Friday, February 29, 2008

Take Action This Weekend on Proposed 'Naturally Raised' Meat Label

One of my favorite sources for food politics info, The Ethicurean (Chew the Right Thing) has a great opportunity for us all to do something in the wake of the Scary Meat Sitch in this country. Or, to clarify, we can complain to the USDA about proposed meat labelling that will make it even harder to figure out the backstory on meat in the stores. The USDA's proposing creating a new labelling requirement for 'naturally raised' meat that requires said meat to be free of hormones and antibiotics. So far, so good, right? Well, that meat can come from animals who have had zero access to grass, the outdoors, zero natural insemination, zero regulation of whether or not said livestock operations are polluting the air and water with animal waste (intersex fish ring a bell?), and zero attention paid to whether or not the animals were raised humanely. Remind anyone else of the watered-down organics labelling that infuriated so many small farmers?

Here's the thing -- to have an opportunity to register your comment, you have to do it by Monday, March 3! Check out the Ethicurean's post to hear their full take, or just click through to the commenting section below. I have included my response and Ethicurean's talking points below.

Here's the link to give the USDA your comments.

MamaBird's comment: "I completely agree with the Ethicurean talking points (see below) and am outraged that the USDA would want to further obscure meat labeling. I would love to be able to buy my meat in a regular grocery store instead of travelling to pick up meat from a farm, but I can't currently tell from labels which producers are using the methods I support in meat production. I'm not a vegetarian, by the way, just a concerned mother who wants to have quality meat for her kids. Meat that's been grass-fed, meat that is from animals who have had access to pasture, who haven't been horribly overcrowded or fed antibiotics or homones (that are polluting our waterways!), meat from NON-downer animals. Please don't make it any harder for me to buy meat that's safe for my family and good for the environment."

Ethicurean 'naturally raised' meat commentary info:

Important: All comments must reference "Docket No. AMS-LS-07-0131".

Also: Be sure to include your name, address, and if appropriate, affiliation(s) and/or interest(s) in the issue.

Remember: The public comment deadline is March 3, 2008.

Talking Points

  • The proposed "naturally raised" standard fails to address many of the high standards consumers expect from sustainable livestock production, including animal welfare, access to pasture, and conservation and environmental requirements. Quite simply, the "naturally raised" label as proposed would not mean what consumers would think it implies and should be abandoned.
  • With its less than comprehensive definition of "naturally raised" and seemingly similar relationship to other labels, the proposed label would confuse consumers. It could also undermine the consumer confidence in all other label claims, including the well-established and trusted "certified organic" label which numerous producers have built their respective businesses around.
  • The naturally raised label claim would completely defeat a very important purpose of providing the label in the first place – to provide clear and reliable signals to consumers who want to make informed, environmentally-friendly, and healthy choices about their food purchases.
  • The implementation of a "naturally raised" claim would further mislead consumers who are already uncertain and skeptical about the meaning of the "natural" label claim currently overseen by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The natural claim refers to processing of meat whereas the naturally raised claim refers to the production of livestock. The implementation of two distinct claims, both using the term "natural" yet addressing completely distinct issues and administered by two separate agencies will create confusion for consumers and farmers alike.
  • Hormone and antibiotic supplementation and the use of animal byproducts as a feed source are extremely important issues that could be succinctly and accurately addressed through individual labeling claim standards. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service had previously proposed the development of "no antibiotics used" and "no supplemental hormones used" labels, both of which would provide clear and reliable signals to consumers. This approach would provide consumers with clear, reliable signals that will allow them the opportunity to make informed decisions about what they are purchasing, while sustaining their confidence in the integrity of all USDA process-verified labels.
*Photo courtesy of kovic at SXC - apologies for the cute, anthropomorphized kissing cow images right next to thoughts of your burgers....

**Also, I promise that I will post about something other than horrifying food issues some day soon!
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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Another Scientist's Take on Hermaphrodite Fish

I think we're all on the same page about the hermaphrodite fish surfacing in our waterways. In case you missed the first installment, Dr. Alan S. Kolok (an environmental toxicologist who's researched the effects of estrogenic compounds in wastewater treatment on the feminization of male fish) let Surely You Nest know that, although hormones are indeed untreated pollutants at this time, the real danger's not in the tap water we drink but the swimming holes we might choose. He convinced me to lose the bottled water, go back to the tap and resume filtering.

Up today is an interview with an environmental, analytical, and marine chemistry professor who's also studying estrogens in our waterways. My eternal gratitude to Dr. Yuegang Zuo, Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Graduate School of Marine Sciences and Technology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, for taking the time to answer my questions. Dr. Zuo recently conducted a study entitled Monitoring Estrogenic Hormones - Undesired Fish Contraceptives, and Investigating Their Sources, Transportation and Fate in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. I so appreciate his taking the time to consider my basic questions about water quality and safety.

My quick-and-dirty on this interview? Dr. Zuo notes that, although they're not yet designed to remove hormones, current wastewater treatment processes
actually do take care of some percentage of the estrogens. Glad to hear it. Also, he notes that livestock operations in the Midwest actually are polluting drinking water sources with hormones (scratch the tapwater there, folks. And if you live in D.C., make sure your water's lead-free before jumping on the local water bandwagon). Sounds like on many fronts, more research is needed. Many thanks to Dr. Zuo and Dr. Kolok for the ongoing work they're doing to figure out the causes of intersex fish and ramifications of hormones in our waterways.


Dear Dr. Zuo:

Please forgive this intrusion into your professional life, but I am a resident of Washington, DC who is concerned about the large numbers of intersex fish in the Potomac. I've contacted my local officials and WASA, the local water authority, and was told that since this is an "emerging pollutant of concern" that's not covered by the Clean Water Act, no action's being taken to treat DC water.

Thank for your interest in the current research on estrogens and other endocrine disrupting pollutants in our aquatic environment. Your local officials and WASA were right that estrogens and other endocrine disrupting chemicals are a group of emerging environmental pollutants;

Furthermore, WASA indicated that there are no existing methods to treat wastewater to remove hormones. Just from surfing online, this seems not to be the case.

current waste water treatment processes are not designed to decompose these compounds; and they are not regulated by the environmental protection agency.

Do you know of cities in which wastewater treatment removes chemicals including estrogen?

Although the current waste water treatment processes are not designed to eliminate these pollutants, they do remove a significant fraction of these pollutant ranged from 10 ~ 90%. Both chlorination, UV-irradiation, microbial degradation and ozonation processes, which commonly used for the wastewater and drinking water treatment, can remove the concerned pollutants at least partially. However, the removal efficiency of the concerned pollutants has not been well studied yet.

Do you have any advice for me as I attempt to figure out a)how to get my water treatment facility to take this issue seriously?...and b)whether or not the hormones in my public water supply are of concern for my (small) children?

So far, most problems are associated with waste water effluents and livestock operation. Except sites contaminated by livestock operation in some Midwest locations, we have not noticed any drinking water contaminations by estrogenic hormones. To make sure, you may check if your city drinking water source is not contaminated by waste water effluents and livestock operation.

Best regards,

Yuegang Zuo, Ph.D.
Professor of Environmental, Analytical and Marine Chemistry

University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

*photo courtesy of GNewman at sxc
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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Food Fascination

Lately, like everyone, I've been riveted by the Sinclair-esque downer cows (via Gristmill) in our meat supply. My favorite description of the situation (at Eating Liberally) called out the meat plants for "bovine water boarding."

Sometimes, in fact oftentimes, the frugal thing to do (bagging lunches) is also healthier. Last I checked, there weren't very many organic, free-range, locally- and sustainably-farmed, whole-grain, additive-, preservative-, and synthetic dye-free items on the school lunch menu.

But I figured last week was the safest time in history to relent and let our kid get a much-desired Hot Lunch or two since all of the bad press caused our school district to yank meat, recall or no, from the menus. C'mon, didn't you trade your lunches back in the day? Hostess Ding-Dongs being the platinum currency of lunchbox wampum. Kids can't do that now, what with food allergies on the rise and all. So to take an item off the Delightfully Forbidden Fruit list you have to bend the rules now and again.

EGirl had a (persistant organic pollutant-laced) fish sandwich (on white GMO bread) and some (bGH) cheese pizza. But her favorite part (and my favorite description?) was the milk: "Mom, it was chocolate and even though it wasn't organic? It tasted so cold and delicious that it seemed like it really was." Ah, everlasting sweetness.

Below: less musing, more foodbits...

  • This cool tool at Foodsel allows you to see nifty visual guides to food contents. Like if you eat a Krispy Kreme, what does that really mean? Why, a fifth of a stick of butter and four sugar cubes just went down your gullet. But you got 16 batteries' worth of energy. And if you're my weight, to burn off the calories, you could play lawn darts for two hours and 16 minutes. (via Lifehacker)
  • This nifty little list by Kid Safe Seafood answers the question on a lot of parents' minds -- just tell me what fish is safe for the little ones to eat. A-OK to gobble = shrimp, scallops, salmon, cod, crayfish, mussels, and tilapia. (via Green Mom Finds)
  • Rocket fuel's in all of our food. Sigh. (chipper fact courtesy of EWG).
  • Get rid of those teflon pans, easy to clean though they may be. (more EWG).
  • Americans may be fatter than the French because we look to external cues to tell us when to stop eating (like whether The Daily Show's still running) rather than internal cues like satiety. Blame it on the Clean Plate Club, eh? (via Science Daily)
  • A tip from Zen Habits to help you stop eating sweets after dinner: brush your teeth right away. You won't want to mess with your minty freshness. Plus, you can get your kids on the path to bedtime pronto.
  • An aside in a recent Gristmill story about wine and chocolate pairings noted that highbrow chocolate is fair trade because really expensive chocolate is made from custom grown cacao and therefore is free of forced child labor. It's also relatively pesticide-free, labeling or no, so gobble up that Valrhona.
  • Safeway's getting on board with animal rights. (also via Grist) First an organic line and now bunny-love? More to love than just the hook-ups....
  • Button mushrooms are just as healthy if not healthier than highbrow expensive fungi like shitaake or porcini. Mmmmmmushroooms. (via Science Daily)
  • Here's a thorough piece at the Boulder explaining the debate about big organic milk producers like oh-horror-a ahem Aurora and whether or not they are fauxbies breaking the spirit of organics or the real deal. (via chewswise)
  • Another reason to bag the nuggets? Runoff from conventional poultry farms is polluting waterways like the Chesapeake Bay. (via NPR)
  • Cool resource: a list of high fiber veggies. Apparently avocados have way more fiber than carrots. Who'da thunkit? (from A Veggie Venture)
Happy Wednesday!

*Photo via sxc - for more of
ramasamy chidambaram's work, see
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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sneaker Save: Recycling Running Shoes

Directly related to my New Year's resolve to exercise more aka Stay Alive Longer, I recently realized I needed new kicks. But what to do with the old ones? Easy...stick them in the front hall closet! Until I was reminded by a timely Green As a Thistle post to recycle the old ones. I also consulted my bookmarked Tiny Choices’ post on recycling running shoes to figure out what to do.

My favorite ideas:

  • Giving them to if they have some miles left in them. Better they be used by a runner than trashed. Email for info about where to send your shoes (you'll mail them to Africa yourself unless you can drop them off in Manhattan, and, as Tiny Choices points out, if they're stolen, it's probably by someone who, well, needs sneakers).
  • Sending the sneaks back to Nike in Oregon (but check if you're going this route as they have local drop-off points in many cities) so that they can be ground up and made into playing fields, helping close the loop on the shoe production process via the Reuse-A-Shoe program.

*Photo courtesy of Bazil Raubach.SXC (it's his daughter, not me, sigh).
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Monday, February 25, 2008

Baby Steps, and Baby Yourself

Occasionally I hear groans when I bring up my 47,000th environmental, human rights, sustainability or health concern -- groans of Ah, Live Your Life! Be Happy! To this I say: I am happy. I am happiest when devouring information.

I'm with Wendell Berry: "Be joyful though you've considered all the facts."
I may not dwell on the many quandaries of modern life (pollution, finances, chemical contamination, nutritional demands vs. taste vs. time etc. etc.), but I'm surely going to consider them. Closely (smile).

Hey, everybody's fascinated by something. Everyone's trying to grow. I may not be simpatico to your goals.
But I am taking my own little baby steps. Laughing at myself, recognizing my limits, and staying open to new information.
The best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously
It's only life after all
(Love those Indigo Girls!)
I hope we can up the kindness level when it comes to self-assessment on whatever front matters to us. Because that's usually what's going on, right? Every single person I know is trying extremely hard to be a conscientious steward of our world's resources and to do the best for themselves and their loved ones. And every single person I know is too busy trying to figure out how to balance the 47,000 things they value to judge someone else for their choices. (Yes, I do live in a kind of Lake Wobegon of spectacular adults, as a fatter of mact.)

So when one of my nearest and dearest emailed me in a panic about what to do about
flowers because she was having a house guest and couldn't find pesticide-free, fair trade flowers that wouldn't deplete her retirement account, I realized I had to toss some love in her direction (I know you're reading!) and address effort. Effort is important. And so is being kind to yourself and recognizing that many different things have value. For the wonderful woman in question, being one of the kindest hostesses on the planet is a pretty important factor to consider. Human relationships matter.

I've been thinking about this for awhile in terms of my own self-improvement efforts, and as usual, found lots of inspiration from others. Here is some commentary on seeking perfection while working for change that really spoke to me. Turning to some of my daily blog-reads:
  1. In response to a reader question about which type of cooking source was the most environmental choice, Greenpa at Little Blog in the Big Woods responded: What kind of cooking do you do? What kinds do you LIKE to do? Are you allergic to woodsmoke? Do you enjoy cutting, splitting, handling firewood, or are you really too busy? How much "extra" time do you have- either to wrangle wood, or propane containers?- Etc. Hopefully you get the idea. Who you are- what you need- and even what makes you happy- all these considerations are genuinely IMPORTANT to the answer. You are important. We need to remember that. "Sustainable" practices WON'T be- if they make people miserable, and they won't stick to them. Which seems obvious, but quite a few enthusiasts will, in the excitement of the moment, adopt practices that they can't/won't - uh, sustain. Because in their enthusiasm for the greater good, and the benefit to the planet, they forgot- WE are part of the planet we're trying to save here- and we matter, too.
  2. Then there's the interviews Tiny Choices does with regular folk like you and me. One interviewee named Frank Gibson had this to say when asked, "What is the one environmental Tiny Choice you would like every single person to adopt?" Honestly, I would like everybody to simply start thinking! Thinking about their purchases, their employment, their transport, their food, their government, and the Big Picture. We can’t all be experts on climate change, or agribusiness, or civic engineering, but we can all do the things that we know for sure will help, starting on a household scale.
  3. It's like ZenHabits author Leo noted in this post about trying to eat more healthily: How did I get from Point A (junk food junkie) to Point B (much healthier diet)? I’ll let you in on my secret (and it’s not a secret if you’re one of the many people who discovered this already): I didn’t go from Point A to Point B. It’s more like Point A to Point Z, with lots of points in between.
I love the concept of kaizen or continual improvement. Baby steps, my friends, baby steps. Baby yourself...and let's baby each other.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

No-Guilt Manifesto

The following No-Guilt Manifesto is not mine; repeat, these are not my words (that's for Hillary Clinton) but I love the sisterhood they can inspire. They are taken verbatim from a fantastic, anonymous post yesterday on the DC Urban Moms and Dads' Forums. My response is at the end.


"I do not feel guilty!

I do not feel guilty that my 10 month old still has a pacifier and I am not going to take it away because you, random woman at the pizza place, told me she didn't need it anymore.

I do not feel guilty that I work three days a week and send my daughter to daycare and I am not going to change my lifestyle because you, friend of a friend that I just met, made a whiney "awwww" sound when you found that information out.

I do not feel guilty that my daughter was fed from a bottle from the day she was born and that I switched to Target brand after my Doctor told me that they're all the same.

I do not feel guilty that only some of the foods she eats are organic.

I do not feel guilty that I didn't even once make her babyfood.

I do not feel guilty that my daughter watched TV sometimes and I watch it nearly all day while she plays and I play with her.

I do not feel guilty that my daughter has no set sleeping schedule except at night, and that even then she stays up later if we're doing something.

I do not feel guilty that I let her cry it out to get her to sleep at night. Not Ferber....CIO.....she now sleeps from 7:30PM - 8AM on average.

I do not feel bad when my baby cries while I am changing her diaper to go to sleep, this is to everyone that has seen her cry while I put her sleeper on and looked at her with pity as if something bad is happening to her. I am TAKING CARE OF HER. It's not like I'm smacking her in the face. I'm changing her diaper, putting cream on her and putting on her sleeper, so stop looking at me like she's being punished.

I only feel a little guilty that my house is not babyproofed at all even though my daughter is crawling. I'm watching her like a hawk to see what she's interested in getting into so that I know how to babyproof it. My nephew figured out how to open the "locked" kitchen cabinets about 1/2 a minute after he figured out how to stand next to them. I can't figure out what to do!

I will not feel guilty either. All that giving me dirty looks and nasty comments is going to do is make me irritated with you. I love my child and my child loves me and I am only trying to be as good a Parent as my Parents....who bottle fed me, sent me to daycare, fed me prepared baby food, didn't baby proof (although I do feel like I have to get on that!) and let us do CIO.

Please stop giving people dirty looks. We all do what we think is best. My baby is clean, fed, loved, played with, snuggled and most importantly of all....she is happy!" --Anonymous

SurelyYouNest to Anonymous:

SPEAKING of not feeling guilty, I want to chime in and say that if I *feel* like making homemade baby food in my fair-trade, egalitarian-wood-toys, Bisphenol-A-free, omega-3 sustainable fish-eating, Mother Cruncha household (slight exaggeration but you get my drift), stop feeling so pressured to BE like me.

The world's a big place, and I honestly don't have time (what with all the steaming of organic, locavore vegetables and grinding of the whole wheat kernels to soak and ferment to get the maximum nutrition) to give two scoops of sugar what YOU'RE up to, except maybe being your own funny, witty self with your own values. I probably have a lot to learn from you, so tell me about the fun stuff you're doing. Or avoid me like the plague if I am not your type. Stop presuming that people who make different choices are judging YOU and relax.

Most of us are not prosyletizing. If people are really giving you dirty looks, fire away. But if someone's talking about something she loves (and trust me, I like plenty besides nutrition and health, but I am really into that too), she may just be excited about what she's up to. Not telling you that you have to drink the preservative-free, no artificial sweeteners, no synthetic dyes Kool-Aid. Just a thought.

And I also *love* your no-guilt manifesto. Just think it should apply across the board (even if I decide to nurse my kids until they are in junior high).
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Button Fleurs

Button flowers are a great way to reuse random buttons, beads, and art supplies. All you need is some green florist wire (make sure it's thin enough -- bring a button with you to test). Then thread your buttons (I like putting beads at the very top and also mixing them into the stems) and twist, twist, twist. Sparkly pipe cleaners to tie your bunch together are a bonus.

I originally found (and bought) button flowers on Princess Lasertron's etsy shop, but I think she's in Amsterdam, so instead of keeping her custom order queue lined up into the summer, I decided to teach myself how to make them on my own! I made three bunches of these a couple weeks ago for my Handmade Giveaway. Very satisfying.

Button flowers, IMHO, are the perfect multi-purpose gift. Housewarming? Check. Hostess gift? Check. Kid's birthday party offering? Check. Bouquet for tiny dancer's first ballet recital? Check. Token of love for a 96 year old woman who doesn't need anything but deserves to be showered with attention? Check.

P.S. Altho I wouldn't let them get gnawed on, these flowers are resilient in the hands of tiny monsters. Love 'em! Read more!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Whither Our Water? Addressing Hormones in Local Waterways

Biology Professor Gives SurelyYouNest the Straight Dope
on Endocrine Disruptors in our Waterways

Anyone who has a kid, heck, anyone who drinks water has done a double-take on the hermaphrodite fish in our waterways. Um, are egg-producing male fish swimming around in my iced tea water? I'm just askin'.

Hermaphroditism isn't just rampant in the Potomac River here in the nation's capitol. Intersex fish are showing up in waterways all over the country. They're not sure why (birth control pills and chicken farm runoff are two top candidates), and most wastewater treatment plants are doing exactly, ah, nothing about it. My local councilmember emailed our water and sewer authority and they had this to say: Not it! We aren't doing anything atall because it's not mandated by the Clean Water Act but if forced to by regulations we will address the hormone issue in the future. In slightly more positive language, of course:
WASA is aware of the presence of these chemicals in wastewater and in the waterways. The science and technology of treating these chemicals in large waste treatment facilities have not been developed yet. Presently, these are not regulated by the federal Clean Water Act. WASA will continue to monitor developments related to these and other emerging pollutants of concern, and will take necessary steps as required and is feasible, especially to comply with related regulatory requirements. As with other chemicals that impact the environment, the most effective steps to take is to control these at the source, and any steps that can be taken to do so would be welcome.
The EPA gave hormones in the the Potomac a concern ranking of eight back in 2006. DCist had this to say at the time:
Presumably this eight lies on your typical scale of one to ten, one being "someone might have peed in the river" and ten being "water-loving alien creatures have made the Potomac their homebase to mete out the destruction of the human race."
A pollutant of emerging concern? I'll say it again, holy man-boobs, Batman! I want to drink clean water. And I know that tap water is more environmentally friendly but I have been loath to drink DC's H2O. Heck, I have been par-tic-u-lar about my water since I was in high school -- when I first posted about my water sourcing agonies here, my friend's mom wrote in chuckling to remind me that I wouldn't even come for sleepovers without my trusty Brita pitcher.

Ah, the power of an interview with a kind, generous-with-his time scientist and professor to ease my mind! Turns out my creative writing degree makes for some wonderfully imaginative bedtime stories but proved dead wrong on the drinking water front. And not just because our federal government hasn't put a finger on the source of their concern yet. It's because the water we swim in is more likely to have issues than the water we drink. See below for the details -- but from now on, it's a sigh of relief and back to the tap for me. I'll be quaffing local water to hydrate while I figure out how to register my concern about chemicals in our waterways, and the impact on not only marine life (some of which we eat) but our swimming holes.

My eternal gratitude to Dr. Alan S. Kolok at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, for taking so much time (on a holiday weekend, no less) to answer my questions. Dr. Kolok is an environmental toxicologist who has researched the effects of estrogenic compounds in wastewater treatment with regard to the feminization of male fish.


Dear Dr. Kolok:

Please forgive this intrusion into your professional life, but I am a resident of Washington, DC who is concerned about the large numbers of intersex fish in the Potomac. I've contacted my local officials and WASA, the local water authority, and was told that since this is an "emerging pollutant of concern" that's not covered by the Clean Water Act, no action's being taken to treat DC water.

DrK: That is true.

Furthermore, WASA indicated that there are no existing methods to treat wastewater to remove hormones. Just from surfing online, this seems not to be the case.

DrK: I am not aware of municipalities that have made changes to their treatment specifically to remove hormones. However, there is a growing dataset supporting that aerobic digestion of is an effective remidiation technology for hormones.

Do you know of cities in which wastewater treatment removes chemicals including estrogen?

DrK: In Nebraska the small cities that have incorporated aerobic digestion at their facilities have not been found to be releasing hormones into the environment. I know of at least two facilities in Nebraska that do not use aerobic digestion and are releasing hormones into the environment. This has been found to be true in other states and other countries as well.

Do you have any advice for me as I attempt to figure out a)how to get my water treatment facility to take this issue seriously?

DrK: There are two components to water treatment: wastewater treatment and drinking water. While wastewater treatment has been shown to contain steroids, I am not aware of any studies finding significant concentrations of steroids in drinking water. I would be very surprised to find that both the drinking water and
waste water facilities in D.C. were not concerned about the issue. What to do about it, and how to generate the funds and political will to get it done is a very different matter.

...and b)whether or not the hormones in my public water supply are of concern for my (small) children?

DrK: Your drinking water is most likely safe. In fact, with governmental regulations for drinking water, the water that you get out of the tap is probably better for you than the water that you could drink out of a plastic bottle! Buy a Brita filter (these are fairly cheap) and keep filtered tap water in your fridge, if you are still concerned (this is what my family does).

Sewage effluent will not be a direct problem for your children providing you are vigilent about where they swim (in Connecticut, when I grew up, I used to swim at a beach near a river that drained the town dump! I wouldn't let my children swim there today), and also where your fresh seafood comes from.If you fish or enjoy other local seafood, make sure that you eat in moderation and that it comes from clean environments.

Remember that fish live in water constantly, and are subjected to every chemical dissolved in the water. Your children have a much more limited access to water, and short of swimming, their exposure to raw, untreated water is very minimal.

Alan S. Kolok
Department of Biology
University of Nebraska at Omaha

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Make Your Own Fingerpaints (Wholesome Handprint Goodness)

Make your own nontoxic finger paints with this recipe from planet green. I adapted the recipe to use natural dyes but you could use food coloring. We've only made pink (smirk) with beet juice* 'cause we are waiting for the opportune carrot and blueberry moments to make orange and blue. No matter; rose rocked!

One cool thing about this recipe is that you can make it without flour, so kids who have gluten sensitivity can still play.

DIY Fingerpaint

2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 cups water including beet, carrot, or blueberry juice as dye
1/4 cup liquid dishwashing soap (add after cooking!!)

1. Mix the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan and slowly stir in the water.

2. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly until the mixture is a clear, smooth gel. Stir in the soap and remove from the heat. When cool enough to handle, scoop it into storage containers.

*In case you're curious about the origin of our beet juice, the way I cook beets is to put about a half inch or an inch of water in the bottom of a slow cooker or a stockpot and slowly steam/parboil the beets until soft. When you take your beets out to devour with olive oil, sea salt and lemon, you have plenty of dye left over for art projects. Throw it in the fridge until you want to use it. I like the beet juice because it's a cooking byproduct and therefore not wasteful. If anyone has any other ideas for easy, natural dyes, I'm all ears. Read more!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Free Fun

I'm always surprised when folks reveal that they are not freecycle addicts, so I thought I would explain here what the deal is. It's an online yahoogroup that allows you to give away stuff you don't need so you keep it out of landfills. Great idea, huh? As someone who used to work for an organization that got lots of well-intentioned donations (lots of which weren't completely appropriate or even helpful), I now freecycle almost everything I can. I give money to worthy nonprofits and give my junk to someone who has already decided it's treasure. That's the beauty of freecycle. It takes initiative to respond to a post so it's self-screening. My favorite item I've given away? Hands-down, a 4 foot spray-painted plaster bust of a Roman senator left in my attic by the former owner. Its destination? A backyard urban garden complete with ivy trails for his head. Sweet, huh? Other random stuff that will see worthwhile use? Hiking boots slightly too small for these post-pregnancy feet, aloe cuttings, wind chimes, an old film camera with a death squeak.

Makes decluttering extremely satisfying.

Don't say I didn't warn you, though. I have a couple tips. The traffic on the list is high. I recommend checking messages on the homepage and setting your message delivery to web only. Also, when people are getting something for nothing, they may or may not value it (or your time) appropriately. Be ruthless about pickup times and dates (the sooner and more specific the better, ie, priority given to respondents who can pick up tonight!) so you don't end up with another full time job: managing flaky freecyclers. Also, don't forget, you can post a "wanted" message once a month. I just scored a bread machine!

FreecycleDC serves an environmentally aware and responsive community. It helps reduce consumption and waste by connecting people who are throwing away items with others who are seeking the same. Computers, furniture, clothing, magazines, sports equipment, and stuff in your closet - keep it out of landfills by giving it a new home. (from our local site)
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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dungduggety Mud!

It's been awhile since I visited the Alternative Expletive Project, but it came to mind recently when a mother who curses a blue streak (in front of my kid! BASTion of Indecency!) noted that her (freakishly attuned) child is able to adapt his speech depending on his audience. As in, "Don't step in the (oh wait, grandma is here) dog doo-doo!" That's right, folks, a four year old who is able to decipher not only what's appropriate but to adapt his vernacular based on the context of the situation. Motherflower! I think I may one day enlist him as my speech coach via hidden webcams and tiny microphones. Until then, if it makes you all feel any better, I find this resource mightily entertaining (and so will my 4 year old when I spring some of these on her.... Many thanks to the DC Urban Mom who shared it with the community many years ago.
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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lovey Cupcakes

OK, so they are not perfect. But the Bleeding Heart Cupcakes were way fun to make!

First, you're supposed to put a marble in the muffin pans right next to the foil liner so that it will press in the top to make a heart-shaped cupcake. Nice in theory. Didn't really work but this did in no way diminish our excitement. Btw, if you are following the Epicurious recipe (which I don't recommend, they are totally blah cupcakes, shhhh don't tell the children!) baking them for about 20 minutes works fine (no, they didn't include a cooking time, sigh).

Then, we cut a "dime-sized" square in the cupcake and hollowed out a tunnel for the blood-jam. Next time I would make a much bigger tunnel. Shoveled blood-jam in with a skinny steak knife. Replaced cap. Next, we made muted pink (beet juice! shhh....) frosting for the background organ. When we frosted the tops of the cupcakes, EGirl announced, "We are not going to tell anyone there is blood inside!!"

Finally, we made bright red (your grocery store generic bad news dye) and bright purple (Sur La Table highbrow frosting tint) for the veins and arteries. We even (gasp) used two small plastic bags to pipe them on the cupcakes, a major concession these days. As you can see, neither of us has a degree in anatomy.

Mwah! Kiss, kiss from our gooey house to yours.
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For My Sweeties

So, just in time for the schmaltziest of the holidays, here are a few palatable antidotes anecdotes from MamaBird.

  • True love can be like a first date! Brain scans prove that some people can hang onto that first-kiss rush. Awwwww via the Wall Street Journal, those predictable saps. How cool is this? As the researcher said when she saw the imaging results, "Wow. Just wow." When I was nineteen, a counselor told me that the type of rush-love where you only see the good in your partner (so smart! so thoughtful! unbelievably, howlingly funny! and chose ME?!) was a stunted Stage Two out of, who knows, a million stages leading up to and including quiet desperation and recognition of the pointlessness of really trying to relate. Whatever! Here's to that "new love" feeling.
  • Feeling inspired to play around with your clothes? Fashionist, provider of "unadulterated street fashion from San Francisco" takes and shares snapshots of random, put-together folks. She's got a great eye for texture and color, and seems not to give a flying squirrel for cost or trends or brands. My kinda blogger! Anyways, I have really been loving her selections (even the tiny interviews are riveting) and then, today, she showcased a stencil artist named Eclair-a-Cuda dressed entirely in green with custom platforms. I so miss the Bay Area...
  • A little bit of my bleeding heart for you, too... these awesome cupcakes, via GoodyBlog and YumSugar (which has the pics to get your blood pumping, heh heh) but really an Epicurious recipe, will be our proud contribution to the EGirl's Valentine's Day Party. She's been pretty fascinated with anatomy and the workings of the human body for years, so when I saw the arteries and veins on these gooey, jam-filled wonders, I had to act. I will even try (gasp) to take pictures (that I upload and share, no less!). Just had to kick it up here today in case someone ELSE wants to make a little something gory for tomorrow.

P.S. A green tip to just skip the flowers tomorrow. Flowers are covered with pesticides, aren't local, aren't fair trade, and basically should be an emblem of death instead of sappy love. (The NYTimes delved into the issue a couple weeks ago if you want to read more.)

P.P.S. I can't really leave you on that note, now can I? ZRecs had a contest to give away a keyfinding device in which they asked for Random Stuff Their Readers Have Lost. My total fave response (not, shockingly, the winner)?
Lost: My not-quite-perky-but-certainly-above-my-bellybutton bosom. Appears to have vanished when I wasn't looking somewhere between months 7 and 9 of breastfeeding, and has been replaced by pancakes. YOU AREN'T FOOLING ANYONE, PANCAKES. If found, no, you can't keep them! They're mine, all mine!
xoxo and Happy Early Valentine's Day!
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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Facing My Food

So, I am going to be upfront about the fact that I am not a vegan, just a carnivore who's more than a little unhappy about our mainstream food supply. Please, mercy! Uncle? You had me at CAFOs. I don't need any more convincing. I swear, I will try very, very hard to buy meat from local farmers. It's almost enough to make a person turn to insects... (protein tip via Eating Liberally) When are the cicada swarms coming back to DC again?

Apologizing in advance for the Faces of Death nature of this post. Ahem.

Lou, lou, skip to my (linky) lou...

  • Here's some help in the form of an online guide to sustainable, organic, local, and/or ethical grub — SOLE food, for short (thanks, Ethicurean, for the term and for so many of these disturbing tidbits). I already found a local butcher that has grassfed beef (not the grain-finished stuff you can find at Whole Foods) for when my Polyface Farms freezer stash runs out. If you live in the DC area, fyi, Polyface will start delivering again this spring in March.
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Monday, February 11, 2008

YAs of Yesteryear

Irreverent, witty Cliff's notes to nostalgic, forgotten loves. As a former English teacher and total bookworm, I am overfond of this series by Jezebel called

'Fine Lines', the Friday feature in which we give a sentimental, sometimes-critical, far more wrinkled look at the children's and YA books we loved in our youth.
They've reviewed Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder and have a loving interview with Judy Blume here. Island of the Blue Dolphins review? Here. Great stuff -- especially if, like me, you realize that your plan to reread every book before putting it into your precious baby's hands was perhaps a tad optimistic. Read more!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hard Wired (to be a) Party Girl

You know how some people's political views seem to fit perfectly into a wide-ranging ethos that includes how black and white (or grey) their world is? And how some other people cannot eat anything at all 'picy? No onions, no peppers, no tomatoes, no garlic... no government intervention in state affairs except for micromanaging people's bedrooms, no handouts except for agribusiness and offshore tax shelters.... Not like those two necessarily fit together. But, just like picky tastebuds, political views may be genetically based (both via Science Daily). Oh, that my personal hard-wiring could help me make the decision about who to vote for in Tuesday's primary....

Some random gender observations that probably won't help determine my vote:

Territorial video games activate male brains' pleasure center more than women's The author isn't shocked: "I think it's fair to say that males tend to be more intrinsically territorial," he said. "It doesn't take a genius to figure out who historically are the conquerors and tyrants of our species-they're the males."
via Science Daily

Women take more (short-term or less than 60 day stretches) sick leave than men, which the authors theorize may have something to do with women taking better preventive measures but my not-so-scientific take on the study was -- duh -- that those women weren't sick themselves,
their children were so they had to stay home (of course, the age range of the women was 40-60 so some of it has to be for other reasons...). via Science Daily

We saw Dave Barry last week and he shared this hilarious exploding whale story (and if it's not a guy story, I don't know what is). I also have Dave to thank for this bad-ass December-May, black-belt, marathon-running female takes-no-crap story as well (via his blog).

But I digress, as usual. Some links to voter guides that might actually help me make up my mind (hope they help, Mor-Mor):

Really, though, I'm loving the choices: Clinton or Obama, even McCain would be a monstrous improvement. This MamaBird was not hard-wired for the current dynasty.
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Friday, February 8, 2008


So, I had a lightbulb go off a few months ago -- all the dregs of backwash in my 1000 sippy and other type cups? The melted water from monsieur's champagne midnight milkbottle bucket? I use it to water my plants! I actually don't have a plant watering day any more. I just do it haphazardly, as the water arrives on the scene to be reused. Kind of like Mother Nature, I am. I was using my pasta water until I read the comments of this old post about this exact practice (!) over at Green as a Thistle. Won't be doing that anymore (mold alert) but a few moments ago, I did dump the water my black beans and lime juice soaked in overnight onto my lemon tree. I figure it can handle citrus if any plant can. Any other considerations I am not thinking of? Anywhere else easy to capture water? I think I will take the GAAT commenters' advice and also keep a bucket in the bottom of the shower (soap will be ok for the plants). Anyone else been greywatering plants to conserve/stretch water usage? Read more!

The Great Big Vegetable Challenge

I love this blog; it's about a seven year old boy in England who loathed vegetables so much that his mother concocted an A-to-Z adventure for him. He gets to rate the vegetables. I may have to do this around here one day and the GBVC will be a perfect source of inspiration and recipes. Right now we are surviving the onset of four year old control issues by banning sssssspppiiiinnnaccchhh. Other vegetables are eaten without (too much) comment. Read more!

Monday, February 4, 2008

I Heart Fairtrade Chocolate

Soooo...I know where you stand, readers. Most of you are chocolate-desiring, not chocolate-indifferent. But an anonymous commenter way back in November first alerted me to the labor issues swirling in my cup of hot chocolate, and the phrase "child slavery" is really too much for this mama to gloss over.

Via Baby Toolkit, a reminder (or a harbinger of doom, if this is new to you and you care deeply about both sweets and justice) that chocolate comes with a dear cost to African children, some of whom are sold to harvest and process it. Since fair trade chocolate is available, I think this mama's going to have to try to switch us on over. I know it's expensive (I just went to the Dagoba website since I've had their dark chocolate bars mmmmm and thought I'd look into chocolate chips and YIKES, we may have to go for oatmeal raisin every now and again) but I imagine this is one of those issues where once you know, there's no going back. 43% of the cacao beans produced may be tainted by present-day slavery, and the way the supply chain works, all the major chocolate producers' beans are mixed together. Unless we buy fair trade chocolate, odds are that we're supporting unjust labor practices impacting children.

I've gotten Dagoba bar chocolates at Cost Plus World Market (although I don't see them online -- maybe they only have them in their stores) and they are delectable. I know Whole Foods has a selection of fair trade chocolate bars (Green & Black's Maya Gold bar is tasty and fair-trade). Not sure about the chips and cocoa but I will report back if I find good sources. I would love any tips from readers about where to find milk chocolate products (not chips but bars, different candies, etc.) that use fair trade chocolate. It's easy to find dark chocolate bars but the many milk permutations seem elusive. All the fair trade chocolate seems pretty highbrow, I must say, which has its place. But for someone used to lining up double digits of Rolos on a pregnant belly shelf to make, you know, any number of pals, it's just not the same experience to have a nibble of an extra-dark bar with hints of lavender, if you get my drift.

May we be able to find something truly sweet (and just) for our loves this Valentine's Day. Read more!


Love this. Random performance art via Grist. Read more!

Run and Grab Some Vino, Sweetie

To-the-point health roundup for your Monday: Have a glass of wine every now and then; get off your duff and make sure you're jogging, not biking; don't worry about animal fats as long as you're eating Pollan-esque real food; stay far, far away from the off-brand hospitals; and junk the chemical cleaners and Teflon pans while you're at it. Hmmm, live the Amish life in a big city with a modern hospital?

  • The good news? If you drink moderately and exercise, you're less likely to have a heart attack. Have you been sipping vino while playing Wii tennis? Did you drink a margarita and then play hide and seek? Score! (If you're pregnant, nursing, or concerned about correlations between breast cancer and alcohol, don't worry, exercise alone lowered risks of heart attacks). via ABCNews
  • If you're going to have a heart attack, head to a top-ranked hospital -- you're 27% less likely to die there (and not just during your angioplasty). Check out the rankings in your area (free). via ScienceDaily
  • Another validation of my love for buttery, crispy chicken skin (which, I must admit, precipitated the demise of my vegetarian days back in college). Mmmm, dreams of salty, juicy, savory fat! via Culinate
  • Eat too much chicken skin? Analyze your cardio for its butt-sculpting potential. via Women's Health.
  • Commandments for cancer prevention from the Director of the UPitt Cancer Institute: exercise, eat healthily, don't smoke PLUS eat organic produce and limit meat; make your own cleaning products or at least avoid the most toxic ones; limit cellphone, nonstick cookware, and stain repellant use; avoid parabens (preservatives in beauty care products) via EWG
  • Also? If you do get breast cancer, (it's not your fault--my addition) and it's not your personality that's to blame.... Wha? via Jezebel
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