Pastoral or Pastiche? The Fictional Farm and a Philosophy of Food

“Many animals live on the farm. The cow and her calf live in the barn. The horse and the colt live in the stable. Mama hen and her chicks live in a coop.”

Maya’s books are full of lies. Chock full, you might say.

Even setting aside all the animals’ surprising gift of gab, book after dog-eared book has the pig running after the goose, consorting with the horse, and negotiating a game with the cow, all around a red-doored barn, sitting high on a grassy hill.

Contrast this heartening (if admittedly corny), picture with the chicken hellscape in Nicholas Kristof’s column about an investigation into an egg farm in today’s New York Times:

In some cases, 11 hens were jammed into a cage about 2 feet by 2 feet. The Humane Society says that that is even more cramped than the egg industry’s own voluntary standards — which have been widely criticized as inadequate.

An automatic feeding cart that runs between the cages sometimes decapitates hens as they’re eating, the investigator said. Corpses are pulled out if they’re easy to see, but sometimes remain for weeks in the cages, piling up until they have rotted into the wiring, he added. Other hens have their heads stuck in the wire and are usually left to die, the investigator said.

Several states – and all of Europe – have banned the most confining types of cages for egg-laying hens. But due to a lack of national standards in the U.S., animal welfare laws on farms are generally spotty and weak.

In other news just from today, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it would begin a voluntary program to require prescriptions for antibiotic drugs for healthy farm animals. Since the drugs been used to spur growth rather than treat illness, risking super-bugs, this is a step in the right direction, albeit hampered inexplicably by its “voluntary” nature.

On the even ickier side, a small study of slaughtered chickens found (admittedly harmless) e coli fecal contamination in 48 percent of the samples tested. Mmm. Some poop with that hot wing?

Sadly, none of this is really news. If you have the stomach for it (and I don’t, most days), check out this This American Life episode for television (yes, TV), in which they visit a pig farm so removed from the barnyard that the Muppets’ segment “Pigs in Space” appears eerily prophetic.

The most heart-breaking part of the whole porcine show is when the farmer and his son visit their tiny group of rootin-in-the-dirt “outdoor” pigs and reminisce about the past in which pigs were pigs, and the push for production didn’t require farms to take on crippling debt to pay for expensive technologies that, quite literally, alienate the humans and animals involved.

As Michael Pollan observed in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, modern practices of mono-cultural farming takes animals off the land, thereby creating health and waste management problems for the animals (and us), and impoverishing the soil so that it requires fertilizers, which in turn pollutes the soil. Rinse, repeat.

And garbage in, garbage out. The food resulting from this system is nutritionally impoverished, because chickens are not eating the grubs and insects that add minerals to their eggs, and because the meat of grain (as opposed to grass) fed cows is lower in Omega-3s, which are critical to health, as Marion Nestle explains in her seminal guide to healthy food, What to Eat.

Cows in particular, because they are ruminants that are supposed to eat grass, become ill under feedlot conditions. The animals, to maintain a baseline in such an unnatural setting, are given drugs, including hormones, caffeine, antibiotics, and even anti-depressants, all of which ends up in our water and also likely in our food.

I am not a vegetarian. Nonetheless, it troubles me, as it obviously does Kristof, that animals do not live as animals in this industrialized conveyor belt of nutrition pellets. It seems obvious to me that animals are capable of fear, stress, and suffering, and that they deserve access to sunshine and some reasonable semblance of a life that suits their animal ways.

Humans also fare poorly in this system, whether as workers, as chronicled in the wandering but humane video novella, Fast Food Nation, or as consumers of an impoverished and polluted food supply.

It is also profoundly, even unethically, wasteful. As Pollan explained in an incredibly hopeful and worthwhile summary of his thesis on how food policy should change, from the sunnily naïve perspective of 2008:

When we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. …[Instead,] crop plants and animals must once again be married on the farm — as in Wendell Berry’s elegant “solution.” Sunlight nourishes the grasses and grains, the plants nourish the animals, the animals then nourish the soil, which in turn nourishes the next season’s grasses and grains. Animals on pasture can also harvest their own feed and dispose of their own waste — all without our help or fossil fuel.

The truth is, when I look at Maya’s books, I think we know all this. The books are more than nostalgic markers for a pastoral imaginary that no longer, generally speaking, exists.

Both her natural obsession with animals and their many, many weird noises, and these books’ reflexive, fantastical depictions of the animal world, speak to a deep craving in children, and in all of us, to learn our place in the order of things.

We see who we are in how we treat animals, if we’ll only look. In this, the moral argument by animal rights’ activists is essentially correct. As John Berger observed in About Looking regarding a similar nostalgic assignment of place:

Public zoos came into existence at the beginning of the period which was to see the disappearance of animals from daily life. The zoo to which people go to meet animals, to observe, to see them, is, in fact a monument to the impossibility of such encounters.

So we’re all up against impossibility. And nonetheless, as grandiose as it may sound, I source our meat and dairy with great care, mainly because I want to nurture sources for these with intentional respect.

I choose certified organic grass-fed meats and pastured eggs because those animals are in the right relationship with the environment, with the sun, and with the nutrients that are supposed to enrich that food. The food is better, the farming we support is better, and the concerns about toxic additions like pesticides and hormones simply go away.

It’s flippin’ expensive, and certainly a luxury in a world where people still struggle to eat at all. For our part, though, I’d rather buy less, and more of the best — meat, milk, butter, and eggs — than just read to Maya from another damn book with talking animals, playing another winsome, cutesy game of “let’s pretend.”


What we do:

  • I like certified organic, because, as Marion Nestle puts in What to Eat (at 45): “[I]f you want fewer pesticides in your body and in the bodies of your children, buy organics. If you want fewer pesticides in soil and water, organics are also a good idea.”
  • Organic certification provides an agreed-upon set of standards, and government enforcement. Organic certification also has some shortcomings, including costs that favor larger producers, and animal welfare conditions that may not be much better than conventional farms (though with fewer antibiotics and pesticides in the feed). If farmers at the market say they are better than organic, that’s all well and good, but I have to take their word for it. I tend to go for certified (and local) if I can, even though it’s far from a perfect system. Still, local close-to-organic (to keep carbon miles down) can be fine if you feel confident in the promises made about the product. Visiting a farm is also a nice way to see for yourself how animals are treated.
  • Going beyond organic, basically, is all about grass and sunshine. So, organic, grass-fed beef is best (grass-fed and grass-finished is even better), even though, frankly, the rules defining “grass-fed” on the label leave a lot unspecified. If you can ask questions at the farmer’s market, all the better.
  • For milk, we buy whole, organic, grass-fed milk (which is quite a shift from the watery milk-like substance I grew up with). For safety reasons, I don’t believe in giving raw milk to children (if adults want to risk their health for a marginal increase in enzymes, that’s up to them).
  • For eggs, we buy pastured (sometimes labeled pasture-raised) and organic. These are often hard to find (Trader Joe’s never has them, Whole Foods rarely). Our crunchy-as-hemp-granola local natural food Coop and farmer’s markets are the best sources I’ve come across. 
  • For butter, we buy grass-fed and organic (see the pattern?). Given that chemicals like pesticides accumulate in fats, the key for butter is organic.
  • For yogurt and cheese, I look for grass-fed and organic, but will settle in a pinch for “rbST-free,” which indicates it’s free of bovine growth hormones.
  • For chicken, I look for pastured chicken, raised sustainably. At Whole Foods, this is indicated by the 4 or higher animal welfare rating, which always seems to be sold out. I’ve been buying whole young chickens at our farmer’s market and sticking the whole thing in soup, or, failing that, hacking it up myself, which is not a particularly pleasant thing to do, given that I’m hardly out of the Cordon Bleu.
  • We make do with less meat, due to the significant increase in price. I tend to make stews, soups and other dishes that stretch flavors along for half a week or so.
  • It is far more expensive to eat this way. And pickier to source, by far.
  • Buying in bulk from a farm share (or “CSA”) sometimes helps with costs, and usually is fresher and better quality. It’s always nice to know the farm and farmer, and connect the dots.
  • When traveling or eating out, basically all bets are off. I try to find organic snacks, and pack Maya’s food and milk at least. And we eat out much less than we used to. Still, the dearth of sources for the best food is a problem. When we’re out and about, given the challenges, I let it go, and figure that most of what we eat at home is better, and that has to be good enough.

More Resources:

  • Eat Wild is a great resource for locating wilder foodstuffs, local farms, and for reading about the benefits of grass-fed and pastured foods.
  • You can look up your local CSA’s at Local Harvest. Or ask around at your local farmer’s market, since you already have the pick-up location figured out.
  • If you haven’t read it already, Omnivore’s Dilemma is a moveable feast for back-to-nature foodies.
  • I also generally follow anything the eminently smart and sensible Marion Nestle writes, but much of her focus is on the (utterly inadequate) regulation of food, and (frighteningly corrupt) politics of food. People who are not nearly as nerdy as I am may have more life-affirming preoccupations.

It’s Etsy Being Green

Or greenish, anyway. I thought I would take a breather from my furniture fail tale to share something with more fun in it, inherently.

Despite my grumpiness on the sofa question, eco-friendly can also be modern, affordable and well-designed. Most people know all about Etsy, the wonderful and wild DIY marketplace in which only the crafty survive. (And I hope you also know about Regretsy, “where DIY meets WTF.” Snicker.)

Etsy, of course, is also a great source of green and handmade items, including decor, toys and organic hand-knitted clothing. I particularly like two wooden toy companies, Little Sapling Toys and The Wood Garden:

In addition, there are adorable prints for the nursery from many artisans, like this one:

And if you have an urge to go all organic on bedding for a new baby, as I foolishly did, but have no skill at sewing, also like me, you can find help for your problem on Etsy.

(I used Etsy’s formerly-amazing Alchemy function, in which you could dream up what you need and have artisans bid for your attention like courtesans. At least, you used to be able to do this, before the Etsy folks put the function on ice. A replacement is eventually promised, and in the meantime, I gather Artfire’s Forge now does the same thing, so you could try there.)

Basically, I ordered fabric and batting from NearSea Naturals, a wonderful organic fabric company, and had it sent to an crafter (no longer on Etsy), who made this beautiful quilt and bedding set, with simple matching curtain valances:

What I didn’t realize is that babies and toddlers have about as much use for bedding as I have for a sewing machine.

While it’s a devastatingly cute idea to outfit the crib, and all the stores push the stuff, what you really need is a decent organic mattress and fitted crib sheet — the rest is, basically, just an adorable strangulation hazard. (This set, thankfully, is not too babyish, as it will have to do until Maya is a gangly, protesting pre-teen.)

I’ve also asked crafters to design custom items for me on several occasions, including these affordable and sweet decoupage frames with paper I picked out from Scappin’ Sassy (given the materials, I let them off-gas away from the nursery for a month or so before hanging):

Custom pillows are a cheap way to reinvigorate tired or staid old furniture, like this shoe bench, leather chair and 2 rocking chairs (one was my mother’s from when I was a baby, and one we acquired at a yard sale for $5 with no usable cushion).

This makes them new again with modern patterns. Rocking chair pillows, in particular, are usually deadly with quaintness. You could go super-organic with these, as you like and have the budget:

These were all made from my fabric selections by the very talented Maureen of 2 and 2 Together. I re-upholstered the ottoman in the matching fabric (I’m dangerous with a staple gun…).

Etsy also solved a space problem in our narrow cabinets caused by the fact that we have a lot of spices. “Spice” was one of Maya’s first words, so she evidently shares our obsession with star anise.

After weeks of looking in vain for a spice rack that could hold 50+ spices, I found a woodworker, who now has his own on-line shop at Custom Quality Crafts, who made a beautiful, towering solid wood spice rack in a nice cherry stain to match the kitchen cabinets, and at a very reasonable price ($72, plus shipping):

I recycle old spice jars by putting chalkboard contact paper on them. Most of the time, anyway, it doesn’t wear off. We use this when a recipe is missing, oh, je nais se quoi:

Ouch, Couch! A Sad Sofa Saga… Part 2

In which our heroine searches in vain for someplace safe and healthy to sit. Should be simple enough, right?

If you read my last post, you’ll know that, just as Dr. Seuss says, there’s a Bofa on my sofa.

So what am I going to do about it? Well, the Sofa Situation is still evolving, but here’s what I know so far:

First, there’s a lot of green-washing on the question of what is an “eco-sofa.” The vast majority of “green” sofas may have sustainably harvested wood, which is great, and may even have traded some soy-based foam for petroleum foam, which I suppose is good (I haven’t looked at the climate tradeoffs, but it seems likely to be better to use fewer petrochemicals).

But they don’t often mention the issue of chemical flame retardants. With a few rare exceptions, you basically have to corner a customer service representative who actually knows the answer to your nutty questions, and even then, they may be reading from a document with more relation to the periodic table than to typical customer service scripts.

Nonetheless, the answer, pretty uniformly, is that an idiotic California law called California Technical Bulletin 117 requires anything sold in California (i.e., almost anything sold by any seller of any size in the U.S.), to have these harmful chemicals in it.

This law is defended every year against attempts to take it off the books by a shadowy chemical lobby group masquerading as a fire safety squad, and so a chemical dictate from the crunchy state of California ends up polluting homes and people all over this great nation. Of course, if they didn’t make all the foam in things out of, basically, solidified gasoline, then they might not need to douse it in toxics just to keep us from blowing up the house. (But see: fire retardants do bupkis to improve fire safety.)

Second, if I read one more post from a green living Web site about the new “eco-fabulous” green design options, I’m going to toss my sprouts. There are, it turns out, a few incredibly pricey options for chemical flame retardant-free sofas, if you’re willing to auction your first-born to get them. Since I only have one child, that’s not really an option.

If you want a sofa without chemicals in it, you’re all in on the green thing – you can’t go halfsies, because they won’t let you. You’ll get the certified sustainably harvested this, and the hemp fabric that, which I suppose would be ok, except for the fact that you’re paying a hefty upcharge for all of it. (The menu option of “I’ll just take one without the added side-dish of toxics” is basically a non-starter.)

One company requires – and I’m not joking here – a doctor’s note saying you should be allowed to order your sofa chemical-free, because of, you know, your mentally questionable insistence on not wanting to breathe toxic chemicals while watching Game of Thrones.

Here’s what didn’t work:

1)    Crate and Barrel and West Elm have a number of attractive options marketed as “green sofas.” But when I called customer service, they said that they complied with the California law by including a “chlorinated phosphate” in the fabric and foam, which sounds like Tris to my uninformed, and admittedly paranoid, ears. (If someone else has a better guess, please let me know.) At any rate, phosphates = chemicals.

2)    Despite overly enthusiastic referrals from an eco-design Web site, Overstock was similar, but with even less clear information and even more of a green tinted hue concealing the facts. Even their more environmentally friendly options often only had one “green” thing about them, for example, this “eco-sofa,” which was allegedly green because it “uses environmentally friendly soy based foam that offers improved durability, strength, support and comfort versus conventional foam cores.” To be fair, the one reviewer did say that there was minimal off-gassing, which can’t be a bad thing, but I’m still concerned that they believed the product is more environmentally healthy than it actually seems to be from the information provided.

3)    An outfit called seemed promising, given the reasonable prices, despite the California location. But when I called the phone number on the site (there was no way to place an order online), I got the phone company operator saying that it was an invalid number. Hard to place an order there.

4)    Here’s my comically uninformative exchange with “The Sofa Company” via their Livechat option: “You are now chatting with ‘thesofaco.’ you: Is it possible to buy an eco-friendly sofa without any flame retardants in the fabric or foam please? thesofaco: No at the moment there is still about 60% off flame retardants in the foam”

5)    Broyhill Furniture’s Customer Service representative told me over the phone that “to comply with furnishing and fire safety regulations…all coverings and fillings are cigarette and match resistant.” ‘Nuff said.

6)    A couple other companies, such as If Green, were nice enough to talk with me but were no longer producing furniture. Q Collection these days seems to be a fabric-only company. Pure by Ami McKay appears to be a bedding line for Bed, Bath & Beyond, with no sofas in evidence.

7)    I even called two custom furniture places in my area. One didn’t get back to me. The other makes knock-offs of designs from other furniture places on the cheap. They checked on the issue, and couldn’t get supplies without chemicals due to the fact that everything came from – you guessed it – California, which seems to be some kind of chemical-cabal couch clearinghouse with a lock-down on the national market.

Drum roll, please.

Here are the 5 options I found for  “green” sofas without (known) chemical flame retardants:

Option 1: The High-End Winner

The sofas that I liked best were from Ecobalanza, which offers a number of styles to choose from. Here’s how that conversation went:


I am very interested in purchasing a sofa, in particular, the Eli in dark brown Hemp, the Mai in crimson, or the Round-d in crimson. What are the prices and shipping charges please? Please confirm that you do not use any chemical flame retardants, including PBDEs or Tris.



Hi Laura,

Thank you for your interest in our furniture line. We pride ourselves in the purity of materials, craftsmanship and love that goes into building our sofas. We do not use any chemical fire retardants in our furniture. In fact, we only use natural and organic materials. Synthetic materials would only be used in case you requested a recycled polyester upholstery fabric. Below I am including a pdf with a more about how we build our furniture and some photos.

For fire retardants, we use 4 different types of wool, 2 of which we have developed in collaboration with local farms and artisans:

1. Local felted wool covers all wood and flat surfaces
2. Certified organic German wool for cushions and smooth backs.
3. Local breed specific wool for back cushions filled with hand fluffed kapok.
4. Thick wool padding over springs

Let me know if you have more questions and if you would like swatches sent, we work with a broad range of fabric options that are not currently shown on the website.

Pricing for the pieces you are interested in are as follows:

Eli in dark brown Hemp: 72 x 36 x 36 $3775

Mai in crimson (priced in wool, but other fabrics available): 75 X 40 X 32 $5880

Round-d in crimson (priced in wool, but other fabrics available): 72 x 35 x 34 $4375

Did you get a chance to check out additional photos of our work? You can view them on Facebook. Thank you and hope your day is wonderful,



888.220.6020 | F. 888.503.0535

PO Box 17183

Seattle, WA 98127

Passionately committed to contributing to a healthier home, community and environment.


She also estimated shipping, in a later exchange, at around $500 for curbside delivery. So even the cheapest option from this company clocks in at over 4K.

On the other hand, her response was refreshingly thoughtful and thorough. And the designs from this company are modern and stylish, so at least they also look spendy.

Option 2: The Green Slouch

For about the same amount of money, you can also buy a sofa from Dalla Terra. There’s really only one style, plus a matching club chair. There is also a loveseat and sectional. You have the choice of 4 colors of hemp fabric and 4 wooden trim tones. For the sofa, it’s 5K plus shipping.

They are a little schlumpy for that pricetage, in my view. But they do look comfy, and they are free of chemicals:

Hi there,

I’m looking to order an environmentally friendly sofa. Would you please confirm that your natural foam latex and other materials in the sofa foam or fabric are not treated with any chemical flame retardants? Thanks so much!

Laura MacCleery

From: EcoChoices Natural Living Store
Date: April 9, 2012 7:30:54 PM EDT
To: ‘Laura MacCleery’
Subject: RE: Dalla Terra Freight Quote Request

Dear Laura,

Yes, that is correct. There are no fire retardants on our sofas. Please let us know if you have any questions.

Best Regards,
Customer Service
EcoChoices Natural Living Store
Helping people live greener & healthier lives since 1997.

Option 3:  The Latex Solution

Another company, Viesso, offers a chemical-free upgrade to their basic sofas, which already do already have eco-friendly features. These include, according to their Web site:

– locally sourced hardwood frames
– natural jute webbing and a wool deck
– fabrics that are natural, recycled, or both. you can filter by “eco-friendly only.”

If you pay a significant up-charge and select “Extreme Green” from the foam menu, you also get a sofa with 100% natural latex on the arms, back, frame, and cushion filling. (Latex is essentially rubber, and I have concerns about whether it’s really the most comfortable thing to stretch out on. In addition, due to a later conversation, I’d also now want to ask whether the latex itself is treated with anything, which I have not yet had time to do.) You can also add goose down inside the seat and back cushions around the latex, to make it softer, again for a surcharge.

I asked the customer service fellow, who was very helpful, about the fabric. He said that you can choose to cover the furniture with untreated “organic cottons and hemp,” and that some of the polyester fabrics did have flame retardants in the stain-resistance treatments.  There are a significant number of styles to choose from, and a lot of fabrics, and those without flame retardants are indicated in the fabric menu. Shipping would range from $290 to $390 per item.

Fiddling around with the site, it also became clear that all of the more reasonably priced items were in-stock furniture that did not include custom options like my eco-upgrade. With the upgrade and shipping included, these sofas also topped $3K, and most were above 4K.

Option 4:  With a Note from Your Doctor, Crazy Lady.

Cisco Brothers, which has a “greener” outlook on furniture, allows customers to choose an “inside green” construction option for an up-charge.  Inside green construction uses 100 percent wool, organic cotton, and latex. There are a lot of styles and fabrics to choose from.

But in order to get the latex free of any chemical treatments for flame resistance, I would need a note from my doctor, which they allegedly keep on file in case there’s a fire in my home and I want to sue them for selling me a healthier sofa.

I asked the Customer Service representative for a sample form for such a note, but she didn’t have one. So here’s my draft:

Dear Company,

My patient would like to have her toddler’s bodily fluids remain as free as possible from IQ-lowering chemicals.

Zank you very much,

Dr. Strangelove

I asked how many times this is requested per year, and she said “five or so, not very often. It’s mainly if you have a chemical sensitivity, or something…” Her voice trailed off, her question mark just hanging in the air.

They don’t sell directly to the public, and there’s not a retailer near me, so we didn’t get into pricing. But they do have floor models out in New York City at the enormous style emporium, ABC Carpet, and I might get a chance to pop by next time I’m up there for work, which happens fairly often.

Given that an ashtray at ABC is out of my price-range, I’m not hopeful. But at least I’ll have someplace decent to sit while I’m visiting the store.

Option 5:  The Mystery Chemical that Is, Sadly, Likely Not OK. 

A very nice man, Ken Fonville, runs a small eco-furniture concern in North Carolina, Eco-Select Furniture. He seemed genuinely troubled when I told him that a fellow North Carolinian, Heather Stapleton, had identified toxic chemicals in young children that likely come from furniture.

He did mention in passing as part of our convo that latex-based furniture degrades under UV rays. He also pointed out that it tends to, as he put it with a slight drawl, “take a set, after a while” meaning, I guess, that it would eventually show (un)shapely indentations.

I have no opinion on whether this is true, but it didn’t seem to come from a competitive place. He was merely reflecting on why he didn’t use latex in his upholstery.

I liked his furniture because it is covered in leather. With a toddler and stain resistant chemicals off the table, all this hemp coverings business gives me real pause. And his prices are in line with what furniture normally costs.

His products use soy blend for 25 percent of the foam, and his lumber is locally certified. He read me the chemical tag for the foam, which indicated that there were no PBDEs, and no Tris. So his might be the Firemaster kind? I’m guessing. Without a test by Ms. Stapleton, we’ll never know.

It’s too bad, really. He was that nice. He was an owner who answered the phone and patiently listened while I basically lectured him on the risks to children from flame retardants in his furniture. He’s obviously really trying to get it right.

And so I really wish I could buy his couch.


What’s the upshot of all this?

Basically, we’ve got to cough up enough dough that we’ll have to forgo the next few vacations and then some, or continue sucking it up with old Ikea.

I suppose that instead of traveling the world, we’ll just hang out on our new couch, basking in how eco-fabulous we truly are. We’ll have to cancel cable, so we’ll just stare at the wall.

Seriously, what do you think I should do? Do you know of any other options for a truly green set-to?

Until then, I wish the Bofa would just move over. Just a little bit. There.

[Update: For more options on chemical-free furniture, please see the post and discussion in the comments for Sofa Saga, Part 4.]

Ouch, Couch! A Sad Sofa Saga…Part 1

ISO: Someplace (safe and healthy) to sit.

So, it all began sometime after I thought I had done exactly the right thing. (And whenever I get THAT feeling, I should know better.)

A friend of mine who runs an environmental organization wrote me after the New York Times piece came out a few weeks back to say two things: 1) Maya is very cute; 2) I should get rid of my couch.

(Now mind you, she didn’t ask what kind of couch I had, which should have been my first clue that I was asking for a world of trouble. And yes, I do have friends that are that well-meaning in a kinda pushy way. And I like ’em for it.)

I wrote back to say, thanks! And that we have an Ikea couch, which should be fine. And she wrote back to say, think again. Cue record scratch….here.

The issue here is chemical flame retardants, which are in the foam and fabric of upholstered furniture (as well as car seats, and even strollers, which is really dumb. Watch out, the stroller’s on fire!).

I had hoped we had actually solved this issue, because the flame retardants don’t actually stay in the furniture. Research shows that they get into the dust we breathe, and on the floor, where children play and crawl around. They’ve been linked to lowered IQ, cancer, thyroid dysfunction, lowered sperm count in men, you name it. One kind in particular, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDE, still has not been banned in the U.S., and gets a pretty bad rap, particularly as its been found in the blood of American toddlers at levels 3 times higher than even that of their parents (which in turn, is far higher than samples of the chemicals among Europeans).

Turns out, I was misled along with everyone else. Back in 2009 and early 2010, when I was pregnant, I started doing all sorts of reading, which is what you do when you are, literally, the size of a sofa yourself.

I happened to read this passage from the tragi-comically named “Slow Death by Rubber Duck,” in which the authors interview a scientist, Heather Stapleton, who was instrumental in showing that the chemicals get into our bodies even though they start off in the furniture:

“Are you careful in your personal life to try and avoid PBDE-laced products?” I asked.

“I am where I can be,” she replied. “For example, I don’t like to have carpets in my home; I prefer hardwood floors…. Ikea has moved away from all halogenated flame retardants, so I try to buy furniture from Ikea.”

Aha, I thought. A solution. So I called the Salvation Army, had them pick up my old couch and haul it away, and looked for a used, fugly Ikea sofa on Craigslist. Not only would I be skipping the flame retardants, I thought, but I’d also be picking it up after the formaldehyde and glues were done off-gassing. I went for their “leather” style, because it was less likely to be treated with stainguard chemicals. Now, that’s thinkin’.

My fugly Ikea sofa

Of course we found one easily, and I turned my attention to oh, having a baby. Until a few weeks ago, when I got that good news/bad news email.

In the meantime, the same Heather Stapleton continued looking into the issue. Given the timing, it was probably the minute after I hung up the phone with my Craigslist guy back in the spring of 2010 that she published her test results regarding what, exactly, were the flame retardants that Ikea and other manufacturers were using instead of PBDEs in furniture.

Surprise! Turns out, Ikea is using a chemical banned from children’s pajamas after a huge public stink back in the 1970s because it causes cancer and genetic mutations known as “Tris” (or 2,3-dibromopropyl phosphate, for the chemically curious). Back then, they learned that children merely wearing these pjs ended up with flame retardants in their urine. And, according to such radical sources as the National Cancer Institute, Tris is a “potent” cause of cancer, 100 times more powerful than the carcinogens in cigarette smoke. (Source: Slow Death by Rubber Duck, at 102.) This is in my sofa and Ikea pillows, and likely the upholstered chair in my downstairs room from Ikea as well. Grr.

(Stapleton’s tests also showed that foam manufacturers who aren’t using Tris are likely using Firemaster 550, which has never been tested for safety. Firemaster 550, which is hard to say without sounding like you’re at a Monster Truck show, contains bromine, like PBDE. It therefore has a very manly name considering that it likely reduces sperm count, like a twisted new infertility comic book character.)

Out of the frying pan into the fire, so to speak. Maya plays all over our $%#! sofa all day long. Just today, I caught her licking it, which is gross for a whole number of reasons.

I’ll pick up tomorrow with part 2, in which I gnash my teeth into tiny nubs trying to find a decent replacement for the enormous, toxic, Ikea dust-magnet in my living room.

Heavenly Pork Shoulder

Was going through the cupboards last night, and came across some lovely dried fruit. When I saw the pork shoulder from the sustainable farm at the farmer’s market this morning, I knew what I had to do.

This was truly delicious, and quite easy to prepare. You’ll need:

1 pork shoulder (organic and sustainably farmed)

Salt, pepper, rosemary, bay leaf and cinnamon sticks

1 white or yellow (organic) onion, diced

3-4 cloves (organic) garlic, sliced thin

1 cup (organic) carrots, diced

2 cups (1 bulb, basically) (organic) fennel, rough chopped

3 Tbls (grassfed, organic) butter

2 cups red wine

2-3 cups (unsulphured, organic) dried fruit (I used black mission figs, pitted dates, apricots, prunes and persimmons)

Beef or chicken (organic) stock (I used chicken, which was fine)

Preheat oven to 325F degrees. Melt the butter in a large dutch oven and brown the pork on all sides. Remove pork and add all the chopped vegetables, garlic and rosemary (as well as some pork fat or butter as needed). Stir occasionally until the vegetables are soft. Add pork back in, as well as red wine, and stock to fill pot.

Sprinkle in fruit, submerge cinnamon and bay leaves in broth.

Cover and cook for 2 hours. Uncover and discard bay leaves and cinnamon sticks (I also did not care for the taste of the cooked persimmons, though the flavor they left behind was wonderful.).

If you like, you can remove the pork and reduce the broth a bit over the stove. We liked the broth, so we merely poured it over some brown rice with a nice slice of the pork, which was juicy, sweet and falling apart. Happy Easter, indeed!

Adapted from a fussier version of this recipe, here.

Happy Easter

Maya looking perplexed about, and a bit disdainful of, the whole Easter Egg hunt proposition:

Easy Herb Popovers

This is one of my few go-to recipes. I make these deliciously unctuous popovers probably once a week (enough so that my husband’s really over them!). But I like it because Maya helps to mix the batter, and then we have 25 minutes to hang out, or for me to get dressed, before breakfast is ready.

If we only have 3 eggs in the house, it’s still a good breakfast for 3 adults plus a child, and they are terrific with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, or goat cheese. I add whatever fresh herbs we have handy — chives, parsley, cilantro and tarragon all work well — a mix of these or others is also tasty.

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3/4 cup (organic) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon celery salt

3 large (organic, pastured) eggs (2 will do in a pinch)

1 cup whole (organic, grassfed) milk (skim or 2 percent milk will not work)

1 Tbl (organic, grassfed) butter

2-3 Tbls mixed chopped fresh herbs

Butter a 12-cup muffin tin (avoid non-stick if you can). Sift flour and celery salt into bowl, add the eggs, milk, butter and beat until mixed well. Stir in herbs and pour into the muffin tin (I usually need a spoon to divide the batter evenly when done). Place in COLD oven, and set the temperature for 425F and bake for 26 minutes without opening the oven door.

Turn on the oven light and watch them puff up! They should be done after 26 minutes — and will continue to cook in the tin after you take them out. Do not overcook, as they will get chewy and tough.

Modified from “The Book of Breakfasts and Brunches,” by Kerenza Harries. 

Losing My Beans Over BPA

As you likely know by now, last week, the Food and Drug Administration completely dropped the ball on getting a dangerous chemical, Bisphenol-A, out of our food supply. Instead, the agency announced they will keep studying the issue while the chemical companies continue their little experiment on the general public.

How dangerous is BPA? Check out this truly interesting interview with a leading scientist who sounded the alarm on the chemical, Frederick vom Saal, in a Yale University environmental journal, in which he talks about how the chemical companies were so alarmed by his findings that BPA acts like a hormone in the body, even at low doses, that they tried to bribe him not to publish his findings:

Then Dow Chemical sent somebody down and said, “Can we arrive at a mutually beneficial outcome, where you don’t publish this paper?” — which had already been accepted. I got a call a few weeks later, from somebody who said, “I’m aware that the chemical manufacturers are gearing up for a multi-million-dollar campaign about how great BPA is for babies,” borrowing a page out of Dutch Boy Paints, where, knowing lead kills babies, they targeted it as making your baby happy.

This was in 1996. That is, Dow Chemical was nervous that the government might actually respond to these frightening scientific findings, um, 16 years ago. Did they overestimate the integrity of the government, or underestimate their own ability to obfuscate the issue, or both, I wonder.

It’s too bad all for us that they were wrong to worry in the first place. I first read about BPA in can linings when I was pregnant, just in time for a canned food drive by a local charity, so out they went. Since then, I’ve been mainly using dried beans, and storing them in this:

So imagine my dismay when, just this week, I checked the bottom of the container and found a small 7 inside a triangle, meaning that the container could be polycarbonate plastic, a BPA-containing form of plastic.

Humming Alanis Morrisette to myself, I wrote to Oxo, the maker of the container, to ask whether the plastic bin for my red beans was, in fact, a storage problem. The answer was no:

Name: Laura MacCleery
Product Name: Oxo food storage container

Message: I have used medium sized oxo storage containers for years, and just noticed they are marked with a 7 on the bottom. Is this plastic polycarbonate? Does it have BPA or other endocrine disrupting chemicals in it? Thanks so much, Laura

From: OXO Info
Subject: RE: Question about a Product
To: “Laura MacCleery”
Date: Wednesday, April 4, 2012, 10:28 AM

Dear Laura,

Thank you for contacting the OXO Consumer Care Center. Please be assured that our consumers’ safety is a top priority during the development of our products.  There have been many recent reports in the news/media regarding the safety of certain food storage containers.  These reports are originating out of concerns about the safety of the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) which is used in Polycarbonate (PC), one of the many types of plastics included under the recycling symbol #7.

This symbol is used to classify all plastic types that do not fall under categories 1-6 for recycling purposes, and although some plastics in category 7 do contain BPA, many others do not.  OXO’s POP Containers fall under recycling symbol 7 because they are made of SAN (Styrene-Acrylonitrile); however, SAN is not made with BPA, so OXO’s POP Containers are BPA-Free.  Please do not hesitate contacting us if we may be of any further assistance.

We are always happy to assist you.  Thank you for being a valued consumer!

 Thank you,


OXO Consumer Care Center


Ok, so far, so good, though I keep in mind that even BPA-free plastics have been tested as having BPA in them, so I’ll switch to glass when I see something serviceable.

Update: Having researched the considerable health risks of styrene a little more, I’ve tossed these and am going with glass for all food containers. Here’s a Greenpeace Webguide on plastics:

Acrylonitrile is highly toxic and readily absorbed by humans by inhalation and directly through the skin. Both the liquid and its vapor are highly toxic. Acrylonitrile is classified as a probable human carcinogen as are styrene and butadiene.

And while I was on a BPA-sleuthing tour of duty, I couldn’t stop myself from taking the next step and looking closely at the brand of canned goods we do use, Eden brand, which is labeled as BPA-free. The results were, mostly, reassuring:

Dear Eden,

Thank you very much for making cans without BPA in the linings. Please also let me know whether the lining that you do use, as described on your Web site, contains any estrogenic or endocrine disrupting chemicals or natural substances.


From: Sandy Baker
Sent: Friday, April 06, 2012 9:43 AM
To: Laura MacCleery
Subject: Re: Cans and endocrine disruptors

Dear Laura,

Thank you for contacting Eden Foods and your interest in Eden products.

Eden Organic Beans are packed in tin covered steel cans coated with a baked on oleoresinous (a natural mixture of an oil and a resin extracted from various plants, such as pine or balsam fir) c-enamel lining that does not contain bisphenol-A. These cans cost 14% more than the industry standard cans, which do contain bisphenol-A.

Eden Organic Tomatoes are packed in tin covered steel cans coated with a baked on r-enamel lining. Due to the acidity of tomatoes, the lining is epoxy based and may contain a minute amount of bisphenol-A, it is however in the ‘non detectable’ range according to independent laboratory Extraction Tests. These tests were based on a detection level at 5 ppb (parts per billion).

If you should have any further questions, please let us know.


Sales Associate

Eden Foods, Inc.


Interestingly, although Eden clearly cares about doing things right in some ways, that little detail about the trace use in the tomato cans is not on their main Web site page about BPA, and it should be.

And the math is stunning to me. Even if the price of the cans is 20 cents out of the $3.00 or so I pay for Eden beans (which is likely a high estimate), then the cost of BPA-lined cans would be 14 percent less than that, or 17.2 cents, making the price difference between BPA cans and non-BPA cans around 3 cents per can. I can see why the industry cares about that price difference, but from a family budget perspective, it’s utterly negligible. This is what all the fuss is about?

For tomatoes, we already use Tetra-paks or jarred sauces (and sometimes, when I’m feeling really uptight about how much Maya eats tomato sauce, I even put a circle of wax paper under the jar lid to keep it from contacting the food, which works pretty well in terms of sticking to the lid. I have no data on how well, as a barrier, it performs.).

[Update: Tetra paks are lined with plastic, and most tomato sauces have either vinyl or BPA under the lid, as I explain in this later post: Seeing Red: My Fruitless Search for a Chemical-Free Jar of Tomato Sauce. One exception to this is Jovial Foods, whose jars have no BPA, as I confirmed with the company, and only a small amount of vinyl.]

But we still haven’t found BPA-free options for coconut milk. Any ideas?

Have you discovered BPA lurking in some hidden corner of your home? Do tell.

Persnickety Letters on Products

Perhaps because of my history as a consumer advocate, I derive a rather sick enjoyment from writing emails in which I ask persnickety questions of companies. Below is a sampling, with more to come.

Given the extent of “green-washing,” I also try to ask hard questions of friendlier companies, sometimes with gratifying results.

Coming next: The anatomy of a consumer brush-off: how companies do (and don’t really) answer our questions.

Exhibit 1: Plastic Bath Toys and Vinyl Wall Stickers from Giggle

Several months ago, I wrote these two letters to Giggle to ask what was in the soft plastic bath toys and wall stickers I bought (or requested as gifts) for Maya. The answer? PVC, or polyvinyl chloride.

PVC is problematic for a number of reasons. First, the process to make it produces a potent carcinogen, dioxin, which gets everywhere — in breast-milk, in the air, and in our food. Second, if it’s in your house, and there is a fire, PVC becomes hydrochloric acid and is highly toxic to breathe. Third, PVC is often softened with pthalates, and tests show it contains lead. So calling it “non-toxic” is a stretch. (Though at least the promise below is that both of these items are pthalate-free.)

In addition, plastics tend to break down over time. I was not particularly reassured by the notion that it’s fine if children put these toys, after playing with them in hot water repeatedly, in their mouths, or, in the case of the stickers, that kids move them around on the wall and play with them. We tossed the bath toys (great, more toxics in the landfill!), but the wall stickers are still up. When Maya figures out they can be moved, then out they’ll go.


PVC in Bath Squirters sold by Giggle, Inc.

Q: Hi there,

We purchased these, but I am still concerned about the safety of the plastic. What number and kind of plastic are they? Is there any vinyl? Heightening this concern is that they come in a vinyl bag, which is PVC, and are used in warm water.


A:  Elegant Baby’s responsible commitment to children’s safety means that their Sea Creatures Bath Squirters meet and/or exceed several safety regulations, including the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA); the Federal Hazardous Substance Act; the American Standards for Testing and Materials (ASTM-F963), testing for toxic elements; and the European Standard EN- 71 that specifies safety requirements for all toys sold in European nations. In addition, these extensive third party acts test for hazards such as lead, phthalates, and toxins, as well as potential choking hazards.

The Bath Squirters are made of non-toxic, BPA-free, and phthalate-free PVC. They contain no VOC’s, and are safe enough for a little bather to put in their mouth.

Parents can be confident that giggle’s commitment to children’s health and safety includes eliminating exposures to any potentially harmful chemicals and substances contained in our product assortment so we can help build healthier environments for children.


PVC in Dottilicious Wall Stickers sold by Giggle, Inc.

Q: Hi there,

I have had these up in my nursery for over a year. I was upset in retrospect to consider that these are vinyl, which means PVC, which is toxic and off-gasses, similar to the news about shower curtains and liners.

In addition, other heavy metals are used in PVC manufacturing. Please tell me:

1) How long the off-gassing lasts from these stickers?
2) Whether the stickers contain other substances, including lead, chromium or other heavy metals?


A: WallCandy’s responsible commitment to children’s safety means that their Dottilicious Wall Stickers meets and/or exceeds several safety regulations, including the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), and the Federal Hazardous Substance Act. These extensive third party acts test for hazards such as lead, phthalates, and toxins, as well as potential choking hazards.

WallCandy decals are made of non-toxic PVC Vinyl with a low tack adhesive that allows for the reuse of the decals. They contain no VOC’s or pthalates, which means no off-gassing in your home!

Parents can be confident that giggle’s commitment to children’s health and safety includes eliminating exposures to any potentially harmful chemicals and substances contained in our product assortment so we can help build healthier environments for children.

Exhibit 2: Haba Rolling Turtles and Fantasy Blocks with Arsenic and Bromine?

Date: Mon, 5 Sep 2011 05:11:09 +0200
Subject: HABA Contact form

After paying such a premium for non-toxic toys, I was shocked to learn that the rolling turtles and fantasy blocks have been identified as having arsenic and bromine in them. Please tell me what you have done specifically to address these serious problems.


From: Lea Culliton HABA
Subject: FW: HABA Contact – Laura MacCleery
Date: Tuesday, September 13, 2011, 10:47 AM

Dear Ms. MacCleery:

Thank you for taking the time to write to us to learn more about your concern.  Would you mind sharing with me where you learned this information so that I may properly address your concerns?  It is at this time of year that many public interest groups post information about products without using the appropriate testing procedures approved by the CPSIA.

Please let me assure you that HABA is a family owned company and our wooden products are still produced in Germany at our wholly owned facilities.  The stains that we use are tested by 3rd party laboratories to not only meet the USA testing standards but to almost meet and exceed the European standards and all other standards from throughout the world.  We maintain the highest level of integrity of our raw materials and of our suppliers.  Feel free to learn more about us by visiting our website at and clicking on the About tab.  We have all of our Certificates of Compliance to the CPSIA on our website for consumers to see/download.  We have films about our production and about our testing.  We try to be as transparent as possible.

The owner of our company Mr. Habermaass has children and grandchildren himself and so do over the 1,300 employees working for HABA.  We care about our children and what products we are giving them to play with (and chew on) each and everyday.

We appreciate your concerns and would like to be able to address them; again thank you for taking the time to write to us.


Lea Culliton

HABA USA, President

From: Laura MacCleery [mailto:]
Sent: Sunday, September 25, 2011 8:28 PM
To: Lea Culliton HABA
Subject: Re: FW: HABA Contact – Laura MacCleery

Thanks for your reply. The information on arsenic and bromine is here:

Related to your fantasy blocks — in particular, the one with the bell. We have a bell block from our “First Blocks” set and I would very much like to know whether it also could contain arsenic and bromine. I look forward to your reply —


From: Lea Culliton HABA
Subject: RE: FW: HABA Contact – Laura MacCleery
Date: Tuesday, September 27, 2011, 9:58 PM


A couple of years ago this website had to recall a report on another one of our items that they reported.  It is important to know that this organization uses a XRF “analyzer” to perform approximate heavy metals in the materials.  This is NOT a laboratory certified test where the material is actually scraped off and tested.

Another important fact to note is that the solubility and possibility of transference from product to person is not examined and/or discussed on this website.

HABA did pay an independent, CPSC authorized, testing laboratory to test this item.  The item passed all ASTM F963 specifications and it passed the European EN 71 requirements; this item is absolutely, positively safe for young children.

Warm regards,

Lea Culliton

Hi Lea,

I’m not sure I follow — are you saying that the XRF method produces incorrect results? We just had lead measured in our home and that is what the technician used and my understanding is that it is very accurate.

In terms of the standards that the toy has passed, do those standards allow for or prohibit lead and/or bromine? If they allow it, at what level? Is transferrability to the child an aspect of those standards?


Friday, September 30, 2011 11:36 AM

From: “Lea Culliton HABA”


The XRF guns are reliable for quick passes.  They are not however allowed to be used as the final tests for 3rd party laboratories.  The labs physically scrape the surface and test the materials.

If you would like to learn more about the standards please visit the website.  The CPSIA that President Bush signed into law just before he left office made the mechanical ASTM F963 test mandatory instead of voluntary.  The CPSIA also set the gradual lowering of the allowable lead levels to less than 90 ppm.  Links to these laws and specifications can be found at the CPSC site.  You may want to click on the Business tab at the top to learn even more.

I can reassure you that all of the HABA products being sold into the USA marketplace are 3rd party lab tested and approved to meet and/or exceed all of the required American and European standards.  HABA toys are safe.

Warm regards,

Lea Culliton


Exhibit 3: Skiphop Play Mats with Formamide?

From: Laura MacCleery [mailto:]
Sent: Monday, May 30, 2011 9:16 PM
To: Info
Subject: formamide in mat tiles?

Please let me know asap whether your EVA foam tiles contain formamide, a substance of concern since foam mats have been banned in Belgium and France since Dec 2010.Thanks–Laura


Thank you for contacting us – we understand your concern. All Skip Hop products, including the Playspot, meet or exceed regulatory safety standards in the USA and Europe, without exception.

We do not add Formamide to Playspot, although it can be a byproduct of the EVA foam manufacturing process (which includes such items as flip flops and many bath toys). That said, due to these concerns, we have tested Playspot using ISO 16000 methods.

We are pleased that our Playspots received the lowest possible score, <2ug/m3 (less than 2 millionths of a gram per cubic meter) for Formamide emissions, the lowest measurable result with this testing method.  These tests show that – within the limits of the test – its presence is essentially not detectable.

Therefore, the Playspot is a safe EVA floor mat option for children and you should feel confident that we have specifically tested for this issue.

Feel free to contact us with further questions.

Lilia Rodriguez

Customer Service

Skip Hop, Inc.

Exhibit 4: Preservatives in Method brand cleaning products

On 7/28/2010 5:39 PM, Laura MacCleery wrote:

Please let me know, as a prospective customer, what is the “preservative” on your label?



Thursday, July 29, 2010 9:13 AM

From: “Tim Barklage”

Hi Laura —

Thanks much for your interest in our products.  Below is some information about how preservatives are used in cleaning products and information on our specific system:

  • Cleaning products are mostly water and have long shelf-lives and therefore must have some agent which prohibits the growth of bacteria
  • Anyone who claims there is no such agent is either:
    • Not disclosing information
    • Has a natural agent, such as lactic acid, at such high levels (low pH) that it will damage the surfaces you are cleaning and is certainly not safe to have around children.
  • BETTER LIFE has chosen a preservative system which is approved in skin care products
  • Our preservative is put in at 7 parts per million.  This is incredibly low and is would probably not be traceable under general analysis
    • Additionally these are at comparable levels of foreign substances contained in many municipalities tap water systems.

For further clarification, here a detailed statement from our chief scientist:

General Answer:

Preservatives are often a “hot topic” especially within the skincare products industry. All consumer products must have some system in place for preservation of the product in order to give it a shelf life.  However, there are a lot of options when it comes to which system/materials you use.  I have employed systems adapted from both the food and skincare industry to preserve the BETTER LIFE products instead of using the harsh, industrial type preservatives found in most cleaning products.  Depending on the specific product, we use things like fruit acids and essential oils/extracts.  In certain cases when these will not offer enough protection to ensure quality we use a completely biodegradable synthetic ingredient at less than 0.01% to supplement the system.  These systems that we have developed are safe, environmentally responsible and ensure quality in our products.

Detailed answer:

Preservative systems are always tricky since it is necessary for product shelf life, but needs to be closely evaluated to make sure the safest most responsible ingredient is used in the formula.  We use MIT and  I have chosen this preservative for the following reasons;

a.       Able to use at incredibly low amount (7 ppm)

b.      More than 30 years of safety data on this material.  It has achieved worldwide registrations (including Japan ) and complies with all safety regulations for use in skin care and cosmetic applications.

c.       Tested “readily biodegradable”, not bioaccumulative, and not persistent in the environment according to US and European standards.

d.      Not a formaldehyde donor!

Most competitive products utilize preservative systems that must be used at MUCH higher levels (in many cases 10x’s higher levels), pose serious health risks (formaldehyde donors, lack of safety testing, etc.) and are persistent in the environment. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.  We appreciate your interest and support!

Tim Barklage
Better Life

Thursday, July 29, 2010 12:44 PM

From: “Laura MacCleery”

To: “Tim Barklage”

Thanks for this information, Tim. Please give me the full name of MIT. I assume it’s not the Massachusetts Institute of Technology!

Thursday, July 29, 2010 12:55 PM

From: “Laura MacCleery”

To: “Tim Barklage”

Never mind — I found it:

Shame on you for playing hide the ball on your packaging and your Web site! At least list all of the real ingredients by name so that consumers can fully evaluate their exposure to toxics. Basic transparency — which you tout in the ad copy on your Website — demands no less.

Laura MacCleery

Friday, July 30, 2010 2:07 AM

From: “Kevin Tibbs”


While it is often difficult to personally answer many of the emails that we receive I saw your email and felt the need to respond.  I am surprised and sorry that you feel as though BETTER LIFE is not transparent.  As a company we have went to great lengths to empower the consumer – providing them with more information than they have ever been exposed to in the past (when it comes to household cleaners).   Not only are we one of the few companies that provide a complete listing of ingredients, we also have developed the “ingredient summary” panel which provides in depth information about the product and its ingredients.  Please know that we are not “hiding the ball” at all!  It appears that you inquired about the preservative and we provided you not only the INCI name but a lengthy description as to why products are preserved and why BETTER LIFE chose MIT.

I have been a formulation chemist for 14 years specializing in skin care and hair care products.  When my first daughter began crawling around and exploring, I took notice of the types of household cleaning products that were around the house.  The more I looked into these products the more frustrated I became!

–          All traditional cleaning products contain absolutely no information on specific ingredients in their products and customer service will not reveal this information.

–          Cleaning products are covered with warning statements.

–          The so called “green” cleaning products I evaluated contained only partial ingredient disclosures (I found that many of the ingredients were left off the labels).

–          Both traditional and “green” products are filled with heavy fumes, petroleum based ingredients, strong acids or bases, synthetic dyes and fragrances, etc. etc.

As a chemist, I know firsthand what types of ingredients are used in both tradition cleaners and other green cleaning products.  I do not want these chemicals around my home, or my family.  So, I did something about it.  Two years ago, I resigned from my job and co-founded BETTER LIFE.  At BETTER LIFE, I take great pride in developing the safest, most eco-friendly products on the market.  And the performance of our products is amazing!

If you would ever like to chat about what makes our products so much different than the others out there please feel free to contact me (all of my information is below).  I really would not want anyone to think that we are not completely transparent!

Thanks for your email,

Kevin Tibbs


From: Laura MacCleery

Sent: Friday, July 30, 2010 8:31 AM

To: Kevin Tibbs

Subject: RE: Re: What’s the preservative you use?


Thanks so much for your reply.

I would say that using the generic term “preservative” instead of MIT or, even better, the full name of the chemical on your labeling and Website, falls squarely into the category you criticize, here:

“The so called “green” cleaning products I evaluated contained only partial ingredient disclosures (I found that many of the ingredients were left off the labels).”

Its similar to Ecover’s use of the term “fragrance,” which most consumers will not know is an area in which there is scant research on health consequences.

It would be great if at least one company that sells widely available cleaning products to green consumers actually was 100 percent transparent. Your decision to use the generic term “preservative” is evasive and misleading and does in fact violate the spirit and letter of your claims to transparency and to more transparency than your competitors.

I note that Method also uses MIT, a harmful chemical, but openly notes and defends this decision on its Web site.


From: Kevin Tibbs

Subject: FW: Re: What’s the preservative you use?

Date: Friday, August 6, 2010, 2:58 PM


I am not sure we are on the same page.  What I meant by partial ingredient statements is that many companies that manufacture “green” products list only some of the ingredients and COMPLETELY leave out others.  You mentioned Method Products below so I will use them as an example:

Here is what there All Purpose Cleaner ingredient statement is (pulled directly from their website): Corn and Coconut derived surfactants, biodegradable emulsifier, purified water, soda ash, fragrance oil blend, potassium hydrate, color

There is no mention or listing of preservative, despite the product having one.  This is what I was referring to when I say partial ingredient statements.

Further, I expect that you know cleaning products are not held to any government standards or regulations when it comes to ingredient labeling.  This is why the majority of products in this category do not have any ingredient disclosure at all.  It is also why some products are not penalized for only partially disclosing ingredients.  At BETTER LIFE, we list all ingredients.  Apparently you are not happy with the way in which we list them.  I do apologize for this but I realize that you cannot please everyone.   Skin care is an area which is regulated by government (FDA) and there are regulations for standardized ingredient labeling.   If we use skin care as a guide,  you should know that “fragrance” is the correct  INCI terminology for an ingredient listing.  In fact, by listing it differently a company making skin care products could be fined by the FDA for not using this correct terminology.

Again, I hope you appreciate the great pride and sense of responsibility I take in the BETTER LIFE products.  We have gone to great lengths to make the safest, most environmentally responsible products available.  You will find that our products do not contain “colors” (a nicer way of saying synthetic petroleum based dyes), “fragrance oil blends/ synthetic fragrances”, petroleum based surfactants and ethoxylates (which is referred to as “biodegradable emulsifier” in Methods ingredient statement above), alcohols and petroleum solvents just to name a few.  I have developed these products to provide a safe and effective alternative to the common cleaning product for my family and yours.  I know that there will always be critics, but I take comfort in knowing how many people we have helped with the BETTER LIFE line of green cleaners.



To: “Kevin Tibbs”


I’m not sure why most of your email points fingers at other products. I don’t think that any manufacturer of household cleaning products is doing a good job.

Still, you have not explained why your label and Website both merely says “preservative,” rather than MIT or (better) the full name of the chemical being used. You claim to be more transparent than other companies, but this choice to conceal the contents of this aspect of the ingredients in your product is not.

Moreover, the decision to use MIT is troubling. While your other ingredients may be green, this chemical is dangerous and clearly so.

If you want Better Life to be recognized as an industry leader, start by only using ingredients that you are comfortable clearly stating on both your label and Website.


Dear Laura,

Thank you for you advice.  You refered to Method as an example so I simply helped you understand their labeling approach compared to ours.   Have a great weekend,


Exhibit 5: Nurture My Body: Clarifying whether essential oils are safe

New comment on your post “Fragrance Free Organic Beauty Products – Confused?”

Author : Laura MacCleery


I appreciate the post, but was hoping to find out about any scientific research that has been done on the safety and health impacts of essential oils and fragrances. Even though they are natural substances, you are affecting the potency, as you note, and many natural things may not be good for a person. Do you know of research on this subject? I would be very interested.

A: Thanks ever so much for your question about scientific research that has been done on the safety and health impacts of essential oils and fragrances. The best places for you to dig into would be these authority sites:




Quite sincerely,

Rich Arnold
Customer Care

Nurture My Body

your skin ~ our organics

P.S. Thank you ever so much for your patience for our response. We have been heavily engaged in creating our new website which launched yesterday.

Exhibit 6: Schylling Plastic Piano Horns

From: Laura MacCleery

Sent: Monday, September 12, 2011 9:53 PM


Subject: Piano horn

Hi there,

Please tell me the kind of plastic that the piano horn is made of, including the mouthpiece. I’m very concerned about the types of plastic my daughter might have in her mouth.



RE: Piano horn

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 2:56 PM

From: “Jennifer Thissell”

To: “‘Laura MacCleery'”

Thank you for contacting us. We care about the health and safety of our consumers. Our products meet ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards and the Consumer Product Safety Commission standards for lead and toxicity.  Our Piano Horn does pass all federal and state testing for phthalates, but I don’t have information on the specific material used.

Please let me know if you have any other questions or concerns, thank you.

Jennifer Thissell, Customer Service

Schylling Associates

Exhibit 7: Chicco Car Seat: Flame Retardants

From: Laura MacCleery [mailto:]

Sent: Sunday, June 27, 2010 10:37 AM


Subject: Keyfit 30 car seat — safety of chemicals


Please provide me with any independent testing or information you have about the presence of any chemicals in your car seats — including lead, chromium, copper, formaldyhyde and aluminum.



RE: Keyfit 30 car seat — safety of chemicals

Tuesday, June 29, 2010 12:51 PM

From: “” <>

To: “‘Laura MacCleery'”

Dear Chicco Customer,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. Chicco is very aware of and concerned about recent studies which discuss the toxicity of certain chemicals or elements in child car seats.  ALL Chicco products meet or exceed the stringent safety standards in the U.S. and Europe regarding chemical content. Additionally all Chicco products are Phthalate-free.


Customer Service

Chicco USA, Inc

On Jun 27, 2010, at 7:21 PM, Laura MacCleery wrote:

Hi there,

I am interested in a purchasing a Swedish car seat due to the lack of flame retardant chemicals in the products, which my research has shown to be banned in Sweden.

Would you confirm that the foam in these seats lacks bromides? If so, you should include this in your Web site, as its a major selling point!

Also, some of the Britax models sold in the U.S., including the Roundabout, have a rebound bar for rear facing seats? Which of the models that you sell include the rebound bar? This is an important safety feature in rear impact collisions.

Thanks so much!


On Jun 27, 2010, at 5:23 PM, “ (Info)” <> wrote:

Hello Laura,

Thanks for your email.  I need to double check on the issue of flame retardant chemicals. Same with the bromide questions. I’m impressed by your detailed questions:-)

No seats in US have a rebound bar.  Most of the Swedish seats have a support leg which is beneficial for avoiding over rotation in a collision.  Britax seats Multi Tech and Hi-Way have support leg as well as DuoLogic, Maxi Cosi Mobi and BeSafe Izikid.

It’s not really an issue in rear facing collisions and make little difference.  Rear facing collision only account for about 5% of collisions are are rarely severed due to speed and other factors.  The only seat which doesn’t have a support leg is Britax Two-Way but it’s just as safe as the other s since it’s installed leaning on front seat or dashboard.  This means a rock solid installation.  You can check out this report from a happy user of Two-Way who was rear ended at high speed….

Kind regards


Håkan Svensson

On Jun 28, 2010, at 4:17 PM, Laura Maccleery wrote:

Thanks for the responses! I will install the seat in the middle back seat–

Looking forward to your answers re the chemicals. The rebound bar is now available FYI on some US models– Britax only, it seems.

It’s also helpful for frontal collisions– and I don’t discount “rare” events– while the vast majority of rear crashes are fender benders, on highways they can be quite severe.

Does the Swedish government or any consumer group do crash ratings for the models you sell, similar to Consumer Reports? If so, I’d love to see the links.

Thanks so much!

Laura MacCleery

— On Mon, 6/28/10, (Info) <> wrote:

From: (Info) <>
Subject: Re: A few questions
To: “Laura Maccleery” <>
Date: Monday, June 28, 2010, 5:57 PM

Hello Laura,

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what you mean with “rebound bar”.  Can you show me a US seat which has this feature?

We have some consumer groups but testing of car seat in Sweden is actually rare.  We know from experience that long rear facing time is very important, type of car seat is of less importance.  We do have a new car seat standard in Sweden called “Plus Test”.  This test is by far the strictest in the world which means no forward facing seats pass.

Currently DuoLogic and two BeSafe X3 seats have passed testing.  More seats will be tested shortly.

In Sweden we look very little at testing since it’s so biased, subjective and each test is performed differently.  This makes it impossible to compare seats  between tests.   Most of European testing is done In Germany which is basically clueless about rear facing……

Kind regards


On Jun 29, 2010, at 9:36 PM, Laura MacCleery wrote:

Hi there,

Here is the link to the picture of the Britax rebound bar:

Any information on the issue of chemicals?

Here are some links about these concerns:

Thanks so much!


— On Tue, 6/29/10, (Info) <> wrote:

From: (Info) <>
Subject: Re: A few questions
To: “Laura MacCleery” <>
Date: Tuesday, June 29, 2010, 6:16 PM

Hi Laura,

I see what you mean now.  DuoLogic and BeSafe use the rebound bar.  Most European seats use a support leg instead of top tether since it’s a better solution technically.  We have seats with rebound bar and many without, lack of rebound bar doesn’t make RF our seats any less safe.  Sitting rear facing for a long time is what’s important.

I have no more info about the chemicals.  The sources you provided sound worrying but before making any judgment I would like to see peer reviewed independent research showing any downside to children in car seats.  Flame retardant items for kids do overall fill a very important function and save lives.

Here in Sweden we are probably a bit more “old fashioned” and like to use more natural products for our children.  Lots of wooden toys etc.  We are not so keen on the mass produced battery intensive toys out of China for example.

I will try to find out some more about the chemicals and get back to you.

Kind regards


On Jun 30, 2010, at 12:49 AM, Laura MacCleery wrote:

Thanks for your response. I’m not sure I understand it completely — are you saying that top tethers and support legs replace (functionally) the need for a rebound bar?

I’m an auto safety expert, as well as an expectant parent, and do find the Britax videos on the benefits of the rebound bar compelling. How do top tethers or support legs work? Do they play the same role?

Chemicals in the U.S. are not well regulated in comparison to Europe — we use a much wider range of dangerous chemicals and in large amounts, even in childrens’ products. Here’s an NGO study on flame retardants and their risks:

While traditional foam materials are made of petroleum-based materials, there is no need for them to be, and hence no reason for such intense use of flame retardants, which are well demonstrated to be risky to reproductive health.

Moreover, in a car seat, I’m not sure that flame retardants are that useful. Fire is involved in catastrophic crashes, and smoke inhalation in that context is likely to be more dangerous– and to affect an infant far more quickly.

At any rate, it looks like at least one form of these chemicals is banned in Europe generally and that PBDEs are banned in Sweden. Here’s a few scientific studies:



— On Tue, 6/29/10, (Info) <> wrote:

From: (Info) <>
To: “Laura MacCleery”
Date: Tuesday, June 29, 2010, 7:22 PM

Hi Laura,

Sounds like you know a lot about this subject:-)  Out of curiosity what kind of auto safety stuff do you mainly work on?  Support legs are not used in US but they are used extensively in Europe.  Support legs can be found in infant seats with Isofix (your LATCH, except ours is rigid and easier to use) and also the Swedish rear facing seats.

Top tether and support leg fill similar functions but a support leg is considered a better technical solution.  The support leg is there mainly to avoid over rotation.  Our seats have a RF limit of 55 lbs so forces are quite a bit different compared to 35 lbs seats which are still most common in US.

As mentioned before, DuoLogic and BeSafe Izikid seats do have the rebound bar but we don’t consider these seats any safer than the ones without the rebound bar.  What works best is long rear facing time, rebound bar is not a big deal.  Beauty of rear facing is the simple solution and the way the whole back of car seats ( and baby) absorb the enormous impact forces.

Fire dangers are of course a very small percentage of car accidents, we refer to them as “catastrophic”.  We have been rear facing children in Sweden since 1965 and know from experience that children here don’t die while sitting rear facing unless an accident is catastrophic.  That means fire, hit by a bus at 60 mph or driving into a river and drowning. No seats will ever protect against these types of accidents.

I’ll speak to some manufacturers tomorrow and see what I can find out.

Kind regards


On Jun 30, 2010, at 1:35 AM, Laura MacCleery wrote:

Hi there,

I worked for Public Citizen, an NGO here, for 5 years, on backover, power windows, rollover safety, side impact air bags and other issues.

Ok — I think I’m comfortable with ordering a seat — which work with our LATCH system, if any?



— On Wed, 6/30/10, (Info) <> wrote:

From: (Info) <>

Date: Wednesday, June 30, 2010, 4:47 PM

Hi Laura,

Interesting work.  Our Isofix seats are compatible with LATCH (DuoLogic and Izikid X3 Isofix).  Isofix is a great solution since it’s so easy to install.  Downside is higher price and also a RF weight limit of only 40 lbs.  This is the maximum for any Isofix seat.

Kind regards


On Jul 5, 2010, at 3:57 PM, Laura MacCleery wrote:

You’ve been so incredibly helpful! Thank you!

Were you able to get any confirmation on the chemicals issue? Just curious.

Also, I drive a Nissan Altima, which is a mid-sized car. Would the Izkid fit or would the Duologic, with its smaller base, be better? I do like the support leg on the Izkid.

With shipping etc, we want to get this right!

Thanks so much!


— On Mon, 7/5/10, (Info) <> wrote:

From: (Info) <>
Date: Monday, July 5, 2010, 2:07 PM

Hi Laura,

The only seat which detaches from the base is DuoLogic. It’s basically an infant seat which slides into an Isofix base. Izikid needs just a bit more space than DuoLogic when installed upright.  Izikid does install quite upright so most parents use the sleep position most of the time.  This adds another 3 inches of space required.  DuoLogic works well in small and large cars.  Both seats use a support leg and also a rebound bar.

I spoke to Britax and we do use less chemicals in the seats here.  Flame retardant is a good add-on to car sats but there are of course limits on how much will benefit safety. Britax Could not give me exact details on the Bromide.  In the beginning of the year they were audited/surveyed by a large organization specializing in issues with chemicals/allergies and the results were really great.

Flame retardant is important but there is something such as diminishing returns.  Flame retardant will save lives but adding three times as much will not really make a big difference. We feel like flame retardant is  a good safety add-on but there are limits on what’s practical, useful and rational.  Children dying in burning cars is extremely rare so it’s not a big issue and keeping retardants on a reasonable level seems reasonable.

Kind regards


Exhibit 8: Brita Water Filters and BPA

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 4:59 PM

From: “Brita Consumer Services” <>

Dear Ms. MacCleery,

Thank you for contacting us about the composition of the Brita Water Filtration System.

Our products do not contain bisphenol A and are all tested by the NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) for safety. The pitcher lids and filter housings are made of polypropylene plastic and the reservoirs and pitchers are made from either NAS (a styrene based plastic) or SAN (Styrene Acrylonitrile). The soft-touch handles are made from an elastomer called Santoprene. Unfortunately, the pitcher materials are not recyclable and therefore do not have a plastic recycling number.

Please to not hesitate to contact us at or at 1-800-24-BRITA if you have additional questions or concerns.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact us.


Shelley Preston, Consumer Response Representative, Consumer Services

Exhibit 9: Kid Basix Safe Sippy 2 re: PVC

From: Laura MacCleery
Sent: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 6:43 PM
To: Susan Soja
Subject: Safe Sippy 2

Hi there, I just purchased two of these cups for my daughter. Please let me know asap the answer to the following 2 questions: 1) Is there any PVC in any of the parts of the cup, including interior parts and straw? 2) What are the numbers of the plastics used for each part? Number denote types of plastics. Thanks so much!Laura

From: Susan Soja
Subject: RE: Safe Sippy 2
To: “Laura MacCleery”
Date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012, 7:47 PM

Hi Laura-

Thanks so much for your note.  There is no PVC in the cup or any of its parts.  The Cap, Lid, Spout and Handles are made of #5 Polypropylene.  The Straw is made of LDPE #4.

Please let us know if you have any further questions.

All the best,


Susan Soja

Kid Basix, LLC

From: Laura MacCleery
Subject: RE: Safe Sippy 2
To: “Susan Soja”

Thanks very much!

Exhibit 10: Estrogenic properties of soy in Baby’s Only baby formula

Product Question email submitted on: June 6, 2011From: Laura MacCleeryI feed my baby your Baby’s Only Diary formula, which works well. But  I am concerned about the soy content — see — does the soy lecithin include genistein?



From: <>
Subject: RE: Product Question email from Contact page
To: Laura
Date: Monday, June 6, 2011, 3:49 PM

Dear Laura,

Thank you for contacting us with your concern. The issue about use of soy appears to be related to the protein portion of soybeans. As you are aware, Baby’s Only Organic® Dairy formula contains organic soybean oil and organic soy lecithin derived from soy oil. Soy lecithin is used as an emulsifier that keeps the fats in a product from separating out. It has been determined that soy lecithin is a safe ingredient for food products and, in fact, has been used for many years in many foods for this purpose. This ingredient, because it is not derived from soy protein, does not contain the phytoestrogen, genistein, that you have inquired about.

We do not know of another standard dairy-based formula that is completely soy free, including free of soybean oil and/or soy lethicin. Soybean oil is included in almost all infant formulas because of its specific fatty acids. When combined with other oils, the soy oil helps to meet the required essential fatty acids in the appropriate amounts needed by an infant.

As you may know, organic vegetable oils, in this case, organic soybean oil, are expeller-expressed. This is a process that basically presses the oil from the soybean. Suppliers of organic soybean oil and organic soy lecithin cannot guarantee that miniscule amounts of protein measured in parts per thousand or parts per million are not passed through the filters and into the oil during this process. Therefore, even though there may be miniscule amounts of soy protein in the soybean oil, Nature’s One® has added the soy allergen statement to our Baby’s Only Organic® Dairy Formula and Baby’s Only Organic® Lactose Free labels.

Conventionally processed soybean oils use hexane solvents to extract the oils so the oil is free of protein. This harsh process then requires the oil to be flashed with fire to burn off the hexane solvents. Hexane residues can remain in the finished oils. We believe that hexane has no place in a baby’s diet – even if only a residue. Also, USDA organic rules prohibit the use of solvent-extracted vegetable oils. So Baby’s Only Organic® Formulas would not be labeled organic if we selected conventionally processed vegetable oils.

We do believe that we are using the best organic ingredients currently available. We continue to monitor the availability of better organic ingredients that can be used in our products and can assure you that we will use them if they are, in fact, a better alternative than currently available ingredients.

Regarding the controversy about soy protein use, the following information may be of interest. There is a great deal of information and misinformation on the Internet regarding soy use in infancy. As I noted previously, The anti-soy literature mainly is concerned with the phytoestrogens in soy protein, specifically the isoflavones in soy. Phytoestrogens are proteins and not fats. The following reputable sources of information on use of soy in children may be of interest.

In 2006, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, US National Institute of Health, and the Center for the Evaluation of Risk to Human Reproduction (CERHR) of the National Toxicology Program convened a meeting of key pediatric nutrition and medical experts to review the use of soy formulas in infancy and addressed many of the concerns about soy and phytoestrogens. This prestigious group was unable to conclude, after exhaustive research and reviews of the medical and scientific literature, that soy products, including soy infant formulas, were unsafe or presented risk to reproductive and developmental health. The panel called for continued research on the role of soy in human health.*

Since that time, CERHR has determined that there are new publications related to human exposure or reproductive and/or developmental toxicity that were published since the 2006 evaluation. CERHR held a meeting in December of 2009 to review these new data and is expected to post the final report on its website and solicit public comment through a Federal Register notice. Nature’s One, Inc. will continue to monitor all reports on use of soy in infancy and will update our information as appropriate.

Furthermore, a clinical report co-authored by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and titled, “Use of soy protein-based formulas in infant feeding,” states the following: “In summary, although studied by numerous investigators in various species, there is no conclusive evidence from animal, adult human, or infant populations that dietary soy isoflavones may adversely affect human development, reproduction, or endocrine function.” (1)

Also, a recent study from the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center compared growth, development and health of breast-fed children with children fed soy formula or milk-based formula. Preliminary results indicate the feeding of soy formula to infants supports normal growth and development. The authors further state “early exposure to soy foods, including SF (soy formula), actually may provide health benefits rather than adverse effects, eg, improved body and bone composition and prevention of breast cancer.” (2)

References: 1. Jatinder Bhatia, Frank Greer, and the Committee on Nutrition. “Use of soy protein-based formulas in infant feeding,” Pediatrics 2008; 121; 1062-1068. 2. Badger, TM, et al, “The health implications of soy infant formula,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009; 89(suppl):1668S-1672S

Laura, I hope this information regarding the use of specific soy ingredients in our products has been helpful. Thank you for your interest in Baby’s Only Organic® and please let me know if you have additional questions.



Nature’s One, Inc.

Yummy Veggies for Toddlers 10 Easy Ways

Yup, I said yummy and vegetables. For toddlers.

And I meant it. There’s a myth that children don’t like vegetables and beans. My husband, who’s Indian, finds this amusing: in India, both children and adults eat vegetables and lentils daily.

Maya, luckily for us, most days scarfs up vegetables, and we try to serve a rainbow of them to her over the course of a week. Color in plants is code for the minerals and vitamins inside, so variety is important. I thought this chart from the Greene Hill Coop was fascinating:

Persistence is key. When she refuses something, we basically ignore her little prima donna moment and serve whatever offended to her the next time as though that moment o’ pickiness never happened.

I’m also not a big fan of recent trendiness around disguising vegetables in other foods, as I really want to build Maya’s sense that food is connected to color, texture, etc., and that a variety of these is what we should eat. (But ask me in 3 years whether I’ve managed to stick to my guns on that one! If I had a really difficult kid, I’d do whatever it took to create a healthy relationship with food, including being sneaky. I know I’m not really in charge here.)

Maya has enough difficulty with chewing still that vegetables need to be cooked, but I’m a working mom, and so the preparations have to be fast and easy. Here’s some ideas for super SIMPLE (organic) veggie prep that we’ve had success with:

1) Boiled-soft: Just boiling in water on the stove — works for beets, corn, carrots, potato and broccoli. Maya loves golden beets in particular, which are sweet and dreamy when cooked. I’ll fish the stuff out, add a pat of butter and a few shakes of pepper, cool, slice and serve.

One tip for peas: to keep them bright green and fresh-tasting, even if frozen, “shock” them in ice water when they are done cooking. Conveniently, this cools them down quickly as well for serving. They are delicious served with a little melted butter and thin strips of fresh mint.

2) Microwaved: I had a very good moment sometime a few months back when I realized that I could take frozen vegetables, put them in a glass container in water, and pop that in the microwave for 2 minutes and they would come out the right texture. We do this with peas, green beans, corn, broccoli and other frozen vegetables. (Two health notes: We try to avoid packages of frozen vegetables that have added salt, which is not easy to do, and we look for organic that is not labeled “made in China,” due to concerns over the validity of certification, which I’ll post on in the future.)

Microwaving also works well for sweet potatoes, which Maya loves with butter, or even dreamier, mixed up with peanut or cashew butter, which tastes like orange heaven. Plain potatoes are good as well, which we’ll mix with green onion, sour cream and other classic toppings.

3) Cooked in milk: Cauliflower boiled in whole (organic, grassfed) milk is a treat even for adults. Carrots work nicely too, as do turnips and fennel. Add a pat of butter and some pepper as you like.

These can be cooked together or alone — for extra deliciousness, put it in a blender when cooked, including the milk. It whips into a truly delicious puree, which we like with steak and tastes like it’s from a fancy-pants restaurant.

4) Roasted:  Red peppers are a big hit this way — we put on toast with goat cheese underneath, inside quesadillas with cheddar cheese, or on pasta.

To quick-roast peppers, slice them in half and de-seed, smooth on some oil and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Roast under the broiler until black, put in a bowl and cover with a plate to steam off the skin. Remove the skin. They will be soft, sweet and delicious.

Butternut squash is also great roasted. Just peel a squash and slice into chunks, toss with cinnamon, nutmeg, onions, raisins, apples and a touch of brown sugar, and roast for 45 minutes at 375 degrees.

And sweet potato fries are easy, with a touch of salt, rosemary and oil, cut into matchsticks and baked until soft. Green beans and asparagus are also both terrific tossed in a little salt, garlic and roasted. I’ll squeeze a lemon over them and call it a day.

5) Chopped into eggs: We find spinach, in particular, goes down well when chopped into scrambled eggs or an omelette. Peppers also work well, of course, and Maya will eat smoked salmon this way too (which is great for the Omega-3s — we use wild-caught, not farmed). We serve the eggs over rounds of fried polenta for extra interest, and add some cheese if she’s short on protein.

6) Cooked in “soup:” Saute onion and garlic with thyme, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, add whatever vegetables are in the fridge, rough chopped, and some (organic, low sodium) chicken or vegetable stock and simmer. Voila, it’s kid-friendly veg soup. For creaminess, you can throw in some milk or cream as well.

7) Stir-fried: Carrots, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, snap peas and others are all classic stir-fry options. We use a little soy sauce, add grated ginger and garlic, tofu, and serve over brown rice or noodles. Yum.

Kale and chard also fry up well, into chip-like flakes if you use enough oil. Just wash, carve out the spines, sprinkle with a tiny bit of salt and a good amount of brown mustard seeds, and fry in generous amounts of grassfed, pastured butter (kids need good fats).

8) Covered in cheese or sauce: On the rare times when Maya does get all up on her high horse about some food, I’ll cover whatever it is in some pasta sauce and cheese and microwave for a few seconds, and then she’ll usually like it again. Cheese on broccoli is a big hit as well. Eggplant is best with tomato sauce, parmesan optional.

9) Steamed: Pretty self-explanatory. Works well with spinach, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets and most other veggies, and helps to preserve all the nutrients, unlike boiling.

10) Raw (duh): Raw veggies she can eat, even at this stage, include jicama (cut in matchsticks), cucumbers, and “fruit” like tomato and avocado (which she loves generally, except for, I dunno, tonight and last night). We are not big salad people, but Maya will go for chunky ones like greek salad with gobs of onions, tomatoes and feta.

None of this is rocket science. But since I have been spotted more than once standing in front of the fridge dumbfounded, having a simple repertoire that covers breakfast, lunch and dinner means that Maya might get more of the vegetable kingdom. At least some of the time, she eats them up cluelessly, almost like she’s from a different country altogether.

Whenever I’m really desperate, I consult Mark Bittman’s jaw-droppingly helpful “101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less,” printed out and stuck on my fridge.

Do you have other preparations you’ve used for veggies that are delicious and easy?

More Resources:

Onions on a neutral, mostly white background