Tag Archives: Living in Portland

New Year, New Job, New Voices

Remember over a year ago when I wrote about how difficult it is for stay-at-home moms to return to the work force? Not because you might want to continue to stay home (please kill me now) but because it’s very hard to overcome the stigma associated with women who voluntarily leave their careers to raise kids? And how I was feeling shocked by the very real possibility of not being able to get a job I thought was worth my time and experience? Well, scratch all that. I got a job.

No big deal, it only took me two years. Given the fact that Portland is a city full of highly educated hipsters all willing work for pennies just to live in Portland, I’m kind of impressed that I managed to get a job at all. I’m patting myself on the back about that.

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into how I should write this post, and there are two points I want to make. The first one is easier; it’s the advice I’d give to other stay-at-home moms who want to return to work at some point. Here it is: make certain you’re looking for a career in something you genuinely care about, and keep your toe in the water even if you have to do it for free or even pay out of pocket. Don’t pursue a career in something just because that’s what you did before. If you didn’t like it then, you’re not going to like it any better now. Pick something you feel passionately enough about that you might be willing to do it in your spare time. Because you probably should be doing it in your spare time. There were definitely times my husband said, “What? You’re going to pay your own money to go to a professional conference?” or “Why are you getting up at 6 am on a Saturday to take pictures of a Christmas tree harvest … for free?” or “That’s not worth your time, you’re hardly making any money on that job.” I felt strongly enough about advocating these issues that I kept doing it anyway; so find something you feel that strongly about and make yourself valuable in that industry by continuing to do it in some capacity. Even if that means re-training. Do some soul searching and if you have to go back to night school for a few years, do it.

The next point flows naturally out of the above, but is a little trickier. In the end, I’m a journalist, and I’m guided by those ethics classes I took in journalism school (even though I get the feeling many journalists can’t seem to be bothered with that). I feel compelled to be transparent about any potential conflicts of interest. I don’t want you, readers, to feel like now I’m getting paid to have an opinion and so somehow that lowers my trustworthiness. At the same time, I’m not willing to give up my anonymity for all the very real reasons I’ve written about before. So, I’m not going to tell you where I work. But here’s what I will tell you – I got hired into my job because of my passion, knowledge, and voice of reason on many of the issues I have discussed on this blog. I’m not getting paid to have my opinions, I’m getting paid because I already had those opinions. That’s an important distinction. This blog has always been and continues to be based on my own well-researched opinions. Nonetheless, I’ll promise you that I will not write posts on topics that directly conflict me or would have an immediate impact in my field.

Now, on to some more exciting news: I’m adding three new writers to It’s MomSense! I’m really looking forward to diversifying the number of voices on this blog – we’re coming up on two years since I started this and bringing in more opinions will help transform this blog into something even more valuable. It’s also necessary. There are just not enough hours in the day for me to work a full-time job, exercise, spend time with my family, sleep AND create regular compelling content for this blog. Enter the new writers.

I’ve asked them each to introduce themselves to you below, but all four of us have a few things in common: we’re all moms, we all live in Oregon, and we’re all passionate about evidence-based thought. You’ve also already met all three of them: Jen wrote a guest post on sunscreen last summer, I profiled Tiffany’s farm last fall, and although she’s unnamed in my post, Sarah was part of the March Against Myths campaign I blogged about last May.

Joining me on the new It’s MomSense team:

——– Jen ——–

JenI’m a scientist and mother based in Eugene, Oregon.  My husband and I moved to Eugene for me to attend graduate school at the U of O and loved it here so much we never left.  I had both my kids in grad school, and graduated with my PhD in Biology in 2003.  After completing a postdoctoral fellowship, I was invited to stay on as a non-tenure track research associate. My work focuses mainly the molecular biology of Usher syndrome, a hereditary form of deaf-blindness.  You can read some of my blog posts on this topic on the Usher Syndrome Coalition blog, where I’ve been a contributor for the past eight years.

My children, now teenagers, have taught me a lot about who I am as a parent, an educator, and a person, and some of my contributions here will be about what I’ve learned on that journey so far.  I am the product of a parenting style in which all that I did–every action, accomplishment, and misstep–was evaluated solely by how it reflected on the parent. My own parenting approach is pretty much 180 degrees from that.  My kids are their own people, increasingly accountable to and responsible for themselves as they grow. To facilitate them being the best versions of themselves, I have tried to create the structure and security for them to explore their interests and obligations in the way that feels best to them.  I usually let them figure things out for themselves rather than providing the answers. I encourage them to question the information that comes to them from all sources and form their own opinions.

Living an evidence-based, grounded life in Eugene, Ore. has its challenges, given that the culture here tends to skew more toward fairies than facts. The community vibe as a whole is often in stark contrast to my work and home life, but it definitely makes for some interesting conversations!  I strongly believe that effectively communicating science—and debunking pseudoscience—requires respect and genuine acknowledgement of different points of view.  No matter how clear cut the facts are, science can only speak for itself if people are willing to listen.

You can follow me on Twitter @ClutchScience, and soon on Facebook, as soon as I get around to activating my professional page.

——– Tiffany ——–

TiffanyFarming in real life; that’s what my family does. Not what the media says, not what the latest issue of Natural News says, and certainly not how that meme that your BFF shared from the Food Babe says. We farm in the real world. The everyday, not-so-exciting, get-your-hands-dirty, sweat-in-your-eyes real world of farming.

Keith and I are 4th generation family farmers working alongside his parents in the Willamette Valley, right next to the state capital of Salem. Our farm focuses on seed crops like wheat, grass seed, barley, oats, turnip seed, and field peas. In the last few years we started to plant hazelnuts (It’s MomSense blog post) and that has added a lot of excitement to our lives.

I work off the farm right now in the corporate world as an assistant for agricultural appraisers in a small but growing company. Balancing being a working mom after being a SAHM has been an adjustment for the whole family. I am sure that there are many of you that could relate and maybe even give me a few tips!

We have two funny/smart/awesome/infuriating/charming daughters from my previous marriage who are initiating us into parenting the teen years. Go US! Also we have a scattering of pets that seem to show up in my social media channels often because, well, pets are fun.

I grew up “in town” so when I married Keith, I was not only marrying him but this way of life. Culture shock is the best way to describe it.  Several years later, I am still adjusting but I’d like to think I am getting the hang of it.

If you want to know more about me or our farm, you can follow me on Instagram or Twitter. I also started a Facebook page recently, where I will be focusing on farming posts. A couple of years ago I did a spot for KATU Channel 2 for the Celebrate Agriculture campaign. Check out the video!

——– Sarah ——–

sarahI’m a twenty-something vegan mom of a rambunctious three- year-old boy and full-time student working toward a B.S. in Biology at Portland State University. When not busy with school and child-rearing, I enjoy spending my time communicating and advocating for science and biotech as well as completing the occasional craft project and eating copious amounts of soy ice cream.

As a young vegan growing up in Portland, I once fell prey to many myths associated with health and nutrition. I believed that organic food was safer and more sustainable than conventionally-farmed foods, that it was important to avoid “toxins” and processed foods and that genetically-modified crops were a science fiction horror story waiting to happen. Although I considered myself a skeptic and science enthusiast, I subscribed to these views because of how pervasive they were and continue to be. Becoming a mother further compounded these beliefs, as I was surrounded by misinformation from both the internet and well-intentioned friends and family members who had me believing that unmedicated birth, long-term breastfeeding, “clean” eating and attachment parenting were the only ways to ensure that my child would have a healthy and happy upbringing.

Once I realized that many of the views I held were not supported by empirical evidence, I immediately felt compelled to learn more and to educate others. I now understand that genetic engineering is not only as safe as traditional breeding methods but that it also holds many advantages for the environment, for global economy and for human and animal welfare. My current focus is educating other vegans about crop biotech, as I believe vegans especially should acknowledge and embrace the benefits this technology has for animals and the environment. In May 2015 I helped co-organize the Portland chapter of the international March Against Myths movement and have since become involved in pro-science activism both online and in person.

As a mom, I want my son to live in a society that values education, rationality and human progress. When parents decline to vaccinate their children, citizens vote against water fluoridation and misguided activists fight to oppose new breeding technologies I believe that human health suffers and progress is hindered.


That’s the new team. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what this next year brings and how this blog will grow and change. Thanks for coming along with us for the ride.



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Cyber Threats and Why I Remain Anonymous

Last February I started a petition in Oregon supporting a bill that would have eliminated the non-medical vaccine exemption. I’m pretty proud to say the petition gathered almost 2,000 signatures. Unfortunately the bill was dropped (look for mention of me in that story) because the senators were unprepared for the onslaught from the anti-vax community. While I’m disappointed in the result, it was a strong learning experience for me. The reporter who covered the bill for the Salem-based paper wanted to interview me on why I started the petition, but as you all know, I don’t disclose my last name on this blog and the paper has a policy against anonymous sources. This was the one time that I really wavered on maintaining my anonymity. I was extremely tempted to let her use my last name and give her a great quote on why I feel so strongly about this issue. But, in the end, I’m glad I didn’t.  bleach screen shot closeupThat’s an actual comment from the petition page. Probably that crazy person won’t show up at my house and try to do any real harm. It’s one thing to write nasty things from your computer and it’s an entirely different thing to truly make an effort to hurt someone, but that doesn’t make that sort of thing easy to read. Thankfully, this is the only real example of a cyber threat that’s been directed at me. But I’m just small potatoes compared to some of my blogging/social media buddies. farmers daughter usa

That’s from my friend Amanda at The Farmer’s Daughter USA.

Mommy PhD - I hate youThat’s from my friend Mommy, PhDbomb monsantoThat’s from my friend Robert at Rationality Unleashed. There’s the example where an anti-GMO activist tried to take my friend Sarah’s nursing license away (at Nurse Loves Farmer). There’s also this example of someone who hates my friend Joni (Hawaii Farmers Daughter) so much that she bought her domain name and started a blog dedicated to why Joni is wrong on that domain. And then this:

combined MAMyths threatThat is from my friend Kavin Senapathy who received this threat for starting the March Against Myths movement. It’s really this last one for me that drives home why, even when I’m tempted to drop the anonymity part, I haven’t. Because it only takes one crazy person who wants to bomb Monsanto or stomp on your head or pour bleach down your kids’ throats. Yes, it’s unlikely those people would actually follow through, and maybe they’re just trolls trying to scare you for fun, but what if they aren’t? What if just one of those unbalanced, angry people decided to do a little digging and find out where my kids go to school? It’s unnerving.

When I decided to start this blog, my husband was initially against it. He’s a very practical, safe, and private person. He doesn’t do Facebook and even way before I started blogging he was always slightly uncomfortable when I would share stuff about our family on Facebook. So when I proposed that I start carving my controversial opinions out there in internet stone with our family’s name attached to it, he was very uneasy. It’s not just because I say things that a lot of people disagree with. I also used to work for Monsatan – the very “evil company” that the guy in the screen shot above wants to see bombed.  My husband stipulated that if I, a former Monsanto employee living in a city full of liberal minded hippies, was going to start blogging about things that get people all riled up, I was going to do it without using my last name. I agreed.

And so did my parents. After I started the blog, a long-time family friend of ours (who I’ll call Mary) told my mom I should be extremely careful. Mary should know –  at the time she and her husband (who I’ll call John) lived in Hawaii and John, who used to work with my dad at Monsanto, was kind of a head honcho at Monsanto Hawaii. I know this family well – I grew up with their kids, we used to have holiday dinners together, vacation together, the whole thing. I used to eat lunch with John and my dad in the Monsanto cafeteria on occasion when I worked there. Mary and John have been on the receiving end of more cyber threats and IN REAL LIFE threats than anyone I know. Does anyone know John's address

There’s someone asking for John’s address. time for bullets yetThat’s from a comment thread about John.

I could post more examples, but you get the idea. John was actually verbally assaulted in person while he was shopping for Christmas presents at Best Buy one time, which just goes to show that enough online anger does, in fact, sometimes translate to real, in-person threats. He’s not alone, either, there are plenty of other Monsanto employees who have been threatened as well. John and Mary have since left Hawaii, not necessarily as a result of the threats, but it certainly made the decision to leave easier.

And then there’s public scientist and recent media frenzy Kevin Folta who is being so disgustingly bullied by anti-GMO activists that someone created a craigslist ad using his own mother’s name to shame him. I don’t personally know Folta or I would have asked him for a few examples of violent threats that have recently been made to him, his family, and his laboratory. Folta is just the most visible example, but there are more than 40 scientists whose reputations anti-GMO activists are trying to smear by making it look like they get paid to do research, including Washington State University associate professor of nutrition Michelle McGuire who did a study debunking the claim that glyphosate (Roundup) shows up in breastmilk.

Then there was also the time that Mike Adams, who runs Natural News, called biotech supporters modern day Nazis, suggested that anti-GMO activists should consider murdering scientists and journalists, and then provided a hit list of scientists, journalists and news organizations to target.

While some of these stories are more extreme than others, these are not isolated events – the examples I’ve given here are not unique. This is the world we live in. Cyber bullying is not something that is limited to school-aged children, it happens all the time to adults, me included. I see it daily in online forums. Sometimes it’s as benign as simple name calling, other times it’s truly threatening, but it happens. A lot.

farmers wifeeThat’s from Krista, The Farmer’s Wifee, a dairy farmer and creator of Ask The Farmers.

I know I’m not Kevin Folta or a head honcho at Monsanto, or even a very influential blogger. But online conversations can quickly go from “I hate you” to “what’s your address” and “is it time for bullets yet” and “I’ll be watching you.” For a mother of two young kids, that’s kind of scary. I’m just not willing to make my family a target, even if the chances are extremely low that anything would even really  happen. I don’t even want my kids to see me get threatened, in person or online. I’m already taking a risk just by being outspoken about controversial issues, creating a blog, and becoming well known in online circles for my opinions. Not using my last name makes it just a tad harder for someone to  do something nasty, and that makes me feel a little more secure.

Anonymity is not always an easy position to take, though. Recently I participated in a #Moms4GMOs letter and was contacted by a journalist writing a story about the letter. He was challenging me on why I didn’t include my last name, implying that because I wanted to remain anonymous there might be something devious or underhanded about my participation. Anonymity limits me on how far I can take my advocacy, and there may come a time when it just isn’t practical to continue to be anonymous. But until then, this is why I do it. Not because I’m hiding something, or because I don’t want someone to find out that I’m getting paid to shill for Big Ag. I’m not shilling, I’m just a little scared of crazy people.

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Saturday Scenery: Summer Summary

I haven’t done a Saturday Scenery post in a while, so I thought it was time to do a super-sized version. I haven’t had much time to write this summer, and below you’ll see why. Some of these I took with my phone camera, so they’re not amazing. Others I actually took with my professional camera (I hope you can tell the difference 🙂 ) Get prepared to see a lot of the back of my kids’ heads – it’s really a special art form of mine… School starts on Monday, so this is our last weekend of summer. I thought you might enjoy seeing how much we enjoyed our summer. I hope you enjoyed yours as well!

The painted hills at John Day Fossil Beds

The painted hills at John Day Fossil Beds


Taking a walk to the playground in Leavenworth, WA.

Finding a live sand dollar on the beach.

Finding a live sand dollar on the beach.


Getting ready to scale the dunes at Oregon Dunes National Recreation area – the largest expanse of coastal dunes in North America.

icicle gorge-0172

Icicle Gorge, WA.

Catching crawfish in the John Day River.

Catching crawfish in the John Day River.


Camping at Fort Stevens State Park.

Throwing rocks in the Wenatchee River.

Throwing rocks in the Wenatchee River.

Playing in the sand at Heceta Lighthouse beach.

Playing in the sand at Heceta Lighthouse beach.

Riding bikes through the forest.


Flying kites on the beach.

Mt. Hood from Lost Lake Campground.

Mt. Hood from Lost Lake Campground.

Playing in the ocean.

Playing in the ocean.

Hiking, hiking, and more hiking.

Hiking, hiking, and more hiking.

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Outside looking in: March Against Monsanto


Walk for the Cure shaming? Really?

Last weekend I went to my very first protest. I’ve never been to a protest because I’m not really the kind of person who intentionally puts myself in situations designed to stir up trouble. Especially not one like the March Against Monsanto that is pretty well known for being an anti-GMO angry mob. Usually, I would stay far away from those kinds of protests.  But, this time was different because this year there was a group called March Against Myths about Modification (or MAMyths) protesting the March Against Monsanto with pro-GMO messages. That’s a little more my style, except I still don’t really like the idea of poking a hornet’s nest. One of the reasons I started this blog was to give myself an outlet to talk about these issues, because I don’t really like to do it at dinner parties, in line at the coffee shop, or at the bus stop with my kids in tow. I was pretty reluctant to go at all; I’m generally non-confrontational and agreeable with strangers. I decided to go by promising myself (and my husband) I was only going as an observer, as a journalist covering the event for my blog. I wouldn’t get into any angry debates and if it got ugly, I’d just get back on the bus and go home.  I took my camera and my notepad in my shaky hands and rode the bus to downtown Portland. I spent much of the ride practicing yoga breathing and giving myself a pep talk.

See what that shirt says on the far left? Classy.

See what that shirt says on the far left? And that child with a “Monsanto is hella sick” sign? Classy.

At first, I was afraid no one was going to show up. I arrived at the park and I didn’t see anyone holding a pro-GMO sign. At one end of the square was a stage surrounded by people holding signs that read, “Buzz Off Monsanto, You’re Killing Us,” “Monsanto is Murder,” “Hell No GMO,” and one pregnant lady was holding a sign that said, “Quit Trying To Get In My Genes.” There were little kids holding anti-Monsanto signs, people dressed up in bee costumes, people in straw hats passing out “GMO-free” organic tomato plants (I held back the urge to tell them that there aren’t any GMO tomatoes), a guy with an oversized bike, some people dressed up like clowns, and a couple of people wearing Halloween masks. I seriously started to re-think my attendance. But soon enough a few people came out of the woodwork wearing green and once a few people were standing together, 15 people emerged from nowhere. Understandably, no one wanted to be the first to hold up an, “Ask Me About GMOs” sign. But once there was strength in numbers, they set up a table, put some pro-GMO literature on it, passed out “I heart GMO” stickers, and turned to face the “angry mob.” There were about 20 MAMyths supporters facing about 200 who had come to March Against Monsanto.


See? Smiles.

And maybe they were a bit angry at the beginning, but amazingly, it never got ugly. People wandered over with pissed-off looks on their faces and started asking questions. One guy actually thought they were joking. But the MAMyths group faced them with smiles and calm voices. They handed out the flyer and started a conversation. I stood by the side and watched. Almost every single time, the anti-GMO person would start off really guarded and defensive but after a few non-hostile sentences from the pro-GMO side, their aggression deflated. They realized the group wasn’t there to fight. In fact, MAMyths had a sign that said, “Don’t start a fight, start a conversation.” And that’s what they did, conversation after level-headed conversation. A lot of them started like this, “Ok, I don’t know a whole lot, give me your spiel.” They talked about the scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, and how GMOs have helped farmers increase yield and decrease the impact on the environment. For the most part, it was very civil. Some people remained unconvinced, agreed to disagree and walked away. Some talked for a good ten minutes or more and there were definitely a good number of people that seemed to walk away questioning their previous assumptions. Maybe a few were even fully convinced.

We love GMOs has a civil conversation with death bees.

We love GMOs has a civil conversation with death bees.

Some weird things did happen, though. A woman who seemed to be in charge of the march came over and demanded MAMyths get off the square because they had reserved the whole place. Fortunately, MAMyths had already called the city and confirmed they didn’t need a permit, so they stayed put and she didn’t bring it up again. One lady did a walk-by yelling, “I’m going to find out who funds you!” To which a few MAMyths folks mumbled, “Let us know when you find out.” One guy yelled, “You’re in the wrong F@!#ing place, you better get the f@!# outta here, I’m serious!” But the group ignored him. I overheard, “Oh, so you’re pro-vaccine, too?” and “You LIKE high fructose corn syrup?!” Then one of the MAMyths guys went and bought the whole group Starbucks coffee, which was awesome. But then the coffee drinkers caught flak for drinking Starbucks by one lady who walked by and yelled, “Starbucks? Really? Low wages and they treat their employees bad? Nice.” But that was balanced out when a lady gave the group a Starbucks gift card because she said her employer gave it to her and she wouldn’t use it, but they might. Maybe the craziest thing was when a lady dressed in a bee costume started doing a wavy dance at the group with her Stevie Nicks-style scarf and said, “I’m reprogramming you because you’re children of darkness.” Even though it was clearly a waste of time, one of the MAMyths crew engaged her in a very nice conversation about her conspiracy theories. All in all, I’d say it went pretty well.  I’m pretty sure most of the MAMyths crew felt good about it.

MAMyths-9There’s only one thing I’m really disappointed about. At the beginning of the event I looked around for reporters and spotted a few. I walked up to each of them to find out who they were and to make sure they knew about the counter protest. The Portland State University paper was there and a few other small publications, but I was pleasantly surprised when one guy said, “I’m with OPB News (Oregon Public Broadcasting).” I told him about the counter protest and said he’d know who they were because they’d be the ones wearing green and holding pro-GMO signs. I told him he’d be welcome if he wanted to talk to anyone in the group. He nodded.

Then he proceeded to ignore the whole group of 20 smiling people who were striking up difficult conversations about unpopular topics among people holding hate signs. Later that day he published 19 photos of the event, and not a single one of them included the MAMyths group. I can come to no other conclusion than he didn’t want to tarnish Portland’s “keep it weird” image with pictures of regular people supporting GMOs. I guess OPB would rather publish sensational images of clowns driving oversized bikes and people dressed up in bee costumes and people holding signs that say, “Monsatan Evil Seed” next to a hand-drawn picture of a skull, and a group of grandmothers singing anti-Monsanto songs.  Maybe he didn’t think a group consisting of farmers, scientists, moms, students and vegans who support GMOs was newsworthy enough. Maybe next year someone needs to dress up as a big dancing Arctic Apple if they want to get the attention of OPB. It would be one thing to deem the entire event not worthy of news coverage, like the Oregonian did. But to come to the event and only cover the part you want readers to see? As a journalist, I find bias like that pretty inexcusable. But, no worry. MAMyths will be back next year to give OPB another chance to do it right.


Wait, is that a Starbucks cup in your hand?! Oh the inconsistency!

I know they’ll be back again because we all learned something pretty important while we were there. March Against Monsanto is not intimidating. It took a lot of courage for that group of 20 people to show up to a GMO protest and hold a sign that said, “We Love GMOs.” But in the end, there was nothing scary at all. In fact, most of the people were just using the march as an excuse to get out and be angry about something. They weren’t even all angry about the same things – some people were marching with “increase the minimum wage” signs and some people were going on about chemtrails and government conspiracies. It was like everyone was pissed about a different issue and they were all coming together and talking about it like it was the same thing. They just use Monsanto as a catch-all for everything they’re upset about, even things that don’t make any sense. That’s not scary, it’s just well, kind of stupid.

I’m glad I went after all. It’s about time some reasonable people stood up next to March Against Monsanto so we can all see the juxtaposition of rational next to irrational. Maybe some people will change the way they think about GMOs, maybe not. But it’s a really good place to start.MAMyths-12


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Sign this petition: vaccinate your kids

I’m about to talk about something that I know a lot of people feel really strongly about. I touched on it before in my post about denialism, but recent political events make me inclined to say it again, and say it stronger. I hope I say it strongly enough to convince you to sign my petition.

Oregon has the worst immunization rates in the country and has the most lenient rules on vaccine exemptions. Since 2000, the percentage of Oregon children entering kindergarten whose parents have chosen to exempt them from vaccines has grown from less than one percent to greater than seven percent. Why is that unacceptable? Because, as many of you know, vaccines only work when a certain percentage of the community is vaccinated. Together, this community of vaccinated individuals protects those for whom the vaccine wasn’t effective (yes, that happens) and those who are unable to be vaccinated (infants, cancer patients, kids who are too ill to get the vaccine). Each disease has a different “herd immunity” threshold – this threshold indicates the percentage of the community that must be vaccinated in order for the vaccine to work most effectively. For measles, that threshold is 94 percent. We are precariously close to falling below herd immunity for vaccine-preventable diseases, making those vaccines less effective for the community as a whole.

That pisses me off, and it should piss you off, too. Vaccines are safe and effective. The medical community is solid on that message. Nonetheless, parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kids because they don’t believe the medical community. Maybe they’re afraid of autism, maybe they think their kids should build up a natural immunity, maybe they don’t like the pharmaceutical industry but frankly, I don’t care why. Choosing not to vaccinate your kids is not like choosing a parenting approach; it’s not like choosing what to feed them for breakfast, or what car seat to use, or what school to send them to, or how much screen time they get. Because all of those things only impact you and your family. Choosing not to vaccinate your kids impacts MY FAMILY, and that’s why I’m pissed off. You do not get to make poorly-informed decisions that put my kids’ health in jeopardy because you think you know better than the doctors.

If you don’t want to vaccinate your kids, that’s fine. But you should not be allowed to send them to school with my kids because it’s selfish and dangerous. It’s straight-up selfish of these parents to rely on my vaccinated children to protect their unvaccinated children while at the same time they’re reducing the effectiveness of the vaccine for the entire community. Two doses of the measles vaccine is 97 percent effective at preventing measles. That means if my kid falls into that three percent for whom it is not effective, and there is a measles outbreak because the herd immunity falls below 94 percent, she could very well contract measles even though I had her fully vaccinated. For every 1,000 people who get measles, one to two of them die.

I vaccinated my kids, I did my part, but it’s still fully possible that one of my kids could die from a vaccine-preventable disease because other parents are deciding not to vaccinate. That’s unacceptable and needs to change. If immunization rates in Oregon continue to fall as they have been falling for the last 15 years, we’re headed for disaster. So let’s do something about it. I am not willing to wait until we have a much bigger problem on our hands before we make a change.

The Oregon Senate Committee on Health Care is currently reviewing Senate Bill 442 that would eliminate the current option for parents to opt their school-going children out of state-required vaccines due to religious or philosophical reasons. As it is, Oregon parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children have to obtain a Vaccine Education Certificate so they can opt-out. Parents can either visit their doctor to obtain the certificate, or they can simply watch a video online and print out the certificate at the end of the video. Clearly, that’s not enough because Oregon still ranks as the worst in the nation for immunization rates. And that’s just the state average. The scariest part is that there are schools in Oregon that have greater than a 70 percent non-medical exemption rate.  Yes, you read that correctly, that means that less than 30 percent of those kids are vaccinated.  If you look at this list you can find your child’s school and see what the non-medical exemption rate is. If it’s greater than six percent, you’re below herd immunity for measles. Mississippi, on the other hand, does not allow non-medical vaccine exemptions and in 2014, only a scant 0.1 percent of Mississippi kindergartners were exempt from vaccinations.

I tried to watch the public hearing held February 18 by the Senate Committee on Health Care.  You can watch the whole three-hour saga here if you like. I was unable to stomach the whole thing – it was a dog and pony show. The committee must have thought so, too, because when they got wind that Andrew Wakefield was planning to attend and testify at the March 9 meeting, they changed the meeting to a work session instead of a public hearing and uninvited all speakers. Yes, Andrew Wakefield is the one whose infamous study linking the MMR vaccine to autism was retracted from the journal in which it was published and whose medical license was revoked because his study was found to be fraudulent and unethically financed. While he has been disinvited, he claims he’s still planning to have a town hall in Portland. Let’s send a message to him and to the anti-vax community before the March that we are tired of their anti-science rhetoric and that we won’t stand for it when it comes to protecting our children.

We need this bill to pass so Oregon’s vaccine rates don’t continue to fall. Please contact your representative and let them know you support this bill, and sign my petition to pass SB 442.

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Take the GMO quiz: how much do you know?

I’ll admit it, I kind of like taking those stupid online quizzes. You know: what city were you meant to live in, what Harry Potter character are you, etc. These are pressing, important issues, right?! Not so much, but they’re fun, I like doing them, and I bet you do, too. So I decided to make a quiz for you guys! It’s in the vein of a personality quiz, and I fully expect all my dedicated momsensians to get the “Big Ag Shill” title! Make me proud. If you don’t, don’t fret, scroll down below the quiz and read the answers and discussion, and take the quiz again.


[playbuzz-item url="http://www.playbuzz.com/saramomsense10/how-much-do-you-know-about-gmos"]


*************************SPOILER ALERT*************************** The answers to this quiz are below! Don’t cheat! Take the test first, then read the answers.


Question: What does GMO mean?

Answer: GMO stands for genetically modified organism.


Question: How many crops come in GMO (transgenic) varieties?

Answer: 6-10 There are currently eight crops that are commercially available as GMO: Corn (field and sweet), soybeans, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beet, squash and papaya. *Edited for clarification* This is excluding food that may be considered “genetically modified” in the sense that it’s a result of selective breeding. You can make an argument that everything we eat is “genetically modified” through selective breeding, which we as humans have been doing for hundreds of years.  But for the sake of simplicity, we’ll consider GMOs to be those produced through genetic engineering or transgenics.


Question: Where in the grocery store are you  most likely to find GMOs?

Answer: Packaged food. Aside from papaya and a small amount of sweet corn and squash, packaged/processed foods are where you’ll find the majority  of ingredients that have been derived from GMOs. Examples include corn oil, cornstarch, cornmeal, soybean oil, soy flour, soy protein, soy lecithin, sugar (from beets, not cane), canola oil, cottonseed oil, and corn syrup. These products are often found in baked goods, cereals, snack foods, foods containing corn sugars/syrup, etc.


Question: Which of the following is a source for the transgene in the commercially available GMOs?

Answer: Bacteria. Bt crops produce their own protection against insect damage using a protein from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. Interestingly, the Bt protein is also used as a spray by organic farmers and gardeners.


Question: Monsanto is the only company that makes GMOs.

Answer: False. Monsanto is one of the “big six” companies investing in biotechnology in the private sector. The other five include Pioneer, BASF, Syngenta, Dow, and Bayer. But there are plenty of other smaller players around the world working on biotechnology as well.


Question: GMOs allow farmers to

Answer: Spray less pesticide and adopt no-till and reduced-till practices. Bt crops have greatly reduced the amount of insecticide applied to crops, as much as an 18-fold decrease in corn between 1976 and 2010. In fact, in the first 17 years of adoption, biotechnology has reduced pesticide spraying by 503 million kg and has reduced the environmental footprint associated with pesticide use by 18.7 percent. The technology has also significantly reduced the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture equivalent to removing 11.9 million cars from the roads. Part of that is due to reduced or no-till practices  made possible by herbicide-tolerant crops like Roundup Ready. Reduced and no-till practices help sequester carbon in the soil.


Question: How can you avoid GMOs?

Answer: (all answers with the *) Buy USDA certified organic, buy food with the Non-GMO Project label, or look at the ingredients. Food labeled USDA certified organic is by definition GMO-free, as is food with a GMO-free specific label. Additionally, as I said above, there are only eight crops that are commercially available in GM varieties. Turn the package around and look for the words: corn, soy, cotton, sugar, canola, squash, alfalfa (not in food anyway) or papaya. If those words aren’t listed on the ingredients, it’s not GM. If they are, assume it is GM, because in most of those crops (corn, soy, cotton, canola) more than 90 percent of the crops grown in the US are GM. The exceptions are sugar since only about half the sugar in the US comes from beets, squash and sweet corn (which both have lower adoption rates.) The percentage is closer to 70 percent for Hawaiian-grown papaya, so you can pay attention to the country of origin if you’re interested in avoiding GM papaya.


Question: GMOs are banned in 64 countries.

Answer: False. GMOs are not banned in 64 countries. GMOs are only banned in one country: Kenya. In some ways this is semantics, but take the EU for example: while some countries (but not all) in the EU have banned the growth of particular GM crops, the EU imports almost three-quarters of it’s feed for livestock, much of which is GM. Additionally, they are not disallowed there due to safety; it’s more of a political and public perception issue in the EU.


Question: The scientific consensus is that GMOs are safe for human consumption.

Answer: True, every leading health organization in the world stands behind their safety, including the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the International Society of African Scientists, and the European Commission, to name a few.


Question: We’ve been eating GMOs for how long?

Answer: 15-20 years. About 18 years, in fact. GMOs were introduced in 1996 when Monsanto commercialized Roundup Ready soybeans.


Question: How many documented human health incidents (that can be attributed to GMOs) have there been since GMOs were introduced?

Answer: None. Not a single one.


Question: Organic growers can lose their organic certification because of cross contamination from GMOs.

Answer: False. In fact, no US organic farmer has ever lost organic certification this way. The National Organic Program explicitly states that as long as an organic farmer didn’t intentionally use “excluded methods” (like GMOs), unintentional presence of GM material won’t impact organic certification.


Question: GMO corn seed is blue and regular corn seed is not.

Answer: False. (so, so very false.) The only reason I included this question is because there has been an extremely deceptive picture floating around the Internet that came from the Yes on 92 campaign in Oregon (and a terrible commercial) that implies that GMO corn seed is blue BECAUSE it’s GM. No. It’s blue because it contains a seed treatment, which has nothing to do with the seeds being GM. Seed treatments are a pesticide (fungicide or insecticide) that is applied to the exterior of the seed before planting to help protect the young seedling during emergence and initial growth. This is very common for conventional and GMO seeds alike. Regulators require that seed treatment preparations contain dyes to color-mark seeds that have been treated so that they can be recognized on sight and not introduced directly into the human food supply. Even organic farmers use some seed treatments. Additionally, seed treatments allow farmers to use small, very targeted application of pesticides.


I hope you learned something today! And if you already knew all of this, congratulations, you’re using your momsense.

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Why you should oppose mandatory GMO labeling

Note: Today’s post corresponds to a radio interview I did that aired today on the Ag Information Network’s Daily Farm and Ranch Report (audio clip at the end of the post.)

Next month Oregonians will vote on whether to require mandatory labels for foods that contain genetically modified organism (GMOs). While the supporters of Measure 92 want you to believe this is about your “Right to Know” what’s in your food, that it’s about transparency,  consumer preference, and choice, it’s not. What it’s really about is getting more people to buy foods that don’t contain no on 92GM ingredients (like organic), and in the end, it’s about banning the technology all together. Mandatory labeling is not based on science, because there isn’t any debate in the scientific community about the safety of GMOs. This measure will prevent progress of a beneficial technology, it will mislead consumers, and it will force all of us to pay for one group’s ideological preference. Not only that, but two nation-wide, voluntary labels already identify GM-free products for consumers who do want to pay extra – organic and voluntarily labeled non-GMO products.  Here’s why you should vote no.

Mandatory labeling presents an unnecessary barrier to the progress of a technology that is immensely beneficial

The United Nations estimates that food production will need to increase by 70 percent by 2050 to feed our growing population. Not only will we need to rise to that immense challenge, we’ll have to do it with more people on the planet taking up more space and using more natural resources while climate change is making it even more difficult to grow food. Even though this seems like an unattainable goal, we have tools to make it happen, and biotechnology must be one of them. Let me be clear, biotechnology is not a magic bullet; it won’t solve the problem alone. We’re going to need everything we have, every production method, every idea, every innovation. Instead of embracing all of the tools we have, what we’re doing with mandatory labeling is putting up a warning sign to consumers that will likely encourage them to buy something else. Why is that a problem? Because if consumers send a loud and clear message that they don’t want this (safe and useful) technology, researchers will stop investing in it. It’s already incredibly difficult to get a biotech product to market (and it should be, the safety testing and regulation is and should be rigorous), but with less interest and less funding, it will be even harder and the result will be less innovation. And that may not bother you because you have plenty of food now and plenty of money to buy food, but it will have consequences for those who don’t have plenty of food, money, and land, and it’s irresponsible not to consider the welfare of that portion of the population.

Mandatory labeling is misleading because it implies that food produced through genetic modification is harmful

Source: http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/

Source: http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/

Current mandatory food labels (like allergy warnings about peanuts or trans fat declarations) tell consumers about nutritional differences and potential health risks in food. Consumers will likely infer a warning from this GMO label that foods containing GM ingredients might be harmful or different when the science supports just the opposite. GM food has been on the market for almost twenty years without a single incident of adverse health effects. Thousands of studies, from both industry and independent sources, have verified, and continue to verify the safety of these products – they are the most researched and tested products in agricultural history. In fact, every major scientific body and regulatory agency in the world has declared these foods safe, including those in Europe (they are not disallowed there due to safety.) There is no debate in the scientific community about the safety of these products, so there is no need to scare consumers away from them with a punitive label.

Additionally, these labels don’t actually provide good information about what consumers are eating – this measure would require that some foods that don’t actually contain any detectable GM ingredients (like sugar and oil) be labeled as containing GM, and some foods (like meat and dairy) that have also been produced with GM ingredients won’t require a label. Genetic modification is achieved by changing DNA, which leads to changed proteins. Food that does not contain DNA or protein (like purified sugar, oils, and corn starch) do not contain these detectable markers of GM and cannot be tested as GM or non-GM. The only way to know is by following the ingredients from farm to table. Supporters of this measure claim that other countries label GM, but many of those, like New Zealand, don’t require labeling for these kinds of ingredients. The only way manufacturers would be able avoid Oregon’s required label is by providing “sworn statements” declaring these food ingredients have not been made with genetic modification. Without this paper trail, even ingredients that didn’t come from GM crops would require the warning label.  And because there’s no way to test for it, it opens the door for a lot of he-said/she-said disagreement and lawsuits.

Mandatory labeling forces all of us to pay more for one group’s ideological preference

My friend Tiffany Marx, mom, farmer, and vice president of Oregon Women for Ag, is voting no on 92.

My friend Tiffany Marx, mom, farmer, and vice president of Oregon Women for Ag, is voting no on 92.

Studies of measures similar to Oregon’s suggest that this will cost about $400 a year for a family of four. The proponents of this measure want you to believe that the cost is as little as printing a label on a product, but that’s naïve about how complex the food production business is. Even if you put aside the considerable cost associated with the record-keeping systems required for conventional foods to avoid the “contains GM” label, there are unavoidable costs down the road. Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume there is no cost associated with just slapping a “contains GM” label on a product that’s going to be sold in Oregon. What do you think the response will be to this label? You can probably group consumers into three categories: those who already oppose GM, those who support it, and those who are on the fence. The first group already avoids GM by buying organic or foods voluntarily labeled as non-GM. The second group won’t change their buying habits. It’s the third group that this label targets – and their likely response will be to not buy that product because it appears to be a safety warning. So sales of that product will plummet in Oregon and the manufacturer could make the decision to drop GM ingredients. That forces the price up considerably because non-GM ingredients cost more. Who do you think will end up paying for that?

Which leads me to the point: if you choose to avoid GM you already have that choice, and you, and you alone, should be the one who pays the extra cost for an extreme precautionary decision not based in science. We currently have two options for consumers who choose to avoid GMOs: organic that is by definition non-GMO, or foods voluntarily labeled as GMO-free. This is not about safety, it’s about preference. Why should we all pay more when options already exist for those who want to avoid food made from GM?

This measure doesn’t address the problems people have with agriculture

Too often the conversation about GMOs is muddled up with people’s dislike of modern agriculture. There was a great quote in this month’s National Geographic article “The Next Green Revolution” about GMOs. Robert Zeigler, director of the International Rice Research Institute said, “We do feel a bit betrayed by the environmental movement, I can tell you that. If you want to have a conversation about what the role of large corporations should be in our food supply, we can have that conversation – it’s really important. But it’s not the same conversation about whether we should use these tools of genetics to improve our crops. They’re both important, but let’s not confound them.” A lot of people are pushing for mandatory labeling because they want to send a message to Monsanto, or they don’t like pesticides or patents on seeds, but mandatory labeling is the wrong way to address those issues, and it won’t even do that. Read this article from Grist about four issues GMO labeling won’t solve, and see if you still think it’ll accomplish what you think it will.  If we really need a labeling system for GM ingredients, it should be done on a national level, not by a patchwork state-by-state approach, and it should be implemented by the FDA and based on sound science, not fear mongering and marketing.

ban gmo image

Source: http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/

One of the great things about US agriculture is its ability to provide diverse options for consumers. There’s room, and necessity, in agriculture for all types of production: conventional, organic, and GM. This labeling initiative disparages one type of agriculture solely for a marketing advantage, and that’s unacceptable. There is a lot of talk in the media about who’s contributing to the No on 92 campaign, highlighting that Monsanto has contributed the most. But the “Yes” side is getting funded by groups who make money by getting you to fear conventional and GM agriculture. Not only will their bottom dollar be impacted by this labeling initiative, they have openly stated their end goal is to ban GM technology. Mercola.com is one of the biggest contributors to the Yes campaign. Yes, the same Joseph Mercola who sells controversial dietary supplements on his website, has been warned by the FDA to stop making illegal claims about his products, who is anti-vaccine, and who apparently doesn’t believe HIV causes AIDS. He also said in an article on his website, “Personally, I believe GM foods must be banned entirely, but labeling is the most efficient way to achieve this. Since 85 percent of the public will refuse to buy foods they know to be genetically modified, this will effectively eliminate them from the market.” Other groups like Whole Foods, the Organic Consumers Fund, and Bob’s Red Mill are contributing with the hope that mandatory labeling will increase their market share and ultimately their profits. So don’t let them convince you it’s about your “Right to Know.” They don’t want you to have the choice at all, they want you to boycott GMOs and buy their products.

Please vote no on Oregon Measure 92 and stand with science. Below are more resources for you to explore.

Mom Brings Science to Her Blog, It’s Momsense

Vote No on 92

Oregon Citizens Review Panel rejects measure 92

The Oregonion editorial panel recommends a No vote

Oregon’s Right To Know by Marie Bowers Stagg

GMO Labeling in Oregon by Brenda Frketich

Why I Think Mandatory Labels for GMO’s is Bad Policy and Why I Think It Might Be Good Strategy and Why I Still Can’t Support It by Marc Brazeau

Oregon Voters Should Say “No” to Measure 92 by The Farmer’s Daughter USA

Sugar beet growers believe labeling requirements are misleading

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You can have your own opinions, but not your own facts

Often on this blog I write about things that I think aren’t alarming, and that I don’t think you should be overly worried about, like pesticides and GMOs. I thought maybe I should tell you about something that does actually alarm me.  I wouldn’t want you guys to think that I’m all, “nothing to see here, move along.” So I’m going to tell you about some things that I do think are troubling.

I recently read a book called Denialism by Michael Specter, a journalist who writes on science and technology for The New Yorker. I recommend it highly. The book was about how people often stare into the face of scientific evidence and fail to accept it. This is something that concerns me, and frankly, should concern you. I’ve seen this happen first hand on both the Internet and in person. In fact, recently I had to take a break from Facebook because I’m overwhelmed and depressed by the denialist and anti-science crowd.  I’m hopeful that much of this movement is a fad, because if it’s not, I fear we’re headed to a very bad place.

My grandpa had polio when he was a child. Thankfully, he survived, but it crippled him. He limped and wore a brace from his foot to his hip for the rest of his life. When he got engaged to my grandma, my great-grandparents pulled her aside and told her to reconsider – they didn’t think Grandpa would live past the age of 20. Amazingly, he lived past 90. I wouldn’t be here if he had died of polio, and countless others aren’t here because thousands of children died from diseases that have since been mostly eradicated with vaccines. Today, we’re bringing those diseases back. Oregon has the highest rate of non-immunized children in the country. Why? Because our generation doesn’t remember the suffering these diseases can cause.

OMSI photoI was recently at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and saw an exhibit about the leading causes of death in the US over the years. In 1850, six of the top 11 causes of death we now have vaccines for: diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, tuberculosis, meningitis, and typhoid fever. There’s a reason those diseases aren’t the leading causes of death anymore: scientific progress. Yet it feels like today, more than ever before, people have forgotten that much of what we have today is because of science. Vaccines are one of the most effective public health measures in human history, yet one study (described as fraudulent) showed a link between autism and vaccines, and now parents are ignoring the science and believing the anecdotes. Jenny McCarthy took that fear and ran with it. I understand the fear. We don’t know what causes autism, and as a parent, that’s scary. I understand wanting to have something to blame it on and vaccines seem easy. We don’t know anyone who’s died of measles, and so we don’t see any benefit to the vaccines, but we do see a risk. And it feels like the risk outweighs the benefit. But it doesn’t. The scientific evidence is undeniable: vaccines work and there is no link to autism. Yet plenty of parents don’t want to hear that because they’re afraid. They are staring into the face of a mountain of scientific evidence and consensus and putting their fingers in their ears and squeezing their eyes shut. And the result: those diseases are coming back. That’s what we should really be afraid of.

That’s troubling to me. How did we get here? How did we get to a point where people so freely dismiss scientific consensus? Well, unfortunately, science is not perfect, it’s a process. There have been mistakes. Vioxx is one that Specter discusses in his book. Chernobyl, Thalidomide, DDT. It’s very easy to say, as I recently heard from someone very close to me, “They say it’s safe until they say it’s not.” We’ve lost trust in the experts and in the data. There’s nothing really wrong with questioning the experts. In fact, that’s what science is all about. Have an idea, test the idea, interpret the data, and test it again. Then encourage others to test and question it, too. Adjust, and then test it some more.  That’s fine. What’s troubling is resisting the evidence when the evidence is compelling. You should question it, but when the data and the proof are there, accept it as truthful.  Often I hear people say, “but there isn’t enough evidence, there haven’t been enough studies yet.”  The problem is, denialists are so entrenched in their beliefs that no amount of evidence will change their minds. There will never be enough studies, enough evidence, and a strong enough scientific consensus. I’ve heard, “you haven’t proven it’s safe.” Nothing can be proven safe. Ever. Science can’t do that. It can only prove that it isn’t unsafe. And no one is walking around eschewing cell phones or automobiles or light bulbs because no one has proven them safe.

I understand people being skeptical. But don’t confuse skepticism with denialism. To me, one of the red flags of a denialist is when they start pulling out the conspiracy theories. This idea that Big Ag, Big Pharma, or Big Oil are hiding studies and data and paying off scientists and PR firms to lie for them. Or that the government and corporations are in bed together with the goal of taking all our money at the expense of our health and the environment. It’s all a big conspiracy. Look, you don’t have to like Monsanto or Pfizer or Exxon Mobil. If you don’t like the role that large corporations play in our society, that’s fine, let’s talk about that, but let’s not ignore the science or worse, dismiss it, because you don’t like the company that developed the product. We have real problems to solve: feeding our growing population in a changing climate; health care; and dwindling natural resources being used by more people at a higher rate. Let’s not muddle up the solutions to those problems with misplaced fear and frustration over corporate America.

I got called a shill the other day by the associate editor of a weekly paper in Oregon.  I was taking issue with some factual errors in a story about GMOs and she publicly called me out and made it look like the information I was providing was questionable (and paid for) because I used to work for Monsanto.  Surprisingly, this is the first time I’ve actually been called a shill. But I find this attitude everywhere, and frankly, it’s concerning. To many people, my knowledge on a subject is completely and utterly tainted (and apparently dismissible) because of my association with Big Ag. And I’m not the only one getting called a shill. There will always be corrupt scientists, and corporate executives who make bad decisions. But that doesn’t mean that all scientists are corrupt or that all companies are evil. Just because you don’t like the mouth that the information is coming out of, doesn’t make it less true. But knowledge is often dismissed because the listener doesn’t like the delivery mechanism. Just because Pfizer did the study, doesn’t mean it’s all a big lie in the same way that just because I used to work for Monsanto doesn’t mean that the inaccuracies in their story are less inaccurate.

Specter said, “We’ve never needed progress in science more than we need it right now.” And instead of making progress, what we’re doing is a lot of wheel spinning. We’ve got people like the Food Babe, Dr. Oz, and organizations like Natural News, and the Environmental Working Group enabling denialism by fueling the misinformation fire. I would like to think that the vast majority of people are reasonable, but you wouldn’t know it by reading those websites. You can have your own opinions, but you can’t have your own facts. These activists are not contributing to a solution, they’re making money by selling you fear.

Here’s my bottom line: you don’t have to take a side on these issues. You don’t have to start a blog, or try to get out there and change people’s minds. Just don’t contribute to the problem. Don’t let yourself be a denialist. Even if you come to a different conclusion than I have on an issue, do some real reading on a subject and not from only one side of the issue. Don’t just read the Food Babe’s website or listen to a speech by Vandana Shiva and think you’ve got all the information. For that matter, don’t read one story in the New York Times and think you have all the information you need to make a decision.  Know that you may never know all the information, but be open to convincing evidence and scientific consensus. Don’t turn your back on science, reason, and logic because you heard this one story about this one child who got autism. Understand the difference between correlation and causation.  And most of all, don’t let fear and ideology cloud your ability to see the truth.


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West side confession: I lied about where I live.

Recently, I caught myself lying to some moms about where I live. I was at a photo job on the east side, and I was having this great conversation with some east-side moms about kids doing process-based art.

A city divided by the Willamette River.

A city divided by the Willamette River.

If you don’t know, Portland seems pretty divided between the die-hard hipsters on the east side of the Willamette River and the sellouts and drones on the west side. If you believe the stereotypes, east-side moms are all about taking public transit, co-parenting, local and organic, processed-free food, and extended breast-feeding. West-side moms are all about driving SUVs, Kraft mac-and-cheese, letting your baby cry it out, ignoring your kid while you drink wine and talk on the phone, and formula feeding. Not everyone is like that, of course, but still, that’s the perception.

So anyway, I was having this nice chat. Then one of the moms said, “Where do you live?” I had this closed-in feeling like, oh crap. I can’t tell them where I live! They’re going to make conclusions about me that aren’t true! So I hemmed and hawed for a while, which probably looked pretty moronic. Then I admitted I live on the west side, but I picked what I thought might be perceived as a less offensive suburb than the one I actually live in. It was like when you’re trying to swing a racket at a tennis ball and you wait until it’s too late to swing properly but you still want to try to hit the ball, so you make this awkward half swing and hit yourself in the face. And the dumb part is, they didn’t even seem to care. Turns out, they don’t live on the east side (I made that close-minded assumption based on what they looked like and where we were) they live in an exurb of Portland. Waaay out there! So stupid, why did I lie?

This is how the west side rolls. Note: this is not my car.

This is how the west side rolls. Note: this is not my car.

I’ve been feeling really badly about it ever since. But the experience got me thinking about why I felt compelled to lie. Back when my husband and I were in college, I remember having conversations with him about how we were never going to be those people who drive an SUV and live in the suburbs. It never occurred to me I would be a stay-at-home mom. After all, I was at one of the best journalism schools in the country; I was going to be somebody.  I was going to change the world and make everyone see how wasteful it is to live in big houses lit up with incandescent light bulbs while you drive your gas guzzler home from a big box store with your groceries in plastic bags.

But then a funny thing happened. We made practical choices as life paraded by. We did live in the city when my husband was in graduate school, I rode my bike to work, and he took the bus to school. We lived in a small apartment in a walkable neighborhood.  Then we decided to have a baby. And this is really where it all goes awry because your perspective changes. My husband took a job in a new city, and it just seemed practical for me to stay home. We were going to buy a small house close to downtown. It turns out that when you get past the feel-good idea, that usually means marginal school districts and old (charming) houses with asbestos and lead paint and no backyard to play in.  So we made a practical choice – we moved to the suburbs. But we still drove a small, efficient car, and there was still no way I was going to get a jogging stroller. Hell, I can run with the umbrella stroller (and I did!). We don’t need to be those people who have three strollers. Then we had our second baby. My husband is tall and we couldn’t find a small, efficient car that would accommodate his long legs and a rear-facing infant seat. We bought a (small) SUV. Sigh. I even got a double jogging stroller. Turns out, they’re awesome. And now, ten years later, I’m exactly what I said I would never be.


This is how the east side rolls.

We second guess our choices all the time. Did we give up on our values? Should we have tried harder to stomach the idea of paying $500,000 for a small house on a teeny tiny lot with no yard that was built in 1930 and needs all new everything? It’s these (relatively) small individual practical choices that pile up to turn you into everything you never thought you were. And then here you are, going, “Man. Am I that guy?”

But I don’t think we’ve really changed. I think we’re still the same people, we just didn’t really know what we were talking about back in college, because we didn’t have kids to raise. We didn’t have to be adults, making real adult choices that will actually impact our long-term future. We weren’t thinking about 401k plans and health insurance benefits. We hadn’t really considered the quality of the school district. I admit, some people seem to do it all, we just made different choices.  But, dammit, I still use canvas bags, and we still use compact fluorescent bulbs (and now LEDs).  We drive our smaller car whenever possible, and my husband often takes the bus to work. We’re teaching our kids to conserve and reduce consumption.  I nursed both kids, made my own baby food, and we tried (albeit only for a year) cloth diapers.

So, I guess I should have just been proud of where I live and the decisions we’ve made and straight-up told those moms the truth. Because I am proud of how we live our lives and I think we’re doing the right thing. We west siders aren’t all that different from the east siders, we’re all just trying to do the best we can.


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Sometimes I Lose Friends Over My Opinions

friends-1Moving to Portland from the Midwest has been an interesting journey. When we moved here we didn’t know a single person, and I misjudged how hard that is. When you’re at home with two little ones, it can be very isolating, even with a support group of friends. Without them, it’s even harder. So one of the first things I did, before we moved here, was to join a few Mom groups through Meetup.com. That way I could hit the ground running when we got here (literally, one of them was a group called Running Mamas that proved very useful in finding flat-ish routes to run in Portland with a double jogger.) Almost immediately I was introduced to what I’m going to call Momlandia.

Nov 2013-1

Portland is pretty notorious for being an eccentric, foodie, and liberal city. So much so that there’s a very successful show that pokes fun at Portlanders. This stereotype-that-is-kind-of-true is one of the many things that make it so interesting to live here.  Nowhere is that stereotype more ubiquitous than among moms. I’m not sure if it’s just Portland, or if this movement of every-conversation-must-evolve-around-what’s-bad-for-our-kids coincided with our move, but it sure became amplified when we moved here. We went to playdates where it seemed everyone was an expert in something: what kind of “milk” you should feed your child (I put milk in quotes because I don’t consider hemp milk to actually be any kind of milk, it’s really just hemp juice), how much processed food they should or shouldn’t have, how close cell phone towers should be to schools, how long you should nurse your baby, and of course, whether or not you should eat organic. How did all these moms become experts? At no time during either of my pregnancies was there a mandatory education on flame retardants used in children’s pajamas. No one gave me a test to see if I knew where to find pesticide residue data on the USDA’s website. In fact, I don’t remember feeling any smarter or more informed after the birth of my children. I felt like I knew nothing at all. I was super panicked when the nurse left my husband and me alone in the hospital room with our first born. “Wait, what? You’re going to leave us alone with her?! What if we don’t know what to do?”

Maybe this feeling is what drives parents to dive head-first into the internet for information. And I guess once you’ve read a few CNN and Huffington Post articles, you can speak like an expert about certain topics at a playdate. Thirty minutes of googling something is certainly enough information. Frankly, that’s probably all the time most parents have to commit to a topic. Especially when there are 800 topics of concern. We can’t all be experts on everything. And most of us are experts on nothing at all, so let’s make sure we’re aware of our limitations and keep an open mind. You never know, though, when someone actually does know what they’re talking about.  If you’re going to have a conversation with another parent about something you feel strongly about, make sure you actually listen to what they’re saying, instead of just waiting for your turn to talk.

This conclusion hasn’t come easy to me, though. Poor assumptions were made early on. I was probably too arrogant about my own beliefs and spewed out smug sounding information about why I thought it was a waste of money to buy organic produce. Which is why I attracted the attention of a certain friend who believed adamantly that it was important to buy organic. I’d like to think I wasn’t judgy and that I kept an open mind, although I can’t be sure. I certainly remember recognizing early on that she and I were probably never going to see eye-to-eye, but that was ok with me. I have a really close friend who is very religious and she knows I’m not, and we’re both ok with that. We just don’t really talk about it, and I figured this would be the same. But I was new to Momlandia.

My friend started emailing me “information,” and it felt like every conversation we had ended in her questioning my approach. At some point I told her we’d just have to agree to disagree. Then one day she forwarded me an email from her mom’s CSA about organic produce being more nutritious than conventionally grown produce.  “You should really think about this,” she said. There was a chart that appeared to compare nutrients in organic produce versus conventionally grown produce, a study done by Rutgers University. The CSA was using it as an example why you, good organic customer, are doing the right thing. Turns out, the study was done in 1948 (you know, back in 1948 when everyone was thinking about the organic vs conventional debate …) and compares produce grown in soil with a high organic content to produce grown in soil with a high inorganic content (like rocky soil.) And, to top it all off, Rutgers has included a sectiontable about why this study says nothing about the nutrition of organic versus conventional produce. They explicitly say the findings do not support that and people often mis-quote their study that way. Weird… So, in the heat of the moment, I emailed my friend’s CSA and blind copied her, letting them know of their (certainly well-intentioned) mistake.  My friend did not appreciate this, and that was the end of our friendship. She basically told me she didn’t need science to know she was right about pesticides, and she didn’t want to be friends with someone who didn’t respect the earth. I didn’t think our difference of opinion was a deal breaker for our friendship, but she did. Which is too bad, because otherwise we got along great and I really liked her. Our kids enjoyed hanging out and we had a lot in common. But sometimes we moms are so convinced that we know what’s best that we don’t even want to hear what you have to say.

I learned a few things from that experience. I’ve learned you can’t take it upon yourself to “educate” someone if you’re not really interested in listening to and actually thinking about what they have to say. I’ve also learned that I need to be sure to respect everyone’s opinion. You’re entitled to your own opinion, even if it sucks and is based on pure emotion. I try now to pick my battles and listen more than I lecture, but it’s hard. Especially when I see friends post just inanely inaccurate stuff on Facebook or when I see a list posted on a friend’s refrigerator of foods to avoid because Monsanto makes them. (Since when does Monsanto package food and sell it to consumers?) I come face-to-face with mis-information and ignorance all the time. When I was filling out paperwork at a temp agency for some contract work I do for Monsanto, the woman who was processing the paperwork looked at the company name and said, “Monsanto? Who would want to work for them??” Um… obviously me. I’m sitting here filling out the paperwork, and PS: they’re a client of your agency. (To be up front, this is my personal blog, I write what I want and it is not connected to or compensated by Monsanto.)

I feel like I’m smarter about how I voice my opinions now, but it has cost me some friendships. That’s life, I guess.  Fortunately, I’ve also found lots of great friends. Some of them only serve their kids hemp milk or raw milk cheese, but that’s ok. And I definitely still meet judgy moms who look down on me for throwing caution to the wind and not shopping at Whole Foods. But I hope I can approach it better now. It doesn’t only apply to food, either. I also get the judgy look sometimes when my kids aren’t wearing a coat when it is too cold by someone else’s standard and sometimes I wonder why parents are out to dinner with their kids at 9:00 at night, but everyone has their own reason for doing what they do. We need to make sure we choose our judgy thoughts (and conversations) carefully. Let’s all be open-minded and use our Mom Sense.

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