Saturday, May 30, 2009

My 20/20 Challenge

I met a friend for lunch in Andersonville today, and picked up a flyer about the neighborhood's 20/20 Challenge. Promoted by the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, the idea is, if each resident commits to spending just $20 a week in their neighborhood for a total of 20 weeks, local restaurants and business owners will prosper. This will support small businesses in the neighborhood and enable them to keep their doors open, because people are more likely to visit thriving and vibrant neighborhoods than they are to frequent those with vacant or boarded-up storefronts!

I'm a huge proponent of mom-and-pop stores (and of supporting local businesses), and I think this challenge is a great idea. I didn't sign up for A-ville's challenge, however, because I would rather spend that money in my own neighborhood; it's a remarkably easy thing to do! So far this week, I've gotten take-out from the restaurant down the street, bought some cat food at the nearest pet boutique, and washed my clothes at the independently owned laundromat. That doesn't even count the meals I've eaten at the restaurant where I work (they're supposed to be supporting me, not the other way around!) and I'm well over my $20 already.

Along those lines, I'd like to take my personal challenge a step further and try to do the same thing at my local farmer's market. $20 doesn't go nearly as far there as it does at the grocery store, but if these small farms are going to survive in the face of big agriculture, they need our support. With a little planning, I think I can stretch my $20 by basing my meals around the produce that in season (that which is most plentiful is usually the cheapest!) any given week. I can even get cheese, eggs, meat, and some baked goods from these farmers, so I won't get bored.

There, I've said it out loud; I am going to "vote with my wallet" this summer and support the local farmers who are using sustainable and environmentally sound methods of growing their food. Now-- who's with me?

Friday, May 15, 2009


On Wednesday, Chicago's City Council voted to ban baby bottles and sippy cups that contain Bisphenol-A, or BPA, becoming the first city in the country to do so, preceded only by the state of Minnesota, which passed a ban of their own just last week. BPA is a chemical that is used to harden plastics; it also lines some food containers. In 2007, independent researchers came out with studies that linked BPA ingestion to the eventual onset of diabetes, breast and prostate cancers, and a host of other problems caused by the general disruption of the endocrine system. The chemical reportedly mimics estrogen in humans, which in itself is cause for concern, and researchers concluded that infants and young children were especially susceptible. BPA ingestion occurs when foods or beverages are heated in containers made with BPA, as this causes the chemical to be released, and it is then leached into foods.

However, the FDA disagrees, claiming that its tests (purported by some to have been funded by the plastics industry) revealed BPA to be safe for human use. While I'm not taking sides either way, I do think that any evidence to the contrary should be more than enough to warrant a closer look. I do, however, question the need for a city-imposed ban. When the independent reports came out a couple of years ago, many manufacturers voluntarily pulled suspicious products from their shelves, and many more have retooled their manufacturing methods to produce BPA-free plastics. To insist that retailers sell only BPA-free baby products in our city seems a bit redundant. On the flip side, it could pave the way to a nationwide ban, which would benefit everybody. Back in the 1970s and '80s, for example, when California insisted that the vehicles in their state be held to stricter emissions standards than the federal government required, the entire nation soon adopted the standards set by California lawmakers, because manufacturers didn't want to produce two different types of cars.

And why only baby products? It's not okay for infants and toddlers to ingest this stuff, but kindergarteners get the green light? Who's to say that a baby won't still be exposed to BPA because they ate food that came from a can lined with BPA, which isn't marketed specifically for children, and is not included in the ban? And what about the rest of us? Are we just supposed to know better? For those of us who don't, if a plastic product has a recycling number 7, there's a very good chance that it contains BPA. I guess I'm not as concerned as I maybe should be-- I still buy canned goods, and have yet to replace my BPA-laden Nalgene bottle. On the same token, I don't heat foods in the can, and my Nalgene bottle has never been in a dishwasher, or a microwave, or left in the car on a hot day. So maybe I'm in the clear. Then again, maybe I'm not. And maybe this latest ban will turn out to be a good thing, or maybe it will go the way of the foie gras ban; only time will tell.