With Amy Todisco

Are you concerned about what you and your family eat? In this synthetic chemical age itís wise to be informed about what may be in the food that we eat. Even if your pantry and refrigerator are loaded with fresh, certified organic whole foods, there is more that you need to know about your food, how itís prepared, and what toxic chemicals might be lurking in your kitchen. Join Amy Todisco as she takes you through a brief tour of a typical American kitchen and offers tips on how to make yours a healthier haven. If you want more information, feel free to email Amy at: atnontox@aol.com with your questions.



NON-TOXIC KITCHEN

Over generations the kitchen has been considered the heart center of the home. Sadly, kitchens of today, like the rest of the house, are more like hearts with arteriosclerosis clogged with all sorts of toxic synthetic chemicals. According to David Pearson author of "The Natural House Book", the modern kitchen is "unhealthy and overconsuming; it is sometimes dangerous and always polluting...wasteful of energy and water and fails to recycle valuable waste materials... Since food is handled in the kitchen, it, more than any other space, must be toxin and pollution free."

So, what are the sources of pollution in our kitchens and what can we do to protect ourselves?

Foods and Beverages:

Foods and beverages may be contaminated with a variety of chemicals that have been intentionally or unintentionally added during their production, handling, storage, and processing. Perhaps you're familiar with the dangers of pesticides, but have you heard about the human and environmental health effects of: genetically engineered organisms, food irradiation, food additives (artificial colors, flavors, preservatives), hormones, antibiotics, municipal sludge used as fertilizer, mold, bacteria, or industrial chemicals in our food supply? Many of these chemicals cause cancer, and damage our brains, reproductive and immune systems. Certified organic, ideally home-grown or locally grown, is the best choice. Testing your drinking water for toxins is a wise idea. Investing in a tap and shower water filter is one good way of eliminating toxins in your home.

Cookware:

Some cookware and cooking practices are detrimental to our health as well. For instance, avoid aluminum pots and pans as foods cooked in aluminum can react with the metal to form aluminum salts associated with Alzheimer's, dementia and impaired visual motor coordination. Even stainless steel cookware can become a problem if an abrasive material is used frequently to clean it thereby releasing small amounts of the toxic metals, Chromium and Nickel. No-stick finishes like Teflon and Silverstone scratch easily and release little bits of plastic into the food when cooked, as well as toxic fumes over high heat. Glass, cast iron, stainless steel (without abrasive cleaning), and terra cotta without lead glaze are the best choices.

Microwave Ovens:

I am a proud member of the 10 percent of the population that does not have or use a microwave oven as I am convinced that sooner or later the truth will come out about the negative impact that these modern conveniences have on our health. I've never like food that was hot on the outside and cold on the inside. According to Paul Brodeur, author of the book, "The Zapping of America", military and industrial interests have prevented biologists from fully researching the effects of microwaves because the military relies upon unrestricted use of microwave radar surveillance. Imagine if the biological effects of microwaves were revealed to the public.

Barbecuing and Grilling:

Though barbecuing season is over, you might be interested (or very depressed) to know that most barbecued and broiled foods contain benzo(a)pyrene, a proven cancer causing substance. For some reason, when the heat source is below the food, more carcinogens are created whether a charcoal or gas grill is used. However, cooking temperature, type of fuel, fat content of meat, all affect the amount of benzo(a)pyrene that is created. Broiling in the oven with the heat source above the food seems to be o.k.

Plastic Food Packaging:

Plastic food packaging, in addition to creating unnecessary waste that has to go somewhere, also creates health problems. Some types of plastic are carcinogenic, others migrate from packaging into our food and water. Typically, the softer the plastic, the less chemically stable it is, and the more it vaporizes over time even after the smell disappears. Some plastic food wraps and flexible plastic food containers are made from poly vinyl chloride (PVC). PVC can cause cancer, birth defects, genetic changes, vision failure and liver dysfunction. When PVC is burned in incinerators it creates Dioxin, a very potent known carcinogen that accumulates in fat tissue. Dioxin lands on the crops that we and the animals eat, organic and conventional alike. The amount ingested is greatly reduced by avoiding meat and dairy products as most toxins, including Dioxin, tend to accumulate in fat tissue. Also, be sure to choose canned foods with enamel lining to avoid exposure to lead.

Pressed Wood, Paints, stains, etc.:

The informed consumer should also be aware of the fact that formaldehyde outgasses from pressed wood kitchen cabinets (and approximately 85 other consumer products, like mascara). Solid wood is a much better alternative. Most paints (latex & oil-based), stains, self-stick vinyl wallpapers, adhesives, and vinyl flooring also contain toxic chemicals that should be avoided. There are non-toxic alternatives to all of these products. A wonderful resource book for alternatives is Environmental By Design: A Sourcebook of Environmentally Aware Material Choices, by Kim LeClair & David Rousseau

Conventional Chemical Cleaning Products:

Conventional cleaning products may be wiping away the dirt and grime but leaving behind dangerous chemical residues. Don't be fooled by colorful packaging and labels claiming to be all natural, biodegradable, and non-toxic. Trade secret laws enable up to 99% of the products to be hidden from the public in the "inert" ingredients which is often where the most toxic chemicals can be found. The vast majority of consumer products do not list these inert ingredients. I have been successfully cleaning my house with a few truly non-toxic homemade and store bought cleaning products for over 7 years now. For example, a paste made from borax powder, water, and distilled white vinegar is an effective mold and mildew remover for bathroom tiles. Also, one would be wise to stop using all air fresheners, disinfectant sprays and deodorizing products. They do not clean the air, they only inhibit our ability to smell by coating our nasal passages with a nerve deadening chemical or oily substance. Spray disinfectants kill germs on contact. Once your counter is wiped clean, new germs decend from the air.

The toxic effects of common household products are not limited to the user of the product. Pollution is created during the manufacturing, use and disposal stage--a three pronged attack. Though many communities are equipped with hazardous household waste pickup days and some of these products can be recycled (like latex paint) many are destined for toxic waste landfills. It just doesn't go away.

Thankfully many non-toxic and least toxic alternatives exist for most of the everyday conventional products. The positive impact of switching to these safer alternatives are multidimensional. We all vote with our pursestrings. If there is no demand for chemical laden products, the supply will diminish and the manufacturers will be forced to change. Once we switched to these healthier alternatives, shopping actually became easier.

It is much easier to blame the power plants, corporate polluters, the government, our neighbors, or anyone else but ourselves for the disastrous state of our environment. Though none of us are solely responsible nor perhaps even aware of the impact of our choices, we all contribute to the problems. In fact, Union of Concerned Scientists, Michael Brower and Warren Leon, in their recent book, The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, tell us that there are three areas of household consumption that create the highest amount of environmental damage: transportation, food, and household operations (cleaning products, pesticides, heating & hot water, lighting & appliances, etc.).

So, what is a concerned person to do? The critical first step is to educate ourselves, raise our awareness of the impact of each choice. Once informed, the next and perhaps most difficult step is to change our behavior. We can change, and if we don't, who will?

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Amy Todisco is the president and owner of Green Living Now, LLC. In addition to serving as an "Environmental Expert" on the EcoMall website ("Ask Amy"), she's also featured on former National Public Radio host, Laurie Howell's, The Green Scene Internet radio program. She's created community educational events, founded and co founded several nonprofits; served as Executive Director for two nonprofits; provided presentations on household toxics; consulted with private and public schools; churches, community groups, local boards of health, and the MA State Department of Public Health; written on the topic of household toxics for newspapers, newsletters and websites; and been interviewed on radio and cable TV.


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