“you know our beautiful new couch? yeah. totally toxic.”

strawberries

To say that my skin has endured a Brooklyn-style beat-down would be an understatement. I don’t know whether it’s Los Angeles, growing older, or the fact that my skin is becoming sensitive to everything (cue visuals of Julianne Moore in Safe prattling on about her totally toxic couch), but the past few months have taken a toll on me. During my Great Depression, a time when I ate a whole baguette slathered with butter, frozen “organic” enchiladas and halloumi cheese by the pound, I started to feel sick and then I noticed whiteheads setting up shop all over my forehead. One night I woke to burning raised hives, which covered 80% of my body, and I thought, fuck, not again. I went to a dermatologist who gave me a cortisone shot and prescriptions for steroid creams. The steroid cream triggered my second folliculitis outbreak, and I’ve been on antibiotics for weeks. Finally, the bumps have finally started to recede. And let’s not even discuss allergies so severe it sometimes became difficult for me to breathe.

All because my body reacted to what I was putting in it. Lately, I’ve become hyper-aware of the air I breathe, the food I eat, and the products I put on my skin and use in my home.

I loathe drugs. I only like taking medication if it serves to progress, rather than impede, function. And yes I know that the Felicia of 2001 would find that hilarious, and that’s okay because that Felicia used to subsist on Lean Cuisine and Starbucks and we’ve come a long way, baby. Now I take antidepressants because they’re necessary for me to focus and function. I take birth control pills because I’d rather not lock myself in a bathroom for three days every month. I used to take anti-anxiety medication because I have a crippling fear of flying (I’ve screamed during turbulence more times than I’d like to admit). Only recently did I stop taking Xanax because pills really don’t work when the plane starts shaking mid-flight. Nothing works, really, other than me curling in a ball, doing my deep breathing, and telling myself that turbulence is normal. Even when it feels like it’s anything but. Now I only take medication if it’s completely necessary.

farmer's market

Monsanto, aka Satan, does exist and it’s ubiquitous. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed not to find food tainted by Roundup or any of the litany of chemicals plaguing our soil in the name of greed and profit (here’s looking at you Koch brothers and shady politicians on both sides of the aisle). I work in marketing and I often joke that my profession boils down to throwing glitter over shit, and that statement couldn’t be more accurate when we’re talking about Big Food. Everyone lies. We know that the term “natural” is obtuse and meaningless, but it makes us feel good much like the cool sensation from toothpaste or the suds from shampoo–both giving the impression of cleanliness when they’re actually just marketing ploys satisfying human behavior. Years ago, I sat in on a case study on Fabreeze, a product that, when launched, was initially a complete failure. Only when marketers conducted at-home focus groups did they learn that people gained a certain level of satisfaction from using the product after they’ve cleaned their space–the product functioning as a kind of digestif. We’re learning that Big Organic is just as shady as conventional, and every day we’re greeted with the news that some food may or may not kill us. Fear drives traffic and lies sell products, so it’s no doubt that we sometimes walk into a supermarket, restaurant or farmer’s market either completely ignorant or violently skeptical.

I don’t even trust Whole Foods anymore, but what can I do? Move to my own private Walden and grow my own food? Drink water from my own well? Sure, if I had Angelina Jolie money, but I live in reality and in this world, I have a budget and a life that is filled with little compromises. Even then I’m acutely aware of my privilege–the fact that I’m now able to afford vegetables and farmer’s market meat, which are often considered frivolous expenditures in homes where people are barely making ends meet, and this financial fragility isn’t getting better anytime soon. And I don’t foresee the lies and big business surrounding food, GMOs, and farmer equities getting better in my lifetime. Until then, I try to buy as much locally-produced food as I could. I try to educate myself on what’s going on with labels and faulty manufacturers.

I would talk about how cutting out gluten and dairy again from my diet have eliminated my allergies and the hives on my skin, but that topic is polarizing. People levy this discussion with that of dieting or food restrictions and let me be the first to tell you that if I could return to a life of eating Sidecar huckleberry donuts, you damn well know I would. If I could put cheese on my fucking bean pasta you know I would. This isn’t about dieting, it’s about my body having an adverse reaction to certain foods. And even that argument is countered with “food sensitivity doesn’t exist” to which I respond, ten years ago doctors were prescribing women antidepressants when they described symptoms that eventually surfaced as celiac disease. In short, I don’t believe long-term scientific studies have caught up with the pace in which our diet, the environment, and our food supply have changed. But let’s not talk about gluten and dairy and say we did.

Living a healthy life is expensive and exhausting.

For the past six months, a few of my friends who are beauty writers were kind enough to supply me with everything from deodorant to toothpaste to facial cleanser because that stuff adds up. You walk into any target and CVS and you could easily spend $50 on items that keep you clean. The irony in this is that these products don’t really serve you regardless of the luxury packaging, the celebrity endorsements or the commercials with English or French voice-overs. Many of these prestige products (ah, the promise of increased efficacy) are manufactured using similar formulas and factories as the “cheap” products. And when I start reading the multi-syllabic list of ingredients, each product listing water as the first and most concentrated ingredient, it reminded me of the time I read an ice cream label and asked, what is guar gum? 

What is this shite I’m putting in and on my body? But then again, we live in an age where people are comfortable injecting their faces with botulism. So there’s that.

natural beauty products

With each paycheck, I’m slowly making product swap-outs. I’m buying products whose ingredients resemble words in the English language and they’re working. Some of them are shown in the snap above, although some of the products (Caudalie) are mass manufactured–they’re holders from my friends’ extreme generosity, for which I’m grateful. I’m stocking up on more vinegar because that will get out cat vomit in carpet far quicker than some newfangled $10.99 bleach cleaner.

This post started one way and ended differently. I don’t have the answers to the long, meandering post I’m sharing with you, but I’m doing the work of being more thoughtful about what I put on and in my body, what I use in my home, and the environment in which I surround myself. It’s expensive and exhausting to live a healthy life, to cut through the confusing and conflicting news articles. It’s hard finding out what’s true and what’s marketing copy. It’s hard not having the food you crave and want and having to deal with people who sometimes respond to health issues with swallowed laughter and sarcasm. It’s hard knowing things and not having the ability (or the knowledge) of what to do. What do you do when you can afford farmer’s market pork and then you read an article about people who know McDonald’s is unhealthy but what are their options? What do you do when politicians don’t really talk about food or climate change because there’s a host of other ills in our country, but all the way Big Food does little to benefit the economically disadvantaged. What are the small things you can do that allow you to use your privilege to benefit others?

I welcome your insight.

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22 Comments on ““you know our beautiful new couch? yeah. totally toxic.”

  1. I’m 100% with you on the food sensitivity thing. Two years after quitting gluten/grains, I looked back and realized that I hadn’t had any low-level chronic depression that I had suffered from for 20+years (nor had I had any deeper depressive swings). And I hadn’t quit with any intention or even knowledge that food sensitivities could be affecting my mood. I had quit because of the GI discomfort.
    There is a wonderful new wave of research about how gut function affects brain function, and overall immunity. I’m excited and encouraged by these new discoveries. Because of what I’ve learned, I’m focusing a lot on continuing to improve my gut health little by little. I take a daily probiotic, I’m brewing my own Kombucha, etc.
    I try not to get sucked in by all the media and activist group coverage of toxins, GMOs, etc., but it’s not easy.
    I have no answers. I am rooting for you, and I understand a lot of the suffering you’ve gone through.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Monica, I was going to say the exact same thing as I have been really interested in learning about the links between inflammation and depression. And I agree with you that the changes I have made in my diet have helped me to feel a lot better in that regard.
      Felicia, the biggest cultural shock in coming back to the US for me has been about food. I have also really changed my diet because I am so freaked out by the crap that is in EVERYTHING and want to avoid it – all while I can’t afford the pricier aspects of organic. So that means I am barely eating meat, just wild-caught fish (and a lot of sardines – yay! cheap!). Because the European Union standards are so high (no GMO, no hormones, no antibiotics, no cloning), I didn’t have to think nearly so much about what I purchased. Now I am watching labels. And Monsanto is evil because trust me, you don’t see sugar and soybean oil tucked into everything in as prevelantly elsewhere just because they are good cash crops. For now, I can taste when things are “off” not like “real” food but I think that can go away with time. People forget…
      To answer your question, I do applaud you for buying locally – that helps shift the economy but I don’t have an answer for you about how to help those on a budget without much of a choice (and trust me, I understand well that I can eat healthy and cheaply because I have the TIME to cook). Something to think about.
      Cheers to you…
      PS. Oh! Just to add that I am glad that you are off the Xanax as I have read that longterm usage can shrink the brain as much as serious alcohol abuse. I am tapering off my dosage currently…

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    • Monica — I absolutely agree! I’ve been checking out a host of new books on the gut (my former primary care is a gut specialist and he’s one of the few people who didn’t treat me like I was insane when I experienced issues consuming gluten/dairy). So glad that changes in your diet were just as beneficial to you 🙂

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  2. I enjoy reading your posts every Sunday when I receive my blogs. It’s nice to sit down with a cup of coffee and read what you have to say. I think Vinegar is wonderful; not just for cleaning around the house, but for our bodies. Have you ever enjoyed a warm glass of warm water, lemon, and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (Bragg’s preferred)? It’s a wonderful morning “elixir” to start the day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thank you so much! I really appreciate you popping by!

      I don’t think I’m brave enough to try vinegar in anything but a salad, but I do start off my day with some lemon water 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am so very glad that I read your post, I feel very much the same about food and products, I have just not so eloquently written about my changes; we revamped the bathroom products about 4 years ago, only putting things like homemade salt scrub, homemade salves, and coconut oil on our bodies now, check out @wellnessmama she has great recipes for switching bathroom products and food as well. my family relys on my fresh cooking and we cant eat out most of the time because we get sick, but we are not celiac and we love baking bread and making things ourself, I live by the best rule; if you cant make it yourself, dont eat it. and or if it has a commercial on t.v dont buy it.–except applegate products..lol great post thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. and concerning medication, I am slowly coming to the same conclusions as you are and birth control and anxiety pills are about the only thing I put ‘toxic’ into my body, cause I cant consume enough herbs to combat those problems…aka pennyroyal and valerian cant do the same as Depo shot or fibromalgia and bipolar pills…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great article thank you! It makes me even happier to be living in Italy. We have very strict laws when it comes to organic labelling, giving our foods DOP labels that means Denomination of Origin and Protected. Even our Bread in Tuscany has DOP labels so we can use QR codes to understand the origins of the grains and all products. Typically we eat according to the season and what grows.
    Eating sane in Italy is not about your economic levels it is CULTURE and this is what we have to teach our children.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love this, Linda! I always find I can eat so much more mindfully in the EU, Italy and Spain, especially. Regrettably, the last time I was in France, I started to see processed food pop up more than usual, which made me blue. 😦

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  6. Right with you on your philosophy on drugs. I also hate taking drugs unless I absolutely need it. I was on a course of antibiotics over the Christmas break and the side effects were awful (gastrointestinal + nerve effects). We broadly use antibiotics, but we really aren’t sure of the entirety of their effects. It took months for my body to feel fully recovered and to resume eating foods normally. That being said, there is a marked difference in how a body feels and performs depending on what we put in it. I don’t have celiac disease, but have noticed a huge difference in how I feel when I eat less processed carbohydrates or breads. Same goes for dairy. I tried a week without dairy and what would you know, the stomach problems I have daily significantly subsided. Gluten sensitivity or not, there is probably a lot of benefit to cutting down on bread or grain carbs.

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    • Absolutely! I think it’s really about balance. So much of our food (ketchup, sauces) contains gluten and so much of what is marketed as healthy or natural is chemical-laden and processed, so the more we eat food we can identify, the better 🙂

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  7. I know you’re careful with gluten, so something I would challenge you with is starting a sourdough culture. Better yet, buy one! There’s an amazing documentary on Netflix called “Cooked” based on the book by Michael Pollan. This series inspired me to start a sourdough culture who I now call “Brad.” Watch the series, learn about true fermented sourdough, and by a bag of stone milled flour. Make your own ravioli! (also know you’re a pasta nut) If you can only eat it once a blue moon, why not eat something amazingly fresh, whole, and delicious?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jessica! I have indeed seen the documentary. To be candid, while I’m a baker and cook, the idea of making my own starter doesn’t excite me. Maybe I’ll change in the future 🙂

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  8. Great post, Felicia. I have been learning a lot more about this topic within the past year- and what I have learned is scary. You probably know this already but Environmental Working Group (http://www.ewg.org) is doing some great work and has some great resources on their website. They have two really useful databases- one for makeup and one for cleaning products. Check them out!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t heard of the EWG, so thank you for sharing the link. I’ve seen a host of apps that serve to scan barcodes to share the level of toxicity and chemicals in products. I’m in the nascent stages of making some significant lifestyle changes, so I appreciate all the help I can get 🙂 thanks!

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  9. I liked your post very much, although I don’t agree with everything you say. First of all, it is not true that everything you buy on farmer’s markets must be expensive (at least in my area). On the contrary, there are products that are cheaper alternatives to the common stuff you can get in the supermarket. But it takes time to learn where to get them, and what price is good enough. Obviously, not everyone has a time to spend comparing prices of products across various vendors, but it works. Second – I would say that the easiest way how to get really good quality products is to become a vegan. It can be dirt cheap (especially when you learn to eat lots of legumes like) and learn how to prepare fast meals with pasta (even gluten-free), rice, or potatoes. Regulation of processed foods to an absolute minimum is a way to go! Also – wash your hair and teeth with coconut oil. Learn how to use lemon instead of deodorant. That’s the way it works for me, with my extremely tight monthly budget.

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