Eco Etiquette: The Obsessively Organic Parent, Best Green Cleaners

I am mom to the most magnificent 5-year-old girl, and am admittedly obsessive about her health -- especially when it comes to the food she eats. We only eat organic, and I rarely allow sugary treats in the house (the closest we get is home-baked oatmeal cookies made with honey). My dilemma: Now that she's old enough to start having play dates, I'm sending her to homes where kids eat all sorts of junk. The parents don't even know what "organic" means! Even at the homes of her friends who do eat relatively healthy, I still don't want her ingesting all the pesticides, growth hormones, etc., from conventional foods. Do I send her off to her play dates with her own snacks? Or should I only let her have play dates at our house, where I can control what she eats?


I'm not yet a mother, but I fully understand your desire to go to any length to ensure your daughter's health and well-being. It's a scary world out there -- the incidence of childhood cancers, autism, even type 1 diabetes is increasing, and no one has conclusively determined what environmental factors may be to blame.

There's an old adage that I often play over in my head when I feel frustrated by the overwhelming urge to hide in a little green corner of my home, where I never have to deal with the environmental hazards of everyday life, like breathing the smog-filled air in Los Angeles, or using a cell phone:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Sure, you could send your daughter off to every single play date accompanied by organic carrot sticks and tamari roasted almonds -- and you could also risk alienating the parents of your daughter's friends by lecturing them about the garbage they're feeding their own children -- but what's going to happen when she's in a situation that you can't reasonably control or change, like visiting the gift shop on a school field trip (space ice cream!) or when she's 18 years old, off at college, and facing the frozen yogurt machine in her dining hall at breakfast?

Don't discount the stress, either, of making your daughter feel like she has to be perfect all the time, or of being singled out to eat whole grains while her friends feast on Toaster Strudels; I would argue that having fun and throwing caution to the wind on occasion is just as important to overall health as a strict organic diet.

Better to turn this into a teachable moment. She's only 5, but it's not too early to plant the seeds of green living. If you're not already, make it a habit to take her grocery shopping with you and explain why it's important to our health and the environment to choose organic foods when we can, but that it's not a perfect world and part of growing up is learning how to make educated choices. And when her friends visit your house for play dates and you serve healthy yet delicious snacks, you can smile knowingly when you overhear your 5-year-old elucidate to her pals why they, too, should eat organic.

For the ultimate reassurance, just look at me: Long before green was cool and my friends were gobbling up chicken nuggets and tater tots in the cafeteria, my mom sent me off to school every day (at age 5) with organic tomato, mozzarella, and arugula sandwiches on home-baked nine-grain bread. But every once in a while, my dad would slip in a Hostess Cup Cake. Without that, I would have probably ended up a neurotic, crazed eco-zealot with no friends, instead of the beacon of reasonable green wisdom I've now become.

What are your favorite eco-friendly household cleaners? There are so many on the store shelves now that I barely know which ones are effective, let alone which are truly safe for the environment.


It's good news that the shelves are so crowded with green cleaners, because it means that market demand is moving away from products that are hazardous to our health, polluting our waterways, and increasing our dependence on foreign oil (most conventional cleaning products are petroleum-based). Even bleach behemoth Clorox has a line of eco cleaning products, and a very successful one at that; at last count, the company had cornered 42 percent of the natural cleaners market.

But despite the plethora of pretty looking citrus-/lavender-/cucumber-scented soaps, sprays, and scrubs, I'm still a fan of what Urban Homestead authors Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen dubbed the "holy trinity" of household cleaning at their recent workshop that I attended: baking soda, distilled white vinegar, and Dr. Bronner's soap.

The brilliant part about baking soda and vinegar is that they're dirt cheap (Dr. Bronner's is a bit pricier, but a little goes a really long way).

Some ideas: Combine 2 cups of water and 1/4 cup vinegar in a spray bottle for an ammonia-free window cleaner (add 1/2 tsp. of soap for the first cleaning); sprinkle baking soda on a damp sponge to wipe down kitchen surfaces; and add a squirt of Dr. Bronner's to a pail of warm water to mop your floors.

Too DIY for your taste? Look for cleaners that are free of ammonia, chlorine, triclosan, petroleum, phosphates, and artificial fragrances. (Labels like "nontoxic" and "biodegradable" are helpful clues, too.)

Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at Questions may be edited for length and clarity.