By: Andrew Daniels
During the past two decades, “healthy eating” and “organic foods” have become nearly synonymous—and the American appetite for them has grown increasingly voracious (between 1990 and 2009 alone, sales in organic foods and beverages jumped from $1 billion to $24.8 billion). The benefits of consuming a more organic diet are many, including a lower risk of asthma, diabetes, Parkinson’s, certain cancers, and even autism. But the supermarket isn’t the only place where you can boost your health (and save the planet) by going organic. We sat down with Maria Rodale, CEO of Rodale, Inc. and author of Organic Manifesto, to learn a handful of easy ways that every man can live a more chemical-free life. We all have a responsibility for how this world turns out, how our families turn out, and how our futures turn out,” says Rodale, “and choosing organic is really about exercising that responsibility.” Here are 11 ways to go organic beyond the grocery store—and stay healthy for life.
Want more must-have organic tips? Watch Maria Rodale on PBS’s Growing a Greener World this Saturday, October 16. (Click here for local listings.)
Ditch the Roundup
Guys are obsessed with their lawns. “And there’s this notion that you need all of these chemical-laden products to grow a perfect one,” says Rodale. “But having a safe lawn is just as important.” Many of the most popular brands contain a suite of toxic chemicals, including glyphosate, which has been linked to birth defects. “You have to ask yourself which job is more important,” says Rodale, “protecting your family or showing off your lawn?”
Accomplish both ends with an organic herbicide like AllDown Green Chemistry Herbicide ($13, alldownherbicide.com) or Avenger Weed Killer ($12, naturesavenger.com), or by mixing water (one quart) and rubbing alcohol (one tablespoon) in a spray bottle. Boiling water works, too. “It will kill weeds, and it’s perfectly safe,” says Rodale. But aim carefully—boiling water will also cook your lawn if you don’t hit your target.
Get Rid of Raid
When you pull the trigger on an insecticide, you might think that you’re launching a surgical strike against an individual pest or its hiding place. In reality, however, such delivery mechanisms act more like air fresheners. “The spray circulates into the air, covers you, and goes into your body,” says Rodale. The solution? Mix your own insecticide. Combine 2 cups of Borax (a cleaning agent available at most grocery and hardware stores) with one cup of water and two cups of sugar in a jar or dish, and place it in an infested area. The borax will stick to the bugs’ feet and kill them. “It’s actually more effective than Raid,” says Rodale.
Watch What You Wear
Twenty percent of all agricultural chemicals in America are used to protect cotton crops. Why should you care? Clothes made from conventionally grown cotton often contain leftover pesticides, which can leach into your body through your skin. “That’s why switching to organic cotton clothing is so important,” says Rodale, adding that the benefits extend beyond personal and environmental health. “They’re typically made of better quality fabric and stitching.” In short, they’re built to last, which helps offset their slightly higher price tags. Our top picks: Patagonia (patagonia.com), Earth Creations (earthcreations.net), Truly Organic (truly-organic-clothing.com), and Ecosumo (ecosumo.com).
Walk the Walk
Shirts and slacks aren’t the only ways to dress organic. Simple Shoes (simpleshoes.com) gets our pick for best organic footwear brand. The company uses eco-certified leathers and suedes, un-bleached hemp, organic cotton, and recycled car tires to construct their kicks. When they say they’ve found a more sustainable way to do business, they’re not kidding.
Read the Label
Food manufacturers make a lot of questionable claims on product labels—especially when it comes to being organic. Unless you see a USDA-certified organic badge, it’s not the real deal. Foods given this stamp are made up of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (or, in the case of meat, raised on an organic diet without antibiotics or growth hormones). Click here for the 20 best organic foods for men.
Know Where to Cut Corners
Not all conventionally grown produce contains the same amount of pesticides. The worst offenders are peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, and pears. Studies show that people who eat these fruits and vegetables consume an average of 10 pesticides a day, while those who consume less contaminated produce ingest fewer than two pesticides a day. If organic isn’t an option, fill your fridge with these low-pesticide, conventionally grown alternatives: Onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwis, cabbage, eggplants, papayas, watermelon, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.
Fine-tune Your Fragrance
Unlike organic foods, organic toiletries aren’t bound by any national guidelines, so you’ll have to become more adept at deciphering their labels. “Avoid anything with a lot of chemical-sounding ingredients,” says Rodale, “and steer clear of anything called ‘parfum.'” That’s the calling card of a synthetic fragrance, many of which contain phthalates—a class of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been linked to health issues ranging from obesity to infertility. Use organic deodorants, colognes, and lotions—like those produced by Herban Cowboy (herbancowboy.com)—instead.
Upgrade Your Grooming Habits
As with fragrances, you should steer clear of grooming products—body soaps, facial cleansers, pomades, gels, and creams—laced with synthetic chemicals. Our favorite: Anything by Joe Grooming (joegrooming.com), which uses a variety of organic ingredients—from olive oil to ginseng—in each of its products. Other brands worth considering: Dr. Bronner’s (drbronner.com), Organicare (icareorganics.com), and John Masters (johnmasters.com).
Convert Your Detergent
When’s the last time you looked at your laundry detergent’s ingredient list? We’re willing to bet never. Which is why you’ve likely never seen the word “alkyl-benzene,” a chemical that lowers the surface tension of water, facilitating the dispersion of the detergent. Unfortunately, it’s also a known toxin that has been linked to leukemia and breast cancer, according to the Global Healing Center, in Houston. All the more reason to wash your clothes with an organic laundry detergent, such as NaturOli Soap Nuts ($20, naturoli.com).
Clean with a Purpose
The use of common household cleaners like bleach and detergent can increase your risk of asthma, infertility, and birth defects, according to recent research. The good news: Of all the organic switches you can make, none will cost you less than finding alternative cleaning products.
Here’s how to make your own window cleaner, courtesy of Leah Zerbe, online editor for Rodale.com: Take 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon natural liquid soap (Zerbe recommends Dr. Bronner’s), and 2 cups water, and put them all in a spray bottle (shake to blend). Spray the substance on any glass surface, scrubbing as needed with the rough side of a kitchen sponge, and then squeegee off. There—you’ve just saved yourself a couple of dollars. Don’t want to make your own cleaner? Zerbe recommends turning to Seventh Generation (seventhgeneration.com) or Ecos (ecos.com).
Get Involved and Get Active
Perhaps the most important organic move you can make is to help others follow your lead, says Rodale. Make a difference by contributing time or money to organizations on the front lines of the organic movement, such as The Organic Farming Research Foundation (ofrf.org), Soil Association (soilassociation.org), The Organic Center (organic-center.org), The Rodale Institute (rodaleinstitute.org), or farming groups (click here for a nationwide list). “You have a lot more power than you think you have,” says Rodale. “Get involved and get active; take part in your community and learn about the issues that surround it.”