Lisa Harris (lrph) Mon 1 Feb 10 07:29
We are happy to welcome Ellen Sandbeck, author of "Green Barbarians" to the Inkwell.vue. Ellen Sandbeck is an organic landscaper, worm wrangler, writer, and graphic artist who lives with (and experiments on) her husband and an assortment of younger creatures including two mostly grown children, a couple of dogs, a small flock of laying hens, and many thousands of composting worms in Duluth, Minnesota. She is the author of "Slug Bread & Beheaded Thistles," "Eat More Dirt," "Organic Housekeeping," and "Green Barbarians." Leading our discussion is CJ Phillips. CJ has been a denizen of the Well for over 15 years and is presently one of the cohosts of the Gardening conference. She lives in the Bay Area and usually spends her days working on a book about Chinese food... that is, when she's not posting about her rabbits and guinea pigs and endless appetite for good food and gopher-proof plants. Thank you both for joining us.
Ellen Sandbeck (ellensandbeck) Mon 1 Feb 10 11:01
Thank you Lisa, I am very happy to be able to participate!
the secret agenda of rabbits (cjp) Tue 2 Feb 10 12:06
Hi and welcome, Ellen. I've been devouring your book, "Green Barbarians," since it addresses in a really unique way many of the most pressing problems of the day: global warming, how to live with less, pandemic flu, and healthy sources of food. First off, this is a striking name for a book, "Green Barbarians: Living Bravely on Your Home Planet." How would you describe the scope of your book?
Ellen Sandbeck (ellensandbeck) Tue 2 Feb 10 15:35
I would describe the scope of my book as rather expansive, because I researched and wrote it with the hope that it would help change readers worldview, and alter their angle of attack when they are addressing problems.
the secret agenda of rabbits (cjp) Tue 2 Feb 10 17:21
Speaking of angle of attack when addressing problems, with all of this year's scares about H1N1 (aka the swine flu), the timing for this book couldn't be better. What's your take on the worldwide hysteria over this particular flu, and what were the main causes for all the hype?
Ellen Sandbeck (ellensandbeck) Tue 2 Feb 10 17:27
Influenza epidemics have indeed killed millions of people in the past, and it is a pretty sure bet that someday a truly dangerous flu strain will hit again. However, this years flu hysteria, in the U.S. at least, seems rather unnecessary, since the H1N1 vaccine is a pretty good fit for the virus. Yes, millions of people were not able to get the vaccine in a timely fashion, but the real problem was this countrys totally inequitable and inefficient health care system rather than this particular flu virus. At some point, we will certainly face a truly dangerous biological threat, and whether that threat is an extraordinarily virulent flu virus or an act of bioterrorism, our present system of health care is completely inadequate to deal with it. When there is an epidemic EVERYONE needs fast and efficient access to adequate health care, and we cant even manage that when we are not trying to deal with a deadly epidemic. In the event of an epidemic or an act of bioterrorism, everyone within our borders would need to be treated and/or vaccinated in an efficient and timely manner. It is not merely selfish and cruel to deny health care to everyone within our borders--no matter who they are or how they got here--it is also stupid and dangerous. As for the what were the main causes for all the hype, I'm not sure, but the hype is definitely helping the chemical companies sell lots of sanitizers adn disinfectants!
the secret agenda of rabbits (cjp) Tue 2 Feb 10 17:56
Ha! I'm sure you're right on that point. I really have enjoyed how you tamp down paranoia about such things as dust and dirt at the same time that you show how we're not paranoid enough about the insidious chemical additives that can be found in many of the products that we use (such as rBGH in cow's milk,) or the really scary diseases that seem to be popping up with alarming frequency due to corporate greed (such as salmonella-infected eggs), or the self-inflicted harm that is promoted by the food industry, including bottled drinks. If you were to recommend a series of baby steps people can take to start to reboot their lives and make themselves happier and healthier, what would they be?
Ellen Sandbeck (ellensandbeck) Tue 2 Feb 10 18:30
I'm glad that you think I'm tamping down the paranoia, I'm certainly trying to do so! A series of baby steps to help people start off on a braver foot might start this way: Stop watching or reading (or at least believing) advertisingthe big guys are just trying to scare you into buying their dangerous, expensive @#$#&*. If people are trying to sell you something, ask yourself what their motivation might be: are these people truly concerned about your wellbeing, or are they just trying to pry open your wallet? If you are a female of reproducing age, and there is any possibility that you are, or might become pregnant, dont use cosmetics, fragrances, or personal care items that contain phthalates, new studies have shown that pre-natal exposure to phthalates can not only cause genital abnormalities in males, but pthalate exposure can also induce brain abnormalities that cause behavioral problems such as ADD, hyperactivity, and increased aggression. Phthalates are solvents that are used to help lotions penetrate the skin, that help fix fragrances, and that help keep nail polishes flexible and durable. Dont worry so much about what the neighbors might be thinking about you. The sad truth is that they probably arent thinking about you at allthey are probably thinking about themselves. The people who love me and whom I love dont care that my t-shirts dont glow in the dark, and why would I care what the other people think?
For Rosetti, wombats held a peculiar fascination (loris) Tue 2 Feb 10 21:04
hi ellen --- just wondering if you have gotten any reactions from any pediatricians or parenting groups to the book. 'let your kids grub in the dirt!' to me seems sound advice --- but very different from what helicoptering parents might want to allow... also, thank you for writing this. i feel i now have something i can tell people to read, when trying to explain all kinds of interconnected environmental issues...
Ellen Sandbeck (ellensandbeck) Wed 3 Feb 10 07:28
Hi Loris-- No, I haven't gotten any reactions from any pediatricians or parenting groups yet. I am not a famous writer, and my book has only been on the market about a month, so not that many people have actually read it yet! So yes, please, do tell people to read my book! Thank you! My progeny are both in their twenties now, but when they were small, I considered it my duty to raise them to be both physically and mentally healthy. The hovering style of parenting does not, I think, increase either physical or mental resilience. We all need to work against resistance in order to become strong. Our immune systems need real work to do, just as our bodies and our minds need exercise. Without real resistance, we tend to invent our own problems--our minds invent neuroses, our immune systems go on high alert and we become allergic or asthmatic or get auto-immune disorders, and our bodies may spontaneously create pain.
the secret agenda of rabbits (cjp) Wed 3 Feb 10 11:05
Hi (loris), and welcome to the discussion. Ellen, much like Barry Glassner's "Culture of Fear," your "Green Barbarians" is a look at how Americans in particular have been directed toward a psychology of constant unease, either about how clean our kitchens are, how we smell to others, or what we consider to be nutritious food. What are some of the things that we as consumers can do to combat this fear?
Ellen Sandbeck (ellensandbeck) Wed 3 Feb 10 11:13
Before you begin panicking, ask yourself a few simple questions in order to figure out whether or not the advertised danger actually poses a threat to your well-being. For instance, if the terrifying issue at hand is: Bacteria are floating in the air in your living room! and the solution being presented is to buy an antimicrobial aerosol to spray in your living room, you might ask yourself the following questions, in order to establish whether this supposed threat existed in your grandparents day, whether they survived it, and whether the proposed solution makes any sense. a. Were bacteria floating in the air in my grandparents house? The answer is yes, bacteria were floating in the air in my grandparents day. In fact, we live on the bacteria planetthey were here first, and they own it; we mammals are very recent arrivals. b. Did my grandparents survive this danger? The answer is yes, because you are here. c. Is this aerosol spray going to make me healthier? The answer is no, because inhaling aerosol sprays is not, and never has been, a health-inducing practice.
Maria Rosales (rosmar) Wed 3 Feb 10 15:42
Ellen, I haven't read the book yet, but I am planning to. On that last point, I completely agree with you about asking ourselves the question "does the proposed solution make any sense." Asking ourselves if our grandparents had the problem and survived it, though, makes less sense. People tend to be pretty bad about analyzing probability, anyway, and that question encourages anecdotal thinking. (My grandparents survived being bombed during WWII, so WWII couldn't have been that bad. Or my dad's crib had lead paint on it, and he's not dumb, so all this hoopla about lead paint is nonsense.)
Ellen Sandbeck (ellensandbeck) Wed 3 Feb 10 16:25
I'm sorry I should have made it more clear--I meant "threats" that are not caused by humans. So, perhaps I should have gone back farther than grandparents. How about, my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great,great, great.... grandparents had bacteria floating in the air of their cave, and obviously they survived. Lead paint and WWII do not fall into the category of naturally occurring phenomena that advertisers are trying to scare us about.
Travis Bickle has left the building. (divinea) Wed 3 Feb 10 17:34
Ellen, I'd like to ask about a point that you made earlier: <Our immune systems need real work to do, just as our bodies and our minds need exercise. Without real resistance, we tend to invent our own problems--our minds invent neuroses, our immune systems go on high alert and we become allergic or asthmatic or get auto-immune disorders, and our bodies may spontaneously create pain.> Are you saying that allergies, asthma and autoimmune disorders are caused by lack of exposure to germs, viruses, and so on?
Maria Rosales (rosmar) Wed 3 Feb 10 18:28
Thanks, Ellen. I'd still say, though, that our great, great, great...grandparents also had "natural" things like smallpox and the plague that they survived. (I'm saying this only to argue with that one question--I think you are absolutely right about the over-reliance on things like antibacterial soap and Lysol spray.)
Lisa Harris (lrph) Wed 3 Feb 10 18:51
Ellen, I'm really enjoying your book, and not only because I hate to dust! Do you see Green Barbarianism becoming a movement or a lifestyle choice similar to people choosing to be vegetarian/vegan?
the secret agenda of rabbits (cjp) Wed 3 Feb 10 18:59
If I may segue in another question since vegetarianism was mentioned, I've noticed that in spite of the fact that groups such as the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society have found direct links between the meat industry and greenhouse gases, Ellen, you don't bring this up in "Green Barbarians." What are your ideas on this, and how important is radically cutting down on meat consumption to saving the planet?
Ellen Sandbeck (ellensandbeck) Thu 4 Feb 10 07:48
WOW! So many questions at once! This is great! I think I'll respond to each person in order in a separate reply. So here goes: Maria, in answer to #15, I think, if you don't mind, I will quote from page 12 from the introduction to "Green Barbarians," because the issues you have brought up are actually part of the central core of the book. "Our greatgrandparents, who clearly understood that the only true reason for housekeeping is to maintain health by keeping vermin and diseases at bay, would, I think, be completely baffled by current housekeeping practices. Modern sewage systems and vaccines should be making us the healthiest, most carefree people on the planet, but we are not. We are still prosecuting our "spring cleaning" with Inquisitional vigor, as if our homes were begrimed by a winter's worth of coal dust; as if cholera, polio, typhus, diptheria, and the Black Plague were lurking just around the corner." The vaccination section of "Green Barbarians" runs from pages 227-231. I've actually been writing about the beneficial effects of exposure to dust, dirt, pets and other non-human organisms since I first wrote and self-published "Slug Bread & Beheaded Thistles" in 1995. I also try to practice what I preach: I eat carrots right out of my garden, I just brush the large pebbles and sand off them first, and I regularly lick my fingers after I have been feeding my composting worms... I figure my guts need all the help they can get!
Ellen Sandbeck (ellensandbeck) Thu 4 Feb 10 08:38
Hi Divinea! For some reason your posting escaped my notice earlier. Yes, I am indeed saying that allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disorders my be caused by lack of exposure to germs, viruses, dirt, pets, intestinal parasites, and minor viral infections. This idea has been dubbed the "hygiene hypothesis," and there is plenty of evidence that suggests that these sorts of auto-immune disorders, in which the body reacts either against normally harmless substances, such as, for instance, dog dander, grass pollen, or peanuts, as if they are deadly poisons, and mounts an all-out histamine assault on the invader, (allergic reaction), or, in the case of auto-immune disorders, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, type 1 diabetes, and possibly rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system begins attacking the body's own tissues. We mammals evolved along with intestinal parasites, and we have always been exposed to viruses, dust and dirt. Our immune systems mature only when exposed to a variety of other organisms, and if that exposure comes later, rather than in infancy, our immune systems may remain in a permanent state of immaturity, and never learn to remain calm when faced with an unfamiliar, though harmless, "other."
Ellen Sandbeck (ellensandbeck) Thu 4 Feb 10 09:34
Hi Lisa, In answer to your question #16, yes, I am definitely hoping that Green Barbarianism will become a movement or a lifestyle choice! I certainly think it's a lot more fun to be a bit gutsier and less finicky rather than worrying about everything all the time! Worry and fear are very, very strong poisons--we need to just do the best we can, and then just enjoy our lives! For instance: we had a Green Barbarians booklaunch/costume party a couple of weeks ago. There were prizes for the best Green Barbarian costumes (if you want to see them, check out my "Green Barbarians" Facebook page.) and I encouraged the owners and employees of local, sustainable businesses to come--they were welcome to wear their advertising t-shirts, hats, aprons, or whatever, to bring their advertising brochures. The local independent bookstore sold my books, a self-published author sold his books ("60-minuter Venison," by Mitch Kezar and Steve Stortz. If you need a gift for a hunter, this is definitely it). Local musicians played while lots of locally produced chocolate, kimchee, smoked salmon, beef jerkey, and more, was eaten. Many people sat right down in the comfy sofas and started reading "Green Barbarians" Everyone had a wonderful time, and lots of great green networking got done. The blacksmith who made the grand prize for the costume party got THREE commissions during the party, members of the press got lots of leads for great stories, and many people were introduced to local businesses they hadn't known about. The party was such a roaring success that we are now talking about doing more "Green Barbarians Networking Parties," perhaps on a quarterly basis. The local public radio station and the local whole foods co-op are interested in being involved. If anyone is interested in having their own Green Barbarian networking party, please contact me on Facebook, and I can send a few prizes for the costume contest.
For Rosetti, wombats held a peculiar fascination (loris) Thu 4 Feb 10 09:58
ellen - i hadnt realized until i read your book that laundry -soap- had disappeared. i think i sometimes see some boutique version in natural foods stores --- but ivory soap no longer exists? - to be all green stepford wife, what are your feelings about borax? i -love- the stuff - agreed that -soap- is the greatest public health technological invention ever. i dont use hand sanitizers, but i do see a lavender-based natural one in use around here in ecotopia...thots?
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 4 Feb 10 10:16
I miss real soap powder too. This morning a related news announcement came in to the Salon.com editorial press release mail. It speaks to this conversation and the concerns of the book in several ways: Today, the United States Senate committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing looking into the current science on public exposures to toxic chemicals. Advocates are awaiting introduction of federal legislation to reform the nation's badly broken system of regulating toxic chemicals. And internationally, companies are preparing to comply with Europe's new chemical regulations (known as REACH). "The bottom line is that hazardous ingredients that have not been tested for long-term health impacts, like asthma or even birth defects, are being used in some cleaning products," said Erin Switalski, executive director of Women's Voices for the Earth. "Consumers have a right to know if they are spraying their kids' high chairs with toxic chemicals. Without full ingredient disclosure from these companies, there's simply no way to be sure." More interesting facts about this legal battle and the attempt to enforce neglected laws already on the books in NY state at <http://www.earthjustice.org/news/press/2010/environmental-and-health-groups-fa ce-off-against-household-cleaner-giants-in-court.html> It's nice to see these issues being taken seriously on the legislative level too.
Ellen Sandbeck (ellensandbeck) Thu 4 Feb 10 11:15
Hi CJ! In response to your question #17 about vegetarianism and the role of the meat industry in global warming: I have been reading up on agricultural subjects since 1981, and I am thoroughly convinced that it is impossible to farm or garden in a sustainable manner without animal input. A farm without animals is simply a different kind of unsustainable factory. I am not, of course, in favor of raising meat animals as if they were robots or potted plants, inhumane practices are not just cruel, they also damage the environment and produce very low quality meat. There are landscapes that are totally unsuitable for any type of food production other than grazing animals, and if the number and type of animals are suitable for that particular landscape, the grazing animals can actually improve the health of the land. What is really vital to saving the planet is educating and empowering women and increasing the availability of birth control. Reducing the amount of land required to feed each person, all the while turning arable land into cities to house more and more people, is not really saving the earth is it? I believe in acting in a way that increases joy and decreases suffering. An ever-increasing human population does not seem to be increasing the amount of joy in the world.
Ellen Sandbeck (ellensandbeck) Thu 4 Feb 10 11:29
Hi Loris, in response to your posting #21 about the disappearance of laundry soap in the U.S. Unfortunately it is true, Ivory Flakes are no more, they've been off the shelves since 1978. It took me a long time to realize it too--it's so much easier to notice when something appears rather than when it disappears, unless the disappearance is part of a magic act! There very well be boutique versions in some natural foods storea. It is entirely possible to make your own soap flakes by shaving or grating a bar of castile soap, however. I love borax! It's great stuff! Hand sanitizers... well, if the lavender-based one actually contains enough lavender to kill germs, it may be quite hormonally active (see pages 49-50 of Green Barbarians) and would probably not be a good idea for children, men, or women who have a high risk of breast cancer. I am really not fond of hand sanitizers--in the absence of soap and water, I'd much rather rub my hands in good, clean dirt, or spit on my hands and then rub them briskly on my pants! If I happened to be in polite company, I'd settle for just rubbing my hands very briskly on my pants, or a napkin, or a piece of paper, or on a piece of apple, which could then be composted or discarded. A friend of mine wipes his hands on his cat, that would work too. The key to germ eradication is friction!
Ellen Sandbeck (ellensandbeck) Thu 4 Feb 10 11:33
Hi Gail! In reply to posting #22: Wow! That's great! It's about time this country started taking the threat of toxic chemicals in our consumer products! Our laws are horribly behind those of most of the civilized world in this arena, and I am quite embarrassed about it, frankly.
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