Blog Archives

Soap and Detergent are not created equal…

I did not know this.

But check out this article:

Most ‘soaps’ are not soap but detergent:
Usually these products are labeled as beauty, facial, or cleansing bars, and sometimes even as soap. Detergents are made from petroleum products and consist mainly of surfactants, foaming agents and alcohols.

This is news to me. But it makes sense, if you think about it…and ticks me off, when these “detergent bars” are most likely the ones that proclaim in their marketing campaigns, “Soap can be so drying…but such and such beauty bar doesn’t contain soap and has all these awesome moisturizers…” (I haven’t researched that, by the way, it just sort of makes sense.) Soap in its “real” form involves using lye to saponify some form of fat, often beef tallow (boo) or coconut or palm oils.

Considering where the bulk of beef in the U.S. comes from, I think I’ll stick with the coconut oil stuff instead. Wouldn’t you?

(I still haven’t dared to actually make my own soap, though I’ve tried the melt-and-pour route a few times…)

And here is another article, suggesting that the “drying” factor of soap has less to do with soap itself than with the fact that a) the industrial process removes the glycerin, and b) all kinds of other things, fragrances and foaming agents and such, are added to the soap which themselves cause the drying issue.  Feels like yet another case of the industry saving us from a problem it creates for us in the first place…no wonder so many people are starting to go “soap free” and loving it.

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It’s Too Darn Hot (or, Crockpot Woes, why did they raise the temperatures to make them cook hotter??)

Did you know that Bob Fosse, that Great and Bizarre choreographer of the sixties and seventies choreographed a small dance sequence in 1953’s Kiss Me Kate? His first on-screen choreography ever? …Sorry, strange stream of consciousness there–the musical Kiss Me Kate, to the song “Too Darn Hot” from said musical,  to my crockpot woes coming rapidly to a boil…

Pun intended.

Confession time: All these months I’ve been blogging about my deep love for my slow cookers, I have neglected to mention the frustration they have caused when they heat up too fast, boil too hot, and finish my food way ahead of when I wanted them to. I’ve always assumed I was doing something wrong, and eventually I’d figure it out and enjoy the delight of blissful slow cooking like the rest of the world.  But guess what–the rest of the world is apparently in the same boat.

Turns out, over the past 5-10 years the manufacturers of crockpots decided it was too dangerous to let food cook slowly all day, so they raised the cooking temperatures by about 20 degrees for each setting…which is to say, now “low” is more like “simmer,” and “hot” is more like “boil rapidly,” and either option has the high likelihood that your food will dry out and burn about an hour or two before your recipe is scheduled to be finished.  It means that anything you wanted to just sit there quietly and let flavors meld over a few hours will get much of its flavor boiled off, or changed, that red sauce must be babysat, hot cocoa must be closely monitored to prevent icky-scummy-skin formation, and meats must be tested periodically before they become shoe leather.

(There are ways around this…but for the moment let me just rant a bit.) This ticks me off supremely.  To me it’s another facet of our litigious society, where the manufacturers have to protect themselves from the ignorance of their customer base, and make everything as idiot-proof as possible.  Also of the fact that our food supply is fundamentally unsafe, so manufacturers have to make sure we take every possible step to cook the pathogens and unfriendly bacteria out of everything we make so that we won’t be made ill by the food produced by the guys in the flu factories. Yes, I want to be safe. Yes, I want to eat Real Food, cooked well. But dammit, I want my slow cooker back.

There, I’m done. Yes, that was sort of a stupid rant.

But, then…is there any way to reclaim the working stiff’s ability to throw ingredients into the pot in the morning and come home to a beautifully cooked dinner, which is after all the reason we love–or used to love–our crockpots?

A couple of thoughts:

  1. If you have a crockpot that’s more than 5 years old, keep it!!! Do not even think of tossing it for a new model. (Or if you are, think about asking me if I’d like to take it off your hands.)
  2. Shop for vintage crockpots on ebay or at your local thrift store
  3. Babysit your new recipes the first time you cook them, and take good notes about what you had to change to make things work correctly in whatever crockpot you have. You may need to add extra liquid or shorten cooking times significantly to make it work out.
  4. Make sure your crock is always pretty well filled. The instructions will say that it should always be “2/3-3/4” full of food when you start, but if what you’re cooking will cook down significantly, you may need to try for “completely full” at the beginning in order to be at 2/3 full by the time things cook down and the thing starts simmering busily, which the old crocks never did on low heat.
  5. Bear in mind, when cooking pieces of meat, that the meat will usually go through a stage of “too dry” before it hits “soft and tender and falling apart.” I’m sure there’s a chemistry lesson in this, but I don’t really know how it works.  But it’s why you have to cook pot roast and stew so long. Again, in a hotter crockpot, you may need to add more liquid to make sure it doesn’t all cook off (which it shouldn’t do in a closed system, but somehow it always does anyhow), but if you cook your meat long enough it should eventually hit that tender stew-y stage. Or you could just follow Michael Pollan’s suggestions and not eat so much meat.
  6. I have not tried this yet, because in my desire to not be a big old consumer-buyer-of-things-i-don’t-really-need and also to cope with my small kitchen the idea of purchasing a fourth crockpot seems a little ludicrous, but if you can kick in the extra money to buy a programmable slow cooker, either one where you can set the temperature to which you want your food cooked, or one that lets you set the cooking time precisely and then have it automatically kick down to “warm” (which is somewhere just a little cooler than the old “low”–not really hot enough in most pots to actually cook on, but when you’re cooking basic vegetable products it can last a good long time on the warm setting) after a set amount of time. My current pot only has 8-hour and 10-hour options on low, which at the current heat setting is ludicrous; beans are the only thing I cook that can take that much time in the crock. A programmable cooker also would give you the option of exploring some of the lovely breakfast recipes you can make in a slow-cooker–oatmeals and bread puddings and stuff of that nature–and let them cook overnight. (A friend just sent me a couple…I will post about them as soon as I get to try them!)

Other than that…I got nothin’. It’s a sad thing. Once a food hits boiling and sits there for a while, you lose so much of the flavor, and it’s just tragic. Mulled cider, marinara sauce, pretty much anything you make loses all subtlety of flavor after that much time at a Real Boil. And forget anything like mulled wine or glogg–the alcohol just cooks right off, and what’s the point of that?

So…anyone got any other tips? Ways of getting past this annoying quality in our crockpots? Because this is just…sad.

Spud goes Thud.

Okay, not to put too fine a point on it, but this is just stupid.

The Root of All Evil? White Potatoes Dropped from School Lunch Programs

I mean, come on. It’s insane that potatoes were ever a) treated like a vegetable, and b) served as tater tots and french fries and called “nutrition,” but that’s not the potato’s fault. Potatoes are awesome.  And cooked properly, they taste great and are remarkably healthy.

And my son wonders why I pack his lunch every day?

The C Word

Contrast the story below with the accompanying photo:

A quote from the “carepages” site of an old friend who’s been battling cancer for years: “My wife has been oh so diligent in helping me stay on my diet free of refined sugar, bleached flour, corn fed beef and pork and all other foods that create the ‘soil’ that grows cancer. To fight the cancer, she prepared regular doses of kale smoothies, green tea and Korean ginseng along with fantastic mostly vegetarian dishes loaded with cancer fighting compounds (to find out more, read the book AntiCancer: A New Way of Life.) I also did yoga and pilates faithfully 6 days a week for over two months now sprinkling in runs, bike rides and weight lifting as time permitted…”

The “soil” that grows cancer. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put better. (As seen in the pretty pink cardboard flowerpots above and to the right.)

It’s near the end of October, that month where pink ribbons are everywhere–racing for the cure, buying for the cure, walking for the cure, donating for the cure, promises to work for this elusive “cure” are all over the place.  Unfortunately, guess what’s also all over the place? People and companies plopping that pink ribbon on things just to get people to think They Care, and thus shop from them. Companies selling products with carcinogenic chemicals in them are “donating a portion of profits to the cure” and thus hoping to get a pass.

It’s called Pinkwashing. (Sort of like “greenwashing,” where a company puts pictures of green fields and fuzzy bunnies on the front of something called “eco-green-super-non-toxic-natural cleaner” and it’s exactly like their other products only it has 1% aloe vera gel or two micrograms of lavender essential oil or something added…)

Now please, don’t get me wrong–YES, we need to fight for a cure for cancer, YES we need to find a way to combat this horrible disease, to give hope to those who already have it or will get it in the coming months and years. But…what about “Walk for Prevention!” or “2% of this company’s profits will go toward community education helping women avoid and eliminate breast cancer risk factors” or things of that nature? Where are those pink programs?

They are around.  They are sometimes harder to find, because they are spending what funding they have to do the research and education and don’t have giant marketing departments like the Big Pharma or cosmetic companies.  but what we don’t know really can hurt us. Check out this article from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics–a huge number of the products we use all the time have hormone-disrupting chemicals, things that can mimic estrogen, metals that stay in our bodies and accumulate over time…and worse many of them are not even required to be named on product ingredients lists.

Something else that article points out: Guess who the three cosmetics companies are who use the pink ribbon to advertise their products? Estee Lauder, Revlon, and Avon. Guess what those companies’ response has been when the above campaign asked them to eliminate potentially cancer-causing chemicals from their cosmetics?

Check out some of these links–

  • at SafeCosmetics.org–the origin of the pink ribbon. According to this article, it wasn’t originally pink, but peach–until Estee Lauder wanted to use it to sell products.
  • a New York Times article about the results of the President’s Cancer Panel–hardly an alt-fringe group :-)!
  • The Cancer Panel report itself
  • Skin Deep, a website with cosmetic safety information (hint: click at the bottom where you can show 500 per page, it makes it easier!–or use their advance search), or their specific sunscreen page–scary to realize that practically every sunscreen you can buy at a mainstream pharmacy or grocery store has potentially cancer-causing chemicals in it.  And encouraging to at least have the impression that there are a lot more products in general in the mid-range, if not the “recommended” range, in a number of categories.
  • The Environmental Working Group and its accompanying EnviroBlog
  • the ChooseWiser.org blog asks (and answers) the question: When is a pink ribbon a red flag?
  • The Breast Cancer Fund’s State of the Evidence 2010 report.
  • Read the “What is Body Burden” article on ChemicalBodyBurden.org. (IMO, this is a key–or even the key concept we need to be thinking about–toxicity isn’t just a question of simple cause and effect, it’s something that builds up gradually in our bodies over time.  If we can keep the burden low enough that our bodies can do their naturally efficient job of keeping us cleaned out and detoxed, that’s good…but who actually knows at what point the load is too big?)

A few days ago I blogged about how much we do, how much money we spend, how much Stuff Of Unknown (to us) Origin we put all over our faces and hair and bodies in the name of some inexact concept of Beauty...Would knowing the use of those products increases your risk of breast (or other) cancer cause you to stop, or make changes? Wouldn’t you rather not get cancer at all than pray there’s a better cure if you do?  The voices warning us about the long-term dangers of the way we live our lives every day are drowned out by the big media and marketing groups, but they are growing stronger, even if they still seem to come from the Fringey Green Wackos…and the Wackos, at least to me, are sounding less and less wacky these days, when we start seeing that what they are saying is being echoed by the doctors of those already diagnosed with cancer, like my friend from the beginning of this post.

Please, Think before you Pink.

And next October, don’t be surprised to see me wearing a peach-colored ribbon on my purse or coat lapel…

Hah! Chocolate “formula” is no more!

Over on Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog, I was delighted to discover this:

Mead-Johnson withdraws chocolate toddler formula: Meaningful or just PR?

Honestly, I barely care if it’s PR–and of course it’s just PR! Their statement of why they are withdrawing it is what the blogosphere would call a “flounce”: “there has been some misunderstanding and mischaracterization regarding the intended consumer for this product and the proper role it can play in a child’s balanced diet. The resulting debate has distracted attention from the overall benefits of the brand, so we have decided to discontinue production of Enfagrow Premium chocolate toddler drink…” Aww, poor Mead-Johnson, with the mean blogger moms distracting everyone from the good you are trying to do for our children by pointing out that you’re making CHOCOLATE FORMULA. (Okay, I’m ranting again. But this one really ticks me off.)

As Marion says, “It’s the sugars, stupid.” And that statement applies to the vanilla version (which remains on the market) as well as the chocolate.

I don’t care if it’s PR, and I don’t care if they flounce, and I feel the same way about Kelloggs’ Rice Krispies immunity claim also getting nailed…the fact, under all of this, is that bloggers spreading the word and giving people information is causing companies to change the way they do things. We–if I may be so bold, because I hardly qualify as being able to include myself in the realm of people like Marion Nestle–are making a difference.

Yes, Marion, you are highly influential.  Never doubt it.

Uh oh, watch out for those dangerous hand towels!

Or at least, that’s what Kleenex would like you to do.

I have it first from Enviromom and then from the Good Green WitchKleenex is now marketing a single use (read: DISPOSABLE) hand towel system for us to use in our own bathrooms at home. Because, you know, those hand towels we share with other members of our family are dangerous and likely to spread disease.  And because the CDC says so.

Except that…well…the CDC doesn’t really say so.  Or rather, they do, but their guidelines are for public restrooms and were never intended to apply to people’s homes.  Apparently the CDC thought that was so obvious they didn’t need to specify it. (I sort of agree. Should be obvious.  To everyone except the Kleenex marketing department.)

Definitely check out the Good Green Witch’s blog; she contacted the CDC, who responded within 24 hours and then actually called her.  Read the full post, but the upshot was that the woman she was speaking to definitely did not know of any CDC guidelines pertaining to the lack of safety of our own bathroom hand towels.

I hope she gets ’em.  I hope they get nailed on this.

Banning Bakesales for Doritos? *facepalm*

Another entry in the Monumentally Stupid What Are They Thinking category:

No Brownies at Bake Sales, But Doritos May Be Okay.

Excerpted:

*****

Nine months after effectively banning most fund-raising food sales in city schools, a city panel will vote Wednesday on an amended regulation that will allow student groups to sell items like Pop-Tarts and Doritos during the school day, but not brownies, zucchini bread or anything else homemade.

The new regulation is meant as a compromise between the city’s concerns about childhood obesity— which they cite as the reason for the restrictions — and the fund-raising needs of student and parent groups, some of which are struggling amid difficult economic times, especially after losing one of their most lucrative sources of revenue.

Under the new rules, students may sell fresh fruits and vegetables, or one of 27 specific packaged items that have been approved for sales in city vending machines, between the start of school and 6 p.m. on weekdays. The same goes for parent groups, except for an exception carved out for one no-brownies-barred Parent Teacher Association bake sale during the school day per month.

No homemade or unpackaged items are on the list of “approved” foods because “it’s impossible to know what the content is, or what the portion size is,” said Kathleen Grimm, the deputy chancellor for infrastructure and portfolio planning, who oversees the regulation….

*****(click here for full story)*****

I just can’t begin to comment on this.  And note that they are not talking peanut allergy here, or stuff like that, they are seeing this as a move to combat childhood obesity.

We already can’t take anything homemade to school for children’s birthday treats, and gone are the days of making cupcakes for the first grade class.  But this–this–is just ridiculous.

When superbugs live in livestock…be afraid. (This is the part where Jenn Has A Rant)

Articles like this one from MSNBC freak me out. A lot:

Drug Resistant Infections Lurk in Meat We Eat

I’ve commented before about my concern with our food supply–in fact, it’s one of the few “to green or not to green” areas of my life and my family’s that I feel like I can have a little control over.  We are fortunate enough to have a Whole Foods a few blocks from our house (do I bike there? um…no. I mean, it’s winter now, but in spring I really need to get on that…), we have a produce stand even closer, I can find a farmers market pretty much any day of the week from April to November.  We have access to the good food.  And with a little belt-tightening in other places, we can afford it.  I still believe that the most crucial part of enacting across-the-board change will be the consumers demanding safer, healthier, and better food–that was the whole point of Food, Inc, or at least the major one they stressed at the very end–so that the producers of food need to either come with us or go out of business.  And in the meantime I have the luxury of keeping most of the scariest stuff out of my children’s systems.

But this?

Most of the article will not contain new info to people who are aware of the issue–long story short, industrial livestock is fed routine antibiotics to a) fight off the infections they would almost certainly get due to the unsanitary living conditions and questionable diets and b) stimulate their growth.  And the wide indiscriminate use of antibiotics is giving rise to pathogens that are resistant to the drugs, which then spread to people, who then can’t be cured of their infections by the drugs that used to work.

(Indiscriminate use of antibiotics for humans ticks me off too–when a kid gets the faintest sniffles and the docs throw antibiotics at it, when my adult friends get a head cold and say, “but the doctor got me some antibiotics, so I’m sure I’ll be better soon,” when just-in-case antibiotics are prescribed for bugs that they aren’t designed to affect at all…people got mad at me for not vaccinating my kids against H1N1, wailing “herd immunity! herd immunity!”–but those same people roll their eyes when I cry, “my kids will get the drug-resistant bugs your kids incubated!” Funny how that works.  Or not.)

But there are a couple of quotes in there–it’s a fairly balanced article, presenting the points of view of both sides of the issue–that scare the hell out of me and sort of point out for me exactly what is wrong with the status quo:

Here’s one:

A pig farmer says that the public doesn’t “care about economics because, ‘As long as I can buy a pork chop for a buck 69 a pound, I really don’t care.’ But we live in a world where you have to consider economics in the decision-making process of what we do.”

Basically, it sounds like he’s saying that it’s all about cost, and that economic concerns in the short term outweigh health concerns in the long term–because even economically, as time goes buy, we’re all going to be paying for that cheap pork chop; maybe not this particular farmer, but someone will be paying for it, and it will cost a lot more in health care and lives. (But fortunately we have good, universally accessible, comprehensive health care coverage in the U.S., so we don’t need to worry so much, right? Er….right?)

And another:

“[Kansas Republican Congressman Jerry Moran says]”The cultivation of crops and the production of food animals is an immensely complex endeavor involving a vast range of processes. We raise a multitude of crops and livestock in numerous regions, using various production methods. Imagine if the government is allowed to dictate how all of that is done.”

Bigly misguided here.  You’ll notice the conversation seems to be only about “government” vs. livestock/drug producers.  Where are the American people in the conversation? Ineffectual as they are, the FDA and USDA seem to at least nominally be on the side of keeping people safer. Rewrite that quote to say, “Imagine if the American people were allowed to dictate how all that is done.” or “Imagine if people living in urban deserts in the inner city were allowed to dictate how the only food to which they have access is produced” or “Imagine if the government could force us to actually disclose everything we do to their food to the American people”–because honestly that’s a lot of what FDA enforcement is about, it’s about transparency and making sure people have access to real information about where their food comes from; much of the livestock/drug lobby work is as much about preventing forced disclosure of what they already do, not necessarily about changing what they do.  Because they know if people did know how our food is actually produced, the consumers themselves would demand change.  These companies aren’t afraid of the government, but they are terrified of the American Consumer.

And it’s not just about “economics,” it’s about short-sightedness, it’s about the inability to think a few moves ahead and possibly delay the windfall in order to get a better result that might take a little longer.  Makes me angry.

But I love the end of the article, which started with a story of a pig farmer who got a really nasty strep strain and almost died:

******(begin quote)******

‘We were just basically killing ourselves’
Back in Missouri, farmer Kremer finally found an antibiotic that worked on his leg. After being released from the hospital, Kremer tested his pigs. The results showed they were resistant to all the same drugs he was.

Kremer tossed his hypodermic needles, sacked his buckets of antibiotic-laced feed, slaughtered his herd and started anew.

“I was wearing a syringe, like a holster, like a gun, because my pigs were all sick,” he recalled. “I was really getting so sick and aggravated at what I was doing. I said, ‘This isn’t working.'”

Today, when Kremer steps out of his dusty and dented pickup truck and walks toward the open-air barn in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, the animals come running. They snort and root at his knee-high gum boots. There are no gates corralling the 180 pigs in this barn. He points to a mound of composting manure.

“There’s no antibiotics in there,” he says proudly.

Kremer sells about 1,200 pigs annually. And a year after “kicking the habit,” he says he saved about $16,000 in vet bills, vaccinations and antibiotics.

“I don’t know why it took me that long to wake up to the fact that what we were doing, it was not the right thing to do and that there were alternatives,” says Kremer, stooping to scratch a pig behind the ear. “We were just basically killing ourselves and society by doing this.”

******(end quote)******

(I especially like the “saved $16,000 in vet bills” part…)

Get involved.  Pay attention.  Vote with your wallet.

Mammaries, like the corners of my mind…

I don’t talk much about breastfeeding on this blog; I leave that to others who do it much better than I do, like PhD in Parenting and The Feminist Breeder…but this one post (pointed out to me on PhD) really struck me in terms of the whole “green” thing.  It’s not very often that I see questions about baby formula raised in a “green our food Michael Pollan out with the processed” milieu, and this article made me wonder why?

(Be warned if you click the link to the original article: this is a full-fledged and very passionate rant.  I know this can be a very emotional subject for many people, so only go there if you want to go there.  I just wanted to bring up one small corner of it:)

*****(begin quote******

The huge emotional reaction people get on hearing these simple, reasoned, facts, is quite alarming. Consider your own reactions to the following two statements; pretend I’m reading out a health protection broadcast:
.
“Raw chicken may contain salmonella. Cook this product thoroughly in order to prevent food poisoning.”
.
Now try this…
.
“Formula may contain salmonella. Prepare this product thoroughly in order to prevent food poisoning.”
.
Now, in the first one, I’m a hero of food protection! In the second one, I’m apparently saying “Formula is poison…and you are a terrible mother for feeding it to your child don’t you feel guilty?”
.
Try these two:
.
“Nutrition is best derived from natural food sources. Processed foods made commercially from factory farmed foods with a high level of chemical additives may not provide adequate nutrition.”
.
Common sense? Reasonable? Reasoned and balanced?
.
“Formula is a processed food made commercially from factory farmed food sources with a high level of chemical additives.”
.
Have you gone nutso back there? All reason flown out the window in an emotional screech of “ohmygohdyoucan’tsaythat..”
.
We have to apply reason to this whole infant feeding thing. Recognise that normative biology is just that – normal. That when we play around with it, we have to be careful, and assess the effects of the intervention, not the norm. We also have to strip off this uber-protective wrapping from discussions of formula – and talk about what it is: a commercial, for profit, highly processed industrial food compound. It’s so ironic that the very middle class women chattering on about The Great Breastfeeding Conspiracy, would not feed their kids a yoghurt with the list of ingredients on the average formula tub.
.
And the yoghurt probably would only contain those ingredients.
******(end quote******
(I totally get that not everyone can nurse, and that even for those who can there are huge obstacles in our societies to women trying to nurse their children even to the six months recommended by the AAP, let alone the 2 years recommended by the WHO…I don’t bring this up to criticize anyone, except perhaps the marketers of baby formula, so please do not see this as any kind of sweeping condemnation.  I just wanted to open the question.)

Meatless Mondays–if it ticks off the beef industry, they’re doing something right.

I love this article, absolutely love it:

Meatless Mondays Draw Industry Ire

(My favorite part is when the meat industry people complain about the “lack of protein” in what the school is serving on Mondays, like grilled cheese sandwiches and black beans and rice with salsa…)

Things like this article make me want to giggle and hug myself…because it shows we’re winning. And how scared they are.

(More Meatless Mondays information can be found at meatlessmondays.com–check it out!)