I’m going to ShiftCon

Two weeks from today I’ll be in Los Angeles to attend the first ever ShiftCon — an eco-wellness social media conference. The focus of ShiftCon is health, wellness and the environment — three of my biggest passions! I wasn’t sure about going at first since I haven’t been as big a part of the blogging world as I used to be, but when a wait-list ticket opened up several weeks ago, I decided to throw caution to the wind and bought my ticket. Not only that, my husband Jody and I decided to make it into a short family vacation so the four of us are all heading to LA!

ShiftCon

I’m excited to participate in ShiftCon for many reasons including that some of my old blogging buddies will be there and especially because the focus is on topics that mean so much to me. “ShiftCon was created to give wellness and eco-friendly bloggers a place to network, share ideas, learn from experts, empower one another and organize their efforts into activism.” In addition to great content, inspirational speakers and health-conscious brands and sponsors, the food provided will be organic and/or GMO-free. How can I not get excited about that?!

Some of the workshops I’m particularly interested in include:

  • Living the Waste-free and Plastic-Free Life
  • The Future of Labeling GMOs
  • Real Food on a Budget
  • Pesticides — What You Need to Know
  • Why Are We So Allergic?

I’m sure I’ll be Tweeting and/or posting on Facebook about what I learn at the conference and plan to blog about it after the fact as well.

Are you going to ShiftCon? Let me know if I’ll see you there!

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The Importance of Breastfeeding in Natural Disasters: a recycled post

This post originally appeared on my blog on May 28, 2008. I am reposting it here today as a reminder of the important role breastfeeding plays in the event of a natural disaster. Whether it’s Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Chinese earthquake in 2008, the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the Japan tsunami in 2011, etc., breastfeeding during a disaster can save lives.

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May 28, 2008

By now many of you have probably read about police officer Jiang Xiaojuan of China who became a national, and then international, hero practically over night. After the devastating Chinese earthquake on May 12, the 29 year-old mother of a 6-month-old son, was called to duty. What she encountered when she reported for duty was babies crying in hunger and that’s when her maternal instincts kicked in. Jiang breast-fed the infants separated from their mothers or orphaned from the earthquake, at one point breast-feeding nine babies.

Jiang Xiaojuan“I am breast-feeding, so I can feed babies. I didn’t think of it much,” she said. “It is a mother’s reaction and a basic duty as a police officer to help.”

Jiang doesn’t believe what she did was noteworthy. “I think what I did was normal,” she said. “In a quake zone, many people do things for others. This was a small thing, not worth mentioning.” The local media, however, named her “China’s Mother No. 1” and there are many others around the world praising her efforts as well.

On MOMformation at BabyCenter, Betsy Shaw wrote:

It’s stories like these, stories of ordinary people performing extraordinary, selfless acts in times of tragedy, that make all this bad news just a little bit easier to digest. They also make me proud to be a mom.

Would you do, could you, do the same if you were in a similar situation: lactating in the presence of many hungry babies?

Of the 73 responses there, the vast majority said they would do the same and breastfeed another woman’s baby, though interestingly enough, many also said they would not want a woman they did not know breastfeeding their own child.

A few of the people who commented at BabyCenter, as well as one at Milliner’s Dream expressed their concern about the possible transmission of HIV/AIDS through breast milk. There is conflicting information on what the risk of infection is if the woman is HIV positive, but, as another commenter at Milliner’s Dream noted, Jiang would have likely known her HIV status having just recently given birth 6 month ago.

Over on Broadsheet on Salon.com Jiang was named “Hero of the Day.” Sarah Hepola says:

As the death toll soars past 50,000, it’s nice to have a little good news to celebrate. You can remember Jiang next time someone complains about the evils of women popping out their boobs in public.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes at The Moderate Voice found the story to be “beautiful” and said:

Most every night, I stay up late-late, long after everyone else is sleeping. I fly over the internet, looking, looking, trying to find something beautiful or restorative to share with you here at TMV, so either you go to sleep with a beautiful idea or image, or wake up with one.

Tonight, finding something beautiful in this wide and groaning world, was easy. Because there is Jiang Xiaojuan, a young provincial policewoman.

She went on to add:

As a mother who nursed til her offspring was practically old enough to go to school, and as the mother of a grown daughter who while nursing her own child also gave her nourishing milk to my ailing elderly father (expressed, not nursed), I feel certain we stand with many mothers worldwide who salute Jiang Xiaojuan profoundly.

It’s a mystery women don’t often speak of publicly, what it’s like to nourish another human being or many from one’s own blood and bones. It is, one of the greatest honors in the world.

I think, despite the restrictive and suspicious regime of China, it’s people like Jiang who really represent the true spirit of modern China, the compassionate soul.

Tonight, it was easy to find a beautiful story to tell you. I would that it were as easy on all other nights too.

It is stories like these of this selfless mother that remind us not only of the power of human kindness, but also how important breastfeeding can be in an emergency or natural disaster.

Melissa Kotlen Nagin notes on the Breastfeeding Blog on About.com:

Unfortunately, natural disasters are out of our control, but women like Officer Xiaojuan remind us about yet another important benefit of breastfeeding. We’re typically so focused on the health benefits and lose sight of the bigger picture. Here is the International Lactation Consultant Association’s position paper on Infant Feeding in Emergencies, which is a wonderful resource.

Tanya at The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog recently wrote a post dispelling some myths about breastfeeding in emergencies. She also shares:

In a disaster such as the one in Burma, breastfeeding can be a life-saving act. Why? In emergencies f*rmula is often not available. If it is available, water supplies are often compromised. F*rmula mixed with contaminated water can cause diarrhea and dehydration, which can quickly become life-threatening to infants. Power to sterilize and refrigerate f*rmula is also often not available.

Sometimes, well meaning humanitarian efforts result in such an influx of f*rmula that efforts to protect and support breastfeeding are disrupted. This is such a concern that in 1994 the World Health Organization adopted the following policy, urging member states to “exercise extreme caution when planning, implementing, or supporting emergency relief operations, by protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding for infants,” and to ensure that f*rmula is distributed only under specific conditions.

We often like to think of ourselves as untouchable here in the United States, but Hurricane Katrina was just three short years ago and was another instance where breastfeeding saved lives. From an open letter to health care providers attending to families affected by Hurricane Katrina: The Role of Human Milk and Breastfeeding:

Human milk is a valuable resource that can not only protect the vulnerable infant from disease, but can also promote psychological health and comfort during stressful times. Human milk reduces pain and promotes more rapid healing after injuries and infections. While maternal health is of great importance, it should be recognized that even the malnourished mother will produce milk of good quality for her infant.

To learn more about the important role breastfeeding plays in emergencies, please visit the links below.

I will close by adding that I think what Jiang did was amazing and I’m so glad to see breastfeeding receiving such positive attention. I hope she has already been reunited with her son (that relatives were caring for) or will be soon and that her breastfeeding relationship with him can continue to thrive.

And lastly, just a friendly reminder that BlogHers Act/Global Giving is continuing to accept donations for the Chinese earthquake victims as well as other maternal health causes.

More information:
Keep Abreast – Breastfeeding ensures survival in a disaster
Black Breastfeeding Blog – Breastfeeding Saves Babies During Natural Disasters
La Leche League International – Keep Breastfeeding: Supporting Mothers After Natural Disasters
KellyMom – Infant Feeding In Emergencies

One more important breastfeeding note – The Food and Drug Administration on Friday warned women not to use or purchase Mommy’s Bliss Nipple Cream, marketed by MOM Enterprises Inc. of San Rafael, California.

The cream, promoted to nursing mothers to help soothe dry or cracked nipples, contains ingredients that may cause respiratory distress, vomiting and diarrhea in infants, the agency said.

Mothers whose children may have suffered adverse effects because of this product should contact the FDA’s MedWatch at 800-332-1088. – CNN report

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Plastic Wrapped Bananas: Guest Post

I’ve decided to take a little break from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but wanted to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. I asked for help and my tribe answered my call, so for a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

Today’s guest post comes from Amy who blogs at An Aussie Mum’s Guide to Eco Friendly Babies.

Plastic Wrapped Bananas. Yes, I’m Serious!

Despite so many people attempting to make a difference for the better, some companies have other ideas. Del Monte have bought out a range of plastic wrapped bananas — to save the environment. Say what? Yes, they claim that the plastic wrapping on the bananas in plastic is “...Designed to provide significant carbon footprint savings by reducing the frequency of deliveries and the amount of waste going to landfill. The packaging is also recyclable.

Looking at the company website suggests the packaged bananas are going into vending machines and convenience stores and will potentially make it easier for people to grab a healthy snack on the go. Surely, there is a better option than non-biodegradable plastic? Even here is Australia, where life is a little slower and so much of the land is still pristine, we are succumbing to the mantra of ‘buy, use, discard’. You can buy ‘healthy’ apple slices from McDonalds- packaged in plastic and dipped in some foul tasting substance to stop browning. Wouldn’t it be cheaper (and eco-friendlier) just to use a whole, unpackaged, untreated apple? There is also the prevalence of cut and packaged vegetables in the supermarkets- celery, carrots, gourmet tomatoes, Asian vegetable mixes and pre-made salads. Are people so inept in the kitchen these days they can’t slice celery? Is there some sort of social benefit to saying “Look, these are upper-class Tomatoes- they come in a packet!”

It’s not just food. If you buy a toaster, you get a whole bunch of Styrofoam, plastic, tie-wires, bubble wrap, warranty cards, brochures for other products (want to buy a coffee machine with that toaster?) and instructions that are 18 pages long because they are in 7 different languages. Retailers receive deliveries that are in boxes three times the needed size and packed with plastic and puffed rice, and usually yet another copy of this months deals (you know, the ones that were sent in the mail, and with the last four orders). The bank who offers e-statements to save paper sends you a quarterly offer for insurance that you already have. In a world where email is so quick and easy, where technology is so advanced, why can’t we start using it for something good? We could email statements, bills, special offers and all the other rubbish that comes through the mail. We can come up with biodegradable, renewal, ecologically sound packaging, or just use some sense and pack smaller and transport less.

Can a single person make a difference? I like to believe so. We can email companies like Del Monte, asking them to come up with a better solution. We can tell suppliers that unless they pack smarter, we will no longer buy from them. We can pressure our schools and encourage our workplaces to adopt ‘nude food’ policies. We can slice our own celery and not buy food with unnecessary wrapping, packagings and labels. We can reduce, reuse, recycle and above all, teach our kids to do the same. After all, it may be one of our kids who eventually heads up a company like Del Monte and finally makes a change… for the better.

Photo credit: Friends Eat

Amy is a working mum of two from Australia. Between her kids (who are nine years apart) she’s been working in the natural health industry, which has opened her eyes to the down side of many aspects of modern life. Since having a new baby she started a journey to find a more natural, holistic way of living. Amy wants to share what she finds with other mums who are looking to change their way of thinking and have happier, healthier, more eco-friendly lives! She blogs at An Aussie Mum’s Guide to Eco Friendly Babies.

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Growing meat in a lab to solve the global food crisis?!

Thanks to a scientist in South Carolina, we may soon have something more disturbing to worry about than the recent deregulation of genetically modified alfalfa and the genetically modified fruits and veggies that are increasingly common in the average American’s diet.

drumroll please

Meat that has been created in a laboratory!

Vladimir Mironov — a scientist working for the past 10 years on bioengineering “cultured” meat — thinks meat made in a lab could solve the future world food crisis that’s resulting from diminished land to grow meat the “old-fashioned way.”

Or. Hmmm. I have an idea that could help solve the food crisis. Let’s just stop eating so much meat! Or we could start eating bugs, which are apparently “good to eat and better for the environment.” Um, yeah. Let’s just stick to eating less meat.

Nicolas Genovese — a visiting scholar in cancer cell biology working under a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals three-year grant to run Dr. Mironov’s meat-growing lab — said, “There’s a yuck factor when people find out meat is grown in a lab. They don’t like to associate technology with food. But there are a lot of products that we eat today that are considered natural that are produced in a similar manner.” Genovese references yogurt as well as wine and beer production.

I’m not sure how one can compare yogurt, which is bacterial fermentation of milk — not to mention something I can make in my own kitchen — with bioengineered meat currently created in a lab.

On one hand, we have milk and cultured yeast, which can easily be made into yogurt in your crock pot in your own home — something I’ve done on several occasions. On the other hand, we have meat that comes from a once living, breathing animal. Yet instead of getting it from an animal, we’re talking about creating it in a “carnery.” If Mironov gets his way, he envisions “football field-sized buildings filled with large bioreactors, or bioreactors the size of a coffee machine in grocery stores, to manufacture what he calls ‘charlem’ — ‘Charleston engineered meat.'”

How are these AT ALL the same?

There’s so much that concerns me about all of this, but especially Mironov’s statement, “Genetically modified food is already normal practice and nobody dies.”

Nobody dies. Is that all that matters — that nobody dies? And who’s to say GM food isn’t killing us slowly? How long have we been guinea pigs eating GM foods? Are there any long-term health studies? Considering it has only been available in the United States since the 1990s, I would venture to guess no, though please correct me if I’m wrong.

Linda Johnson — a naturopathic doctor in New Mexico — speaks to the possible issues of consuming GMO food. She points out:

90% of all corn planted in the U.S. is genetically modified. This corn seed is specially made by Monsanto and engineered to ward off root worm by producing its own pesticide, which you then consume.

So you say you don’t eat corn? If you eat animals that eat corn and they managed to force this food on them, you are eating GM food. Specific animal studies showed that when rats were fed this corn, they developed many reactions that included anemia, increased blood sugar levels, kidney inflammation, blood pressure issues, increased white blood cells and more.

It’s very likely these health problems are affecting humans as well. Since the FDA doesn’t think GM food need to be examined for humans to eat safely, it’s been on the market for a long time.

Johnson adds, “European countries feel there is something wrong with this manipulation of food and they don’t allow it in their countries.
… It is not known what the long-term ramifications of eating food daily that has been genetically modified. What are the damaging effects of a newborn ingesting nothing but formula made with GM ingredients? No one knows.”

So why do we allow it here in the United States?

What are your thoughts about lab meat? Would you eat it? Would you feed it to your kids? Do you think it’s the answer to the global food crisis? Are there positives to this I’m missing? Enlighten me, please.

Related articles:

Photo credit: Yo My Got

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Common ingredient in sunscreen the “asbestos of the future?”

I recently read about a new Swiss study claiming that the ingredient titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles — widely used as a white pigment in sunscreen, toothpaste and cosmetics — provokes similar inflammatory effects on the lungs as asbestos. Yes, that asbestos. The stuff that can cause serious illnesses, “including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma (a formerly rare cancer strongly associated with exposure to amphibole asbestos), and asbestosis (a type of pneumoconiosis).”

According to Jürg Tschopp, the lead researcher and professor of biochemistry at Lausanne University, “With titanium dioxide you accumulate, like asbestos, particles in the lung. You get chronic inflammation and this can last ten or 15 years and the next step is cancer.” Tschopp is concerned that nanoparticles could be the “asbestos of the future.” However, he also admitted in his findings that he would not immediately stop using sunscreen and toothpaste, but believes more caution and regulation are needed.

This begs the question: do you take the risk of avoiding sunscreen and exposing your skin to cancer-causing ultraviolet rays or do you use the sunscreen and risk the exposure to chemicals that may give you cancer anyway?

Huma Khamis of the consumer association of western Switzerland calls the sunscreen dilemma “a big problem,” but states “the immediate risks of not using cream [sunscreen] and sunbathing are greater than those of exposure to products containing titanium dioxide nanoparticles.”

Yet this isn’t the first time an ingredient in sunscreen has been called into question. I wrote about the chemical oxybenzone nearly three years ago. Oxybenzone — one of the commonly used ingredients in most sunscreens — has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage. It is also a “penetration enhancer, a chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin.”

The primary sunscreen I’ve been using on my kids for the past several years — California Baby — does not contain oxybenzone and even tested quite well on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database. However when I rechecked the ingredients I noticed titanium dioxide was listed; although it did not specify whether the TiO2 was the suspect nanoparticles or not. At first I freaked out thinking I’ve been putting something potentially cancer-causing on my kids, but after asking a few Twitter friends (@YourOrganicLife and @ErinEly) their opinion, I decided to contact the company directly. I received an automated response indicating that “California Baby utilizes coated micronized titanium dioxide (TiO2 for short) as the active ingredient for our sunscreens.” I believe that means it is not nanoparticles, but I’ve asked for clarification from California Baby just to be sure (and will update here when I hear back from them).

I do my best to make informed choices regarding my kids’ health and safety. However, I’m not a chemist or a physicist and I can’t test every chemical out there. I have to rely upon others (the government?) to test for X, Y, and Z’s chemical safety, but it seems all too often that chemicals are assumed to be safe until proven otherwise. I don’t like to think of my kids (or anyone’s children for that matter) being used as guinea pigs and I don’t think it’s too much to ask that products and chemicals are tested before they are available for mass consumption. Do you?

Where does this leave me? I’ll stick to trying to limit our exposure to the sun during peak hours for starters. I already tend to do that, but this is a good reminder to continue. I may avoid sunscreen containing titanium dioxide all together and only purchase sunscreen in which zinc oxide is the active ingredient. (Badger makes a good one that I’ve used on my kids in the past.) Of course, we’ll continue to wear our hats and sunglasses — the kids’ eye doctor just reminded me about how important that is — as much as possible outdoors. Another thing I plan to do is buy some sun-protective swimwear for when summer rolls around again. The less exposed skin, the better.

Lastly, I will hope that testing will continue on the various chemicals in sunscreen, cosmetics and everything else we rely on both for ourselves and our children on a regular basis. I will sign petitions. I will blog. I will raise awareness.

Safe Sun Tips

  • Minimize sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the greatest amount of ultraviolet light exists.
  • Wear Hats. Each inch of hat brim can lower your lifetime risk of skin cancer by 10%. A hat brim of four inches or greater is recommended.
  • Wear UV-blocking clothing.
  • Wear protective eyewear. Sunglasses with UV-blocking filters are very important.

Related links:

Photo credit: Flickr Noodle93

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Nothing says Merry Christmas quite like Lead Poisoning

When you think of the holiday season, what comes to mind?

Family? Friends? Christmas trees? Decorations? Presents? Candles? Food? Mistletoe?
How about lead, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other toxins?

In Danika Carter’s post All I want for Christmas is Lead-free Decorations, she points out that most artificial Christmas trees are made from PVC (vinyl) and the many problems associated with PVC.

• It off gasses
• contains phthalates
• breaks down in heat and sun
• contains lead which becomes lead dust and spreads throughout your home
• Doesn’t biodegrade and is difficult to recycle

This is one of the reasons we are opting for a real tree this year (which we are finally going to get tomorrow – can’t wait!). :)

Danika also points out that reports have shown that “the cords on most holiday lights contain lead at higher levels that what is allowable for toys.” A Michigan-based group called The Ecology Center tested 68 light sets and found four out of five of those sets contained detectable levels of lead.

While most people don’t stick electrical cords in their mouths, they do touch them with their hands (and then touch food or their faces?) and all of the twisting and turning the cords while wrapping them around the tree or — in my house, the banister — can lead to lead dust in the air.

Lead is a potent poison that can affect individuals at any age. Children with developing bodies are especially vulnerable because their rapidly developing nervous systems are particularly sensitive to the effects of lead. Exposure to lead can have a wide range of effects on a child’s development and behavior. Even when exposed to small amounts of lead levels, children may appear inattentive, hyperactive and irritable. Children with greater lead levels may also have problems with learning and reading, delayed growth and hearing loss. At high levels, lead can cause permanent brain damage and even death.

To avoid possible lead contamination, it is advised that people either wear gloves when handling holiday lights or wash their hands afterward. I’m not sure what you can do about the possible lead dust in the air other than avoid strands of lights that contain lead in the first place. Or just don’t decorate at all. Yeah, bah humbug and all of that. :P

Actually, Alicia from The Soft Landing had some tips for safer holiday lights. “As we discussed in a recent article, locating PVC-free and lead-free light strings proved impossible, so your best bet is to focused on tracking down RoHS compliant products. We found Environmental Lights to be an invaluable source of well-researched options and SAFbaby also confirmed that Ikea offers safer light strands as well.”

Also, word to the wise… Definitely don’t let your 6-month-old sit on the floor surrounded by lights (which she grabs with her hot little hands) so you can take some cute pictures. Uh, yeah, I totally did that when Ava was a baby. Crappy parent award right here! Holla! Ugh.

There is more information available from HealthyStuff.org about the Lead and Holiday Lights studies.

Are you concerned about lead exposure from your tree and/or lights? What changes might you try to make to avoid it?

I’m rethinking my decision to wrap our banister in lights and garland this year. Sure it looks pretty, but when my kids touch it nearly every time they come down the stairs, that ain’t cool, people. That ain’t cool. Maybe I’ll have them wear gloves in the house? Or not. :P Next year I think we will only have lights on the tree in the house. Any other lighted decorations will be outside only. At least that will minimize our exposure a bit. I’m also trying to have my kids wash their hands whenever they handle any lights and cords this year (which is so much better than throwing them into a pile of lights, don’t you think?). ;) Live and learn and then learn some more.

While we’re on the subject of the holidays and learning, don’t forget that you can give your Facebook friends The Gift of Green this holiday season by checking out the One Million Acts of Green Facebook Application. The app allows you to pledge to complete an act of green and posts a cute e-card to your Facebook friend’s wall, perhaps inspiring them to complete an Act of Green too! No worries about lead with One Million Acts of Green. Just good clean, green fun. :)

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation. See what the other ambassadors have to say about One Million Acts of Green: Green and Clean MomGreen Your Décor and Condo Blues.

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