Green Living

Can you have it all?

Sometimes it seems like the answer to that question is “no”.  Rather every choice seems more to be, pardon the cliché, but a ‘choice between the lesser of two evils’.

Paying careful attention to every choice I’ve been making has definitely been work and I’m finding others are asking me what I think about which is a better option.

The question of being the perfect ‘green’ consumer resurfaced for me this past week as we went out to our local toyshop to buy a gift for a friend’s daughter.  We try to shop local but a majority of the toys in our local toy store were not from the United States nor made of sustainable or compostable materials.  Ultimately, choosing what seemed the lesser of two evils, we went with a wooden jewelry box with a set of wooden beads to make your own jewelry…from China.

My brother-in-law when he was buying a toy kitchen for his daughter wondered, “is it better to purchase a plastic kitchen made in the United States or a wooden one from China?”

Another friend was shopping in the grocery store the other day and noted the organic fruit had traveled from Mexico and sent my husband a text begging the question, “is it better to purchase organic fruit from another country or local grown produce made via standard farming methods?”

Organic Strawberries---from Mexico

What about organic hummus, but in single serving containers?  Although most of the packaging was recyclable, it just seemed wrong.  I must confess we bought it so our son and I could take it in our lunches.

Single Serve ---Organic Hummus

At times we are weak, like with the single serving hummus.  I also commute, which painfully has been costing me nearly $500/month on gas and does weigh on my conscience.

Other times, we try to be as stringent as possible, such as walking around at the Livermore Farmer’s Market this past Sunday; we only bought from those booths where the produce was grown locally and that had certification of their organic produce status and we walked there from our home with our son and wagon in tow.

It seems more and more of us are trying to make choices with less environmental impact but it’s becoming less and less obvious what the “green” choice is without complex calculations?  Simply realizing that each of our choices has some impact is a first step.  There are times when you can have it all but there are more of the other times, where you have to weigh the options as best you can and decide from there.

There is someone who will help you with some of the calculations.  From the University of Wisconsin Energy Institute the “Environmental Impact Calculator”.

 

 

 

If you care what’s in your food California – Please sign!

Sign the petition

(that’s genetically modified organisms)

Please log on and sign before April 22, 2012!

This is for all those in California who care what is in their food.   If enough signatures can be collected, there will be a measure on the ballot in November 2012 that will require genetically engineered foods to add a label.  That’s it!  All this law is asking is that consumers are informed about the foods they are eating.

Approximately 800,000 signatures are needed by April 22, 2012.  So, if you haven’t already signed the petition go to www.labelgmos.org to learn about the campaign or volunteer.

 

 

 

A Question of Thanks.

“What are you grateful for?”

I’m going to start my patient visits this next week with that one question.

At each patient visit I often ask them what they do, who they live with, do they feel safe and, as an obstetrician/gynecologist, any number of other lifestyle questions about smoking, drinking, drug use, and sexual partners.

Since it is that time of year to ponder those things that we are thankful for, I thought a simple question like this might be a good way to get to know the patient a little better as an individual and what’s important to them.  It may just make those patients who are having a rough time in some area of their lives recognize the positives.

The more I am simply grateful for the little things in my life, the happier and healthier I feel and I plan to see how this reflects on my patients these next few days before Thanksgiving.

Each day, think about the simple things that you are grateful for…not just this time of year but all year.

“Made in China”

Is everything?

Picking up my child’s toys in his room the other day I realized that the majority had the words “Made in China” embossed on it’s surface.  The reaction I had was actually sadness.  Admittedly, I also felt a twinge of guilt for the toys we had accrued over the past 2 years having to travel so far, sad for the jobs that potentially were lost over seas, I worried about how the workers in China that made these products may have been treated, and wondered how safe they were since pretty much every toy has been in my son’s mouth, well, multiple times.

It’s not just toys that are being made overseas.  Our government is shipping the infrastructure jobs, rebuilding and remembering our country with the “Made in China” imprint.  My beloved, well-traveled powerhouse, the currently being reconstructed Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge was essentially built in China.  Although US workers are putting it together, more jobs could’ve been created had the bridge been, from the ground up, American made.  I even read that the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, DC was sculpted in China, using Chinese granite, by a Chinese sculptor.  Were there no African-American sculptors available?

With three years of unemployment rates in this nation over 9%1, over 14 million Americans without work2 and no sign of any rapid turn around, we should be paying more attention to where the products we purchase are produced.  A product manufactured outside the United States, means potentially another American without a job.  I’m one of those people who argued with my husband about not using the self-check out lane at the grocery store.  Of course, I enjoy human interaction and my husband prefers the company of computers to people (at least most people).  However, my argument was that the one checker manning 4 machines meant 3 people out of work.  Do you really think the grocery store will pass the savings on?  Doubtful!  Besides I’m willing to pay extra to help keep more people employed.

On a grander scale, what if companies did the ‘right’ thing and were willing to pay a little more to keep people employed here instead of moving their manufacturing abroad? Who will buy their products anyway if people don’t have adequate wages to purchase them?  It certainly won’t be the Chinese workers making at most $1.36/hour3 but in poorer areas earning potentially less.  Even if they move the manufacturing abroad, spending extra to ensure the workers health and safety is of utmost importance should be a pre-requisite, but who is going to enforce this?  Restrictions on these facilities in other countries are fewer; there aren’t any requirements about providing health care, or regulations about other benefits.

On NPR they were telling a story about Econolux refrigerators moving away from a small community in the Midwest to Mexico.  It’s not China but its move basically crushed this small town.  It mentioned that the state had offered to build them a new facility and allow them to pay no taxes to stay.  The Board of Directors for Econolux, the story went, took 7 minutes of private discussion to reject the deal because the cost of wages and essentially, the significantly reduced worker’s rights in Mexico made the move the economic choice.  Nothing the state offered could offset that financial benefit to the company, even if it meant the community that had been supported by that manufacturing industry collapsed.  U.S. citizens should ask companies to pay a moral price, by not purchasing from them.

While I am for a global economy I also believe in less use of fossil fuels to ship these products, Fair Trade, and Worker’s rights in all countries.  I personally want to support companies that are built on a strong foundation aimed at supporting the communities in which they establish, not at their expense.

References:

  1. Hatfield, D.  (2011) Contra Costa Times Editorial.  Hats off to U.S. Labor, Page A14.
  2. Joseph, J (2011) USA Today. America shouldn’t be ‘made in China’, page 9A.
  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “International comparisons of hourly compensation costs in manufacturing, 2008,” August 26, 2010, available at www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ichcc.pdf.

Simple Call to Action

Just Think Before You Buy

The more I pay attention, listen to news programs, and read articles, the more I feel like I have to, as the famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi reads “be the change you want to see in the world”.

I can feel myself getting angrier about injustices toward each other and to the planet.  These ultimately are injustices towards ourselves.

Was it listening to NPR and the physician guest on there was speaking about all the harmful ingredients we were adding to our ‘health care’ products?  Seems ironic that health related products ultimately might make us sick.

Was it the day I was picking up my child’s toys and noticed everything had the embedded phrase “made in china”?  That same day I heard a story about a factory in China that was using developmentally disabled children as slave labor.

Maybe it was reading about the amount of chemicals used in producing our crops that are ultimately poisoning us in our food or water and then taking a drive down 5-South and seeing those crops being sprayed.

Could be wondering what potential issues with genetically engineered crops may arise in future years?  I’d much prefer an organically grown fruit/vegetable, I wonder those that aren’t marked as such where do they come from?

Although always aware, on some level I suspect we too often choose to ignore so that we can stay sane.  Ignorance is bliss but once you become conscious of injustices how can you not take action, say something, do something, even little things in your own life?

A simple way we can effect change as a consumer is with the all mighty American dollar.  While it may not be wielding the power it once did (with our credit rating downgrade and all) it still gets a point across.  So, at a minimum start thinking about your purchases.  I’m all about encouraging thrift store finds.  The sale of these items sometimes supports a good cause but at a minimum is at least re-using items. With my husband’s family size, we love to receive and pass along hand-me-downs and hey, once it falls apart those clothes can be used as rags.  When you do buy something new, a new motto for myself is: “be conscious” about where the item comes from.  I’m starting to think more when I shop.  Admittedly, this is not easy!  It takes time and the ease at which I used to purchase things has gone by the wayside.  A want exists and then I find I have to analyze it before I buy.

The Lowell Center for Sustainable Production in Massachusetts evaluates companies’ ecological health and they came up with these five questions to ask before you buy:

* Is the product healthy for consumers?

* Does production benefit local communities?

* Is the product economically viable?

* Is the product environmentally sound?

* Is the production process safe for workers?

Start asking yourself these questions.  We should only buy items if we morally support the answers.  Shop with integrity!

There is no reason that companies can’t be more innovative by designing and producing products with sustainability in mind. The future of industry should be one where they play a significant role in supporting communities and simultaneously working toward reducing their impact on the environment.

Ha!  Asking companies to have a conscience, is that too much to ask?  There are those that do and I’m now specifically looking for them.  Sure they have to make money, it is a business after all, but how much do they need at the expense of human life, health, and the environment?

“You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result “ – Gandhi

Organic Living. A Beginning.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened.

Definitely, after finishing residency and having time to think.  While in residency you are barely hanging on and I was lucky if I made it to the grocery store, let alone be conscientious about what I was purchasing.

Like, I’m sure it happens for many, the birth of my first child got me thinking more about my own health and my family’s health.  As a physician getting ready to enter her own practice, I also began to feel obligated to think more about what is in our food, our household products, our clothing, and our environment for the sake of my patient’s.  After all, they were bringing babies into this world too.

Once residency ended, I decided I needed to take time to devote to my son, born during residency at University of California, San Francisco, and figure out the next steps for my family.  It’s hard to get off the treadmill of a medical career when you’ve been on it for so many years but it gave me a chance to think about what is truly important.

My husband and I had toyed with the idea of moving to Hawaii, a place we both enjoy.  Instead we found ourselves in Livermore, just about the opposite of Hawaii.  My husband had grown up there and with our little one a Nana, Pop-Pop and Kiki (auntie) nearby had new meaning.  Other family members also live relatively close with their children.  With family and friends already there it felt like a naturally established community.  Finding somewhere where we could build our family and community became a top priority.  Funny how much a child changes your life, in so many ways!

After making the decision to take time off to care for my child, move to Downtown Livermore, and ultimately, revert to simplifying life it’s impossible not to begin to ponder other aspects of your life.  We planted a garden.  We shop at the weekly Farmer’s Market.   We walk everywhere we can, son in the red wagon for shopping trips a few blocks to the grocery store.  Just about every Sunday we spend the evening at my in-laws for dinner.

This simplicity of life translated into learning more about healthful living, natural ingredients, and ways to reduce our ecological footprint.  Our children’s futures depend on it.  The self-centeredness of caring only for yourself and hanging on just to get through residency evolved into thinking more family centered about how to improve the health of my family.  It’s further expanded to concern regarding these issues in my community.

As someone whose always liked to write and often kept journals, to solidify the information I am learning and make the commitment to the universe, I am now choosing to write about and share it.  While not an expert in these matters, you will be accompanying me on my learning journey and maybe find your own journey in the process.

Here’s to improving our health, the health of our community, and the world…one choice at a time!