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Even My Dad Goes to the Farmer’s Market

Dad and I drive the vintage convertible to our farmer's market (and yes he's looking at the camera - he's a terrifying driver!).

Dad and I drive the vintage convertible to our farmer’s market (and yes he’s looking at the camera – he’s a terrifying driver!).

This summer, I spent two weeks on the East Coast in late August/early September – I know, slow blog summer – I was too busy enjoying people! Heading back east is one of my favorite activities, as I get to see friends and family and look at that big Connecticut Sky, but it also comes with some panic around what I will eat. My Dad’s favorite meals to serve me (and don’t get me wrong, these things are always delicious!) are processed turkey kielbasa, pierogis and iceberg lettuce out of a bag. Ok the bagged lettuce is never delicious. Dad has really come a long way in the food department, now buying hamburgers from our local butcher and almond milk, but the Tolland county area lacks my beloved San Francisco eating options. Or so I thought.

Kale chips and food trucks. In Coventry, CT. I’m serious. My Dad has been raving about the Coventry Farmer’s Market for over a year and frankly I didn’t believe that it would be that good. My weekly shopping trips include the Ferry Building farmer’s market and Mission Community Farmer’s market and I thought: Connecticut, please. The big guy convinced me to hop in our convertible (1990 Mustang ragtop- not very sustainable but almost a classic and so very fun to drive!), and we headed over to check this thing out. Well, the Coventry Farmer’s Market is incredible. It’s huge – more town fair than market. It has real Mexican food – the closest thing CT had to Mexican food previously was Qdoba and we all know how authentic that is. It also has a cannoli food truck, gluten-free bakery stands, local artisans selling soap and woven placemats, and sweet summer corn for $0.25. This was my heaven. Eastern Connecticut has an entire local, anti-GMO, farm-to-table, food movement that I knew nothing about. If you live in or near CT, this site will help you find all things local food.

If my Dad is shopping at the farmer’s market, you can too. One reason he shops there is because it often isn’t more expensive – my Dad hates expensive – and everything tastes better. Vendors let you try things (husk tomatoes/ground cherries were a new one for us!), tell you how to prepare the produce if you’re unsure, and you’re doing a world of good for your body and your local economy. If you need more convincing, read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable Miracle, watch one of my favorite documentaries, Food Fight, and think about the impact YOU can make on the planet and your community.

Below: My favorite food truck (cannolis!) and juicy summer watermelons

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What’s the deal with those pesky parabens?

If you’re like me you only buy paraben-free lotions, shampoos, deodorants and makeup. If you’re also like me you only kind of know what parabens are and why they are bad for you. So, here’s all you need to know about parabens to sound more educated at your next dinner party: 

parabenParabens are a class of (mostly synthetically produced) chemicals, used as preservatives in the cosmetics and pharma industries. Companies use them because they are cheap, help products last on store shelves, and because they prevent the growth of microbes.

Here’s the controversy: #1 absorption, #2 cancer, #3 hormones.

Well ok #1 isn’t up for debate, parabens can be absorbed through the skin, blood, and digestive system; fact. “If these substances are in your blood, they’re also in your liver and in every other place in your body,” explains Torkjel Sandanger, head researcher of a Norwegian study on parabens.

#2 Parabens have been found in breast cancer tumors; fact. In 2004 researchers in the UK detected parabens in the breast cancer tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied, and discovered that the parabens came from something applied to the skin such as an underarm deodorant or cream. The controversy kicks in because it was a small study and did not prove a causal relationship between parabens and breast cancer. Denmark has banned parabens, the EU flip flops on it every few years (currently allowed in up to 0.4% concentrations), and the FDA says they are no biggie because the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (an INDUSTRY-SPONSORED organization) says they’re no biggie. I’m siding with Denmark on this one.

#3 Parabens have been shown to mimic estrogen (which plays a role in breast cancer and is why your 9 year old has boobs); fact. Parabens bind to estrogen receptors on cells and disrupt hormone function (this effect is linked to increased risk of breast cancer/reproductive toxicity). On this one the FDA says it’s ‘aware that estrogenic activity in the body is associated with certain forms of breast cancer. Although parabens can act similarly to estrogen, they have been shown to have much less estrogenic activity than the body’s naturally occurring estrogen.’ Well great, I’m glad that the chemicals we’re putting into our bodies are LESS estrogenic than what’s already going on.  Really though, I don’t want anything but my natural estrogen floating around in there.

As always make your own decision, but no seriously stop slathering chemicals on your body and for the love of God please get paraben-free, aluminum free deodorant!

Where have all the cowboys gone?

My last post about Naked Juice’s $9 mil settlement for false advertising (WTF #1) got me thinking about the brands truly pioneering sustainable products and how a lot of them are no more. These cowboys have mostly been purchased by larger (mostly terrible) companies that change the products, change the ingredients, and change the supply chains all under the guise of reaching the masses. I have no snobbery around my favorite eco-products being offered at Wal-Mart (I have snobbery around not stepping foot in a Wal-Mart but that’s for another day). I actually LOVE the idea of more people being able to buy the products I love and use. More people making conscious choices. Which in theory should add up to more trees saved, less GHGs put into the air, better labor conditions, right?! Unfortunately the reality isn’t quite that rosy.

Since I’m lactose-free soy is part of my diet. When Silk Soymilk was taken over by megatron Dean Foods, they began to use conventional soybeans instead of organic ones WITHOUT CHANGING THE PACKAGING. WTF #2. The same Dean Foods also bought Horizon (what was great organic milk) and now they are being sued by farmers and the Cornucopia Institute for selling fake organic milk, and investigated by the Justice Department. WTF #3.

Colgate-Palmolive bought my beloved Tom’s and surprise surprise they now have an antiperspirant for the first time that contains aluminum (the debated ingredient that may be linked to breast cancer or may just be a lot of chemical to roll up onto your delicate parts). Oh and their mouthwash contains a ‘natural’ ingredient derived from gas and oil, Poloxamer 335 & 407. WTF #4. But they are actually one of the companies doing it the best. While their recent switch to (non-recyclable) plastic toothpaste tubes sent hippies up in arms, they transparently listed customer feedback as the reason for the switch (the aluminum tubes cracked/split apparently) and put a band-aid on the recycling problem by letting you ship them to Maine, where they’ll ship them to Illinois to be made into other plastics. But will you do that? Will I? At least they ditched the cardboard tube box!

Other notable cowboy losses since 2000 include: Burt’s Bees now part of the Clorox manufacturing machine, L’Oreal owns my new favorite The Body Shop, Unilever owns Ben & Jerrys, Coke owns Odwalla and Honest Tea, Danone owns Stoneyfield Farm and Brown Cow, Kellogg owns Kashi, General Mills owns Cascadian Farm, Larabar, and Food Should Taste Good, and Schwepps owns Green & Black Organic Chocolate (this one I was surprised about!). Do you know of others?

Check out the infographic below to see Michigan State’s mapping of where our organic brands really come from and do you own research to see if the products have changed, as the packaging likely hasn’t.

Meanwhile, I’m keeping a desperate hold on to my few remaining favorites Amy’s, Arrowhead Mills, Nature’s Path, and Organic Valley.

Michigan State Organic Industry Structure

Michigan State Organic Industry Structure

Make-Your-Own Trail Mix in New Haven!

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Greetings from the East Coast! As I head into the woods for a week of pure happiness at camp, I’m finding lots of GREEN back in my native CT. New Haven has always intrigued me as a city. Slightly ghetto, pretty small, but with a ton of local spirit, educated people, and even a startup scene. My Dad and I had the pleasure of feasting at Green Well where he commented ‘Woah, this is a hippie SF/Sarah restaurant’. Right he was!

Green Well’s mission is to bring happiness, energy and fulfillment to others through lifestyle and consumption habits (side note: I think this also might be my mission!). There the organic, responsibly sourced food and drink is the norm, and it’s not more expensive (Dad was into the prices and he listens to Rush Limbaugh).

All sandwiches are served on freshly baked/homemade vegan bread, and sandwiches come with kale chips. I’m still dreaming of our breakfast sandwiches, and the glorious trail mix and cereal bar where I tried my first goji berry (16 varieties of dried fruit, veggies, nuts and granola!).

Coming home is going to be much more fun with great places like this popping up. Way to go CT!

Turns out The Body Shop is pretty awesome.

warming-mineral-mask_lI get asked a lot about what moisturizers and creams I use (since cosmetics are not regulated and there are all sorts of horrible chemicals in most of the things you can buy at CVS).

Turns out The Body Shop is a great option. It’s similar to a Patagonia because it was started to improve society &  the planet. I associated it as a bit old school, but really it’s kind of a secret gem. They’ve been 100% anti animal testing from their first day in business (!), every product is certified Cruelty-Free, and they’re also one of the first big brands to be as Fair Trade as they possibly can be. Fair Trade as a seal is just getting into cosmetics and Body Shop is helping them expand. They currently source FT Shea (which is a hugely controversial ingredient – there is conflict Shea butter, I know, wild), Tea Tree, Honey, Hemp, and Aloe. They do a ton with employee volunteerism, have their own foundation, encourage female self esteem (not with makeup, with health), focus on domestic violence, work with a lot of local community groups, are replacing store lighting with LEDs, installed solar on their HQ and other buildings, and have a huge focus on ethical suppliers (which is totally awesome, a lot of companies stop at their own operations and then say they have no control over what suppliers do).

I use the warming mineral mask (because who can afford regular facials) and I really like it. It definitely pulls out the gunk and I break out for about a day after using it (similar to with a facial) but then my skin feels so clean, smooth, and even tighter. Worth a try if you’re into that.

My other favorite brand is Yes To (Carrots, Blueberries, Cucumbers). It’s strong environmentally and health-wise they don’t put any chemical crap in their products. Good Guide rates them as a 6/10 mostly because their social programs aren’t super transparent. I really like how the Carrots Repairing Night Cream feels on my face, and you can get it at Target which helps. I didn’t love the cucumber moisturizer (smelled really fragrant and went on sticky), and the blueberry I like only in the eye cream.

I also use the derma E day cream (with SPF) and I really like it- not greasy and perfect for every day. They sell it at Whole Foods (it’s expensive I think $25 for a little tub), and Good Guide rates it a 7.4.

To healthy faces, healthy society, and a healthy planet!

A Zero-Waste & Local Wedding

Well, I got married in March. It was absolutely the best day of my life, surrounded by 70 of our favorite people. Throughout the planning process (all 2.5 months of it) we worked super hard to make sure we had no waste and were minimizing our purchases. Man the wedding ‘industry’ tells you to buy all sorts of shit and it’s kind of hard not to get swept up in it…maybe I do need personalized stationary, a photobooth, and paper lanterns that we set free into the sky. To be honest, taking the minimalist approach also saved us a ton of money.

Here’s some simple things we did (and of course we didn’t get it all right!):

-Online invitations. Yep, nothing printed! I designed it in InDesign, we emailed it out, & people emailed back a yes or no. Simon also made us a great website w/ more details (www.letsbuildafort.com). (See below, free)

-We made sure the location, The Stable Cafe, had composting. The food (Jennifer’s Lunch) was so amazing that there was barely anything left and the catering staff took what was left home!

-Our centerpieces were terrariums rented from the amazing Lila B ($100 total), pieces of free driftwood our friend Shannon found on the beach (she was our wedding designer!), butcher paper that was then recycled, and all of our dishware/napkins/the tent/heat lamps were rented and returned  after.

-Edible favors! Amazing muffins, croissants, pastries, and surprise baked goods from our favorite local place: Craftsman & Wolves. They were packaged in compostable thin brown bags (total spent on favors less than $200).

-Groom & Groomsman had upcycled boutonnieres (Thanks Anna!)

-Reused old wood to write signage on (free)

-Reused an old window pane for seating assignments ($20 supply store)

-Bridesmaids could pick their own dress and one of them reused (1 free!)!

-We didn’t do any decorations – the cafe already had twinkle lights, trees, plants and that was good enough for us! (Free)

-All local and organic food. (Our plates were only $120/person for passed appetizers, bus snacks, chicken/steak/vegetarian options -and EVERYTHING was organic and local!)

-All local wine. With Napa, Sonoma, and Russian River so close, how could we not! Also all local beer except my Dad requested a 30 pack of Coors Light (seriously).

-Our favorite local pies & local legend blue bottle coffee

-We all walked to our after-party at Mission Bowling Club

-Thank you post-cards (save a whole envelope, recycled, soy ink!) from our favorite SF designer, Notify.

-Our rings had no gems or diamonds (conflict free) and were made by a local designer out of gold (mine) and stainless steel (Simon’s)

Eco-fails:

-I bought a new dress. I looked at a lot of reused options (actually tried to get the dress I loved/wore reused but couldn’t find it) and looked at upcycled options but in the end fell in love with my Claire Pettinbone. I also bought new earrings from an NYC boutique and new shoes from Anthropologie. I reused my grandmother’s purse.

-We took the entire wedding party on a cocktail-hour bus tour of San Francisco for 2 hours. Definitely better than doing cabs or something but we could have just stayed put and not put those bus GHGs into the atmosphere. Again, it was totally worth it. It was one of my favorite parts of the wedding and the first time to SF & to the Pacific for many of our family members!

-We had Shannon pick up and make sunflower bouquets from the SF flower market. They were very simple and incredibly gorgeous (and we composted them), and I don’t regret it, I just loved them.

-Groomsman all bought a new shirt and Simon bought a new vest and tie.

-We had a ‘sign in chair’ but also printed a postcard of ourselves and each person that came to the wedding and had them write notes on them. That, one menu for each of the 6 tables, and pieces of paper that Shannon wrote table numbers on were the only paper we used.

Enjoy the pics below and feel free to ask any questions about any of the above choices!

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Find a green cleaning product, the easy way.

I love, LOVE when other people vet things and make life easier for me. It’s important to trust the source doing the vetting, and I do look through the process to make sure it sounds reasonable and not like they are skimming or manipulating data. Last week the Environmental Working Group released its new online Guide to Healthy Cleaning. They are known for their database on skincare products already and this time their scientists tackled products that claim to be chemical free, non-toxic, natural, and their non-organic counterparts. Due to yet another US regulation gap, home cleaning products are NOT required to list any ingredients harmful or otherwise on their labels (disgusting right). OSHA only regulates workplace products, so while you may see ingredients on the back of some spray bottles you have at home, these are entirely voluntary and many companies leave out a few things they aren’t proud of! For instance, formaldehyde which is a known carcinogen and illegal in Europe is found in 409. Way to go USA.

EWG’s scientists went to work and spent 14 months doing a deep dive into over 2,000 products and assessing them against both national and international toxicity data sources. The full process of their research is described here.

Some brands on the A list:

Seventh Generation, Dr. Bronner, and Green Shield. Every product from Whole Foods brand was an A or a B and Mrs. Meyer’s got Bs across the board.

And brands that are doing bad things to you, from the F list:

BabyGanics, Simple Green, Tide, Gain, Downy, All, Green Works dish soap, Method dish soap, Palmolive, Cascade, and a host of others.

 

Check out EWG’s full list to see where your products rank.

 

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