Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cast Iron Cookware, Run to Your Nearest Thrift Store


Cast iron cookware, by any other name such as skillet, pan, or pot, is absolutely wonderful. I prefer to say pan, but most searches use cast iron skillet.

I've ditched anything Teflon,  and anything else that is suspect for that matter, which leaves me with stainless steel and cast iron. My stainless steel is a mix of old and new (think Revere Ware, it is great)

What motivated me were the alarming articles about Teflon, its toxicity etc.It is quite disturbing. DuPont mumbled something about phasing the PFOAs out (cancer causing chemical when over heated) but guess what, they haven't. (teflon lines self cleaning ovens and that yucky smell is guess what? very toxic) I threw out many pans years ago, but just recently fell back in love with iron.

The big problem is, no one makes a new good cast iron skillet. I tried the new Lodge ones and they are quite frankly...awful. The reason is they are made with a sand mold method and the surface is left rough, not silky smooth. The older ones were machine polished. So no matter how much you season it, things stick. What were/are they thinking?

The only option then is to find old cast iron skillets, obviously a limited supply. Ten years ago, you couldn't give them away, they were cheap at thrifts stores and yard sales and consider oh so...old and yesteryear. My how things have changed .If you can find one at a yard sale or thrift store, good for you, but mostly you'll find them at antique shops or Ebay. The prices may vary from $20 to $40 depending upon the size and condition. Look for a nice smooth cooking surface. Don't shy away from a little rust or some gunk. There is lots of advice on the internet for cleaning them up. The best one is putting them in an open camp fire for hours to burn everything off!

I've got a nice little collection going and have been searching for more for family and friends. Not too many bargains these days though, the dealers know what they are doing. I did have some that were in the family, a nice big #12. (numbers have nothing to do with actual size in inches) The small one shown was also a hand-me-down and makes perfect eggs. I rarely clean it, just rinse it off and leave a little grease on it.There is good advice online about seasoning old pans so they are non-stick.

The added benefit is these treasures are really green - low tech to produce, low chemical profile( the only issue is leaching iron into your food but that may be a good thing)  and they last forever. Given that these beauties are not made anymore and that their value will only continue to go up, I suggest your nearest thrift store, consignment shop, or antique dealer. Run, don't walk.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bill McKibben Gets Real

Cold, sunny.

Bill McKibben lets his hair down in Mexico (does not appear to be influenced by a Margarita) and finally says it like it is "There's no happy ending to where we prevent climate change anymore. Now the question is, is it going to a miserable century or an impossible one, and what comes after that."

Well someone has to (had to?) say it. In stark contrast to his usual upbeat monologues, Bill gets real here in this video. Perhaps his way of saying, we're past the tipping point. The train has left the station. Now it's a question of just how fast that train is going to go and if we have time to get out of the way and hold onto our hats.

 Bill's Climate Change Reality Check:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Canada Bans Toxic BPA - First in World

Such a beautiful morning, the balloons are out.

They did it, finally, bravo Canada! An entire country, Canada, banned the use of BPA by declaring it toxic. Bisphenol-A (it just sounds toxic, eh?) , known as BPA, was banned two years ago by Canada for baby bottles. I think it was their idea of baby steps back then, but we'll take it today.

In the event that you have been sailing the South Pacific for 2 years and need some updates on BPA, I have some previous posts about the toxic chemical. (toxic is not just my word, it is now Canada's)

Several countries around the world have been dabbling with various partial bans, but Canada is the first country to label BPA toxic which requires it to be removed from products that humans come in contact with, like canned foods, water bottles and, oh wow, cash register receipts.

This will be a tall order for sure but it's a start. It is also a message to the chemical industry to clean up their act and stop using cheap hormone disrupting, gender-bender chemicals in the name of progress. (there are alternatives, they just cost a little more) Lucky for Canadians, the money hungry chemical companies just couldn't squash this move. Unlucky for us, the all too powerful chemical industry has, well, just too much power. Some would say, follow the money.

Kudos to Canada. May we benefit from Canada's ban on BPA and give strength to our own legislatures to do the right thing. Are you listening America?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

BPA in Cash Regsister Receipts or Not

3 H's - Hot, Hazy and Humid.

BPA, bisphenol - A, is back in the headlines, this time about its presence on thermal paper cash register receipts and its ability to rub off onto your skin. (and yes, then be absorbed)

EWG broke the news report and research, and if you google the subject, a plethora of articles will appear including the ACC's paid Google advertising trying to protect their plastic turf. No need in repeating what has already been said. I would like to take the discussion to the next level.

I've been considering an alternative to BPA thermal paper knowing the cause for concern. What little efforts I had made came to roadblocks since BPA Free paper is not well publicized. So it wasn't until the EWG article appeared that I was able to find a source for BPA-Free receipt paper. Appleton Paper Company turns out to be the world's largest supplier of thermal paper and made the switch in 2006 to ditch BPA, supposedly "out of concern for their workers." I suppose it didn't have anything to do with Japan's Paper Association and their phase out of BPA which began in 1998 and ended in 2003. Japan, the world leader in banning or phasing out BPA, may not have official laws, but Associations and corporations take it upon themselves before government intervention. (Just like Japan voluntarily changing their food cans to non-BPA linings.)

Whatever the true motivation was for Appleton to go BPA-Free, they did, and we are better for it, probably.

So they managed to take BPA out of the paper formula. But I don't see any one talking about what they replaced it with. (Just like no one talked about what SIGG used to replace their BPA lining) So after a call to Appleton, I received my answer from a lovely customer service person with a cute Wisconsin accent. The replacement chemical is diphenyl sulfone.

Next question - is it safe? and the answer is... who knows? Diphenyl sulfone is probably safer than BPA but there is so little information out there, that there are no guarantees. It is a polymer (nice word for plastic). It has been listed (though not widely used) as a pesticide. (so it kills things) One article did say it is non-mutanigenic. (oh thank goodness) So after lots of research, the conclusion I have come to is diphenyl sulfone is one of the 80,000 chemicals listed by the EPA that they have not tested. Oops, sorry, I misspoke. The EPA has tested 200 of the 80,000 chemicals they have in their data base. And a lot of other people have not tested it either.

What I also find interesting is that this paper cash register BPA story broke in August. Back on July 15th, the EPA, under their "Design for the Environment" program held a conference titled"Meeting Materials for BPA Alternatives in Thermal Paper Partnership" assessing alternatives for BPA. Now if the EPA is bothering to hold a conference on the subject, I can only ascertain that the inside scoop is that this is a serious issue.

So now what? If you are a retailer, you might consider switching to Appleton papers. Forget going to Staples, they source from all sorts of companies and you may never know which ones.

As a customer, you can say no thank you to your receipts, or touch quickly without wet hands. Do not store them touching other items that you may handle. The BPA is in powdery form and comes off easily.

And do not put receipts into the recycling bin. Recycling BPA receipts is probably why BPA is showing up in recycled paper and also in our water. Instead, throw them out (where they can be incinerated and go into the air.)

Replacing bad stuff is good. As a consumer, try to always ask yourself, "What did they replace it with?" I think we need to be asking more of those questions.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tips for Getting Rid of Bed Bugs Naturally

A few clouds on the morning horizon. Looks to be a great day.

People are starting to talk about bedbugs. You can hear the fear in people's voices. Some anxiously want to know how to avoid them; others are in panic mode - how to get rid of them? Before you reach for toxic bombs, let's talk about naturally getting rid of bed bugs.

There are lots of websites about bed bugs so I won't go over the basics about them. But just to put some fears to rest, bed bugs do not carry diseases. They bite for sure (yes, they suck your blood - ick) and people vary in terms of their reaction. Some don't react at all while others welt and itch like crazy. Oh, and they do not fly, and that's good news. You are not a dirty person nor a bad house keeper if you get bed bugs, you're just darn unlucky.

So, what are some things to do if you think you have bed bugs? Here are some tips and sensible ways to prepare yourself for battle:

1 - Have a vacuum ready before you begin searching. That way if you find any bugs, or suspicious eggs, you can suck them up immediately.

2 - Upon finding any, first vacuum. Then deal with whatever it was they were on. Mattresses, take out side and continue to vacuum if you can.

3 - Wash bedding, all of it, in hot water - it will kill them. Also dry in a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes. (tough for me to suggest using a dryer, but I do hate bed bugs) The heat will kill them.

4 - While the mattress is off the bed, wash down the entire bed frame. If your mattress is directly on the floor, go get yourself a bed frame.

5 - If your mattress was heavily infested, get a new mattress and follow prevention.

6 - If you have recently traveled, vacuum, clean and wash anything associated with your bags.

7 - Think about gutting your room, apartment and house if you are infested. Vacuum and clean every corner starting where you found them and then working away from that point. Using vinegar and hot water is fine. Let it set for a few minutes (good dwell time) before wiping off.

8 - Cold kills bed bugs. If you happen to have winters that get below 25 degrees F, putting your stuff and mattresses outside will kill them.

9 - Throw out the vacuum bag after you suck them up.

Now for the prevention of bedbugs - naturally.

1 - Grease the legs of your bed's frame. That's right, right out of the dark ages but this really is great prevention. You can put petroleum jelly up and down the legs (do not miss a spot). Or you can place the legs (all of them, you might have some in the middle of the bed if it is big) onto a saucer or in a tin can and put petroleum on, around and inside either. This really works and is the best prevention for your bed. The bugs can not walk through it and might even get stuck. Consider greasing sofas and chairs too if you are surrounded by infestation.

2 - Keep the bed away from the wall, several inches.

3 - Herbs can be used as a repellent. They do not like lavender, thyme, rosemary or eucalyptus or mint. (at least that is what I have read) You can either used dried herbs in a sachet, which is great for traveling, or in your drawers. Or you can use real essential oils and create an herbal spray. Be careful with the oils, they can stain. You can spray door thresholds and perimeters of rooms. There are some articles that do say these do not work and to go to a professional exterminator. Herbs are meant as a deterrent only. (so maybe they'll find another home)

4 - Check and clean all fibers attached to the ground - meaning chairs, sofas, clothing, bedding in closets, etc.

5 - Keep clothing off the ground.

6 - When traveling, do not put anything on the ground. Keep your bags up high, maybe on top of a TV, or in the bathtub.

For more information about bed bugs, good photos and all the information you may or may not really want to know, here are some great bed bug links:

EPA Bed Bug Summit

Harvard's Bed Bug Info

Bedbugs by Wikipedia

I grew up hearing "Sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite." I also used to say it to my children. (well, not one of them since she was terrified of bugs) Unfortunately this fun, old, little good night ritualistic saying has taken on a new meaning. Who would have guessed?

Let me know if you have any ideas to add so others may benefit from your advice.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Eliminate Under Arm Smell - Naturally

Magnificent morning, not a cloud in the sky.

A little ironic that I am going to talk about getting rid of body odor (we'll focus on the arm pits) naturally after the previous blog. But bare with me, its pretty simple.

What prompted me was a discussion with some people who, in their efforts to use safe deodorants, were lamenting that they had not found anything that works as well as the toxic guns. And to add insult to injury, they smelled so bad that even a good scrub in the shower did not eliminate the under arm stinks completely. And sure enough, they were right. After a particularly warm, active day, followed by a thorough shower, I too had lingering B.O. (body odor).

I was impressed. And I wanted to find a solution. But first I wanted to know, just what is causing this stubborn smell.

Yes we have sweat glands - eccrine glands (all over the body regulating temperatures) and apocrine glands (mostly under arms, groin and around breasts) which secret a fatty substance that bacteria feast on. It really isn't the sweat that smells, it's the by-product of the happy bacteria. Some say its the acid from the bacteria that smells, some say it's the actual .... poop from the bacteria. (double ick) Maybe they are one in the same.

This is not when you reach for the anti-bacterial soap. No, no, no. Remember those anti-bacterial chemicals not only partially kill the under arm bacteria (and the ones that survive become super bacteria - we don't want that) but your body absorbs those chemicals, some of them cancer causing, and the rest goes into our water system, onward to kill good bacteria. (remember we need bacteria to bio-degrade things!) So 3 very good reasons to not use anti-bacterial soaps.

Before we talk about eliminating under arm smell (and we will), let's talk about prevention. Bacteria love heat, so try to reduce the heat under your arms by dressing lighter, in natural fiber clothing, and/or trimming/shaving the under arm hair. And wash on a regular basis. That does not mean you have to waste water and shower twice a day. Try the old wash cloth at the sink (with low chemical profile soap) instead. This is all pretty simple, natural and very environmentally friendly so far.

Now for the magic solution. One word. Vinegar. The mother of all cleaning agents, including for under arm, body odor pit smell. So in the shower, or not, even after washing with soap, if there is that lingering slight smell - pour a little, like a cap full, onto the corner of your wash cloth and rub the entire under arm area. (if you are shaving, I would shave after) Let it sit and do something else (brush teeth? wash another body part?) then wash again with soap to clear the vinegar off. Voila. B.O. gone.

Apparently the low PH of vinegar wipes out the bacteria/smell. What ever it is - it works. And the bonus is, it seems to have lasting power too, before your familiar smell returns.

Unfortunately we do not live in a society that values wreaking under arm odor. There's a nomad tribe in Africa that bathes once a month but the men prefer their women to not bathe at all. Hard to believe really but it would solve a whole lot of problems if we didn't find arm pit smell so offensive. And it would collapse the personal care industry. Hmm.

So here we are, trying to eliminate naturally smelling body odor and then, for many, adding other smells (like perfumes). Interesting how humans have evolved. Some say that's progress.

Anyway, give it a try. Have a bottle of vinegar handy in the shower or bathroom (transfer to unbreakable container if you are a klutz) and make it part of your new bathing routine. I would love your feedback!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What is Natural, Really?

Really foggy, expecting temperatures 30 degrees above normal - ouch.

I've been meaning to write something about defining the word "natural", but because it has a tendency to raise my blood pressure, I have avoided doing so. However, a recent article titled "Is It Really Natural" got my juices going again, so here goes (and stand back)...

Though a pet peeve for a long time, last year's Natural Products Expo East sent me over the top. I can understand the industry is in flux and an Expo needs "to make money", but to some degree they sell their soul to the devil. I wish I had had a buck for every time I saw the word "natural". The word was everywhere, the products, not so much.

How is that corn tortilla chips, made from genetically modified corn is called "natural"? How is it that soaps with sodium laureth sulfate are allowed? And how is that companies that do not disclose their ingredients get their foot in the door?

Burt's Bees (bought out by Clorox) had a huge presence at the Expo. While their ingredients are less benign than standard beauty care products, they still have fragrance in about half of their products (fragrance scores and ouchy 8 on the cosmetic data base). Treehugger cautions pregnant women to avoid fragrance (not sure why ALL people shouldn't..) I'm also not sure why Treehugger is a big fan of Burt's Bees when there are so many other companies who have better ingredients and are based in organics (better for earth and human use). The take home message here is, if you want to use Burt's, read the label carefully.

My next bug-a-boo at the expo was Mrs. Myers. The display was large and very old fashion, reminiscent of years gone by. (I guess that is suppose to be good) I literally had to hold my breath because of the artificial fragrance. (you can smell it in the grocery isle too) To get to the point, Mrs. Meyer's uses artificial fragrance, parabens and other synthetics that they will not reveal. On their own website it reads: "We use naturally derived ingredients whenever possible from corn, sugar cane, coconut and palm. When we cannot find a plant-derived ingredient that performs to our rigorous standards, we use ingredients from the world of safe synthetics...Our fragrances contain natural essential oils and other non-natural ingredients ..." (the corn and sugar cane could be GMO)

The term "the world of safe synthetics" is totally laughable. They won't tell you the details. And neither will their more expensive version Caldrea; still using non-descript words like fragrance, preservatives, plant derived surfactants and coloring.

Yet the expensive Mrs. Meyer's is allowed to sell their goods at a natural products expo. @%!*&^^$ At least Shaklee wasn't there - the biggest green washing company who holds its secret ingredients tighter than a you know what. And shame on all the Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and food COOPS who sell these products.

So what is really natural? What should be considered truly natural?

There is a standard that the relatively new Natural Products Association has come up with, which I suppose is better than nothing. But it still leaves too much wiggle room for too many companies, in my humble opinion.

So, back to the issue. What is really natural? Try this: non-genetically modified plant based, plant preservatives, and no fragrance (we assume fragrance is artificial vs essential oils) and that's it. Did I miss something? Oh, and organic would be an added benefit, like Dr. Bronner's or Vermont Soap Organics.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Earth Hour 2010 - March 27th

Amazingly freaky warm weather, cooler and cloudy today, but still above average.

Another Earth Hour is coming. Another chance for the world to unite and show that it can reduce energy consumption. Another carbon cutting "can-do" opportunity.

So what happens to the other 8,759 hours in the year? Will 2010 be any different? We will see less participation? More participation? Has there been a carry over affect?

Don't get me wrong, I like Earth Hour. I think it does bring us together and makes a point; the lights going out are pretty dramatic. My biggest beef is there appears to be little carry over.

Not sure why. The website has a pretty good tool kit for writing to all sorts of people, businesses and other agencies. They have a link about climate change. What seems to be lacking is real education on how you can reduce your carbon sucking behavior. A huge opportunity lost I am afraid.

Earth Hour is supported by the WWF, World Wildlife Fund, a very worthy organization who I think might have crawled in bed with some unusual oily bed fellows. Not sure why this is, but it seems a little like Monsanto getting FDA positions.

If you need a little boost to help you carry over your carbon conscience, here's a video about the tipping points, yes points, to help you:

My point is, I think more could be done with Earth Hour. We''ll see how 2010 participation goes this Saturday. And yes, I do have my candles ready.

Friday, January 22, 2010

FDA Finally Barks About BPA - From A Cage

Sunny morning, still, with snow lingering on the trees.

The FDA has taken a long time to "comment" on BPA. They have delayed it 3 times, or was it 4, I've lost count. The FDA originally came out non-committal about BPA after using only bought and paid for "science" from the chemical industry. After the government's own agency in toxicology called for action against BPA and slamming the FDA, did the FDA go back "for a second look" at the plastic chemical the country of Canada labels as a "toxin".

And so we have been waiting, not holding our breath mind you, but waiting, even through each delay. But finally the announcement came last week - "The FDA Shifts Stance on BPA, Announces Some Concern". The FDA bravely came out of the dog house and barked to the world the possible dangers of BPA.

Yahoo! This was fantastic news. The FDA finally came to its senses. Maybe all that badgering and 3 years of intensive investigation by the detective duo out of Milwaukee paid off. The squeaky wheel got a few drops of oil and maybe now, now our government will do something about it. If the FDA has "concern" over a chemical, asks for more research, even tells people to avoid the chemical, especially in young children, then surely this is paving the way for possible regulation of this serious gender bender that is "everywhere".

Two days after this announcement, the FDA then came out about a little glitch, just a wee one. Just an itsy bitsy little detail that came to light. The FDA can not, not "will not", but can not regulate BPA. "But because BPA was classified years ago as an indirect food additive, it is not subject to the kind of scrutiny that other chemicals are. Without critical data about BPA, it is impossible to regulate the chemical, officials said."

Just 2 days after. Call me cynical, because this is way too coincidental in my mind, but is it possible that the FDA uncovered this little detail, or the little detail was brought to their attention, and they scrambled to make the announcement before the little detail was revealed? Oh to be a fly on the wall.

For 2 days we reveled, rejoicing that the FDA had stepped out from the money shadow of the chemical industry and announced to the world that here was enough concern over BPA to warrant further investigation but in the mean time, infants and children should avoid BPA. For 2 days we were comforted that our government is finally maybe watching out for our well being. For 2 days the FDA received some respect after a long, long hiatus.

But only for 2 days. How cruel.

How convenient for the FDA to make these announcements only to be followed by their inability to do anything about it. How convenient to jump up and down and holler at the top of your lungs with your hands tied behind your back. How convenient the watch dog came out to bark at the world only to be sitting from within its own locked cage.