New EWG Healthy Home Tips for Parents a Great Tool; But It Could (and Should) Be Even Greater

latinofamilyoutsideThe Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an organization that has been at the forefront of helping protect public health and the environment. Part of their focus is to help parents protect their kids from environmental toxins, contaminants and other nasties, and to provide information and resources so that parents can make healthier choices for their little ones. Their pages for parents include tips, resources, research reports, calculators and other useful tools, and EWG also works to promote legislation (such as the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act) and to encourage citizen activism (such as insisting that the EPA reduce Americans’ exposure to rocket fuel in their water). I find them to be a valuable resource, and I often refer people to their cosmetics safety database.

Recently they’ve come out with a 1-sheet “Healthy Home Tips for Parents,” (PDF) a downloadable guide to “the most important steps you can take at home to promote your family’s environmental health.”

The list includes suggestions such as:

  • Choose better body care products.
  • Go organic & eat fresh foods.
  • Pick plastics carefully.
  • Use greener cleaners & avoid pesticides.

And you can sign up for their e-newsletter to receive more detailed tips about each item on the list.

I’m glad that EWG is promoting the positive steps for parents that they are, and they have some great suggestions, but I’m saddened and disappointed that they’re not going further. I know that change can be scary and inconvenient and confusing for some people, but when we’re talking about our children’s health and the health of our planet, I would think that EWG would offer larger measures, too. For example, in their tips, they suggest that parents “choose milk and meat without added growth hormones.” How about suggesting to parents that they not feed animals and their products to kids at all? Awareness about the environmental and health impacts of eating animals only continues to grow and evidence of the benefits of choosing a plant-based diet rather than eating animal foods only continues to strengthen.

One of their tips is to “Eat good fats.” Instead of recommending plant-based sources for omega-3 fatty acids, such as walnuts, flax seeds or flax seed oil, or certain types of seaweeds, (although they do mention that you can get omega-3s from “nuts, oils and produce”), they recommend choosing “low-mercury fish.” Low-mercury still has mercury in it.

They recommend using a HEPA-filter vacuum, but don’t suggest preventative strategies such as getting rid of carpets, which can be full of toxins and hold in all kinds of pollutants and allergens. They suggest that parents choose “snug-fitting cotton pajamas” for their kids, but don’t mention the enormous environmental impact of cotton production (such as the pesticide and water use). How about suggesting an alternative for parents such as shopping at thrift stores, so that they can find used pajamas for less cost and less environmental impact?

I realize that they’ll be providing more in-depth suggestions regarding each tip in their e-newsletters, but since many parents may only look at the single sheet tips, it’s important to include such essential information there.

EWG does some very valuable and credible work, and I’m glad they’re providing such important information to parents. I just wish that they – and many of the other non-profit groups working to make the world a better place – wouldn’t stop shy of suggesting broader and deeper actions that parents and citizens can take. Let’s offer parents and citizens a range of suggestions that shows them the ideal choices, as well as some easier stepping stones, so that they can make the best and most informed choices based on their current circumstances and willingness to enact change.

~ Marsha

Mini-MOGO Habit: Practice Third-Side Thinking in Your Choices

choicesroadsignWe live in what appears – on the surface – to be a dichotomous society: black or white, masculine or feminine, paper or plastic, organic or conventional, animals or people, jobs or environment, us or them, and so on in an infinite number of either/ors and exclusions of something or other. But in reality, we often have a much broader set of choices. There is almost always a third choice. Or a fourth. Or fifth.

I was skimming a magazine today that offered list of ways to save money and energy when upgrading your electronics. Some of the choices included stereo vs. mp3 player; cable vs. satellite; plasma vs. LCD TV. The point of the article was to show which items use less energy and emit fewer amounts of CO2. But, I immediately thought. Why are they telling me those are my only choices? I don’t own a stereo OR an mp3 player. I use a little portable boom-box that I’ve had for years (or my 6 year old laptop). I don’t use cable or satellite; in fact, I don’t even have a television, so the plasma vs. LCD is a pointless comparison for me.

Why do we stop at the easy either/or answers? Why don’t we dig deeper, further for the more meaningful solution?

We can start simply, like: instead of paper or plastic, I can bring my own bag. Or, do without one completely. But, I can also dig deeper: Do I really need to go to the store to buy this thing in the first place? What can I do instead? Borrow, build, share, improvise, do without?

No Impact Man Colin Beavan has mentioned on his blog that he always takes his own cup to the coffee shop, rather than using one of their disposable ones — and people thank him for it.  I would go even deeper and  suggest going without the store-bought coffee at all (I think my husband and I are about the only two people here in Portland who don’t drink the stuff), or at least ensure that it’s organic, shade-grown, fair-trade, sustainable stuff.

I recently read another article in a magazine about when and how to replace leather shoes with vegan ones. What was one of the first suggestions? Payless. Yes, they have vegan shoes that are pretty economical. But, many of those shoes are also made with petroleum products and other chemicals and quite probably were produced in sweatshops in another country and shipped thousands of miles. An excellent opportunity for some third side thinking.

As you go throughout your day, pay attention to the choices that you’re offered – and the ones you offer yourself – and then take some time to think about and look for third, fourth and fifth choices.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly they start appearing.

~ Marsha

Enough of This Either/Or Nonsense: Let’s Have Some Win/Win Thinking!

blackwhite1Why, oh why, do we continue to insist on handling difficult issues and challenges in black and white, either/or terms? Why do we approach problems as jobs vs. environment? People vs. animals? Species vs. individuals? Rich vs. poor? You vs. me? Us vs. them?

I’ve seen a lot of either/or thinking lately. The recent issue of E Magazine has a commentary raising the issue of the “greenie wars,” pitting environmentalists against animal protection advocates. (Though there is a blurb at the very end suggesting both/and solutions may be possible….sometimes..maybe.)

The U.S. Supreme Court recently voted against whales and for the Navy, refusing to consider restrictions that would have “required the Navy to reduce or halt underwater sonar pulses when marine mammals might be nearby.” Another either/or approach.

And, a big brouhaha has come from the passage of Prop 2 AND Prop 8 in California. Prop 2 will now require the phase-out of gestation crates (for pregnant sows), veal crates (for male calves) and battery cages (for egg-laying hens), meaning animals raised in factory farms in California will endure just a little bit less suffering. The passage of Prop 8, however, has overturned the California law which allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry. Some gay and lesbian activists, and their supporters, have been incredibly outraged that voters chose “animal rights” over “human rights.” Bloggers and news outlets have been running headlines like “Chickens 1, Gays 0” and “Californians Like Chickens More Than Gay People.” Of course, it’s incredibly upsetting that Prop 8 passed, and while issues of human and animal oppression are deeply connected, the fact that rights for gay and lesbian folks were thwarted this time doesn’t mean that protections for animals should be also.

Author and President of the Institute for Humane Education (and my boss), Zoe Weil, recently wrote a post about this either/or perspective.She says:

“But it is wrong and disingenuous to compare these two propositions. If homosexuals were forced into cages for the duration of their lives, mutilated and abused under horrendous conditions, all to please the tastebuds of consumers and line the pockets of agribusinesses, and then a proposition to give them a bit more space before they were slaughtered failed to pass, well then we could rightly say that Californians care more about chickens than gay humans. But comparing Prop 2 and Prop 8 is like comparing proverbial apples and oranges.”

“…we should not compare the torture of other sentient beings to a rejection of gay marriage. Such a comparison fuels either/or thinking, lack of compassion for other sentient species, and narrow thinking. We need just the opposite to create a more thoughtful, just world.”

Author Mark Hawthorne shares similar sentiments in his essay for the American Chronicle. Hawthorne notes:

“Abusing animals is always wrong, just as discriminating against humans is always wrong. Why should one oppressed group express their anger by targeting another oppressed group? (I don´t believe there are any beings on this planet more oppressed than farmed animals, who are bred, raised, confined, mutilated and slaughtered at a rate of 55 billion per year worldwide.)”

He continues:

“Moreover, the very fact that people are picking on Prop 2 rather than one of the many other measures on the California ballot underscores the low regard many people have for the animals they eat. After all, no one is complaining that voters care more about veterans than gays because Prop 12, the Veterans Bond Act, passed, or that people care more about children than gays because Prop 3, the Children´s Hospital Bond Act, passed….While gay people have a voice, animals inside factory farms do not: they rely on compassionate individuals to speak out for them. I can only hope that the same people who are disparaging the passage of Prop 2 will see that demeaning animals does not further gay rights … that human liberation and animal liberation are inextricably linked.”

It’s important that we use our creativity, critical thinking skills and ability to connect, cooperate and compromise to find solutions that work for everyone. It usually takes a bit longer, but it helps bring us closer to that compassionate, sustainable, peaceful world that we’re seeking.

~ Marsha