This is a guest post from Alexandra Zissu:
I went to a Moms Clean Air Force lunch recently and was smitten. I’m someone who already knew some of the rather depressing statistics about air pollution described that day and all over this site, so I didn’t expect to be as moved as I was that day.
When talking to the crowded Dominique Browning, she described so many things I am trying to do in my own work, I felt like we were somewhere alone having coffee. She described moms as bulletproof messengers, she said sometimes being a good mom means being an active, engaged citizen. She joked about how difficult her task is because air pollution isn’t sexy, about how much easier it is to get people to shop for the solution to the problem than to combat the problem head on. She mentioned that political action is a lost habit of citizenship, and that she’s trying to help moms be able to take political action by making it faster to do than changing a diaper. Brilliant.
These ideas have been swirling around in my head since that day. The result is that I’m getting involved, mainly by writing here and spreading the word as much as I can. This is my first post here, so I thought I’d start by telling you a little about me.
I’m a writer. I started out at newspapers and magazines. My daughter, now 6, turned me into an eco-obsessed author. In 2005, when I was thinking about trying to get pregnant, a close friend asked me how I’d make the rest of my pregnancy as organic as the food I ate. (I grew up before there was such a thing as USDA organic, but we always ate whole real foods. Cooking and family dinner loom large in my childhood memories.) This remains, to date, the best question anyone has ever asked me.
At that point, I had no idea what organic might mean beyond food, especially during a pregnancy. I began researching and was horrified to discover that everyday products on store shelves—cosmetics, crib mattresses, toys, even things like paint, shower curtains, nail polish, and yoga mats—aren’t for the most part safe. I learned that consumers are pretty much guinea pigs, and that many of the harmful or potentially harmful chemicals found in these daily-use items are also found everywhere from cord blood to breast tissue. They build up in our bodies, and have been linked to all kinds of disorders and diseases. They pollute the air, too. One study I came across showed that in cities like Baltimore and L.A., everyday household products like cleaners and paints were the second largest pollutants—just behind automobiles. I discovered that while we’re surrounded by these substances in the modern world, there are simple, precautionary ways to minimize exposure to some of the worst offenders. It’s less easy to safeguard against air pollution.
Though there are many great resources for people interested in how environmental factors, including air pollution, affect our health—or environmental health—at that point there was no single, definitive one for pregnant moms. So, with the friend who posed the seminal question, I co-wrote The Complete Organic Pregnancy. An eye opening, amazing, overwhelming, and ultimately empowering experience, the book was published in 2006, shortly after my daughter was born.
I was hooked. My life’s work found me. Once you know, you can’t unknow. As I moved past pregnancy and onto writing for anyone—pregnant or not—my focus remained environmental health. I continue to try to translate environmental health issues into accessible language, to help others reduce their exposure to harmful substances in blogs, articles, and books: The Conscious Kitchen (March 2010), a Books for a Better Life Awards finalist; Planet Home (December 2010); and The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat (June 2011). Though my commitment to writing easy, how-to information for the widest possible audience remains, I’m also working hard to let people know that we can’t and don’t live in green bubbles. My home may be as “pure” as I managed to make it, but my neighbors and their neighbors and the highway nearby and the factories down the road and the municipal wastewater treatment plant and the antibiotics in conventional livestock and so on still affect my so-called bubble. We are individuals, but we’re all inextricably linked. I encourage readers to green what lies beyond their front doors as well as inside their homes, to spread the word to their friends, family, and community, to join forces with organizations working to protect us and the world we share, and to ask their elected officials to get involved. This isn’t easy; as Dominique mentioned, political action is a lost habit. But it’s making a comeback.
As I write my books and articles, I have added speaker and consultant to the mix of what I do. I give talks at mothers’ groups, law firms, schools, literary festivals and everywhere in between. I also advise companies and individuals alike on simple ways to green their businesses and lives. I’m learning as I go. I do this all in New York City, though I should probably be on a biodynamic farm in Vermont or growing dill in Finland or something. I live across the street from where I grew up, with my (organic) family. I’m mindful of the fact that we live mere blocks from the West Side Highway, which we—and many other families–often cross to romp in the park that runs just next to it and along the Hudson River.
This is my way of trying to do something about the air pollution we all inhale as we play. I hope you’ll join me.
ALEXANDRA ZISSU is an eco lifestyle expert, writer, speaker, and consultant. She’s the author of The Conscious Kitchen (Clarkson Potter, March 2010)—a Books for a Better Life Awards finalist—and co-author of Planet Home (Clarkson Potter, December 2010), The Complete Organic Pregnancy (Collins, September 2006), and The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat (Clarkson Potter, May 2011). She has worked for New York Magazine, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Lifetime and Details magazines, The New York Observer and Women’s Wear Daily.
Over the past decade, her stories have also appeared in The New York Times, The Green Guide, Plenty, Cookie, TheDailyGreen.com, Bon Appétit, Health, Vogue, Teen Vogue, Self, Child, Time Out New York, Harperʼs Bazaar and The Huffington Post, among other publications.
She speaks often about all things eco-friendly at private firms, mothers’ groups, schools, non-profits, and industry expos, and consults about green living for individuals and organizations. Though she should probably be on a biodynamic farm in Vermont, or growing dill in Finland, she actually lives in New York City, across the street from where she grew up, with her (organic) family.