Greenwashing at the Kiddie Hair Salon

January 30th, 2008

Today was a milestone day – I finally got Baby Boo his first real haircut, since far too many people were calling him “her.” So by rights, I should be thinking about that happy milestone. But instead, I left the salon steaming mad about one of the most egregious examples of greenwashing I’ve come across – an “all natural, organic hair care for children” line of lice treatment products called Fairy Tales Hair Care for Children.

I happen to really be in the market for an organic lice treatment – in fact I even included it in a post called “Humor Me Not: The Top 10 Organic and Eco-Friendly Products Moms Really Need.”

But skeptic that I am, the first two things I do when I see anything labeled “natural” or “organic” is to check the ingredients list and to look for a USDA organic certification label. Despite the “organic” claims, I didn’t see a USDA label on the Fairy Tales bottles, but I did see a long list of non-organic ingredients including major no-nos like parabens and fragrance.

According to the Environmental Working Group, “parabens can disrupt the hormone (endocrine) system, and were found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied.” And the EWG reports that fragrance should be avoided in children’s products because of allergens that may contain neurotoxic or hormone-disrupting chemicals. (You can learn more about fragrance through this informative EWG video clip).

Although the FDA allows low levels of many chemicals in personal care products, there is increasing concern about the impact of low doses of chemicals on our bodies. You can read an excellent EWG commentary on this here. And even conservative business publications like The Wall Street Journal – hardly a tool of the environmental lobby – have published research questioning the safety of personal care chemicals. In fact, it was the Wall Street Journal’s multi-part series about this issue that inspired me to reduce my family’s use of household cleaning and personal care products with unnecessary chemical ingredients.

The ten chemicals listed in the Fairy Tale Rosemary Repel® shampoo ingredients make these “organic” marketing claims seem audacious. I checked the ingredient list against the Environmental Working Group’s SkinDeep database of personal care products and discovered that six of these chemicals are considered moderate risks to health by the EWG. Just click on the links to read the EWG’s reports on cocamidopropyl betaine, lauramide DEA, methylparaben, propylparaben, polyquaternium-10 and quaternium-15, all ingredients in this so-called “organic shampoo.”

In fact, the label doesn’t list any actual organic ingredients. Yes, it’s true the shampoo contains natural ingredients like jojoba seed oil, rosemary leaf oil, anise oil, tea tree oil, and anise oil, but as the Executive Director of the Organic Consumers Association says on the OCA website, “Organic consumers expect their organic personal care to be free of synthetic foaming agents and preservatives, and companies should not just add token organic ingredients on top of such synthetics to make organic product claims. Consumers should look for the “USDA Organic” seal on products if they want to be certain they are truly organic.”

Moreover, the National Institutes of Health announced a year ago that consumers should exercise caution when using personal care products with tea tree oil (and lavender) because they may cause breast growth in boys.

So dear readers, please look for the USDA Organic seal and READ LABELS on personal care products, especially those marketed to children or used by women during childbearing years. Of course, it’s hard to attentively read a label when you have kids in tow at the kiddie hair salon – which is yet another reason I find this particular case of kiddie greenwashing so annoying.

My advice? Take the money you might have spent on this ill-conceived product and donate it instead to the non-profit Environmental Working Group, so they can keep on producing and publicizing this important health research. Click here to donate. And if you’re a Facebook member, go here to donate $10, which will enable the EWG to add another product to the Skindeep database.

– Lynn

Copyright 2008, OrganicMania

10 Tips for Raising Healthy Eaters – Even Away from Home

January 28th, 2008

Last week this comment was left on OrganicMania: “We have a 4 year old who has been raised without any [ok, without much] junky food. Now as we enter the mainstream I am worried about how to maintain our standards. Would like to start a dialog about this.”

I can really empathize with MA, who left the comment. Any parent can relate, especially those of use who have had to answer questions like, “How come Jack gets to drink soda at dinner and I don’t?” or “Why can’t I have Cap’n Crunch for breakfast like at Dylan’s house?”

It’s relatively easy to control a child’s nutrition when they’re still at home, but I’ve found that once they leave the nest, whether it’s for a childcare setting, preschool, kindergarten, or even for neighborhood playdates, all bets are off. The point is you really can’t control what goes into their little mouths – you can only guide and encourage. Still, some parents may find some of the following ten tips useful while struggling to raise healthy eaters in our supersized, fast food, hydrogenated oil culture.

1. Talk to your children at a very early age (2 is ideal) about healthy food choices. Outings to the grocery store are a great way to start the conversation. Make it fun. Teach them about what’s in food – everything from chemicals, preservatives, and sugar in processed foods to vitamins and minerals in produce.

2. Reinforce these discussions with appropriate media choices. There is a cute Barney song on the “Lets go to the Farm” DVD that talks about healthy food choices. You can easily find other examples in plenty of books and PBS fare.

3. At about age 3, you can explain how “kid marketing” works. Make it a game. My son walks through the grocery store cereal aisle pointing out all the “kid marketing.” Again, make it fun and exaggerate – kids love that. Say, “Can you believe people eat SUGAR for BREAKFAST?” “Can you believe some grown-ups think they can trick kids into actually eating this JUNK? Yuck!!”

4. Associate with like-minded parents. Bring up the food issue pro-actively and try to set standards for playdate snacks. Be specific. One person’s “healthy” does not always equal another person’s idea of “healthy.”

5. Choose preschools and day care providers carefully. Talk about snack policies in detail. Even if you have a nanny come to your home, you may need to have this conversation. I know one parent who bought all organic foods only to find that they weren’t being eaten because her nanny was bringing white bread, gummy bear snacks, and crackers with hydrogenated oils for her children to eat as “special treats.”

6. The public schools are a mess, for the most part. Lobby for better food in the public schools. Talk to your school board and your local elected officials.

7. Don’t be a zealot. If you put all junk food off limit all the time, guess what your kids will crave? The forbidden fruit! There are certain times when some crappy food is just what the doctor ordered … cotton candy at the fair, Halloween candy, French Fries on the boardwalk, or a stop at McDonald’s as a break from a long car trip (only when the better alternatives described in this post are not available).

8. Those exceptions aside, don’t make a habit of rewarding your kids with crappy food.

9. Don’t leave the house without some healthy snacks. It never fails…your child will get hungry when there is nothing around but a vending machine! And bring more than you think you’ll need…so that you can be the parent with the “treats.” For the longest time, I supplied the neighborhood kids with “Just Peas,” which everyone thought was great until they discovered Gummy Bear snacks.

10. Look at close replacements to the “cool” foods that the other kids are eating. Some may snicker at the new organic processed foods, but I’d rather have my child eating preservative-free organic chips than the traditional chemical, GMO, and preservative-laden bags of crap.

– Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2008

Eating Plants. A lot.

January 25th, 2008

As the mother of a toddler destined for the football field – at 12 months he could say “my football” – I read with interest today’s Wall Street Journal article, “The 247-lb. Vegan.”

l-with-football.jpg

Coming on the heels of author Michael Pollan’s mantra “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” this article presents the counterpoint: can an NFL player get enough calories to maintain his muscle mass while eating a primarily vegan diet? The short answer is yes, but read the story. It’s an entertaining look at how Kansas City Chiefs tight-end Tony Gonzalez swapped his favorite food, cheeseburgers, for fare such as whole wheat pasta and spinach salad and how he replaced the Chiefs training table breakfast of hash browns and french toast with organic oatmeal.

Clorox Green Works(TM) Responds to OrganicMania…

January 24th, 2008

Monday’s post about Clorox’s new green cleaning line posed a question about the lack of large refill containers for Green Works products. Refill containers are important because they minimize the use of smaller, nozzled plastic containers, reduce waste, and simply because they’re something green consumers expect from a green product line. They’re a key component of source reduction, which decreases the amount of materials used during the manufacturing and distribution of products.

Since I didn’t see refill containers in the store, nor on the Green Works website, nor mentioned in their press release, nor for that matter mentioned anywhere in the blogosphere, OrganicMania contacted both Clorox and their PR firm to find out about their plans for refill containers.

A representative from Ketchum, Green Works PR firm, left a voicemail for OrganicMania saying that GreenWorks is “exploring this option” and noted that “that’s all the information that’s available right now.”

Hmm…I scratched my head. How can you launch a green product line and not include refills? It seems so basic. Especially when a quick trip to my local grocery store proved that other Clorox products, such as their clean-up cleaner with bleach, come in 64 ounce refill containers.

Before posting this update, I decided to do one more comprehensive web search to see if anyone else was addressing the refill issue. You’ll never guess what I found….on restockit.com, an ad for a 64 ounce refill container of Green Works glass window cleaner.

Green Works(TM) Really Works!

January 21st, 2008

I hate to clean. Really, really hate it. That’s the reason you haven’t read about green cleaning products on OrganicMania™. After all, it’s so much more fun to try organic foods than to try organic cleaning products!

But the fact is, toxins in the home – many from chemical-laden cleaning products – are one of the greatest dangers to health. When considering which organic and green products to buy, cleaning products should rank near the top of your list, along with “the dirty dozen” fruits and veggies. Yet deciding which green cleaning products to purchase is a tricky and expensive process of trial and error. Like many Moms, I have a shelf full of barely used green products that simply didn’t do the job as well as the tried and true standards we all grew up with – Ajax, Clorox, Mr. Clean, and Spic n’ Span.

Now, improvements are coming with the introduction of green product lines like Clorox’s Green Works. Green Works products include all purpose cleaner, bathroom cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, dilutable cleaner, and glass and surface cleaner. When I spied some prominently displayed at my local Giant for just $2.99 per 24 oz. bottle, I decided to try the natural bathroom cleaner. After all, I’ve spent more than twice that much on natural cleaners from companies that specialize in green products but are hardly household cleanliness icons, like the Clorox Company.

It’s Green, It Works, and It’s a Bargain at $2.99

Here’s what I noticed when I put Green Works to the test on my dirty bathroom sinks:

• Easy-to-pump trigger – it felt like a “real” cleaning product with foam and spray options;
• Mild, clean scent; and
• Fast working effectiveness.

Incredibly easy to use, all I needed to do was swish some wet towels around the sink and the caked on soap scum and dreck came up really quickly. The entire cleaning process took only seconds, with just a wipe, rather than a true hard scrub.

Some skeptics may question whether Clorox can be trusted to introduce a truly natural product. While there’s no true standard for “natural” products, the Clorox Company states, “We set ourselves a very stringent standard. The ingredients must come from renewable resources, be biodegradable and free of petrochemicals. Green Works™ cleaners are at least 99% natural. In certain cases we had to use synthetic ingredients, like the preservative and green colorant.” The package ingredients are clearly listed. For example, the natural bathroom cleaner contains coconut-based cleaning agent (nonionic surfactant), glycolic acid, essential lemon oil and filtered water. The label also points out that it contains no bleach and no phosphorus.

My only complaint? I didn’t see any large refill containers. I hope Clorox is not expecting green consumers to repurchase these relatively small 24 ounce containers. Sure, there’s a bold printed request to please recycle the packaging, but I didn’t see any large refill containers in the store, nor pictured on their website or mentioned in their press release. These would be an obvious addition for such a complete product line, so lets hope the large refill containers appear in grocery store aisles soon.

Savings on Organic Milk: Check Your Giant Receipts

January 18th, 2008

A quick note apropos to the discussion earlier this week about the price of organic milk. Twice this week at the Giant grocery register I’ve received coupons for $1 off a half gallon of Stonyfield Farm organic milk. So take a careful look at the papers stuffed in your hand as you leave the register!

By the way, Stonyfield ranks well (“very good” or 3 cows) in the Cornucopia Institute Dairy scorecard.

Organics’ Four Factors

January 16th, 2008

The Olive Oil post really led to some interesting reader comments about when to buy organic and what motivates us to buy organic – or not. Price and convenience surely come into play, but the main reasons for buying organic boil down to what OrganicMania calls “Organics’ Four Factors.” Your decision to go organic – or not – will in large part depend on how important each of these four factors are to you, and how much the particular item is affected by these four factors.

1. Health Benefits
2. Protecting the Environment
3. Animal Rights
4. Taste

Let’s take a quick look at each of the four factors.
1. Health Benefits – While some dispute the notion that organic food is healthier, we do know from the Environmental Working Group’s research that certain conventional fruits and vegetables – aka the “Dirty Dozen” – retain a high amount of pesticides. Efforts should be made to buy organic versions of the “Dirty Dozen.” (Peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes, pears, spinach, and potatoes).  OrganicMania adds carrots to the list because they follow potatoes at #13 on the list, and they’re one of the few vegetables kids are likely to eat often. Many people also opt to purchase organic milk to avoid exposure to bovine growth hormone (BGH) and antibiotics, among other benefits. Add to this the fact that organic foods are produced without the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which some countries (notably our European and Japanese friends) have banned from their own food supplies.
2. Protecting the Environment – The elimination or near-reduction of pesticides in organic farming has direct environmental benefits to the earth and to the farm workers. Many consider these to be the most important reasons to buy organic.
3. Animal Rights – Organic standards mandate that cattle have access to pasture and are grass-fed, unlike the way they are treated on mass market “factory farms.”
4. Taste – To most people, organic simply tastes better. And isn’t that the joy of food anyway?

– Lynn

Copyright 2008, OrganicMania

What to Buy? Organic Olive Oil?

January 14th, 2008

DH’s question was ever more insistent: “Are you sure you want the organic olive oil?”

It wasn’t until I visited Whole Foods that I realized why he was asking. Organic olive oil is $12.99 a bottle versus $7.99 for the conventional, store brand 365 Everyday Value line of olive oil. At the rate we plow through olive oil (close to two bottles per month), that’s a price premium of $120 per year for organic versus conventional olive oil. And with recent price increases pushing the price of just a half gallon of organic milk to $4.19 at our local Giant grocery store, it’s important to make sure we’re spending money on the right types of organic foods.

That’s when I was reminded of a fantastic resource: the Environmental Working Group’s list of the “dirty dozen” most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables – the ones you should always buy organic. Olives don’t even make the broader list of 43 fruits and veggies surveyed. That made my decision easy – pass on the organic olive oil and save the money for our ever increasing organic milk bill!

Check out the “dirty dozen” and the “cleanest 12″ lists here – you can download a wallet card to carry with you to the market.

– Lynn

Healthy, Organic & On the Road: A Dilemma

January 4th, 2008

The holiday season really got me thinking about how to maintain a healthy, mostly organic diet while traveling. The traffic down Route I-95 reminded me that I’m not the only one with this challenge.

Sure, you can pack healthy snacks to combat hunger while on the road. But when traffic pile-ups occur, or fatigue sets in, there’s no substitute for pulling off the highway and into a restaurant. But where to go? Even those who normally avoid fast food will confess that fast food restaurants can seem like welcome outposts off a major interstate. So it’s at these roadside McDonalds, Denny’s and Pizza Huts that you will find the bewildered vegetarians and organic foodies, desperately looking for something – anything – healthy to eat. And while some of these fast food restaurants have made great strides in offering healthier options, the food is not organic or locally grown. Sometimes it doesn’t even taste fresh!

Following is a listing of the best options I’ve found for organic on-the-go eating that should be easily accessible from most major interstates. No, they’re not perfect – I still dream of Broccoli Heaven, my fantasy roadside snackbar. But they’ll do in a pinch! What’s been your experience? Leave a comment and share!

Panera Bread – Panera features two kids’ menu items with partial organic ingredients – a grilled organic American cheese sandwich and a “Kid’s Deli” sandwich, which is organic cheese with your choice of roast beef, ham or turkey. Both items are served with Horizon organic milk* and Horizon squeezable organic yogurt.

Target – Yes, Tar-zhay! The in-store cafes feature a Kids organic mac n’ cheese meal, which is served with Horizon squeezable organic yogurt and Horizon organic milk. True confessions: as our local Target overlooks busy railroad tracks, which my 5-year-old son adores, I am a frequent diner at Target. That’s how I know that they are often sold out of the squeezable organic yogurt. This poses a problem when the well-meaning clerk asks if my son would like “fruit snacks” instead – as in the high fructose corn syrup, GMO variety. Of course, he would like some of this “special treat” – some GMO corn syrup and sugar to go with his organic meal! Arrggh….

Chipotle – While Chipotle does not have purely organic meals, some of its beans are organic, and its chicken and pork are sourced from non-factory farms. Chipotle also recently announced that it would serve only rBGH-free sour cream at its more than 530 restaurants. For a cool graph that shows where Chipotle’s “naturally raised” meats are available nationwide, click here.

* You may have heard of claims that Horizon milk is not truly organic. There were lawsuits filed alleging that the cows were not being treated in accordance with organic standards. However, the suits did not allege that the cows have been treated with growth hormones or antibiotics or fed unnatural substances, as can be the case with conventional milk. Given this, Horizon organic milk is a better choice than the conventional milk available at these fast food outlets.

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

A New Organic Market: Roots

January 2nd, 2008

The latest buzz in the DC burbs? A new organic market in Olney, Maryland. Despite 20 years in DC and its close-in suburbs, I’ve never ventured out to Olney, but after hearing my waiter at Bethesda’s Black’s Restaurant rave about Roots Organic Market, I decided it was worth the trip.

Nowadays, it’s not unusual for a family shopping for a mix of organic and conventional food and cleaning supplies to visit two or even three grocery stores to satisfy their needs. Then there are “Organic Maniacs” who frequent specialty organics grocery stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joes and MOM’s Organic Market, conventional grocery stores with organic sections such as Safeway and Giant, neighborhood health food stores a la Yes! Natural Gourmet, Balduccis gourmet grocer, the local co-op, and then top it all off with a weekly trip to a CSA.

Add Roots to the list! I felt like a jaded New Yorker given my organic shopping habits – I was just not prepared to be impressed by a store a solid 40 minutes from Northwest DC. But impressed I was.

I had barely walked in the door when I spied the hot mulled cider, free for the taking. This was just the start of more food samples than I’ve ever encountered in any grocery store. I enjoyed noshing on organic samples including pizza, apples, pears, cookies, biscotti, brownies, crackers with cheese, and chips with guacamole. And to top it all off, organic champagne!

The store is quite upscale – from its design to its product selection, which ranges from raw foodist to vegan to meat eater and seemingly everything in between. Non-food items include books, household cleaning items, make-up, and clothing. In fact, I saw products that I’ve not seen at the other (gulp) nine organic and conventional grocers I frequent. The service is as attentive as Nordstrom’s – three employees asked if they could be of assistance during my twenty minute stay in the store.

Prices are similar to Whole Foods. To help save a bit of money, take advantage of the fact that Roots heavily promotes coupon savings where products are displayed. You simply request the coupons at check-out. They also offer monthly sales circulars, which you can peruse on their website or in the store.

This store so intrigued me that I’ll be writing more about it in a future post. Let me know if you visit!

– Lynn