Is this even possible? Can we produce inexpensive, pesticide-free apples? Concoct cheaper, carcinogen-free skin lotion? No one knows, actually. What we can be sure of is that success, if achieved, will depend on stupendous technological innovations from industry, which—given the cost of researching these kinds of solutions—the free market is not likely to catalyze on its own.
Thus, public interventions are as crucial to protecting public health as they’ve ever been. Local initiatives, like Oregon’s new statewide Environmental Justice Task Force, or the Oregon Environmental Council’s soon-to-be-introduced bills that would regulate the use of toxics in children’s toys and in schools’ cleaning products and pesticides, will help. But to be truly effective, these sorts of policy reforms have to occur at the federal level as well. Our country must, for example, revise the notoriously weak Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, and follow the lead of the European Union, which has shifted the burden of testing chemicals from government regulators onto the companies that profit from their use.
My paranoid shopping practices aren’t necessarily protecting me.
What we can’t do, as individuals, is kid ourselves into believing that we’re doing much to change the paradigm by casting our dollar-votes for foods and goods that most people can’t afford. In fact, I’m starting to realize that my paranoid shopping practices aren’t necessarily even protecting me. For one thing, there’s far too much greenwashing going on to be certain that my leaf-motif-bedecked bottle of face cream really is safer than others. Furthermore, my habit of eating organic food does nothing to insulate me from the pesticides used to grow my neighbor’s conventional produce, which filter, in one form or another, into the water and air I drink and breathe.
So my mom is right, as usual. At 70 years old, this poster girl for health-conscious living doesn’t spend her hard-earned money on Avalon Organics’ petrolatum- and paraben-free $25 Wrinkle Defense Serum, or Ecco Bella’s $37 organic, no-preservative day cream. Nope. My mom moisturizes her well-preserved face with plain old, unrefined, organic coconut oil—at $0.71 per ounce. “I kind of smell like a crayon,” she admitted to me on the phone. But I know the rest: Smelling like a crayon never killed anyone. Complacency, on the other hand, has.