Q&A: My kid wants to dye her hair…

  • July 25, 2012 8:27 am

The Question:

Dear Alexandra,

Is there a non-toxic way for my daughter to color/dye a streak of her hair pink?

Thanks.

John

The Answer:

Hi John,

Ah hair dye. It is overwhelmingly toxic, so you’re right to ask.

Yes, there are definitely non-toxic ways to dye hair that work on kids, who pound for pound are more vulnerable than adults are. Not that I’m dying my hair given what I know!

First up, if you think your daughter is old enough to dye her hair, she’s probably old enough to hear the truth about conventional hair dye. I’d suggest explaining to her what the concerns are before you turn her down or suggest she go the natural route I describe below.

Regular food dyes can be used for hair coloring. You can either go with a store bought version–there are several brands available at national natural food store chains that are made from vegetable extracts, not artificial colorants. Or you can DIY, using things like beet juice as pinkish/reddish hair color. If your child has brown hair, you’ll probably want to do a lemon juice and/or peroxide “bleach” on the strip of choice before trying the beet juice. I can guarantee you it won’t look like a store bought artificial color, so a little parental warning before the experiment is probably in order. The process will be just as fun and you never know what it will look like when you try it. I hope it works!

Report back?

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Killing Bugs?

  • July 18, 2012 8:48 am

The Question:

Hi! I am reading your blog, and I also love the eco life! I also try to teach my kids respect for all living creatures. However, yesterday when a big spider stumbled across the kitchen floor I calmly took a piece of kleenex and promptly squished it! But, when I am standing there, satisfied with dead spider in hand, I suddenly see the question in my three year old boys look, and feel ashamed! How do I explain this? I am not that afraid of spiders, I just killed it because it was there! How do you deal with these sorts of things? Do you also squish spiders in front of your kids, and do you own a fly swatter and swat flies and wasps? And how do you explain this to your kids?

Jenny

The Answer:

Hi Jenny,

Thanks for writing. And good timing; I’m spending a lot of time in the buggy country this month to escape the heat of my urban hometown. When we’re in New York City and we find a bug–that isn’t a roach!–we tend to release it out the window. Not exactly sure a bug prefers being flung out of an urban window versus smushed, but my animal-loving 6-year-old daughter prefers it. That said, she also likes to capture fireflies and has killed more than a few of these beloved bugs herself, unwittingly.

Here’s the thing: We eat meat but we also have a family cat we refer to as her sister. I wrote a book with my butcher. During that research process I went to more than a few slaughters of local animals and toured a local slaughterhouse. This is complicated stuff. Is a spider more important than my cat? Is the cat more important than the pig or the steer I watched be slaughtered? You feel bad about that spider, but how about a mosquito? Or a tick embedded in your son? Or a water bug scuttling across your bathroom floor?

I was chatting about your question–and my above questions–with my lovely intern Kelley and she wrote me a very thoughtful email I want to share with you:

“This question made me think about my environmental ethics class I took last
semester.  In one unit we talked about what things in nature get
respect, so what has value in nature.

And there are these different ethical theories to it:
Biocentrism (or taylorism)–ALL things in nature have value, whether a
dolphin, ant, or flower. Killing either would be wrong.

Strong Anthropocentrism–Only humans matter, and we should not be
concerned about harming the environment or animals

Weak Anthropocentrism–Humans still matter the most but some things in
nature count too. So killing an ant wouldn’t be wrong, but killing a
whale would not.

I wrote a paper on it somewhere on which theory was the most
justifiable. But this just reminded me of what you said about your
book on butchering. How people are very concerned about slaughtering
pigs, and cows, but people never think twice about squashing a bug.”

So this is a long-winded answer from me and Kelley that isn’t really an answer. Most humans, devout vegans aside, do some sliding scale of animal killing. I certainly have done my fair share and I have mixed feelings about all of it–minus what I somehow believe can bring me and mine “harm” like those mosquitoes and ticks. My daughter is basically a vegetarian who devours bacon, and claims she wants to protect all animals, but also likes to pull worms apart and poke jelly fish with sticks. It’s complicated. If the look in your kid’s eyes gives you pause, take that pause and think about how you feel about what you’re doing, and the message it gets across. It may not change how you react, but it’s certainly a good thing to think about.

Hope this helps in some way.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Baby Seats?

  • July 11, 2012 8:44 am
The Question:
Hi,
I am considering buying a baby seat, like the Bumbo or Prince Lionheart Bebepod.  Each of these are supposedly made from “non-toxic polyurethane foam.” I also have a dish drying mat that contains “virgin polyurethane foam.”  Is there really such a thing as a “safe” polyurethane foam?
Thanks,
Kim
The Answer:
Dear Kim,
Excellent question. One I’d ask myself! I didn’t own a baby seat. Is there another way to get the benefits without a foam product? If not, and if you really decide you need a baby seat, try calling the companies you mention and asking them if they use flame retardants in the foam (which is highly flammable) and if so, which ones. I’m not a fan of foam products for babies or kids; most do contain questionable flame retardant chemicals. Thankfully a recent excellent investigative series done by The Chicago Tribune has heated up (pun intended!) the question of flame retardant necessity as well as safety. Now California is considering repealing their strict standards. If this passes, it should, in turn, dial back use in consumer products; it doesn’t make sense for manufacturers to make one product for California and another for the other states. My fingers are so crossed they’re losing circulation. This would be a huge, huge victory for environmental health.
Best,
Alexandra

Latest Post for Elizabeth Street

  • July 6, 2012 12:29 pm

Here’s  my latest post for Elizabeth Street.  It’s about container gardening with kids, even in the city. Trust me, you don’t need tons of land. Though I did borrow a sunny spot in my mom’s yard and we’re taking bets now on if the bunnies will eat the tomato and dill shoots. What do you think? Do you container garden? If so, how do you do it?

Thank You Jeffrey Hollender

  • August 8, 2011 11:00 am

Loving this blog Jeffrey Hollender posted today: If I Wanted Someone To Talk About My Brand It Would Be Alexandra Zissu.

A few highlights:

“If I wanted someone to talk about my brand–especially to moms who own a lion’s share of purchasing power and who vote for change with their wallets (and actions)–it would be Alexandra Zissu.

Alexandra is the author and green living expert par excellence who helped me write Planet Home: Conscious Choices For Cleaning and Greening The World You Care About Most….

Alexandra she has a knack for translating hard to understand sustainability issues and environmental health science into easy, pithy consumer English. She’s passionate about giving people the education and tools to make conscious decisions as they go about their daily routines—and especially about the collective impact this can have. She knows what parents and other eco-interested consumers really want to hear and what they don’t want to hear–drawing on her experience with her own active group of followers via books, articles, blogs, social media, talks, and demonstrations. She also has a deep understanding of the full spectrum of green—from people just getting started to the diehard lifers.

Don’t think that anyone’s going to pull the wool over Alexandra’s eyes. I’ve found her a tough critique of Seventh Generation’s as well as almost every product we reviewed for Planet Home. But that’s exactly what you want. Trust comes from transparency, a balanced perspective on the great, and the not so great. That’s what the best brand ambassador is uniquely able to do. She won’t read from a script, she’ll visit your lab, talk to other customers, do a little bit of her own testing and research, maybe even tell you quietly a few things you might not be so eager to hear….A better brand ambassador you won’t find!”

Read it in full  here.

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat in Bon Appetit

  • June 15, 2011 12:36 pm

Not sure who looks better? The book cover or Josh? Fun to see both of them in Bon Appetit! And love love love that they’re calling it “The new bible for conscious carnivores.”

What You Don’t Know: What My Editorial Assistant Didn’t Know

  • May 24, 2011 9:46 am

This week I asked my editorial assistant (sounds much better than intern, no?) Glenny Cameron if she’d mind sharing what she has learned/what she didn’t know before starting to work with me a month or so ago–if anything. Needless to say I’m extremely touched by what she wrote. She’s amazing. Seriously, this is an inspiring must-read. Thanks, Glenny. Have anything to add to her thoughts? So curious!

—-

Before working with Alexandra I considered myself a very environmentally aware person.  I buy organic, I shop locally, I reuse plastic bags and refuse to buy bottled water.  Fortunately (and unsurprisingly), there are loads and loads of things to learn about the sustainable lifestyle, and I thank Alexandra for engaging me in them.  There is always more that can be done, more of the world to save.  So, here are the top five things I’ve learned in the past few months, complete with excerpts from The Conscious Kitchen and Planet Home.  Some are small and silly, but we all have to start somewhere, right?

1. Bananas.

I love bananas.  They are now a guilty pleasure.  Enough said.

There are a number of items in your fruit bowl (and in your cabinets – see chapter seven) that might be certified organic but fall into the realm of still not being great to buy.  In this realm, no exotic is more widely available, or controversial, than the banana.  The ubiquitous yellow fruit is nature’s perfect answer to packaged goods – every parent’s nutrient-dense dream snack.  Yet, it’s a deeply flawed food.  Its pretty much the poster fruit for how confusing trying to eat consciously can be.  Bananas are grown very far away, are environmentally destructive, are often harvested under conditions unfair to laborers, and the variety we all eat will apparently be extinct in the not-so-distant future.  The greenest and most environmentally devoted eaters around don’t eat bananas, or refer to them as a guilty pleasure…Americans eat as many bananas as apples and oranges combined.  Food for thought.

2. Organic cotton.

This is a difficult topic because most of my clothes are not made with organic cotton.  The main reason is that organic cotton can be very expensive and I am at times, very poor.  Another reason is that most of my clothes shopping is done in secondhand or vintage stores, where you will rarely find organic goods.  [Note from Alexandra: Secondhand is better than newly manufactured organic cotton items. Go Glenny!] After learning that cotton is the most heavily sprayed crop in the world (accounting for 25% of annual insecticide use globally!) I made a conscious decision to switch to organic cotton whenever possible.  This meant buying new sheets, towels, and looking into organic cotton alternatives for the clothes I buy new (socks, underwear, etc.).  Although I haven’t completely revamped my wardrobe, I now sleep soundly in my organic bed.  [Another note from Alexandra: Awesome!!] Check out ecochoices.com for more information on worldwide cotton production.

3. Plastic.

I know that all of the nasty chemicals that are found in plastics aren’t news to anyone reading this site.  They weren’t to me either, but I needed a push to start actively avoiding them in my life.

BPA – a hormone disrupter (it mimics estrogen) that has the FDA, Health Canada, and the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program, among other entities, in a tizzy, and parents and hikers across the nation switching their baby and water bottles to BPA-free versions.  Manufacturers have taken consumer temperature and are busily marketing “safe” plastic products.  Unfortunately, some of the resulting BPA-free items contain other chemicals that are new to this arena and haven’t exactly stood the test of time.

Phthalates – this family of chemicals, which make plastic flexible (among many other things), are endocrine disrupters and reproductive toxicants.  The are currently being voluntarily removed or banned from everything from nail polish to neonatal tubing to toys.  They’re less ubiquitous in a kitchen than BPA but are likely found in certain plastics (like meat and cheese wrappings) as well as PVC (vinyl) flooring and even in cleaning-product fragrance.

Sure, I use (organic) cotton totes and only use my plastic bags for my garbage can, but I when I looked in my cupboards I was ashamed to realize how much food was stored in plastic containers.  My cereal and pastas were in plastic bags and my fridge was filled with leftovers in plastic tupperware!  What was I thinking?  So I threw it all out and bought loads of canning jars to use as storage instead.  I even moved my spices.  It was easy! [Yet another note from Alexandra: Nice! Love this!]

4. DIY cleaning.

I must confess, I have a fairly high tolerance for dirt and dust and have never lived in a sterile environment.  Perhaps it’s leftover from growing up in the country, in a house where the windows were always open and pets of all kinds were rampant.  I truly believe this is why my brother and I have incredible immune systems.

That said, most of my cleaning was done with minimal products, usually just water.  On the occasion when I was inspired enough to actually use some disinfectant, I turned to the all-natural brands like Seventh Generation or Ecover.  Fortunately, Alexandra’s tips on DIY cleaning have buffered my “do less” attitude toward cleaning while still keeping my apartment germ free.  I’ve even passed these tips on to my mother, who I can thank for fostering my housekeeping habits (or lack thereof).

DIY Cleaners

-Soap plus water equals mopping solution.

-Soap plus baking soda and a drop or two of water equals excellent mildly abrasive paste.  Extras to mix in include lemon, natural essential oils, or even hydrogen peroxide.

-Water plus vinegar equals glass cleaner.

5. Unplug.

Living alone and living simply means that I have few appliances.  I don’t own a coffee maker or a desktop computer.  My TV is rarely used.  But, for the gadgets I do use – lights, clocks, speakers – I never thought to unplug them when not in use.  I admit, my cell phone charger was usually plugged in until reading Planet Home.

Appliances use energy even when turned off.  Pull plugs out of the wall to stop energy draw.  Alternatively, plug them all into a power strip and turn the strip off when not in use, as well as overnight.

A very simple step towards greening your life.

Video: What To Do With A Hen Of The Woods Mushroom

  • April 30, 2011 8:17 am

One of our go to meals when we’re rushing to get something on the table for family meal is eggs. It can be really boring to eat eggs over and over again for dinner, especially as eggs feel more like breakfast than dinner. Adding hen of the woods mushrooms to our scramble gives eggs a real dinner flavor/feel.

My friends send me pictures of random vegetables all of the time asking me what to do with them and usually I can quickly answer them. (There is pretty much nothing you can’t chop then cook in olive oil and garlic.) These mushrooms are weird looking. They arrived in my farmers’ market about a year ago and stopped me in my tracks. I had never cooked one before. So I went straight to my friend Google to figure out what to do.

Turns out there is a lot you can do with them. Here’s a video of me ripping one apart with my fingers before frying it in oil and adding in a few eggs. It’s so easy. And flavorful. And a welcome quick dish on a night when we were too tired to make a big production, but still wanted to sit around the table, eat something yummy, and talk for a moment before dealing with the bedtime dash.

I Missed The First Of The Season Asparagus

  • April 23, 2011 9:12 am

I could kick myself, really. Or I guess I could try to get out of the house earlier, but knowing my family that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Apparently in two weeks there will be enough growing that there will be some remaining when I get to the market. [Note: My farmer saved me a bunch this week! They were fantastic! Lucky me. All the more reason to know your farmer.]

Here’s a video of what I bought instead–all very delicious, I can’t complain.

I Missed The First Of The Season Asparagus

What time do you tend to get to the farmers’ market when you go?

What To Expect…When Reading This Blog

  • April 18, 2011 8:36 am

Last night I drew a diagram of all of the things that I do. It was a dot I called “me” in the middle, and then circles all around me of what I’m working on, involved with, or otherwise doing. The verdict? I’m busy! (And, um, overextended.)

In an effort to make sure blogging doesn’t keep getting back-burnered, I’ve come up with the following schedule. This way you’ll know what I’m posting and when, and can come back to read accordingly.

I’m launching the new schedule this Tuesday, in honor of Earth Week, and will be raffling off several free copies of The Conscious Kitchen and Planet Home to new readers who follow me on Twitter and/or fan me on Facebook mentioning the new, more frequent blog via post or tweet and suggesting one thing I should cover on it.

  • TUESDAYS: Look for relevant information and excerpts from all of my books, linked to whatever is happening in the news
  • THURSDAYS: Q&A days! You send in your questions, I answer them.
  • SATURDAYS: Mish-mosh day, mainly food-related. I’ll be posting farmers’ market videos, ingredient thoughts, recipes, and more.

I promise to stick to the schedule, but of course reserve the right to do slightly less or maybe even more, especially when The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat comes out on June 7th.

If you like what you read, please let your friends know about it, and make some noise in comments. If you’re interested in hearing even more from me, sign up for my newsletter, follow me on Twitter, or “like” me on Facebook. I’m on there daily posting links to what I’m reading and thinking about throughout my days.