Annie Berthold-Bond’s kitchen is probably a lot different than yours.
No soda in the refrigerator. No ammonia under the sink. No cookies in the cupboard. No flour in the pantry. No preservatives. No food coloring.
Instead, her airy country kitchen in the Hudson Valley boasts black beans drying on the counter, rhubarb on the stove top, dried seaweed snacks and Berthold-Bond mixing up her own sink cleanser with a few squirts of natural cleaner and baking soda.
“The baking soda makes it slightly abrasive,” she says mid-scrub, “and the soap makes it rinse really well … I like it for bathtubs, too.”
Such is life in a kitchen bereft of things many of us take for granted: taco-flavored snack chips, lemon-scented soaps, sugary cereals, salty canned soups.
As Berthold-Bond sees it, every additive is a potential health problem, and the 44-year-old mother of one has spent a better part of her life figuring out ways to avoid them. She complied her findings in a new paperback book, “The Green Kitchen Handbook” (Harper Perennial).
“It addresses an issue that so many mothers and their children are facing, which is that they’re working and they don’t have much time, but they want to feed their families good food,” she says.
The book’s advice is simple: Eat locally grown produce and organic foods; avoid prepackaged foods loaded with dyes, additives and hydrogenated oils; use homemade and organic cleaners in place of caustic cleaning solutions.
Following the advice is less simple. Try finding cheese without traces of bovine growth hormones, for instance, or eggs from free-range hens.
The “Green Kitchen” cobbles together a strategy for finding wholesome foods through farmers’ markets, co-op buying, gardening, even foraging.
And try some variety in your diet, she counsels, offering alternative foods from soba noodles to soy oil. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), for instance, is a healthy replacement for wheat flour, and foraged chokeberries aren’t as dangerous as the name implies.
Can’t give up your precious coffee? Your red meat? Your milk? Berthold-Bond offers green tips on getting the basics, sometimes in pinpoint detail, such as: “you can protect migratory birds’ winter home habitat by buying coffee made from shade-grown beans.”
If it sounds a bit intense, understand that it’s more than rules to live by for Berthold-Bond. The rules help her live.
When she was in her mid-20s, environmental toxins started making her ill. Her troubles began when the restaurant where she worked as a waitress had a gas leak. Her illness worsened when the apartment she shared with her husband was fumigated.
For eight years she struggled with a depressed immune system that collapsed with exposure to everyday things - makeup, furniture polish, even her beloved oil paints.
“I felt a little bit like I needed to be in a bubble,” she says. Instead she created a toxin-free environment around her, casting out all but the purest of products.
She began sharing her findings first in a self-produced magazine, and then as editor for a newsletter produced by the environmental group, Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet. “Green Kitchen” grew out of her previous work.
Her guiding principle is that it doesn’t have to be hard to create a green kitchen - just do what you can handle. No one is perfect - even Berthold-Bond keeps white bread and mayonnaise in the refrigerator for her 8-year-old daughter.
You can even do it in the supermarket, if you’re discerning. Witness Berthold-Bond during a test run to a local food store.
“Here’s a red flag,” she says, plucking a waxed plum from a pile in the produce section. The wax can contain fungicides or animal by-products, she says. Try the organically grown carrots and lettuce instead, she suggests.
She waves off a wall of hanging cold cuts, citing additives. In the meat aisle she warns that bits of the plastic packaging can leach into the food, especially if left in the sun. Skip prepackaged meats, she says, and go to the butcher counter.
A bottle boasting “10 percent real juice” gets panned for what else is in there: yellow dye 5, yellow dye 1, sugar, artificial flavors. A package of cheese puffs is tossed aside in disdain for the same reason.
And the sharp, sweet smell of the cleaning products aisle silently underscores Berthold-Bond’s point that most soaps and detergents are laden with unnecessary additives.
But with careful label reading, Berthold-Bond makes some finds: canned soup without monosodium glutamate, crackers without hydrogenated oil, a loaf of bread without enriched flour, natural laundry detergent.
In the parking lot later, Berthold-Bond grants that reading all the labels does take longer, but do it a few times and you’re set for a long time.
And yes, often the organic products cost more, but she claims it can average out when shoppers make bulk purchases of things like rice and beans through purchasing co-ops.
“If you follow it through and take it step by step, people will in a few years, I swear, find out how much simpler it is.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: FIGHT THOSE ANTS A recipe to fight ants, from “The Green Kitchen Handbook”: “In a bowl, mix one cup borax, one cup sugar, and three cups water. Place a loose wad of toilet paper into four different screw top jars that are about the size of shallow marinated artichoke jars. Pour the mixture into the jars until it is about one inch from the top. Screw the lids on the jars, and with a hammer and a nail, make four to eight holes in the lid. Place the jars in areas where you have ants, and watch them line up into rows to march in. Keep away from children.”
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