Monday, July 9, 2007

What are you eating?

I'm sure we all have quirky little things we love to eat that would make others cringe. I know I do. Maybe yours is pickles and ice cream. Mine is a bizarre mixture of peanut butter, syrup and butter (because, apparently peanut butter isn't fattening enough on its own) that my grandmother used to make me. Comfort food at its nastiest. It's all sort of homemade, though, and if I use organic plain peanut butter, organic maple syrup and organic butter, I pretty much know what's in it, at least.

Can you really say the same about your favorite snack foods or that microwave dinner you love so much after a hard day's work? How about your breakfast cereal or the baby formula you give your precious bundle of joy? Do you even know what's in them? A bit of sugar, some kind of grain, maybe, but is that all? What would you say if I told you many of your favorite foods most likely had Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) in them? Would they taste as good then? They wouldn't to me.

What can you do, though, since none of this is written anywhere on the packaging? Luckily, these days, if we know where to look, someone else has usually done the leg work for us, and we get to kick back and read their findings. That's what I did today, and I was both very interested as well as quite disturbed by what I found. In the US, for example, you can almost always count on the fact that if you're eating a product made by a large company, there will most likely be some GMO's in them somewhere. Post, General Mills, Kellogg's, Kraft, Mars, Nestle, Quaker - the list goes on and on. Granted, they buy their raw materials from so many producers, I'm sure it can be hard to trace their exact origins, but are you okay with that? I'm not. I don't find it alright to feed the people of the world with experimental organisms without at least the presence of proper labeling to inform the consumer of what they're ingesting.

We are not completely helpless in this matter, though. In fact, if large numbers of consumers voice such concerns by boycotting brands that offer up GMO's with a side of fries, perhaps these large corporations will find it a little easier to trace their ingredients back to more reliable, less suspect growing practices that the majority of consumers don't find inappropriate (sure, there are people who are all for the use of GMO's as a way of fighting world hunger or other problems, but studies have found that a full 2/3rds of people polled are either against it or at least unsure). Is it fair to sneak such ingredients into the general food supply without first warning consumers of what they are purchasing? If you don't think so, you may want to have a look at these lists to get a better idea of which products you can safely purchase and those you may want to avoid.

In the US (there are several multi-national corporations on this list): True Food Now

In France: Greenpeace

Have a little peek before your next shopping trip. You may find some products you'd rather do without next time. If you're curious about brands in your own country, you may want to try doing a little internet search for GMO and "list" (in your own language, of course). That's all I did, and the results were quite eye-opening.

Note: Almost any non-organic prepackage food containing corn syrup or soya lecithin in it will probably have GMO's. Those are two of the most genetically modified plants around. And, since corn is fed to all kinds of livestock, that's why see milk products and meats listed as GMO containing foods (not because the animals themselves have been genetically modified, but because, if they're eating modified foods, the meat and milk produced from them will contain GMO's as well).

Monday, April 30, 2007

Not So Brilliant Bathroom

It's been quite a while since I've had the chance to post any new products or tips on this blog. Life has gotten in the way of pretty much everything. This sadly includes housework, so you didn't miss out on any times that I tried out a new product to post about. I'll admit I've cleaned a little but not with anything new to talk about it.

Today, I ran out of the wonderful Brilliance Salle de Bain I talked about last time. So, I was stuck rummaging through my other cleaners for a replacement. I really like being able to spray it on and walk away to do something else while it does its thang. Unfortunately, I didn't have anything else that would fit that bill. So, I decided to do a little internet search for a homemade cleaner that might replace it nicely. I found this one. I later find out that it's actually a recipe from a book I own (Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean). It's a spray cleaner meant for ceramic tile, and my sink is ceramic, so I thought it might work in the same way.

First, you have to mix all the ingredients. There's no toxic explosion when you combine them, but you'll want to have a window open and maybe hold your breath because of the ammonia. That's some nasty stink. Reminds me of cleaning out an over-due cat litter box. I even added a few drops of grapefruit essential oil in the hopes of taming the odor a bit. Didn't work, so an open window was also necessary in the bathroom while I was using the stuff.

After playing kitchen chemist, I spritzed it all over the very dirty bathroom sink (I've mentioned the grubby hands that get washed there before). It was particularly grimy this morning (see the picture above for photographic evidence). I'm not sure why, but this may have something to do with the oil-based cleansers I've been experimenting with to care for my ultra-sensitive skin (more on that some other day).

Like I said earlier, I like to be able to walk away while the cleaner does its job. This is an especially good idea with this mixture. That ammonia is really something. So, I left the room for a bit. When I came back, I took out a non-abrasive vegetable sponge and went to work on it. It took more than a few swipes to see anything happen, and what I did see wasn't was I was hoping for. I pretty much just succeeded in moving the grime around the sink a little (if you look at that second picture closely, you'll see some areas are nice and white while others are even dirtier than before.). I even sprayed a little more on and scrubbed a bit harder without any better results.

I'll admit I was disappointed, but I was still determined to clean the sink. I mean, look at the thing. I couldn't exactly leave it like that. So, I went to the kitchen to grab what passes for dishwasher detergent around here (50/50 mixture of washing soda and borax), which I've found does a lovely job scrubbing pots and my stainless steel kitchen sink. It's basically just a mild abrasive, so I figured it might do the trick on this sink. I sprinkled about a tablespoon in the sink. By this time, I was getting a little tired of this experiment and was ready to move on to other chores, so I didn't wait for anything to start doing its job. I'm not sure what it would have done, if anything, anyway (though, I would like it to grow little hands, pick up the sponge and scrub the sink itself). Instead, I just used that same sponge and lightly scrubbed the sink again. Much better results this time. I'd have preferred for the spray concoction to work, because there wouldn't be those little borax crystals to rinse off, but at least this was fast.

I guess the conclusion to this experiment would be that a nice homemade scouring powder works more quickly and more efficiently than the spray-and-walk-away cleaner I was hoping to be able to use. Now, I just have to figure out what to do with all the leftover spray cleaner I made. I spritzed a little on the bathroom mirror to see if it could someday become my window/mirror cleaner of choice. It left all kinds of streaks and watermarks, so I guess that's out of the question. I'll have to experiment on the Quaryl (acrylic/quartz blend) bathtub or the toilet to see if it'll do the trick there.

In the end, I think I'll either have to break down and buy some more cleaner (a chance to try out something new!) or make up a batch of the scouring powder I've got a link to in the sidebar over there. It's a lot like the dishwasher detergent I used here, so it'll most likely do the trick.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Brilliant Bathrooms

I'll admit I find it somewhat disturbing to show you my dirty home, even if only in bits and pieces. The other day, you caught a glimpse of my dishwashing woes. Today, we're in the bathroom, and, once again, I've let the housekeeping slip for your benefit. Normally, I'd try to keep a tight ship, but I want to make sure we really test Etamine du Lys' Brillance Salle de Bains (bathroom cleaning spray) well. We can't expect someone to believe that a product works wonders when they see an immaculate sink miraculously turned into an... immaculate sink. So, I've allowed an undisclosed amount of time to pass between scourings, so we can really see how well this particular cleaning solution works.

Take a look at that before picture. Don't be squeamish, now. It's mostly just calcium build-up from our very hard water, but I'll have to admit that a fair amount of grubby children's hands get washed in that sink.

I only used the spray shown above and a very soft sponge specially designed for use in the bathroom (Incidentally, I couldn't say I've ever understood the purpose of this special design. I can only tell you that it definitely isn't made for scrubbing). So, no abrasives were involved in cleaning the sink, and I can promise you I didn't even put much elbow grease into it. And, yet, it sparkles. I think we can give this product an enthusiastic thumbs-up when it comes to cleaning ceramic sinks and chrome fixtures. In fact, I even gave the mirror a quick wipe down with it, and though the results weren't ideal, the mirror was far cleaner afterward. In a pinch, when forced to work quickly before a surprise visit by the in-laws or your boss, it'd do the job with only a streak or two to show for it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Scrubadubdud?: Ecover Cream Cleaner

I think even the most die-hard user of eco-friendly cleaning products can relate to the urge to pick up a bottle of the toxic stuff when their favorite treehugger cleaners just aren't cutting it. Here's an example:

In a home with three small kids (and a mommy who's a kid at heart), we love our mushy, hot cereals. Comfort food at its simplest... until the milk burns on the bottom of the pan. Then, the pan is quickly taken out of rotation for a week-long soak until Mommy gets around to scrubbing it. What to do? What to do? Why, pull out the scouring cream, of course. Ecover makes one that I've had lying around the house for years. Yep, the same bottle... lying around the house for years. Is this because I rarely burn the bottoms of my pots? Hardly. Because I never wash them? Maybe. Or, perhaps because it never seemed as efficient as it needed to be.

Take a look at this pot. Ouch. That's going to be a tough one. It's already been through the customary soak, the scrub-down with regular liquid dish soap and then the customary resoak. It's not looking good. Let's see what a 60 second (or so) scrub with Ecover Cream Cleaner does for it.

Okay, so that obviously didn't go well. I used a scrubbing kitchen sponge (with one side soft and the other hard). And, I promise you I put some good elbow grease into it (I even tore a hole in my kitchen glove - yes, I do use plastic kitchen gloves, because I have eczema when I have dry skin). As you can see, a little came off, but you could hardly cook another pot of cereal with that. At this point I was a little uncertain of what to try next. I was kind of expecting the scouring cream to work and that would be that. I've used it in the past for other things (the stove top, for example) with some amount of success.

Then, something I once read came to mind. I have a modern copy of an antique cookbook, where scouring pots with sand was mentioned. Those frontier ladies were pretty ingenious, weren't they? Actually, I suspect that dates back a little earlier than the American frontier days, but what about sand? I was a little against the idea of going outside to grab up some dirt and whatever bugs might come along with it. So, I scanned the kitchen for a good substitute. I once read about cleaning iron skillets with hot oil and salt. Could salt do the trick? I grabbed a handful of fine sea salt and threw it into the pot. With the same sponge, I scrubbed again for about a minute. Look at the difference. Good old-fashioned sea salt. Can't get more eco-friendly than that.

I guess the moral to this story is that you don't necessarily need to get out the big guns (ecological or toxic) to do even the hard jobs. Some of nature's most basic gifts to us may well do the trick.

Green Living Tips

Tea bags are compostable!

How It Works

Since this is a brand new site, I thought I would tell you a little about my plans for it. There are so many directions I could go with this, but I really want to make a functional, practical source of information, both for myself and for others.

So, what I plan to do is this:

product reviews
information on new ecological technologies
general green living tips

I'll make every attempt to give you organized, well-informed articles with links to click on to find out more about any particular subject I discuss. And, since there is no way I can know everything or have tried every product on the market, I welcome other bloggers (or potential bloggers) to contribute their own product reviews and articles on green living. If you are interested, please leave me a comment with your blog and email addresses, telling me you'd like to contribute. It would be great to make this into a community effort.

If you don't feel compelled to share your product reviews, but you still want to help, you are more than welcome to leave a comment at the end of any product review to either chime in or disagree. Perhaps you feel differently than I do about a product. Let me know (just be nice about it, please). Or, if you would like to find out more about a particular issue or product, but you just don't have the time, bring it to my attention, and I just may find some time myself. I am a stay-at-home mommy but a researcher at heart, and I'm just not content if I'm not looking up some topic or other on the net. There is a wealth of information to be had out there, and if you know how to sift through it properly, you can find out almost anything. So, let's find out what we can about living a cleaner existence, shall we?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

To Green or Not To Green. Is There Really Any Question?

It seems to me that most people can agree, whether they believe in the existence of a little thing called global warming or not, that it wouldn't hurt any to live a little more ecologically friendly lifestyle. The earth certainly won't complain about a few tons less of that stinky garbage that's piling up off the coast of... well, off the coast of many places. Problem is, in today's world, it's not always easy to do what's best for the environment. We're bombarded with easy-cook, microwaveable meals in their plastic packaging and chemical snack cakes in their individual foil wrappers. With the hectic pace of life in the average family, it's all too easy to succumb to the convenience foods that practically jump off the grocery store shelves. Besides, who has time to hunt for alternative products that might lessen our impact on the environment around us? Certainly not you, right? No problem. I'll do it for you.

That's right, and for an UNlimited time only. In my quest to lighten my load on the world, I will be searching for online resources for information and products that could lead me to a cleaner lifestyle. And, why not share these goodies with you? Yeah, that's what I thought. So, that's what I'll do.

Now, being in France, I am not in a great position to try many of the American websites out, so I often won't be able to vouch for their service, but I'll at least let you know they are there*. "Why can't I just google and find them myself?" you ask. Well, if you were so inclined, I guess you already would have. Anyway, sometimes we are just simply unaware of the existence of a certain product or service out there today. Can't google it if you don't know about it. That's why I'm here to inform you of the little things I learn, as I learn them. So, sit back, relax and click your way to a cleaner, greener lifestyle.

*If you've tried a site I mention and would like to vouch for it, please let me know. And, watch the sidebar for listings of the sites I come across that I find interesting.