When she was pregnant with her first child, Aida Garcia-Toledo knew she wanted to commit to raising her kids in a non-toxic environment. While the initial decision had been easy, finding truly helpful information wasn’t such a breeze. In fact, this former investigative journalist found the process downright frustrating. But Aida was committed to her goal, and as her knowledge grew, she did what any good journalist would do: she told the story.
Non-Toxic Munchkin began as a blog dedicated to making the transition to non-toxic living a whole lot easier. Aida found a problem, and her blog became the solution for moms as concerned about toxic chemicals as she is. In no time at all, she realized she’d found her passion in informing others about how to cut the toxins from their family’s everyday lives.
And that’s the very condensed version of why Non-Toxic Munchkin went from blog to full-service home consulting in 2016. Now, clients can go beyond just reading Aida’s advice; they can have her provide it directly in their home. It’s her mission of making non-toxic living easy and fully realized. Read on to learn Aida’s sage advice on working from home, how to unwind and even which non-toxic makeup item you should be buying right now.
Non-toxic living is going from being a trend to becoming a necessary way of life.
What led you to launch Non-Toxic Munchkin?
As an investigative journalist and documentary producer, I always had a keen love of researching and sifting through dense information, then making it easy to understand. But then, almost 15 years ago, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I began to read and research the effects of environmental toxins on our health.
When I became pregnant, I was blown away in learning today’s children are essentially born pre-polluted, with over 200 chemicals regularly found in umbilical cord blood in the United States—any one of which could easily affect their health during prime fetal development and even decades afterwards. Once I became a mother, I became fully committed to making sure my “munchkins” were protected from toxic chemicals so they could live a long, healthy life.
I quickly realized, it isn’t always easy to spend all this time researching. As all moms know, life with two boys (or girls, or any number of children!) is incredibly busy and researching chemicals, products and laws is incredibly time-consuming. This is when I decided to launch Non-Toxic Munchkin, a platform where I could share my research and knowledge with friends, families and other munchkin moms. Non-Toxic Munchkin consulting came a couple of years later.
How were you able to take Non-Toxic Munchkin from a blog to a full-time career? How long did it take?
The transition came very organically (no pun intended!). Since the moment I started writing the Non-Toxic Munchkin blog, many friends—and friends of friends—would reach out asking for advice and requesting help at home and, always, venting their frustration at how overwhelming non-toxic living seemed when tackled on their own.
When my family relocated from New York City to Santa Monica, and with both kids in school part-time, I decided it was the perfect market and time to launch Non-Toxic Munchkin Consulting, in addition to the blog. We officially launched during spring 2016! As with any new venture, the company is still growing and is a work in progress.
How would you explain your company to others who might not be familiar with it?
Non-Toxic Munchkin helps our clients transition to, and live, a non-toxic, healthier life without any added stress and very little effort. The healthiest homes are those that belong to families who find a balance between making these healthy informed choices and living a modern day life, because no one can live in a toxic-free bubble. Our home consulting allows us to work one-on-one with each family and to address their particular needs and situation. Clients can limit home consults to one room or the entire home; the client decides how much help they want or need. Additionally, we offer our highly informative blog and group events (i.e., baby shower or parent groups) where we can educate a group of individuals and give them the tools to start transitioning on their own.
What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?
The reason I’m so dedicated and absolutely love my job is that it feels really good to help other people, to empower other people, to live a healthier life.
The science on the numerous potential health consequences of long-term exposure to everyday chemicals is very real and very scary, and yet most people aren’t aware of how it can affect them and their family. Most people aren’t even aware that they’re exposed to hundreds of chemicals—many never tested for safety nor regulated—every day through their favorite products and their homes. I find it really satisfying to educate and help my clients make simple changes and informed consumer decisions that can have a lasting impact on their lives.
What is the most common toxic household item that you ‘clean up’ from clients’ homes? The most common cosmetic?
Every home is different; however, overwhelmingly, chemically-laden conventional cleaning supplies are the one item that most homes have and sometimes can be the hardest for people to give up! Cleaning products are responsible for polluting our indoor air (fact: the air inside most homes is more polluted than the air outside) and exposing our families to some really bad endocrine disrupting—and even cancer-causing—chemicals, like phthalates and formaldehyde.
Somehow, as a society, we were brainwashed into thinking that “clean” should smell clean (lemon fresh or pine fresh) and that chemicals should be used to clean. That said, it just makes more sense to use natural products, like vinegar and lemon, for example. What would you rather breathe in or ingest: formaldehyde releasing a lemon scent or a real lemon? Luckily, clients quickly realize that making one’s own cleaning products is very easy and inexpensive. Alternately, there are some good, safe cleaning products that you can buy in a store, too.
All women have numerous cosmetics in their homes, but the first one I recommend switching to a safer alternative is lipstick. Many well-known brands contain known toxic chemicals, including lead. You place lipstick on your lips and are constantly ingesting it. If you knew your lipstick had lead, a known neurotoxin, would you still use it everyday? Luckily, there are numerous good alternatives available today that I can recommend.
If you’re on a budget, cleaning out your home and starting over can sound daunting. How do you recommend to cost-effectively live a healthier lifestyle?
Ironically, transitioning to a less chemically dependent lifestyle can actually be cost effective in the long run. Conventional cleaning products are expensive. Switching to vinegar and natural alternatives will cost a fraction of what those traditional chemical cleaners cost. Additionally, switching from plastics to glass and stainless steel might cost a bit up front, but these containers and other products usually last much longer without the need to replace. The same can be said for cheaper plastic or metal toys versus safer wooden or bamboo toys; they might cost more, but they will undoubtedly last longer.
When shopping at the grocery store, we’re all drawn to the ‘organic’ label. Is just having this label enough? What should we look for?
Labels are tricky and can be very misleading. If you see a label that reads “green” or “all natural” or “made with organic ingredients” or “organic,” it would seem safe to say that these are products you should feel safe buying. However, this is not the case, as most of these labels are not regulated. The best label to look for, I still believe, is the official “USDA organic label.” This means that 95% or more of the ingredients must have been grown or processed without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, among other standards.
Having said that, organic farms are allowed to use some approved synthetic chemicals. This label is also expensive and some small farms cannot afford the USDA organic label. At a supermarket, the USDA organic label is still probably your best bet, but keep in mind these useful tips, too:
- Follow the Environmental Working Group’s list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 when buying fruit and produce. These lists, published every year, can guide you as to what fruits and produce you should buy organic, due to high levels of pesticides, and which you can safely buy conventional.
- Read ingredient labels and choose products with less ingredients and recognizable, real foods, in the ingredients.
- Shop local. If you have a Farmer’s Market or access to a weekly CSA (at a CSA, you’re purchasing a “share” of vegetables and fruit from a local farmer and will receive it weekly), get to know them and asked detailed questions about what they do for pest control, etc. Local farmers committed to organic farming are typically the best bet.
How do you manage your time as a working mom of two, and taking care of yourself?
My (almost) daily workouts are key for my mental and physical well being. Everyone in my family knows by now that mom is a better mom when I get to work out. Whether it’s a short 20-minute run, a spinning or longer yoga class, it’s scheduled into my week. That, and having help with the kids that you trust and genuinely like, is key.
Where do you see Non-Toxic Munchkin and the focus on living a non-toxic lifestyle in 3 to 5 years?
The last five years have seen a huge increase in information, research and knowledge about the effects of environmental toxins and the links of everyday chemicals with our long-term health. BPA and BPA-free, for example, have transitioned from being an unknown chemical and phrase to part of most people’s vocabulary.
Every year, the mainstream media is covering more and more stories on toxic chemicals, and additionally, every year people (especially parents) are taking matters into their own hands and seeking out information to maintain their family’s health. As these trends continue, I know that the focus on living a non-toxic lifestyle will only grow. Non-toxic living is going from being a trend to becoming a necessary way of life.
I see Non-Toxic Munchkin growing as a company in the next couple of years as the demand for simplifying and sifting through all the new data and products increases with the desire for a lifestyle change that will be hassle-free and chemical-free.
I’d love to grab coffee with: President Obama. I bet he would have some good stories to tell. And maybe now that he’s on his way out, he’ll have more time for a coffee date!
My favorite purse is: Carolina Herrera’s crossbody bag. It leaves my hands free for writing or dealing with the kids and is spacious enough to hold my iPad, diapers and wipes!
My go-to outfit is: These days, jumpers. They are so comfortable and you can dress them up or dress them down. I hope they never go out of style.
My favorite dinner spot is: Maude–for special occasions! I love the creativity that goes into each month’s tasting menu.
I can’t live without: Cuban coffee.
My favorite way to unwind is: Going for a run.
I feel my best when: I spend time outdoors.