I love what I do. One of my favorite things about being a pediatrician is developing relationships with families and children over the years. These connections are what keep me going and make me happy to go to work each day. What a privilege it is to earn the trust of parents and, especially, of children—many of whom have had experiences which have severely tested their trust in the medical system. These relationships grow and deepen over years of visits, but it is often day-to-day moments that stay with me most vividly.
Recently, one such encounter has been resonating with me. A mom of two (a toddler and a newborn)—experienced yet still learning about parenthood as a second-time mom—asked me a question that cut to the core of my daily practice as a green pediatrician. “Dr. Rosen—I know you speak to parents all the time about ways to keep our families healthy. If you were to share three top priorities for ‘going green,’ what would they be?”
“Aha,” I replied. “You’ve just given me the topic for my next KIWI blog.”
Honestly, it’s not easy to come up with a “best-of” list for changing your life towards a more toxin-free existence. I love those top-10 books- or albums-of-the-year pieces that come out each December, but this answer depends on so many individual family factors. Where do you live? What is your economic situation? How old are your kids? So, I will temporarily suspend the luxury and responsibility I have in answering each family differently and give you my top general “going green” pointers.
1. Green your food and water.
OK, I cheated already. This is really a two-for-one. But what is more important than what we put in our bodies? I always say, start with what you have control over. And food definitely is at the top of the list. Where to begin? If you and your kids are dairy drinkers/consumers, go organic. You’ll avoid antibiotics, hormones and pesticides. Not bad, huh? Next step—avoid the conventional dirty dozen fruits and vegetables, popularized by the Environmental Working Group, and buy organic. Ideally, we’d only buy organic, locally-grown produce—good for you and for the earth—but the reality is most people can’t afford to do this and many of us don’t have access to these foods on a regular basis. As for water, it’s hard to read about water quality these days and not be concerned about levels of heavy metals like lead and arsenic as well as pharmaceuticals present in drinking water. You could buy bottled water, but that’s expensive and you have to worry about plastic exposure—again, good for neither you nor the environment. Consider investing in a filtration system for your home. In the long run, it will save you money and provide you with what I believe is, in general, the healthiest water supply possible.
2. Green your cleaning.
Other than food and water, what else can we control? Air quality is next on my list. Not so much outdoors, which is an issue we’re going to have to solve as a society, but definitely in your home. There are so many healthier versions of cleaning agents you can either make yourself or buy that it’s a shame to keep using toxic products to clean your house. Simple, inexpensive options like lemon juice and baking soda work well for many needs. I teach everyone I possibly can how to make a neat DIY hand sanitizer. While we’re at it, cleaning applies not only to your home but to our bodies as well (and I can sneak in a tip 2B here). Shampoo, soap, moisturizers, baby lotions, diaper creams, toothpastes, sunscreens, and so on—there are an increasing number of chemical free, safer options available now. Check out the Green Guide for greener personal care solutions for your family.
3. Green your mind and body.
Wait a minute, you say. You just mentioned our bodies. What is this mind-body stuff? I’m referring to integrative concept of mind-body health—literally, the connection between a healthy body and a healthy state-of-mind. Pick something—ANYTHING—that helps you and your kids develop a mindful or contemplative practice. Exercise, dance, do yoga, meditate, pray—whatever it is that helps you better center yourself. Better yet—bring more greenery, literally, into your life. Bring a new plant into your house. Plant a garden. Grow your own organic fruits and vegetables and you’ve got tips No. 1 and No. 3 covered. So get outside and help cure the nature-deficit-disorder plaguing so many families today.
Do we live in a toxic world? Sure. Is it easy to be paralyzed by indecision about how to start cleaning up your entire life? Absolutely. It’s like walking into that messy room and not knowing where to begin. But you have to pick something. Don’t use the excuse that “it’s just too hard, so I’ll start tomorrow.” This is too important. Pick one thing and take that first baby step. Pretty soon you’ll be walking, and then running, to a cleaner, greener life.