Paul Newman and Paul Anastas: Green Salads and Green Chemistry

Just a few months after I started my business, I came across Paul Newman’s book, “In Pursuit of the Common Good,”  and had to buy a copy. I was always a huge fan of his; he was not only incredibly handsome, but he was an amazing actor, top-tier auto racer, and strong advocate for social justice. While I never had the good fortune of being introduced to him (although I did almost bump into him – literally – in the stairwell of his Westport, CT office), all my friends who knew him said that he was an incredibly kind, generous and down-to-earth guy.

image copyright People

But anyway, back to why I bought Newman’s book. I had recently started my business making organic and natural bath and body products. Being part of the broader crafting community through various online groups, I ran into an interesting phenomenon. There were many other bath and body product producers who claimed to make natural and organic products, but when I mentioned the idea that I didn’t want to use chemical preservatives, some got up in my face and starting writing in ALL CAPS that it is dangerous and irresponsible not to use them. They warned that I would kill my customers with bacteria, yeast, fungi and molds. Given that people have been making soaps and creams, etc.  for a long time before the advent of “Better living through chemistry,” not to mention the fact that companies like Badger Balm, Pangea Organics and Dr. Bronner’s have not been (to my knowledge) killing their customers in large numbers, I thought those statements might be a bit of an overreaction.

In Newman’s book, he describes the adventures he had in developing, manufacturing and distributing his famous salad dressing. Back in the early 1980s, when he began approaching companies to manufacture and bottle his recipe, there was no such thing as “all-natural” salad dressing. He finally found a bottling company willing to produce his dressing, but they tried to convince him that he had to use chemical preservatives, or his dressing would spoil quickly. They also wanted him to add other chemical agents and gums. But he refused to allow any chemicals in his products. So they gave his recipe to their chemists to test the formula.

Interestingly, testing showed that the combination of olive oil, red wine vinegar and whole grain mustard made a natural gum (no other dressings used olive oil or red wine vinegar at that time, instead opting for cheaper, lower-quality, refined soybean oil and white vinegar). In addition, the chemists found that the natural gum from the ground mustard seed had the same chemical effects as EDTA (a chemical preservative used in all dressings at that time), and the olive oil had a much longer shelf life than refined soybean oil, which together eliminated the need for preservatives. On top of this, the bottling company agreed that it was a far better tasting product than anything else on the market at the time. And here we are 30 years later, with 10s of thousands more chemicals than we had then, many of them used in our food, personal care and home cleaning products.

Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune of sitting in on a web conference sponsored by the American Sustainable Business Council where Dr. Paul Anastas was the speaker. Anastas is the Assistant Administrator for Research and Development for the Environmental Protection Agency. He is also the Director of Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, where he has been on leave since joining the EPA.

Anastas quoted John F. Kennedy by saying, “The greatest enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” Anastas feels that one of the greatest myths of our time is that “we have to use toxic substances to have quality of life.” Luckily, as Anastas pointed out, “green chemistry is helping us to belie this myth.” I thought of Paul Newman’s salad dressing adventures, and how he helped to dispel the myth that we need chemicals in our food to make it taste right and not spoil on the shelf.

And I thought of Newman when Anastas emphasized that the only way that the chemical myth is going to change is if we keep showing people how safe alternatives can not only work, but often work better. Anastas says that as advocates of the environment and human health “We have to be relentless in letting people know [the chemical myth] is not the case.” And with an increasing number of widely distributed products from companies like Newman’s Own, Badger Balm, Dr. Bronner’s, Pangea Organics, Seventh Generation, Method and so many more, the true is becoming more and more obvious.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Art Alley, Rapid Falls, SD

I came across this street art sculpture in Art Alley, in Rapid City, SD. Every inch of the alley is filled with paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Anyway, because I view art as creation, and creation as an expression of love, I wanted to share this image with you.

I’d also like to share my recipe for heart-shaped onigiri (Japanese rice balls). It’s perfect if you are looking for a simple, not-your-typical Valentine idea.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Back to the Start

In her blog today, EcoKaren wrote about a very cool Chipotle ad, “Back to the Start,” that was shown during the Grammy Awards last night.  As Karen put it, “This short film depicts the life of a farmer as he slowly turns his family farm into an industrial animal factory before seeing the errors of his ways and opting for a more sustainable future.” The soundtrack is Willie Nelson’s moving cover of Cold Play’s “The Scientist.”

I was so moved by the video that I wanted to share it with you. I downloaded the song on iTunes for 99 cents. For each sale, 60 cents will be donated to Chipotle’s Cultivate Foundation, whose mission is to help fund initiatives that support sustainable agriculture, family farming, and culinary education.

I have been impressed by Chipotle’s sustainability efforts. It’s a good place to get a quick, relatively healthy vegetarian meal. Plus, some of the Virginia Chipotle’s use pork from Polyface Farms, a sustainable farm that was featured in Food, Inc.

It’s Not Just a Bikeshop. It’s a Lifestyle.

Falls Church has a quirky little treasure. As their website landing page states, “It’s not just a bikeshop. It’s a lifestyle.” The Bike Club is not exactly a club, but rather a place where you can buy new or used bicycles. They also sell a variety of bike accessories and offer bike repairs. In nice weather, you can just drive up on your bike to their tented repair area, and wait while they make adjustments, add air, etc. Most repairs are done within the same day, if not immediately. And the store is open seven days a week, which makes it very convenient.

a glimpse of the outdoor repair area, bikes waiting in the queue to be repaired and my bike in the foreground

The Bike Club’s website also announces, “If you like bikes…come see us …if you want to hang out…come see us…” And on any given day during the nice weather, you will see a variety of people, all ages and ethnicities, hanging out talking about bicycles.

The inside of the store is organized chaos, with bikes and accessories placed everywhere, including hanging from the ceiling. And the totally random decorations (the bust of a military general, live green parrots, a miniature Vietnamese temple, a Spiderman figurine, and much more) reflect the quirky personality of the owner, Phuoc Van Pham.

some of the controlled chaos of the interior

another view of the interior of the shop

Pham is clearly passionate about bicycles. A friend who was visiting from Montana, who is a bike enthusiastic and spends his off-time working at a bike shop, commented that the Bike Club is a bike nerd’s dream come true, and that the owner really knows his stuff. And he supports bikers – he sponsors a team of four BMX riders, who one year brought home 37 trophies, many of which are on display at his shop.

Pham, a champion kick boxer and expert bike assembler who was named by the Bicycle Exchange as its “Mechanic of the Year” in 1990 and in 1991 he was Bicycle Exchange’s “Service Technician of the Year.” In 1993, Pham set up a bike repair tent in the front yard of a mattress store owned by a friend in Falls Church, and soon opened the store in his current location.

A couple of weeks ago, the shop was temporarily closed to address some building safety concerns by the City of Falls Church. I found this interesting given that a new bike shop moved into town (the only other bike shop) just two months earlier, while he has been in his shop for almost 20 years without prior incident. But, anyway…

a cool retro-style bike a man was buying for his daughter to take to college

Luckily, the Bike Club expects to be open within the next two months. I drove past the shop today and got a glimpse of the repairs being done. The store is completely empty now, but I am hopeful that it will be restored to its full eccentric glory. I look forward to the grand re-opening in time for spring, the perfect time to go biking!

The Bike Club is located at 438 South Washington Street, Falls Church, VA, just 11.1 miles from The Mall in DC 🙂