A lot more careful

There's something I've been wanting to talk with you all about for a while. When I first started this blog, local was my bottom line. I often asked questions—questions about how meat animals were raised, about whether or not apples were sprayed, about pasteurization and pastured cheese. But not always. Local was the most important thing to me, and in the interest of keeping things close to home, I was willing to let a few concerns slide.

When I got pregnant with Sally, that started to change. I read a book—an amazing, fantastic book called Real Food for Mothers and Babies by Nina Planck—a book that I simply cannot say enough good things about. Most of the recommendations I was aware of and followed loosely already: eat meat raised without hormones and anti-biotics and on pasture, the same for dairy. Choose real, old-fashioned, traditional foods over anything processed, and make sure to get plenty of fruits and vegetables. Steer clear of pesticides, go for whole grains. We've all read this a hundred times, and for the most part, I was doing pretty well.

But the way Nina wrote it and the fact that there was now a passenger growing along with me made me ask a lot more questions. The book is filled with research about what, specifically, these good foods do for you and your baby—your health and fertility and their mental and physical development in the womb, while nursing, and beyond. 

The way I shopped and the depth of my questions started to change. In some ways, it felt kind of silly. I spent a whole week researching milk (you can read more about what I learned over here in an article I wrote for Edible Vineyard) and another afternoon trying to find a better butter (we eventually settled on this). I started looking at the little things, the things that seemed too hard to find or too trivial to worry about before—organic beer and wine, organic chocolate, organic nuts, organic olives or hot sauce or whatever other little numbers we had stored in the door of the fridge. 

At the farmers' market, I got pickier and ever more curious. I started avoiding things like conventional corn and potatoes and berries. When I couldn't find enough organic fruit to satisfy our growing appetite, I went to Hatch's or the Orleans Whole Food Store or Phoenix Fruit to supplement. I had what Alex labeled The Great Plastic Freak Out and got rid of just about every plastic cooking utensil, water bottle, and food container in our house. I bought glass water bottles and baby bottles and boxes for leftovers

I started eating salmon—a fish I had avoided for years because it is not local, not even close—but the nutrients in a wild fillet were too good to pass up for a baby's brain. I ate more local seafood than ever, anything wild and fresh and prepared simply. I switched from kosher salt to unrefined sea salt, and I started replacing our spices as they ran out with organic versions. I got more careful about soaps and shampoos, switched over from lotion to coconut oil for moisturizing, invested in a few key pieces of natural make-up after a talk by my friend Jessa

In short, I got a lot more careful. Sometimes I feel silly about it, but then I read articles like this. It's a good reminder that there are a lot of questions to ask, and that if you're the person doing the growing and shopping for yourself or your family, you need to be the one asking them. 

Local is still my ideal—to buy something that comes from my community, from a person I know and trust. But I want eggs from chickens let loose on pasture and organic apples. And when I can't find them locally, I am willing to look further afield. 

Do any of you struggle with this? I really want to hear your thoughts. It's getting easier, certainly, to find more and more options as the local food movement grows, but I'm curious. What's your balance? What foods are most important to you to buy locally, and which ones (if any) do you avoid? Where do you draw the line? 


SisterX_83 said...

It's so nice to hear that someone else struggles with this. I don't have kids yet, but I know that we'll start trying in the next year or two so I'm trying to be as prepared as I can be. Living in Alaska we often only have one or two choices for local, and it's hard to find information on them. For instance: milk. It's not organic, and I don't really know how they raise their cows. So I buy it for now, because there are no little ones to be concerned about and I want to support the local industry. But that may change in the future. I generally choose local when I can find it, because I know that most local food producers are committed to organic principles, even when they're not certified organic. But I'm with you: having a baby changes everything, especially how you view food.

Vanessa said...

I struggle with this too. You can seriously make yourself insane if you think about every single thing you buy, or put in your mouth. As it becomes more and more important, you get more and more careful.

I too focus on local, and living in the fertile region of Pennsylvania I have a ton of options when it comes to produce, meat and dairy. Many things aren't certified organic, but follow organic practices none the less. I do try to make better choices, and add and swap out new things all the time, but I also cut myself some slack. I know that I eat MUCH better than most, and that many of these things that are bad for you are only so if you eat them frequently over long periods of time.

It does scare my how many things that are out there that are deemed "safe" without any sort of testing. I am leery of any processed foods, and try to eat whole foods whenever possible. It's a daily struggle that make small progress on all the time.

Elspeth said...

Vanessa, I like the way you call it small progress. That is how I try to look at it too, and I feel like we're far from perfect but get better all the time.

And SisterX, I hear you! I can imagine that the choices are somewhat more limited in a place like Alaska...whenever I hear about farmers markets in places like California, I get a little jealous!

But there are ever-increasing options, and as long as we stay aware I figure that's the best we can do.

Thank you both for chiming in—it's good to hear that I'm not alone in this!

Rachelle said...

My sister-in-law and I have been struggling with this. We share a family garden pesticide and herbicide-free on land that has lain fallow for a number of years. Local is not enough, organic is not enough. Organic certification is a joke if you start asking the important questions. We all need to ask tough questions. She is gluten-intolerant also, so it raises the bar even higher. Things we always assumed were safe are not, and there isn't enough noise made about it (Teflon-coated pans!). The last few years I cook from scratch, it drives my teenage son crazy I know. The whole GMO-crops thing scares me with its far-reaching ramifications. I'm not sure we can feed our world populations on what we can grow properly. What is the end game move here?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post and something a lot of moms find they tackle. It's a lot to tackle when you are a new mom or newly pregnant. Most of us don't have the experience and network you already have, so it can feel overwhelming- or one can wonder how much difference the extra work (or money) makes. I found like-minded parental support in our local (S Shore) Attachment Parenting discussion board and Holistic Moms Network, and La Leche League. It was certainly helpful to have the support.

I changed to homemade household cleaning supplies, joined a CSA, and buy almost all local or organic and tossed most of the plastic (Love how your husband described it(-; My oldest is almost 8 and I'll continue to tweak things and improve and also sometimes relax about things. But I reserve the right to have a freak out about something and change things up, too.

I was wondering if you are planning on adding raw milk back into your routine?
I started a coop while I was still nursing my youngest and did give (home pasteurized raw milk) yogurt to her when she was 9 or so months old (and older brother). Some of the parents I know did choose to drink raw milk during pregnancy although, I think I would have erred on the side of caution as you did. I can't remember when my youngest started drinking raw milk- but it was probably a little bit around a year, even though we were still nursing. We moved and now I'm starting to miss it and think about adding it back.

Just wondering if you had done any research about this and how you would (if you would, or why you wouldn't) introduce it to children.

Thanks for your blogging!


Elspeth said...

Hi Rachelle,

I agree with you that we need to be asking tough questions. And I was appalled by some of the pesticide statistics on www.whatsonmyfood.org—fascinated, but appalled. The amount of chemicals in our groundwater and even on some of the organic foods is scary.

And Jess, two things. First, I want to hear more about your homemade cleaning supplies! What do you make? And how? Would you be interested in doing a guest post on that one day? I think a lot of people would be interested.

As for the raw milk, we rejoined our coop about 2 months ago. I would have done it earlier but I was just not organized enough right after Sally was born, and I also wasn't ready to tackle the drive yet (we each have to go once every few months to the farm, which is in Dartmouth). Now that we're on our feet we are loving being a part of it again, and I've found we're drinking twice as much milk as we were before Sally was born. She isn't even on solids yet—I'm not planning to start until after 6 months—but once we do, I'd have no qualms about giving her raw milk yogurt and cheeses. And whenever we move toward weaning (I have no idea yet when that will be!), I'll definitely offer her raw milk. I really trust the farm our milk comes from and it tastes delicious, and while there is always a risk, I think it's much smaller than the risks that come with conventional milk. I hope that helps.

Keep the conversation coming—I am so interested to hear everyone's points of view.

All the best,

Anonymous said...

I try to buy as much local food as possible. For me it's easier than others because I live in Pennsylvania. I belong to a buying club and also shop at the farmer's market for meat, dairy and produce. But to buy products that aren't in season or that Pennsylvania doesn't produce, I shop online directly form the source, or at a local specialty store.

Anonymous said...

Thank you-- I pretty much just took my ideas from online and anything I could come up with would probably be a poor replica of what is already out there.

My only tip is to just switch one thing as you run out at a time to a green cleaner or homemade. I do have a backup of green products so that my dh has that option. The following things I figured out over about a year- just switching as I needed

This has recipes
So does Martha

My own recipe is 1/2 water 1/2 vinegar and about 20 drops of essential oils -- I did start with just peppermint because I love the smell. I use it as an all purpose cleaner, for glass, surfaces, for cleaning up after potty training back when we were doing that(-; and sometimes to spray down the shower after showers (shower spray?)
There's all sorts of fun you can have with essential oils (the Thieves oil recipe is intriguing to me).

For some surfaces you would want to rinse off since the vinegar could cause corrosion- but I think the dilution takes care of that- I've only heard people have problems when using straight vinegar.

If you sprinkle on baking soda over your surface and then spray the vinegar solution you will get a fizzy slightly abrasive cleaner that does a good job in the bathroom and kitchen. Plus the bubbling and fizzes do make the chore a little more fun.

Anonymous said...

Hydrogen peroxide can be used as a relatively safe disinfectant rather than bleach. It has no odor and dissipates (but is something you have to keep out of reach of children). Vinegar is supposed to be good at killing 98+% of stuff.

I mop hardwood with a scented castille soap and warm water using my old prefold diapers--- they are great for cleaning- super soft and absorbant. The thin ones can be used with the older mop swiffers (and I take a length of the Swiffer for the kids- so it is kids sized) My kids actually LOVE to help with this. I always forget that- I need to put that to use more often.

Rinsing with water after might be necessary for hardwood (frankly I don't mop often enough for the buildup to be a problem). Just a tiny bit of this $$ soap goes a long way (and we buy by the gallon through Frontier Wholesale- local buyers club)

I am careful with the vinegar because it can sting cuts and would not be good in eyes, but I don't have to worry about fumes or toxic buildup. The vinegar smell does come on strong for maybe 30 minutes- but it doesn't linger that long and you are left with a clean smell-- even no smell- and not the chemical smell that lingers at least a day. My dh has stopped complaining about it- because he did realize it does go away- but it was an adjustment at first.

I switched to a foamer for hand soap and use castille soap (you can find glass or stainless steel foamers- it's a little harder to find them. I do use plastic because of the frequency they might fall. I have reused foamers for more than a year before they break- they can be bought new- or I'll buy an organic hand soap foamer (they are usually really expensive) and reuse it.
You can sterilize (boil) the water (cool it before mixing) or use distilled water to make the foamer soap last even longer-- sometimes it get cloudy if you use regular water. About 1/4 castille and 3/4 water.

I use baking soda often for scrubbing pots. Either making a paste like scrubber (lightly wetting and sprinkling on some baking soda, scrubbing and then letting it set) or just putting some in my leftover dish water to let a pot set.
I upcycle plastic parmesan cheese sprinkle containers for my baking soda. Keep one by the sink and a few with my cleaning supplies. Works good for sprinkling on rugs or furniture and I've seen recipes using essential oils in baking soda for a rug powder- pet deodorizer, etc..

For laundry- there are homemade recipes for laundry soap or you can try soapberries--- Dan and Janice are great local resources for that! http://www.soberryclean.com/

I'm looking for a good natural bar soap I can keep near the hamper to pre-treat any light stains. It does seem to help when I do that.

Hope that helps! I wish I could find the blogs I used before, but it is so long ago they probably just don't come up. Googling "DIY green clean" "green cleaning recipes" and similar does give enough for people to start.


Patty said...

I think I'm probably older than most of you; anyway my kids are grown and gone, so my concerns are a little different. I can remember when I was little and there wasn't really a lot of fresh produce available in grocery stores--at least not year round. We (my Mom) bought a lot of frozen veggies. I buy local a lot; I live in a place where I can get local natural meats, for instance, but price is a concern. We (mostly my Dad) grow a lot of veggies and we have eggs from our own chickens. I am still working on eating from my freezer (and home canned tomatoes), rather than grabbing something fresh from the grocery store that might be organic but not local. Yes, that might mean broccoli three times a week, or other repetition. Some variety is important, but I have a tendency to over-emphasize it and need to get used to eating a lot of whatever is available and best.

Jennifer said...

I enjoy your blog qutie a lot. I am a gardener by trade and I have one daughter who is almost 13years old. We are a no TV house, fresh organic local food, and I nursed her for two and a half years. No formula or juice ever. Now at 13 she has only had antibiotics once when she had Lyme Disease and could not walk from the pain and still has not started to menstruate.
Please extend nurse those babies. The bond and benefits are years in the coming. My daughter started food a bit after six months and just a little bit.
She is now a nationally ranked athlete.
We live in Central New Jersey close to the Sourland Mountains and are really blessed to be part of the Waldorf School of Princeton. Get close to community so that you feel supported. This movement is well into mainstream thinking at this point around here.
I am also a single mom. Keep your foods simple so that it is not so expensive to go organic and local. I cut out buying meat four years ago. Bottom line, find support with food, nursing and wholistic child rearing.

Adam W said...


These are relevant questions and I admire your ability to ask them, understanding that adaptability is key to your concerns.

I'm not sure local or organic are choices people often feel conflicted about making but there are impacts in electing to emphasize one or both

I'd have to say though that when our choices take us away from a localized model, (i.e. going further away to find an organic varietal) we often display a subtle self centrism-which isn't inherently bad-yet has consequences none the less. When making decisions about what benefits the individual we can ignore the impact on the commons, this is true in "conventional" agriculture just as it is in "organic"

We can more easily quantify how a conventionally grown apple impacts our health than when considering how shipping organically grown apples thousands of miles affects everyone's health. Perhaps the benefit of producing more of the organic apple for consumption outweighs the environmental and human health costs associated with making them accessible anywhere at any time. But then again, perhaps it does not.

I think the key here, and I mentioned it earlier, is adaptability. How can you change to reflect changing times, but also how can one liberate oneself from relying on a system that presents some sort of moral conflict every time a decision is made?

I don't expect you to start blowing your own glass baby bottles, but you get the idea.

Tara said...

This is a huge struggle for us. Even though there are now more choices than ever, the options where we live (for local AND organic) are pretty abysmal. We live in a very rural area where organic and diversified farming have been slow to catch on. We grow some of our own veggies, all our own poultry and eggs, and our own milk (goats). The rest we have to buy, and it sort of breaks down like this:

Meat is easy - we have a great source of natural/organic and local meat (4 miles away) and get everything from them except poultry. The only downside is that they don't do any cured meats at all. Produce - available, but very limited in scope. Usually not much variety, few suppliers and MAJOR driving distances to get it (as in, prohibitive). Dairy - same as produce. Any sort of dry goods, such as grains, spices, pastas, flours, staples, etc. - forget it. Same for condiments and "luxury" items - chocolate, coffee, beer, olives, etc. Good luck finding those at all.

In short, we find our options to be deeply lacking, but realized we couldn't make ourselves crazy over it, so we just do the best we can. We're expecting our first child in May, and it hasn't really changed any of our decisions. Not because we don't care, but because our options are still as poor as they ever were. Very often it's "conventional produce from far away" or "no produce at all". That's our reality.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Elspeth, I'm going to go out on a limb and represent the other side of this issue. In my real life as a journalist, I've written about contaminants and taken a good hard look at the science. The cold, hard truth is that there is very little evidence for harm from things like pesticide residues and industrial contaminants. What there is in abundance is fear.

It's natural to hate the idea that your food is contaminated, particularly when you're feeding a baby, but it's probably worth being aware that we, as humans, are hard-wired to respond disproportionately to threats like that. (There's a good piece in it here:
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/the-wages-of-eco-angst/#more-122041 )

There are two issues here. The first is that your anxiety may be doing you (and, even, Sally) more harm than the contaminants ever would. More importantly, though, following your instincts on this may lead, inadvertently, to a less safe decision. Raw milk is a good example. The health benefits are completely speculative (and the idea that babies of one species require the nutrients in a the milk of another species runs counter to everything we know about evolution), and the danger is very real. I know you trust your local dairy, but raw milk products are responsible for 60% of the dairy-related incidences of food poisoning, despite being only 1% of consumption. That's CDC data.

The first rule of toxicology is that the dose makes the poison. There is a dose of just about anything that's safe, and there's a dose of just about anything that's toxic. You can kill yourself with water, or carrots.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.

Elspeth said...

Jess, thank you. Those are all great tips! I have heard of the soap berries, and it's good to know there's a local source. Did you use them with diapers or just regular laundry?

And Adam, what an insightful comment. It does seem like a lot of times what's good for the community differs from what is best for the individual, or at least what might SEEM best. It leads to a lot of tough decisions, and I don't think anyone likes feeling like they're trapped in a system that presents as many moral conflicts as our current one does.

As a lot of commenters are pointing out, some places offer a lot more choices than others—making these conflicts tougher in some places than others. It's easy in a place where there are lots of choices that are local AND produced in a way that's sustainable and healthy for everyone. The more places we can create like this, I think, the better, and I think voting with your dollar helps.

Jennifer, I am planning on nursing for as long as Sally and I both want to. I have no idea what sort of a timeline that will take yet, but I am open to the fact that it may mean she's much older than the average baby when we stop. I agree with you that it's important. Kudos to you for making it 2 and 1/2 years!

And Tara, congratulations!! That is very exciting news. Even with all the hard choices, there is nothing better.

Thank you all, as always, for being here.

All the best,

Elspeth said...

Tamar, I like that you're out on a limb. It's always good to get another perspective! I certainly don't stay up nights worrying about this issue (nope, deadlines and a certain small someone take care of that), but I do think that certain things in a lot of foods—in particular, hormones—are downright creepy.

As for the milk, I actually am not in it for the raw so much as the pasture and the local. I like supporting a local farm, and I have yet to find any commercial milk produced in the northeast that is made from cows grazed entirely on pasture. Organic Valley is the best I've found, and they make their farmers sign a contract that the cows get a certain percentage—but nowhere close to what our farm does—of their diet from pasture/hay.

It's always a balancing act, though. Any changes we make around here happen gradually, as I agree that stress and worry are no good for anyone!

Teresa Parker said...

I'm inspired by your carefulness because I think there's something important about it, even for those of us who don't have a baby to feed.

I'm another one who doesn't want to grow more anxious and neurotic than I already am. And I believe that striving to get rid of all toxins and bacteria would be futile. And hell, I've even been systematically and (sort of) willingly infused with cytoxin and more by doctors, so I'm probably a lost cause as far as saving my own ass with this type of carefulness.

So what's important to me here is this. That you are young and you are questioning whether the world needs to be the way it is. And the corner of the world you've chosen to explore is not trivial: the way we live, consume, eat, farm... lots of things are built on this. I like that you are putting energy into finding a different way to live.

I'm not sure my future depends upon it. But I am pretty sure Sally's future does. And I'm absolutely convinced that taking the even longer view, the world's future does.

Stay the course, I say, even as you know that it matters not whether you eat cheez doodles and use ziplock bags now and then. What matters is the role of questioner and explorer that you are playing.

Elspeth said...

Teresa, you always say things just right. Thank you for that, and for sharing here. xo

Elspeth said...

I wanted to add a thought about raw milk from the other day. In thinking about the 60% statistic, I remembered something interesting from the research I did for my piece in Edible Vineyard.

I don't know what the adjusted percentage might be, but I do know that in several cases (including the 11 boy scouts who got sick in 1998 in Massachusetts) it's turned out that the raw milk that caused illnesses was in fact commercial raw milk intended for pasteurization, not raw milk produced and handled according to the much more stringent standards required for raw milk that is intended to be sold raw.

Not to start a raw milk debate—there is enough of that going on already!—but I think it's interesting to note.

Ann Tindell Keener said...

Yes! This is pretty difficult. I live in Tennessee, and it's fairly easy to get mostly everything I need from my neighbors. We've got organic wheat, cornmeal (ect), all the produce you'd ever need (with the exception of apples, but you learn to live without), milk, cheese, and meat, honey, and sorghum, as well as the occasional pecan. My rule is the think about the entire spectrum I'm affecting, and not only the health of my little ol' body. I try to think about how safe/healthy it was for the folks who produced whatever I'm consuming to make, be it shampoo, toothpaste, or rice; and also about the environment around me, and how long/far it took to get it to me. I think there is certainly a balance out there, and I'm not some kind of freak, I try to stay very modest, moderate, and considerate of the entire world around us. I slowly have given up lots of things in my life/diet without even noticing (I am very jealous of your proximity to the coast!). It also helps to have a really low income, as most of my budget goes only to the (organic) farmer's market, and I just make do with what I buy there, because I have no other choice.

leduesorelle said...

Thanks for bringing up this subject and so thoughtfully. Our diet is primarily local year-round, and haven't bought industrially produced meat for five years. The issue of locally raised but not organic is something we struggle with, and with increasing concern as GMO-contaminated feed becomes the standard. Knowing my farmers helps me to make the decision to choose their products, especially the ones striving to create a closed system, and feed their animals from their own land.

Elspeth said...


Lucky you! That sounds like heaven. It's like that where my parents live in Brunswick, Maine (where I grew up). They have a year round farmers market that's huge both summer and winter with everything you could want (within reason...it is Maine, after all!). Every time I visit I get so excited!

And I like the way you say the whole spectrum...that's so important to think about, and so central to the whole conflict.

and leduesorelle,

you're right. it's all about talking to the farmers' and being able to ask the questions—that is what i love about shopping locally, and a huge advantage. i often find that though local growers either don't have the time or the money or for whatever reason don't want to get certified organic, their growing practices are up to organic standards if not above them.

breakbread said...

I'm about balance or so I like to believe. I have to trust my farmer, as the USDA organic option around here is ridiculously priced. I grew alot of my own food this past season (and bought a generator to keep the deep freeze going when the Halloween storm hit) so I understand what it means to find variety in kale or chard three times a week. I have not mastered local grains - but I will make my own bread and try to use organic flour. Meat and dairy I'm able to choose local when I want. I do buy real Parmigiano Reggiano, French wine or fair-trade chocolate! It's part of my balance - or first aid kit! I don't impose local/organic on my son. He's 13 and he knows what I believe and what I make for dinner - he still loves some processed snacks and that consumption is OK, normal and talked about as moderation.

Bethany said...

Thanks for bringing this up, Elspeth. I've always believed in organic first, local second. I don't need to impress you with nasty facts about how food is raised in conventional operations, the research is easy to come by. I think I probably started producing so much of our own food "for the children" - first as fun projects and then as a way to satisfy our need for organic food. Producing meat, milk, eggs, fruits, vegetables, etc, etc that we have raised from scratch offers healthy labor, as well as healthy and delicious food. It is true small-scale local farmers often don't have the funds or know-how to get organic certification. This is where "know your farmer" comes in handy, and if you trust them you can find out what they are feeding livestock and how they are managing fields. I don't label my chickens' and ducks' eggs organic because I, like most backyard bird owners, feed my birds scraps on occasion from inorganic pizza crust from a local shop (for example.) On the other hand, when it comes to gardens I wouldn't touch inorganic fungicide, herbicide, insecticide or fertilizer with a 10-foot pole.
We also make cleaners (mostly H20, white vinegar, essential oils) or use Dr. Bronner's Sal's Suds.
Also, I find it depressing as a Cape Codder to consider the contamination of our seafood. I keep my kids away from heavy consumption of tuna during the season here, though I give in once in a while. There are some comments about our beloved blues over here: http://www.cleanoceanaction.org/index.php?id=118

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