks around the world. We have machines located in Los Angeles; Seattle; Washington; Rome; General Santos City in the Philippines: and a suburb of Santiago, Chile. We will shortly be in Ecuador.

When the ships are unloaded, workers grade the fish. They do this by laying the fish out, taking a small section from each fish, and inspecting the color and fat content. This takes a little bit of time. While that is being done, we are testing the fish with our device. By the time the grading process is over, our testing procedure is done as well, so we don’t disturb the work they are doing.

BPGL: How do you perform the testing?

WITTENBERG: While our specific technology is private to us, I can tell you the way we do it. We created our own biopsy needle that is inserted into the muscle of the fish. It retrieves about a 50 milligram sample, roughly the size of your pinky nail, which is then placed into the device. The machine vacuums up the sample and sends it through the device. A minute later, the operator sees either a red or green screen. If the screen is red, the fish is over the certification level; and if the screen turns green, the fish is at a safer level. For example, with yellow fin tuna the certification level is 0.4 ppm. When the fish passes our screening test, it receives the Safe Harbor tag.

Our testing machine is programmed to the species of fish being tested, the location, date, and the mercury content of that fish. The machine is in internet contact with us at our home office. If needed, we can get on a computer and remotely access any of our testing machines to view the operators’ results.

In addition, the Safe Harbor tag is coded, meaning that the fish can be traced from the time it leaves the plant to its arrival at the retailer. The tag contains the information found which can be used to inform the retailer of the mercury level of the fish, where it was caught, and when it was tested.

Safe Harbor's technology tests the levels of mercury in many species of fish. Photo Courtesy: Safe Harbor

Safe Harbor's technology tests the levels of mercury in all major species of edible fish. Photo Courtesy: Safe Harbor

BPGL: Does your device test all species of fish?

WITTENBERG: We have programmed our machine with all major species of fish that people consume. One day, we will be checking for halibut, and the next day, we will be checking yellow fin tuna. Once the species of fish is identified, the operator simply presses the touch screen to indicate the species they are testing. The machine is then ready to accept or reject that particular fish at the certification level we established for that species.

We test fish of all sizes. Small fish are generally lower in mercury, so we test them in batches. To determine their mercury levels, we plug in a mathematical algorithm that provides us with better than 99 percent accuracy that the batch meets our certification standards.

BPGL: When you’re testing fish on the dock, and you find one that is high in mercury, what do you do with it?

WITTENBERG: The fish that do not pass our certification standards simply do not get tagged with our Safe Harbor label. They go back into the general population of the plant to be sold to other vendors. There is no facility in which we test 100 percent of their output. The customers for the Safe Harbor brand represent a very tiny percentage of the fish coming through a particular facility. We test the quantity of fish needed for the demands of our customer, and never see the vast majority of the fish in the facility.

If fish don’t meet our certification standards, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad fish. We test fish at extremely strict mercury standards. For example, Safe Harbor certifies salmon at a 0.1 ppm. If the operator tests the salmon and it is at 0.2 ppm, that salmon is fine. There is nothing wrong with it. It just doesn’t have the value added that our Safe Harbor label attributes to the product.

BPGL: While your operators are out on the docks, are there any other organizations doing similar testing?

WITTENBERG: Basically, this is the only program I know of that tests fish for mercury. Certainly, the government and the FDA don’t do it. Perhaps they give people the perception that an adequate job is done in testing food being imported in this country, but in reality, that’s not the case.

We know the shortcomings of the FDA testing. They conduct spot checks on some high-mercury fish, like swordfish, but the fishing industry can easily get around those tests.

Unlike Safe Harbor's products, many fish aren't checked=

A typical swordfish weighs anywhere between 125 to 300 pounds. Vendors are bringing in small swordfish, called pups, weighing around 60 to 80 pounds — half the weight of a large swordfish. The vendor will bring in a few hundred pounds of pups in a day. The FDA tests them, and they pass, because they haven’t lived long, so their mercury levels are low.

After the vendor passes the FDA screening with their pups, they will bring in their 250-pound fish that have very little chance of passing the standard. But the FDA will not scrutinize the vendor again for a year, because the vendor has already been cleared as an importer.

BPGL:  Could the FDA benefit from your technology?

WITTENBERG: I don’t know the budget the government has for imported fish testing. But I am aware that the FDA intercepts fish at main ports of entry — usually Miami or Los Angeles — and sends fish from the batch to a lab. So their budget must be somewhat significant.

About a year ago, I met with the head of the FDA in Maryland and offered to put our machinery at ports without any financial impact on the process. I was told they are not interested.

I was informed that the FDA is not a testing organization; they are more interested in messaging. Their focus is to warn consumers, particularly those in high-risk categories, such as pregnant women or young children, to stay away from certain species of fish. That’s where they draw the line.

I told them I didn’t think that our process would interfere with that. They could still message the same way, and do more testing for basically the same budget. But they did not want to get involved with us.

BPGL: How do you think the FDA’s lack of interest affects the quality of fish found in stores?

WITTENBERG: Consumers may be misled to think that products on store shelves meet FDA standards. While it is legal for fish to be sold that does not meet FDA standards, FDA’s 1.0 ppm limit is set so that the FDA can take action if it wishes to do so by pulling fish from the shelf, but that’s never done. In fact, we have conducted random tests on store-bought swordfish and have found the mercury level as high as 5 parts per million. That’s five times the FDA action level. We told them this, but nothing is being done about it.

Retail locations display the Safe Harbor signs to indicate their fish is tested for high levels of mercury. Photo Courtesy: Safe Harbor

For example, in northern California, we bought swordfish at a number of high-profile retail outlets. We bought the swordfish three times a week. We tested swordfish over time. We found that 4 out of 5, or 80% of swordfish tested were over the 1.00 ppm action level of the FDA. FDA data cites the mean mercury concentration level of swordfish at 0.97 ppm. The mean we measured over our random purchasing was 1.63 ppm.

BPGL: What are the dangers for consumers eating fish high in mercury?

WITTENBERG: I’m not a doctor, but I have read a lot on the subject. The best book I read recently is Diagnosis: Mercury. Jane Hightower, a physician at Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, writes about her experiences with patients who suffer from an excess of mercury. She describes some of the symptoms as including: loss of dexterity, loss of memory, fatigue and, sometimes, hair loss.

A huge issue is the unborn. A woman with an elevated mercury level is likely to have a baby born with an IQ 7 – 10 points lower than it otherwise would have had. That’s fairly significant.

BPGL: With what you just said, why would anyone eat fish?

WITTENBERG: Fish is great for you. There’s no question about that. It’s low in fat, high in omega 3s, and a great source of protein. Every physician I know of will tell a pregnant woman to eat fish, but in moderation, and to avoid certain species. It is not wise to eat swordfish or sushi while pregnant, but salmon and shellfish are fine.

The problem is, there are high and low mercury levels within each species and within each catch. But I would say, if someone is going to eat salmon a couple times a week, they’ll probably be okay. The mercury level in salmon is small compared to shark, swordfish, halibut, and tuna; and as long as the fish are smaller, they will be generally okay.

However, we have found examples of high mercury in fish that we were surprised to see. We discovered Atlantic salmon, which is farmed, at six times the FDA-published mercury level maximum.

BPGL: How is it possible for mercury to be in farmed salmon?

WITTENBERG: The waters in the Atlantic are very high in mercury. If you read the statistics, one in five women on the eastern seaboard — particularly in New England — has elevated mercury levels. We think this is because the power plants located in the Midwest and East burn coal to generate power. When the coal is burned, it causes mercury to be spewed into the atmosphere. It is then moved along through the jet stream, which is a westerly wind. By the time the jet steam hits the East Coast; the mercury will be in rain and accumulate in waters along the Georgia Banks, Eastern Canada and along the United States.

Fish is showcased with the Safe Harbor label at the seafood counter in grocery stores. Photo Courtesy: Safe Harbor

We find that fish in the Atlantic have more mercury, in general, than the fish in the Pacific. We tried to establish a swordfish testing facility in the Boston area. But at our certification level of 0.8 ppm, we found only two or three percent of the fish we tested could pass our standard.

BPGL: What about fish raised inside a controlled space? Is it possible to create a safe fish?

WITTENBERG:  Farmed fish, such as tilapia, are low in mercury. If you were to advise someone to eat a safe fish, tilapia would be a good choice. A problem with tilapia is that it doesn’t have the omega 3s that many other fish offer.

But finding a low mercury fish may be getting harder. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimated that there are 12 million acre feet of lakes, waters, and estuaries that are polluted with mercury. That’s about 30% of the waters in the US. We’re not just talking about ocean fish, but also sporting fishing. It’s getting worse, because Asia at one time was an agricultural area, but now it’s industrialized. China and India produce a lot of electricity by burning coal.

BPGL: Do you think this going to kill the fish industry?

WITTENBERG: I don’t think so. Overfishing and failing to engage in sustainable practices are more likely to kill the fishing industry. It depends on consumption level. There is always going to be a demand for fish. Our job is to actually promote fish consumption. We are trying to build consumer confidence; get those who may have strayed away from the fish counter because of the mercury issue to return. We want them to start eating fish again, as we come up with a solution to their problem.

BPGL: Where are Safe Harbor fish being sold?

WITTENBERG: We have retailers located in the US and Italy, and we just began to sell our product in Canada. In the US, we sell to Haggan Markets and Tops Foods, a Seattle-based grocery store chain. And in the greater Bay Area, we sell to independent grocery stores DeLano’s IGA Market, Andronico’s Market, and Woodlands Market. We’re being used by a couple of major chains, but can’t disclose which ones just yet. Several additional chains have shown interest, so we’re making good headway there.

The Safe Harbor label indicates where their product is sold. Photo Courtesy: Safe Harbor

Look for the Safe Harbor logo whenever you buy fish. Photo Courtesy: Safe Harbor

We are also making progress on getting restaurants to adopt our program. The Fish Market’s Northern California restaurants and retail counters have started to use Safe Harbor-tagged products in addition to some other high-end restaurants in California we can’t mention yet. Guests dining at these restaurants will see an asterisk on the menu to indicate that the product was tested and certified.

BPGL: What is sparking this increase in demand?

WITTENBERG: Customer demand clearly drives this program. Unless consumers demand that their fish be tested for mercury, it’s not going to happen. The retailer is not going to do it of their own volition. A major problem we encounter, as we offer our program, is that many retailers do not hear from the public that this is an issue they are concerned about. We believe this is because there has been no solution to the problem until now; people had no incentive to complain about the issue.

An operator in a Miami plant told me a story that is a perfect example of this. His daughter refused to eat fish throughout her three pregnancies, because she was scared about the mercury issue. I’m sure this woman never went to her retailer and said, “I wish you could do something about mercury.” Knowing the man behind the counter couldn’t fix the problem, she simply avoided eating seafood.

If retailers aren’t told of their customer concerns, they won’t adopt mercury testing. It’s a customer-pull situation. Our job is to get consumers to become aware that there is a solution to the problem of high mercury fish.

Megan Lisman


Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Dirty Industries Have a Long Tail of Consequences

June 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Asbestos, Asthma, Blog, Cancer, Front Page, Health, Industries


HAZ-MAT workers properly dispose of asbestos. Photo: © Bernard MAURIN -

HAZ-MAT workers properly dispose of asbestos. Photo: © Bernard MAURIN -

In recent years, there has been a great deal of national attention focused on the improvement of industrial environmental standards. Even as we attempt to rebuild our economy, we seem to be focused on not only restoring industry, but also using this as an opportunity to do it in a way that is not environmentally destructive. This provides us, the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center (MAA Center), and many others the opportunity to improve all aspects of these industries, including the workplace hazards among workers and the all-too-common health hazards affecting members of the surrounding communities.

What many people may fail to realize is that not only does the health of our planet depend on improved environmental standards, but our own health may depend on them as well. Health complications of industry can essentially be divided into two categories, direct and indirect.

Direct health conditions, which have arisen as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, for instance, are increased asthma rates in areas with high smog indices. Even mild cases of asthma can deteriorate overall respiratory capacity over time and leave breathing seriously diminished if the quality of the air people breathe is unimproved. Release of chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere has been shown to lower our filtered sunlight, thereby increasing ultraviolet light exposure. Ultraviolet light has been conclusively linked to skin cancer. Perhaps it is no surprise then that skin cancer incidence in countries like South Africa and Australia, where the atmosphere is most diminished, is much higher than in other areas of the earth.

HAZ-MAT use extreme protection when working with asbestos. Photo: © Bernard MAURIN -

HAZ-MAT workers use extreme precaution when handling asbestos. Photo: © Bernard MAURIN -

Indirect health consequences include those which can be attributed to antiquated industrial infrastructure, including toxin exposure among workers. Oil refinery workers, for instance, are shown to have a much higher chance of developing mesothelioma cancer — a rare disease caused by exposure to asbestos — than those in cleaner industries. While asbestos was banned for most uses in the late 1970s, several of these refineries and factories are still using pre-ban equipment, which is exposing workers to harmful asbestos fibers.

Asbestos exposure is an even more present danger in countries that lack environmental regulations on par with those of the United States. Several of these countries, including Israel and others in the Middle East, have noted, in recent years, a disturbing trend in the rise of asbestos-related disease. Countries with older or antiquated infrastructures are considered those with the biggest asbestos risk pool, as asbestos can still be found in nearly 80% of all structures built prior to 1980. The generational surge in infrastructure improvements, while good for economic growth and stability, may be endangering contractors and municipal workers who encounter the material.

We must continue to urge national and international institutions to improve asbestos regulations and worker safety standards to prevent this problem from growing.

There is a clear advantage to implementation of cleaner, more sustainable energy policies and environmental attitudes, not only for the health of our planet and our posterity, but for that of the world’s population even today.

Bill Hawthorne
Guest Columnist
Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center (MAA)

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Make a Difference in Hunger, One Person or Village at a Time

Comments Off on Make a Difference in Hunger, One Person or Village at a Time

Starvation looks like taut skin over brittle bones. (c) Mickeal IRLES_Fotolia

When most people I know talk about hunger, we are referring to a rumbling emptiness in our stomachs that makes us look forward to our next meal in a few minutes or, at worst, a few hours. We get hungry, but we are far from starving.

Yet I have known plenty of kids whose only meals were the breakfasts and lunches they received at school. I’ve seen hungry people standing in line waiting for a free lunch from volunteers. I’ve filled bags of groceries for hungry families who count on the food bank to supplement the little they have in their cupboards. They lift their own grocery bags and walk to a car or stuff their items into a backpack to find a safe place to eat. This is often what hunger looks like in the U.S. and, I suspect, in other industrialized nations.

But starving? Almost without exception, starving happens in developing nations. Starving looks like taut skin stretched over brittle bones, ribs outlined in scrawny chests, and distended abdomens. Starving is listless people who no longer have enough energy even to stand, let alone carry food. Starving is a slow march to death.

The lack of adequate nutrition kills some 5 million (5,000,000) people per year, according to Wiki Answers. About 30,273 people die every day from starvation. Those are staggering numbers.

To put it in perspective, consider this fact from the United Nations Millenium Development Group (UNMDG) report: “Every day, nearly 7,500 people become infected with HIV and 5,500 die from AIDS…”  So AIDS, about which we hear so much, kills only a bit more than one fifth the number of those who starve to death each day.

Poverty in developed nations generally means hunger, not starvation. Photo: © Xavier MARCHANT-

Why don’t we hear more about hunger and starvation? Or do we hear, but we just don’t listen? Maybe we’ve become inured to the photos of children with distended bellies and sticks for legs and arms, and mothers so devoid of hope that they stare without expression while holding a skeletal toddler. Perhaps we’ve grown weary of hearing of other people’s troubles when we ourselves are struggling to make ends meet. There is hardship everywhere, and we cannot, as individuals, save the world.

Relief agencies cry out for money to buy food for the masses in refugee camps and disaster areas. That humanitarian effort is a vital one, but something else has to happen, too. If all we do is provide food for people without also providing education, jobs, and safety, we have simply extended the inevitable spiral toward death by a few more days, weeks, or months.

Target 3 of the UN’s Millenium Development Goal is “Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.” This is a complex issue, as the report goes on to explain:

Overall, most poor people are caught in a vicious circle. Breaking this circle requires an array of simultaneous actions: a single intervention is unlikely to be sufficient. Governments should ensure that poverty reduction is mainstreamed into all policies, ranging from national macroeconomic strategy to local-level administrative actions. Particular attention should be paid to the creation of additional opportunities for decent work. Public investment and public institutions should endeavour to target the poor, particularly in their expenditures on education, health and infrastructure.

Ensuring gender equality and empowering women in all respects – desirable objectives in themselves – are required to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to ensure sustainable development. The limited progress in empowering women and achieving gender equality is a pervasive shortcoming that extends beyond the goal itself. Relative neglect of, and de facto bias against, women and girls continues to prevail in most countries. As an indispensable starting point for women’s betterment in later life, all countries that failed to achieve gender parity in primary and secondary enrollment by the target year of 2005 should make a renewed effort to do so as soon as possible. Improved support for women’s self-employment, and rights to land and other assets, are key to countries’ economic development. Above all, however, achieving gender equality requires that women have an equal role with men in decision-making at all levels, from the home to the pinnacles of economic and political power.”

Give to organizations that will empower people. Photo: ©TheFinalMiracle_Fotolia

These are ambitious goals, and I would love to see the nations of the world take leadership and give equal educational opportunity to girls and boys, provide equal job opportunities (with equal pay for equal work) to women and men, and protect women and girls from the gender violence that (though not mentioned in this report) puts them at risk of rape and abuse both at work and at home. By providing such opportunities, governments can help people rise from poverty and gain the means to feed their families and themselves.

You and I alone can’t change the policies of nations. But we can each make a difference to one person, one family, or one village. We can give to charities that fight hunger directly, of course, but a far more potent solution is to give to organizations that empower individuals to feed themselves, attend school, or start a business of their own.

In the next few days, we’ll look at the Heifer Project, Kiva, and the Grameen Bank. These are three important weapons that help families and individuals fight the deep-seated economic and social problems associated with poverty and starvation. If you have suggestions of other organizations that are battling poverty and starvation through empowerment, let us know who they are, so we can spread the good word about their work, too.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Swallowing Your Pride to Put Food in Your Stomach

A week's rations at the food bank — once the soy-containing items are culled. Photo: J Wasson

I was at the local food bank today, having given a ride to a friend. He’s talented and capable, but temporarily out of work and low on resources in this tough economy. The experience was a painful one for him, and I write this with his reluctant permission. He wishes to be anonymous, he says. He’s embarrassed that he has to avail himself of these life-saving services. He’s not alone.

In the short time we were there — possibly 15 or 20 minutes — three dozen people crossed our paths, arriving, waiting, leaving. Ours is a relatively small city of 60,000 or so. I can only imagine the numbers of hungry residents lining up for help in Dallas, New York, or downtown L.A.

Our local food bank is a compassionate place. The folks who go there for help are treated with dignity and respect by the staff and volunteers. Clients are treated like human beings, not like numbers. And yet, there seemed to this observer to be a pervasive sense of embarrassment among many of them. I saw several people quickly scan the waiting room, then furtively watch the door as they waited for their names to be called for a bag of groceries. Others’ heads were lowered and their shoulders hunched, perhaps in defeat, perhaps in an attempt to draw inside and become as small as they could.

Not all reacted the same way. Two women stood at the entrance, openly snacking on a bit of this pastry and a mouthful of that fruit bar. The elder of the two tossed boxes of generic macaroni and cheese onto a worker’s cart as he passed her. “I don’t want no more of that crap,” she said sharply. “Every week, it’s the same bad stuff.” The worker took her comments in stride, smiling. I got the impression that he’d heard the same story many times before.

Canned beef stew contains two forms of soy. Photo: J Wasson

In the center of the reception room, people gathered around a large table loaded with cartons of soy yogurt, wilted greens, organic sour cream, French onion dip, cottage cheese, and a few stray cans of fruits and vegetables with unappealing labels. Bread racks on two sides of the room were loaded with loaves of French bread, wheat bread, ciabatta rolls, and dinner rolls. All this is a bonus; clients can help themselves to as many of these items as they can carry. And they do.

When their names are called, each person gets a single bag of groceries assembled from the donations of concerned citizens and businesses. The intake form asks about dietary restrictions, and my friend wrote “Soy Allergy” in big letters. He might not die from eating soy, but he suffers with welts that last for more than a week. He is understandably cautious.

In his bag of groceries, allowed once per week, at least three quarters of the items listed soy in the ingredients on the labels. Coffee cake: soy lecithin and vegetable oil (may contain soy). Canned soup: contains soy protein. Canned chili: contains soy protein. And soy and soybean oil and more soy and soybean oil. “Go back and ask them again,” I said, trying to be helpful.

“I heard you shouldn’t make trouble, because they’ll remember the name on your slip and give you all the bad stuff the next time,” my friend said. But after looking at the slim pile of groceries remaining in his bag, he went to the counter and asked to exchange. A second try, and the volunteer cheerfully brought him a small bag of Doritos (soy ingredients). He also handed my friend a few cans of tuna and some beef jerky — which one might expect to contain just tuna and just beef.  “These should be fine,” the man said. My friend checked the labels and said, “Thanks for trying, but all of these list soy in the ingredients.”

“What can you eat?” the volunteer asked. I thought he sounded exasperated, but he surely couldn’t have been as exasperated as my friend, who kept his cool through the whole ordeal. A third try, and he brought out two small, sealed snack packets, one containing tuna and the other shrimp. No soy this time, but not enough food to get through the week, either, after having to forgo the soy-inclusive items (canned beef stew, etc.) that had formerly filled the bag.

The canned fruits and vegetables in his shopping bag were the cheapest quality goods on any grocery store shelf. I get it that the food bank needs to stretch its dollars as far as it can. If green beans are priced at three for a dollar for the generic brand (with lots of sodium and water), and the brand name beans are 79¢ apiece, then it’s no contest. The food bank will opt for the cheaper variety every time. Feeding three people wins out over feeding one. But no one asks about the quality of the ingredients; they can’t afford to raise the question.

What struck me as I waited was that almost all of the clients were overweight, and some were grossly obese. Former Texas Senator Phil Gramm (one of Senator John McCain’s main economics advisers during the presidential campaign) is quoted as saying, “Has anyone ever noticed that we live in the only country in the world where all the poor people are fat?” The implication seemed to be that overweight people couldn’t possibly be that poor, because they’re obviously eating. But what are they eating?

Even beef jerky contains soy flour and soy beans. Who knew? Photo: J Wasson

Another friend who had lived with us for a while also took regular trips to the food bank. Most of what he brought back was pastries and breads and pasta. The pastries and breads were the items available daily (rather than weekly) in the waiting area, because stores freely offer those items as their expiration dates pass. Like my friend today, he could take as many of those as he wished. So what does a hungry person do when nutritious food is hard to come by, but starches are plentiful? What would you do, if your belly was aching to be filled and that was your only option?

It’s a vicious cycle, of course, as malnourished people have difficulty mustering the energy to get a job. And people without a job have no money to buy healthy foods — for themselves or their children. Malnutrition also begets despair, and despair often feeds its belly with comfort food. Comfort food — the pastries and breads and pastas — lure the poor onto a treadmill that fattens them. And being fat begets inertia, so that getting a job becomes less of a goal — and less of a possibility — all the time.

So much for my penny psychology.

What I learned today — the takeaway that I would like to share with you — is this: When you have the wherewithal to donate to a food bank (and, unless you’re receiving food there yourself, perhaps you do), please choose selections that will provide first-rate nutrition. Sure, everyone loves a guilt-filled snack now and again, but try to remember how much healthier it is to munch on trail mix or dried fruit. Donate food (or funds) with the sobering thought that one day you, too, could be on the receiving end of the generosity of others.

Oh, and it would also be helpful if you could find some foods without the ubiquitous soy. (Read the ingredients label.) Someone who’s hungry may thank you.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Acai – Amazon Wonder Berry or Just Another Craze?

Harvesting the acai berry. Photo: ©

If you listen to the hype, you may begin to think that the acai (pronounced a-sigh-EE) berry is the wonder food for everything that could possibly ail you. The ads are all over the Internet, in magazines, on television. They lure you in with questionable (if not outright fabricated) celebrity endorsements, “free” sample offers, and broad claims of almost mythical proportions.

Although acai is most commonly advertised as a weight-loss product, marketers also claim that it provides increased energy levels, improved sexual performance, improved digestion, detoxification, high fiber content, high antioxidant content, improved skin appearance, improved heart health, improved sleep, and reduction of cholesterol levels.

The acai berry has been touted as one of the most highly beneficial dietary supplements on the market. And WalletPop named it the #1 hottest product of 2008, after marketers dubbed the berry a “super food.”

But despite all the hype, groups are challenging acai’s health and weight-loss claims, and warning consumers to beware of acai berry scams. With so much conflicting information, it’s hard to know what is fact and what is fiction.

What It Is

The acai berry grows in Central and South America on eight different varieties of palm trees, primarily in swamps and floodplains — areas with heavy rainfall or standing water. The berries are small, round and black-purple in color. You might find them similar in appearance to a blueberry, but with a large, inedible seed in the center. Acai palm trees are tall and slender, reaching between 50 to 100 feet. Due to recent demand for their berries, acai palm trees are currently cultivated primarily for their fruit; but their fronds can also be made into hats, mats, baskets, and brooms.

Unripened acai berries and acai palm fronds. Photo: ©

Unripened acai berries and acai palm fronds. Photo: ©

Acai is commercially available in a number of forms, including juice, pulp, powder, and capsules. It has been marketed as an antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory, and an antibacterial. It’s also said to contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential to human health.

Acai’s other chemical contents are impressive, too:

  • A concentration of 10 times more antioxidants than red grapes, and 10 to 30 times the anthocyanins of red wine, which helps combat premature aging
  • Monounsaturated (healthy) fats, dietary fiber, and phytosterols to help promote cardiovascular and digestive health
  • Anthocyanins and flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants that help prevent free radicals from forming in the body and starting chain reactions that damage cells
  • Amino acids and trace minerals that are vital to proper muscle contraction and regeneration

Amazon Wonder Berry?

Although some people say they have more energy and feel healthier after taking acai dietary supplements, these claims are not supported by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But the medical community does agree that — like the cranberry, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, and blueberry — the acai berry, carries antioxidants.

Acai berries can be blended and mixed with granola. Photo: iStockphoto/Brasil2

Claims of weight loss from acai are unfounded, however, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). “There’s no evidence whatsoever to suggest that acai pills will help shed pounds, flatten tummies, cleanse colons, enhance sexual desire, or perform any of the other commonly advertised functions,” according to a press release from CSPI.

Kristina Conner, a licensed naturopathic physician and Assistant Professor of Naturopathic Medicine at National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Illinois, said naturopaths sometimes work with the acai berry, because it is a natural substance. But she agrees that the berry is not a one-stop, quick fix for weight loss or any of the other ailments the companies are claiming the berry can improve.

“It is important to address lifestyle things first. So supplements including something like the acai would be considered beneficial on top of making healthy lifestyle changes — like a good diet, sleep, exercise, all of that stuff. Relying on just one agent like [the acai berry], no matter what it is, is not the wisest course. If you look at things like weight loss or cardiovascular disease, it is never one cause, so it should never be one fix,” Conner said.

According to Conner, the acai berry is a reasonable alternative to drinking red wine, because the two products are both preventive substances. Because many people do not incorporate the acai berry into their normal diets, some people can see positive results where others may not.

“There is probably going to be a percentage of people who do [an acai] diet and are going to respond really well to it, but then there is a larger percentage who probably aren’t. They need to make sure they are not throwing out common sense when they try a new diet or a new product,” Conner said.

A Pricey Alternative

Mark Stibich, a physician specializing in health behavior, has expressed concerns about the sudden and tremendous fame of the acai berry. “A week’s supply of acai berry juice will cost you about $40 (over $2,000 a year). For that much money, there are a lot of more proven things you can do to increase your health.” Yet Stibich said that the fruit did hold at least some promise, commenting, “It is true that the acai berry has about 10 times the antioxidants of grapes and twice the antioxidants of blueberries, but that’s not enough nutritional punch for all the claims.”

Even nutritionists are weary of the numerous health benefit claims associated with the acai berry. I spoke with 10 nutritionists and dieticians, all of whom said they were unfamiliar with the real benefits of the acai berry. None said they would recommend any acai products until they themselves became more familiar with the fruit.

Cancer Fighters?

Although other research studies are reportedly in progress, a recent study by the University of Florida is the only research that has been completed to investigate the benefits of the acai berry. Researchers at the University of Florida found that in a laboratory setting, acai berry extract caused a significant decrease in cultured cancer cells. During the testing, various concentrations of acai extract were applied to the cells. After a period of 24 hours, the results varied from 35 percent to 86 percent of the cancer cells dying. The acai berry stands up well in a lab setting, but this claim has yet to be tested and proven in humans.

“A lot of claims are being made, but most of them haven’t been tested scientifically,” Assistant Professor at the University of Florida Stephen Talcott said in a press release. “We are just beginning to understand the complexity of the acai berry and its health-promoting effects.”

The acai berry has just recently become popular, so not all of the claims have been researched. But with time, Talcott said that more nutritional information will be revealed.

“One reason so little is known about acai berries is that they’re perishable and are traditionally used immediately after picking. Products made with processed acai berries have only been available for about five years, so researchers in many parts of the world have had little or no opportunity to study them,” Talcott said.

Beware of Scams

Since the berry’s popularity has exploded in the past few months, offers for free acai berry trials are becoming ubiquitous online.

But remember how your parents told you, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”? That warning is certainly applicable to any company claiming it will send you acai products for free. Free trial offers for acai berry supplements are rarely — if ever — free.

The CSPI and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) said companies offering free trials of diet pills made with the acai berries have tricked thousands of consumers using fake celebrity endorsements and blogs to lure customers into buying the acai products.

According to the Better Business Bureau, FWM Laboratories, Advanced Wellness Research, AcaiBurn, FX Supplements, and SFL Nutrition all received an F rating, which is the BBB’s lowest rating. The BBB evaluates companies on numerous categories before assigning a grade, such as the number of customer complaints and a company’s ability to adequately resolve issues.

Purchasing acai products like this sauce can be pricey. Photo: ©

Purchasing acai products like this sauce can be pricey. Photo: ©

Central Coast Nutraceuticals, FX Supplements, FWM Laboratories and Advanced Wellness Research are just some of the businesses accused of scamming customers into accepting “free” trials. These companies reportedly hook consumers by advertising a “free” bottle of acai pills, for example, and by claiming that the customer only has to pay for shipping and handling. Many customers neglect to read the terms and conditions pages, which often specify that the total price for the bottle of pills will be charged to the credit card used to pay the shipping and handling fee. Often, the companies will sign consumers up for a monthly subscription of the product and charge them for more bottles of the pills that the customers unwittingly “consented” to receiving each month when agreeing with the fine print. Each of these bottles costs approximately $80 and will be billed to a credit card every month until the customer calls and cancels the subscription.

I signed up for a “free” trial of Acai Berry Edge in order to test the scam claims. For this product, the terms and conditions specified that the customer would “Get two bottles of Acai Berry Edge free for 21 days during the trial period. You invest $3.97 s&h today then $39.95 per bottle at day 21 only if you are satisfied.” I sent both bottles back within the 21 day time frame, yet was still charged $79.90. Upon calling the company, a representative said that they had not received the bottles. Yet I intentionally sent the bottles back with a delivery confirmation receipt from the U.S. Postal Service. With the delivery confirmation number, the representatives could not dispute that the bottles had been returned. Even if you do read the fine print and return the bottles, make sure to send the product back with a confirmation number from the postal service or an express carrier. Those few extra quarters could end up saving you $80 — or more — in the long run.

Connor said people can ask the company for objective information about the product or studies published about the product to determine whether or not any health claims made about products are true. She also recommended asking a health care practitioner who knows about natural products and cautioned consumers to always be skeptical.

“If people find that it is one company offering a particular type of product no one else offers, or if it seems very expensive — more expensive than other products on the market that are like it — that always raises my suspicion level,” she said.

The Jury’s Still Out

Much is still unknown about the acai berry. And, with studies still in progress, health care professionals are understandably cautious about judging the berry’s merits as a “super food.” Nutritionists say that, for most people, taking moderate amounts of acai supplements won’t negatively impact your physical health. But it just might hurt the health of your wallet.

Sabrina Potirala

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Rare or Well Done?

June 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Cooking, Food Safety, Front Page, Health

Eating charred meat is a potential cause of cancer. Photo: © Sima -

You light the grill. You prep the meat. You cook it: Blackened and charred, well done, pink in the center, or still mooing when it hits the plate… the range of preferences is vast. But which is better for you? Or does it even matter? In the last few days, I’ve read several sources that have me wondering whether there is any safe way to cook meat.

An article in the Daily Mail, a publication from the UK, warned to not eat meat that is over-cooked. Columnist David Derbyshire reported, “In a nine year study of more than 62,000 subjects, those who liked their steak well done were found to be almost 60 percent more likely to develop cancers of the pancreas, colon, stomach and prostate.” Derbyshire was referencing a study by Dr. Kristin Anderson of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, who was investigating the connection between charred meat and pancreatic cancer. 60%? Suddenly that charred appearance of a steak on the grill doesn’t look so appetizing.

Danger in the Flames

Flames and smoke from the grill transfer harmful substances to the meat. Photo: ©

Following news of Anderson’s study, Dr. Mercola ( warned that anytime meat is cooked too fast or at too high a temperature, three harmful chemicals are created in or on the meat. This is true whether the meat is grilled or fried.

  • Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs): These form when food is grilled at high temperatures, searing the meat, creating blackened or burned areas of the muscle fibers. Those blackened grill lines, the parts that actually sit on the steel grid of your grill, or any sections of the meat that should become burned to a black color, are the most dangerous; those are the areas you should avoid, because they are linked to cancer. How bad is the cancer risk from HCAs? Eating a lot of flame-grilled meats (especially chicken) can raise your risk of pancreatic cancer from the average of 1 person in 10,000 to a shocking 1 in 50.
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs): When cooking on the grill, you’re bound to see flare-ups caused by fat that drips onto hot coals. The flames rise up and engulf the meat, searing the flesh. Often, this results in blackened sections where the heat is highest. Sometimes you’ll also see small billows of smoke surrounding the meat. In either case, cancer-causing PAHs are being transferred to the food you are about to ingest.
  • Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs): High temperatures increase the formation of AGEs in food. This happens even when the food is being sterilized or pasteurized, not just when it’s being grilled. Eating food cooked at high heat transfers AGEs to your body. The result can be higher incidences of kidney disease, heart disease, and diabetes.

Digestion Difficulties

There’s another problem with overcooking meat, and this is especially important if you have any digestive difficulties to begin with, according to Nancy Appleton, Ph.D. When food is cooked at too high a heat or cooked too long, your body has more trouble digesting it. This causes the food to stay in your digestive system longer, as your body works to break it down.

Your body is designed to make use of food at the cellular level, but because overcooked food doesn’t break down very well, it’s not readily available. If your body can’t make use of the food you put into it, you won’t function at an optimal level and can become ill.

The upshot is, don’t eat any meat that is burned, charred, or seared. That’s pretty hard to do when you’re cooking on a grill. Grilling is grilling because of the charring and searing. The article concluded that it’s best to eat meat that is raw or only lightly cooked. (Hey, I can do that with a Bic lighter.)

Cook Pork Thoroughly

But wait! The very next article that I read (on Wikipedia) contradicted that wisdom with the title: “Trichinosis and e-coli, the hazards of eating meat that is too raw.”

Trichinosis is caused by Trichinella species (also termed parasitic nematodes, intestinal worms, and roundworms) that initially enter the body when meat containing the Trichinella cysts (roundworm larvae) is eaten. For humans, undercooked or raw pork and pork products, such as pork sausage, has been the meat most commonly responsible for transmitting the Trichinella parasites.

These cysts, or eggs, are nasty little buggers. The enclosure breaks open inside your digestive track and the round worms become embedded in your stomach wall. First you feel stomach pains, and you experience diarrhea and vomiting. If the Trichinella parasite is discovered early, in the intestinal phase, medications like albendazole (Albenza) or mebendazole can be effective in eliminating the intestinal worms and larvae.

Eventually, the larvae enter the blood stream and settle into muscle tissue, where they feed. Once they enter the muscle invasion stage, there’s not a thing you can take for it, other than pain relievers. You’re stuck with these tiny invaders for the rest of your life. And don’t think trichinosis is a disease of the past. A research scientist friend of ours recently told us about observing slides of muscle tissue from a man who has trichinosis. He got it after eating undercooked pork at a family reunion right here in Iowa.

E. Coli Alert

Less than a year ago, U.S. media carried reports of raw spinach contaminated with E. coli and dozens of cases of E. coli-caused food poisoning from undercooked hamburger.

In a Wikipedia article on Escherichia coli (E. coli), I read, “Food poisonings caused by E. coli are usually associated with eating unwashed vegetables and meat contaminated post-slaughter. Meat has to be cooked well enough, or at a high enough temperature to kill the E. coli bacteria. O157:H7, one particularly nasty strain, is further notorious for causing serious and even life-threatening complications like hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). Severity of the illness varies considerably; it can be fatal, particularly to young children, the elderly or the immunocompromised.”

With modern methods of meat production, you never know what has happened to the meat before you bought it. An average pound of hamburger may contain meat from more than 500 different cattle. There’s no way of knowing which meat was contaminated or where it came from.

This hamburger could contain meat from some 500 cattle.

This hamburger could contain meat from 500 cattle. Photo: © Carolina K Smith MD -

How prevalent is poisoning from E. coli? World wide, a strain of E. coli called ETEC causes more than 200 million cases of diarrhea and 380,000 deaths, mostly in children, every year. And that’s just one strain of four.

It’s important to thoroughly wash all raw meat before cooking it. And, as any experienced cook will tell you, it’s also necessary to wash all surfaces that came into contact with the raw meat. That’s because E.coli can be transmitted to other foods that touch a cutting board the meat sat on or a knife used to cut the meat. Finally, make sure to cook the meat hot enough and thoroughly enough to kill any E-coli bacteria on it.

These guidelines printed in the New York Times in 1996 are still used by the Department of Agriculture today:

  • Wash hands, utensils and work surfaces that touch raw meat and poultry before and after handling the food, using hot soapy water.
  • Do not allow raw meat or chicken to sit at room temperature for more than 30 minutes; refrigerate.
  • To prevent problems, cook food thoroughly.
  • Cook both beef and pork to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees, so that it is slightly pink. The fleshy parts of poultry should reach 180 degrees.

Weighing the Options

So what’s the right thing to do? Do you want to cook those chops or that steak till it’s well done, or eat it rare? Do you want to get cancer of the pancreas, colon, stomach or prostate? Or do you prefer to take your chances with the possibility of tiny worms burrowing into your muscle tissue, or getting sick from E-coli and possibly dying? For some people, this is a hard decision. But not for me.

That veggie burger’s looking better all the time. And pass the potato salad.

Joe Hennager

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Product Review – Vivesana Solar to Polar Sunscreen

Comments Off on Product Review – Vivesana Solar to Polar Sunscreen

Use sunscreen to protect against UVA and UVB rays. Photo: © Lucky Dragon –

The most important function of a sunscreen is, of course, to protect your skin against UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays. But that’s not the only element to consider when choosing what to slather on your skin this summer. Most sunscreens are made with synthetic substances, as well as water and alcohol. But wouldn’t you rather use a sunscreen made with natural and organic ingredients?

Recently, I received two sample tubes of Vivesana Solar to Polar sunscreen to review. The packaging looked interesting, promising “70% Organic, 100% Natural” ingredients with a high SPF of 40 on the Ultra formula and 42 on the Baby product. But I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I pretty much forgot about it for several days. The sunscreen tubes sat on my desk until this past weekend, when Joe and I were invited for a boat ride with friends.

Putting It to the Test

Vivesana Solar to Polar Baby and Ultra Sunscreen formulas. Photo Courtesy: Vivesana

Saturday bright and sunny, with a temperature of about 80 F. As we set out from the dock, I used the cap to puncture the seal on the metal tube (Note: Metal, not plastic — there are no BHAs in this container), which was sealed as tightly as a tube of medicine. When I started to squeeze, I was disappointed when it appeared, at first glance, to be much like pure zinc oxide. I’m not a fan of a thick layer of white goop on my nose or other body parts, though I understand that some people feel they need that much protection from the sun. I squeezed it onto my palm and started to liberally slather Solar to Polar Ultra on my bare skin. I was surprised when the Vivesana sunscreen did not stick in a goopy blob; it blended into my skin rather quickly, and didn’t leave much of a white coating. Don’t get me wrong; it didn’t slide with the ease of Coppertone or one of the other thin liquid sunscreens. Vivesana is a thick cream, and though I didn’t go into the water that day, I am confident it won’t wash away like a thin liquid will. And that’s good news.

Our friend Rob slathered the Vivesana generously on his ears and nose, and didn’t rub it all the way in. For an hour or so, he had white streaks showing exactly where he had used the cream. If he’d had a mirror available, he might have chosen to rub it in all the way. But it didn’t matter. By the time we got to our lunch spot across the lake, there were no traces of the sunscreen left. It had soaked in nicely.

Did it protect us? Yes. Ordinarily, I’d have had sunburn on my nose and shoulders, but that day, I had no sunburn at all. Despite not wearing a hat, Joe had no redness on the top of his shaved head — an area that is usually highly susceptible to sunburn. Rob, too, reported himself sunburn free. Mark, our host, already has a deep tan, so he used a sunscreen that didn’t have as high an SPF, with no ill effects. So, Polar to Solar was a success for us, as far as protection.

But Rob wasn’t crazy about the feel of the Ultra cream on his skin. He reported that it felt “sticky.” Joe said, “It was kind of thick. But since it was my first time out in the sun, I wanted that extra protection. I liked that it didn’t have much of a scent. And it turned invisible and dried right away.” As for me, I had doubts at first. I don’t really care for thick topical ointments like zinc oxide, but Vivesana won me over.

Value Added

I found another benefit last night, while working on this article. I rubbed some Ultra on one of my heels, which tend to be rough and cracked all summer. This morning, when I woke up, my Vivesana-coated heel was significantly softer than the one that hadn’t been coated. This isn’t the main selling point for the product, of course, but it is a wonderful added value. I also liberally rubbed the Ultra cream on my left arm last night, checking the way it felt, how long I thought it remained slightly sticky, and so on. This morning, even after showering, I was very surprised to note that my Vivesana-coated arm was soft and supple, compared to my un-coated arm. That was a very nice surprise.

Another friend, Shanti, who has lovely, dark, soft skin, tried both products on different hands. After a few minutes, I asked her what she thought. She pointed out that the Solar to Polar Baby sunscreen left her skin feeling even softer. The Solar to Polar Ultra was soft, too, but didn’t seem to have soaked in quite as much as the Baby formula. Once she pointed that out, I realized that I could also perceive a difference between the two.


Both the Vivesana Solar to Polar Ultra and Baby formulas have gentle scents, with the Baby sunscreen being the lighter of the two. As a person whose asthma is triggered by certain fragrances, I was grateful that these two caused no reaction. However, I definitely prefer unscented products, as do many people I know. This afternoon, Blue Planet Green Living’s new university intern, Megan, applied the Ultra to her arm and echoed my wish that the product be unscented. You may feel differently, of course — after all, there’s a thriving perfume industry, so my preference for no scent can’t be universal.

What’s Inside?

So, we know Solar to Polar works as a sunscreen, and that it even has side benefits in making skin softer. But what about the ingredients? Since the packaging says “70% Organic, 100% Natural,” I’d expect to see real plants listed, not a bunch of chemicals that I can hardly pronounce, let alone understand. And that’s exactly what shows up on the label.

The tube lists an impressive array of inactive natural ingredients that look like part of a recipe for something you might want to snack on (once you get past the Latin names):

* Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil
* Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Oil
* Cera Alba (Beeswax)
* Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil
* Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil
* Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil
* Alumina (Natural Mineral)
* Stearic Acid (Natural Fatty Acid)
* Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Kernel Oil
* Glycerin
* Tocopherol Acetate (Vitamin E)
* Helianthus Anuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil
* Ginkgo Biloba Leaf Extract
* Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract
* Camelia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract
* Matricaria Recutita (Chamomile)
* Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Seed Oil
* Green Tea Fragrance (Natural)

The Active Ingredients can hardly be called appetizing:

* Titanium Dioxide — 8.5%
* Zinc Oxide — 3.5%

Checking the Database

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about using the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetic Database to check out ingredients in sunscreen. I couldn’t find Vivesana Solar to Polar in the EWG database, so I looked up the active ingredients, which I already knew EWG had rated as effective.

Here’s what the database’s has to say about zinc oxide and titanium dioxide:

Zinc has a long history of use in sunscreen and other skin care products; little absorption and no adverse health effects are reported. Some sunscreens with zinc contain nanoparticles which do not penetrate skin but may pose toxicity concerns if inhaled or in the environment….

Titanium dioxide has a long history of use in sunscreen and other products. It appears safe for use on skin, due to low penetration but inhalation is a concern. Some titanium sunscreens containing nano-size particles may have greater toxicity to body tissues and environment.

The last sentence concerned me a bit, until I did some more research on the EWG site. As it happens, nanoparticles haven’t been shown to penetrate healthy skin. Still, I don’t like the idea of nanoparticles in cosmetics, as it’s a bit early in the game to know their long-term results.

But it’s a moot point, according to the package the Vivesana sunscreen arrived in. The box label reads, “No Parabens. No Phthalates. No BPA. No Nanotechnology.” The website confirms all this, though I have to admit it’s a little disconcerting that I can’t find the same assurance on the tube itself. “No Nanotechnology” is conspicuously absent, though “No Parabens. No Phthalates. No BPA.” are all clearly marked.

According to the EWG, both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide run another risk, one that I hadn’t even considered: “Persistent and/or bioaccumulative, resisting normal chemical breakdown in the environment; building up in wildlife, the food chain, and in people; and lingering in body tissues for years, or even decades, after exposure.” Now that’s a scary warning. On the flip side, if these two chemicals are the best we have available, and they prevent skin cancer, it’s a trade-off we may have little choice but to make.

A Company with Soul

Business is business, and we all need to earn a living. But some companies come across in their advertising and their websites as being about much more than just making a buck. This is especially true, Joe and I find, with the ecopreneurs that we meet. By and large, they are as passionate about the planet and its inhabitants as they are about their own well-being. Vivesana seems to be no exception. Although we haven’t yet met the owner, Dan Signorelli, we are very impressed by his philosophy and his business. We’ll be chatting with Dan in the near future, and will share with you what we learn about his company, but I want to give you a taste of what you can find on the Vivesana website:

“Vivesana means “live healthy”. We began with doctors, teachers, artists, farmers, chefs, athletes, lawyers, moms, dads and little kids who take that motto to heart. We wanted safe, natural and effective products. We wanted labels we could trust. We wanted companies to have broader goals than the bottom line. [Read More]

Chemistry Without Chemicals

Starting from scratch is liberating. It’s where innovation is born.
We use photo-protective organic botanicals to triple the SPF provided by our natural minerals while providing deep moisturization. We use potent antioxidants to aid skin before, during and after sun exposure. We removed water, fillers and all synthetics. We were left with the first 70% organic high performance and baby sunscreen on the market, which also happen to be…

  • Stronger, with higher SPFs – by far – than all other all-natural sunscreens.
  • Greener, being the first high performance and baby sunscreen with over 70% organic, sustainably-farmed ingredients, and using domestic, BPA-free packaging
  • Clearer, due to relatively low mineral content and a high level of photo-protective organic botanicals
  • Safer, without synthetics, phthalates, parabens, nanotechnology, plastic tubes, or anything at all from China

A Discount for Blue Planet Green Living Readers

Vivesana is actively promoting their sunscreens among readers of certain eco-friendly blogs. They picked Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) to be one of the first sites to review their products. Even better, they’re offering a 25% discount for BPGL readers through June 30, 2009. Go to to learn more about their sunscreen products. Select the items you want, then at checkout, enter PROMO CODE: BPGL&vive25 to get your discount. Now, go enjoy the summer sun!

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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There’s No Such Thing as a “Healthy Tan”

There’s No Such Thing As a “Healthy Tan”

June 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Cancer, Family, Front Page, Health, Sunscreen

Sunbathing without adequate sunscreen invites premature aging and possibly even cancer. © Mikhail Tolstoy -

Think skin cancer couldn’t happen to you? Think again.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) estimates that more than a million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year in the U.S. alone. Unless you want to be among that number, protecting your skin with sunscreen is more than just a good idea. It’s a necessity.

As a person who tans easily, I didn’t think I was likely to get skin cancer. I spent much of my youth basking in the sun. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, we didn’t worry about such things. But times have changed, and there’s danger outdoors.

I’m now in my 50s, and I’m paying for my sun-worshiping behavior. I have a small scar on my nose, where a dermatologist scraped off a layer of cancerous tissue. I was lucky. My skin cancer turned out to be a slow-growing, basal cell carcinoma, not melanoma — which could have killed me.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about you — and the people you love. Skin cancer can strike anyone — even teenagers — and it’s a lot safer to prevent it than to try to cure it. So, do yourself and your loved ones a favor: Limit your exposure to the sun, and find a safe and effective sunscreen you can rely on to protect you against harmful rays.

Two Kinds of Rays

There are two types of ultraviolet rays that do us harm. Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays reach deep into the layers of the skin. These rays suppress the immune system, so that your body can’t fight against skin cancer. They also are responsible for much of the aging effect that you see in people who have long-term exposure to the sun. And they can even penetrate glass, so being inside isn’t necessarily going to protect you from the sun’s aging effects.

Too much sun can cause serious skin damage. © Marilyn Barbone-

Ever wondered why you don’t get sunburned through a car or house window even in direct, bright sunlight? The rays responsible for burning, Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, don’t penetrate glass. It’s the UVB rays that give you a sunburn after a day at the pool or beach (or too much time on a tanning bed).

Both UVA (aging rays) and UVB (burning rays) are potentially harmful. Here’s a sobering thought from the AAD: “The United States Department of Health & Human Services has declared ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps [emphasis added], as a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).” It may look pleasing to have a tan, but is it worth the risk? The small divot in my nose has convinced me otherwise.

Tanning may look good from a purely cosmetic vantage point, but it’s hardly good for us. “There is no safe way to tan,” says the AAD:

A tan is the skin’s response to injury caused by UV exposure. Tanning occurs when ultraviolet rays penetrate the epidermis, the skin’s outer layer, causing the production of melanin as a response to the injury. Chronic exposure to ultraviolet light, both natural and artificial, results in a change in the skin’s texture, causing wrinkling and age spots. Thus, tanning to improve appearance is ultimately self-defeating.

Every time you tan, you damage your skin and this damage accumulates over time. This accumulated damage, in addition to accelerating the aging process, also increases your risk for all types of skin cancer.

That has an ominous ring in a culture that celebrates a tanned skin.

Forgo the Fake Bake

It’s more clear all the time that baking in the sun is bad for us. And the “fake bake” of tanning salons is no better, despite their popularity. According to the AAD, “Studies have demonstrated that exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning damages the DNA in the skin cells. Also excessive exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning can lead to skin aging, immune suppression, and eye damage, including cataracts and ocular melanoma.” That’s a lot of scary stuff to be wary of.


You may be surprised to learn that the AAD recommends sunscreen even when you are going to be inside the house. (Remember that UVA can penetrate window glass.) It’s not necessary to put sunscreen under clothing — just on exposed areas of skin. And when you’re outside, don’t think it’s safe to skip sunscreen on a cloudy day. Up to about 80% of those UV rays can still get through the haze. Even winter days aren’t safe; as skiers are well aware, sunlight reflecting off snow can cause a sunburn. And sand on the beach reflects a quarter of the sun’s rays.

AAD recommends that you apply sunscreen up to half an hour before going outside. Make sure you apply it liberally to all exposed areas, especially your face, ears, hands, and arms. Having had plenty of sunburns in the part of my hair, I’d recommend that spot for your consideration, as well. And if you’re bald or balding, you’ll need to be extra careful to cover your pate. In fact, think about the parts of your body that tend to burn, then cover them well with sunscreen — and plenty of it. Most of us just don’t use enough in the first place, and don’t reapply frequently enough to maintain good coverage.

The Right Amount of Protection

What SPF should you use? It helps to understand what the term SPF means. An SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, rating tells how a sunscreen protects you against UVB (burning) rays. Imagine that John Smith’s unprotected skin burns in 5 minutes on a bright, sunny day. So, if he wears SPF 10 sunscreen under the same conditions, he should be able to stay in the sun 10 times longer, or 50 minutes. If he covers the same skin with SPF 20 under the same conditions, he shouldn’t burn for 100 minutes. The SPF you use will depend on your skin type and how easily you burn. If you’re a fair redhead, you’ll want higher protection. If you’re dark skinned and tolerate the sun well, you don’t need as much.

But don’t think that an SPF of 30 is twice as strong as an SPF of 15, according to the AAD:

UVB protection does not actually increase proportionately with a designated SPF number. For example, an SPF of 30 screens 97 percent of UVB rays, while an SPF of 15 screens 93 percent of UVB rays and an SPF of 2 screens 50 percent of UVB rays. However, inadequate application of sunscreen may result in a lower SPF than the product contains.

Slather with Care

Too much sun hurts for a while — and damages forever. Photo: © Stacy Barnett -

You probably have your favorite sunscreen that you’ve grown accustomed to over the years. But many old favorites are not actually healthy  choices. A 2008 report says, “In a new investigation of 946 name-brand sunscreens, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 4 out of 5 sunscreen products offer inadequate protection from the sun, or contain ingredients with significant safety concerns. Leading brands were the worst offenders…”

One way to know whether a particular sunscreen is safe and effective is to check the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. Type in the name of your sunscreen, and you’ll find out how it ranks in overall hazards, what the ingredients are, and how they might be harmful to you.

If you don’t find a review for a particular product, don’t jump to conclusions one way or the other. It probably just hasn’t been evaluated by the EWG team yet. What you can do is to look up the active ingredients in the Skin Deep database and find out what EWG has to say about their safety and effectiveness.

The Best Active Ingredients

According to the EWG, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are considered to be the most effective of the active ingredients commonly used in sunscreens — and they’re the safest. EWG says this of the chemicals in sunscreens:

The UV-protective properties of sunscreens are determined by their active ingredients. Only 17 chemicals have been approved by FDA as active ingredients in sunscreen. The efficacy of any sunscreen depends on the amount of each active ingredient, and the stability of the chemical mixture on its own and under UV radiation. In addition, some sunscreen makers skirt the rules by including chemicals approved in other countries but not in the U.S., and not labeling them “active ingredients.”

We reviewed the scientific literature and government assessments for common sunscreen chemicals’ efficacy and toxicity. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are known as “mineral sunscreens” or “physical blockers” since they reflect and scatter UV rays. The other actives are called “chemical blockers” because they absorb and disperse UV rays.

Studies show that unlike other common sunscreen chemicals, little to no zinc and titanium absorb through the skin, and they provide stable UVA protection relative to the other ingredients. For these reasons many zinc and titanium-based sunscreens appear at the top of our recommended product lists….

Sunshine: Handle with Care

There’s a lot more to know about the sun’s effects on your body, and it makes important reading. As the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) points out, exposure to the sun is “the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma.” So, if you can prevent a disfiguring — and potentially deadly — disease, doesn’t it just make sense to do it?

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Healthy Kids – Yours, Mine, Ours

I’ve been called diminutive, and I guess I am, at 5’2” and kinda thin. So when I walk anywhere with my son, who’s 6’4”, 330 lbs., no one believes I’m his mom. In fact, when he was little, people thought I was his nanny — he was so big compared to me even then.

Chef Helen Sandler with a spread of all natural foods. Photo courtesy of Helen Sandler

Chef Helen Sandler with a spread of all natural foods. Photo courtesy of Helen Sandler

His high school football team had a good laugh when I walked onto the field with him during Mom’s Day. His dream was to be an NFL defensive lineman, and although his workout routine still, at 24, equals NFL stats, he changed his direction to pursue another lifelong dream unrelated to sports. Most of his friends are athletes, and most of them stayed with us at one point or another. And they all came to know and really appreciate the food he was brought up on — whole grains, greens, beans, and sugars all as organic as I could find and cooked at home from scratch. Before their next visit, they’d phone in their orders to me or through him. Feeding a football team, if you’ve never done it, even for a few days, can be daunting. But surprise of surprise, they finished it all and wanted more.


My son ate his first beef burger at age 12 or 13, inadvertently, and never really did develop that much of a taste for it. True story: During a football game in high school, he banged bodies with an offensive lineman, also big. What a hit! What a horrible sound! It was a clash of the titans. And they were both carted off to the hospital. The orthopedic surgeon reported to us that the other kid came away with a broken shin bone, I’m sorry to say. However, he was incredulous at my son’s injury, a slight bone bruise. With taped leg and crutches he went back to the sidelines to cheer his team on.

“Whatever you’re feeding him, keep doing it. I’ve never seen bones that size or that dense in a kid before!” Those were his exact words. That was an extraordinary feeling to have our lifestyle applauded, though not the way I would have chosen.


He’s still my trophy and my testament to natural foods for kids, especially when he visits my cooking classes. People just don’t believe it. True, you’re thinking there must be some big genes somewhere in the family, and yes there are, but it’s not the size, it’s the quality. He’s a walking testimonial to a lifetime of natural foods, with a presence that answers their questions: “Will my child get enough calcium?” “Will they grow?” “Won’t they get sick more?” “Can they grow up healthy without all the protein and vitamins from meat and dairy?……… Yes, yes, no, and yes. Absolutely. Here. Look. And in he walks.

I’ve had non natural foods kids raiding my pantry, freezer, and refrigerator forever. One 10-year-old made a B-line for seaweed whenever he came. Didn’t bother him at all what it was. He just wanted it. Loved the taste, and he said it made him feel good. You can’t argue with that.


Like that 10-year-old. They want to be shown, but also to be allowed to experiment.  I have another true story here: I was asked to make two dishes for a grand opening for a holistic heath center last year in Coronado, CA. One of the dishes was an Asian style tofu appetizer (go to my website,, and click on Asian Style Tofu Wrap-Around — the very same one). A 13-year-old boy (difficult to please at that age regardless, unless…) came by in the line and wouldn’t try it (Tofu, yuk!) until I told him he could spit it out in front of me if he didn’t like it. No pressure. That intrigued him enough to try it. Guaranteed, he liked the idea of spitting it out in front of me.

I was distracted by other people asking questions and didn’t see his reaction or his leaving. About ten minutes later, he returned with a few friends. They didn’t say a word, but they did polish off the entire platter and left. Maybe they had a new regard for tofu after that. I like to think so. Kids want to know you care by giving them options, challenging them, and respecting their opinions. And what better place to start than in your own kitchen, where your daily soul replenishment for the five senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and feeling all come together to create the ultimate sense of well being from food. “Home (and hearth) is where the heart is.”


Make it a game, interesting, fun. Dress it up. Make it all natural and as organic as you can. Make it look like what they’re used to, but the ingredients can either mimic or be completely different. Season it and spice it up with a familiar aroma, appearance, and mouth feel. But whatever it is, it’s got to taste great! Another thing about them, which you probably already know, they don’t spare your feelings. They tell you the truth. So ask them what the dish needs, and get them involved in the kitchen and the preparation by letting them fix it the way they want.

Let them make it their own. For you, it’s hands off unless asked. Whatever the mess, whatever their tastes, whatever their additions or deletions, it’s theirs and not only deserves, but requires, your respect. My son is getting to be one incredible chef, choosing food and spice combinations I would never think of in a million years. He astounds not only me, but his friends, with his choices and complexities of taste, while still sticking to organic whole grains, veggies, even meat, chicken, and wild fish. Allow them the gratification of astounding you. Their tastes are often so different from ours. There’s no age limit or requirement, by the way. So much more fun than going to formerly frozen formula Chili’s or McDonald’s or wherever, and their memories are priceless. Oh yeah! And invest in a bread machine. Let them invent variations on their staple. So easy.


Prenatal to post natal to pre-school to post college, they need and want guidance from mom and dad. Their culinary creativity being rewarded early with applause and respect will give them the confidence to continue natural foods in their lives and to teach their friends and their own children. Give them their jump start by changing to whole grains and veggies during pregnancy. When nursing, they’re already used to the foods. And when you start introducing solid foods, they intuitively know them already. Even seaweeds. Really. Yup, even seaweeds can be luscious. It all depends on your creativity and that intangible ingredient that makes it all a hit, your LOVE.

My son once observed to us from a boarding school he attended for one year for football before going to college, that he thought he was the only person there who loved his parents. Wow! Now that blew us away. He realized that we always inspired him to achieve and create, to have his own opinions, and respected his choices. Experiment. That was the year he started cooking for himself and starting teaching me. Very gratifying. He’s still teaching me.


With the meteoric rise of childhood and young adult health diseases: diabetes, obesity, eating disorders, high cholesterol, asthma, high blood pressure, depression, ADD, ADHD, and the lists goes on and on… Diseases once thought to be brought on by age deterioration in adults are now epidemic, even plagues, among our children. Drugs are not the answer. One definite answer is natural foods. Too simplistic? Things in life don’t have to be that complicated. You really are what you eat.


It’s the insidious invasion of the soul snatchers in the guise of the big pharmaceutical companies and the big brand name food manufacturers all in collusion with the advertising companies and the food/chemical lobbyists in Washington, D.C. I refer to Dr. David Kessler’s (former FDA commissioner, 1990-1997) new book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. He writes about just this, not that we didn’t know it already, but a former FDA boss telling us from the “inside” about how our souls and health have been hijacked for profit is pretty frightening, along with our disastrous eating habits being engineered by those companies’ food scientists. Very scary, but not irreversible.


Get your whole family into the kitchen. Have fun creating a lifestyle change that makes you happy and gives you the power of choice. Food becomes an exploration into a culinary world of individual tastes designed by you that changes with your whims by adding a little bit of this or a whole lot of that. And your children? They’ll love it!

Helen Sandler

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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