October 20, 2008 at 10:47AM
by Alexandra Zissu
I've been told over and over again - wrongly, I feel - that being an organic mom is only for the elite. I counteract this claim constantly, and have written here about being a frugal organic mom. The current economic situation has certainly meant I've been thinking more and more about living eco-cheaply. Still, for the most part, the audiences I've been speaking to lately haven't been requesting information on how to go green and save green at the same time.
This week, however, I'm going to talk to some pregnant teenagers, some of them homeless or formerly homeless. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity. As I prepared for the talk, I went over my general talking points and was encouraged by how little editing I had to do. True to claim, most of my top ten (which is really a top umpteen) list can be done with very little cash. Some of my most important suggestions are even free -- taking off your shoes before or just after entering your home doesn't cost a cent and goes a long way towards minimizing chemical exposure indoors. Below are ten other areas I always talk about; none of these suggestions are more expensive than their conventional counterparts:
I always say that pregnant moms should eat a whole/not packaged foods diet (preferably local/organic), which requires no shifting for this audience. I will, however, add information on where to find farmers markets in and around the city, and explain that the markets accept food stamps. I'll probably talk a little more about nutrition than I normally do, and will explain how things like meat are highest on the food chain and therefore contain higher levels of contaminants.
It's free to have your water tested for contaminants in New York City - just call 311. Buying an activated carbon water filter and a reusable water bottle are inexpensive ways to save money over bottled water, and are certainly better for a pregnant mother than sugary canned drinks.
Again, I won't change my talk here - I'll discuss the safest pots and pans (nothing on the market is cheaper or safer than cast iron), food storage (glass over plastic), and what should never, ever go in a microwave. Here I'll also talk about baby bottles and breastmilk storage.
- Cleaning products
I'll explain that switching over to green products including laundry detergent will vastly reduce indoor air pollution. And - even better -- I'll go through how to mix inexpensive cleaners out of household basics like vinegar, baking powder, liquid soap, etc.
Here's where I normally tell moms what brands I think are safer. I'll include this information but also talk about why nail polish, perfume, and plenty of other things aren't great for pregnant moms, and how babies "need" no cosmetics at all. Less is absolutely more (and cheaper) and dry patches can often be cured with a little dab of olive oil, which is likely in the kitchen cabinet anyway.
- Insect and pesticides
- New York City is so roach and mouse (and sometimes rat) infested, and most buildings use exterminators of their choice. I'll give the girls suggestions on keeping pests away in the first place, and the name(s) of certified integrated pest management (IPM) practitioners in the city, to suggest to their building's management.
- Apartment issues
Some of these teens will go back to their foster families after their babies are born, and others will be moving into apartments for the first time. While they may not have the control over the level of VOCs in the paint on their new walls, like some of the people I talk to about home renovations, they can and should certainly check with their building management or the city - again call 311 - re lead paint. This is imperative in buildings built prior to 1978 if there is any flaking paint, especially along windowsills or at doorjambs. I'll also give suggestions for airing out a paint-smelly apartment.
- Home décor
An organic mattress or couch might be out of price range but anyone can keep their wood floors bare, or put natural floor coverings down instead of synthetic ones. Ikea sells cotton rag rugs for $3! Here I'll also address vinyl, and where and why to avoid it.
I'll address vinyl again, talk about why less-is-more is a good idea, and offer some of my favorite resources for safer toys. Here's where I can caution against the unreal baby marketing and pressure that is put on new parents to buy buy buy. Babies really "need" very little, no matter what your finances are. In my anti-stuff pep talk, I will encourage moms to take as many hand-me-downs as possible. Nothing could be greener, or less expensive.
- Breast is best
I do tend to stress this at most talks but in general I'm preaching to the choir. Still, I'm really looking forward to talking about the many, many benefits of breastfeeding. And of course breastmilk is free! I'll also give a primer on making very inexpensive baby food, too, for when solids begin.
I'm really looking forward to the Q&A portion of speaking with these teenagers, though I plan on doing more interactive discussion than I normally do. I'll open the evening, for example, by asking if anyone knows the definition of organic. I have a feeling I'll learn as much as I teach.