Babies’ foreskins used to make cosmetics. Is this ethical?

The question of whether or not to circumcise their newborn baby boy is often the first of many life-altering decisions parents makes on behalf of their baby. Whether you find yourself for or against circumcision is not the subject of this article (though it could be a subset of it). The issue in question is whether or not it’s ethical to use babies’ foreskins in the making of cosmetics.

What happens to a baby boy’s foreskin after it’s removed in the hospital? Naturally, you might think that it is disposed of with other “medical waste,” but as I recently learned, that’s not always the case. There is, in fact, big money to be made in the foreskin business, not just the money gained from the removal, but from what becomes of the foreskin after the fact. Laura Hopper, a midwife who blogs at Alternative Birth Services recently wrote that wrinkle treatments are being made using American babies’ foreskins. Hopper quotes two articles, both detailing the use of baby foreskin in the cosmetic industry. From Acroposthion:

The most disturbing and alarming [controversy] is in the unethical trafficking of neonate foreskins. Not only do parents of North American baby boys have to pay between $200 to $300 to obstetricians to circumcise their boys that no sooner are the circumcised foreskins cut off that they are sold on to bio-engineering and cosmetics companies by the hospitals.

The resale value of neonate foreskins is astronomically dizzying in that from one boy’s foreskin can be grown bio-engineered skin in a lab to the size of a football field. That’s 4 acres of new skin or around 200,000 units of manufactured skin, which is enough skin to cover about 250 people and sells at $3,000 a square foot. Considering that there are 1.25 million neonate foreskins circumcised each year in the U.S alone this translates to one of the most lucrative trades, if not THE most lucrative trade in human body parts ever in the history of humanity.

Hopper ends her post saying, “Wake up people, your children are being exploited for profit.”

I have to believe that many parents wouldn’t stand for such a thing if they knew it was going on. Although I chose to leave my son’s penis intact, I would never think to ask my doctor, “What is going to happen with my son’s foreskin after it’s removed?” But surely parents have to consent to this sort of thing, don’t they? Is it listed in the fine print somewhere on the parental surgical consent form? If it’s not, is this ethical?

Jennifer Lance at Eco Child’s Play seemed shocked herself at the news when she wrote WTF? Baby Boys’ Circumcised Foreskins Used for Wrinkle Treatments and said, “Glad my son’s foreskin is still where it belongs on his penis and not injected into some old woman’s face looking for the fountain of youth.”

According to Summer Minor who blogs at Wired for Noise, the use of baby foreskin to make cosmetics isn’t anything new. Back in 2007, she wrote Human Foreskins are Big Business for Cosmetics.

Foreskin fibroblasts are used to grow and cultivate new cells that are then used for a variety of purposes. From the fibroblasts new skin for burn victims can be grown, skin to cover diabetic ulcers, and controversially it is also used to make cosmetic creams and collagens. One foreskin can be used for decades to grow $100,000 worth of fibroblasts.

Minor reports that back in 2007 concern was growing over the ethics behind using human foreskin for cosmetic purposes. “One such cosmetic company, SkinMedica is raising a stir over their use of the growth hormone left over from growing artificial skin from foreskin fibroblasts.”

SkinMedica, which sells for over $100 for a 63-oz. bottle, was made famous by Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters. Winfrey in fact has promoted SkinMedica several times on her show and website. Discussions about the ethics of using human foreskins for vanity have been circulating on the web but there has not been a response from Winfrey on this debate.

According to an article by Amanda Euringer on The Tyee, “in a discussion on, one querent asked, ‘If the cream was made from the bi-product of baby afro-American clitoral skin, would Oprah still be promoting it?’ There’s no answer to that question on Mothering or Winfrey’s site, and Winfrey declined The Tyee’s request for an interview.” Go figure.

There are uses for removed foreskin that may seem slightly less controversial like using it to create bio-engineered skin for burns, persistent leg ulcers, bed sores, reconstructive surgery and other skin problems. The Foreskin Mafia writes, “Now, circumcision really does have health benefits, only it’s not the baby boys who are losing parts of their penises who benefit.”

In case you are wondering if your cosmetics were made from foreskins, it’s not as easy as looking for the word “foreskin” in the ingredients. After all the foreskin is not actually an ingredient, but is used as a culture to grow other cells which are then used in the cosmetic. The ingredient you are looking for is likely called Tissue Nutrient Solution or TNS™, human collagen or human fibroblast.

What do you think? If you circumcised your son, do you care what happened to his foreskin after it was removed? Is it ethical to use babies’ foreskins for cosmetic purposes? Is this money maker part of a conspiracy to encourage Americans to continue circumcising their sons?

Thanks to Heather Farley who blogs at It’s All About the Hat for bringing this issue to my attention in the first place.

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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What will you do on Buy Nothing Day?

Traditionally in the United States, the day after Thanksgiving is known as “Black Friday” and is considered the kickoff for the Christmas holiday season. Retailers open their doors early and hold big sales in hopes of drawing in the consumers for one big day of spending and consumption! Shop, shop, shop ’til ya drop!

Buy Nothing DayYou might not be aware that there’s another name for that day – “Buy Nothing Day.” The goal of Buy Nothing Day, celebrated this year in the US on Nov. 28 and internationally on Nov. 29, is to raise awareness about unnecessary spending and consumption, not just for one day, but for every day.

Now in its 17th year, Buy Nothing Day is celebrated every November by environmentalists, social activists and concerned citizens in over 65 countries around the world. Over the years, Buy Nothing Day (followed by Buy Nothing Christmas) has exploded into a global movement, inspiring the world’s citizens to live more simply and buy a whole lot less.

With the current economic crisis, fear of global warming, and failing environment, this year’s Buy Nothing Day has a greater sense of urgency.

Suddenly, we ran out of money and, to avoid collapse, we quickly pumped liquidity back into the system. But behind our financial crisis a much more ominous crisis looms: we are running out of nature… fish, forests, fresh water, minerals, soil. What are we going to do when supplies of these vital resources run low?

There’s only one way to avoid the collapse of this human experiment of ours on Planet Earth: we have to consume less.

It will take a massive mindshift. You can start the ball rolling by buying nothing on November 28th. Then celebrate Christmas differently this year, and make a New Year’s resolution to change your lifestyle in 2009.

It’s now or never!

What do you think? Will you choose to Buy Nothing on Nov. 28 (or Nov. 29) this year? Or if you think that is too extreme, will you curb your overall spending and consumption for the holidays? One thing that might help you with this is to take the No Plastic Holiday Challenge. We’ve got 33 participants so far. Can we make it 50?

Whether or not people participate in Buy Nothing Day or the No Plastic Holiday Challenge, it is my hope that this year finds all people a little more aware, a little more conscientious, and a little more thoughtful before they buy.

Motrin’s email response to the onslaught of complaints over babywearing ad

I just received an email from Kathy Widmer, Vice President of Marketing for McNeil Consumer Healthcare, responding to the feedback I left on Motrin’s website last night. Here it is:

Dear Amy –

I am the Vice President of Marketing for McNeil Consumer Healthcare. I have responsibility for the Motrin Brand, and am responding to concerns about recent advertising on our website. I am, myself, a mom of 3 daughters.

We certainly did not mean to offend moms through our advertising. Instead, we had intended to demonstrate genuine sympathy and appreciation for all that parents do for their babies. We believe deeply that moms know best and we sincerely apologize for disappointing you. Please know that we take your feedback seriously and will take swift action with regard to this ad. We are in process of removing it from our website. It will take longer, unfortunately, for it to be removed from magazine print as it is currently on newstands and in distribution.


Kathy Widmer
VP of Marketing – Pain, Pediatrics, GI, Specialty
McNeil Consumer Healthcare

What do you think about this response? I’d love to hear from you.

If you have no idea what this is about, please read my previous posts on the subject:
* Motin’s new ad attacks babywearing, insults moms
* We’ve blogged and tweeted the Motrin ad. What can moms do next?

Also, check out the New York Times article: Moms and Motrin

Update 11/17/08: As of just a bit ago, Motrin posted an apology (see below) on their web site, which is now back up after it was entirely taken down for the night.

“With regard to the recent Motrin advertisement, we have heard you.

On behalf of McNeil Consumer Healthcare and all of us who work on the Motrin Brand, please accept our sincere apology.

We have heard your complaints about the ad that was featured on our website. We are parents ourselves and take feedback from moms very seriously.

We are in the process of removing this ad from all media. It will, unfortunately, take a bit of time to remove it from our magazine advertising, as it is on newsstands and in distribution.

Thank you for your feedback. Its very important to us.”

Kathy Widmer
Vice President of Marketing
McNeil Consumer Healthcare

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We’ve blogged and tweeted the Motrin ad. What can moms do next?

The blogosphere and Twitterverse are all a buzz with Motrin’s condescending ad regarding babywearing moms. If you missed the hullabaloo, you can read my post from yesterday about it.

Women control the household spendingMoms might be wondering, apart from spreading the word about this (which we’ve already done an awesome job of) and contacting Motrin, what else can we do?

According to 2005 Wow! Quick Facts Book —United States Census Bureau: As women, we control 80% of our household spending and even more relevant in this case, women buy 75 percent of all over-the-counter medications.

Here’s my suggestion, you can start by boycotting Motrin, but before you reach for a bottle of Tylenol instead, read on. Johnson & Johnson owns both Motrin AND Tylenol, so if you truly want to boycott them, you need to avoid both. My suggestion is to buy GENERIC. I use generic Ibuprofen for my migraines and it works just as well as a name brand…and it’s cheaper! Saving a few dollars here and there is something everyone can appreciate in the current economy. If you buy generic, READ THE LABEL. It’s possible that a generic drug could be made by the same company that makes the name brand, but the only way to verify that is to read the fine print. I just checked my bottle of “Wal-Profen” and it says right on there, “This product is not manufactured or distributed by Wyeth Consumer Healthcare, owner of the registered trademark Advil Tablets. Distributed by Walgreen Co.”

Another alternative is buying Advil (which is also Ibuprofen), although then you won’t likely save any money. I just did a quick check of Advil’s site and although they definitely target moms in their advertising, they say Advil can be used for “Backache from carrying the baby,” which is arguably different than backache from wearing the baby, which Motrin espouses.

Motrin didn’t do their research before they ran this ad, but we will do ours and we will vote with our dollars.

Edited to add: I received a few comments from women who suggested contacting your local and national media outlets as well. I think that’s good advice and I encourage you to do that. Let’s spread the word further and hopefully affect some change in the way companies market to moms.

Update – Motrin responds and removes online ad: Motrin’s email response to the onslaught of complaints over the babywearing ad. In light of Motrin’s quick response and ad removal, I’m no longer advocating for an all-out boycott. If individuals choose to do so, fine, (and I’ll keep buying generic meds) but I’m not trying to organize a boycott at this time.

How do small cuts in your family budget affect your kids?

(I wrote this for BlogHer last week, but due to the election, didn’t have the opportunity to post it here until today. Hope you enjoy this break from all of the political talk.)

Although you may never have had to worry about making cuts in your family budget in the past, chances are that with the current recession you dollar_sign.jpgare probably examining your finances more carefully and trying to find ways to cut back on spending. It may or may not be a necessity right now, but when planning in uncertain times, the more money you can sock away in the bank, the more secure you’re likely to feel. However, while the money saved might make you feel good, you may find yourself worrying about how these small budget cuts will affect your kids and family life.

Two weeks ago on Oprah Suze Orman discussed Teaching Kids About Money. The show focused on the fact that many families who’ve been used to saying “yes” to all of their children’s wants are now, because of the economic crisis, having to start saying “no,” how the kids react to that, and how families can start teaching their kids about money.

Suze’s top five tips were:

  • Start talking about money now
  • Teach kids to value money
  • Don’t reward with money
  • Be an example
  • Teach kids how to prioritize

You can learn more on about Teaching Your Kids about Money.

There are so many little ways families can cut back and, because this is a hot topic, there are a lot of bloggers out there talking about this right now. How your kids will be affected by small budget cuts depends on how it is presented to them (if you’re scared, they will be scared), your attitude (will this be a fun adventure or a burden?), how old they are, and whether or not they’ve heard “no” to any of their wants before.

Dana at Mommy Madness recently posted about her family budget and has a handful of things that they do to help save money. Some of the things she’s found to be helpful include:

  • Cutting her four children’s hair herself
  • Using cloth diapers and/or working on infant potty training (also called elimination communication)
  • As a home schooler, she suggests finding ways to homeschool for free or very cheap by taking advantage of sites like Ambleside online for their curriculum outline that utilizes literature as the main “texts.” She also suggests taking advantage of the library for free books.
  • Several of her friends have been making their own laundry and dishwasher detergents.

I just took my two kids for haircuts (after putting it off as long as I could – seriously, Ava’s bangs were well into her eyes, and Julian was growing a mullet) and after laying down $30 plus tips, I’m thinking I seriously need to learn how to cut their hair. I’ve tried it a few times in the past, but I’m not as comfortable with it as I’d like to be.

Earlier this week, Lori at MyThings Blog wrote 10 Ideas to Save Money on Everything. One of her ideas that I really like is “Buy clothes on the off-season, on eBay, and at off-price retailers like Marshalls.” To that I must add, visit consignment shops and thrift stores. I love to buy my kids’ clothes from consignment stores. I’ve gotten some great deals on clothes that look like-new and because they are only 4 years old and almost 2, they couldn’t care less where there clothes come from. On Oprah, the mom and teenage daughter of the family they interviewed said they now enjoy going to thrift stores to do their clothes shopping together. I’ve also recently started visiting thrift stores for books for my kids ($.79 per book? heck yeah!), kitchen stuff and occasionally toys (again, $.79 for a metal firetruck – sweet!). It’s hit and miss, but you can get some score some great stuff this way.

Over at Monroe on a Budget, they report that Spending on kids is often hardest expense to cut and follow up with some tips to help cutting back on kid expenses:

  • Don’t take kids shopping with you, especially the younger ones.
  • Limit exposure to advertisements for toys and commercial foods. Maybe you plug in a video, rather than turn on a TV channel, for entertainment. Maybe you hide the toy catalog as soon as it arrives. They might see an advertisement at a friend’s house for a toy you can’t afford. But at least the kids won’t see the same commercial over, and over, and over again.
  • If money is tight but you want to continue the children’s activities or programs, look for any way to cut the expenses or get financial aid. You don’t have to be a welfare family to get help paying these expenses – it all depends on the grant, scholarship, sponsor’s bequest or foundation rules. I have a post that specifically talks about kids’ sports expenses.
  • Pick your financial battles. You know you can’t pay for everything the children want to do – so figure out which one or two activities or events the kids really, really want to participate in. That’s where you focus your money (and fundraising efforts, if needed). Anything else they want to be involved in has to be low-cost.

McKenna at The Mom Crowd recently wrote Teaching Your Children (and Yourselves) How To Live Within Your Means and while it doesn’t necessarily have tips for how to cut back expenses, it does have some great advice regarding teaching kids about money.

  • Be honest with your children about your family budget and explain to them that if you add an expense, you will have to take away another expense. Explain to them that in order for your family to increase their cable channels, you will have to have dial up internet. Allow them to share their thoughts and play a role in your family’s budget.
  • Remind your children that “stuff” is not what is important in this life. Volunteer as a family at the food bank or homeless shelter. Expose them to families who do not have very much. For Christmas, have your children give presents to children who are less fortunate than they are. Set an example to your children by not complaining about what you don’t have. Being around people who are less fortunate than you are will not only impact your children, but it will impact you and remind you of all of the things you have.
  • If there are things your children really want, tell them to add it to their Christmas list or birthday list. This will not only make these celebrations more exciting, it will also help steer your children away from a “have it all, have it NOW” mentality. You can also use these items they want as rewards for them. Buying them whatever they want, whenever they want will not only be bad for your checkbook, your children will never learn how to live within their means or discipline.

Gina at Mommy Making Money blogs about “how to save money on the family budget while working around the kiddos.” She has links to printable coupons, tips on sales at various grocery stores, and more.

Rachel at Small Notebook wrote Your Family Budget step by step. While my family doesn’t tend to live beyond our means, budgeting is something I struggle with, so I was happy to find this advice.

When I make a budget, I focus on two kinds of amounts:
* Planned amounts- what you think your income and expenses will be.
* Actual amounts- what the income and expenses actually were.

If you’ll notice, I didn’t mention “ideal amounts.” My thoughts are a budget is a planning tool, and it is most effective when it is realistic. It’s not the place for what you wish the numbers were. Once the budget is set up and you can see where your money is really going, there will be plenty of opportunities to change your spending.

Rachel also advises to keep the budget simple and workable so that you actually use it.

Here are a few more ways families can cut back on spending:

  • Rent movies and have time together as a family, instead of going out to a movie.
  • Cook dinners at home rather than going out to eat. Let the kids choose the meals and be involved in the planning.
  • Go camping in your backyard or at a nearby location rather than taking an expensive vacation.
  • Repair/mend clothing rather than buy more.
  • Bike or take public transportation rather than drive yourself.
  • Borrow books from the library rather than buy new ones.
  • Find free or low-cost activities, events for the kids or even whole family to attend. Check your local paper online for information.

The bottom line is that cutting back on your family budget may be hard on the kids at first, but it can be a valuable learning experience and enjoyable as well. The more fun you make it, the more they are likely to realize that things don’t matter nearly as much as quality time spent with family does.

What are ways that your family has cut back in spending lately and how have your kids reacted to it?

Related posts:
* Give the Kids an Allowance and Save Money
* Personal Budgeting: 6 Money Savings Tips for Today’s Economy

Guest post: Healthy Eating on a Budget

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 (and quite possibly for the day or two after I get back), I’m featuring several guest bloggers. Today’s guest post comes from Kayris who blogs at The Great Walls of Baltimore, among other places.

When a friend of mine went to her doctor earlier this year for her annual physical, he had bad news for her. Her blood sugar was up, her cholesterol was in the high range, and she had gained ten pounds in the past year. He told her she needs to lose weight or face serious health risks. Frightened by the prospect of diabetes and heart disease, she immediately overhauled the way she cooks and eats. Since then, she’s lost that ten pounds she gained last year and she feels better than she has in years. In fact, there’s only one downside to the new eating plan. Buying healthy food has taken a big chunk out of her grocery budget.

We eat pretty well, health wise, and I’ve found it hard to cut our grocery bills further than I already have because I’m not willing to make certain sacrifices to save a buck. To be sure, eating well and taking care of yourself will save you in the long run, but I wondered, is eating healthy really more expensive when you’re looking at it strictly from the standpoint of your credit card bill?

The answer is yes…and no. I’ve been meaning to blog about this topic for some time, but wasn’t quite sure where to start. If you’re talking about swapping fattier cuts of meat for leaner versions, or non-organic produce for all organic produce, then yes, it costs more to eat healthy. But if you shop for seasonal produce or wait for sales to stock up on meat, then you can eat healthier for about the same price. If you rely a lot on convenience goods or processed foods, making your own meal from scratch is not only healthier, but much cheaper. In order to prove my point, I wanted to compare how much it would cost to buy enough canned soup for a family of four, versus making a pot of your own, or how much it would cost to buy a premade, frozen lasagna versus how much it would cost to make your own. But that would have required a lot of research on my part, and I didn’t want to spend that much time on the post.

Then, back in March, I popped into Safeway for milk and spotted a new magazine.
Clean Eating is a new magazine by the publishers of Oxygen and it’s aimed, not at dieting, but at changing your lifestyle. When you “eat clean,” you try to eat foods in their most natural state and avoid refined grains, processed foods, etc. The idea isn’t new, but I think it’s a great way to reduce unnecessary sugar, salt and calories in your diet.

Anyway, the front of the magazine caught my eye because of the headline “Feed your family for five nights–Only 60$.” Food prices have been steadily rising and I’ve been struggling to keep our grocery expenses to a reasonable level, so I checked out the article. The five meals listed are very similar to meals that I cook, so I decided to give it a try and see how the magazine’s total bill compared to mine. I also made a few changes to suit the tastes and needs of my family.

Here’s the shopping list from the magazine’s website. Their prices are listed in blue.

3 small onions $1.99
1 head garlic $.39
1 lime $0.50
1 bag pre-washed mixed greens $3.49
2 lb. extra-lean ground white turkey breast $5.18
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts $14.97
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes $1.49
1 14.5-oz can Italian-style tomatoes $1.00
1 box high-protein or whole-wheat lasagna $2.39
1 small bag brown rice $2.00
2 1-qt. boxes reduced-sodium chicken stock $5.58
1 15-oz. can mixed tropical fruit packed in juice, unsweetened $3.19
1 6-pack bag whole-grain sub rolls $2.29
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach $0.95
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen mixed vegetables $1.89
1 15-oz. container non-fat ricotta $2.29
1 2-cup package shredded reduced-fat mozzarella cheese $2.19
1 6-oz. container non-fat yogurt $0.69
1/2 dozen eggs $1.99
Extra-virgin olive oil
Ground cinnamon
Ground nutmeg
Ground cumin
Dried oregano
Chili powder
Curry powder
Dried bay leaves
Cooking spray

Total: $54.46

For Pasta Roll-Ups with Turkey and Spinach, I substituted my own Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups recipe. I wasn’t able to find whole wheat lasagna noodles at Safeway, and I don’t like reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, so I used part-skim cheese. My husband doesn’t like ground turkey and Johnny prefers cottage cheese over ricotta. Since the jarred pasta sauce I used had plenty of salt already, I also omitted the additional salt.

For Spicy Chicken With Brown Rice Pilaf, I used lime juice I already had on hand instead of buying a fresh lime. In place of the chicken stock, I used two teaspoons of sodium-free chicken bouillon granules and two cups of water.

For Chicken and Rice Soup with Spring Vegetables, I left out the bay leaf and made my own broth with water and bouillon.

For Curried Chicken Salad with Tropical Fruit, I didn’t use the bagged greens, substituting green leaf lettuce instead. I knew this meal would be too light for my husband, so I also made twice-baked potatoes on the side with ingredients I already had on hand.

For Turkey Meatball Subs, I substituted 93% lean ground beef for the turkey and part-skim mozzarella for the reduced-fat version.

Making adjustments for some of the items on the shopping list (eggs, for example, are listed as 1/2 dozen and we eat a lot of eggs. I usually buy three dozen at a time because Safeway runs buy one get one free sales on the 18 pack), my shopping list looks more like this. My prices are in red.

3 small onions $2.22
1 head garlic $0.40
1 lime1 bottle lime juice $1.97
1 bag pre-washed mixed greens 1 head green leaf lettuce $1.19
2 lb. extra-lean ground white turkey breast 3.5 pound 93% lean ground beef value pack $7.00
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts $12.00
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes1 jar pasta sauce $2.00
1 14.5-oz can Italian-style tomatoes $1.15
1 box high-protein or whole-wheat lasagna 1 16-ox box Safeway brand Semolina lasagna noodles $1.56
1 small bag brown rice $2.50
2 1-qt. boxes reduced-sodium chicken stock1 jar reduced-sodium chicken bouillon granules $3.75
1 15-oz. can mixed tropical fruit packed in juice,
unsweetened $1.25
1 6-pack bag whole-grain sub rolls $2.89 for 12 rolls
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach $1.19
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen mixed vegetables $1.99
1 15-oz. container non-fat ricotta1 16oz container cottage cheese $4.49
1 2-cup package reduced-fat mozzarella cheesePart-skim mozzarella cheese, 32 ounce block $6.99
1 6-oz. container non-fat yogurt1 32 ounce container fat-free plain yogurt $1.99
1/2 dozen eggs3 dozen eggs $5.49
Parmesan cheese 7oz block $4.49

The total for my grocery list comes to $66.51, and that’s pretty close. It’s even better, actually, when you consider that I purchased the larger container of some things and will have leftovers. The eggs are the most obvious example, but I’ll also get many more meals out of thr 32-ounce cheese that I bought. The rest of the cottage cheese will get eaten for breakfasts, and I also bought the large container of yogurt because I cook with yogurt a lot and it’s the more economical choice. In addition I already have many of the items on this list in my pantry. Rice is something I always have, as is chicken bouillon. I also stock up on commonly used ingredients when they go on sale, so we have ground beef and chicken in the freezer, yogurt in the fridge,and lime juice and canned tomatoes in the cabinets. So when I only buy the things I don’t already have, the total comes out to $39.53.

Of course, that’s for dinner only. It doesn’t include things like those 3-4 gallons of milk we go through a week (at $3.50 a pop) or fruit for lunches or things like crackers, cereal, bread, peanut butter, waffles, butter, etc, that quite often show up on my list. It also doesn’t include side dishes, like steamed veggies or salads. And while all five recipes are similar to recipes I already make for my family, I wouldn’t cook five recipes containing meat in one week. Another thing to consider is leftovers. We usually have leftovers, and my husband takes them to work for lunch the next day, or we have a night during the week when I don’t cook anything new and we eat whatever is in the fridge. Finally, while I have found that produce prices don’t vary much from store to store, prices for other items, such as meat, can be found in a wide range of prices. Some of the prices on my list are sale prices. The Perdue chicken is sale priced at $3.99 a pound, and I estimated that I would need three pounds. I almost never pay full price for Perdue chicken ($5.49 a pound at Safeway), but I also won’t buy storebrand chicken. How cheaply you can buy this list of food will depend heavily on sales.

Even so, I think that’s a reasonable amount to spend for a family of four in a week, especially considering that all five meals are tasty, healthy and easy to prepare.

How would your state/store stack up against such a challenge? Could you purchase those ingredients for 60 dollars? What do you consider to be a reasonable grocery budget for a family of four? And do you agree or disagree that it is more expensive to eat healthy?

Kayris lives with her husband, two kids and one grouchy cat in Baltimore City, MD. When she’s not home with the kids, she works part-time as a veterinary technician at a busy, multi-doctor animal hospital. She blogs about raising kids in the city at The Great Walls of Baltimore, shares family-friendly recipes and cooking tips at Mommy, What’s For Dinner?, and contributes to Generic Mommy, a blog about being a smart consumer.

I ain’t buyin’ it

When I saw Crunchy Chicken’s latest challenge – Buy Nothing (with the exception of food, medications or other essentials) for the month of April – I said heck yeah, I am down with that! I’d actually been considering joining Mamas on The Compact for a two-month stint, but figured this would be a little bit easier and a good trial run for me since it’s just for a month. (And I’m a little chicken nervous about committing to longer than that, especially since summer is coming up and we might be planning a couple trips.)Buy Nothing Challenge - April 2008

Of course, wouldn’t you know it, the very first day (April 1st) I ran into a dilemma with the challenge. The kids and I went to pick up Jody from work and decided to go out to eat before heading home. But hmmm, is going out to eat allowed I wondered? It’s food, which is allowed, but the act of going out to eat does seem sort of extravagant. Too bad I didn’t have Crunchy Chicken on my speed dial. Decisions, decisions.

As luck would have it, the first two places we tried to go were closed anyway. The first was Alexander’s, my favorite healthy Mexican food place in Boulder, which has apparently gone out of business. 🙁 What’s up with that?

Next we tried Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli because we had a coupon. We parked two blocks away, fed the meter, then walked over only to find a note on the door – “Closed at 3 p.m. today for company meeting.” On April Fool’s Day of all days. I thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t.

I decided the fates were conspiring against us and a dinner out was not in the card and was ready to just give up and head home when we passed a health-conscious restaurant called Turley’s that includes some local food and organics on their menu. I commanded Jody, “Just go to Turley’s,” and he did. 🙂

After all of that, I’d like to say that we had a nice, relaxing dinner, but in reality the kids were tired, Julian was not content to sit in a high chair, and the whole meal was very rushed (but tasty).

Feeling a bit guilty about my possible failure on the very first day, I sent Crunchy Chicken an email asking for clarification if going out to dinner counted as food or not. She said she was a little unsure about that herself, but basically concluded that it can be allowed but it depends on where you go, what you are eating and that no disposable packaging is involved. So, McDonald’s (eww anyway) – definitely a no. A restaurant with healthy food and no disposable takeout containers – OK. I can deal with that. I will confess that we brought home a small cardboard container on Tuesday, but I recycled it.

If you feel you are up to the challenge, you can still join. Head on over and sign up to Buy Nothing. If you absolutely need something non-edible or not essential to growing your own food or for your survival, you must acquire it by borrowing, bartering or buying it used. If you buy something new that is non-essential, Crunchy Chicken will have a Sunday Confessional post for everyone to spill the beans.

Good night and good luck. 🙂

Dumpster Diving for Dinner – Freeganism explored

I confess. I watch Oprah sometimes – not religiously, but sometimes. I TIVO the show, then take a look at the description. If it looks interesting, I’ll watch it. If not, it gets deleted.

Yesterday’s topic du jour mentioned something about Lisa Ling investigating the lifestyle of “Freegans.” I had never heard of Freegans or Freeganism before, but I am a fan of Lisa Ling, (anyone remember her from “Channel One News” in high school?), so I decided to take a look to see what it was all about and I’m glad I did.

Freegans are “a grassroots subculture is made of people who have decided to live outside consumer society. Freegans say our culture’s emphasis on buying the newest products—and throwing away perfectly fine older things—is a waste of the world’s resources. Instead, they focus on buying less and use only what they need. One of the main ways freegans do this is by salvaging food and other goods from the trash.”

The focus of the episode was really on how much we as Americans consume and how much we waste. What and how much do we really need to live? What void are we trying to fill as we consume and consume? Will we ever be happy?

freegansOn this episode of Oprah, Lisa Ling followed around Madeline, who previously earned a 6-figure income before becoming a self-professed freegan, and others as they went on a “trash tour” in New York, exploring dumpsters at grocery stores and bakeries for salvageable food that had been tossed. The quantity of edible food was both remarkable and disturbing in that stores are letting so much go to waste. Some of the food was slightly past its sell-by date, some was getting close to the sell-by date, and there really was no explanation as to why some of the food was in the trash. There was produce, eggs, but also a lot of packaged food, still perfectly wrapped.

The food Madeline and the others find is far from gross. “‘It’s not toxic waste,’ she says. Much of the food is still in its original packaging and has been discarded largely for cosmetic reasons, not because of poor quality. She shows Lisa how cartons of eggs are regularly thrown away when there’s one broken egg—even though there are 11 perfectly good ones remaining. Fruit is often thrown away when it has only minor dents, she says.”

Official surveys indicate that every year more than 350 billion pounds of edible food is available for human consumption in the United States. Of that total, nearly 100 billion pounds – including fresh vegetables, fruits, milk, and grain products – are lost to waste by retailers, restaurants, and consumers.

Lisa and Oprah also talked with a newlywed couple, Daniel and Amanda – a doctor and civil engineer – who believe in freeganism as well. I read a bit on their blog last night. Good food for thought – pun intended. 😉

The show definitely got me thinking and I hope it did others as well. While I don’t know that I’m going to run out and go dumpster diving for my dinner tonight, I admit that the idea does have it’s merits, namely that by salvaging food from the dumpster you are keeping it out of the landfills. I do have my concerns regarding safety and whether or not it is legal. I noticed the people on Oprah did their dumpster diving in the dark. Is that because that’s when the food has freshly been tossed or is it because they shouldn’t be digging around in the dumpsters by law or both?

Ava watched some of the show with with me (I turned it off when it got to the part about the mom who works as a stripper to provide for her kids, not that I disagree necessarily, but I didn’t think it was appropriate for Ava to watch) and when I half-jokingly, half-seriously talked about going shopping for our groceries in the trash next time, she commented, “I don’t want to eat food out of the trash. That’s gross.” It spurred a good discussion between us where I pointed out that all of that perfectly edible food being wasted wasn’t good either.

Eating food found in dumpsters might be too extreme for most people, but the message from the show was clear, consumerism and excessive waste in this country is out of control and something needs to change.

So what do YOU think? Do you think Americans in general consume and waste too much? Would you ever consider eating food out of the trash?

If you are interested in doing further reading, I came across some other interesting articles on the subject.

There’s also a site dedicated to Freeganism – – including a dumpster directory and a link to “find freegans near you.” It was down for a while after Oprah’s show aired, but it’s back online now.

Happy Valentine’s Day from the IRS

On Wednesday Jody and I got a surprise letter from the IRS, an early Valentine if you will, stating we owed $2,000 in back taxes from 2006. Isn’t that the sweetest thing?

Apparently we made an error in filing our 2006 taxes and failed to include some stocks Jody received through work. He was under the impression that taxes were already deducted; they were not. It was an honest mistake on our part, but a mistake nonetheless and the IRS has come a-knocking to claim what is theirs – with interest.

The shock of finding out we will need to part with $2,000 by March 15 has put a damper on the love-fest that should accompany Valentine’s day. Thankfully, we have the money to send, but it was earmarked for paying down debt and preschool tuition, and will pretty much wipe out our savings account.

I’m trying to take it all in stride, but it’s hard and I admit I’ve been in a funk most of the day. It messes with our short- (debt) and probably long-term (moving) goals, but I know we will make the money back eventually.

This has made me consider returning to photography, perhaps just for the spring and summer, when it’s optimal to work outside with natural light anyway. We shall see.

For now I’m going to try to forget about it for at least an hour while I go eat a brownie and watch LOST. So there. ;oP

Insurance update – the home birth saga continues

A while back I posted that I was trying to get our insurance company to acknowledge a claim for Julian’s home birth. I made phone call after phone call asking them if they had all of the information they needed to process the claim and each time, they would come back with one more thing that was still needed. I’d send them that “one thing” and then there’d be something else. It was always something.

I received an “explanation of benefits” in the mail from them a few months ago that said the claim had been closed because they hadn’t received everything they’d requested from me (BS!), and that they’d consider reopening it if the information was sent in. I threw up my hands in frustration and pretty much resigned myself to the thought that we would never get anything from them.

Then my midwife told me that she had contracted with a billing company and they could take over my case for me. So I sent them the information they required about two months ago and hadn’t heard a word from them until a couple weeks ago. Jody got a call saying that they needed the “explanation of benefits” that the insurance company sent to me and that they were “very optimistic” that we’d get some money from them.

I dug up that form and Jody faxed it in so now we wait and see. It would be awesome if they end up paying for part (or all!) of my midwife’s fees. Considering we paid $2200 for prenatal care, the birth and postnatal care, it would be a serious bargain for the insurance company. If I had had a hospital birth, which would have involved a c-section since Julian ended up being breech, it would have been tens of thousands of dollars and that’s just for the birth and not including the prenatal/postnatal care.

I’m not holding my breath, but I sure would love to see some of that money back in our pocket. 🙂