A few years ago I wrote The Motherhugger Challenges, a series of exercises in awareness and action for me and other mums to step by step change the world, tackling one issue each month. One of the steps was a plastics awareness month. For that month I noted how many items in our daily lives are plastic. When you start thinking about it, it is quite shocking. And then to consider how much plastic has replaced items made of wood or glass or paper, and what is best for sustainability, it all becomes very complicated.
Anyway, there is a book out at the moment called Slow Death By Rubber Duck, by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie.They have used themselves in experiments measuring the toxicity of many household goods we use every day. They ate tuna and measured the mercury. They spent a few days eating no food that had come into contact with plastic - now there's a challenge! They measured the toxicity of lots of bad things in our household items, like teflon, and the fragrance in toiletries, and warn what we need to avoid.
They say we shouldn't microwave plastic. (Where does that leave a fan of Tupperware?)
To be helpful, I'm sharing this little rhyme to help avoid toxic plastics. In looking at the recycled symbols remember: 4, 5, 1, 2, all the rest are bad for you.
I had bought a packet of microwave brown rice; the type you microwave in the plastic pack. The recycling number is 7. That's bad. Either wicked bad or negligent bad. But seriously bad.
I've been thinking about how much we trust everybody. We trust the chef to not spit on our food. We trust the doctor to know how to prescribe medicine. We trust manufacturers to not include toxins in their products. Every time we get into a car we trust that the brakes will work, that everyone will obey the road rules, stay in their lane, stop at the red lights. That everyone has had their car checked by a good mechanic. That everyone driving is licensed. That no-one will have a heart attack or brain aneurysm, and that everyone will drive with good will. That's a lot of trust. Especially for a situation where any one of these matters could be a matter of life and death. It is really quite amazing that there isn't carnage on every road every day. OK, I have a problem with anxiety around driving, especially on motorways, especially since I broke down on a motorway, but I think I'm justified.
So, how to live in this toxic world? We aren't to cook in aluminium, although aluminium cookware is still being sold. We aren't to microwave plastic. We aren't to use teflon. There is lead in lipstick. We aren't to use most of the toiletries, cosmetics, and household cleaning products. Michael Pollen, who writes about food, has a few mottos about food, and one of them is 'don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't have recognised.' Should we try to live as if we are in a WWII house? People were generally healthier then. There wasn't an epidemic of obesity, asthma, allergies, ADHD. So perhaps we should also prepare our food as our grandmothers would have. And use the cleaning products and toiletries our grandmothers would have. My grandmother used Sunlight soap to wash her clothes, her dishes, and herself inlcuding her hair. I could do that. I already use vinegar and baking soda for cleaning. I already cook at home and mostly avoid food additives.
It might be time to resurrect The Motherhugger Challenges.
In our household we ask two questions about everything we might want to buy or use: Where does it come from and where does it go? It seems to be necessary if you want to live a clean and simple, non-toxic and ethical life. But it is also a shortcut to a new type of mental illness. It really can drive you crazy. Environmental or global consciousness makes it very difficult to relax and to trust.
So, it isn't just that parenting has become more intensive. Modern life is more intensive. We shouldn't have to be experts on everything from vaccinations to food sources to trans-fats to palm oil to different types of plastics and what plastic bottle can you microwave milk in,what food additives are banned in other countries and where everything was made, how were the workers treated, what were they paid, what was polluted in the process and where our rubbish goes. If we had regulations that stopped these things at the source, we might be able to relax a little and trust again. To manufacture cook-in-the-pack rice in toxic plastic is unconscionable. Obviously we are too trusting if we think there are regulations to prevent this happening. So, we protect ourselves as best we can, and keep reading the packets and learning about how unsafe our world is, and the information overloads and the anxiety rises. It's all too much. Learning to live simply and cleanly shouldn't be so hard. It should be the base point. Everything should be non-toxic unless stated otherwise.
The next step is to campaign for tighter regulations. How to begin? It requires more energy than I can muster right now.