Category Archives: consumer culture

EnviroParents w/ UPDATE

by Stacey

My Fussbucket partner Kristin recently watched Al Gore’s movie on global warming called “An Inconvenient Truth.” Since then this whole business about the frightening state of the environment has been bugging her. Makes me think they were on to something with the title of the movie.

She’s decided she wants to start a Green Parenting Group and has proposed the idea on a parenting listserve here in Seattle. This is from her post:

I haven’t been a big environmentalist, but I am getting motivated to take
responsibility for my family’s impact. I also want to look at what I’m
teaching my kids about consumption and their interconnection with
everyone (and everything) else. Since I’m so new to this whole thing,
I’d love to meet up with other families working through these projects

I think this is a great idea. If it takes off, I’m hoping Kristin will report back here on her progress and give us some words of wisdom. In the meantime, I remembered this article from the NY Times last month on smart ways to eat organic without breaking the bank.

The key is to be strategic in your organic purchases. Opting for organic produce, for instance, doesn’t necessarily have a big impact, depending on what you eat. According to the Environmental Working Group, commercially-farmed fruits and vegetables vary in their levels of pesticide residue. Some vegetables, like broccoli, asparagus and onions, as well as foods with peels, such as avocados, bananas and oranges, have relatively low levels compared to other fruits and vegetables.

So how do you make your organic choices count? Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene, whose new book “Raising Baby Green” explains how to raise a child in an environmentally-friendly way, has identified a few “strategic” organic foods that he says can make the biggest impact on the family diet, the article says.

1. Milk: “When you choose a glass of conventional milk, you are buying into a whole chemical system of agriculture,’’ says Dr. Greene. People who switch to organic milk typically do so because they are concerned about the antibiotics, artificial hormones and pesticides used in the commercial dairy industry. One recent United States Department of Agriculture survey found certain pesticides in about 30 percent of conventional milk samples and low levels in only one organic sample. The level is relatively low compared to some other foods, but many kids consume milk in large quantities.

This reminds me of the time I was in the grocery store before I had kids and the woman in front of me had a cart filled to the brim. I watched as she unloaded her stuff and was increasingly horrified to see not one, not two, but three gallons of milk on the conveyor belt. I asked her about it and she said her kids drank milk all the time. I considered suggesting she buy herself a cow instead.

2. Potatoes: Potatoes are a staple of the American diet — one survey found they account for 30 percent of our overall vegetable consumption. A simple switch to organic potatoes has the potential to have a big impact because commercially-farmed potatoes are some of the most pesticide-contaminated vegetables. A 2006 U.S.D.A. test found 81 percent of potatoes tested still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled, and the potato has one of the the highest pesticide contents of 43 fruits and vegetables tested, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Yuck. I didn’t know this. They look so innocent all dirt-covered and funny-shaped. Okay, organic potatoes it is.

3. Peanut butter: More acres are devoted to growing peanuts than any other fruits, vegetable or nut, according to the U.S.D.A. More than 99 percent of peanut farms use conventional farming practices, including the use of fungicide to treat mold, a common problem in peanut crops. Given that some kids eat peanut butter almost every day, this seems like a simple and practical switch. Commercial food firms now offer organic brands in the regular grocery store, but my daughter loves to go to the health food store and grind her own peanut butter.

We’re lucky not to have the dreaded peanut allergy in our house (although the jury is still out on Sascha). But every school I know of has at least one kid who is allergic. Growing up, my brother ate peanut butter sandwiches everyday for about seven years. These days, Sage is lucky if he gets one a week because he can’t bring it to school in his lunch.

4. Ketchup: For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake. About 75 percent of tomato consumption is in the form of processed tomatoes, including juice, tomato paste and ketchup. Notably, recent research has shown organic ketchup has about double the antioxidants of conventional ketchup.

Ketchup? What are we Ronald Reagan? Frankly, I’m more disturbed by this: “For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake,” than I am about this: “Recent research has shown organic ketchup has about double the antioxidants of conventional ketchup.” But whatever. Eat organic ketchup.

5. Apples: Apples are the second most commonly eaten fresh fruit, after bananas, and they are also used in the second most popular juice, after oranges, according to Dr. Greene. But apples are also one of the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. The good news is that organic apples are easy to find in regular grocery stores.

Yay, apples! For a complete list of Dr. Greene’s strategic organic choices, visit Organic Rx on his website.

Now for an amusing and unrelated segway: Greenpeace wants to name a whale and has gone to great lengths to dream up a long list of 29 earth/crunchy names (Paz, Manami, Libertad, etc.) for people to vote on.

The 30th name? Mr. Splashy Pants, with 65 percent of the vote and garnering 16 times the votes of the leading next contender. “Based on the earnestness of the rest of the site, this appears to be an unintended consequence of enviro culture clashing with popular culture,” writes my friend Jon at the National Resources Defense Council, who I thank for the tip. “Run,” he advises, “Cast your votes.”

UPDATE: Check out Kristin’s new blog – “Going Green Family.”  It’s got tips on going green for the holidays and easy ways to make your home more eco-friendly.



Filed under consumer culture, education, family, kids, life, nature, nutrition, parenting

Mama Grinch

by Stacey

In the wake of this week’s toxic toys recall, parents are now faced with the daunting task of taking away beloved toys from their children. An article in yesterday’s Washington Post talks about just how hard this can be.

Colin Kriebel’s summer has been a really cruddy inverse of Christmas. First, in June, the 3-year-old’s beloved (and lead-painted) Thomas railroad cars were recalled. Six toys total, which he’d chug-a-chugged with for more than a year. Then, on Tuesday, the ultimate blow: Colin’s Mattel Jeep, Sarge, which his Burke parents had presented last week as a reward for his first dental visit, was also listed as dangerous. Colin fretfully suggested to his mom that he could just play with Sarge a “little bit.” No dice, said Gretchen Kriebel.

Kriebel, an account executive, has a particularly acute case of guilt. “Colin is at an age where he associates things being taken away with being bad,” she says. “He has a hard time understanding it’s not his fault.”

After June’s Thomas the Tank Engine recall due to lead paint, I was surprised at how hard it was when I explained to my son Sage that he could no longer play with his well worn caboose.

“It has icky paint on it,” I explained. “It could make you sick.”

“But I LOVE that caboose!” he cried. “I want to keep it!”

So what did I do? I offered to take him to the toy store to buy him a new train to make up for the one that I had to take away. Like Kriebel, I didn’t want to him to feel like he was being punished. But that was just one train. What do you do if you’re looking at removing a whole bunch of favorite playthings? Or that special gift from Grandma that your kid waited for and got as a birthday present? This sucks.

If you are going into replacement mode, you might consider buying toys that are not made in China (for obvious reasons). The Post article mentions the toy company, D and ME, a family-owned toy business in Montana, that sells only handmade toys made of wood from sustainable forests, coated in safe paint.

I found a list of sites that sell made in the USA toys on DC Urban Moms, a kickass listserve for parents in the Washington, DC area. The sites all have names that are something along the lines of Made-in-USA dotcom, so I won’t bother with that. Just go here, here, here, and here if you want to check them out.

In the meantime, this article, also in WaPo yesterday, says that China is frantically trying to convince American consumers not to do what I just suggested, that is, avoid products made in China. At a rare press conference at the Chinese Embassy in DC, Baoqing Zhao, the first secretary from the trade and commerce section of Chinese Embassy, said the government takes the recent incidents seriously and is cracking down on problematic companies.

“There are a couple of problems, but the problems are limited,” he said. “What we want is to let consumers rest assured when they use products exported from China,” they are safe, he said.

While he was at it, Zhao also decided to throw in some digs at US manufacturers. A questionable move in my opinion.

Hitting on a theme that has been repeated by Chinese officials, Zhao also pointed out that China has found problems with food and consumer products imported from the United States. Last month, China blocked imports of some U.S. processed meat that it said showed signs of contamination, impacting some of the largest U.S. food companies, including Cargill Meat Solutions and Tyson Foods. Other problematic products, he said, have included large-scale construction equipment, generators and pacemakers.

“In our view, food quality and product safety is an international issue and not an issue limited to certain countries,” Zhao said.

Seems like after you almost poison a nation’s children, you might not go on the offensive at the same time that you’re trying to get the people whose children you almost poisoned to continue to trust you and give you their money. Just a thought.


Filed under Barbie recall, Batman recall, consumer culture, Doggie Day Care recall, Easy Bake Oven Recall, family life, Fisher-Price recall, kids, lead paint toys, Made in China, magnets recall, Mattel recall, parenting, Polly Pockets recall, recalls, Sarge recall, toxic toys, toy recall

Recall Madness

by Stacey

With all these recent recalls many of us have been wondering, who can you trust? I’ve asked it here and so have others. But now I’m wondering if we’re asking ourselves the wrong question. Maybe we need to be wondering, “Do I really need to be buying all this crap?”

I started thinking about this after I saw the recall of Easy Bake Ovens yesterday. I remember this toy from when I was kid. I wanted one. Badly. But there was no way my mother would have bought me such an elaborate gift. It wasn’t her style. And she didn’t encourage our grandparents to lavish us with expensive toys either. I’m not saying that I was deprived. I wasn’t. It was just a matter of principle. It didn’t feel right to her to give us expensive things to play with.

When I look back on it, I remember messing around with art supplies and playing lots of ball with my brother. I did have a Snoopy doll that I dressed up in clothes. And we had board games and blocks. I remember coveting that Easy Bake Oven though. I think because I didn’t get it, the unmet desire left a more lasting impression than if I had gotten the thing and realized the little cakes you can make in it aren’t as good as the Chips Ahoy cookies in the kitchen.

These days my son is very into the idea of having a pirate ship. A good friend of his has a very cool one made of wood and my son loves to go to his house to play with it. I am reluctant to get him one though because I think it is good to have some things out there in the world that you don’t get to own. Grownups have to contend with this in daily life. Maybe it will translate into a lesson about not getting into credit card debt trying to buy things you can’t afford.

But pirate ships aside, there is plenty we do buy for our son. He’s got lots of toys, way more than I remember having as a kid. A hyper consumer culture and the availability of lots of affordable toys have helped to create this situation. And yet we know that many of these products are made in China where, we’re learning more and more, there are serious concerns about quality control.

Maybe it’s time to realize there’s no free lunch. If we willingly fill our homes with stuff made under dubious circumstances, maybe it should come as no surprise that there’s a price to pay in quality and safety. Maybe we don’t need ubiquitous Thomas the Train and weird Veggie Booty and too-pink Easy Bake Ovens. Maybe all our kids really need is some balls to kick around, some clay and finger paint, and a doll or two.

Wow I’m high up here on this horse. No need to shoot, I’ll come down now.


Filed under consumer culture, Made in China, parenting, recalls, safety, toys