Thursday, May 01, 2008



I hereby sacrifice my teeth to the environment (kind of)

A newspaper reporter asked me today by email to confirm that, among other measures, we stopped using toothpaste and started using baking soda to brush our teeth. She also asked why. Here is what I said (in slightly improved words):

We're taking actions now that I'm pretty sure are sound but for which I don't yet have the science. Things are moving too fast to research everything as it happens, though of course I will fill in the blanks later. We’re making a virtual lifetime of changes in only one year.

But, yes, as of yesterday, baking soda entered the picture to brush teeth and use as deodorant and also as a major ingredient for a lot of our coming homemade cleaning products. No plastic and zinc tubes. No carcinogens (which there are in toothpaste). No petroleum products. No label saying "do not swallow and if you do call the national poisons hotline." No worrying about Isabella getting into it. And no being subject to a lot of marketing and advertising.

At this point, some changes we make are more philosophical than scientific. Remember, we're taking our lives apart to put back together again. It’s not that we’re necessarily doing this forever. No Impact Man is an experiment. All the same, toothpaste comes in a box and a tube and baking soda is just in a box, and it will last way longer than any toothpaste tube. Plus, the box is recyclable and the tube is not.

We're moving and changing so fast that I may be making mistakes that we'll have to correct later when some expert who knows a lot more than me tells me I'm an idiot, which of course I am because I'm just a schlub, like everyone else, trying to negotiate through spin and counter-spin to do the right thing.

One really important point I want to make is that the science is confusing about a lot of this stuff. There are studies and counter studies. It's easier just to consume less product than to try to figure out what is okay and what is not.

It is also sometimes easier to go by the gut instead of the head. Though the studies (paid for by Proctor and Gamble, I’m told) say that disposable diapers are no worse for the environment than cloth diapers, doesn't your gut tell you that millions and millions of plastic diapers in the landfill and produced from petroleum can't be right? Also, the study did not account for the fact that cloth diapers can be used for more than one child or that some people wash them and let them hang dry etc. So how do you negotiate when everybody is so enamored of science that is manipulated?

That is why I trust my gut in these things. That is why baking soda is the new toothpaste! And yes, I've hereby turned into a freaking nut!

Anybody out there want to contradict the bit about me being a nut by affirming the baking soda decision and saying why it’s the right move?

great comment.......

I'm really responding to what you said about following intuition, because I really believe that and go by that, too. I think we have a tendency as a society to defer too much of what's common, critical sense to conflicting "expert" opinion.

Last summer I saw the performance artist Laurie Anderson in a free concert at the park and she had this piece about how "only the experts can deal with the problem/because only the experts can see the problem" and then later she asks "what's an expert? An expert is someone who didn't know anything and then they took some classes and now they're an expert." (This is all from memory so let's say words to that effect.) Wendell Berry has also written about this effective delegation of personal responsibility and decision-making (would the experts call it "outsourcing"?).

And I'm also responding to what you said about how it's easier to just consume less rather than worry about which expert opinion is best. Again, common sense. I was in this discussion about recycling and it just seemed like recycling is becoming this whole, complex undertaking what with all the considerations about different types of plastic/paper/metal/perishables, etc., and the need to sort and even find the appropriate plastic or paper bag for specific recycling purposes(!).

But no one seemed to question why we even need all this packaging in the first place. And clearly it's in part a response to the consumer culture demand for ease and convenience--easy, disposable multipacks of single use whatever.

Even recycling involves a lot of energy and resources (and carbon emissions) and is a growing industry. Just cut consumption and there'll be less to recycle. And the best (energy-efficient) recycling is retaining and reusing.

Posted by: Ava Hsu | March 20, 2007 at 03:01 PM