Thursday, January 17, 2008

Chemical Free — Fantasy or Possibility?

My goal this year is to reduce the amount of chemicals I intake, via eating, breathing, and/or osmosis. My first goal was actually a diet. Yeah, I can stand to lose a few. And I do want to pay attention to my weight. But I believe diet is an evil word, and I'd much rather achieve health, and then if I can lose a few pounds while taking that road, then bonus.

But it is possible to actually go chemical free? I mean, if I were to stop allowing all chemicals into my life at this very moment, I'd be naked, starving, and sleeping on some dusty Sahara dune.

Consider: We wake every morning snuggled amidst our chemical-laden sheets on top of a mattress that's been treated with more of the nasty stuff. Most of our carpets contain the stuff, and hardwood floors are polished with even more chemicals. Don't rub up against that wall; more chemicals. The bathroom is a virtual chemical waste dump. Have you read the ingredients list on your makeup lately? (I've switched to all natural products for my face a year ago, but I'm still struggling on the bubble bath.)

We wander into the kitchen for breakfast and the cupboards are filled with non-foods. (More on that later.) Anything that isn't in its natural form or has been processed to either enhance it with nutrients, vitamins or to make it into the shape of a dinosaur is just bad stuff. Don't even get me started on high fructose corn syrup. It's is evil, nothing but.

We inhale toxins from our cars, lawn mowers (and lawns if you fertilize), from our clothing, hair dyes, plastic grocery bags, printer toners, shoes, keyboards, baby toys, barbeque grills, and about every other thing you can look at.

I'm not trying to bum you all out. It's just a fact. The world has changed dramatically over the past century. And while we can cheer on technology, if you think the chemicals aren't killing us, then you need to think again.

I'm a realist; I'll never be chemical free. But I want to give myself a leg up as I'm only getting older, and this body certainly ain't what it used to be. Heck, I've begun buying as much organic as I can. I reduce, reuse and recycle. I've already gone cold-turkey on the hair dye. It's killing me to stare at that gray stripe every morning, but I am determined. (Though I will warn you all, that'll be the first thing that knocks me off the wagon. I like how I look with dark hair. Strength, please!)

Has anyone read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma? What about his latest, In Defense Of Food. Both excellent reads if you want to learn more about how our foods are created, grown, modified, processed, and sold to an unwary public. Pollan's latest has become my new diet book. He's not a nutritionist or scientist, nor does he claim to tell us how to eat, but he has done the research and is concerned about his own health and wants to spread the word. His philosophy on how we should eat is simple: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? It's that one word up there that makes it all so difficult, Food. Because we're talking real food, people. Not anything that resembles food, yet has been processed, enchanced, enriched, shot through with additives, antioxidants, or vitamins. Food is basically the stuff you can pluck off a tree, out of the ground, or take from an animal that also hasn't been shot with antibiotics or fed chemical-laced feed. If we all glanced in our fridges and cupboards, about 90 percent of what we think is food...really isn't.

Can I do this? It would mean changing my mindset completely. I enjoy the easily-made meals in the microwave. I'm not a big gourmet or chef. The process of creating meals will have to slow down, become as it was when I was little and used to watch my mother create meals from scratch using veggies from the garden and very little things from a box. Pollan's suggestion is that we don't eat anything our great-great grandmothers wouldn't have recognized as food. (Which rules out Twinkies, yogurt in a tube, and ba-gillions of other things.) Honestly? I can tell you right now I'll never part with chocolate! :-)

So I'm beginning. I'm not calling it a diet, but not sure what to call it. New outlook? Life makeover? Moving forward smartly?

What about you? Are you concerned about the world we live in and raise our children in? What steps have you taken to reduce the toxins and chemicals in your life? Any suggestions for me?

I'm going to do monthly updates on my progress. Like a diet, I'll measure my success by improvements in health, outlook and well-being. Here's to a cleaner new year!

ps: This is my favorite website to check cosmetics and toothpaste and shampoos. They rate the product on a scale of 0-10 for toxins and chemicals and list ingredients. I just checked my Burt's Bees toothpaste, it got a 1, which is great. Whew! Bookmark this site!

Also, here's a great list of the top 12 most harmful chemicals that are found in our daily lives, The Dirty Dozen.


Betina Krahn said...

Michele, I'm with you on the realization that we're floating in a miasma of chemicals we ignore. And yes, I'd love to reduce the dependence on them.

Watching that British TV show "How Clean Is Your House?" on BBC America has been an education on using natural materials to clean. It's astounding what salt, lemons, baking soda, vinegar, and "a little washing up liquid" can do! But have you seen the price of fresh lemons lately? Zowie! But then are they any more expensive than my chem-loaded cleaners? The one thing I won't give up is my laundry detergent. My Tide-HE is here to stay.

For a long time I've wondered about the makeup stuff. . . reading those packages and shampoo bottles is downright scary. I'm going to try the mineral products and see how they work. A lot of people I know LOVE them.

And as to foods. . . I'd love to become a vegetarian. It requires work, though. The sig.other and I eat out a lot-- which is tough. Not a lot of restaurants cater to vegetarians who need low carbs!

Good luck, Michele! Keep us up on your progress and on the tips you learn!

Anonymous said...

Michele, this strikes a note with me. My youngest child has severe asthma and I have asthma and have developed some nasty food allergies. The allergist said to get rid of as many chemicals in my life and it has helped, but boy is is t difficult.

We went organic, and eat very little meat. I have a corn allergy, so I only eat grass-fed beef, when I eat it. Eating out is scary, because I'm allergic to MSG & sulfites. NO WINE, NO SALAD DRESSINGS AND NO CHINESE FOOD, unless I'm sure It's "safe" for me.

The cleaning chemicals were easy to eliminate, as were the fabric softeners. We have no carpet, everything is washable, and we wash clothes, linens, etc with TIDE FREE, and use an extra rinse.

Thank goodness my DH and I love to cook, or we'd all starve. I make extra of everything and invested in a large upright freezer.

Good luck on your quest to reduce chemicals. I hope you live near a good coop or farmer's market.

Cindy Gerard said...

Hi Michelle. Great post. I think I've been unconsciously making the shift to a more chemical free diet over a number of years - for any number of reasons. I'm a big fruit and veggie eater. I make our own salsa with veggies my dh grows in his garden. Don't do soda, juice or coffee. (Unless I'm at RWA national and then all bets are off!!) I've stuck with herbal teas, decaff and for the most part am pretty much a purist when it comes to cooking. Use veg oil when necessary but for the most part I bake or grill meat - and I actually eat very little meat.
I'm also a recycler BUT have fallen short on the cleaning products and make up front. Thanks for the reminder and the nudge. I'm going to move in that direction. I feel we have an obligation to our children and grandchildren and future generations to practice and encourage a shift in this direction

Michele Hauf said...

Betina, have you checked out the Method products sold at Target? They have an excellent laundry detergent that I use, and it come unscented. They also have dryer sheets. I use all their stuff, and some Mrs. Meyers and Seventh Generation.

Anonymous - I hear you on trying to get rid of stuff to help allergies. I've noticed my son's allergies improved as he's cut down on fast foor and fried stuff. I've also heard those air cleaners they recommend for allergies aren't worth much, so I've never tried them. Of course, we have cats, so unless we get rid of them, he'll never be completely allergy free.
I live in MN, so fresh veggies in the winter isn't possible. But I'm going to start trekking to the Farmer's Markets next summer. A half an hour drive, sure, but as Pollan's book suggests, we might spend more for our natural and healthier foods, but we'll eat less because we fill up faster on the good stuff. as opposed to the fast food, which is cheap, but you need to eat so much to feel satisfied. Americans spend much less on their food than most other nations. Something like 9.9% of their incomes. Italians and the French and Greeks spend close to 15%, and yet, they don't have the disease like we do because they're not eating our awful food. I'm so behind that idea.

Yeah, Cindy, a hubby who has a garden! How awesome to be able to step outside, pluck some food up and go back in and cook with it. I'd love to get to that point, but I'm not much of a gardener.

Yes, to our grandchildren! I eagerly await my first. Grandma is going to start that kid out right with organic crib mattress and clothes, and safe toys and food. It'll be a challenge, but would'nt it be awesome to see a child grow up in a healthy environment? (Er, don't read that paragraph wrong. I'm not a grandma yet, and my children aren't anywhere near ready to have kids...much as I'd like them to.) :-)

Christie Ridgway said...

Michele: Timely post as I toyed (briefly) with the idea of going vegetarian. I don't eat a lot of meat anyway, but it would be an issue for the family at the moment. Maybe at a later date. We do eat a lot of organic stuff and are very healthy with healthy habits, I think. Son 1 is the worst of us in that way, but he doesn't like anything sweet, doesn't like carbonated beverages, and so he's still pretty darn good.

I'm going to look into that Target cleaning stuff. I saw it there a couple of days ago. I also love my Tide. And Bounce.

Michele Hauf said...

Christie, Pollan's book suggests cutting way back on meats, but he also makes a great arguement against not going veggie. Studies have proven that flexitarians (eat meat occassionally) are as healthy as vegetarians.

Hey everyone, I went and added a couple links at the end of my post. The first one if for an excellent site where you can check the household products and makeups you use to see how they rank on being good, bad, or just plain ugly. :-)

Michele Hauf said...

One more point on the meat thing. It's what kind of meat you eat that counts. Game seems to be fine because the animal has fed on grass. But farm-raised animals are iffy. What kind of feed were they fed? Were the grounds soaked in run-off from chemical-laced fields? Did they get antibiotic injections? Just because it says cage-free, doesn't mean they had grass to wander about, usually it's a dirt field.

A lot to consider when staring at that slab of meat in the grocer's freezer.

Kathleen Eagle said...

I understand why we have to pay more for organic, but it really gripes me to have to pay more for milk from cows not injected with BHT (?) the stuff that makes the cow produce more milk. Then we pay dairy farmers not to produce so much and we do the price support thing. I really don't get that at all.

This kinda dovetails with the post I'm planning for tomorrow. I'm sick of prescription drug advertising. We Riders wear our social conscience on our sleeve.

Makeup: I started using Bare Minerals about a year ago and really like it. I'm off to check that web site--thanks, Michele!

lois greiman said...

Michele, this is why I love you so. Thanks for the post. I'm liking vegetarianism. It's been almost a year now and it's not too hard...and it makes me feel better about me...and it's been easier for me to maintain my weight.

Hey, have you ever heard of doing laundry without detergent? There's some kind of ummmm I don't know what they are...plastic disks, I guess. You throw them in your washer and they beat your clothes clean or something. A friend of mine who's allergic to everything has been using them for years and she hardly stinks at all. Just kidding. I didn't even know she used a different system. I'm going to check that out right now.

Hey, Hauf, thanks for being you.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Okay, I went to the web site Michele referenced, and my Bare Minerals is probably not the best. If you're interested, I'd check out the deal at the site--the $60 kit. The cosmetics data base lists it at the top of the minerals makeups. I really like the powder, and you do get good coverage. I haven't had outbreaks, and I was getting the occasional chin outrage before I switched.

Anyway, the one I have came from Sephora, and I suspect it's the Bare Ecsentials (or some odd spelling) company, but it's just called Bare Minerals. They do an 800 number on TV.

I'm bookmarking the Mineral Silk for next time--although it'll take me a while to use up what I have. I'm cheap, and I'm not THAT scared. Bare minerals still looks better than the drug store brands.

Helen Brenna said...

Yeah, Michele, I'm getting into this too. We have many organic grocery stores in the area that are worth checking out, so fresh, organic veggies aren't as far away as you think.

And, hey, I think your gray hair is beautiful. I'm betting you're going to like it.

Playground Monitor said...

We eat lots of fresh veggies (I tried growing them but our house was built on an old cotton field and I think the nutrients have been stripped from this land) and I've usually spent $30-40 before I leave the produce department. And it's just the two of us! We eat meat, or I should say the DH insists there be meat on the table. I'm trying to push more chicken and fish and lean cuts of beef. I cook with olive oil and bake, broil or grill everything. It's expensive enough and the thought of going completely organic frightens me. I can see my retirement fund disappearing. Of course, a catastrophic illness caused by chemicals could do the same.

I already use a lot of vinegar and baking soda to clean with but I'm sure there are some nasties in my cabinets.

I hadn't really thought about cosmetics, shampoos and stuff like that. It's scary.

Can't wait to read Kathleen's blog on prescription Rx advertising. That's a big beef of mine too. There's entirely too much medicine foisted off on folks and that's one reason we have these antibiotic-resistant superbugs now. And don't get me started on cold medicines. They're bad. Evil I tell you.


Debra Dixon said...


Great post!

Hubby cooks and he cooks with real food. He doesn't do boxes, so we're pretty good on that except for the "don't eat much" part of eating naturally. =80

I'm going to go look at the website with the chemical hitlist and educate myself to begin looking at these products so that I can buy smarter.


Michele Hauf said...

Lois, let me know how no detergent works. Or maybe I'll 'smell' the answer before you tell me? :-) It sounds great in theory, but I just don't get how it would work on some of those tough things like sweat, dirt, grease and yes blood.

Hey Kathy, that's my brand of makeup too! I hadn't checked on that one, but I probably use it once a month anyway, since I just don't do makeup. And that's not even because I'm lazy, I just don't liek the feel of 'stuff' on my skin.

Helen, I usually trek to Trader Joes (about half an hour drive). It's about half an hour for me anywhere in the Twins. I'm crossing my fingers because I heard we might get a TJs close to where I live!

Michele Hauf said...

Marilyn, maybe think of the meat as a side dish to the veggies? That's the new mindset I'm going to try. My hubby is a meat and potatoes kind of guy, straight from the farm. So we usually have to have meat, too. I'll cook it for him, then usually eat a small portion myself, or else fill up on salad.

I thought buying organic would bankrupt us too, but when you consider you will eat less of nutritious foods (because they fill you up faster) then the price is comparable to 'processed' foods.

Hey, Deb! What a dream to have a hubby who cooks for you. And he's quite the chef, isn't eh? A man who cooks; that's got to go on top of the Easiest Way To Seduce A Woman list.

Debra Dixon said...

Michele-- Yeah, hubby is a serious cook. All the right pots, pans, stoves, knives, etc. My part-timer literally changes the night she's working if he isn't home to cook. She always gets a meal. (g)

Kathleen Eagle said...

I'm posting here and my 3-yr-old grand just pointed to the photo of Morgan freeman from yesterdays and say, "Hey, Nana, there's God!" "Where?" "The one with the brown skin!"

Yes, she loved "Evan Almighty."

But I wanted to thank Michele for a past post recommending Veggie Wash. I got it right away, keep it beside the sink, using it religiously.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention the WHOLE GRAINS. We switched to whole wheat pasta and brown rice a couple of years ago. I lost 10 lbs without trying. It's like you said--it fills you up and you don't eat as much, so the cost for organic products is worth it.

I began introducing oatmeal into our breakfast diet, along with lots of fresh fruit, and I hope to see a few more pounds come off. :-)

Michele Hauf said...

Anonymous, what do you make with the whole grains? I know I have to eat more of those, but cooking with them seems daunting. PRobably even more daunting is legumes. Sigh...

I do eat steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast. Love that stuff! I sprinkle it generously with cinnamon (supposed to help with weight loss) and walnuts, and what a great way to start the day.

Anonymous said...

I am a big fan of additive-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free food. And I love to cook from scratch (freaky, I know) so there are very few processed and prepackaged foods in my cupboards. I also avoid antibacterial soaps, etc., on the theory that a little dirt and germs are good for you. I also stay away from things like fabric softeners because they make my skin itch. However...

When considering living the pluses and minuses of better living through chemistry, keep in mind that the average life span of a man and woman in 1900 was 47 and 50, respectively. In 1950, it was 65 and 71. Today it's 71 and 78. In countries where the people live closer to nature, it is generally much lower.

Just another thought to consider...

Anonymous said...

We eat brown rice cooked with diced, satueed veggies--whatever you have on hand, or steamed veggies. Add come chili sauce or another flavorful, low cal sauce if you don't like the heat, and you'd be surprised how full you get on the rice and veg.

Brown rice and lentils eaten together make a complete protein source. If you don't get enough protein in your diet, it's very bad for your health. One of the first signs of a protein deficiency can be thinning hair and brittle nails.

There are lots of great vegetarian recipes on line. Pick veggies you like and experiment. Then move on to new veggies. I finally found a way to eat brussel sprouts that the whole family likes.

Add lean chicken or fish as a SIDE DISH (I think someone else suggested this) or have an egg-white omelet as your protein.

The whole grain pasta is great tossed with a little olive oil & some grated parmesean cheese, or some homemade pesto that has little olive oil. Thin store-bought pesto with a little of the water you boiled the pasta in. No loss of flavor, lower cal.

Jennifer said...

Hi Michele,
I came to your your blog by searching for an alternative to chemical-filled laundry detergent.

Thank you for such an interesting post. And for the good links.
I will be checking back to read your "monthly updates".