An Interview with Alexandra Zissu

Toxins and reproductive health were in the news again last week, when ACOG released a statement.  You can read my response and share what you think. As you probably know, especially if you’ve been following me for a while, this is a topic that I’m really passionate about and that I believe is a key component to living a healthy and empowered life. I ran a detox last fall that focused specifically on the toxins in our homes, and I’ll be teaching a class on that topic in just a few weeks. Speaking of the class, there are still spaces available, but they are limited, so if you’re thinking about it, register today!

preparing for nontoxic pregnancyA few months ago, I had the honor of interviewing Alexandra Zissu for a project I was working on at the time. I am excited to share this with you now. Alexandra and her co-author Deirdre Dolan were hands down the most influential people on my journey in the early stages of dreaming of becoming a mama.  I hope you enjoy!

You and Deirdre Dolan wrote an incredible book, The Complete Organic Pregnancy. This is the book that jump-started my own journey, so thank you for that. When I found this book, I was working in a bookstore but I hadn’t come across anything else like this before – it was primer for the type of lifestyle that I was hoping to live and that I was hoping to create before I got pregnant. I was looking for it before I even knew it existed.

1. What opened your eyes to the importance of bringing the discussion of toxins out into the open, especially to women of childbearing age?

I was thinking of getting pregnant and a close friend — Deirdre — asked me how I was going to make the rest of my pregnancy as organic as the food I ate. It was a hypothetical conversation that changed my life. I didn’t know how to answer her and started researching and fell fast and hard into the world of environmental health. Before that, despite always eating organic food, I pretty much had no clue about everything and anything from flame retardants to chemicals of concern in everyday products and cosmetics to plastics etc. It was all new. I figured other people at my life stage should know what I was learning. I’m a journalist. I was eager to share my research and sound the alarm loud and clear. Kids are so vulnerable and pregnancy is an amazing time to make good choices. 

2. Did you feel overwhelmed as you started researching for this book and learning more about the prevalence of toxins in our world?  What impact did any feelings of overwhelm have on your life and journey?

Oddly I mainly felt empowered. I felt like I was learning this incredible information that was out in the open but not in one place. And that really easy changes could have such incredibly positive impact on a growing baby and I felt great about all of the choices for the better I was making. I was jazzed about the idea that the choices weren’t just good for me and my baby, but for you and for your baby and for the planet we all share. It just seemed like incredible common sense. I was pissed off, too, to discover that our government lets people–and kids–be guinea pigs while they protect giant corporations. But apparently babies don’t lobby. There have been times then and since when I have been overwhelmed. Usually it’s because of this backwards structure of protection–learning things that are harming us all are considered government protected trade secrets. Or realizing that even with known harms — take lead paint — the burden of safety still falls on parents. It’s always up to us to do the protecting. We need better broad public health policy. We need real federal legislation for safer chemicals. But whenever I’m overwhelmed, I keep researching. And then I tend to write about it. If I can help anyone else going through the same journey, I’m happy to. 

3. Sometimes when it feels like too much, it can seem easier to just ignore the problem instead of taking action.  I think many people feel this way when it comes to toxins because it seems like it’s just too much to actually change. What made you realize that this was too important to ignore? What pushed you into action?

In this realm I just really have always felt like once you know, you can’t unknow. I get annoyed and exhausted just like anyone else but it’s not like I’m just going to suddenly paint my baby’s room with the worst possible product because I’m too overwhelmed to buy the better one. I don’t think it’s easy to ignore or go back once you know as much as I do. My kids and their future are pretty motivating. So are their friends and their parents and my parents. And so on. It’s not too much to change. You cannot change it all. I can reduce my indoor air pollution but then I walk outside into the streets of New York City and talk about air pollution… Because I can’t change that, I like to minimize exposure if and where I can in my own realm. And at my daughter’s school. And so on. It’s only about minimizing what you can, where you can, in an increasingly toxic world. It’s common sense. Make the changes you can and move on. Make more as you learn more. You know?

4. What do you think is the most leveraged action that women can take to feel empowered and in control amidst all of this information?

It really depends on the woman. The best actions to take are ones that are easy for you to do and that have a high return on investment. That tends to be empowering. This can be free, by the way. Adopting a shoes off policy at home is the public health equivalent of washing your hands. And it’s free. Try that. It’s a very empowering action, especially if you have a crawling baby at home. You don’t want her crawling in pesticide residue you tracked inside…. I could go on and on and on with which actions to take, but the most empowering ones are really very individual. It depends on who you are, what life stage you’re at, and what you want to accomplish. There are zillions of things to do!

5. Since The Complete Organic Pregnancy, you’ve written and co-authored a few more books: Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning and Greening the World You Care About Most, The Conscious Kitchen: The New Way to Buy and Cook Food – to Protect the Earth, Improve Your Health, and Eat Deliciously and The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat: How to Buy, Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and More.

What I love about this is that you’ve taken some of the key components from The Complete Organic Pregnancy and delved even deeper into them.  The world of toxins is ever changing.  How can women stay on top of these changes without feeling like they need to become toxins experts themselves?

Thank you. I’m trying. That said I’m supposedly on top of these changes and feel behind and am learning new things daily. It’s a lot to take in. I think if you’re passionate about one realm of environmental health, it’s fairly easy to sign yourself up for various e-newsletters to stay on top of recent news. And I also think if you live by the precautionary principle and shift your purchasing habits so you’re conscious and you vote with your dollars, you’ll likely be able to safeguard yourself, your family, and the earth without having to absolutely know the latest news on every topic. Like if you don’t eat canned food and instead buy fresh, dried or frozen foods in an effort to reduce your exposure to BPA, do you really need to be up on the latest state/town/county that banned BPA from infant toys? No. Because you already have your system set and in place. If you want to know the latest state to ban it, great. But you’re already minimizing your exposure. Does that make sense? Hope so. And if you want to become an expert on toxic substances and environmental health, go for it. We need you. And certainly ask your senators to support the Safer Chemicals Act of 2013.


Alexandra Zissu is an eco lifestyle expert, writer, speaker, and consultant.

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