As you walk down the grocery store aisle, you haphazardly fill your shopping cart with whatever glossy packaging and familiar brands strike your fancy. Unbeknownst to you, the items you purchase could contain ingredients, testing, and packaging that would disturb and disgust you. By buying environmentally conscious goods and becoming aware of the power of the purchase, you give more importance to a run to the grocery store. By voting with your dollars, you can influence the standards by which products are regulated in this country.

Eating organic does not mean simply eating healthy food. Organic foods support healthy ecosystems and fairly paid workers. The people who labor in the fields are often subject to pesticides that have the capacity to seriously injure or handicap those exposed. Some fruits and vegetables are more prone to absorb pesticides than others, so ingesting these foods will expose you to pesticides. Make sure your food purchases are USDA organic certified. Many companies will label their products organic, but USDA approval is the only sure-fire sign of knowing your food is organically grown and harvested.

Try to purchase locally grown food to support local farmers and reduce the greenhouse gases emitted in transporting goods. Check out the downtown Santa Barbara farmers’ markets on Saturday and Tuesday, as well as the Camino Real Marketplace farmers’ market on Sunday. Food travels approximately 1,500 miles to reach your dinner plate according to All of these miles add up to more pollution, fuel consumption and a continually degraded environment. Plus, I’ve always found locally grown foods to taste crisper, more flavorful, and often eggs grown locally will be bigger.

Buy fair trade and organic tea and coffee to ensure toxic-free processing, ecosystem preservation and decent treatment for the people who work to harvest and cultivate tea leaves and coffee beans. In addition to buying fair trade, purchasing a reusable mug will spare the plastic, paper and energy necessary to manufacture disposable coffee cups and sleeves. I’ve seen some people in classes go all out with their reusable mugs, decorating them with pictures of family and friends, adding personalization a throw-away cup could never achieve.

In addition to food, the items you use to maintain your appearance should be purchased cautiously because there are many unregulated chemicals used in cosmetics. Deodorant/antiperspirant combinations, usually using aluminum to prevent the body from eliminating toxins, can cause a general inflammation of the body. Conflicting studies concerning the cancer-causing properties of antiperspirant containing aluminum have convinced me to discontinue use for good. Tom’s of Maine makes a natural deodorant using hops to fight odor, and I’ve found this deodorant to be just as effective as odor-stoppers containing aluminum. When reading about Tom’s of Maine’s natural whitening toothpaste on the Web site, I couldn’t help but laugh about a pregnant user’s comment about how Tom’s toothpaste was the only toothpaste she could use without making her sick. If Crest or Colgate makes you gag from their overwhelming processed scent, Tom’s of Maine spearmint whitening is the toothpaste for you.

Cleaning products contain toxic substances, which contaminate the water supply. Instead of using harmful chemicals like bleach, a combination of baking soda and vinegar can be used to clean almost anything. Even Clorox has picked up on environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, launching their green line of cleaning supplies, called “Green Works,” endorsed by the Sierra Club. Instead of toxic chemicals cycling through the water supply, using more natural and less damaging ingredients will help maintain a clean water source. I bought an all-purpose cleaner from the Co-Op called CitraSolv, and its orange fragrance is a welcomed break from the stingingly chemical properties of products like Comet and Ajax. CitraSolv can be used on virtually anything: toilets, sinks, kitchen counters and floors.

Buying environmentally friendly products does not have to be a hassle. Simply paying attention to labels and educating oneself about the hazards of some of the products on our grocery store shelves can help preserve the endangered earth and eliminate some of the toxins we face in our everyday lives.