TOXICS INFORMATION PROJECT (TIP)
Tel. 401-351-9193, E-Mail: TIP@toxicsinfo.org
(Lighting the Way to Less Toxic Living)
THE NON-TOXIC KITCHEN ON A BUDGET
ONE WOMAN’S MODUS VIVENDI
Toxics Information Project (TIP)
Being of decidedly modest means, a “canary” (chemically sensitive person), an environmentally concerned individual and one educated about health effects from common chemicals makes for a challenging life. But through reading and experimentation I have developed many strategies to achieve the greatest reduction in toxic exposure for the least money, energy and time expended.
I buy mostly organic vegetables, emphasizing those with the greatest nutritional and antioxidant value, such as collards, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli. The reasoning is that while there is a difference in price for organic, the price per serving is minimal. I know who has the best usual prices for each, and I watch for sales. Organic carrots are very reasonable. I usually find them at 69¢ lb. at East Side Market. Standard price mostly is 99 cents. The greens are $1.69 per lb. at Stop & Shop, similar at East Side Market. Organic broccoli I usually wait to buy on sale – recently got at $1.49 lb. at Whole Foods Market, vs. usual price of $1.99 lb. Organic bananas are a standard 99¢/lb. there – sales there and elsewhere may go to 79¢. I usually buy organic apples and oranges in 3-lb. or so bags, especially when on sale. Organic onions and potatoes are readily available, even in supermarkets, maybe $2.50 to $4 for a 3 or 5-pound bag.
If I feel I must buy “conventional” fruit or vegetables, I get them at Whole Foods because they at least have a sign saying they test for pesticide residues – although I haven’t yet determined exactly what that entails. For frozen vegetables, I mostly go to my local Stop & Shop, which has its own brand of organic peas, green beans and mixed vegetables. They also have corn, but that’s a low-pesticide residue food, so not a priority for organic.
Meats and dairy are far more risky than any vegetables, because of bio-accumulation and concentration of toxins. I buy most meat at Whole Foods Market, because their fresh meat, at least, is declared to be free of antibiotics and hormones. The Waterman store also often has frozen ground veal, beef or lamb in brown paper that is reasonably priced. Their chicken, chicken livers, sometimes even a pork loin, are within budget. I simply cannot afford organic meat at this time. I should admit that I occasionally cheat and buy kielbasa when it is on sale at a supermarket. It’s totally unhealthy, but my husband and I love it. We don’t eat a lot of meat – it is always part of a dish with grains and vegetables.
I avoid dairy per allergy, drink mostly Rice Dream rice milk – which really tastes great – I like it better than the taste of regular milk. I buy the Original because that’s made from organic rice (read labels!). I stock up when it is on sale – it keeps in the cupboard for a long time unopened. I occasionally drink soy milk, but don’t enjoy it as much. For my husband, who drinks larger quantities of milk than I do, I buy Garelick Farms which, by word of mouth is at least free of rBGH growth hormones. My impression is that Whole Foods wouldn’t carry it otherwise – I’m trying to track down more info about that.
Other foods: I
buy bottles of Bragg’s Aminos – a non-fermented soy
liquid, with no added anything. It
tastes like soy sauce and we put it on everything – especially on vegetables,
instead of butter. Imagine Foods has two
soups that are great for sauce-making – mushroom and squash. A bit expensive - $2.99 a carton, but it goes
for awhile. Doesn’t have all the
additives, sugar etc. in
Whole Foods, has the cheapest non-hormone/antibiotic (though not organic) eggs around at $1.75 for large. Standard supermarket eggs are from factory farms and are swarming with toxins. I do all my cooking with extra virgin olive oil. Again, more expensive, but other oils, especially cottonseed, are very polluted, and also release really nasty toxins when heated to high temperatures. Cheapest sources – Ocean State Job Lot usually has some on sale, as low as $2.99-$3.99 for a large bottle, otherwise Whole Foods at $5.99. The latter is also cheapest for tofu, usually about $1.29. For soups, since I try to avoid cans and I also read labels, I stock up on Fantastic Foods dried versions like black bean, lentil, green pea – often 99¢ on sale. I also make home-made chicken, lentil or pea soup.
Grains: Only whole grain everything – during my hypoglycemic problem period (still occasional flare-ups), I learned that refined flour acts just like sugar in the body. That’s besides having most of the nutrition taken out of it. We get Hodgson Mill whole wheat spaghetti at Shaw’s, and used to buy the store brand quick brown rice at Shaw’s or Stop & Shop, but the price has gone up. We are currently using bulk brown rice from Whole Foods. That’s where my husband buys organic whole wheat flour with which to make bread in the breadmaker, usually only 49¢ to 69¢ cents a pound. I splurge occasionally on Whole Spelt bread at Whole Foods or The Baker sunflower seed bread at Stop & Shop, both expensive but yummy. We also use whole wheat couscous – now only available in a box at Whole Foods (used to be in the bulk bin). It cooks in five minutes.
Snacks & Drinks: I stopped buying chips at the supermarket because they are often made with cottonseed oil, a heavily pesticided and high saturated fat product. Whole Foods has good house brand veggie chips for $1.69, and cheese puffs at $1.29. My husband buys organic popping corn in their bulk bin, and makes great popcorn that I douse with olive oil and (what else), garlic powder. I have a sink and pitcher filter for water, and bring bottles of filtered or store-bought water with me wherever I go.
Other Considerations: Despite the relatively higher cost of many of these items, our grocery bills are low. Perhaps that’s because we don’t buy junk foods and sodas, and not a lot of meat. Actually, when the checkout price is high, it is usually because I’m buying vitamins and minerals. But I’ve dealt with a bunch of health problems with natural remedies, and that’s why the cost of my antioxidant vegetables and my supplements is a bargain. One other point at the checkout –the battle of the bags. Even if you recycle them, the 5 plastic bags into which they put your 4 items were made from petroleum and polluted during manufacture. I use them only for potentially messy items, and re-use for garbage. Someday I’ll remember to bring them to the store for carrying new purchases.
COOKWARE & STORAGE
My reading has convinced me to junk my aluminum pots. There is positive evidence that the aluminum leaches into your food, and studies that suggest links to Alzheimer’s and other conditions. Non-stick coatings also have some problems. So, we go with iron fry pans and stainless steel pots. Glass and ceramic are also good, as long as they are lead-free. Plastics leach into food, some (usually the softer ones) more than others. I haven’t yet had the time to research this, so we just try to minimize plastic use. This can actually save money – we store leftovers and some foods in emptied glass jars. We also microwave in the jars (metal lid off) or in glass or ceramic casserole dishes. We haven’t eliminated all plastic bags and wrapping and aluminum foil, but their use is increasingly rare at our house. My husband now transfers the milk after purchase from its plastic container to large glass apple juice bottles.
The list is pretty short. I live a hectic life, and grab quick solutions. I buy a natural and fragrance free or naturally scented (read labels!) dishwashing liquid at a natural food store. We haven’t been using our dishwasher lately – when we did we just bought a product at Whole Foods. (Seventh Generation brand has some good options, and they also have a Web site with non-toxic living info). I have sometimes used the ionizing laundry balls that don’t need detergent to get clothes clean. They work. There’s an enzyme you can use to boost them if needed. Currently we’re just using a fragrance-free detergent. For general cleaning, such as floors, I use vinegar. That’s right, plain old vinegar. For tougher jobs, there’s Bon Ami, the only non-chlorinated scouring powder found in supermarkets.
Chlorine is one of the most toxic chemicals there is, in many ways, and I strongly recommend avoiding it wherever possible. I’ve never used bleach anyway. To be honest, I avoid wearing white so I don’t have to deal with the problem. There are non-chlorinated options, but I’m not yet educated about them. Chlorine, by the way, is also a concern with paper products – they are bleached with it and dioxin is a very nasty by-product. So we recently started buying non-bleached paper towels and toilet tissue. The more I learn, the harder it is to say yes to the cheaper but more toxic products.
Drain cleaners recently became a major issue when our shower stall started backing up into the kitchen sink. We eventually had to get a plumber, but the problem was fixed without use of any toxic drain cleaners. In fact, they wouldn’t have helped, a snake and an understanding of where the plug was located was what was needed. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, not only do drain cleaners frequently not work, but they can collect and cause more problems. For less exotic problems than ours, a plunger often does the job. You can (and we really mean to get to this in future) do maintenance by pouring certain natural formulas down the drain periodically to keep it from clogging up. You can also – and we are doing this now – use good strainers in both sink and shower to keep out hair and other potential cloggers. Of course, we pour grease into a grease container instead of the sink. We keep it in the refrigerator until full, then put it in the garbage.
We’ve been pretty lucky where we live now – mostly just a couple of flour flies and the occasional ant or spider. The latter two I usually drown or squash. I feel a little bad about the spider, because I know they keep down other insects. But I have a rule – my territory, no intruders. I just don’t want to be surprised by anything crawling on me And I’ve no idea how to recognize if a spider is poisonous. If the ants ever got persistent, we’d follow their trail and use non-toxic caulk to shut them out.
We did have a problem in our bathroom window with carpenter ants last year. We finally put some boric acid (toxic if ingested but no fumes) and sugar in a little yogurt cup and stuck it between the screen and the glass. Haven’t seen anything living there in a long time. We intend, in order to avoid a recurrence, to try to caulk the entry points when we get a chance. As to the flour flies, the answer is the same as for cockroaches – batten down! Years ago, while living in NYC, where cockroaches are endemic (always coming in from the neighbors, of course!), I had a serious problem with them. I put everything into tightly closed containers or in the refrigerator, used a tightly closed garbage can, and the cockroaches did not show up any more.
I’m not sure exactly what odors people are so worried about that they rush out to buy “Air Freshener”. Except for when we sometimes burn something on the stove, our house doesn’t smell. Of course, we still keep garbage in a tightly closed container, and while we’re not the greatest on washing dishes right away, we don’t leave food out and we do rinse off the dishes and put them in the sink. In any case, “Air Freshener” is a real scam. It doesn’t “freshen” the air and it doesn’t purify it. It covers odors with perfume –largely composed of chemicals derived from petroleum. The other thing it may do is rather disgusting – some products deaden the nerves in your nose or coat the inside of your nose with oil so you can’t smell at all. We keep a fragrance free kitchen because, like increasingly larger numbers of people, I get very sick from the chemicals in the “fragrance”.
If you really want to clear the air, open a window, run a fan. Look up house plants that remove toxins and get a couple. Try an air cleaner (check to find out which kind is suited to the particular odors you’re concerned about). There is a mineral called zeolite which is said to absorb various fumes, including pet and food odors and some chemicals. Such odor-absorbing packets are sold through various catalogs, such as Gaiam, and some natural food stores. I am meaning to try one out, but I’ll probably have to ask a friend who has seven pets to do it, unless we burn a pot soon.
THE NON-TOXIC PERSON
In addition to avoiding toxins, it’s important to do positive things to build your immune system. Some of the foods and supplements I mentioned earlier, especially antioxidants, can help to fight the good fight within your body against all kinds of invaders, chemical or biological. I also helped bring myself back to health from being really sick at one point by cutting out sugar and getting daily exercise. Psychological factors and stress are also toxic to the human body. You are complex – and so is the way to good health.
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