SocialMom of the Month: Meet Brenna Burke!

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November 1, 2011

Brenna Burke, Almost All the TruthWhile some of us spent our allowances on gum, lip gloss and the latest issue of Tiger Beat magazine — our new SocialMom of the Month sent her money to Save The Whales, and pinned Greenpeace quotes on her bedroom wall. She diligently cut apart plastic rings from six-packs before recycling, determined that no marine animals be harmed in the name of her family’s soft drink consumption.

Meet Brenna Burke, 33, now a Portland, Oregon-based married mom of three (ages 7, 5 and 3) and founder of Almost All the Truth, a blog focusing on “exploring how to improve and protect the health of our children and their world through living, learning, and parenting.” Brenna is also a featured contributor here on SocialMoms.

An environmental studies major in college, Brenna says that back then, “It was more about the big problems of the world: nuclear energy and its toxic waste, protecting endangered species and old growth forests, hunger, human rights. It was all a little abstract and a little naive.”

Once she had her first child, though, Brenna realized how much of the world’s environmental issues are because of the “little things” we do. She started an online boutique selling organic and sustainable products for moms and babies, and began blogging for the business — soon discovering she “liked writing a whole lot more than owning the boutique.”

Although it’s primarily a green parenting blog, Almost All The Truth also has a fun, artistic side — as seen in her Make Things Mondays posts, and a recent post titled “Phizzwizards for Dreamers,” about her children’s creative responses to a Roald Dahl book.

Why can’t we automatically trust labels that say a product is “all natural”?

“Unfortunately, there is no legal definition or regulation of the term ‘all natural.’ There are a few labels that are more trustworthy. Look for a SocialMoms article coming soon about this very topic! One of the better labels to look for is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic label. The 100% Organic label means that products can only contain organically produced ingredients., Organic means that 95% of the ingredients listed must be organically grown. For food, it also means it can’t contain any GMO ingredients.”

Is there a rule of thumb you use for deciding whether you’ll buy a product?

“Like most people, I have to weigh cost with safety. For produce, I often follow the lists of ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and ‘The Clean 15.’ There are some times when I don’t buy organic watermelon due to cost, but I also know that they are on the list of the ‘Clean 15,’ meaning they have little to no traces of pesticides, and are typically safe to consume in non-organic form.”

“For other foods, I have learned enough to be able to decide when buying organic is necessary, but also when I can make it myself at home for less cost and more health. I am really lucky to have a husband that loves to cook and bake from scratch too.”

“For personal care products, I have a list of the worst ingredients I like to avoid. If in doubt I will check the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database (which I try to always remind people is just a good start).”

“For cleaners, I really try to make my own, but also use the above lists if looking for something commercially made.”

If moms are upset about the dangerous ingredients in things like baby shampoo, how do you recommend we take action? How can our voices best be heard?

“First, educate yourself and others. Moms spreading the word and taking consumer action can often lead to faster results from the manufacturers and companies responsible. That is one part of the battle. The other is legislative.”

“A few years back, there was a Salmonella outbreak from a popular snack food. I listened to a mom being interviewed on the radio whose toddler was hospitalized and very ill from that Salmonella poisoning. She was told … that it was HER responsibility to make sure she was buying safe foods, not the responsibility of regulators, or even manufacturers. I was fuming in the car, but she shot back that ‘Salmonella isn’t listed as an ingredient.’ I applauded her retort, but the same applies to the toxic chemicals that we unwittingly expose ourselves and our families to. It IS our responsibility to make safe choices, but we MUST have help from regulatory bodies and manufacturers to make sure we are not poisoning ourselves.”

“This is why I am a supporter of The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 for chemical safety reform. Talk to your legislators, both local, state, and federal. Sign petitions. Support organizations like Healthy Child Healthy World, Environmental Working Group, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, or the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) that are doing the research and the work to keep toxic chemicals away from our children. They also provide easy ways to take action on specific issues.”

Other than the topics represented on Almost All the Truth, what are you passionate about?

“This was a hard one! I feel like I blog about all my passions at one time or another. Maybe some of the less well-known are: public education, photography, Etsy, reading, neuroscience, and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’”

What drives you crazy?

“People who chew with their mouths open. ? Or people that don’t think for themselves and/or are close-minded.”

What fun things do you like doing with your family?

“I love exploring our area and finding new parks, museums, and restaurants; I love crafty projects; I love finding things to do and see that make my kids’ eyes light up; and I love listening to my three well-known joke tellers (even if they are terribly unfunny and make no sense).”

Describe your perfect Saturday.

“We are just wrapping up soccer season and I look forward to having a perfect Saturday soon. That would be waking up lazily and having a hot family breakfast together with the perfect cup of coffee. Lounging about in our pajamas until we just have to get dressed to run about in the backyard or walk and bike through the neighborhood. Lunch would be simple, but so delicious because of all the fresh fall air. We might do some art, or an outing, or read together in the afternoon. Everything would be picked up without a fight or a whine. Dinner would be enjoyed by everyone with lovely conversation and a nice glass of wine for me. The children would be bathed and read to and tucked into bed on time and with sleepy ‘I love yous’ and ‘Good nights.’ My husband and I would enjoy something chocolatey and delicious while enjoying the work of Joss Whedon until my tired head hits the pillow.”

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