Chatting Green with Marlo Thomas

  • September 5, 2013 9:53 am

Alexandra Zissu and Marlo Thomas

I had great time talking about everything green living and environmental health with Marlo Thomas a few weeks back for her Huffington Post show, Mondays with Marlo. Check it out here.

Horticultural Society Event — 9/24

  • September 5, 2013 9:06 am

I’ll be sharing my ten tips for greening a family even in an urban environment at a Horticultural Society event on 9/24. Join me?

To Rash Guard Or To Sunscreen–Cute Options In The New York Times

  • June 7, 2013 8:14 pm

I’ve been looking into rash guards in an effort to wear less sunscreen. Not only is good mineral block (I wouldn’t use chemical block, but if you’re reading my blog you probably knew that already!) expensive, but also I have yet to find one that doesn’t make my face break out. And it’s time consuming to apply sunscreen. But I am pale with light eyes and many moles and have skin cancer in my family, so I need to be careful. The hats and ugly shirts made of so-called SPF fabric I have been wearing for years have been a clunky compromise. I kept waiting for someone in the fashion industry to notice that people–and kids–wanted cute rash guards. Surely there is money to be made here. Well this year the cute rash guards finally arrived. So I wrote about them for The New York Times. Know of other cute versions? Please post in comments. I’m also hoping someone will make one in the USA from recycled materials with “good” dyes and manufactured following Fair Trade practices. Maybe that’s next summer’s article.

Hey, Halle Berry! What’s In Your Perfume?

  • May 16, 2013 8:18 pm

I’ve started a petition over at Change.org asking Halle Berry to fully disclose the ingredients in her Coty, Inc. fragrances. Would you please sign and share it? Thanks!

From the petition (there’s more at Change.org):

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I started researching environmental health concerns. I’m a journalist so my research became a book, co-authored with a close friend: The Complete Organic Pregnancy. Eight years, three more books, and a new four-month-old daughter later, I’m still alarmed by how many unsafe substances my girls—and all children—are exposed to daily. It upsets me how much is unknown. It’s impossible to safeguard kids against the unknown.

If the press is to be believed, this is something the actress Halle Berry worries about, too. She’s pregnant with her second child. During her first pregnancy, it was reported that she was interested in organics and was planning an eco-friendly nursery.

That’s why I’m asking her, mom to mom, to use her considerable influence as a celebrity to help close a consumer health loophole that a lot of people don’t even know about.

Fragrances—which are in everything from perfumes to lotions to diapers to food –are considered government protected trade secrets. This means that companies don’t have to tell consumers which chemicals make up the “fragrance” on their product’s ingredient list. The word “fragrance” is a placeholder for unknown mixtures of potentially hundreds of chemicals.

The problem? Many of the undisclosed ingredients in any given fragrance have been linked in various studies to allergies, asthma, hormone disruption, and even cancer. In one study, one of Halle Berry’s perfumes was found to contain several of these toxic chemicals.

Halle Berry has five perfumes in her name. Her latest fragrance, Closer, is up for a popular fragrance of the year award. I’m asking her, as another mom who cares about children’s health and the environment, to set a trend by disclosing the individual ingredients in her perfumes. It would be great if Coty, Inc. stopped using potentially unsafe chemicals, but if they at least tell consumers what’s in the Halle Berry perfumes, it’s one less unknown for us parents. I hope it will inspire other fragrance manufacturers to be more transparent, too.

Healthy Child Healthy World

  • April 2, 2013 8:40 pm

I’m still not entirely back up to speed since having a baby in December. Such is life. That said I’m thrilled and delighted to be working with Healthy Child Healthy World. While I’m not back to posting here on my own blog, I am writing over on their blog if you’re in the mood to read something recent.

Maternity Slow Down

  • January 11, 2013 12:50 pm

As of mid-December I’m home getting to know my newborn and working, writing, and posting less (or not at all). I should be back up and running at some point in February. If you send me a question for a Q&A in the interim, I will file it for then.

Happy 2013!

Q&A: New Year’s Resolution Ideas

  • December 26, 2012 9:25 am

Question:

Alexandra,

New Year’s is here and I’m looking for simple ways to green my life. Do you have some ideas?

Thanks,

Ron

Answer:

Hi Ron,

Happy almost New Year! I’m glad to hear about the changes you want to make for 2013. Simple steps add up, especially if we all take them. One easy way to go green is via the food you buy, cook, and eat. In my book The Conscious Kitchen, I have ten food commandments I suggest. Perhaps you will find resolution ideas in them.

1. Eat less meat. When eating beef, seek out and choose grass-fed. Other meat and poultry should be carefully sourced.

2. Just say no to bottled water. Drink (filtered) tap instead. This will save money, too.

3. Buy local organic or sustainably farmed fruits and vegetables. Don’t forget that coffee and tea come from plants, and wine is made from grapes; choose sustainable versions.

4. Eat only the least contaminated sustainably harvested wild or well-sourced farmed seafood.

5. Always consider packaging when shopping. Choose items packed in materials you can reuse or that can be recycled in your municipality. Buy bulk items instead of overpackaged goods. Always shop with reusable bags.

6. Cook at home. Often. And serve on reusable dishware, not disposable. Clean with eco-friendly products.

7. Avoid plastic as often as you can.

8. Try composting, even if you live in a city, or a house without a yard.

9. Whenever possible, reduce energy use in the kitchen by choosing efficient appliances, cooking methods, and dishwashing practices; don’t leave appliances plugged in when not in use; ask your electric company for alternative energy sources like wind power.

10. Spread the word. Educate everyone you know. Green your office kitchen, your kids’ school kitchen, your friends and relatives’ kitchens. Make noise; together we can make a huge difference.

Happy 2013!

Alexandra

Q&A: Chemical Flame Retardants?

  • December 19, 2012 9:43 am

Question:

Alexandra,

I recently sent an email to members of my family as they shop for holiday and baby gifts, including fleece footed pjs. I’m sending part of it to you below. There has been some backlash. Was this overkill? I did ask them to try not to take it personally. I just don’t want to expose the baby to harm.

Here is some info on flame retardants that I think important to share. When thinking about buying gifts, please keep in mind that if there is a label on the product that indicates that it is in accordance with California state regulation 117, or is made with any type of foam in conjunction with the product not being labeled as organic, or is labeled as “flame retardant,” please think twice before buying it.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Sarah

Answer:

Dear Sarah,

This is a real concern. The overkill part largely depends on your family.

There are flame retardants basically in all foam products (they’re made from petroleum and so are very flammable), even fleece pajamas. It is good common sense not to go out of your way to purchase and place unneeded foam around your baby, though it is unavoidable in things like car seats. It’s of course more important to have a car seat than to minimize exposure to flame retardants in foam, in terms of risk factor.

Flame retardants are in such wide use that these things are found in the blood/bodies of almost all Americans, which is why it’s a good idea to expose yourself to less of them if and when you can, especially since at the moment they’re almost impossible to avoid in couches and other upholstered furniture (though there are some indications this may get better soon). So it’s easier said than done to avoid entirely, but you can minimize. They’re in this computer I’m typing on, too, by the way.
How you speak to your own family is largely an issue of personality and pre-established relationships. I have ways of addressing these issues individually with the various members of my own family. I do know that feelings get hurt when anyone rejects a well-intentioned present. And tempers flare when gift givers are told what they bought or what they want to buy is toxic. It’s an odd thing. At this point my own family members are very careful about what they buy for us and our daughter. I know it’s a burden for them. Some let me know this more than others. Some just do what they want. I have smiled and thanked countless people, then returned or exchanged my fair share of foam-filled things and fleece everything over the years. No one noticed (that I know of), and no hard feelings. Just saying.
If you’re looking for some good reading to share, The Chicago Tribune has been working on a great investigative series on flame retardants this year. Well worth emailing around and then it’s the reporters doing the lecturing, not you. Which is a good thing.
Best,
Alexandra

Q&A: How to Find Organic Wine

  • December 12, 2012 4:30 pm

Question:

Dear Alexandra,

Now that it is holiday season, our family tends to have a lot of wine. I do try my best to buy organic wine but I have a really hard time finding it. Was wondering if you had some suggestions of where to find some?

Best,

Nancy

Answer:

Hi Nancy,

Glad to hear you’re trying to buy organic wine. Many people tend to forget that wine comes from grapes, and grapes are typically heavily sprayed with pesticides. I agree that finding organic wine can be tricky at times. This is partially because if it contains sulfites (which most wines do) it can’t be labeled USDA organic. Here is an excerpt about wine from my book The Conscious Kitchen that I think will be helpful:

“Organic standards do not permit the use of sulfites, the bacteria-killing preservatives used in making pretty much all wine. Some producers use organic grapes and add varying degrees of sulfites, resulting in wine that cannot technically be certified organic. These wines are often labeled “made with organically grown grapes” and are a good option….’Biodynamic’ is a third-party-certified method and term (Demeter-USA.org) that’s a bit confusing to explain. Basically biodynamic farming shares many tenets with organic farming (no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are permitted–some people call it a forerunner to the organic movement) but takes it several steps further. Biodynamic vineyards have not only vines but also other plants, trees, and animals, all of which work together as a unified system–this is call biodiversity. “

So when it comes to looking for sustainable wine to drink, here is a sliding scale of what to look for:

  • Biodynamic
  • Certified Organic
  • Labeled “Organically Grown” or “made with organically grown grapes”
  • Bottles marked “sustainably grown” or “made with sustainably grown grapes”

Hopefully this will help you locate a bottle or two. You can also always ask questions in local wine stores. There tend to be producers who don’t bother to label their wines as organically produced, and the shop buyers can point you in the right direction. Here is a previous post from my old intern, Glenny, about her favorite organic wines that might also be of use.

Cheers!

-Alexandra

Q&A: Are candles safe to burn?

  • December 5, 2012 9:50 am

Question:

Dear Alexandra,

In the winter I love to burn candles. I think it creates a warm atmosphere at home. But I have been reading about how maybe they’re not safe. I saw something about chemicals in their scents that aren’t good for you. Do you become exposed to these when you burn candles?

-Annette

Answer:

Hi Annette,

Thanks for your question. It’s a good one. You’re certainly not alone, especially around the holidays. You can absolutely inhale chemicals in fragrance, some of which have been linked to hormone disruption, when you burn scented candles, among other pollutants. Here is an excerpt on candles from Planet Home, which I co-authored. I think it will help answer your question.

“Conventional candles made from petroleum emit plumes of soot and phthalate-containing scents. Their wicks can contain metals like zinc, tin, and even lead. If you really like fragrance, non-petroleum-based candles, like unscented beeswax or essential-oil-scented non-GM soy wax versions with cloth wicks, are far preferable to their conventional counterparts.”

I personally have given up on candles, besides the infrequent unscented beeswax one. Beeswax has its own lovely scent–warm and honey-ish. I’d suggest giving it a try.

Best,

Alexandra