The Imperfect Environmentalist

A Practical Guide to Clearing Your Body, Detoxing Your Home, and Saving the Earth (Without Losing Your Mind)

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Actress, producer, mother, and imperfect environmentalist, Sara Gilbert understands how helping the environment can seem overwhelming. Between keeping up with work, friends, and kids, who has the time or money to maintain a compost pile, become an activist, or knit a sweater out of recycled grocery bags? Fortunately, we now know that small changes here and there in our everyday lives can make a big impact on the environment. We just need to know where to begin. That’s where Gilbert comes in, with this tongue-in-cheek reference guide packed full of helpful information, available at your fingertips. Read it cover to cover or just open it up to a random page; you can take what you want from it when you want. Whether you’ve got money to burn or have to crash on a friend’s couch, here are all of the eco-essentials to get the planet back on track, and you won’t have to hug a single tree—unless tree-hugging is your thing.
Sharing the basics on health and beauty, work and money, home and gardening, family and fitness, and more, The Imperfect Environmentalist cuts through the clutter—both in our homes and in our heads—and offers simple approaches to help us clear out the pollutants, put down the poisons, and begin to breathe easy again—one 100% recycled page at a time.

Advance praise for The Imperfect Environmentalist
“This book really opened my eyes. Then my eyes started stinging and tearing from all the toxins in the environment I’m now aware of. Thanks, Sara, I have a lot to do now.”—Lisa Kudrow
“Sara’s passion and commitment to the environment have given me an awareness that I never had before about our planet. I learn from Sara every day and she makes me want to be a better person. See, you can teach an old dog new tricks.”—Sharon Osbourne

Under the Cover

An excerpt from The Imperfect Environmentalist

chapter one

clean eating and drinking

Why don’t we pay more attention to who our farmers are? We would never be as careless choosing an auto mechanic or babysitter as we are about who grows our food.

—­Michael Pollan, journalist and environmentalist, The Botany of Desire

We Are What We Eat

What we eat affects who we are, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. For me, clean eating and drinking is about starting from the inside out. It’s the environmental issue closest to my heart and the place to begin. I became a vegetarian because I’m strict and weird and like to control things. I was thirteen, so I felt good all the time anyway. Years later, when I became a vegan, I ­really felt it in my body. I immediately had more energy and watched an extra layer of fat just melt off. When I began having some stomach problems, I started seeing food as medicine and became ­macrobiotic—my stomach was suddenly fine, my skin got clearer, my energy became even throughout the day, and my overall mood improved. This isn’t to say I’m not moody, but . . . not as moody. And to me ­that’s worth eating all the berries and twigs I can find.

Even the Water’s Not Safe?

Cut to the Chase, Hippie: ­What’s the Least I Need to Know?

Safe drinking water isn’t just something to worry about on your tropical vacation. U.S. tap water is ridden with arsenic, lead, and pharmaceutical drugs. In short: Get a filter.

Intriguing . . . I Can Handle a Little More

Tap water has been protected under the Safe Drinking Water Act since 1974, but experts warn that the water in our pipes increasingly ­doesn’t meet ­health-­safety guidelines. My tap water contains a horrifying thirty ­pollutants—­including ille­gal levels of ­by-­products from disinfectants, and dangerous amounts of arsenic and chloroform. How do I know? I went to the Environmental Working Group’s website and typed my zip code into the “What’s in your water?” tool. You can, too. ­Here’s their website: ­​-­water/​home.

So grab the bottled water off the ­grocery-­store shelf? Not so fast. Is that glass or plastic bottle going to wind up in a landfill? And just because it’s bottled ­doesn’t mean it’s chemical-­free. If the water in your area is suspicious, stay hydrated by investing in a filter for your tap. Currently the two most popular types of filters are reverse osmosis and ionizing or alkaline filters. There are arguments in favor of both sides, but basically proponents of reverse osmosis filters claim that they get the water more pure by actually removing most of the chemicals. People who like ionizing filters say that because of the purification process, reverse osmosis water is overly stripped of minerals and therefore “dead” and acidic. Since the water ­doesn’t have enough minerals, our bodies own are leached as we process it.

Fans of ionized water also say that it is more hydrating and boast that it is alkaline, which is supposed to be a good thing, I guess. So far there are no real comprehensive ­long-­term studies on which water is better, so go with your gut.

You can go to a hardware store or pick up a unit online where there are stores that specialize in water filters.

I chose a company called A Divine H2O since they offer a system that combines reverse osmosis with an alkaline system that remineralizes the water, because I figure more is more. Plus they set positive intentions on the tank in the back of their store, so I mean, how can I not buy happy water? Once your tap water is filtered, take it with you in a reusable stainless steel or glass container.

If you do need to rely on bottled water, choose a local brand in a glass bottle. I mean, do you ­really need your water to come from Fiji?

I Need Some Facts to Bore My Friends With

Why no plastic? Well, most water bottles are made with plastics called “polycarbonates,” which leak low levels of BPA into everything the plastic touches, including cool water. High BPA levels ­are associated ­with heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, and abnormally high levels of certain liver enzymes. It’s one of many chemicals classified as an endocrine disruptor, which is why polycarbonates are banned for use in baby bottles in Europe and Canada. Good news: As I write this, BPAs have been banned in the United States, too. Because, hey, if BPAs ­aren’t good for Canadian babies, I’m going to bet they’re not that great for the rest of us.

Organic Matters: You Are What You Eat

Cut to the Chase, Hippie: ­What’s the Least I Need to Know?

Anything you’re going to eat without peeling should be organic, but the inside of organic produce is better, ­too—­with up to 40 percent higher levels of nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, and iron.

Intriguing . . . I Can Handle a Little More

My grandma used to say, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but maybe not when that apple’s been treated with methylcyclopropene, a chemical gas that prevents fruit from ripening and makes that conventionally grown Fuji look fresh even if it’s a full year old. Yes. A year old. The only way to be sure your produce is fresh and ­pesticide-­free is to buy 100 percent certified organic food, which has to comply with regulations that severely limit the use of additives and fortifiers, and requires it be grown in a way that maintains the integrity of the soil and is in harmony with the larger ecosystem.

I Need Some Facts to Bore My Friends With

From personal health to global sustainability, organic food is truly at the heart of a sustainable lifestyle.

Every time you cook a meal with organic food, you’re not only doing your body a favor but the earth, too. Organic farming reduces pollutants in groundwater and creates richer soil that aids plant growth while reducing erosion. Now, that is a ­really boring ­fact—­don’t pull it out on a first date.

I’m Donald Trump

Buy all organic all the time and eat only at certified organic restaurants.

Okay, I’ve Got My Own Place, But I’ve Also Got Credit Card Debt

If you’re going to peel it, go ahead and buy the conventional produce, but when it comes to berries, make an organic vow—­nonorganic blueberries have been found to be laced with as many as ­fifty-­two different pesticides, and ­off-­season strawberries are often shipped from countries with no pesticide regulations.

I’m Sleeping on My Friend’s Couch and Eating Ramen Noodles

Wash nonorganic fruits and vegetables in a colander in the sink. Use a little baking soda and a nail brush and dry them off before eating. This will remove most of the pesticides and wax, making your produce safer to eat.

Eating Local: Because You ­Wouldn’t Drive All Day to Pick Up a Tomato

Cut to the Chase, Hippie: ­What’s the Least I Need to Know?

When eating out, ask your server ­what’s local. Order it.

Intriguing . . . I Can Handle a Little More

Buying and eating locally grown food is good for the local economy because it keeps our dollars circulating close to home. It’s environmentally friendly, because the food ­doesn’t have to be transported long distances, requiring both fuel and preservatives. And local fruits and vegetables are better for our ­health—­when food is picked ripe it tastes better and maintains its nutritional value.

I take my kids to the farmer’s ­market—­knowing I’m buying local and fresh makes the humiliation of the little ­choo-­choo train ride worthwhile.

If you don’t have a ­year-­round farmer’s market near you, ask your neighborhood grocer to offer more local options, or join a ­CSA—­that’s community supported agriculture, a popular way for consumers to buy seasonal food directly from area farmers. Go to for the ­low-­down on where to find the best food grown closest to where you live.

I Need Some Facts to Bore My Friends With

According to a study by the New Economics Foundation in London, every dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. When businesses ­are owned remotely, money leaves the community with each and every transaction.

Produce ­that’s purchased in a supermarket has often been in transit or ­cold-­stored for days or weeks. In comparison, produce at your local farmer’s market has often been picked within the last twenty-­four hours.

And it turns out that eating local is even more important for air quality and pollution than eating organic. A 2005 Food Policy Journal study found that the miles organic food often travels to our plate creates environmental damage that outweighs the benefit of buying organic. So go to that farmer’s market, suffer the ­choo-­choo train, and buy local and organic.

I’m-a-Better-Mom-Than-You Bonus

If you join a CSA, you can visit the farm once or twice each season. With that personal connection, parents find that kids favor food from “their” ­farm—­even vegetables they’ve never been known to eat before.

Eating Out: From Greasy Spoons to Fine Green Dining

Cut to the Chase, Hippie: ­What’s the Least I Need to Know?

Stuck at an ­earth-­hating restaurant? Even if there ­aren’t specific local or organic options on a menu, you can reduce your environmental impact by ordering things lower on the food chain. For example, chicken has a lower environmental impact than beef, while sustainable seafood has a lower impact than chicken. Vegetarian and vegan items have the lowest impact of all.

Intriguing . . . I Can Handle a Little More

There are more certified organic restaurants than ever, and many feature seasonal and locally grown produce and ­hormone-free meat. Plan ­ahead—­before you’re faint from hunger, check out the Green Restaurant Association’s online “find a restaurant” search engine for your local options:

On a good day, you could find yourself in a restaurant that serves all natural options; otherwise, staying green and dining out is a matter of strategy. For businesses, there is a big difference between incorporating organic items into the menu and actual certification, so many restaurants serve food ­that’s somewhere between 100 percent organic and ­deep-­fried with MSG. Many menus will offer just a few organic or locally grown dishes; these restaurateurs are proud of their organic offerings and will most likely highlight them on the list. If you don’t see anything organic, ask for more information from your server. Your inquiry might result in just one green addition to your meal, but even the inquiry encourages restaurants to keep or add more natural choices. I personally ask so many questions at restaurants, I can only imagine what organic items have been put on my plate.

I Need Some Facts to Bore My Friends With

American restaurants throw away an estimated six thousand tons of food every day. All that food rotting in landfills contributes to global ­warming—­see, when it decomposes, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas ­twenty-­one times more damaging than carbon dioxide. So no matter what you’re eating or where you’re eating it, be conscious about how hungry you ­really are. And if you don’t mind people looking at you like you’re a total freak (yes, I’ve done it), bring your own ­to-­go container for leftovers. Even if only your dog or chicken is going to eat your old pizza, it’s better than letting it blow a hole in the ozone.

Where Does Your Meat Come From? Do You Even Want to Know?

Cut to the Chase, Hippie: ­What’s the Least I Need to Know?

Deforestation, animal cruelty, dangerous work conditions in packing ­plants—­the meat industry is a green nightmare at virtually every level. If you eat meat, buy it from smaller, local, certified organic ­sources—­it won’t contain added chemicals, antibiotics, or growth hormones.

Intriguing . . . I Can Handle a Little More

About 200,000 acres of rain forest are being destroyed every ­twenty-­four hours, mostly for cattle ranching. So while cows munch their way across the Amazon, only to be slaughtered and turned into greasy hamburgers, nearly half ­of the world’s species of plants, animals, and microorganisms are threatened due to deforestation. Speaking of hamburgers, because of the way large slaughterhouses operate, one study found that any single four-ounce patty was actually made up of anywhere from 55 to 1,082 different cows. Yes, you read that right. If ­that’s not enough, the cattle industry is also responsible for 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions.

The global environmental picture aside, standard meat industry practices are cruel to both workers and animals. Workers in the ­meat-­packing industry are paid little for dangerous jobs in ­close-­quartered spaces littered with animal remains. In 2005, Human Rights Watch released a report called “Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants,” which exposed basic human rights violations. It turns out that rates of injury, extreme tem­peratures, and denial of bathroom use are alarmingly commonplace.

As for the livestock, being raised for food means a life of torture. The factory farming industry strives to maximize profits by cramming animals into tiny, filthy spaces, drugging them to fatten them faster and keep them alive in deadly living conditions, and genetically altering them to grow bigger or to produce more milk or eggs.

When local organic meat isn’t available, you might opt for a local Muslim butcher. Halal meat is raised and slaughtered in somewhat more humane conditions. Praying five times a day optional.

I Need Some Facts to Bore My Friends With

Of the ­thirty-­two pounds of feed your average cow consumes in a day, 75 percent of that is corn. But corn isn’t good for the land, and it isn’t good for cows. First of all, corn is grown as a monoculture, meaning that the land is used just for corn and isn’t rotated, which depletes soil nutrients, contributes to erosion, and ends up requiring more pesticides and fertilizer that, in turn, have been linked to oceanic “dead zones” and endocrine disruptions in animals, such as turning male frogs into hermaphrodites. As for the cows, their stomachs weren’t made to digest corn. With the masses of corn being devoured, cows develop ­acidosis—­or ­really terrible cow heartburn. “Acidotic animals go off their feed, pant and salivate excessively, paw and scratch their bellies, and eat dirt,” says author Michael Pollan. “The condition can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, rumenitis, liver disease, and a general weakening of the immune system.” Sound appetizing?

The ­Drive-­thru: Going Nowhere Fast

Cut to the Chase, Hippie: ­What’s the Least I Need to Know?

National ­fast-­food joints sell a hydrogenated fat and high-­fructose corn syrup dining ­experience—­it’s cheap in the short term, but it’s deadly. If there’s a healthier way to eat at a ­fast-­food restaurant, it’s probably to drink water and order a salad without dressing. Actually, hold the water, since ­that’s in a plastic bottle; and might as well hold the salad, too, since ­that’s probably modified and certainly full of pesticides.

- About the author -

Sara Gilbert is creator, executive producer, and co-host of CBS’s Emmy-nominated The Talk. She first captured America’s heart in her role as Darlene Conner in the long-running hit series Roseanne, for which she received two Emmy nominations. Since then she has appeared in movies and regularly on a variety of television shows, including The Big Bang Theory, ER, and 24. The vegan mother of two and a magna cum laude graduate of Yale, Gilbert has established herself in the Hollywood community and beyond as a trusted voice on family, health, parenting, and eco-conscious living.

More from Sara Gilbert

The Imperfect Environmentalist

A Practical Guide to Clearing Your Body, Detoxing Your Home, and Saving the Earth (Without Losing Your Mind)


The Imperfect Environmentalist

— Published by Ballantine Books —