Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Dirty Dozen

I have a gross confession to make; I never wash my fruit before I eat it. I know there are pesticides on it, my mom reminded me every time I picked up a store bought apple, but I guess I just didn’t care. I think it’s a little bit laziness, a little ignorance and a lot of the thought, “they wouldn’t sell something edible covered in poison.” After I did my research I can assure you I will be washing all of my fruit from now on!
Pesticides do serve an important purpose. Farmers use pesticide to kill insects, weeds and disease. They stop rats, mice, flies and other insects from eating and contaminating the food and prevent harmful molds and microbes from growing and poisoning humans.  They just aren’t meant to be ingested.
The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that an estimated 10,000-20,000 pesticide poisonings happen each year. The Center for Disease Control reports that pesticides may cause respiratory, gastrointestinal, allergic or neurological symptoms (such as Parkinsons and Alzheimers). In addition to that there are numerous studies linking pesticides to ADD, Asthma, Cancer, and birth defects. These studies aren’t just linking farmworkers who handle the pesticides but regular every day people like you and me who eat fruits and veggies and are exposed.
The Environmental Working Group released a report in 2010 naming the worst fruits and vegetables for pesticide exposure, they have been named the dirty dozen.

The Dirty Dozen
Domestic Blueberries
Sweet Bell Peppers
Spinach, kale and collard greens
Imported Grapes
The produce listed in the Dirty Dozen were found to each contain 47 to 67 separate pesticides per serving, this was after the produce was cleaned with the USDA’s high-power pressure water system. It is thought that the produces soft skin absorbs the pesticide which results in the high number of contaminates. If you love the Dirty Dozen as much as my family does it is recommended that you purchase it organic or grow it yourself. Why take the chance of exposing your family to harmful poison? And remember to always wash your produce!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

your toxic dumping

Once upon a time companies could dump their toxic waste into water ways. These toxins would make their way through the water ways into the ocean where they would poison the species living in the seas. These creatures would die or would be fished and end up on the tables of families all over the world. So the Clean Water Act was created and companies toxic waste disposal was regulated and it didn’t end up in the sea. At least corporate waste didn’t end up in the sea, individuals household toxic waste still did.
Today, the most harmful pollutants don’t come from companies dumping but from diffused sources such as your kitchen sink and sewer. Remember in Finding Nemo when Gill says, “All drains lead to the ocean,” well he was correct.  When you pour your household toxic waste down the sink or flush it down the toilet it enters either you sewer or septic system. If you are hooked up to a sewage system your toxic waste flows to a central sewage plant is treated and then discharged into your area rivers lakes and streams. Most sewage plants use bacteria and organisms to decompose waste at the treatment facilities, toxic waste can pass through  these and end up right in the ocean! If you use a septic system your toxic waste goes into your buried tank, the solids settle and the remaining fluids go into a drain filed. Toxins can then pass into your soil and then move to your ground water. The toxins can then pass to your waterways and head to the ocean or flow to your garden and contaminate your plants (so much for using organic fertilizer, your plants are getting toxins anyways). So how do we avoid this? Dispose of your house hold toxins properly!
 The Environmental Protection Agency says to “reduce, reuse and recycle.”
Reduce the amount of toxic products. Start by purchasing less products that contain toxic ingredients. Take the time to look for toxic alternatives, the green industry is booming and there are tons of all natural products out there!
Use up your entire product. When products are used fully and properly as they are intended there is no hazardous waste. Store the products that you have properly. Keep the bottles tightly sealed in their original containers and never remove their labels.
Recycle your waste. Check with your local waste management department to see how to recycle your toxic waste. In the state of California we have a Household Hazardous Waste Program that recycles all kinds of items like batteries, light bulbs, items containing mercury (thermometers, greeting cards that play music, and shoes with lighted soles), electronic devices, aerosol cans, and tons of other items (if you live in California and want a full list of items visit the California EPA site Many cities have toxic waste pick up right alongside your recycling and trash. Also check with your local mechanic and gas station many will recycle your used car batteries, oil and transmission fluid.
Keeping the toxins out of our waterways is our responsibility. Do your part in keeping our oceans clean and our fish friends healthy!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


My family and I take a walk every evening, recently I noticed that there was a lot of trash along the sidewalk. My husband suggested that we have a police call (a police call is where everyone goes outside and picks up the trash within a designated area). That evening when we went out we brought trash bags and gloves. We ended up collect two garbage bags full of trash and one of recycling along our one mile walking route. Our three year old had a blast! You would never think a kid would have so much fun picking up trash, but it was like a giant scavenger hunt for her. She loved guessing if an item what trash or recycling and she loved to hear us cheer for her when she got the answer right!
After our police call we came home and did a little research on trash, here is what we found out:
The number one form of litter is fast food waste
Besides fast food waste the most common trash are cigarette butts, plastic bags, paper, candy wrappers, and bottle caps.
On average in one day 7 million pounds of litter are removed from beaches, lakes and streams
Animals from nearly 442 species are entangled in or ingest trash in water annually; the majority of these animals will die
People under the age of 15 are least likely to litter, people over the age of 25 are most likely to litter
In a poll conducted in 2010 people said that they litter because there is already a presence of trash, it is the easiest way to get rid of their unwanted things and because it is a social activity that they learned from their parents.
I have to tell you that some of the facts shocked me. Littering is a big no no in our house and was definitely forbidden in my home when I was growing up, it shocks me when I see someone do it so it surprised me how much litter is removed on average in a day. I was equally shocked by the fact that people over the age of 25 are most likely to litter, you would think this group of individuals would know better! The most important thing I learned was that people litter because their parents did. Children watch their parents do everything; even something as simple as tossing a cigarette butt out the window will be engrained in their subconscious and will be repeated when they are older. We must teach our children that littering is bad, and we need to do it by setting a litter free example.
Trash is gross; it belongs in a trashcan, recycling bin or compost not on the sidewalk or street. It harms animals and makes our neighborhoods ugly. I am proud to say that we have been picking up trash every night now for two weeks and we have inspired three other families on our block to do the same! When you ask my three year old what you do with trash she enthusiastic answers, “put it in the trash can!” It is our job to clean up our planet and teach our children to do the same. I heard this great quote the other day, “If every person picked up just one piece of litter today, there would be over 300 million fewer pieces of litter. If every person picked up 10 pieces of litter, there would be 3 billion fewer pieces damaging our environment. If you and your friends spend just one hour picking up litter in your own neighborhood, you will not only pick up thousands of pieces of trash, you will also make a tremendous impact on your community!”

Monday, September 5, 2011

Organic or All Natural?

There has been a major debate in the food world on what is better for your body and environment Organic or All Natural. I thought I would put some facts together to help you make an informed decision for your family. Within the past year we have been living a greener life not only to help our health but the environment as well, recently my family and I had the opportunity to visit an all organic farm to do some research on what the big difference is in Organic versus All Natural products and what we found just like any other opinion was a biased view.

In this post we will be going over two of the world most respected and used groups that provide certifications to be labeled as organic or natural. The CCOF: California Certified Organic Farmers and the NPA: Natural Product Association.

The “CCOF promotes and supports organic food and agriculture through a premier organic certification program, trade support, producer and consumer education and political advocacy. From apples to zucchini, from almonds to wine, CCOF is involved in every facet of organics, with over 1,300 different organic crops and products, including livestock, processed products and services.”[i]

The “Natural Products Association is the nation’s largest and oldest non-profit organization dedicated to the natural products industry. The Natural Products Association represents over 1,900 members accounting for over 10,000 retail, manufacturing, wholesale, and distribution locations of natural products, including foods, dietary supplements, and health/beauty aids. NPA unites a diverse membership, from the smallest health food store to the largest dietary supplement manufacturer.”[ii]

While there are not many differences between USDA Organic and USDA All Natural processes, some of the differences are significant. Here is an overview of these differences to aid you in your decision making.

Organic certifications concentrates on the farming aspect. To be labeled as 100% organic you may not use synthetic (non-biological) fertilizer or synthetic pest management solutions in any way. The soil must be tested and have been clean of all synthetic products for a minimum of five years. Organic livestock can only be fed with crops that meet the above criteria. Ranchers may not use any synthetic antibiotics or hormones while the animals are being raised. This is where the organic process stops. Once the Animal or produce is sent to the production facilities it is no longer monitored by the USDA Organic umbrella.
For instance:
· All machinery that touches organic ingredients can be cleaned with steam or bleach.
· The Packaging of organic products can use a wide range of materials including Styrofoam trays, cellophane wrap and other Non-natural materials.
· Organic can also be frozen using conventional methods (slow freezing, below 32° F), which allows crystallization, and the possibility of harmful bacteria that need oxygen to grow like E Coli.

· Organic product is not required to be vacuumed sealed which allows the possibility of other harmful bacteria that need oxygen to live) like salmonella.
This is amazing and shocking to me as a professional chef for over twelve years you would think I would know this type of information.

There is a list of Nonagricultural (nonorganic) substances allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as “organic” or “made with organic”. While not all of these items are bad they are not organic, isn’t that a contradiction? Here is a link to the complete list to the allowed substances. The only way to ensure you are buying a fully organic product is if it states “100% ORGANIC” on the label accompanied with a USDA and/or a CCOF label. Companies are only allowed to use the term 100% organic if they have met the detailed requirements by the CCOF or USDA. Here is a diagram of what passes as 100% organic and the different levels of organic certification.

Now let’s talk about All Natural product. USDA and the Natural Products Association (NPA) concentrates on the processing aspect of food production through very strict guidelines covering production. The farming aspect of All Natural is similar to Organic in that no synthetic fertilizer and no non-biological pest management solutions can be used during the growing cycle of the crops or raising of the animal.

All natural focuses on the current growing cycle, in other words, there could be trace amounts of synthetic fertilizer or non-biological herbicides still in the soil from previous years of non-natural growing. Fortunately, these are measured in nanograms (one billionth of a gram, 0.000000001g) and have not been shown to have any affects on humans. All Natural livestock can also be fed from crops that have these nanograms of residue in the soil. You are probably asking yourself, ‘how big is a nanogram’? Imagine a grain of rice, this weighs approximately 2-3 grams, now imagine that grain of rice divided by 2 billion, that would be a nanogram.

Once the crop is harvested or the animal is raised and given to the production facility, the strict guidelines of the USDA & NPA continue.
For instance:
· all machinery that touches the product must be steam cleaned and the use of bleach is prohibited.
· In order to receive a USDA or NAP certification only natural products can touch the food like rice paper or other all natural materials during packaging.
· Also, blast freezing is the only method allowed this means the item was frozen at 50° below zero instantly. This prevents crystallization and eliminates almost all anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that do not need oxygen to live) like E. coli.
· Food products must also be vacuum sealed, which eliminates all aerobic bacteria (bacteria that need oxygen to live) like salmonella.

I hope after reading this post it helps you realize the benefits of Organic and All Natural. There are many differences, and like all things we must weigh these differences and determine what is important to our families. My family’s decision is leaning towards focusing on All Natural products. We feel that the positive environmental and economical impacts of All Natural outweigh any potential nanograms of residual pesticides in the soil. We like the idea that All Natural is mandated to follow steam cleaning, all natural packaging, blast freezing and vacuum sealing procedures. While, Organic companies can be following those requirements on their own volition, it is not required and without labeling we would not know for sure who is doing what. Either way, purchasing 100% Organic or All Natural products is better than not looking for these types of products because of the high standards that they are held to. We appreciate the CCOF and NAP’s efforts on holding these companies to these higher standards and thus producing better products.
Here’s to Happy Green purchasing!