Enough with the green Halloween

October 31st, 2011

Photo via Flickr: Jelene

Should we do everything in our power to reform US corn subsidies so that genetically modified corn syrup isn’t the sweetener of choice for US candy manufacturers? Absolutely. Should we support GMO labeling laws so that those companies are forced to rethink putting GM ingredients in their products to begin with? Of course! Should we urge companies like Hershey’s to stop sourcing cocoa from places that use child slave labor (or even boycott those companies)? Not even a question.

But until those reforms happen, should we punish our children by not letting them partake in some good old fashioned trick-or-treating and candy-eating that (heaven forbid) isn’t organic and fair-trade certified? I say an emphatic no.

There’s been a big push this year to green Halloween, to make it a “conscious” holiday. I’m all for DIY costumes, lead-free makeup, and using a pillowcase to collect treats instead of the ubiquitous landfill-bound plastic pumpkin, but seriously: Don’t make your kids stay home and celebrate with lame healthy “treats” while their friends run around the neighborhood and rejoice in their candy carousing.

Halloween only happens once a year, and kids need to be kids. Even the eco ones.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Over the years, I’ve attended a lot of eco-related conferences and festivals, and I have to be honest: A lot of them are just halls filled with booths of people trying to sell a bunch of junk by calling it “green.” Not so with the Green Festival, a grassroots project between Green America and Global Exchange, and arguably one of the most community- and solutions-focused “green” festivals in the country. That’s probably why it’s had such staying power — the festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

That’s why I’m excited that this weekend, Green Festival will be coming to the Los Angeles Convention Center, where more than 125 speakers will grace 10 different stages and pavilions to share their knowledge with us all. These aren’t just eco-celebrities — these are renown authors, professors, filmmakers, scientists, community and political leaders who actively working to make this city a truly sustainable place.

Of course, the festival won’t be a total wonk-fest; there will be plenty of fun in the form of live music, yummy local vegetarian food, an organic beer and wine garden, an eco fashion show, and yes, plenty of exhibitors showcasing their green wares.

If you haven’t purchased your ticket yet (an all-access pass is $10), let me make it easy for you: I have four free tickets to give away. Just leave me a comment about what you’re most excited to see at Green Fest (take a look at the website for more details), and I’ll pick the winners later today.

I’ll be at the festival on Saturday hosting one of the speaker stages, so I hope to see you there!

–Jennifer Grayson

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When termites attack

October 24th, 2011

Photo via Flickr: Montereypubliclibrary

It’s been a nauseating, if not completely frustrating, couple of months here at Chez Red, White and Green, which I’m going to blame for my sporadic posting of late (my apologies). It all started back at the end of August, when the first of the Southern California heat waves struck and these tiny flying-ant-like creatures began appearing wherever they could squeeze in through the cracks in the window screens to escape the blazing sun. They were gross-looking, but they disappeared once the temperature cooled back down. So I forgot about them.

That is, until a couple of weeks ago, when the next heat wave struck. I came home from an afternoon of errands in the 95-degree heat, put my daughter down for a nap, and then made my way to the bathroom, happy to finally have a chance to pee. Except that I never even made it past the bathroom door. There, greeting me, was a veritable swarm of the flying ant creatures — I’m talking hundreds — around the windows, the toilet, the sink, the bathtub, everywhere.

I spent the next half-hour sucking them all up with the vacuum cleaner (thank goodness I’m not one of those eco types who only keeps a broom in the house), then called the first green exterminator who could come right over.

The verdict: They weren’t flying ants. They were termites.

I was hoping that the problem would be localized and could be spot-treated with a non-toxic botanical insecticide, but the long and short of it is that our building has a complete infestation. Which means the building has to be tented and completely fumigated.

The chemical typically used in termite tenting is sulfuryl fluoride, or Vikane, as it’s called by the Dow Chemical Company. Used in gas form, it’s an incredibly potent neurotoxin that wipes out everything in its wake — including people, if there’s direct exposure in large amounts. Before fumigation, a form of tear gas is actually released first into the building to make sure that no one remains inside before the insecticide is pumped in. (In the instances where that’s happened, it hasn’t been pretty.)

Because it’s a gas, the prevailing wisdom — at least from the pest management companies and Dow — is that sulfuryl fluoride leaves no residue. Once the tent is removed, the gas diffuses into the atmosphere (at a warming rate 4,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide, by the way), and residents can move back into their new termite-free building a few days later.

I, however, am not so sure. The EPA is now rethinking the use of sulfuryl fluoride as a fumigant in food supplies, citing the possible health risks due to excessive fluoride exposure. There’s also evidence that the gas can be absorbed by materials in the home — including polystyrene insulation, wood, polyester cushion fibers and even latex baby bottle nipples — and then off-gas over a longer period of a time.

Not surprisingly, if the gas does linger, infants and small children are more susceptible than adults to the effects of chronic exposure, which include lung and kidney damage. So the bottom line is, with a 14-month-old daughter, we’re not taking any chances: We’re moving out. Not as in, moving out for a week or so while our apartment is being fumigated, but moving out for good.

Is this a huge pain in the ass? Yes. Am I overreacting? Maybe. But when it comes to the health of my family, I always think it’s better to be safe than sorry. Seriously, what would you do?

–Jennifer Grayson

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If you haven’t been following the “Made in America” series from ABC World News, it’s definitely worth a watch (and check out the interactive map, above). Last night’s show featured a home in Bozeman, MT, that was built entirely from American-made materials — right down to its custom-made J bolts.

The builder, Anders Lewendal, is also an economist; he believes that if every builder in the country used just 5 percent more American materials, we’d have 220,000 more jobs.

Is it a coincidence that the word economy also contains the word eco? By buying American-made, you’re also, as a general rule, making the greener choice, since you’re avoiding the extra fuel expense to ship those foreign-made goods halfway around the globe.

In some cases, you’re also minimizing waste; David Muir noted in the report last night that American-made nails clog the nail gun less frequently than the China-made ones.

Only 50 years ago, foreign goods comprised a mere 8 percent of Americans’ purchases. Today, nearly 60 percent of everything we buy is imported. To buy American costs more in many cases, yes, but I see the extra expense almost like tithing — whatever you give will come back to us ten-fold.

–Jennifer Grayson

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[Watch video on YouTube]

Since discovering Robyn O’Brien’s book about the link between genetically modified food and children’s food allergies, I’ve made it my mission to avoid feeding GMOs to my 13-month-old daughter. I’ve written before about how this isn’t easy to do, though, because while every other developed nation in the world has either banned genetically modified foods or mandated their labeling, there are currently no labeling laws for GM products in the US.

This is insane. The federal government has no problem slapping graphic warning labels on a pack of cigarettes; so why, when it comes to something that affects all of us — the food we eat every day — are we left dining in the dark?

So asks the video above from the new Just Label It campaign, launched with Environmental Working Group, O’Brien, The Center for Food Safety and more than 300 organizations. With this kind of momentum, we have a real shot at changing this.

Watch it, and then tell FDA that we Americans have the right to know we’re eating genetically engineered food. Click here.

–Jennifer Grayson

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