Friday, December 16, 2011
Book Review: Green Barbarians
Green Barbarians, Live Bravely on Your Home Planet
Scribner 2006 (259 pages)
The premise of Green Barbarians is fairly simple. We are afraid of the wrong things. According to Sandbeck, people are spending tons of time and money trying to eradicate the germs and microbes that are ever-present in our world. Every day there are new cleaning products, air fresheners, and hygiene products being created to make us feel cleaner and more sterile. Yet it is these same products that should really make us afraid. Sandbeck points out that these products are much more harmful to the environment and our bodies than a few specks of dirt in the kitchen will ever be.
I was optimistic about this book from the start, as I have long agreed with the idea that too much cleanliness is not a good thing. I am a nurse so I actually do feel a little bit like a barbarian even admitting that. There were many points that I agreed with wholeheartedly, such as kitchen sponges are bacteria-laden germ bombs and that dry cleaning is neither convenient nor good for the environment. However, it would be hard to take all of Sandbeck's suggestions seriously. How many of us are green enough to actually use tortillas as napkins? Or completely give up soap and use olive oil and a dry brush instead? Probably not many of us.
There is enough information about the hazards found in modern cosmetics, hair dyes, and detergents to make you lose sleep. It will be hard for you to spray Febreze or light a scented candle without a little bit of guilt. And that's where I have a personal issue with the book. I love scents. I am excited by new perfumes, bath gels, candles, etc. I am aware that these things are full of chemicals that I should avoid, but I also know the deep connection I feel to some of these scents. The perfume I wore when I met my husband, the one I wore after Finn was born. Of course it's healthier to bake an actual apple pie than to light a candle, but sometimes you need to feel that coziness without all that work.
There's very little to argue with in Sandbeck's book. No matter how practical it may be, the planet would benefit from all of us living more naturally and using fewer resources. We should use less water, we should use vinegar to clean instead of harsh chemicals, we should use washable rags instead of paper towels. Plain soap and water is best. And I think that's the main message we should take from this book. Do what you can, when you can. Enjoy life instead of spending tons of time trying to sanitize it. A few stray germs won't kill you and will probably even make you stronger.