Safe, Organic Family Life: Talking with Alexandra Zissu

zizu Alexandra Zissu is the co-author of The Complete Organic Pregnancy, a contributor to numerous publications including New York Magazine and, and a blogger for  Her next book on green and sustainable food and kitchens will be published in 2010.

What do you see as the green perks to being a blogger?

I'm not only a blogger. I'm a writer who works from home and writes books, magazine articles, as well as blog. The greenest perk I can think of is being able to parent my child and work. This might not seem green on the surface, but I was able to breastfeed on demand, and I cook all day long as I work, making all of our food, three meals a day plus snacks. You can really reduce your overall impact by sourcing your food well, and making it yourself versus relying on take out.

I don't have that load of food packaging and plastic utensils to throw out after our lunch daily. I never have to rely on plastic water bottles in a pinch -- there's no pinch when my filtered tap is inches away. I always have coffee out of my own mugs. And so on. Yes, of course, the no commute is key. But I live in New York City, so my commute to offices I have worked at in the past were always via foot or public transportation. Still, I really appreciate being able to work in a paper-free environment. I do not own a printer so I won't ever be even tempted to print out my work to do hard copy edits.

In your various writing outlets as well as in your personal life, you have tackled many of the daily choices we make in providing a healthier environment for our children.   What are some of the easiest things to do for our families and to incorporate into our own lives that have the most impact on the environment?

The easiest things to do are the things that are truly easiest for you to do - i.e. that fit into how you're already living. Don't make some enormous laundry list of things you want to change that will only make you feel paralyzed. As you learn more and more about going green, pick the choices that feel right for you and your lifestyle. These can also be the things that will have a big impact -- can you swap your conventional cleaning products for green ones? This is a quick fix that doesn't require a lot of money and will drastically reduce your indoor air pollution.

Not ready to do it all? Can you swap out the toxic product you use most frequently? Say, bleach? And then go from there? You're still making a difference, and wading in will create a snowball effect. If you're not interested in paying too much attention to your diet or only buying organic or only shopping at farmers' markets, can you give up conventional meat -- especially beef -- in favor of grass-fed beef?  The environmental impact of this switch is tremendous. And it's better for you, too. Can you also eat less meat overall?

Other things that will make a big difference and don't require much effort -- can you remove your shoes before or just after you enter the home to track less environmental pollutants into your home? Can you reduce the amount of clothing you're dry cleaning and/or switch to a greener dry cleaner? Can you buy a reusable metal water bottle and carry filtered water in it rather than relying on bottled water? These are all very easy fixes and truly add up.

While researching and writing The Complete Organic Pregnancy as well as some of your more recent column topics, what have been some of the most surprising and/or alarming facts that you discovered and what health and safety issues would you most like to inform the general public about?

I learn at least ten new things daily and I'm so many years into my green-formation! It's just alarming, surprising and amazing to me on a daily basis. This turns a lot of people off. For me, I feel empowered knowing the basic things I'm already doing to minimize exposure to what might harm me and my family are usually protecting us from the new things I learn of.

A few months ago, for example, someone asked me if all chicken is dunked in chlorine baths. I did some research and it turned out that a lot of chickens are, in fact, dunked in chlorine baths to decontaminate them post slaughter. I avoid chlorine in all other areas of my life so I'd really prefer to avoid it on my food.

But I was already protected as chlorine baths aren't permitted under USDA organic standards, and aren't used by any of the pastured chicken producers I buy from. I'm always less than pleased when my regular safety routes let me down, like when a carcinogenic residue was found in certain green dish soaps. But at least I was already buying from companies willing to fix their product. There are no guarantees, of course, but if you're a conscious consumer, and maybe a little bit of a citizen scientist, you can tackle any of the alarming news you might read on a daily basis, or at least know who to contact and protest to.

New green products for babies and children are appearing at a rapid pace.  What are some of the resources (as well as general rules of thumb) that you trust when trying to decide what products to purchase?

Babies need and want very little. Children need very little and want more. Parents' first resource should be themselves: stop and think before every and any purchase. Is this actually something that is needed? Can you get the item hand-me-downed? Used? Recycled? If you're buying new, what's the green version? Are there versions that are seemingly green but not really green? Be smart about it. Some good resources include:

Do you have any eco-resolutions for the rest of the year ahead?

I have a never-ending rotating list. Most of my next year resolutions have to do with the research I just completed for the food book -- I'd like to start using a stainless steel pressure cooker to drastically reduce the cooking time (and energy expended) on things like dried beans and large root vegetables. I'd like to get one of those Nature  Mill automatic composters that are perfect for urban apartments.

And I'd like to unplug more frequently. I'm too involved with my computer screen. I'll save energy, yes, but it will also give me more time with my family, which we'll likely spend at the farmers' market, learning to bake bread, window box gardening, making silly recycled crafts and so on. I have been working with my daughter's preschool on greening their snacks and I hope very much to continue that work and to expand that effort outside of her school to other schools.

Related Reading:
Model Responsibly: A Chat with Summer Rayne Oakes

Eat Your Greens: In the Kitchen with Clotilde Dusoulier

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  • Posted on April 12, 2009. Listed in:

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