Toxic Tub Time: Time to Wipe Away the Suds

Originally published on the Care2 website.

I found out this week that a friend is expecting her first child. Kay knows that I’m an enthusiastic “greenie,” and in the last year she’s asked me at various times about what kind of nail products I’d recommend, what kind of deodorant, what kind of shampoo. I am not shy about these opportunities and I always provide the website address for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the organization I counted on when I greened my own makeup bag a few years ago. When Kay complimented me on a fragrance recently, I revealed it was from a perfumer who uses organic essential oils and who advocates against the use of anything artificial and then I went on to tell her about how most commercial fragrances are filled with harmful or potentially harmful ingredients. I will delicately offer unsolicited advice to friends about beauty products on occasion, being careful to not offend choices they’ve made. But when a friend opens the door for me by asking, I take the podium.

Kay’s recent interest in making better personal care choices is particularly encouraging because I now consider the door wide open for me to offer oodles and oodles of advice on the baby products she should choose in the months ahead. Since I’ve greened my life, I’ve had several friends and family members welcome bundles of joy—and I am proud to be the “green girl” at baby showers, offering cute organic cotton onesies and bath products that are gentle and made entirely of pure and truly natural ingredients. I stress the “truly natural” part because the “natural” label has been abused and so many people are unaware of the hidden danger in the products that line the shelves.

Tell someone that lead can still be found in some commercial brands of lipstick and they might be surprised but not necessarily shocked. But toxins in baby products? It’s hard to accept. And, let’s face it, it’s sickening. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics filed a report this week, “No More Toxic Tub: Getting Contaminants Out of Children’s Bath and Personal Care Products,” on what is found in a sampling of dozens of baby products, including bubble bath and baby lotion. They sent the products to be independently tested and found traces of the 1, 4-dioxane and formaldehyde (chemicals the EPA lists as probable carcinogens).

How can it be that Sesame Street Bubble Bath and Huggies Naturally Refreshing Cucumber & Green Tea baby wash contain these toxins? And what about Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Shampoo? The cosmetics industry is largely self-regulated and neither of these chemicals are listed on the labels—but they showed up in testing of the products. Now I see “no more tears” on a bottle of kiddie shampoo and think no—no more toxins. Passing off these products as natural and safe is shameful, especially since safer ingredients are readily available for use in these products. You know how soft a baby’s skin is—and how delicate and vulnerable. Splashing around the tubs with a rubber ducky—and harmful chemicals?

Naysayers argue that the level of toxicity is negligible, but just think about the accumulative effect of exposure to numerous “negligible” levels from various sources (the water, the air). We can’t get hysterical about the dangers but we can be aware and take action. At this point, it’s up to the consumer to be educated and make the right choices. Thankfully, alternatives are out there and you can support the companies making the safer products by spending your dollars on their goods (while also sending a message to the companies still peddling poison).

Since I’ve become involved in the green world, the best stories I’ve heard are from new moms who have made deliberate steps to green their lives, who say they discovered that the baby products they were using were not as safe or environmentally friendly as they had been lead to believe—or, expectant moms like Kay, who are beginning to think twice about the products that they use daily. They begin by making safer choices for the sake of their babies and then they take a hard look at the products they’re using on their own bodies and then at the products they’re using to clean their homes, and so on. There’s power in action and also in making your voice heard; you can also take action by contacting your legislators and asking them to support regulations on cosmetics and to help regulate the industry.

Charmed, I’m Sure

I go through fashion phases and one involves wearing a plain black T-shirt or tank with a cardigan or jacket—complimented by a bold necklace. Perfect for this: some fun charms given to me by my mom, which I wear on roped chains or leather cords. Here’s a typewriter charm from mom I recently found at the bottom of my jewelry box. A friend told me that her son saw a typewriter in a shop window and asked about what it was. Before computers, kiddo. I’m sure he’s asked her about record players, too. To add to my collection, I’m searching on eBay for an old record player charm and found some adorable boom box ones. I see a boom box and I think of sitting on the front stoop at my friend Lisa’s house, blasting “I Love Rock and Roll” by Joan Jett until Lisa’s mother shouted from inside the house that we needed to turn down the volume. Oh, the good old days. I’m bidding on boom box and jukebox charms now…


Blume for Banned Books Week

It’s Banned Books Week! Makes me want to go back to high school and sneak one into physics class to read (Mr. Masters would occasionally bust me for reading poetry during physics—yep, I was a real badass). Or maybe I should go to graduate school to become a librarian so I would be able to create a display to promote the books. Be a rebel: Read these!

The American Library Association has links to lists of the most challenged and banned books. There are some literary heavyweights that have been banned, but I will admit to being most happy to see Forever by Judy Blume on a list. Here’s my copy, along with my Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. I wish I could say the Forever copy was one I had when I was a kid, but I had only the PG-rated Blumes in my childhood library and had to grab glimpses of the “dirty,” dog-eared pages of Forever in the school cafeteria, holding the tattered paperback under the table so no adults would see. I picked up this copy at a yard sale a few years ago and gleefully read it cover to cover in one sitting.

Rock T-Shirts That Rule

When I was a teen, I remember the excitement of arriving at a music venue to see one of my favorite bands perform and going right to the merchandise stand to see what the T-shirts looked like. If I liked the artist or band, there was no question about the fact that I would splurge on a tee. (I still have many of the ticket stubs but I regret not saving all those T-shirts.) Then I grew up and stopped buying rock shirts, but I’ve made some good purchases this year. It started with a Wilco tee; I loved the color and the design (see it above) and when I found out it was made of a bamboo and organic cotton blend, I was sold (“it’s eco-friendly” is one of my favorite rationalizations these days). At yesterday’s Radiohead show at the Hollywood Bowl, I was tempted again. The shirts come from the band’s merchandising company, called W.A.S.T.E. (We Are Sensibly Talking Endlessly), and it’s made of a polyester that comes from the fibers of recycled plastic bottles and organic cotton. Yep, easy sale; I got one for me and one for Mr. MVP (both pictured).

Amelia Saltsman: On Farmers’ Markets and Good Food

The complete version of this interview was originally published on

Below, my interview Amelia Saltsman, an educator and the author of The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook.

How did you get involved in your line of work?
I thrive on a sense of community— that’s how my connection to the farmers’ market began. I began to write about my experiences and the farmers’ stories and the ingredients themselves and then the farmers’ market became a focal point.

Best part of your job?
When a reader or student comes to a demo or class and says, I can do that. We think everything is so hard and we’re reluctant to change habits and we often think we need to have to do everything all at once or it’s not good enough. But you can do a little at a time.

Is there a particular environmental nonprofit you support?
Sustainable Table and I do a lot with the Southland Farmers’ Market Association. Also Heal the Bay.

What’s an eco-friendly gift you like to give?
Small food items that are unique to Southern California. For instance, I love to bring freshly dried dates or special citrus—an offering from my area and something that evokes a sense of place.

Do you have a favorite environmental book?
Omnivore’s Dilemma. I love the way Michael Pollan writes and I think he has the most wonderful way of writing about the issues.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
Blenheim apricot tree. We had one in my backyard when I was a kid and my grandmother would come to visit from Israel and make apricot jam. It’s a beautiful tree with sun-kissed fruit.

Describe your path to green: how and when you became eco-conscious.
Flavor. When you look for foods that taste great naturally, everything falls into place. Once I found farmers’ markets in my local community, I never looked back.

Behind the Green Scenes: Amelia Saltsman

Originally published on in December 2007

I meet Amelia Saltsman at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Arizona on a Wednesday morning as she’s preparing for a cooking demo and book signing for her just-published book, The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook. She’s pushing a cart that is already loaded with cardboard boxes full of heirloom tomatoes when I greet her and then she stops to speak with a vendor about cucumbers. “Whatever’s best,” she tells him.

Next she selects a bunch of purslane and invites me to taste it. “A lot of people consider this a weed,” she says. “But it’s great to throw into salads.” She unloads the vegetables at a table in an area that’s being set up for her cooking demo before she making a final stop for olives and olive oil. She moves quickly through the crowd and navigates the cart with ease, stopping occasionally to greet others in her path and to invite them to come to her tent for food.

Today she is serving a plum crisp with a corn meal topping and tomato and cucumber bread salad-both recipes from her book-and she’s demonstrating how to make the salad. Under the tent, students from a local culinary school have already begun to prep for the day’s offerings, slicing the cucumbers and chopping tomatoes, as market shoppers approach to find out when the food will be ready. Two friends of Saltsman have also come over to help with the book sales and passersby have begun to thumb through the pages of a display copy.

“Look—you’re in it!” Saltsman says to a vegetable vendor when she walks over, opening the book to the “History of the Market” chapter that features portraits of smiling faces and still life shots of fresh produce from the market. Through her work in print and on TV as the host, writer, and producer of Fresh from the Farmers’ Market on Los Angeles cable TV, Saltsman has become an ambassador of sorts for the farmers’ market. The food stylist, teacher, and author had published numerous magazine and newspaper stories on her farmers’ market experiences when suddenly she had found a niche—and a platform to celebrate and support local farmers who produce sustainably and without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other additives. “I feel passionate that people need to understand what it takes to choose to be a small farmer, what it takes to get beautiful produce to market within 24 hours of harvest—and what a difference it makes to shop at a farmers’ market.”

The Los Angeles native’s own love of the farmers’ market is “about flavor and community,” she says. “I started as a shopper looking for delicious vine-ripened and tree-ripened and field-ripened ingredients. My passion for writing about farmers’ markets and farmers started with childhood food memories and childhood experiences shopping abroad in open air markets with relatives.” She fondly recalls foods from her youth and named her publishing company Blenheim Press for the Blenheim apricot tree from her childhood backyard. “We took it for granted but it has great importance to me.” Taking history for granted is not something that sits well with Saltsman, who is also passionate about the history of culinary arts and vintage cookery. For this, she also edits The Food Journal, a publication for the Culinary Historians of Southern California.

A sense of community is evident at the market today, just as Saltsman’s passion for food and cooking is revealed. At the table, she’s getting ready for her salad-making demonstration when a book-buying customer asks if she has a recommendation for a dinner for her son’s birthday. “Try Rustic Canyon,” Saltsman says, adding that the menu includes seasonal offerings from this same farmers’ market. “The chef is probably walking around right now getting food for the week.”
Quite a few books are sold—some purchase multiple copies and explain they’re starting their holiday shopping early—and quite a few more friends from the market stop by. A line forms and she needs to delay the cooking demo for a few minutes to sign books.

When she begins to make the salad, she tells her audience about the importance of using seasonal ingredients that are fresh and produced by local farmers. The time is right for heirloom tomatoes and she tosses them with pieces of bread (“it’s good to use day-old bread for this”), then the cucumbers. She’s using basil in the salad but encourages others to try different herbs they find or grow themselves. While working, she’s greeted by the chef from Wilshire restaurant and then the owner of Michael’s—both local restaurants that serve dishes made with farm-fresh ingredients they get here or directly from nearby farmers. “She knows what she’s talking about,” shouts Michael as he walks away with his full cart.

Also: Q&A with Amelia Saltsman


Greenopia Interview: Andy Lipkis

Below is a portion of an interview originally published on the Greenopia website in 2007.

Since founding TreePeople in 1970, Andy Lipkis has put his heart—and time and effort—into greening Los Angeles (two million trees and counting). Lipkis talked to Greenopia about his work and living green in L.A.

What’s the best part about your job?
I love so many aspects of it. Right now I like giving people a chance to see and understand that they are managers of the ecosystem.

What would you say is the city’s undiscovered or underrated jewel?
One is TreePeople’s headquarters: Coldwater Canyon Park. We have trails and a little amphitheater nestled in the woods that’s like a mini Hollywood Bowl.

Where do you like to take out-of-town visitors?
Almost anywhere in nature that will blow their minds. We might bike through the Ballona Wetlands or walk through the Venice canals or take hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
The Metasequoia glyptostroboides. It is know as the dawn redwood and it looks like coast redwood. It was only known in fossils until about a hundred years ago when living ones were found in China. They are beautiful with leaves that are soft and bright green until autumn when they turn red. There are a couple in the UCLA Botanical Gardens.

Describe your path to green: how and when you became eco-conscious.
I grew up in this city when the air pollution hurt and I watched open spaces I had played in disappear. I started planting trees when there wasn’t a professional for it and as a teen I had quite the crisis in following a green path when it wasn’t a known one. Back then I kept saying, I’m only going to do this for a while and grow up to be a professional of some sort. Now it’s a different story.