Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Why I'm Saying Goodbye to Bumble & Bumble

This morning, as I was getting ready for the day, I stopped mid-hair-brushing to read, for the first time, the ingredients label in my Bumble & Bumble Styling Lotion.

I hadn't been able to get out of my mind the recent news of friends who experienced the nerve-wracking wait for biopsies that their doctors thought might be cancerous (but, thankfully, weren't). Conversations with them got me thinking again about the importance of our food choices, not only for our own bodies but for our role in feeding into or not (no pun intended) the toxic soup we all live in. But the conversations also got me thinking about the cosmetics I wear and the hair styling gel and perfume I spray on my skin, too. And even though I write about these concerns in Grub--and remind us that our skin is our largest organ--I had never thought too carefully about my hair products... until this morning. That's when I landed on this word-- "methylparaben"--among a very, very long list of substances I'd otherwise never heard of... well, mostly that I hadn't heard of (I'm familiar with water, of course, which is ingredient No. 1).

So I decided to see what the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Campaign had to say about my hair product. Their website includes a searchable personal care product safety guide with in-depth information on 14,841 products (yes, 14841 products!). EWG provides safety ratings based on toxicity and regulatory databases, and offers options for safer products. You can search by ingredient, too, which is just what I did. This is what I found out when I went there on my hunch about methylparaben: It's found in 5,907 products in the database and in the summary on health information, the website flagged these four major concerns: Estrogenic chemicals and other endocrine disruptors; Classified as toxic; Insufficient safety data; Immune system toxicants (allergies, sensitization).

Hmm. It wasn't looking too good for my hair styling lotion. Overall, EWG gave B&B Styling Lotion a "2.6" (that's considered "moderate concern"), but that included concerns about ingredients with "Reproductive/developmental toxicity" and those that the industry itself suggests limits on use. Basically, it didn't sound like something I wanted to spray on my hair daily. So, this evening, I bid a fond farewell to my Bumble & Bumble products until they come up with ones that don't mean I have to choose between a good hair day and a toxic spray.

Check out your beauty products' rankings at the EWG website and check out their take action page to figure out what you can do to be part of the safe cosmetics campaign. --Anna

Postscript Part I: As I was researching online, I found out that just yesterday The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, of which EWG is a founding member, announced the 500 companies who have signed onto their "Compact for Safe Cosmetics," a pledge to eliminate toxic ingredients from their products. Companies on board so far include The Body Shop, Burt's Bees, and Kiss My Face. (Notably not on the list are the big guns such as L'Oréal, Revlon, Estée Lauder, OPI.)

With the announcement of the Compact and why we need it, the Campaign is also highlighting the current lack of regulatory oversight of cosmetics safety. On a positive note, The Campaign lauds a California bill that outlaws ingredients in cosmetics known to be carcinogens or endocrine disrupters. Go Cali! Those of you out there in my home state, let your elected officials know you're pleased to see that Arnie passed the California Safe Cosmetics Act, the nation's first state law on chemicals in cosmetics. Signed back in October, the Act went into effect this January. Read about it here.

Postscript Part 2: On the phone with Bryant, telling him about my scary findings, he mentioned this group he learned about at the Earth Island Institute's Brower Youth Awards: Teens for Safe Cosmetics.

Mark Your Calendars (NYC): Baum Forum on Schools, Food, and Gardening

If you've been reading this blog since way back when it was launched on April 1st, you would have read about the totally inspiring conference I went to on Day 1 of the Book Tour: The Baum Forum on School Food. On the 2006's first beautiful day, 400 people spent a full Saturday talking, debating, and plotting about how to transform school lunch. The Baum Forum is back! If you're in NYC, be sure to check out Schools, Food and Gardening: Cultivating a Healthy Future and join 400 practitioners, parents and advocates for a jam-packed day of panels, workshops, a resource fair and networking lunch. Explore how food, farm and gardening initiatives are taking root in schools and what’s required to sustain innovation in New York and elsewhere. To join us, visit: today! --Anna

Roberto Sonnino from Rome and me at The Baum Forum 2006.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

This Just In: A New Short on the Importance of Fair Trade

So you've heard of fair-trade coffee and ask for it when you're getting your morning fix? But have you heard of fair-trade rice? And did you know that there are now fair-trade certified sugar, rice, fruits, vanilla, cinnamon, and more? Check out this video online by Carolyn Barnwell, a member of the Engage Network, about fair-trade rice in Thailand. It's a great film that in a few minutes helps you learn about all the various social and economic impacts of the fair-trade movement. She also draws the connection between international trade policy and the fate of small farmers globally. --Anna

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Get Involved: Seeking College Students Who Care About Food

The National Youth Campaign for Just, Sustainable and Healthy Farm and Food Policy is looking for students from across the country to get involved with the 2007 Farm Bill Debate. The Campaign is creating a team of college students who are interested in strengthening local food systems and community food security by influencing the policies in the upcoming 2007 Farm Bill. They are looking for enthusiastic and committed activists to:
• participate in bi-monthly conference calls
• help organize students on campus
• help educate fellow students and university communities about food policy and community food security.

For more information, email or call 202 543-1300. And join the team at the 3rd National Farm to Cafeteria and Food Policy Conference March 16-19 in Baltimore, MD. More information at -- Anna

Pic of Ian Marvy ( and Molly Rockamann (Fiji Organic Project)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Mouths of the World Unite

Mouths are angry, downright pissed off, and they're not taking it anymore. Learn about The Mouth Revolution here. The short film (check out outtakes here) is the latest stab at the junk food and fake food industry from the creative minds behind The Meatrix. The film was made with funding from Annie's Organics (who needless to say has an obvious stake in getting mouths to revolt against the junk food they're competing against) and with non-profit partners who include some of my favorite organizations: Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network, Campaign to Label GMOs and Trans Free America. Check out the website to get more information about trans fats, GMOs, pesticides and artificial ingredients, and how you can help be part of changing current legislation around these issues. --Anna

Monday, January 22, 2007

"Seeking Balance in U.S. Farm and Food Policy" Launch

Small Planet Institute is one of 350 endorsers to a declaration for a set of policy proposals for shifting resources allocated in the farm bill and promoting other policy changes that would improve the sustainability of farm production as well as address hunger and healthy by help more of us access healthy foods. You can read the full report here. Stay tuned for more ways to get involved, too.

Farm Bill Forum

If you're in the New York City area and can join us on Thursday, please come out for what will be a hugely educational day: The Small Planet Institute is one of the co-hosts of the Northeast Regional Farm Bill Forum. Panels will include folks that will help us make sense of the impact of U.S. farm and food policy as well as share ideas about how to shift the policy toward a more sustainable (and sane) direction. All the details are below. --Anna

On January 25, 2007 the Hunger & Environmental Nutrition Special Interest Group of the Greater New York Dietetic Association, in partnership with Hunter College of the City University of New York, Just Food, the New York City Nutrition Education Network, and Oxfam America is sponsoring a full-day, Northeast Regional educational forum and networking event on the upcoming 2007 Farm Bill. This event will bring together expert speakers from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions to discuss our nation’s most important agricultural legislation, including issues of farming, Federal food and nutrition programs, commodity subsidies, rural development, environmental sustainability, international trade, food access and food security. Participants will take part in lively discussion around the local, regional, national, and global impacts of the Farm Bill and learn how to become a part of making change. Registration is closed with the exception of press requests.
WHO: Featuring speakers and panelists from: The American Dietetic Association, Bread for the World, the Council on the Environment for NYC, Community Food Security Coalition, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Food Bank for NYC, Food Research and Action Center, FoodChange, the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, the NYC Council Office, NYC Coalition Against Hunger, NYC Nutrition Education Network, National Family Farm Coalition, Oxfam America, Small Planet Institute, the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the W. Rogowski Farm, and World Hunger Year.
Hunter College ’s Brookdale Campus
425 East 25th Street
Between 1st Avenue and the FDR Drive
New York City, NY 10010
8:00 am-5:00 pm

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Starbucks and Safeway Say Hold the Hormone -- But Why Not Everywhere?

Looks like all this citizen outcry about not wanting artificial hormones in our cafe lattes paid off. The Safeway supermarket chain has said they will only stock rBGH-free milk on their shelves. And, Starbucks announced it will serve rBGH-free milk in its cafes in Oregon and Washington... so what about the rest of us?

rBGH, or recombinant bovine growth hormone, is a synthetic hormone sold on the market under the name "Posilac" and is produced by Monsanto (or, Monsanto). It is supposed to benefit dairy farmers by increasing milk production, but according to every farmer I've interviewed who has tried it, it does more harm than good: with artificially increased growth, cows tend to fall sicker easier. Public health advocates have also raised concerns about the human health impacts of consuming milk products with rBGH. (For more on this tale, read here about the attempt by journalists to investigate the rBGH story, and the reaction they spawned at Monsanto.) --Anna

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mali Bound

I'm excited to announce that I'll be joining the National Family Farm Coalition delegation as a member of the press to attend the World Forum on Food Sovereingty near Bamako, Mali in a few weeks. Check back here on February 21st when I'll be posting blogs from the forum. I'll be reporting on the forum for a few different outlets, and I'll be sure to put links here! --Anna

Re-Reading Reefer Madness

Most of you probably have probably read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (and if you haven't, you should!). I was just re-reading his following book, Reefer Madness (not to be confused with this Reefer Madness) and the chapter on farmworkers in the strawberry fields of California. It was a harsh reminder that the farmworkers working on the farm I profile in Grub are a serious anomaly. From the last line of Schloser's chapter: "Left to its own devices, the free market always seeks a work force that is hungry, desperate, and cheap -- a work force that is anything but free. --Anna

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Wal-Mart Accused of Widespread Misuse of "Organic" Labels

When staff at the Cornucopia Institute, one of the country's most prominent organic watchdogs, surveyed Wal-Mart stores around the country last September, they discovered widespread problems with signage misrepresenting nonorganic food as "organic.

So what's the latest? Did Wal-Mart change its ways? Was the company reprimanded in any way?

From today's press release: "Now, Cornucopia... is even more surprised that more than four months after informing the company of the problems, which could be interpreted as consumer fraud, and two months after filing a formal legal complaint with the USDA, the federal agency regulating organic labeling, many of the deceptive signs at Wal-Mart stores are still in place." Read more about the case online.

I've always been concerned that Wal-Mart would use deceptive tactics in the marketplace to capitalize on the organic seal without actually supporting the values that most of us think we're supporting when we buy "organic." Cornucopia's research seems to be proving those fears were grounded. --Anna

Monday, January 15, 2007

Everything You Need to Know About the Farm Bill

Okay, maybe that's slight hyperbole, but Dan Barber (friend, chef, and creative director of Blue Hill at Stone Barns) hits all the right points in "Amber Fields of Bland", his op-ed in today's New York Times. As you probably know if you've found yourself here, the Farm Bill is up for renegotiation this year and so there's lots of heated debate about how the Bill could actually (imagine this!) promote healthy farms and healthy food. As a chef, Dan's got a particularly interesting perspective. (It doesn't hurt that he's a sharp writer, too). --Anna

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Pics from the Small Planet Fund Party Online

You can now find pics from our annual party online. (This is one of my favorites: Vandana Shiva and my adorable niece Josephine). Big thanks to Arnold Adler who volunteered for the second year in a row to document the party. The benefit raised was a big success in terms of raising money for the groups we support and (as we try to achieve every year) it was a damn fun party. Be sure to add your name to our mailing list if you'd like to get the invite to next year's shindig. It will be in early December in SoHo. --Anna

Eat Industry Film Benefit (NYC)

When Lilach Dekel and her husband had their first child, they started asking questions about where their food came from and how to ensure the best food for their new babe. For these two filmmakers, the obvious way to explore that question was digital, so the couple set out in a mobile home with their 2-year old daughter to find out first-hand about our food system and document it all on tape. Along the way, they experience a positive pregnancy test, a mal-functioning mobile-home kitchen, and many heart-wrenching conversations with farmers. The result (I've seen rough cuts over the past couple of years) is a profoundly human take on a food system that too often feels too distant. If you're in Brooklyn on JANUARY 24th, meet Lilach and see samples from the film while you nibble on treats from The Farm. Click here for details. --Anna

Friday, January 12, 2007

Thursday, January 11, 2007

WorldWatch's Take on the State of Our World

WorldWatch Institute releases its annual State of the World report today, focusing on "our urban future" on the eve of the first year (2008) when more than half of the world's population will live in cities. Among other interesting reads, check out the chapter on farming in the cities.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Rethinking Human Nature

In the journey to write Hope's Edge, my mom and I thought a lot about human nature: Are we human beings just the selfish, accumulators we're taught to believe we are, all just hungering for more money and more things; or, are we by nature community-focused and caring? As we traveled around the globe, from the foothills of the Himalayas to the plains of Brazil, we met incredible people whose lives were dedicated to improving the fates of their communities. The more people we met the more we started to believe that these folks aren't the anomaly; they are merely expressing our innate desire to be connected in community. It turns out cutting edge neurological, anthropological, and psychological research is backing up our hunch. In this New York Times article my friend, the journalist Cara Buckley, sums up the research in an attempt to explain the actions of this week's subway hero: "Why Our Hero Leapt Onto the Tracks and We Might Not." --Anna

LA Times Investigation into the Gates Foundation

Interesting Los Angeles Times investigation into the Gates Foundation: "Dark cloud over good works of Gates Foundation" by Times staff writers, Charles Piller, Edmund Sanders and Robyn Dixon.