Thoughts on Eco-Crafting, Cooking, and Family Magazines

The latest issue of Family Fun magazine came in the mail today.  It’s a magazine I’ve subscribed to for years, long after I quit reading most parenting and family type magazines.  I’ve loved that there is a place that still seemed to embrace making old-fashioned crafts, things like construction paper valentines and make-your-own family birthday cakes, and pull-it-together Halloween costumes.  In a time when so many things must be “professional” and slick and over-processed, I appreciate ideas for activities for kids that could have been used by me in Girls Scouts 35 years ago just as easily as by my own children and young friends today. 

Still, today as I was reading, while I found a few good ideas, I realized that I’ve really changed in recent months.  I found myself reacting to many ideas in the magazine more than I was tucking them away to share with kids in my life. 

In the last year or so, I’ve done lots of reading and changing and trying to figure out how to live more lightly on the planet.  I’ve been trying to recycle and reuse as much as I can.  I buy locally from small businesses as much as possible. I buy used books.  I eat locally as much as I can, and try to stick to fresh foods that are in season.  I avoid as much plastic as I can. I use cloth bags for grocery shopping.  I know that I probably still use more than my share of the earth’s resources, but I’m trying to change and be more thoughtful in my choices.  Also, our family stopped eating foods with artificial colors and flavors several years ago for health reasons.

So, today, as I quickly glanced through the magazine, the first thing that caught my eye was the healthy heart shaped Valentine snacks- cut out of pieces of watermelon.  Rather than how cute and healthy it was, I wondered how many thousands of miles that watermelon had to travel to get to a supermarket this time of year.  Since watermelon is a very heavy fruit, I’m betting it took quite a bit of fuel to get it to a supermarket near me, and after all of that travel, the nutrient value is probably diminished, too.  And really, it probably wouldn’t even taste good, as every out-of-season-watermelon-wedge on a restaurant plate I’ve ever tasted has had less than stellar flavor.  No thank you, I’ll keep eating the delicious watermelons in summer that grow just down the road from me.  Surely, there is some other healthy snack available with less negative environmental impact.

Then, I saw the how-to-make-a-coiled basket page.  I thought it was a good idea, but thought it would have been a great place to mention how cut up old t-shirts or other cast off clothing would work great for fabric.  If I really wanted something not already in my house, I know there are tons of cool patterns to be found in the clothing at my favorite local humane society thrift store.  I could have a fun outing with my kids, choosing our “fabric,” help care for local animals with the money we spend, and be recycling some articles of clothing.  There could possibly be a few tips about cutting up recycled clothing into strips to use for this sort of project. I’ve also been thinking that old jeans might be able to be cut into strips to use as the coiling rope- or maybe some cut up t-shirt strips that are braided together.  Something to try very soon- then my cut-up- a-t-shirt instructions could be used for something more than knitting!

Then there were the Styrofoam animals.  Yes, they are cute, but there is no way I could bring myself to purchase Styrofoam any more.  I don’t have any quick alternatives at the moment, but I’m vaguely remembering a sheep my daughter made at some long ago event made from recycled cardboard, some yarn and sticks.  I’m sure if I really wanted to make some cute little creatures, I could come up with something recycled or at least more eco-friendly than all of that Styrofoam. 

And then, there was a little section about food myths.  I didn’t read them all, but I did read the one about sugar.  They said that studies showed that sugar was not the culprit in hyperactivity at things like birthday parties.  They mentioned that it was probably mostly the excitement.  However, the recent double-blind study reported in The Lancet showed that especially in young children, it wasn’t the sugar in the birthday cake, but there WAS another culprit there- the artificial flavors and colors.  Those things were shown to truly affect kids, causing hyperactivity even in kids that weren’t diagnosed as hyperactive.  I really wished they’d added THAT part of the study.  It would be really cool to see an article talking about some of the natural colors that are available, and how to make some of them easily at home on your own.  One of the easiest- concentrated beet juice- would have been great in a Valentine issue as it can color frosting anything from soft to an amazingly shocking pink. 

The orange-wedge-filled-with-gelatin feature brought a similar reaction.  The recipe could have talked about making your own gelatin out of the juice of the oranges, possibly some other fruit juices and unflavored gelatin powder. It would be nice to at least have a mention of an alternative to the store-version gelatin that was suggested, which is full of artificial flavors and colors.  I’d even be fine with a little sugar in the recipe, and maybe a mention that if  a brighter color was desired, that there is a brand of natural food coloring that is a lovely orange that comes from the plant, annatto.    

I dream of an issue full of all-natural birthday cakes and recycled crafts.  Maybe something made from the shiny silver found inside granola bar wrapping (I admit that I buy these more often than I make them :) ). Possibly a craft involving making your own paper out of old junk mail- that you could then use to make those hand-made valentines I love.  And then maybe a reminder to start collecting your onion skins now, to have a good amount for coloring Easter eggs in a couple of months. 

I’m not going to hold my breath that I will see this sometime soon on a newsstand near me.  However, maybe a few of these alternative ideas will soon appear in my blog. I guess I’m still thankful for the inspiration of this magazine- even if it’s not quite in the way that they expected to inspire me :). 



  1. January 11, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Oh my goodness!! You read my mind while I was reading it as well. Our family isn’t as advanced in our decisions as your but I agree with every point you made. I looked at those watermelon treats and thought what a waste-it’s not the right season and too much while be tossed! I can’t agree more with you on the sugar issue. I don’t care what study comes out I see it when my oldest has sugar-and it’s not at a birthday party. I was also so disappointed to hear people having to make gelatin for kids to eat fruit. Fruit is a treat! Gelatin has so many artifical colorings it should rarely be used.
    Well thanks for reading my mind while I read the issue :)
    Debbie aka The Real World Martha(S)

  2. Jane Hersey said,

    January 12, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    You are so right about the harm from artificial colorings that are being used in enormous amounts in our food! Did you know that dyes like Red 40 and Yellow 5 are made from petroleum? And that most of them start out in petroleum refineries in China!?
    You are also correct that there are lots of natural alternatives, from using beet juice to make frosting pink to buying natural dyes and colored sugars. The non-profit Feingold Association of the US has been helping families find better choices for more than 3 decades. (
    The discussions about sugar generally overlook the fact that most junky foods today do not use sugar…they use the cheaper high fructose corn syrup, which is much different. When you cut out “sugar” you are also eliminating the worst of the synthetic additives – artificial colors, flavors and many preservatives. This is the likely reason children calm down.
    And the foods we generally focus on – supermarket foods and fast foods – are often not as bad as what is being fed to our kids in school. For a rather shocking wake-up call check out the introductory slide show on what most schools are REALLY feeding our kids:

  3. jacidawn said,

    January 22, 2008 at 6:53 am

    I love how creative you are! As I was reading it, I realized that’s exactly how I put together my masks &c – I go to the thrift store and recycle fabric from old clothes. Of course, there are some “new” things in there, but I try to stay with recycled wire & fabric.
    Oh – and thanks for reminding me to start saving onion skins! I love to dye my Easter eggs naturally.

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