Category Archives: poison

Hot Cups

photo by alvimann

I gave a lecture today.  It was entitled “The Poison Pantry.”  The location where the lecture was held offers a beverage service of coffee and water.  Having been there before I knew that they also use polystyrene cups.  Most people refer to them as styrofoam however according to Dow Chemical, the trademark owner of Styrofoam, they do not make cups, plates, take-out containers or any other food product from styrofoam.  However you refer to them, as styrofoam or polystyrene, I do not like these cups.

To the best of my knowledge polystyrene does not break down in the landfill.  It is recyclable but I am not aware of recycle efforts specifically directed toward them, most people I know just throw them in the trash.  However there are other factors to take into account when choosing beverage cups.

One study, published in March 2009, found that there was migration “above the EPA recommended level.” (Khaksar and Ghazi-Khansari, 2009).  The study found that higher levels of fats and/or heat caused more migration, or breakdown, of the polystyrene which was then consumed along with the beverage.

Another study from Purdue University found that styrene was “hepatoxic and pneumotoxic in mice, in addition to causing lung tumors.”  (Harvilchuck and Carlson, 2009)  Although the study states that human studies are inconclusive I accept that since most rodent studies are a good indicator of human health conditions, using styrene containers is not a good idea.

But I digress…I had a lecture and I needed cups.  I went to the store to get some and discovered, to my utter surprise, that there weren’t any.  Thinking that this was a fluke I went to another store.  Same thing, no non-styrene hot cups.  At the third store I asked for help and the clerk was just as surprised as I was to find that they didn’t have any either.  Now I could have brought regular mugs from home with me however it didn’t seem very professional, I didn’t want to take the risk of breaking them during transport, and if folks wanted to take their beverage with them after the lecture I couldn’t very well let them do so if it was my mug.  So I went to Starbucks and asked if I could buy a sleeve of cups.  Bless them, they said yes.  I told them what happened and promised them free publicity; telling them I would share the story with my lecture attendees.

I have cups left over for future lectures but I can see that unless I want to give Starbucks endless free publicity while paying for their cups I need to find another source.  Thinking about this issue also made me realize that the clamshells that most restaurants use for take-home are styrene.  I think I’m going to get into the habit of either bringing my own container or at least bringing some foil to line the container with to limit exposure.

Carcinogenic Strawberries

A while back I wrote a post about the proposed use of Methyl Iodide as a pesticide for strawberry crops.

The original post stated that the comment period would end on June 14.  That has been extended to June 29.

If you have not yet made your feelings about this issue known I urge you to take a moment and do so.  The United Farm Workers has a quick and easy way for you to participate on their website.

As I stated previously, this is a known carcinogen, one used in laboratories for it’s reliable ability to create tumors.  Many scientists, including Nobel winners, have urged that this never be used.  Yet California is considering going ahead with it.  The potential for damage and illness is huge.  Not only those who eat those strawberries, but those who work with the crops, those who harvest and or package those crops, those who live near the fields, all will be affected.  This is truly horrifying.  Please take just a moment of your time and vote for clean food by stating your objection to the use of Methyl Iodide.

Shopping Guides

I just came across this detergent shopping guide from Organic Consumers and it’s so important that I knew I had to pass it along.  It has a list of all of the soaps/detergents that use 1,4 dioxane, a known carcinogen that can cause a host of health problems.

This seemed like a good opportunity to pass along a couple of other good resources that are available online.

The Environmental Working Group Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides

The Environmental Working Group Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products

The Environmental Working Group Shopper’s Guide to Safer Sunscreen

The Food and Water Watch rBGH-free Dairy Guide (search by state)

The Non-GMO Shopping Guide

Strawberry Contamination

Recently it has come to my attention that the State of California has approved methyl iodide for use as a pesticide on strawberry crops.

Methyl iodide is a potent carcinogen, it is used to induce cancer in lab animals because it is so effective.  Back in 2007 dozens of well respected scientists (many of them Nobel winning scientists) urged the EPA to ban this substance because it was such a dangerous chemical.

I find it disturbing and appalling that any organization, governmental or otherwise, would knowingly approve use of a substance virtually guaranteed to cause cancer in consumers.   I plan to watch this issue closely and, if methyl oxide is approved, will no longer be eating strawberries from California.  I will then be watching further to see if they approve it for other crops which I will then also no longer eat.  

The State is now seeking public comment on the issue before they implement it, you have until June 14th to let them know how you feel.  Please take a moment to stand up for your rights as consumers to non-carcinogenic foods.

Photo courtesy of Henning 48 | Wikimedia Commons

Okra And Remembering To Read The Labels

I have a confession to make. I don’t much like okra. Maybe it’s from growing up in the northeast where I was not really exposed to it much as a child. Whatever the reason I mostly find it unappealing. I have discovered that I can tolerate it steamed, I despise it cooked, boiled, or fried. However, it’s not half bad when it’s pickled. It’s a pity that I don’t like it more because it’s low in calories, high in fiber, has a modest amount of protein, and provides vitamins A and C as well as iron and calcium.

Okra also has a mucilaginous quality that helps to escort cholesterol and bile acids out of the body. As an alkaline food it is also believed to help heal intestinal ulcers and be useful in the treatment of IBS.

When I was at the grocery store today I happened to spy a jar of pickled okra on the shelves. Since this is my least objectionable way to eat it I decided to try it again, scooped up a jar and finished my grocery shopping.

Unfortunately I ignored my own advice and I did not stop to read the label. After getting home I did read the label and it turns out these pickles contain polysorbate-80. I refuse to eat any ingredient that has a number (nature doesn’t number food). According to my Consumer Dictionary of Food Additives polysorbate-80 is an emulsifier “associated with the contaminant 1,4 dioxane, known to cause cancer in animals.” It is also “widely used in baby lotions, cold creams, cream deodorants, antiperspirants, suntan lotions and path oils.”

I’m not sure why these pickles need to be emulsified but I certainly don’t care to eat an ingredient also used in lotions and potions like cold cream. This serves as a personal reminder to ALWAYS read the label.

Needless to say I will be returning this to the store. I wonder what the counter clerk will say/think when I explain why I’m bringing it back.

photo courtesy of: Gerard Cohen | Wikimedia Commons

No Artificial Colors In Kraft Foods Overseas, Why Here?

My newest column as the Houston Holistic Health Examiner deals with the buzz and rising dismay over Kraft Food Inc. using artificial colors in their products in the United States but not in places such as Europe and Australia.

Consumers there were upset about studies showing the negative health effects of artificial colors. This is not new news. In a paper that I wrote previously on artificial colors I pointed out that in 1968 Dr. Benjamin Feingold published a paper detailing how food additives were a source of allergic response in children. Unfortunately Dr. Feingold’s work did not convince food manufacturers and 40 years later Kraft has finally decided to remove these chemicals from their products. But not in America. Probably not in many other countries either, especially developing nations. One can only assume that this is motivated by profit and an enormous lack of concern for the health of the very consumers of their products. is an organization that works to help promote a healthy, family-friend America. They are currently working on a campaign to convince Kraft that the American public does not want these chemicals in their pantry. You can help by signing the petition or writing a letter of your own.

Below is my letter to Ms. Rosenfeld:

“As a Nutrition Educator and the mother of two children who are sensitive to food coloring I am pleased to see that you have removed the artificial colorants and aspartame from your products sold in other countries. I feel that this was a responsible decision made in reaction to the demands of your consumers which highlights that KraftFoods has the ability to effect change in partnership with the requests of it’s consumers. I am stunned, however, by your decision to continue to use these very chemical additives in the U.S. version of the same products.

There are a number of studies which underscore the health risks posed by synthetic additives, especially when it comes to the developing bodies of young children, a prime market for many of your products. Given the overwhelming reach of your company into the pantries across this country and around the world I would think that a response to such consumer requests should have prompted a revision in your manufacturing processes across the global market instead of merely in a few countries.

There is no need whatsoever for these ingredients, and indeed they are harmful to your consumers. I urge you and your company to be a responsible member of the global community, to care about the health of those who buy your products and make the same change that you did in Europe, Australia and other countries by removing artificial colorants, aspartame and other unhealthful chemical additives to the foodstuffs that you sell, not only in the United States, but around the world.

Mira Dessy, NE”

photo by BrokenSphere courtesy of

Chemicals Are Touching The Food

I just got back from the grocery store and once again I find myself very frustrated by many of the products in the aisles.  I teach a class called “Poison Pantry” where I talk about some of the ingredients that are in the pantry that shouldn’t be there.  As I tell folks, “Notice I said ingredients, not food.”  That’s because this stuff isn’t food and shouldn’t be part of our diet.  It’s there either because it’s easier for the manufacturer or because it extends the shelf life.  And just because it’s in our food doesn’t mean we have to eat it.

The latest example of my frustration lies with a preservative called BHT,  butylated hydroxytoluene.  Along with it’s counterpart BHA (butylated hydroxianisole) it is used as a preservative.  According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) there is evidence that these phenolic compounds may cause cancer and both substances are considered to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”  BHT and BHA can both be replaced by vitamin E or are not even necessary in products, however the USDA allows their use anyway and so they are still part of the manufacturing process.
Because of consumer resistance, I am assuming, some manufacturers are not using these products in the food they produce.  Today I got quite a shock when I read the side panel of a box and discovered that although there was no BHT in the food itself it had been added to the packaging as a preserving agent.  Okay it’s not in the food but, hello folks, it’s TOUCHING the food.  And am I going to be upset about that?  You betcha.  These products are not good for our health, are not required in many cases, don’t use them.  Use something else that is not “reasonably anticipated” to make me, my family, or anyone else ill.
The lesson here?  Read all the way to the bottom of the label.  It may take longer but it really is important.
Be well.