T’is the season

With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas ahead, it’s the time of the year when turkeys become the centerpieces on our tables.  In most people’s minds this evokes images of family gatherings, the chatter of children, the smell of roasted meat wafting through the house. But our succulent turkey roast could have some quite unexpected consequences, far beyond this season. Antibiotic resistance.

Recently a good friend of mine had to spend a month in hospital. It wouldn’t be so shocking if it hadn’t just been a simple tooth infection that landed him there – owing to an antibiotic resistant bacterium. It’s something we hear about on and off in the news. But if it happens to someone you know, the reality of it feels suddenly different. Besides being unable to work for a month, my friend had to endure continuous testing of various, increasing toxic antibiotics in the hope of finding one the infection may finally respond to; not too pleasant on the side effects. And what if there isn’t one? You probably don’t want to know the answer to that, but think pre-1940s.

So what does that have to do with our turkey roast? Unfortunately, a lot.

Many Turkeys, Creative Bacteria

In the North America, especially the U.S., livestock receive ~ 80% of the nations’ antibiotics. The drugs are administered through feed or water – usually at very low doses. But the idea behind this is not to treat sick animals, as we may think. Not at all. It’s to promote faster growth and prevent infections that tend to occur when animals are housed in crowded, unsanitary, stressful conditions. Such as large turkey farms. When exposed to low doses of antibiotics, however, bacteria are not actually killed but become quickly accustomed, and finally resistant, to the drug.

By overusing antibiotics on industrial farms on animals reared for our food consumption, that don’t actually have any infections, we are not only making them resistant though – we are actually creating new strains of bacteria, ones we cannot get rid of again. Because there is another issue many of us are not aware of. While turkey farmers only use approved antibiotics, 40% of these are not used in human medicine – yet. Which wouldn’t be a problem except for the ability of bacteria to share genetic material amongst each other. Bacteria in meat can pass on their resistance to other bacteria in a person’s digestive tract, creating new ones that are resistant to drugs that may at some point be one of few alternatives left to treat infections. Only it won’t since, unknowingly, we have already created bacteria resistant to these drugs.

What are the alternatives?

Turkey is one of the most frequently contaminated meats. According to a recent study by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health 77% of turkey samples collected from U.S. supermarkets tested positive for the MRSA bacteria Staphylococcus aureus – and 96% of those were resistant to at least one antimicrobial drug. But the problem is not just limited to turkey farming. A recent outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg has been linked to Foster Farms chicken; to date, 389 people have fallen ill from the meat since March 2013.

Unfortunately, we won’t be able to change the turkey and chicken farming industry overnight, and certainly not before this year’s holidays arrive. But over time we as consumers have to put more pressure on the industry and government to change laws and prohibit the unnecessary use of antibiotic in livestock farming to prevent indefinite hospital stays due to a simple tooth infection. Of course for that to happen the way poultry is raised has to change fundamentally first, and we have to not only reduce our own meat consumption, but also remember that these are living beings that deserve a good life and humane living conditions – just as much as any other living being does. But don’t be fooled, we aren’t there yet by far. Even on most ‘free-range’ farms, conditions are very similar, if not sometimes worse, than on ‘traditional’ poultry farms. But that’s a topic for a later post.

So this Holiday, short of preparing vegan dishes, if you want to avoid becoming the new breeding vessel for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, look out for labels like “No Antibiotics Administered” or “Raised Without Antibiotics”, especially if they are government verified as well as Animal Welfare Approved” and “Certified Humane”, which mean that antibiotics were only used to treat sick animals. But remember, “All Natural” say nothing about how an animal was raised. Of course you could also do some research on small turkey or goose farms in your area to buy your feast – or try out a European tradition like roasted fish. No matter what you end up doing though – enjoy the Holidays!


A Guide To …

… Making Your Own Lip Balm


When I first moved to New York City, I really suffered from dry lips and was constantly searching for the right lip balm. Daniel, my now-husband, recommended his Blistex lip balm. But strangely when I opened it, the smell reminded me of my work place…. and not in a good way. Then I realized why.

One of the ingredients was phenol. In the laboratory we use phenol for extracting nucleic acids, such as DNA or RNA, from cells. But apparently phenol is also used as an analgesic or even to temporarily treat pharyngitis. To me, this was highly worrying. In the lab we handle phenol only with gloves and with great caution. Especially since it is corrosive to the eyes, the skin, and the respiratory tract and repeated or prolonged skin contact causes dermatitis, or even second and third-degree burns. It also has harmful effects on the central nervous system, liver and kidneys if you come into prolonged contact. Which  using it in a lip balm, you would.

Needless to say, I did not use Blistex. I kept on searching for a lip balm that instead of being corrosive would be nourishing, smooth and creamy, and, most important of all, keeping my lips moisturized even at temperatures of 20 below zero. It was an almost hopeless quest.  Most lip balm are made with petroleum jelly (vaseline), because the theory is that this will lock the moisture in your lips and they will not dry out. Unfortunately the jelly is often not very highly refined and contains harmful impurities. And besides, it often dries your lips even more since it does not allow for moisture to be absorbed from the atmosphere but locks already present one in. What if you started out with dry lips already? They will only get drier.

But there are some good brands out there, albeit they are expensive. Dr. Hauschka and Whole Foods own brand have lip balms with ingredients you feel comfortable to lick off your lips without having to think of the negative consequences. But one day I came across empty lip balm tubes in a local herbalist shop – and that gave me the idea. How difficult can it be to make your own? It actually isn’t. So with a little research I put together my own recipe for a lip balm.

Think About Ingredients

As always when making your own cosmetics, think about ingredients. As mentioned above, petroleum-based products dry your lips even more if they are already dry to begin with. What you want to be looking for instead are natural moisturizers such as Cacao Butter, Shea Butter or even olive oil. Vitamin E is also a good additive, it heals and regenerates your skin and also acts as an anti-oxidant. To make your oils and butters solid, you will have to add a solid fat or wax. Again, petroleum based ingredients such as Vaseline should be avoided. Instead use beeswax. It is non-toxic and indigestible, if you happen to lick it off your lips. Finally choose a scent. Essential oils are ideal for that. Peppermint or sweet orange are classic ones, but cinnamon is also quite nice during the winter.

Source Your Ingredients

As important it is to decide on what you put into your body wash, it is equally important to know where your ingredients come from. Many of the ingredients such as essential oils, maybe even Shea butter and beeswax, are commonly found in your local organic shop. If you don’t life near any such shop try the internet. As mentioned in my previous post on shower gel, a good resource is Mountain Rose Herbs. This company sells herbs, teas, spices, natural health products as well as ingredients for homemade body care in bulk.

Get Your Equipment Together

As I mentioned before, making your own cosmetics doesn’t require a sterile environment. To mix your ingredients, use clean stain-less steel mixing bowls, measuring spoons and a whisk. To heat them, just use an old stain-less steel pot. It’s as simple as that. Before you get started though, make sure you have the final container ready. Herbal stores are hidden treasure troves when it comes to finding containers for homemade cosmetics and that’s where I came across my lip balm containers. Again, if you don’t have one close by, Lipbalmtubes.com is a great resource for anything related to making your own lip balm. Also have a set of small stain-less steel funnels handy to transfer your mixture or get a lip balm tube filling tray. Finally, get creative! Make your own label. The website also sells printable sheets with stickers sized to fit your tubes. It makes a nice Christmas gift!

Get Cooking

Now the quick and easy part, actually making your lip balm. Chop your butters and beeswax in small chunks so they melt quickly over a low heat water bath. This is nothing but a metal mixing bowl placed on top of a pan filled with water. Then add your Vitamin E, Essential oils and mix well. Fill into the lip balm tubes using a small funnel, let cool, cap and stick your label on. Hmmm. Creamy – and even if you get some into your mouth – it tastes and smells of cacao butter and is completely harmless! Enjoy!

On a final note – as for Blistex? They have finally removed phenol from some of their products and replaced phenol with oxybenzone. Is that better? No, not really. Oxybenzone is a photo-sensitizer that may actually cause more sunburns and ultimately skin cancer, despite it being found in many sunscreens.

Creamy Cacao Butter Lip Balm

1 ½ tbsp (15ml) Cacao Butter

1 ½ tbsp (15ml) Shea Butter

1 tbsp (15ml) Beeswax, chopped

1 drop Vitamin E


4 drops Essential Sweet Orange Oil OR Peppermint Oil

Fill a small stainless pot half way with water and place a metal bowl on top. Put the cacao butter, Shea butter and beeswax into the bowl and heat the water below to a low boil. Keep checking until all the beeswax is dissolved (it will take the longest). Take from the heat and whisk in the Vitamin E and Essential oils. Use a small metal funnel to fill into lip balm tubes or use a multi-tube filler if you are making a large batch. Let cool and cap. Keeps ~12 months.