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Or convert the Swiffer you already have into a non-toxic, planet-friendly option
Who hasn't had a Swiffer before? The promise of an easy-to-use and affordable sweeping, mopping and dusting solution is hard to say no to! While Swiffer products are quite convenient and user friendly, have you ever thought about how much trash those single-use pads generate and what toxic chemicals might be used in their cleaning solutions? Well we're here to give you the low down. If you already have a Swiffer, we have some tips on how to use your Swiffer in a more environmentally conscious way with non-toxic ingredients. And if you don't have one, but want some just as convenient recommendations on mopping and dusting we have you covered too.
Ever take a big whiff when you bust open your new package of refillable Swiffer wet pads? Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but those flowery and attractive smells contain fragrances and other harmful ingredients, which often carry phthalates, asthmagens (1) and other chemicals of concern. When these fragrance chemicals vaporize into your household, they can trigger asthma attacks, and aggravate sinus conditions; they can disrupt hormones, cause headaches, eyes, nose and throat irritation, and produce neurotoxic symptoms, like loss of coordination, and forgetfulness (2).
Other ingredients in Swiffer products have also been found to aid in developing resistance to antibiotics over time (3). This means that germs like bacteria and fungi start building the capacity to defeat the drugs that are designed to kill them. When this happens, this can require extended hospital stays, more follow-up visits to the doctor, and other costly and toxic treatment alternatives (4). It's not just humans that are impacted either, these products are also very toxic to aquatic animals (5,6). Makes us think twice about using them all around the house!
Not only is it a good idea to steer clear of these chemicals, but can we talk about the trash? Easy disposal of these toxic, non-biodegradable products, like the refill pads, has resulted in an exorbitant amount of unnecessary waste and has nearly destroyed our environment (7). Refillable Swiffer pads are made from polyester which is derived from fossil fuels (8), and are contributing to the degradation of our ecosystems and wildlife (9). These persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are harmful toxins that will continue to corrode our environment for centuries, as they occupy landfills and slowly leak toxins into soil and water over time (9). What a mess!
The good news is that there are simple alternative methods you can start using that are more protective of our health (and the planet's) well-being. Plus, since you don't have to purchase refill pads, they are great for your budget too. There are even easy hacks to turn the Swiffer product you already have into a non-toxic option.
Get a reusable washable microfiber pad and ditch the single-use ones. Microfibers are extremely effective at capturing germs and small particles (10). These microfiber mop pads work for both the Swiffer sweepers and WetJet. Here are some we like:
Just throw these reusable option into the washer after you're done using it and it's ready to be used the next time you need it. And if you want a completely free way to do this, you can even try using an old fuzzy sock and wrap that around the bottom of your WetJet and voila, you're all ready to start moppin'.
If you have an old washcloth you can also place that into the corners of the holes of your traditional Swiffer to secure the cloth. You'll want to make sure to dip the cloth into your cleaning solution before you attach it to the mop and/or you can add the cleaning solution to a spray bottle to spray the surface as well.
If you've got the Swiffer WetJet, make sure the refill bottle is thoroughly cleaned out with soap and water, then go ahead and add your preferred non-toxic cleaning solution. Here are our recommended non-toxic floor cleaners that are available in stores. But you can also create your own safe and effective floor cleaner with a couple of ingredients you may already have! Here are three options:
When the floors are really dirty use the liquid soap solution to really mop up that grime and dirt. If things have been more chill around the house, use the vinegar solution. We've heard that using the vinegar on hardwood floors is not a problem, but you should check what type of finish your floors have, and do a test sample somewhere out of sight just to be sure.
If you don't own a Swiffer, bless your heart. Here are our favorite Swiffer alternatives for getting your floor clean.
Spray mops are super convenient and easy to use on all types of floors, including hardwood and laminate flooring. Plus, no need for any buckets or wringing! Just add your washable/reusable microfiber mop pad and pre-made non-toxic floor cleaning solution to the dispenser and you are ready to have at it! When you're done, throw the reusable mop pad in the laundry machine.
Another green alternative you can use is a steam mop. Steam mops work by heating up the water to really high temperatures inside its chamber and dispensing it as steam, which is then dispersed through a cloth or pad. The steam helps to loosen up the dirt and grime from your floors, and the high temps help to kill germs and bacteria on hard surfaces. No harmful chemicals needed!
Steam mops are typically safe to use on vinyl, ceramic, and porcelain tile floors, but you may want to double check with your flooring brand to make sure using steam won't void your floor's warranty. You should also never use steam mops on any unsealed, peeling or unfinished floors, and although manufacturers claim it is safe to do so, use caution with any wood or laminate flooring.
How about a mop that just simply does the work for you? There are now electric mops that are similar to a commercial orbiter floor machine, but made for residential homes. The reusable and washable rotating mop pads clean your floor for you and all you have to do is guide them along the floors. You control the amount of cleaning solution by spraying as you go. To make this a healthy option, ditch the cleaning product that comes with it and use your own pre-made non-toxic floor cleaning product (either DIY or store bought).
Our last favorite mop is just a microfiber mop that is very similar to Swiffer, but that has a reusable microfiber mop pad. This mop can swivel in all directions and has an extendable sturdy handle. It can easily clean under furniture and clean baseboards. Pair this mop with a spray bottle that contains your favorite DIY or store bought non-toxic floor cleaner and you're good to go!
They won't break, look great, and are sure to be perfect for you outdoor gatherings
Updated for Summer 2022!
Getting ready for some outdoor parties and dining this summer? We sure are! If you're looking to spruce up your outdoor dining scene, you'll quickly see that most options are made of melamine. Even though melamine dishware doesn't look like plastic, melamine can leach into food after dishes are repeatedly microwaved or used to hold both hot and acidic foods (read this to learn why you might want to skip the melamine). So if melamine is out, and easy to break options like ceramic just don't work for you (children being children, slippery surfaces, clumsy grownups!), check out these stainless steel, enamelware, wood, and tempered glass options. Although we always recommend reusable, we included one disposable option too (without PFAS chemicals). These are our top picks for plastic-free outdoor dishware, serving bowls and platters, tumblers, and more. They are all light weight, hard to break, and will make your outdoor entertaining photos look on point. So pick up some of these plastic-free and melamine-free outdoor dishes and enjoy dining al fresco!
a) Corelle Terrazzo Plates
b) Crow Canyon Enamelware Stinson Dinner Plate
c) Bornn Multi-swirl Enamelware Bowl
d) Repurpose Compostable Plates
e) Oxo Good Grips 3 piece Stainless Steel Bowls
f) Golden Rabbit Enamelware Serving Platter
g) Lipper International Wood Serving Bowl
h) Stainless Steel Pint Cups
i) Stainless Steel Stemless Wine Cups
j) Falcon Enamelware Tumbler
k) Stainless Steel Hammered Water Pitcher
l) Stanley Classic Easy-Pour Growler
*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.
Because it's grilling season
As the weather warms up, we want to spend as much time outdoors as possible. This means picnics, pool parties, and of course BBQs! We love a good barbecue because they're super fun, delicious, and a great way to cook and socialize at the same time. Plus there is less mess in the kitchen to clean up. But before you dust off your grill, check out our tips for a healthier BBQ that aren't just about what recipes to use. There are other aspects of health that go beyond just what ingredients you use.
To start, let's think about the actual grill. Because of the open flame, grills create some smoke. And while that's sometimes the point (hello smoked salmon), directly breathing in smoke usually isn't the best idea, especially for children and people with asthma. There are some things you can do to make your grilling a little less smokey, though. If you're in the market for a new grill or if you're looking to upgrade your current one, look for a gas grill. While they're not perfect, they produce less smoke than charcoal grills.
If you have a charcoal grill (or prefer that), cut off excess fat to lower the amount of dripping and risk for flare-ups (1). Also, cleaning your grill to remove the charred, stuck-on bits before you cook is good for reducing smoke. And in general, a clean grill is better for you. You should brush or scrape your grill every time you use it, and then do a deep cleaning a few times a year, depending on how often you use it.
Now let's get to the actual food and BBQing. Overcooking (or burning) the food raises the amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) on the food (2). These chemicals are what people talk about when they say that grilling food can make it more likely to cause cancer. But we have good news- you can dramatically lower the amount of PAHs and HCAs by marinating your meat before grilling it. It doesn't have to be marinated for a very long time (even 5 minutes of marination reduces PAHs and HCAs by as much as 92%), but the longer you marinate, the more flavorful the meat will be. Some research has shown that marinades with acid or oil are better than ones high in sugar (3). Additionally, tossing in some basil, mint, rosemary, oregano, or marjoram helps to reduce HCA levels because of their antioxidant properties (4). Easy peasy, and delicious!
After you are done wonderfully cooking your food, you don't want to taint it by putting the piping hot food on plates that could leach chemicals onto the food. Usually BBQs or cookouts are known for using plastic or paper plates for easy cleaning up. But, plastic plates can transfer some harmful chemicals to the food, and so can paper plates if they are made with oil- or water-resistant Teflon-like chemicals. Those water- and oil-proof property in PFAS chemicals (Teflon-like, also called 'forever chemicals'), can easily get into the food items that it touches and takes years to break down, both in your body and in the environment. The best option would be to use real ceramic plates or some of these safe outdoor dishes that you can wash after the party, or unlined paper or bamboo plates that are completely compostable without PFAS chemicals. Hey, if you are really going all out, why not just ditch the plate altogether and create less trash over all. Who really needs a plates for a hotdog and cupcakes anyway?
While this is less to do with the food, sunscreen and insect repellant are often popular for outdoor summertime events. While both have some pretty good benefits, like keeping you from getting burnt or covered in bites that can lead to various illnesses, some sunscreens and insect repellents contain pretty nasty chemicals. A good option is to wear long sleeve, lightweight shirts and pants that would protect you from both insects and sun. If that's just not seeming like an option for you, check out our roundup of safer sunscreen products. When it comes to bug repellant, that is more difficult and using a product with DEET, Picaridin, or IR3535 might still be your best bet. Some do find that oil of lemon eucalyptus (which is a particular active ingredient, different from lemon eucalyptus oil), can also be effective. You can read more about that in our insect repellant article.
The last tip relates to the decorations and activities at your BBQ. We recommend avoiding plastic and opting for reusable decorations when you can. Read more about ideas for throwing a party with less plastic. For items that are more common at a BBQ party near water, try games like corn hole or sharks and minnows. If you are more the type that likes to float around in the water, consider pool noodles instead of rafts and things. While slightly less instagramable or T-Swift inspired, foam noodles are safer than the plastic floats which are almost always made of PVC (which contains phthalates). Get creative for fun ways to play that don't require plastic toys.
1) Hall, McKenzie. Reduce your exposure to toxins from grilled meats. Chicago Tribune. July 2, 2014.
2) Chung SY, Yettella RR et al. Effects of grilling and roasting on the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in beef and pork. Food Chemistry. Volume 129, Issue 4, 15 December 2011, Pages 1420-1426.
3) Farhadian A, Abas F et al. Effects of marinating on the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (benzo[a]pyrene, benzo[b]fluoranthene and fluoranthene) in grilled beef meat. Food Control. 28(2):420–425, December 2012.
A healthier way to eat cake, drink beer, and celebrate
Parties are always great. You get to see friends, have a good time, and figure out how to eat delicious food off a paper plate while not spilling whatever may be in your cup. While the chips, cake, and booze may not be the healthiest, there are other things you might not be thinking about that harm our health. The biggest offender at parties usually is all the plastic. The plastic cups, the plastic utensils, the fun table cloths with Yoda's face on them are all made of plastic.
While there are many reasons to avoid plastic - it's not good for the world, it requires oil to make, it's hard to recycle if there has been food on it - one that people often don't usually think of is that single-use plastic can affect our health, both immediately and long term. The chemicals in the plastic cups, or even used to make paper cups and plates oil and water resistant, can easily seep into food and drinks. As it does that, it gets into our bodies as we consume the fun party foods and can interfere with the ways cells communicate with our bodies. This interference has been shown in various research projects to lead to things like obesity, fertility problems, temperature disregulation, and even cancers (1).
We are never going to be completely free from plastic. It's everywhere, and for certain things, it's really convenient and necessary. But, it isn't necessary as often as we normally use it. And, one way to lower the risk of health problems and send a message to companies that create unnecessary plastic waste at the same time is to buy and use fewer plastic products or products with excessive plastic packaging.With a few simple swaps, you can make the party healthier for your guests (and yourself) by limiting the amount of plastic you use:
Now that you are armed with tips, go party!
1) Mannikam M, Tracey R et al. Plastics Derived Endocrine Disruptors (BPA, DEHP and DBP) Induce Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance of Obesity, Reproductive Disease and Sperm Epimutations. PLOS One. January 24, 2013.
2) Responsible Purchasing Network/Center for Environmental Health. Webinar Slides: Toxic Chemicals in Disposable Food Service Ware. October 17, 2017.
Gourmet dinners with fresh veggies and no more plastic herb packets are in your future
What's better than having an indoor plant baby? How about one that gives you food? Since we are all spending more time at home these days and making less trips to the grocery store, it's a perfect time to try your hand at some indoor veggies that you can grow in your windowsill. Plus this is a great project to do with kids if you are homeschooling them due to COVID-19 school closures. Some ideas include helping plant and water the seeds, writing down weekly observations, measuring and drawing the vegetables as they grow, and finally learning to cook with them. Here are our suggestions for 9 veggies and herbs that are easy to grow inside and are useful to have on hand.
Not only is growing your own food a fun thing to do while sheltering in place, but it's also good for your health and the environment! Have you ever cooked a dish that calls for a sprig of thyme or a garnish of basil leaves and bought one of those plastic herb packets at the store, only to use a small bit and have the rest wasted? Well, both that plastic packaging and the wasted food is not great for climate change. Actually growing a bit of your own food is a great way to do your part against climate change and feel a connection to the food that we eat. Plus, it's just nice and calming to have plants to look at inside! So find a windowsill that gets at least a few hours of sunlight (south and west facing are the best), and you can order some seeds online and get started! Some of our favorite online seed suppliers are Johnny's Selected Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and High Mowing Organic Seeds.
Adding a few basil leaves to basically any pasta dish and many Asian dishes is just the sweet brightness that can take your meal to the next level. Having a basil plant where you can snip a few leaves off at a time is a great way to ensure you always have it on hand. Plus, basil pretty much always comes in a plastic clamshell at the grocery store (unless it's the farmers market in the summer), so you'll be avoiding some plastic waste as well. Basil needs a sunny window with about 6 hours of sunlight. It is easy to grow from seeds or you can find transplants at your local nursery in the springtime. Here's more info on how to grow basil indoors.
What's better than a couple of cherry tomatoes on top of a salad or as part of a caprese omelette? They are also great additions to pasta salads and just by themselves as a snack. Cherry tomatoes can be grown indoors if you have a window with good sunlight. For beginners, it might be easiest to get a transplant at a nursery, but it's pretty straightforward to plant them from seed as well. Just remember that tomato plants need a bigger container and potentially a wire cage to support them as they grow, so make sure you find a place in front of a window with enough space.
Green onions might be the easiest on this list. Having a continuous supply of green onions is an easy way to add flavor to any dish. You can use them in anything from a breakfast scramble to a stir-fry, or a garnish for a soup. The easiest way to get started is to buy some at the grocery store, and cut off and use the green parts, saving the white parts and roots. Plant the white parts (roots down) in soil about 1/2 inch down and they will regrow in a couple of weeks. You can also do this in a glass jar of water, but planting them in soil tends to yield a stronger tasting plant. When you're ready to harvest, either pull up the entire plant and cook the whole thing, or just snip off the green part and it will regrow again!
Having lettuce on tap is great for salads and sandwiches. Growing lettuce indoors is actually quite easy as long as you have some good sunlight. It doesn't need a lot of room, so it's great for windowsills. And it's a great one to do with kids because the wait between stages (seeds, sprouts, ready to eat) is fairly quick. Here are some step by step instructions.
Mint has so many uses. You can make your own tea, use it in smoothies, mojitos and other cocktails, as a garnish on a bowl of fruit, or it's called for in a lot of Mediterranean recipes. And it's a pretty forgiving plant to grow, so beginners listen up! Mint doesn't need as much sun as let's say tomatoes or basil, so it's a good one if you have a windowsill that gets a little less light. Once the plant starts going, you'll be surprised at how much mint you can harvest weekly. Here's a great guide to get you started.
Microgreens are the shoots of vegetables that are picked right at the beginning stages (between the sprouting stage and the mature stage). They are super nutrient packed when they are in this young stage, up to nine times more minerals than mature veggies (1). They pack a big flavor punch, usually spicy, bright, fresh, and a bit bitter. Microgreens are a great addition to salads or sandwiches and a great garnish on top of basically any dish. If you start growing microgreens from seed today, you could be harvesting some tasty micro greens in as little as two to three weeks!
Parsley is quite easy to grow indoors and is a super versatile herb to have on hand. Many times it's exactly what takes a dish from good to great because of it's bright and fresh flavor. Fortunately, having a parsley plant will mean that you can snip off just as much as you need whenever you want. Curly leaf varieties look really good as house plants and flat leaf versions are great for Italian dishes like meatballs. Get started with this guide.
Radishes are little peppery balls of joy that are thankfully very easy and fast to grow. They are great as garnishes for tacos and a nice addition to any salad. They are also a great snack served raw with butter and a surprisingly amazing roasted veggie side dish. Radishes, like many root veggies, become sweeter as they caramelize when roasted so it's a great way to prepare them if you're uncertain about what to do with them. Here's a quick guide on how to grow them indoors.
Thyme is necessary for just about any roasted dish, any meat or poultry dish, and is yummy in just about anything from salad dressing to cocktails. You won't regret having some of this fresh herb around at all times. Thyme is also naturally drought resistant, so if you're someone who forgets to water your plants, this might be a good starter plant for you. You can either get started from a transplant or from seed. Happy thyme growing!
How to fertilize your garden without synthetic fertilizers
Spring is just around the corner and that means it's finally time to start planting that garden you have been thinking about all winter! One of the first things you might be thinking of is sprinkling some fertilizer on your seeds and starters to get a bumper crop or some extra large blooms. A lot of people think using synthetic fertilizers is the easiest choice to help your garden thrive, but in reality it's just a quick fix that will cause a lot of long term damage to your garden and the environment. Instead of using harsh chemicals on your beautiful garden, you should make the switch to organic fertilizers! Not only are organic fertilizers better for the environment and human health, you can also use a lot of the food scraps and things you have in your home to fertilize your garden. Super cost effective and so easy!
When it comes to talking about synthetic fertilizers, it's best to start with what they are and what they are made of. Synthetic fertilizers are man-made products made from byproducts of the petroleum industry. Some examples of these fertilizers are Ammonium nitrate, Ammonium phosphate, superphosphate, and so many other variations (2). Because these fertilizers are made from petroleum products it means they are super energy intensive to produce and require the burning of fossil fuels to extract the specific chemicals. So basically fertilizers = fossil fuels = climate change! Eeek! (1).
In terms of fertilizing the plants and soil, synthetic fertilizers give the plants food in a readily available form, however, plants consume this food very rapidly and that means the fertilizer needs to be reapplied over and over again (3). The reason this type of fertilizer needs to be constantly reapplied is because they do absolutely nothing to improve the quality and health of the soil. Synthetic fertilizers provide nutrients for the plants but include no organic matter or nutrients that are required by the microorganisms in the soil to remain healthy. Moreover, synthetic fertilizers are known for killing microorganisms as soon as it's applied. These organisms are highly important because they break down organic matter and make the nutrients available for the plants to take up and grow (2). Without these important soil organisms, nothing would be able to grow and our soil would become unusable.
While synthetic fertilizers are extremely damaging to the biodiversity of our soil, they are also extremely toxic when they enter our waterways and drinking water. Because these chemical fertilizers need to be reapplied so often that means there is an excess quantity of them that can runoff when the plants are watered or it rains.This fertilizer runoff contributes to a process called eutrophication, which results in dead zones in bodies of water, because there is not enough oxygen available for the plants and animals living there. (5). Not only is this super dangerous for aquatic wildlife, this can also affect us. When waterways are polluted like this it's not safe for us to play or swim in and eventually these chemical nutrients can leach into the groundwater and cause serious health effects like gastric cancer, hypertension, and possible developmental issues in children (4).
As you can see using synthetic fertilizers isn't a great idea. They are super dangerous for the health of our environment and us. Thankfully there is an alternative that doesn't have so many nasty effects. That alternative is organic fertilizers!
Like we mentioned before, in order to have a healthy garden and environment we need to have soil that's full of nutrients and microorganisms. This is where organic fertilizers shine. Organic fertilizers don't contain just nutrients, they contain organic matter that feeds the microorganisms and breaks down into nutrients over time. If you switch to organic fertilizers, not only would you be reducing your impact on the environment, you could also be growing organic fruits and vegetables at home in your own garden., Who doesn't want that?! Plus it's so simple. You can buy some organic fertilizers at the store or DIY some from food scraps you have at home.
Organic fertilizers come in a variety of different forms. Anywhere from food scraps from your fridge to bat guano extract. Most of the time there is no need to head to the store and buy a big bag of organic fertilizer. Instead, you could try using some things you already have at home. Check out some of the items we found that are great fertilizers for your gardens!
We also wanted to include some organic fertilizers that you can buy at a store. This is probably necessary if you have a huge space you want to fertilize. Some items we recommend to add to your soil that you can buy at many garden supply centers or nurseries are bone meal, worm castings, fish meal, compost, and animal manure. There are even companies where you can get compost (possibly for free) when you give them your food scraps. All of these products are super concentrated fertilizers that will help improve the quality of your soil. Some brands of organic fertilizer we recommend are: biolink, Dr.Earth, Jobe's Organics, and Down to Earth. If for some reason you can't find any of these brands in your nurseries or stores, it's best to contact your local nurseries and they usually have great recommendations for fertilizers they use and sell!
Climate change is messing with your food. Here's how you can bite back.
All of that extra CO2 we're putting into the air is making plants grow really fast and forcing them to turn that carbon into sugary carbs and fibers instead of healthy vitamins and minerals. While a little bit of extra CO2 can help plants grow faster, too much zaps the nutrients out of healthy leafy greens, high protein rice, and vitamin-packed fruits. How? Plants need time to grow and build up healthy minerals and nutrients.
Too much CO2 too fast forces them to carb load. The same happens when it gets too warm and dry. When temps go up a little or plants get a little less water, fruits and vegetables stress out and build up their defenses with nutrients and vitamins. But, places like Iowa where a lot of corn and soybeans are grown are getting way too dry, and other places like Florida, a major source of oranges and other fruits and veggies, are getting too wet. For us, that means corn and soybeans will have more sugar and less protein, and those oranges will have more sugar and less Vitamin C and antioxidants. All of that extra heat and rain also weakens plant defenses, making them more susceptible to disease and disruption. On top of all that, hurricanes, wildfires, and pests made worse by climate change have been destroying entire fields of crops in recent years, and that's made healthy options more expensive for you and your family.
But, you don't have to just sit back and take it. Here are some ways you can get the most nutritious bang for your buck AND fight climate change at the same time:
You might know that organic has no harmful pesticide residues, which is good for your health, but did you know that buying organic is also healthy for the planet? Organic farming practices keep soil healthier and turn the ground into nutrient factories that absorb water and carbon by reusing all of the parts of the plants we can't eat. All of that good nutrition gets absorbed by plants and ends up in the fruits and vegetables we eat. Sustainable farming avoids using man-made fertilizers and pesticides that kill natural organisms like bees, worms, and good bacteria that keep the soil healthy. Sustainable farming also reduces toxic runoff farther downstream, like the kind that has created dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and killed off shrimp and fish populations. The bottomline is buying organic means healthier food on our plate and a lower carbon footprint for our planet.
Check out our post What Does Organic Really Mean? to help make sense of the organic labels and check out our favorite tip for how to prioritize organic produce to help you pick pesticide-free fruits and vegetables.
What if there was a way to fight climate change, eat more nutritious and tastier food, while also saving money? Buying local seasonal items is this magical triple win! Buying local has a lower carbon footprint than foods that traveled by ship, train, or truck to get to your plate. And local produce is also packed with more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients than fruits and vegetables that were picked weeks ago and had to travel to get to you. Once picked off a tree, vine, or out of the ground, fruits and vegetables can't get more vitamins and minerals from the soil and the nutrients start to break down soon after. Produce that is imported is often picked before it is ripe so that it doesn't spoil by the time customers buy it. To ripen produce when it gets to the shelves, grocers often treat them with ethylene. While ethylene is not toxic (fruits and vegetables produce them naturally as they ripen), the commercial ethylene gas that grocers use is made from fossil fuels like methane and crude oil, most often extracted by fracking methods that are harmful to health and the environment.
CSA's (community supported agriculture), co-op's (cooperatively-owned grocer or agriculture) and farmers markets are a great way to find seasonal fruits and veggies delivered at peak nutrition. Many CSA's and co-ops are locally run by volunteers and use membership fees to offset costs. If you are concerned that these options may be out of your budget, some CSA's and co-ops offer income-based membership rates or have slots reserved for low-income or SNAP recipients. Hitting up farmers markets is a great way to get to know local small farmers and discover new varieties of vegetables that are in season. Gaining an organic certification can be expensive for small farmers, so even if they don't have an official seal, they may still grow foods organically. The best way to know is to ask and get to know your local farmers.
Check out this video, Food Revolution: CSA, Farmer's Market, or Co-op, to help you weigh the pros and cons of each local option.
We all love a little more green in our lives - strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs grow well in containers, so whether you have a yard, balcony, or sunny windowsill – you can grow some of your own food. If you're feeling a bit adventurous, you can also try growing vegetables from scraps which will not only give you free veggies, but will help reduce plant waste. Before you start, we recommend testing for lead in your soil if you'll be planting in the ground. Pick up a soil test kit for lead online or at a local hardware or gardening store, and check out this guide on safe planting containers. Even growing a couple of herbs is an especially fun activity to do with kids and a great way to get them excited about healthy cooking and eating.
Check out Good Housekeeping's How to Start an Organic Garden in 9 Easy Steps and Mother Earth News: A Crop-by-Crop Guide to Growing Organic Vegetables and Fruits to help you pick some plants to get started.
According to the United Nations, 1/3 of all food produced around the world is wasted. From farm to landfill, when that food waste breaks down it produces as much greenhouse gas emissions as all of the cars, trucks, and buses traveling on roads around the world. Planning meals before shopping and using your produce efficiently can cut down on your food waste. If you're buying in bulk and in season, you can always freeze some for smoothies and soups later on and use scraps to make vegetable stock. For lots of great tips and for recipes to help you make the most of your produce, check out Food Waste Feast.
And, finally, compost what's left (or not edible) along with coffee grounds, eggshells, yard waste, and newspaper. Composting turns all of that waste into nutrient-rich soil for plants. You can compost at home or find a local drop-off site near you. Over 90 cities like Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., now offer curbside compost pick up along with other waste collection. New York City even uses food waste to create enough biogas to heat 5,200 homes and has reduced the city's annual greenhouse gas emissions by 90,000 tons. If your city or town doesn't offer compost collection, call them up and ask them to start! Here's a great guide from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance to help you make the case: Yes! In My Backyard: A Home Composting Guide for Local Government.
Yes, climate change is impacting our food, but we can all take steps along the way to fight climate change while making our food healthier.