Good news! The best and most important thing you can do for your health is what you are doing right now: reading.
Of course, don’t limit yourself to my blog. Read health articles online and in magazines, read headlines and bylines, read cookbooks and warning labels. There are lots of opinions out there, so of course you won’t agree with everybody. But you will begin to formulate a philosophy of healthy living. Most of all, read the fine print on everything that you buy. Check out my post on How to Read an Ingredient Label.
Reading the list of ingredients is important even for things you never thought about having ingredients, like baby wipes. You definitely want to know what going into and onto you and your loved ones. Since our skin is our largest organ…and since it is an absorbing organ, what is ON us, is IN us. So choose carefully what you expose yourself to.
It seems that everywhere you look these days natural and organic products are cropping up. Coupons, promos, and advertisements -from such traditionally non-natural companies like Clorox- inform us that not only is there a demand for these types of products, but everyone wants part of the market share.
Green is now far more than a color. Organic is the new little black dress.
Of course, with so many newcomers to the game, the rules can get a little fuzzy. A lotion promising “95% organic ingredients” may still have paraben preservatives, and an all-purpose cleanser labeled “earth friendly” may mean little more than that it was produced in a plant that had low energy bulbs hanging overhead.
Now, more than ever before, consumers must be savvy.
But the good news is that there are now so many options for healthier products in so many consumer lines, whether body care, food, cleansers, food and water containers, toys and baby products, even home furnishings. And more options mean a competitive market that responds to consumer demand.
So do your research. And enjoy your growing choices.
Here’s a site you’ll want to be familiar with: ewg.org. That stands for Environmental Working Group, which is a consumer education and advocacy organization. And importantly, they have invested heavily to create databases for checking on toxicity.
I’m particularly excited about the guide to household cleaners because…well, I’m not a scientist. I had no previous way of knowing whether my goods were what they claimed. And guess what? Some of my “green” labeled products came up with FAILING ratings. What? Yeah. Charlie’s Soap products, which were sitting in my cabinet when I found the database and began searching.
Not all the databases are perfect (being updated often, but not perfect), and of course some of the opinions are subject to your health philosophy (like saturated fat in raw organic cheese being flagged as unhealthful; you probably know I’m a butter-fat advocate, in moderation).
But if you’ve been frustrated by the lack of ingredients on your cleaning products, or the lack of your own knowledge on how to interpret the ingredients which are listed on your personal care products, these sites are for you!
Oh, there are some Apps too…check your app store for EWG. The privately created ThinkDirty app is nifty too…barcode scans your personal care items!
Have you used any of these databases? Have you had ingredient revelations?
Have you heard of Bountiful Baskets? It’s a food cooperative delivering fruit and veggie baskets, as well as add-ons like whole wheat bread and granola, to many cities in the Western US. Their website is: bountifulbaskets.org
The idea is that by pooling resources, and with some volunteer labor at the drop-off location, fresh produce can be made more affordable. All the ordering is done online, and -here’s the kicker- can ONLY be done between about noon on Monday and 10pm on Tuesday, Mountain Time. And, if you don’t show up to collect your produce within the 15 minute window, it could be donated (I did forget the first time I ordered, but the lady at the drop was kind enough to call me and Mr. Wonderful dashed out to get it for me. Phew!). So if you order, take some advice from the experienced and set yourself an alarm on your phone for the day it arrives!
The whole concept of co-oping is a great idea, and I was pleased to learn that a drop point started in my town in December. Although I hadn’t ordered that week, I ran down to the drop point on Saturday morning and snapped a few pictures of what was being handed out to those that had contributed.
Each participant gets a basket (literally a plastic laundry basket) with fruit, and one with veggies. They then transfer those to their own bags, or some of the boxes for recycling, and take home the goodies. Above is a picture of two boxes…I’m thinking that each must be one share (having both fruit and veggies) from that day. The conventional produce basket is $15 and upgrading it to organic puts your contribution at $25.
In addition to your basic basket, you can order add-ons, like this guacamole bag, with onions, cilantro, about 5 avocados, tomatillas, jalapenos, garlic and limes, which runs about $8.50. Also available in December was a Gingerbread House Kit; fresh baked house pieces and fresh icing included. This week, I saw a “Juicing Pack” available with a description of “hoping for apples, chard, carrots, cucumbers, celery, beets, blood orange, ginger.”
And “hoping” is part of this commitment. There aren’t any promises of what you will get. You just find out what comes when you get it. This might be frustrating for some; for others it adds some excitement to meal planning.
Here’s a picture of the bread pack add-on. These packs of 5 loaves are generally $10; a great deal if this was on your list anyway.
Here again is someone’s produce basket contents (fruits and veggies in there) with a Granola Pack. I believe I saw the granola listed for $10, with excellent ingredients if granola is part of your diet.
Most of the produce seems to be standard family fare; persimmons or multicolored carrots is about the extent of the exotic produce.
So…the week after I checked out the goods, I made my first order.
Order #1 -Late December
I chose the organic basket ($25), and there is also a handling fee of $1.50 for every order, organic or not. Additionally, there is a one time fee of $3 to purchase a plastic basket for organization at the drop. Here’s what I got:
Pineapple, baby carrots, red potatoes, celery, tomatoes, green beans, avocados, pears, 2 kinds of apples. It was late December, so you can hardly blame them that the tomatoes weren’t ripe. The avocados were on the small side, but most of the organic ones I’ve seen are. The pineapple took a couple weeks to ripen. The apples and pears were all delicious, if on the small side. You can see by the packaging on the produce that they came from national organic brands. Also, since this was the “organic box” vs. a conventional produce basket, it came shipped as a box. It was not divided out with the other produce, but shipped from Arizona as a whole box.
I think it was a good price for what you get. Not amazing: local sales on all these products could give better savings, but you’re unlikely to get them all on sale in the same week. I felt that the food was in good condition, and all delicious, or would become delicious with ripening.
Order #2 -Early January
I ordered again, and this time no organic boxes were available, so I went ahead with the conventional ($15). Thankfully I did not forget this time (I tell ya, set an alarm on your phone!) and so I headed down to my local elementary school for the pickup. It was lovely to see so many families coming out on a frosty winter morning to gather fruit and vegetable baskets. And here’s what I got:
Celery, multi-colored carrots, brusselsprouts, sweet peppers, avocados, tomatoes, grapefruit, bananas (small), oranges, apples, strawberries. A very good deal for $15. They were all in good condition upon arrival, except for the brusselsprouts which seemed to have encountered frost as the edges were slimy as if frozen. I had heard tales that the delivery truck encountered snow and barely got through, so chalk it up to that? The strawberries were not ripe, and after leaving them on the counter for a day, we ate them anyway, since they were going to mold soon. Strawberries aren’t a winter fruit.
In general, I try to eat what is in season. It tastes better, it’s more likely to be grown in the US (avoiding the fumigation upon arrival in the US), and I’m more likely to find organic foods at reasonable prices. Of the foods above in the conventional basket, I regularly buy avocados, brusselsprouts, bananas, oranges, and grapefruit conventional, because they have less pesticide residues. All the rest I only buy organic, as they are heavily sprayed and/or retain their pesticides after washing. You can download a free guide to the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” on Enviromental Working Group’s site, or download a free app to your smart phone which will allow you to look up produce item by item while at the market.
Bountiful Baskets is for you if:
You buy conventional produce anyway, or if you would like to buy organic produce, but you don’t have any health food stores near you that carry it.
You don’t have picky eaters of specific veggie/fruit allergies in your family.
You can remember to order and pickup at certain times each week.
You aren’t gluten intolerant, so you can take advantage of all the great deals on bread, etc. which gives you more value for the time you spend ordering and picking up.
You have time to volunteer occasionally an hour before pick up time.
You enjoy the challenge of working a broad selection of produce into your weekly meals.
Bountiful Baskets is probably not for you if:
You want to buy mainly local, in season, or small-footprint organic.
You have fruit or veggie intolerances so you’re not able to eat some of what comes each week.
You cook “month at a time” style, or in other ways which require certain specific ingredients.
Opening our 4 gallon bucket of raw, local apple blossom honey is an event each September. We all stand around the bucket, waiting for the first whiffs of flowery sweetness. It’s creamy. I spoon it into jars to avoid using a pickaxe later after it hardens.
This year we bought 2 four gallon buckets, and we are nearing the end.
I had read about honey being diluted with corn syrup, so I did a little searching. Looks like that’s not the worst of it; much commercial, highly filtered honey may be imported illegally to the US from China or India and carry chemicals and heavy metals.
Read this link to see the importance of leaving the pollen in the honey; it can be tracked as true honey.
Switching to organic butter is such an important step in reducing our toxic exposure. But the price difference can seem daunting when you are feeding a large family. Here are some ways I’ve found to buy it for less.
Baseline price: Costco is about $3.95 a pound, Trader Joes $4.79 a pound. These are actually both great prices; at specialty stores it can be up to $9 a pound (more in Hawaii says my tropical sister). Note that I find the TJs butter to be higher quality than the Costco at certain times of the year (sweeter, more yellow).
Direct from the farm: I prefer to buy 12 pound blocks of butter directly from an organic dairy, and cut and wrap it myself. This is the BEST golden butter from grass fed cows, and is the cheapest at $3.25 a pound. But it takes some planning and coordination.
On clearance: yes, although organic butter rarely goes on sale, it does go on clearance at our local Safeway (see photo above). I’m so glad this major supermarket has made a decision to stock organic products, however their customer base continues to buy mostly conventional, so often their organic dairy products reach their expiration date before they are purchased. I will occasionally drop in to see what has been reduced to 50% off, and if it’s freezable I’ll stock up. For the butter above I paid $2.50 a pound! You could even check the expiration date on the fresher packages, and mark on your calendar for three days prior to the sell by date. Then drop in on that day; you’ll get it for less than conventional butter, help the store to cut its losses, and save butter from the fate of the dumpster.
It’s gorgeous northwest summer weather here: 82 with a gentle breeze. The kind of weather we slog through 6 months of wet for. To celebrate, I let the kids run through sprinklers while I planted seeds in the garden.
This is the garden bed my wonderful husband built me last year. He was tired of beating back the sod each year. A few weeks ago he spent about 20 minutes digging chicken manure into it, and it was all ready for me to plant. Which I did today with heritage seeds from Heirlooms Evermore (Azure Standard), which come in delightfully simple packages.
Hopefully in a few months we’ll be dining on green beans, radishes, carrots, watermelon, pumpkin, cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce, and enjoying sunflowers and nasturtiums.
After planting, hosing down a toddler, and putting two babies in bed for naps, I went over to the farm where I buy duck eggs each week to collect my five chickens from Tina’s refrigerator. (My husband now works from home, and agreed to listen for cries from the sleeping babies while I was out. I told you he is wonderful.)
Five chickens, over five lbs each, but she only charged me on 25 lbs. Livers, hearts, feet, and heads (for making stock…we don’t really eat that stuff) on the side, no charge. $2.50/lb, which is the price for organic birds at Trader Joes, but those birds aren’t free range. So I think this was a very good value, and I get to support my local farmer/friend in keeping our food supply local.
On my way home, I stopped off at Rusty Glamour (formerly Uncovered Ruby) to buy some plants for $2 each. Awesome price! I chose coral bells and sedum, and resisted the urge to get plants I’m not familiar with. Better to stick with some I know I like and I think will thrive on neglect. 🙂
While packing my chickens into the freezer at home, I realized what a great local food/flowers day I had. Garden, chickens, eggs, flower plants. I love that local buying has become so normal for me.
It’s day two. I get up just after 7 and find Brother and Sister sitting at the kitchen counter, staring blankly at bowls of sliced apples their dad got for them. Oh boy, it’s day two, the hardest day.
Mr. Dad says Sister threw up a little already this morning, but there wasn’t food in it (sorry for TMI!), so he thinks the diet is already making some effect…detox? Way to go on the positive outlook, Mr. Dad!
After three fried eggs and some juice, Mr. Dad leaves for work. The kids are still staring blankly at their apples, but my eight year old is up by now and turns on the cartoons, so they stumble into the den to watch with her. Just for the record; I don’t let my kids watch movies till noon at home (or at all on schooldays) but it’s vacation with cousins, and it’s actually an excellent distraction from food cravings. OK, done justifying my mommy morals.
When scrambled eggs were ready, I called the kids back to the kitchen, but Brother didn’t come. Found him laying on the couch, mumbling. I carried him back to his eggs but he was so tired, no amount of coaxing would get him to put a bite in his mouth. I knew he was really hungry, even if he couldn’t feel it, so I stuck a slab of butter in his mouth and told him to suck on it. After a bit he took himself back to bed and sawed logs until almost noon.
Breakfast: Eggs, scrambled or fried in butter Apples, ripe bananas, mandarins as desired, or as snacks until lunch
Lunch: Chicken veggie bone broth soup, from last night Chicken salad on greens with balsamic and pecans, same as Day One, for adults Peanut butter and apple slices, afternoon snack sent with Mr. Dad
Brother and sister hated having soup again, the moms enjoyed it, and baby Mac sucked it up (literally). My kids (8 and 18 months are the ones I have with me this week) gobbled it up, which is proof to me that children’s tastes can change to include savory flavors as well as sweet; it was not too long ago that my kids were kicking and screaming over soup, too.
Mrs. Mom did a great job on holding the line on no snacks if you didn’t eat your soup; Sister had earned her snacks (fruit, raisins, almonds) by mid-afternoon. Brother only ate about half his soup, so was REALLY ready for dinner.
We had quite a bit of drama all day, begging for toast, cereal, gummy vitamins, tortillas, candy (Mrs.Mom: “Really? We don’t eat candy!”). All these cravings for the exact wrong foods are confirming evidence that we’re onto something here. At one point Brother was upset about not being given bread, “not even one little crumb of bread? You’re so mean!” Oh, the drama.
Dinner: Fajita filling, done all day in the crockpot, over salad greens, topped with Creme Fraiche made yesterday, and guacamole
Note: if you make this, use finely shredded green cabbage tossed with chopped cilantro and lots of lime juice as the base rather than lettuce. The crunch makes it so yummy with this meal. We did not do this as Mrs. Mom was worried about grassiness in breast milk.
After dinner: Grape jello if desired
After such a hard day food wise, it was a huge relief that the kids loved the fajita bowls and relished dipping their salad leaves in the Creme Fraiche and guacamole. Fun, and so yummy for everyone!
Cook and serve above meals
Move completed yogurt to fridge
Start crockpot in morning with dinner fajitas
In evening, bake double batch of banana muffins for breakfast tomorrow (almond flour)
Strain kefir and refrigerate and store kefir grains or start new batch
Here’s a great way to buy natural meat for less; shop for natural holiday meats the day after the holiday. Yes, while others are camping out to snag electronic door busters, I secretly plot my haul of naturally raised, cage free turkeys. Oh the excitement.
Actually, my mom scouted out and bought the turkeys for me on Black Friday, as I was in bed with a new baby (lucky me) and mom was visiting to take care of my other sweeties so I could stay in bed (lucky everyone else). I have to confess that I don’t exactly remember what she paid per pound (baby amnesia) but I’m thinking it was $.79 per pound for Albertsons wild brand. This fantastic price almost has me liking Albertsons. Almost.
At any rate, my little boys loved the crispy, salt and herb crusted skin. You can see them here peeking over the turkey… Mmm, finger liking good!
Turkeys have a LOT of meat. I just roasted this one, then boned the meat and froze it again to become soups or casseroles.
Not everyone can tolerate dairy products, but for those who can, it is a rich source of minerals, protein, and healthy saturated fats IF sourced from healthy animals. Some people groups in Africa thrive on a diet made up nearly entirely of raw milk from their herds.
Change from conventional milk to organic milk. Skim, 1% and 2% milks have thickeners added to them; opt out by choosing whole milk. Homogenization has been linked to arterial plaque; opt out by choosing unhomogenized. Your choice to skim the cream for your coffee, or shake the whole jug before pouring. Raw milk (unpasteurized) from pastured (grassfed) animals is the BEST milk, as it is richest in minerals, enzymes and probiotics. Dungeness Valley Creamery supplies this delicious cow milk to WA state; if you prefer goat milk, search for a local source.
Change from conventional yogurt, cottage cheese, and kefir, to organic products, or make your own from raw/organic/pastured milk.
Change from conventional butter, sour cream, and cream to organic butter, sour cream, and cream. Conventional butter was listed on a recent “top ten most toxic foods” list, which is not surprising since so many of todays petrochemical toxins settle in the fats of animals. Yet organic butters and cream have been highly revered by healthy indigenous people groups for their health giving properties.
Change from conventional cheese to raw, organic cheese, if you can find it (see notes about raw milk below).
Change from “soy dairy” products (soy milk, soy protein) to almond, hemp, hazelnut, or rice milks (hemp having the best nutrition, and it’s delicious) if cow/goat dairy is not tolerated. Organic coconut oil can be used in place of butter for those with a dairy allergy. See note below on why I avoid soy.
If lactose intolerance is the reason you avoid dairy products, try culturing your own yogurt from organic milk. When you use a 24 hours process to culture the yogurt (or kefir if desired), nearly no lactose is present at the end of the process. Making yogurt and kefir is not difficult; find directions here. The long culturing process yields a very sour “European” flavor, which can be sweetened if you desire with jams, maple syrup, or honey. I have found that fresh goat milk loses its “goaty” aftertaste when cultured this long. The same process for 24 hour yogurt can be done with whipping cream for amazingly delicious Creme Fraiche.
Some people find that they can tolerate goat and sheep milk products if cow products bother them. Others find that raw milk (unpasturized) is tolerated as it has all the enzymes and probiotics intact to aid in digestion. In addition, high heat pasteurization appears to damage the protein molecule in milk. (The stable saturated fats in cream/butter seem to hold up better to heat than the protein in the milk, making pasteurized butter/cream still a great choice.)
Worried about contamination? Studies which purposefully introduced pathogenic bacteria into raw milk (still “living” with enzymes, probiotics, and immune factors) show that the milk protects itself by destroying pathogenic bacteria. Conversely, pasturized (“dead”) milk no longer carries this protection; hundreds are made sick on pasturized milk annually in the US. Once milk is cultured (into cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.) this risk is lowered by the competing bacteria of the culture. Certified Raw dairies undergo far stricter testing of products than conventional dairies.
Trader Joes has the best prices around (by far) for a full range of organic dairy products. I buy butter, cream, sour cream, and cottage cheese there. They also have a stunning selection of cheeses, most at fabulous prices. I sometimes buy the Grassfed Cheddar (New Zealand), and sometimes the Raw Cheddar. We also love the Cotswold cheese from England (which is neither organic, or raw, but you can taste the richness of the milk which makes me confident the cows are grazing grass). The Shredded Parmesan cheese (in a bag) is a raw cheese (and high in absorbable calcium); and excellent choice.
I make my own kefir from Dungeness Valley raw milk, which we drink on occasion as well, when I’m not making it into pudding, ice cream, etc.
Goat milk is best fresh (for flavor), so I don’t really recommend buying it from Trader Joes, although if that is your only option (say for a toddler who can’t tolerate cow milk) I would certainly recommend it over any “milk substitute”. Best to find a local dairy for raw milk (as I have), or if you are inclined, buy a goat as a pet which actually contributes to the family table!
If you have to use dairy substitutes, hemp milk is cheaper when you buy a case through a co-op; this option may be available at your health food store. You can make your own rice milk really cheap (and pretty easy) using this Rice Milk Recipe.
Conventional dairy products in the US come from “factory farmed” cows, which may or may not ever see a pasture, but most certainly dine on soy and corn based feed laced with pesticides, antibiotics, and by-products from slaughter houses. In some states, farms are allowed to inject the cows with growth hormones with cause them to produce more milk, which wears out the cow and results in fewer productive years (but at heavier production) before going to the slaughterhouse herself. (This is not allowed in OR or WA.) Since the food she receives (grain based) is such a poor diet for her, she is likely to be sick often, and treated with antibiotics. You can bet that all the toxins going into her make their way into her milk, and the butter, cheese, yogurt, and other products made from it.
Conventional soy is one of the most pesticide laden crops in the US, and even organic soy can hardly boast a health claim as soy is an endocrine disruptor (mimics estrogen in the body). There are tons of “studies” done to show the “health benefits” of soy. Guess who pays for these studies, and their publicity? The Soy Industry. Lesser known studies link soy formulas to early puberty in girls, delayed or decreased fertility in boys, and doubling of diabetes risk for all children. I avoid it like the plague (except fermented soy products used in traditionally small amounts, such as Tamari).
Is Organic Certification Necessary?
Although USDA Organic certification brings with it peace of mind for the consumer, there is a cost to the farmer (passed on to the consumer) for this rubber stamp. You may be able to find a local dairy which can demonstrate to you the health and humane treatment of their animals, and quality of their product so that you don’t need the label to feel good about using their products. Especially important is to inquire about the feed of their animals; even a cow fed 100% organic grain but kept in the feedlot will not be as healthy as the cow allowed to graze on green grasses.