Friday, April 30, 2010

Feeding children organic and non-processed foods really makes a difference!

Please take a look at: Nerve Poisons Have No Place Near Our Children and in Their Food.

Carol Dansereau's article from explains why it is so important to feed your children well. If you can afford to do it, please make an effort to provide your little ones (and yourself!) with organic and non-processed foods. I always knew this and so when I was pregnant, I ate only organic food-- including tons of veggies and whole grains, nothing processed, nothing refined, and little to no meat or animal products (because of bio-magnification and also hormones). Do the best you can, but if you have any doubt about the difference it makes, read this piece. Remember to eat and feed your kids food that is low on the food chain (less meat and animal products)!

Don't be lured by the corporate world which wants you to believe children will only eat the packaged and processed stuff you find at the commercial supermarket. These corporate (shall I say monsters?) are masters at turning your little ones into consumers of junk food. Their packaging is aimed at grabbing kids' attention. Notice where some of the worst of the garbage is placed--right at the check out counter, where little ones are hypnotized by the bright shiny colors and fun looking shapes. Kids predictably scream out for these temptations, and they drive their poor harried and captive mothers to give in just to avoid a scene. Don't think any of this is an accident--marketers and advertisers are no dummies. Obviously, the same goes for TV--food corporations target your little one's palate and appetite there as well with their seductive food ads.

In my family, we avoided the commercial food marketing because the products we buy mostly cannot be found at standard supermarkets (the little health food they do have isn't as good and is too pricey anyway). We almost never watched commerical TV. We bought veggies from a CSA, farmer's market, or health food store, so as far as my kid knew, "junk" food, processed food, processed meat products, etc, did not exist until she was much older and her food preferences were established already. As a toddler, she would grab a piece of kale and chew on it without batting an eye. Chocolate chip cookies were unfamiliar to her, so she thought they were weird and wouldn't touch them (her pre-school teachers could not get over it)! She adored home-made pizza topped with every vegetable you can imagine. She loved tofu hot dogs, tofu cheeses, soy and rice milk, organic fruit smoothies, organic home-made fruit juice popsicles, organic salads and veggies, whole grains and more.

At some point, cutting my daughter off from the bigger food world became difficult because of social pressures. A New York suburb is very different from Portland or Berkeley. Kids here come to school with all of this prepackaged, processed sugary stuff, and her buddies thought her snacks and lunches were "disgusting." By the time my daughter was seven or eight, the teasing was intense. I eased up then, so she would feel more comfortable with her peers. Now she's a bit older, and my daughter prefers healthy stuff to what she calls "junk" processed food. My child will eat "fun" processed snacks at her friends' houses or at a party, but the main part of her diet is low on the food chain and organic. I'll be honest, she won't eat brown rice or Kale anymore, but she does love many other vegetables!

My own cancer history and fears for my daughter's health motivated me to feed her well. I know too many people (including children) with cancer or who have died from cancer. I know first hand about the poisoned world we live in.

Parents need to be defensive feeders! You cannot assume that "food" is safe.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for my child. So far, so good. My not-so-little anymore gal is bright, focused, healthy, motivated, sharp. No disease. No learning disabilities. I hate to say it, but these days, it seems like a miracle.

My friend and activist Patti Woods believes that the way most parents feed their kids is "abusive." Children need good nutrition, and it is our obligation to provide it for them. If you do the research, you'll see that the food you feed them really does matter. If you can afford it, I beg you to heed this call! The next step on the agenda is to make it affordable to all.

When my daughter was three and four, she attended a conservative Jewish pre-school where they only allowed Kosher food into the building. That part was very confusing for her--she kept trying to distinguish the difference between both diets and it never quite made sense. Actually, it doesn't make sense to me, either, but that is another other story! While eating her morning organic oatmeal, she'd look up and ask quizzically,"We eat kosher organic, right mom?"

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day 2010

Earth Day the Feminist Way

As an ecofeminist (ecology and feminism), I cannot help but notice that the environmental conversation, at this time, is dominated by the voices of men. The current "public" conversations on ecology, moreover, focus primarily on the ‘hard’ science of climate change (rather than say on toxics and illness). Women are in the minority in discussions of climate change— at major conferences, the U.N., major news forums, climate news sites, environmental websites and so on. If women are included in environmental discussions in the dominant media and social networks, it is often in a funny and eco-light manner--in green fashion, cuisine, and interior design. This problem was noted briefly at GRIST and on DOT Earth. But we need more follow up and action.

So where are the women scientists, theorists and activists in the environmental debate, and where are the serious and in depth analyses of the very high impact of climate change and pollution on women?

Zainab Salbi reminds us that we need to pay more attention to the impact of environmental destruction on women (, April 22, 2010). Salbi rightly argues that pollution and climate change affect women adversely as they are directly engaged in agricultural food production and women have immediate contact with water pollution in their daily lives. Salbi asserts that, “70% of the world’s farmers are women. Women produce 90% of the stable food crops…Women also prepare these crops for household and community consumption, eating last or not at all when food is scarce. And women do the majority of tasks that involve close proximity to the environment, such as farming and fetching water, and hence shoulder a disproportionate amount of the danger associated with pollution and climate change.” I would add that in industrialized countries, as primary caretakers of the home and children, women are at high risk of exposure to toxics in cleaning and household products. Women are adversely affected by The Beauty Myth as well; they are conditioned to buy and wear layers of toxic cosmetics on their bodies--far more than most men do. As child bearers, and as primary caretakers of children, the adverse effects of environmental pollution on women endangers fetuses, babies and young children. This last point has been noted extensively by Sandra Steingraber in her book Having Faith, among others. Many feminist ecologists have been arguing these points for years.

It is true, we do see and hear from women environmentalists in discussions of illness and pollution—in particular on cancer. The focus of Enviroblog, for example, is on so-called softer ‘women’s’ issues— toxics in food, cosmetics, water and air, and their impact, significantly, on children and women. These female voices seem to have less power, however, in the dominant media. How many people know of Sandra Steingraber, for example, who recently (as of one month) began a weekly essay series at Huffington, or Vandana Shiva, Petra Kelly, Wangari Maathi, and so on, compared to those who know of Al Gore, James Hansen, Bill McKibben, Andrew Revkin and the like? Elizabeth Kolbert is the only female environmental and global warming "voice" that comes to mind.

Why do the voices of male environmental authorities carry more weight?

If you know of active women environmentalists who are speaking up publically and gaining attention and force in the media, please tell me--leave it in the comments box. Send me links!

Women, Environment and Health

The conference for Women's Health and the Environment is taking place right now, April 21, 2010, in Pittsburgh, PA. You can watch this live at the following link:

Sign up and watch it now. The conference spans the entire day.

Thank you, Enviroblog, for informing me of this conference. Check out Enviroblog while you are at it. They are a fabulous resource for environmental health.

Jewish Ecological Guilt

Some days I feel ecologically lazy and worse:

1) My ex left me with about 50 paint cans filled with colors I hate and have no use for. He went on a paint-sale-buying-binge several years ago and left these behind and will not take them. I want to throw them away. Just throw them away. But I can’t. According to my neighborhood hazardous garbage center, I have to open the cans, dry them out, and then throw them away. Like I have nothing else to do but dry out 50 paint cans that I didn’t purchase.
2) I know I shouldn’t eat meat, but when it is served at a party, it looks so delicious. I eat a few bites. Occasionally I buy a little chicken to cook at home. I buy very little. I don’t eat my own parrots or my dog. That wasn’t funny. I should stop. I will, I promise.
3) Speaking of parrots. I feel really bad about this, but they live in cages. They are small. I am pretty nice to them, but they should be living outside. If I were brave, and had the time to do the research, I’d figure out if they could survive in the wild and take them to their home countries and set them free. Or, I would find a big aviary somewhere that would take them in. That wouldn’t be right either. They shouldn’t be living in a cage. I’m sorry. (By the way, do poodles have home countries? I'd like to set mine free.)
4) I know I should only eat and buy organic, but most of it is a long drive from my house (greenhouse gases) and very expensive and sometimes, just sometimes, those strawberries loaded with pesticides taste so delicious.
5)For that matter, I should only eat local food like Barbara Kingsolver does. I can’t do it. I’m sorry. I can’t live on roots in the winter.
6) Occasionally I forget to bring my non-BPA water bottle with me. This is bad. I’m at the gym. I’m thirsty. I don’t want to run back and forth to the bathroom and cup my hands. So I buy the bottle. I’m sorry! I really don’t do it often, but occasionally, rarely, almost never, it happens.
7) I don’t ride a bike to get around. I’d really like to. But if I were to ride my bike where I live, the drivers around here would kill me. I’m not exaggerating. This is long island.
8) Cosmetics. Cosmetics. Cosmetics. I’m an American woman. I’m fake. I’m vain. I’m superficial. I’m not a wasp. Need I say more? My body is filled with chemicals. I like body paint. I’m sorry. I have bought into the beauty myth and I can’t help myself. I’m not crunchy enough. I keep trying to find alternative body stuff that I like, but so far….
9) Diet coke. I confess. This is my weakness. Not every day. Not in my house. Not more than one. Just once in a while. I swear.
10)Only some of my light bulbs are the environmentally sound kind. The ones that are give off strange light. Sometimes I need a bright strong light that comes on immediately. I’m sorry.
11) I crashed my Prius and replaced it with a non-hybrid regular car that was much less expensive. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’d rather not drive at all but I live in the suburbs and I already explained the bike problem.
12) I do not have a windmill providing energy for my house.
13) I do not have solar panels (but I’m in the shade).
14) I do not wear organic clothes.
15) I like fragrances. Horrible, chemical French fragances. Coco Chanel. I know. It's terrible. They’re all lethal. I’m the one who posts this stuff on facebook. I’m sorry, but at my age, I deserve a little fake french flower scent in my life. This brings me some pleasure and it feels necessary. I’m indoctrinated despite my beliefs.

Here's where I am doing some minor good: I keep the heat off as much as possible, use as little electricity as possible, drive only when necessary. I sign petitions for environmental causes about 10 times a day. I donate to environmental causes. I write about environmental causes. I eat mostly organic food. I recycle. I once owned a Prius. My next car will be electric. I would like to move to a cooperative sustainable community and will if the opportunity arises. There is nothing like this within a reasonable distance of where I work. I vote green. I feed my kid organic food and she knew how to spell the word ecofeminist at the age of eight and she knows about the impact of Strontium 90 and global warming. I feed organic food to the people who come into my house. There are no sulfates in our shampoo. I don’t use any chemicals on my lawn or yard. I don’t kills bugs or most animals (at least not intentionally). I take walks in nature and try to tread lightly. I don’t litter. I’m Jewish. I’m liberal. I’m a feminist. I accept everybody except radical people to the right. I’m a mother. I marched in peace and anti-nuke rallies. I will march again. I’m nice to most people. I speak two languages. I teach college. I love my students. I respect my parents. I’m not so bad, really.

Somehow, this doesn’t feel good enough. If I were truly environmentally “holy”, I would be living in an old growth tree (to save it) in an endangered forest--like Julia Butterfly Hill. I’ll try to do better. I promise.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Another cancer in my neighborhood

Another call today. Mitch has lymphoma. He's under fifty. He lives less than a half mile from Joel, who had lymphoma last year. Shall I list more in my neighborhood? Carl, lung cancer. Marianne, breast cancer. Molly (8), leukemia. An unnamed set of at least five young mothers who died from breast cancer. My daughter tells me of mothers from school who don't have hair: "they're getting chemo mom, right?" She describes their condition as if it is so normal and routine. I don't remember growing up this way. Do you?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Call to Action

1962 was a good year to halt bomb tests

the Navajo dig deeply
the ancient mountain
uranium ore
physics of the atom
and neutron
splitting in two
manufacturing god’s light
chain reacting
love letters
spare tires
ticky tacky houses
shelters of red white and blue
here at the toyota car
dealership recall
sipping coffee
at a counter of free
I meet Joanne:
who buried her younger brother
two days ago
after battling three cancers
from the age of 18
he died from melanoma of the eye
both brother and sister began with
hodgkin’s disease
Joanne battled two cancers
how surprising: we three
of the land of the crab
strangers and one dead brother
they drank from a well
of dry cleaner chemicals
both diagnosed in 1959
the year of my birth
the year of nuclear fall out
her voice is crisp metallic airless
radiation burn
in her chest and throat
in this room full of car owners
a long island suburban highway
I tell her of my work
and my cancer
the deaths I know, too
what comfort can I give?

--March, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Slight Digression From the Nuclear and Environmental Journey (it is part of the story #1)

California holds me. Berkeley holds me. I arrived there at the age of four and went to Thousands Oaks Elementary School for years, and then to the Franklin Elementary School when integration began, for one. My family lived in three houses. These were large, rambling, chilly homes. The first was oppressively dark: a rental. It rested on a sharp hill on the Arlington. The second was on the flat section of Yosemite Road. Yosemite Road was and is flanked on each end by small parks with rocks and trees. I climbed both often. We lived there for several years. Our final and last house was on Thousand Oaks. This house was the largest and most ominous of all three; it resembled a castle, and it had a long spire of a staircase with small stained glass windows. When we first purchased this house, there was an electric chair attached to the banister of the stair well. It was a reminder of a disabled inhabitant of the past. The slow and vibrating movement of the electric chair was creepy. The front lawn dipped steeply down to the house. There were many dark corners inside and out. It was not a place in which I felt safe.

What drew my parents to purchase the house on Thousand Oaks was the view. From the living room and my parents’ bedroom (directly above) there was and is a breathtaking view of the San Francisco Bay.

Mine was not a happy childhood and this house, in particular, is emblematic of that dark time. The structure contained all the unappealing-to-a-child drama of the 1960s: wild parties, ranting political activists, angry teenagers, drugs, and one helluva miserable parental marriage. From this mess, I retreated to my bedroom and menagerie of animals: birds, turtles, fish, dog, and Bitty the-tabby-cat.

When I drive through Berkeley and the Bay Area, the watery air fills my lungs with memories of my father and mother, and of these not-so-happy, yet compelling memories. Each sight, smell, and touch reminds me of something so viscerally specific that my body literally pauses in a chemically definitive way as I encounter familiar sights and locations. I sense the salty fog in my chest and recall my father driving past the large green road signs on the freeway, the trash sculptures near the water on the bay (no longer standing), the sidewalks with their cracks and uplifted cement, the schools and parks, the stones and knotty trees. I think the same thoughts about the cracks in my mother’s back as I step on crooked sidewalks and suck on the sour grasses.

So it is as if I’m whisked back into the 1960s.

This time, my daughter is with me. She’s twelve and old enough to (somewhat) enjoy a trip down the memory lane. It is true, Olivia prefers the idea of Disneyland, or at least a San Francisco cable car, but I tell her this is so much better. My story is part of a very important point in the American cultural past. I’m her mother and not a school textbook. So it is real. My life as a child took place when the world was shaking apart. Two miles (or less) from my houses tear gas exploded and the National Guard bombarded the streets. Timothy Leary spoke and they all took acid. Sit-ins, marches, live concerts, Gestalt Therapy, the taking over of university buildings, free love, flower power. Heroes and angels were assassinated and minor heroes were assaulted. It was a time of revolution, of death, of chemicals formerly uknown.

It was no place for a child.

I wanted to show my daughter the old houses I lived in. We drive past the first two uneventfully, but it is the last one that had the most dramatic impact on me--the huge house on Thousand Oaks that haunts me to this day. I have been there a few times over the years, just to look. The man who purchased it from my father was an ornery professor who loved to torture my brother and me (on previous visits) with my father’s foolish act of selling this house for $60,000 in 1969. My dad sold it then for a small profit and with this profit took the family on a romp through France and Israel for three years.

It is a huge house on Thousand Oaks. It has a spectacular view of the bay and the bridges and San Francisco. It is in a very swanky part of Berkeley. The old professor whose name I don’t know, loved to recount (on my last visit) how the grassy area outside of the window and door from the lowest floor—outside my brother’s past room in the basement, smelled badly of urine for years. My brother had many parties down there, unbeknownst (or perhaps known) to my parents. There was no bathroom in the basement, and my dad, who looked like a hell’s angel, scared the teenagers, so they never came upstairs. The stoned and high teenagers must have used the backyard as their restroom. This was an unsavory memory for me—-to say the least. Between the sticking it to me about the great financial loss we had suffered as a result of my father selling the house (my mother always said we should have rented it out instead), and the stench of bodily waste left behind, I was not excited at the idea of running into the owner. Still, I wanted my daughter to see this unique and formidable piece of my past.

This past week, however, when my daughter and I stop by, all signs of the gloating old man are gone. The house has been remodeled and the finishing touches are now complete. A few men put up some shelves in an open garage. There is a small trim sign advertising the landscape designer. The glorious house looks better than ever. I point to the windows of my old bedroom and tell my daughter it was once mine. I ask one of the men moving a few things around in the garage if the house belongs to him. He says, yes. I tell him I grew up there. He smiles and asks, “Would you like to come inside and look around?” “Really?” I exclaim gleefully. “Really?”

The basic structure of the rooms remains the same, but the stucco walls are freshly restored—and smooth, wooden mission trim has been added here and there to all doorframes and hall entrances. The floors are impeccably sanded and stained. There are new and built-in cabinets throughout. Everything is stunning, simple, clean and spare. But it remains my house, exactly as I remember it. Exactly. I enter through the kitchen. There is the breakfast nook where we ate steak and lamb chops and I remember my mother looking straight at my brother and asking “did you drop acid tonight?” (this resulted in my father chasing my brother madly about the house and a lot of screaming), there is the open dining room, there is the living room and the TV room where I watched Dark Shadows every day at three. There is the stunning view of the Bay from the living room picture windows where the Panthers and peace activists hung out while drinking French wine and smoking pot and talking with passion about the Viet Nam War, Communism, civil rights, black power. It is there, in that living room, where I danced/swayed to the Beatles, Cream, Aretha, and Oh Happy Day. Sometimes I managed to squeeze in some Monkeys if my older siblings, who thought the infant band was moronic, were not around.

Upstairs—the rooms are much the same, only cleaner and shinier than I remember, but still so much as they had been. A significant and important difference has taken place—the bathroom that once linked the two childrens’ bedrooms (mine and my sister’s) with doors on each side has been altered. The interconnecting doors have been replaced by solid walls. There is only one entrance to the bathroom now—from the hall—which means that the two bedrooms retain their privacy from each other. If only it had been that way then. I had too easy access to a teenager’s bedroom as a small child. Oh the things I would have been saved from witnessing, if only there had been solid walls between us!

The biggest difference of all rests in the bottom floor. It is no longer a dark and forbidding basement but, instead, a beautiful and completely finished space with wide-open windows, new wooden floors, wide stairs (how I remember nearly falling on the steps of the narrow, dark, musty old one that led into a cement tomb). This new space has a gorgeous family room, playroom, wet bar, and out door terrace with stunning views of San Francisco. Gone is the scary basement with endless dirt crawl spaces, and drugged-out corners where young lives were ruined. It was the darkness, the layers of underground tunnels, that terrified me most of all.

I expected to feel sad and unnerved seeing this house—to be entrapped in difficult and complicated memories. Instead, my last crazy Berkeley house, where physically violent fights between family members erupted daily, where what my daughter would now call “inappropriate” adult behavior took place (more than I care to delve into now)—is now a clean, bright, happy, well designed place.

A truly shameful amount of money has been sunk into the immense structure. Probably, a small nation of starving children could be fed, housed and educated with the money this young couple has spent to buy and renovate this posh Berkeley house.

I shouldn’t be happy to walk in such a gloriously opulent place, but I am.

Although I am not one to covet wealth and am not wealthy myself, money, in this particular case, has cleaned up an important of my past. I don’t even know the last names of these people. Yet they have healed me in some profound way. The years, hard work, and dollars spent to restore my family’s former home have paid off.

I have walked back into a frightening time, and it doesn't scare me anymore. The dark corners are gone.

What a gothic tale!