Book Review ~ The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Way back when I first started reading green blogs about four years ago (which is ancient history in internet time), the very first blog that I began to read religiously was Crunchy Chicken, written by Deanna Duke. I checked out what Deanna was up to each day when I got home from school, and on weekends she was my first online stop when I got up in the morning. Crunchy Chicken was (and still is) hard-core green with a lot of entertainment and a touch of reality, too.  Her posts were fun to read as well as informative, and I found tons of support, camaraderie, tips and even friendship in the comments of her posts. But what I love the most about Crunchy Chicken is that Deanna encourages me to go even farther into sustainability by hosting challenges like Freeze Yer BunsPioneer Week, and the Diva Cup Challenge. Whenever I read about a new challenge that she’s come up with I think “I’m not sure if I can do it, but I know Crunchy Chicken will make it fun so I’ll join in!”

All of that gushing is the long version of me explaining why I was so excited when Deanna asked me to be part of her blog book tour for her new book The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You. I had really high expectations for her book based on years of reading her blog, and she did not disappoint. Though I found the overall tone of her book to be more serious than her blog, it really appealed to the science nerd in me. I loved the premise that Deanna gets herself tested for a variety of toxic substances, makes tons of lifestyle changes and then gets tested again at the end of the project to see if her levels improved. I’ve often wondered if all of these little moves toward sustainability and reducing our toxic exposure are really worth it, if they really do add up, and Deanna sets out to answer that problem.

The book is written almost like a series of blog posts, with each chronological chapter broken up into multiple subsections on everything from picking out house plants, finding non-toxic pajamas for her kids, buying a new vacuum or choosing Christmas lights. Since I hardly ever have more than 20 minutes to sit down and read, and often much less than that, I found this style of writing to be appealing. My reading didn’t feel so fragmented because I was often able to begin and finish a subsection in one sitting. The sections are also clearly labeled (sometimes with tongue-in-cheek titles) which makes it user-friendly when I want to reread something on, let’s say, the problems with parabens and phthalates.

I was so happy that Deanna showed the reality of how difficult it can be to make these changes to her lifestyle. Lack of accurate labeling, constant internet research, difficulty finding safe products in stores and the need to make compromises were some of the challenges Deanna dealt with throughout the course of her project. She honestly discusses which products she loved and which she didn’t, and she names names, which I think is really important. She also includes recipes for homemade products when she found those to be the best for the job.

As I said earlier, what I really appreciate about Crunchy Chicken (I’m sorry Deanna, that’s your name to me whether you like it or not!) is how she always challenges me to do a little better, be a little more sustainable. After reading the section of parabens and phthalates, I went into my bathroom and started reading labels. I admit that I have become a little lackadaisical when it comes to personal care products and never really focused on the dangers of their ingredients, besides “fragrance” which has always bothered my allergies. The majority of products that I use are Burt’s Bees, on which I was pleased to find the disclaimer “Never any parabens, phthalates, sulfates or petrochemicals,” so that made me feel a little bit better. But when I picked up 21-month-old Joshua’s toothpaste, that was the real shocker. He uses “toddler toothpaste” which doesn’t have any fluoride (fluoride and fluoridated water is also detailed in the book) so I figured it was safe for him to swallow. Imagine my surprise and outrage when I found both methylparaben and propylparaben on the label. This is a product that is marketed specifically for toddlers, and it contains parabens!

Deanna challenges me to do better, so here are five resolutions that I have made after reading her book:

  1. Find a new toxin-free toothpaste for Joshua
  2. Try out crystal deodorant for myself, and switch Ed to Certain Dri
  3. Switch to toxin-free bar soap, and try out shampoo bars
  4. Try coconut oil as a moisturizer
  5. Switch to Ecover dishwasher tablets

So, you’re probably wondering if Deanna’s quest to remove toxins really was worth all the trouble. Well, I’m not going to spoil that surprise! Go ahead and read The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You and find out for yourself.

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