It isn't easy being green - especially when you're urban and love Thai take out. But I'm sure gonna try.

Friday, October 21, 2011

More reasons to embrace the imperfections of organic:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Imperfection is Organic

There's nothing like apple picking in New England. For years, my family has enjoyed this fall tradition.

We've visited farms with train rides, hay rides, corn mazes, gourmet donuts and ice cream, petting zoos, pony rides, barbeques and playgrounds. These theme-park orchards provided great entertainment, but they could never provide us with one thing: organic apples.

They say that it is impossible to grow organic apples, pears and stone fruit on the east coast. They say these crops will quickly be devoured by molds, fungi and pests.  I've spoken to many vendors at my local farmer's market, and they all sing the same refrain: we do our best, we use as little spray as possible, if we didn't spray you couldn't eat these.... But that's not entirely true.

For the past two years my family has visited Old Frog Pond Farm, a 25-acre pick-your-own orchard owned by a local artist. Our first year there, it was sleepy and quiet. The trees were short and looked sparse. The apples were tiny, lopsided, disfigured and covered with black and brown splotches.

"Are these safe to eat?" I asked the young man who worked there. He smiled and informed me that these blemishes were a natural part of the apple, perfectly safe for human consumption. "Organic," he said, "is not perfect."

Still, we were a bit fearful, so we took them home and baked pies and cooked applesauce instead of eating them raw.

Over the course of the year, his words remained with me: "Organic is not perfect." It got me thinking about my perceptions of the world and myself. When I shop I seek out perfect products. I exercise in hopes of a more perfect body. I write aspiring to the perfect manuscript. I child rear with earnest desire to be the perfect mother ... wife ... citizen.  I keep searching for the aha! moment when I realize that it has all come together perfectly.

In a world of shiny, glossy, beautiful people, products and produce, it's hard to accept anything less.

This year, we decided to go back to Old Frog Pond Farm. My kids discovered hidden sculptures, designed by the owner, nestled between the trees and along the edges of the field. The orchard seemed busier, the trees seemed fuller, the choices seemed greater, and the apples seemed less blemished. When my kids asked for samples, I didn't bat an eyelash at the black mottled skins.

The apples were not beautiful by traditional standards. Not even close! But they were grown without toxic chemicals and they were delicious.

I've finally begun to understand that imperfection really is natural, organic and healthy. It's the mottled moments that make us human and the lopsided apples that give us something to write about.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

No Vaccine ... No School

Here's a copy of the op-ed I submitted to my local paper last week after our public school threatened to suspend my daughter for two weeks because we did not want to vaccinate against chicken pox. This may offend some of you, and it might resonate with others. Either way, I think it is a conversation that needs to be had as more and more parents are opting out of the AAP vaccine schedule.

Vaccine Study is a Sign of a Growing Trend

A study published in the November issue of Pediatrics states that 1 in 10 parents are not following the recommended vaccine schedule for their children. Of this subgroup, 30% claimed they began following the recommended guidelines, but subsequently deviated. I am like that 30%.

Vaccines save lives and as a new mother I was content playing my part in public health protection. But my older daughter began suffering from food intolerances and allergies and my younger daughter was plagued with ear infections. The idea of injecting foreign viruses into children struggling with health issues didn't sit well with me.

I did some vaccine research, but there seemed to be only two polarized messages: Vaccine experts adamantly defending the safety of their products, and extreme radical groups calling for an end to all vaccines.

In 2007, Dr. Robert W. Sears published The Vaccine Book, a mainstream source offering information about individual shots and their risks. Essentially pro-vaccine, he offered an alternative schedule for concerned parents.

I decided to slow down our process, giving one shot at a time, when my kids were healthy.

One vaccine I could not rationalize was chicken pox. I don’t understand why we vaccinate young children for a disease that is mostly benign in childhood and risk immunity waning during adulthood when the disease is more dangerous.

Studies also show there is a correlation between the chicken pox vaccine and an increase in adult shingles, suggesting that lifelong exposure to the virus keeps shingles at bay.

I decided not to vaccinate my younger daughter for chicken pox and to postpone the booster for my older one. I would vaccinate when they were teenagers if they hadn’t acquired immunity.

But matters came to a head last week when there was a case of chicken pox in my daughter's kindergarten class.

The school nurse called, panicked, on Friday morning while we were celebrating the Jewish New Year. The unwell child was diagnosed on Wednesday, and I had 72 hours from exposure to either vaccinate my daughter or keep her home for two weeks. Because it was Friday, I had just one afternoon to figure it all out.

I asked questions like: What if the child was contagious on Monday or Tuesday? What’s the point of the vaccine then? Was it one of her friends? Was she actually exposed? The nurse wouldn’t tell me anything.

Chicken pox is inconvenient, but it is not a public health threat. It’s not even that easy to catch. A sick child must actually cough or sneeze on another to spread bodily fluids.

After talking to our daughter’s teacher, we ascertained she’d had no contact with the sick child. Our daughter was not a public health risk. There was little chance of her getting sick or of exposing others in a town that boasts 98% vaccination rates.

Still, I felt I had no choice but to vaccinate. As a kindergartner just beginning to adjust to her new school, I was reluctant to pull her out for two weeks.

After we vaccinated, I learned that the only child in the grade at risk from this potential ‘outbreak’ had been our daughter. I feel duped.

If Monday’s study is any indication of things to come, there will be more and more parents like me. Well-intentioned, thoughtful parents who aren’t extremists, but who want to take control of their children’s well-being in a system that is neither answering questions or concerns adequately nor addressing individual’s preferences with logic and reason.