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Sorry, You Can't Have a Chemical Free Life

The following post is from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship:

source: Kitchen Stewardship

“I don’t eat vegetables with chemicals.”

“I choose to use personal products without chemicals.”

“I don’t like putting chemicals in my body.”


Do you drink water?


Even the purest filtered water or crystalline, unpolluted water from the highest mountaintop.

Do you use salt?


Even unrefined salt directly from the sea or ancient mines.

Do you breathe air?

Even oxygen is a chemical.

What is a chemical?

“A chemical is an element, in that it has a specific molecular composition. An element is a chemical substance made of specific kinds of atoms that cannot be broken down any further; in short, elements are the purest forms of chemicals known to man.” (source)

Elements are chemicals.

In other words, not just oxygen, but hydrogen, carbon, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and silver are chemicals.

You’ve heard of carbon – the building block of all life? And copper, phosphorus, and magnesium are on the nutrition facts on the sides of your cereal boxes (if you eat cereal, I know, I know) – they’re necessary nutrients for human health.

Any combination of those elemental chemicals is also a chemical: table salt (sodium chloride), water, hydrogen peroxide and more.

Just about everything we touch, eat, drink, or breathe is a chemical or combinations of chemicals.

So how did the word “chemical” get such a bad reputation?

Nobody wants chemicals in their food or personal products, because they think that chemicals by their nature will harm them.

We say we don’t even want to use chemicals to get rid of wasp nests or kill ants in our kitchensI have said those things. But I was wrong.

Chemical Free?

What we really mean when we say, “Chemical free” is, I would venture, “Toxin free,” or “Without toxic chemicals.”

We don’t want things that will harm us or make us sick coming into our homes and our bodies.

Saying we avoid chemicals when we mean we avoid only the bad ones is kind of like saying we don’t like weather, when what we really mean is bad weather.

We could just go with the positive spin on things and say we want “all natural” products.

You know, natural. Like lead. Radium. Mercury.

Things that are just basic. Simple. Elements in their natural form.

We can’t wait to get these things in our water, our medicines, and our vaccines.

Oh. Wait.

That stuff is “all natural?”

We seem to be having a vocabulary problem today.

Lots of things are all natural.

Is it any wonder that labeling is confusing and it’s tough to figure out what to buy, since we call everything bad a “chemical” and everything good “natural,” yet everything we touch is a chemical and all sorts of nasty stuff is natural?

Sure, humans have fabricated plenty of chemicals that didn’t used to exist a century ago. Many of them cause cancer and other diseases, and many of them help treat those same diseases. (Some probably do both.) A whole bunch of them are formulated from elements in their natural form.

I doubt we’ll be able to change the momentum of society and rebrand toxins as “manmade chemicals” or just “toxic chemicals” or “toxins”, but we can be a little smarter in our own conversations.

And remember that the marketing teams at most businesses are smart with semantics, too: Don’t buy it just because it’s “all natural.”

You might end up with a natural toxic chemical.

How do words and labels trip you up in your quest for the natural life? Or is it a “green” life? Or, you know, being crunchy? Sigh…

Katie Kimball has been “green” since 5th grade when she read 50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. She remains slightly disappointed that she didn’t actually save the whole thing back then, but now that she has 3 kiddos counting on her, she keeps plugging away hopefully. Katie blogs at Kitchen Stewardship about real food and natural living and is the author of Healthy Snacks to Go and other eBooks, available for Kindle.