My husband teases me these days, calling me crunchy granola because I’ve started sewing as a hobby and I make my own laundry detergent and lotion and household cleaners. And yeah…I guess I am kind of a hippy and crunchy granola about those things.
I like altering clothing so it fits better and making my daughter happy by making clothing for her doll. It was a fun mother-daughter activity when I taught her how to turn a too-small Snoopy t-shirt into a pillow.
I enjoy the fact that I know exactly what I’m spraying around my house and I know that the cleaners are not dangerous. I know that if I accidentally spray my kids’ toothbrushes while cleaning the bathroom, the worst thing that could happen is they’ll complain of a faint taste of vinegar.
Here’s the thing, though: These items work. The clothing fits better. The cleaners demonstrably remove dirt from areas that are dirty and leave them cleaner. The lotions and sugar scrubs I make? They leave my skin feeling soft and happy. Coconut and apricot oil? Make my hair feel smooth and easy to brush.
And the laundry detergent? You’re gonna love this…my kids and I did an experiment to see how it compared to store-bought. My daughter helped me develop the experimental design (based on something she’d seen on Fetch with Ruff Ruffman, Darwin bless PBS!) and both kids helped me brainstorm the worst stains we could think of.
We took my husband’s old undershirts and stained them with dirt and paint and gummy candy and grass and a bunch of other things. Then we washed one batch in my homemade detergent and one batch in store-bought. When the shirts were done, we compared how each detergent had done on each stain, filling out the chart my daughter had created. It was awesome!
And in the end, we learned that my detergent was actually slightly better than store-bought, except when it came to allowing the redeposition of paint that had washed off.
So yeah, I don’t see any reason to use multi-chemical cleaning products when vinegar that’s had orange peels soaking in it will do just as well for almost any cleaning task and it won’t smell as nasty. (Castile soap and baking soda take care of almost every other cleaning task.)
I don’t see any reason to buy expensive lotions with chemical scents in them when I can make something just as good out of items like cocoa butter, beeswax, apricot oil, and lemon essential oil. Then I can have fun making my own stuff and not have to worry about what’s in the things I’m putting on my body or my kids’ bodies.
But there’s a darker side to the hippy world.
The line between crunchy granola and anti-vax is thin, my friends
Unfortunately, there seem to be a few stages of crunchy granola:
1) Hey, it’d be really cool to make my own cleaning products, because Febreze smells utterly disgusting and gives me a headache.
2) I don’t know what chemicals are in all these products and I wonder if they’re harmful.
3) I do know what chemicals are in all these products and some website run by a guy making money off me tells me they’re harmful.
4) I’m terrified of everything that has chemicals in it, because I’m sure all chemicals will poison me. I’m even scared of vaccines, fluoridated water, and dihydrogen monoxide.
Okay, yes, I’m exaggerating for effect, but I think you take my meaning. For some reason I see very few people are at step 1 or 2, which I think are entirely reasonable, and a whole lot of folks who’ve moved on to 3 and 4.
Also reasonable is what I might have called stage 2.5: I’ve checked the legitimate scientific research on these chemicals and some of them pose actual health concerns, so I’m avoiding them.
Take, for example, sodium lauryl sulfate. I’ll guarantee that you’ve somewhere seen the claim that this product, which is in many soaps and shampoos as a foaming agent, is horrible and dangerous and OMG it gives you cancer!
Yeah…not so much. I’m more than happy to do without it, because it can irritate your eyes if it gets in them and it can be irritating to your skin, but it definitely positively does not cause cancer. Nor does it blind you or anything horrible like that. It’s just irritating to some people’s skin.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with cutting back on chemicals when you can do so without harming anyone and you can do so without exaggerating the hazards of the things you’re avoiding. I can’t stand the smell of Febreze or that Clorox spray, both of which make me feel ill. That’s a good enough reason to avoid them without me deciding they’re causing sterility, cancer, and the civil war in Syria.
I have a limited agreement with the scaremongers, though, that we don’t always know what all the chemicals we’re using will do after long-term use. I’m not convinced they’re all going to kill us OMG! but I do agree that if we can avoid them, then why not? Fewer unintended consequences to worry about, as far as I’m concerned.
When good granola goes bad
The problem, though, is that some crunchy granola types have succumbed to the idea that anything “natural” is obviously healthier/better/safer/whatever. I would invite these folks to have a taste of my lovely all-natural arsenic tea. (You do know that apple seeds and peach pits have arsenic in them, right? Very very natural. Not very healthy.)
So, if everything natural is good, then obviously anything artificial is bad. Which…okay, there are lots of artificial and processed things that are absolutely bad for you. We could all improve our health by cutting back on processed foods.
For example, whole-grain bread is definitely better for your health than white bread. There’s actual science to back that up, so if you want to urge people to eat whole grains, then I’ll be right behind you, cheering you on and feeding my kids whole wheat bread and whole grain pasta whenever possible.
But if you look at pasteurized milk—easily one of the top 10 public health advances in history—and tell me that it’s bad because it’s processed…I’m most likely going to be found bashing you over the head with a wet mackerel. The science clearly shows that there are no health advantages to be had from raw milk, but you put yourself in danger of all kinds of fun things like listeria or salmonella.
When you say that all chemicals are bad…that begins to take you down the road that leads to raw milk and then refusing vaccines. And that’s when I go from beating you with a wet mackerel to screaming at you in anger.
Yes, there are chemicals that are bad and dangerous. Yes, there are chemicals that have no particular benefit and we can avoid, so why not? But there’s this thing called a “risk-benefit analysis” and if you have any idea what you’re talking about, you understand that the risks from vaccines are a million times less than the risks from polio, mumps, tetanus, and influenza.
The risks and benefits of being crunchy granola
I’ve loved most of my experiences being crunchy granola. I love making lotion that feels and smells exactly the way I want and that won’t give me a headache. Making a bucket of laundry detergent slime is just plain fun! And I find sewing to be relaxing, which is something we all need more of in our lives.
But when it comes down to it, I believe in science and the scientific method. I believe in evidence. And I’m not going to trust the word of someone with no credentials or some guy flogging incredibly expensive vitamin supplements over the word of medical professionals and scientists!
I have a kind of mental rule when reading crunchy granola websites: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. (You may have heard that somewhere else before…but I’m sure Carl would forgive my borrowing it.)
If someone recommends using shea butter and cocoa butter to make a lotion, which is something that makes sense given the properties of those things, I’m not going to do a lot of research. If it sounds like a nice lotion, I might try it.
If they tell me that the shea butter/cocoa butter lotion cures cancer…I’m going to be a tad skeptical, because I have no reason to believe that shea butter or cocoa butter cures cancer and I have no reason to believe that any lotion could do it!
If a blogger says they used X-brand sunscreen on their face and they developed nasty acne, I’ll keep that in the back of my brain. I won’t assume that X caused acne, but I’ll keep it as a data point. If a lot of people say the same thing, I might avoid the product if I don’t have any particular reason to use it, or do some research on scientific and medical websites to see if there’s any data on this acne issue.
If a blogger says they used X sunscreen on their baby and their baby developed autism…I’m going to be skeptical as all get out. Because there’s no logical reason for sunscreen to cause autism!
If a lot of bloggers claim X sunscreen gave their children autism, I’ll definitely do some research, because that’s crazy and might lead to people refusing to put sunscreen on their kids and an upsurge in skin cancer decades later.
(I recently saw the claim that sunscreen causes cancer. The amount of “Holy moley are you kidding me?” contained in that blog post can hardly be expressed without high-pitched shrieks. It was only beaten by the blogger who claimed that microwaving altered the DNA in water, making it unsuitable for drinking or watering plants. Yeah.)
There is a happy medium, I believe. As long as I’m careful and keep doing my research and thinking critically, I can embrace the crunchy granola while not falling off the deep end into a pit of pseudoscience.
At least…I sure hope so!
Links links links!
If you want to try out some crunchy granola ideas, here are a few of my absolute favorite recipes.
Vinegar orange peel cleaner: Easy to make, safe, effective, and it looks beautiful while you’re making it. Seriously, once you’ve used this, you’ll wonder why you ever bought expensive crap at the store.
How to make lotion bars by Crunchy Betty
Making your own laundry detergent on The Simple Dollar: Great to do with kids…what kid doesn’t want to make slime?
Mara is a work-at-home mother of two, doing editing and web content management, juggling the kids’ schedules, and occasionally writing fiction and non-fiction for fun. Mara has a master’s degree in anthropology and reads about vaccines and atheism for fun.