Crunchy, adjective – Having a healthy diet and way of living; natural; earthy
My journey down the “crunchy” rabbit hole started with a set of plastic spoons given to me at a baby shower. Everything else I received that day, from pacifiers to sippy cups, proudly boasted “BPA Free” on the packaging. This unassuming little package of spoons did not. I was curious.
I naively typed “What is BPA?” into my Google search bar. Some hours later (OK, MANY hours later), I walked away from the computer a little frazzled and overwhelmed, my mind reeling with the claims of so many lurking environmental toxins hidden in baby products, cosmetics, household cleaners, and even in my pantry downstairs. I was desperate to arm myself with as much information as possible to protect my little one from these dangers – both seen and unseen. Both verified and assumed.
Throughout the following months, I researched. I read labels. I dove in deep. And I actually found some incredibly helpful resources. When used in moderation, they can be a fantastic source of information. However, when used to their absolute fullest extent during your third trimester, they can also perpetuate a state of craziness that is hard to climb out of. I swung from one blissfully unaware side of the crunchy pendulum all the way to the other, like a wild-eyed Tarzan holding on for dear life with a newborn in the crook of my arm, howling “Watch out for phthalates and parabens!” I tried to surround and fill ourselves with as many wholesome and non-processed, non-toxic items as possible.
It. Was. Hard. It’s also expensive. It’s time consuming. And it’s exhausting.
After a year of crazy, I decided to re-evaluate. Like many first-time mothers, I eventually came back down to a near-normal level of crazy. And I realized that there are so many more pressing things that demand my attention: Growing my relationship with God, being present with my child, meeting the needs of my husband, and building relationships with those around me. And I found myself slowly coming to a rest somewhere in the middle. There is no “right” place on the pendulum. It’s different for everyone.
So, proceed with caution, but if you really want to know what’s out there, and how you can avoid the crud, check out the resources below. And if you’re comfortable with a middle-ground approach, I also included a snippet of where I finally landed in each area, too.
Baby Products: Gimme the Good Stuff is packed with easy-to-understand information and opened my eyes to many new things. Who knew crib mattresses could be toxic? Be sure to check out their Product Safety Guides, where products are sorted into simple categories: “The Good Stuff,” “The Bad Stuff,” and “The Sneaky Stuff.” The site is expanding beyond just baby products and now offers information on products for adults and for the home.
- Where I Landed: I never did evaluate my mattress for anything other than the support it provided. I used Pampers diapers and wipes without blinking an eye. But I also used Aquaphor and Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, which are both rated well on EWG’s Skin Deep database. I used coconut oil as lotion for the first year and avoided Johnson & Johnson products like the plague.
Cosmetics: Without a doubt, the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database has the edge on most when it comes to knowing (and rating) what is in your cosmetics. Descriptions of ingredients are written in scientific terms. Beware: This site may consume hours of your life that you can never get back. You also won’t be able to get your “blissful ignorance” back either. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Red List is also a helpful resource if you’re trying to avoid possible toxins.
- Where I Landed: I have yet to upgrade my own beauty supply, but I have surrounded Oliver with a cushion of highly rated hygienic products. We use Babo Botanicals shampoo body wash and TruKid sunblock. Neither are cheap, but they score well on the EWG and we don’t go through them very quickly anyway. We change lotions often, but continue to stick with ones that score a 1-3 on the Skin Deep database. Insect repellent is one area we tried going natural in and ended up coming back to products with picaridin in them, which some sources view as less toxic than DEET. We are currently using Avon Bug Guard Towelettes. (Each wipe can be used multiple times!)
Household Cleaners: It’s no surprise to find that many household cleaners may contain carcinogens and other harmful toxins. Many websites, including this one, provide alternative recipes for making your own non-toxic household cleaners, often made of food safe or every day ingredients.
- Where I Landed: I ditched just about everything we own with the exception of Clorox Wipes and Clorox Wand Disinfecting Refills. Yes, I know what’s in them, but I refuse to clean my toilet seat with anything else. However, the rest of the house gets cleaned with an arsenal of homemade creations: All purpose cleaners, hardwood cleaner, even air freshener. Most include vinegar or rubbing alcohol (but I would avoid vinegar in your hardwood floor cleaner). And we use Eco-Me Dish Soap. However, I will admit, after going through dozens of laundry detergents and dishwashing soaps, we are back to trusty ol’ Tide and Cascade. They just plain work the best. I figure at least the clothes and dishes get rinsed off after being soaked in all those harmful chemicals, right? I do absolutely love my dryer sheet replacements. I reason that if these chemical-free Static Eliminators are the last thing to touch our clothes, we’re all good.
Food: This is the area I have spent the most time researching and reading about, leading me to make some big changes in our pantry, fridge, freezer, and diets. If you have ever considered making your own homemade baby food, whether for ingredient-purist reasons or for budget reasons, Wholesome Babyfood is a resource that makes it completely doable, even for the most cooking-challenged. (Seriously; before I had a baby, my cooking experience was limited to frozen pizzas and Velveeta Shells & Cheese. I didn’t even know what Whole Foods was.) Beyond baby food, there are many articles, like this one, that help you learn how to read your food labels and understand which ingredients should be avoided.
- Where I Landed: As much as I would love to buy everything from Whole Foods, our budget demands a bit of balance. I decided to buy organic in the following items: Corn, produce found on the EWG Dirty Dozen List, dairy products and beef. That’s it! It’s a short list, but an important one in my mind. It avoids the most contaminated sources of pesticides and the addition of growth hormones in our food. (Laws do not allow chicken and pigs to be given hormones. This Huffington Post article gives a very well-rounded view of the issue of hormones, laying out both sides of the argument.) I also occasionally buy other food items organic instead of conventional just to avoid extra processing and preservatives – or a BPA-lined can. For example, Amy’s has a great line of soups that I substitute in place of Campbell’s soups when I make certain recipes. (However, props to Campbell’s for going BPA-free.) Avoiding artificial food coloring and preservatives has become more important to me since Oliver began to share our snacks and meals, so I try my best to buy foods that are minimally processed and have a short, easy to pronounce list of ingredients. I ditched Cheerios for Power O’s. Traded in NutriGrain bars for LaraBars. Instead of Goldfish, we enjoy Van’s Cheesy Crackers. And traditional fruit snacks were replaced by Target’s Simply Balanced Fruit Strips. But, Oliver is a kid and life is full of yummy treats. We have a candy bowl on our counter, and he gets a little bit more than he should each day. We order in pizza and get ice cream cones from Dairy Queen. My goal is for his baseline diet to be as non-processed as possible, but I know he will eat all sorts of foods in all kinds of situations, and I won’t shelter him from being a normal kid.
However you feel about this constantly evolving topic, be sure enough of yourself to make a decision and move on. Make big changes or tiny changes or no changes. But remember: Protecting your child from environmental hazards will never be nearly as impactful as the time you will spend with your child, living life and making memories. So, read a little, inform yourself. But then pack up your snack and sunscreen of choice, get out there, and have some fun.