Many of our readers — well, really, many Philadelphians — know the lovely, lively Paige Wolf, either through her eponymous public relations firm, where she works with clients who “contribute to a sustainable world and positive change”, or through her great blog, Spit That Out, which is filled with helpful reads about “making green and healthy living manageable, practical and affordable.” (Some of us also know her as mom to Sam, 7, and Evelyn, 3.) As Wee has noted before, Paige is a real-talking, real-life green guru, and she’s spent years now helping parents figure out ways to live cleaner, more healthful and more ecological lives without losing their minds.
Paige’s latest project is right up Wee’s alley, and we wanted to give you the scoop. Her new book, Spit That Out: The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Children in the Age of Environmental Guilt, is a revamped, updated version of a book of the same name she published a few years back. It was great then, but it’s even better now: This edition includes all the newest research and answers to the latest questions modern parents face on a daily basis about living green. (Or, living greener, anyway.)
I read it, y’all — and it’s both a great read and a great help. In her semi-wry, witty voice (along with lots of quotes from other real moms), Paige addresses everything from making the decision to go with cloth diapers (or not) to figuring out what cleaning products to use to spotting “green-washing” when you see it to making travel a bit more eco-friendly. Here’s what I like the most: There’s no self-righteous or sanctimonious “you shoulds” and “you’d better not evers”; there’s no scare-driven sensationalism. In fact, Paige starts the book by noting that “Perfect is unattainable. But better is always possible” — a preface that sets the tone for what this book is: A well-researched, idea-filled guide to doing better where we can.
I caught up with Paige to ask her a few questions about the book and her inspiration. Here, a greatly condensed version of the conversation we had. (You’ll see she’s full of ideas even on the phone.)
And oh! Before I forget: You should save the date for a September 29: Wee is co-hosting a book release party for Spit That Out. That’s a Thursday, from 4 to 6 p.m., at Nest. There will be snacks, drinks, books and a whole bunch of awesome free swag. Bring the kids if you want, and see more info below!
Anyway, without further ado … the interview!
How did you get to know to be so expert, to know so much about this stuff?
I don’t know that I’d call myself an expert. I always think it’s funny when I go on TV and have that title. But since it’s something I’m passionate about, I pay attention. It all starts with a question. Like, if I find out something is proven to be toxic, I want to get rid of it, but in most cases, I have to do so in a real, affordable, livable way. On the day I find out Teflon is bad, foe example, it might not be practical to immediately throw out all of the pans in my house and replace them all that day with new cast iron. Maybe start with the one or two you use the most. It’s about learning what steps you can take to make things better.
I started to be interested in the environment and in health when I saw An Inconvenient Truth. Like millions of other Americans, I was completely oblivious; like everyone else, I was a wasteful consumer. It was a major wake-up call, a Pandora’s Box for me. I started learning more and more, and paying attention to more things. I got pregnant, and paid even more attention, the way so many of us do. And then, I started working with clients who were in that arena — people who produced green beauty products, organic food companies. So I really learned as I went and ended up working with people who were experts.
How’d you find your voice in this all? You have a very measured sort of approach, at least by some standards.
A lot of the experts who I knew and who appealed to me the most weren’t the all-or-nothing people, or the ones who said “never eat this, or you will die” people. I always wanted to find the sort of middle ground between the total scare-tactic stuff and the folks who are like “Whatever, I ate this stuff as a kid, and I’m fine.” Because, you know — I mean, are we fine? I grew up drinking Diet Coke with every meal, and … well, I have asthma and can’t lose this permanent 10 pounds I have on me, and maybe I’ll get cancer at 45. I mean, I hope not. I know a lot of people my age — young people — who have had cancer. There is a reason to do things differently that what we always did.
Our generation, we grew up right in that time when it was the chemical evolution — the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, when they were pushing out chemicals, and our parents thought margarine was better than butter. Some of us changed eating habits, some didn’t. Now, for so many of us, it’s what can we do to improve our health and keep our kids from going down the same path without losing our minds?
I am actually optimistic about it all. We’re getting better. It’s happening, though some would say it’s not fast enough or good enough. But if we continue to speak up about it, and not be laissez-faire, to not wait for someone else to ask the teacher to let us buy the greener version of cleaning wipes instead of the Clorox wipes on the school list, to not be afraid that someone will say, “Oh, it’s that crazy green mom” … I mean, I think we can do better. I think I speak for the silent majority who want to.
Okay, so how do you, Paige Wolf, knowing all you know, walk the line between doing better in a world filled with waste and toxins and making yourself totally crazy about it all?
I want to say Zoloft, but I won’t. Ha!
Really, I think it’s circumstantial. I have to find ways to figure out when to let go. As an example, we make sure that like 80 or 85 percent of the food in our house is organic and GMO-free. We aren’t perfect. So yeah, they might be eating “gummy works” — there’s sugar, it’s bad for teeth, it’s not a good snack — but they’re organic. So when we’re out, and there are things that aren’t organic or clean — the things we can’t control so easily, well, it’s not as big of a deal.
We do have rules, and some hard limits. No soda, no gum, and no fast food. Ever. At some point in their lives, someone will give them a burger or soda. But everyone has to set their own hard lines. It’s what works for each family.
I’ll be honest here: I still feel guilt about things. I talk about this in the book. I still feel like maybe i stopped nursing my kids too early, and for the wrong reasons. Or that maybe we could have tried cloth diapers longer. Fresh Direct is one of my greatest sources of guilt — I can get all my organic groceries, but their packaging is off the chain. I could go to the store, find an hour without the kids, bring one of those old-lady cart things, like we always did. It would take forever, and I don’t want to spend time doing that. I don’t have it. Fresh Direct has made life easier, but oh my God, so much guilt. I’ve Tweeted at them, written them letters. They tell me they’re working on the packaging, that it will be better.
But yeah. I still feel the pangs from the stuff I could do better — like, all the time. But i try to let it go, and try to find little things — and big things — we could do better elsewhere.
Okay, so give me a handful of things most of us could do right now that are easy and have immediate positive impact.
Sure. Get rid of any air freshener and scented candles. All of those scented things have phthalates; that’s what you’re inhaling. There are lots of better ways to clean the air. You can definitely get scented candles that are fine, if they’re made with essential oils and beeswax. There are plenty on Etsy, for example. Lots of people make them.
Then there’s the dirty dozen organic list. I mean, it depends on who we’re talking to. If you’re already eating fruits and veggies, and you can’t necessarily afford to buy ALL organic, then you can focus on what your family eats most, and then buy organic there. I’d focus on the fruits and veggies on the dirty dozen list, and then meat and dairy, and then work your way down, if you can, to grains and so on.
I’d also say stop buying so much stuff. Stop buying your kids brand-new clothes. It’s silly — you can get hand-me-downs so easily, and those are almost always free. You can post group posts on Facebook or ask friends or look on neighborhood list serves, or Ebay, or Craigslist. You can often get cheap or free secondhand clothes — even the really fancy stuff. This is good for financial and eco-friendly reasons — you don’t need to buy super-fancy organic cotton –except for maybe newborn onesies, maybe. You can just buy hand-me-downs that have been washed a million times. And in fact, we should all buy less stuff in general. Maybe the buy-nothing group has one; maybe you can check Craigslist. Think before you click on Amazon.
Interested in more? Paige’s book is available NOW to download for Kindle; you can also get one on August 30 on Amazon, or wherever books are sold! And don’t forget about the party on September 29th. You’ll hear more about it from us in coming weeks, but feel free to check it out and RSVP now.