Saturday, September 24, 2011

Praise for Whole Foods & Trader Joe's (Even on a Budget)

The second article I've seen recently on studies concluding that pesticides lead to ADHD came out a couple weeks ago.  I've bought into the organic movement ever since reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan - perhaps the book that's influenced me most in recent years.

It's always been expensive and hard to find many organic products, but that's changing.  When we moved to DC, we moved to the wonderful land of Whole Foods & Trader Joe's.  I know love at first site exists because that perfectly describes my first trip to a Whole Foods.  My weekly grocery trip now takes me to Tysons Station where I can get Trader Joe's on one side of the street and Whole Foods on the other.

So, how do I afford it?  I've come up with a simple strategy that brought my weekly budget down by $25/week compared to shopping at a normal grocery store like Giant.
  1. I make a list based on dinner plans for the week and try to stick to the list.  I find thinking about an impulse purchase for 10 seconds before putting it in my cart really helps me cut back on extras.
  2. I go to the Whole Foods website and print only the coupons for items that I already have on my list (this helps me avoid buying something I don't need just because there's a coupon).
  3. I go to Trader Joe's first and buy as much as I can there.  Trader Joe's is cheap and has great stuff.  I am avoiding doing more research on how this could be because I'm sure at these prices there has to be some sort of unethical behavior behind it all.  I know that organic milk and most kinds of meat are cheaper at Whole Foods, so I buy those there.
That's it!  That's all I've been doing and I usually spend less than $100 when it used to cost a lot more.  Oh, and we're also feeding 1.5 extra people nowadays since my mom cares for Alison while we work and Alison eats like a champ.

I could certainly save money by shopping at Walmart, but who wants to do that?

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Ug.  I didn't even want to think about this subject as I feel powerless to avoid carcinogens that are mandated for various baby products by our government.  Ignorance is bliss.

However, a friend sent me this link about the latest carseat study and yes, you guessed it, carseats are not only required to bring your baby home from the hospital, but littered with flame-retardants (go here if you want to see how your carseat stacks up).  Earlier this year there was more good news.  A full 80% of baby products tested in one study contained known carcinogens from flame-retardants.  So, I decided to find out just how toxic the various flame-retardants really are and if there's anything I can do about it.

There are a number of different types of flame retardants, all inhaled or ingested via dust that contacts contaminated products in your home.  Here are the main ones along with the problems each one may cause:
  1. penta-BDE (pentabromodiphenyl ether/pentabromodiphenyl oxide) -  Stored in your body fat, scientists have no proof that it is harmful to humans, but in limited studies on animals it has damaged the liver, thyroid, and caused hyperactivity and changes in brain function/motor activity.  In 2005 the United States banned the production and import of products containing penta-BDE and in 2010 the Stockholm Convention, a treaty to eliminate persistent organic pollutants, added it as an elimination target.
  2. TDCPP (chlorinated tris) - I can't find a lot on this substance except for a news article repeated word-for-word in various newspapers and magazines.  It was in children's sleepwear until 1977 when they phased it out, because in mice and rats it became a mutagen and caused cancer in other test animals.  Although banned from sleepwear, it continues to be used in other baby items such as carseats to this day.  According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission report from 1977, the TDCPP can be eliminated by washing an item three times.  So much for fire safety.
  3. TCEP - Very similar to TDCPP in structure, according to this National Resources Defense Council article, it causes cancer, neurological, and reproductive damage to, yet again, lab animals.  From what I can tell, this is still a very legal product in the United States (although Europe has banned its production) and showed up in 14 of the 101 baby products tested.
  4. Firemaster 550/600 - A newer chemical produced by Great Lakes Chemical (Chemtura), there basically haven't been any studies concluded on its toxicity.  Here, an article, describes the EPA's assumption that, given its ingredients (the exact amounts of which are undisclosed as a trade secret), this substance will be toxic just like the penta-BDE it is replacing.  The latest article on the EPA's website says that EPA will have data and a conclusion on Firemaster 550 in 2009.  That was two years ago.  The Natural Resources Defense Council lists several problems here, but admits the data is lacking.  I don't see anything here that proves Firemaster is safe or harmful.
  5. TCPP (Tris ( chloroisopropyl ) phosphate) - Is this the same thing as TDCCP?  I don't think so.  This article from 2002 says nothing harmful about TCPP has been found.

My conclusion?  No one knows how these will affect humans.  My general rule is to be wary of substances and practices that humans haven't done for thousands of years (i.e. we haven't really evolved to do them).  However, I wonder if the hype is blown out of proportion.  I think I'll spend my time worrying more about eating healthy foods and exercising, the opposite of which will probably kill me for sure.

If you don't just want to shrug this off, there are some things you can do.  Mainly, clean up the dust regularly, buy wool, cotton, and polyester products instead of polyurethane foam, and buy used children's clothing, which is more likely to have been through several washes, washing away some of these chemicals.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

REI Guidepost

We became REI members last month when it became apparent that, now that we have a new member of the family, we were likely going to be buying outdoor equipment at an alarming rate and REI is our closest option.  We got the baby backpack carrier for 20% off, then ran to the store to buy last-minute camping supplies.  The co-op is $20 and you're a member for life which gets you around 10% back each year - that seemed like a pretty good deal if you're going to be spending money there anyway.

In their recent member newsletter, they shared a link to their guidepost website.  It's a slick little search engine for finding hiking and biking trails in your area (content from  A quick search of the DC area brings up hundreds of options from local parks to state and national trails, which is great for when I want to go out with that baby backpack.

 Sample Guidepost Query

Friday, September 2, 2011

Happy Birthday, Alison!

Alison is one year old today!  What an incredible year!  I've learned so much from her, like how to appreciate the tiny, tiny, tiny things (e.g. the fact that grabbing an object is not such a simple task).

So, how is the nature experiment going?  It's hard to say, but there are some subtle things that I think are a result of making sure the computer is turned off (we don't even own a TV) and she gets plenty of time outside.  She's an explorer, prefers to spend her time outside, notices animals before I do, eats her vegetables, and she's never sick.  I guess she is a pretty normal kid for her age - inquisitive and happy and that's all I can ask for.  I think my real challenge really begins this year: when she starts to gain independence and learn what a TV is, how do I keep her coming back to nature?