Monday, May 18, 2009

Author Interview: Kandy Siahaya

Kandy Siahaya, author of Making Light of Being Heavy (see review below) was kind enough to take some time to answer my questions about her book and her life.

Jennifer Walker: Have you done any writing before, or other than, Making Light of Being Heavy? If not, what made you decide to start, and do you plan to do any more?

Kandy Siahaya: No, Making Light of Being Heavy was my first book. I wrote it because it is a subject I know very well and think people in general can be too critical at times. I know my perspective may not be the mainstream and was hoping to lighten the points of view of women like me as well as those who cannot relate.

Jennifer Walker: How much time did it take you to write Making Light of Being Heavy? Did you spend a lot of time on research?

Kandy Siahaya: Over a span of two years about six months. There really wasn't much to research, the book is for the most part just my opinion.

Jennifer Walker: From reading the book, it looks like you've been through quite a few diets. Have you ever consulted a doctor about your weight problem?

Kandy Siahaya: Yes. I do not have any medical issues related to my weight and I can remember one doctor telling me to eat less. I proceeded to tell him what I did eat in a normal day and that I was not overeating by any means and all he said again was to eat less. I think with every person it is different.

Jennifer Walker: Do you have any funny stories associated with the writing of Making Light of Being Heavy?

Kandy Siahaya:
There were a few I put in the book but specifically during the time I was writing Making Light of Being Heavy I was pulled over by the cop about my seatbelt. He was actually very understanding when I told him it would be safer for me not to have it on because it really did not fit and if I was lucky enough to actually get it belted, losing oxygen to your brain in any instance cannot be good.

Jennifer Walker: Did you have good support from your friends and family while you wrote Making Light of Being Heavy? What do they say about it?

Kandy Siahaya:
They all loved it and my "skinny" friends were surprised about a few things but told me it made them more aware which was part of the purpose of Making Light of Being Heavy.

Jennifer Walker: If you could say one thing to one person in your past who made fun of or were critical of your weight, what would it be?

Kandy Siahaya:
Thank you. I believe being able to have this perspective not only came from the support of my mother and her point of view but from situations that really taught me how to just let it go.

Jennifer Walker: If you could say one thing to other women who suffer from weight problems, what would it be?

Kandy Siahaya:
I know it is cliche but life is too short to stress about your weight, live your life and never regret anything that made you smile.

Jennifer Walker: If you were granted three wishes with no limitations, what would they be?

Kandy Siahaya:
1. For my mother to live a long, long time with no major medical issues. 2. For me to always have the means to care for my son and myself. 3. To always have the ability to help anyone that may need the help for whatever the reason.

Jennifer Walker: What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?

Kandy Siahaya:
How my son is growing into a wonderful young man.

Jennifer Walker: If you were banished to a deserted island for the rest of your life (one that has everything you need for basic survival, like food, water and shelter), and you were allowed to take one thing with you, what would it be?

Kandy Siahaya:
Well if food, housing, etc. were provided but it was a deserted island with no entertainment, I would probably would prefer having my cable TV available so I could still watch "my shows" which is my escape every day from long days of work. I love to read but only being able to bring one book would not work well for me in this case...

Thank you, Kandy, and best of luck with Making Light of Being Heavy!

Book Review: Making Light of Being Heavy, by Kandy Siahaya

Making Light of Being Heavy, by Kandy Siahaya

Perfect Paperback: 90 pages
Publisher: Northern Reprographics (April 10, 2009)
ISBN-10: 142763954X
Rating (1 to 5 stars): ***


For the most part, people who are fat know they are fat and don’t need it to be pointed out. They also don’t usually need to be told that they would be healthier if they lost a few pounds, because they have been told this all their lives by everyone from their mother to their doctor to strangers on the street. Many people who are fat are miserable, but Kandy Siahaya has decided to find ways to laugh at her weight instead of cry about it.

In Making Light of Being Heavy, Siahaya talks about her life as a heavy person—what people say to her, things that happen to her and how she has tried to deal with it all. Readers of this book will either share Siahaya’s pain, recognizing a little of themselves in her, or they will gain a little perspective on what it’s like to go through life as a heavy person—perhaps even feel a little sympathy.

A very helpful aspect of Making Light of Being Heavy is that Siahaya discusses the various diets she has been on, explaining how each one works and what she did and did not like about it. For someone who is looking for the right diet for them, reading these comparisons can be interesting and useful. On the down side, this is a very short book, particularly for the price.

Think you would enjoy reading Making Light of Being Heavy? Either order your copy here, or make a comment on this post and I will award my copy to a random commenter.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Author Interview: Samuel S. Epstein, MD

Dr. Epstein, author of Toxic Beauty: How Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Endanger Your Health . . . And What You Can Do about It, took a few minutes to answer my questions about the book and his work.

Samuel S. Epstein, MD Author Interview

Jennifer Walker: When did you first discover that the cosmetics and personal care products we use every day are hazardous to our health? How did you make this discovery?

Samuel S. Epstein, MD: I have been concerned and written about this, apart from a wide range of avoidable causes of cancer and other toxic effects for decades including: my two-volume 1974 MIT Press book on Consumer Health and Product Hazards, which I co-edited, with a chapter on cosmetics by Ralph Nader; in my prize winning Anchor Press 1978 The Politics of Cancer; and much more so in the 1995 The Safe Shopper's Bible, which I co-authored; and also in several press releases on the non-profit Cancer Prevention Coalition (, which I Chair.

Jennifer Walker: It's hard to believe the FDA and other government agencies would be so callous about public health and safety as to turn a blind eye to the danger of these products. What is your answer to those who would attempt to discredit you on this basis?

Samuel S. Epstein, MD: the FDA has legislative authority under the 1938 federal Food Drug and Cosmetics Act, which it has never exercised. The facts are unarguable and I have never been challenged on this. (See p. 52-53 in Toxic Beauty).

Jennifer Walker: After reading the book, it might seem to some readers that most of us are so inundated with toxins from many years of exposure that it is useless to make a change to the products we use now. Can swapping out all the products in the medicine cabinet for those on the safe list make enough of a change to save or improve a life?

Samuel S. Epstein, MD: The larger the exposure, the greater the hazard to virtually 100% of the U.S. population, including the fetus with particular regard to maternal use of endocrine disrupters (hormonal ingredients).

Jennifer Walker: Toxic Beauty makes it seem as though using any of the listed products can produce side effects that range anywhere from skin irritation to death, depending on the toxin. However, I don't know of anyone who has experienced the effects I read about in the book. What is your answer to someone who would use this argument to ignore your advice? If I feel fine now, why should I change the products I use?

Samuel S. Epstein, MD:
Allergens are the commonest toxic effect. As detailed in the book, its incidence has increased substantially over recent decades (p. 89-90). Genital abnormalities have been noted particularly in male infants from maternal exposure (p. 72-73). Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a serious or even fatal cancer, is also related to the use of p-phenylenediamine in hair dyes (p. 107). Death from genital use of talc is also well documented (p. 92-96). Malignant melanoma is also well documented in adults following the use of sunscreens in childhood (p. 92-96).

Jennifer Walker: If you could tell everyone in the world to stop using one product, which would it be?

Samuel S. Epstein, MD:
There are several good candidates for this, but I would give the highest priority to the genital use of talc, especially in black women (p. 92-96).

Jennifer Walker: Is your house completely clear of any products containing harmful ingredients? Do you think you are healthier for it?

Samuel S. Epstein, MD:
The answer is yes, and increasingly so for well over three decades.

Jennifer Walker: What else would you like to say to convince my visitors of the need to read your book and heed its advice?

Samuel S. Epstein, MD:
Unlike environmental or occupational exposures, cosmetics and personal care products are one of the relatively few areas where you can avoid toxic exposures.

Thank you to Dr. Epstein for dropping by!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Biography of Samuel S. Epstein, MD

Dr. Epstein, author of Toxic Beauty, graciously agreed to an interview with A Cup of Coffee and a Good Book. He gave me his fascinating and extensive bio and I was trying to break it up into highlights, but it was too hard to decide what should go and what should stay. Here it is in its entirety...this should give you some confidence in his work!

I will post his interview tomorrow.

Sammuel S. Epstein, MD Bio:

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., D.Path., D.T.M&H, Professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago, is an internationally recognized authority on the mechanisms of carcinogenesis, the causes and prevention of cancer, and the toxic and carcinogenic effects of environmental pollutants in air, water, soil and the workplace, and of ingredients and contaminants in consumer products—food, cosmetics and toiletries, household products—and related public policy concerns.

He has published some 270 peer reviewed scientific articles, and authored or co-authored fifteen books: the 1971 Mutagenicity of Pesticides; the 1971 Drugs of Abuse: Genetic and Other Chronic Non-Psychiatric Hazards; the 1974 The Legislation of Product Safety: Consumer Health and Product Hazards; the prize-winning 1978 The Politics of Cancer; the 1982 Hazardous Waste in America; the 1983 Cancer in Britain: The Politics of Prevention; the 1995 Safe Shopper’s Bible; the 1998 Breast Cancer Prevention Program; the 1998 The Politics of Cancer Revisited; the 2001 Got (Genetically Engineered) Milk! The Monsanto rBGH/BST Milk Wars Handbook (e-book); the 2001 Unreasonable Risk. How to Avoid Cancer from Cosmetics and Personal Care Products; the 2005 Cancer-Gate: How to Win the Losing Cancer War; the 2006 What’s In Your Milk?; the 2006 (Japanese) Shopper Beware: How to Avoid Cancer and Other Toxic Effects from Cosmetics and Personal Care Products; and the 2009 Toxic Beauty. He has contributed numerous editorials and letters to leading national and regional newspapers, and published nearly 100 press releases from 1993 onwards.

Dr. Epstein’s past committee and society involvements include: Chairman of the Air Pollution Control Association Committee on Biological Effects of Air Pollutants; President of the Society of Occupational and Environmental Health; Founder and Secretary of the Environmental Mutagen Society; advisor to a wide range of public interest, environmental, citizen activist and organized labor groups; Co-Chairman of the Commission for the Advancement of Public Interest Organizations; and President of the Rachel Carson Council, Inc. In 1993, he founded the non-profit international Cancer Prevention Coalition of which he is the Chairman.

Dr. Epstein’s activities in the interface between science and public policy include: the lead expert witness involved in the banning of DDT in 1969; consultant to the U.S. Senate Committee on Public Works; drafting Congressional legislation; frequent invited Congressional testimony; and membership of key federal agency advisory committees including the EPA Health Effects Advisory Committee, and the 1973 Department of Labor Advisory Committee on the Regulation of Occupational Carcinogens. He was EPA's key expert witness involved in the banning of hazardous products and pesticides, including Aldrin and Chlordane in 1971, and Heptachlor in 1973. From 1974 to 1993, he was the nation’s lead expert in toxic tort litigation against over 30 petrochemical industries. He is the leading international expert on the public health hazards of the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) used for increasing milk production, and of sex hormones used for fattening cattle in feedlots, on which he consulted for the European Commission, testified on its behalf at the January 1997 World Trade Organisation hearings, and presented testimony to the EU Parliament in May, 1997. In December 1998, he presented draft “Legislative Proposals for Reversing the Cancer Epidemic” to the Swedish Parliament, and subsequent to the U.K. All Parliamentary Cancer Group in June 1999. In May 2004, he presented an analysis of the EU’s REACH initiative for regulating industrial chemicals at UNESCO in Paris. In March 2006, he presented an analysis of “The Role of Socially Responsible Corporations in Winning the Losing Cancer War,” at the United Nations in New York.

Dr. Epstein’s honors include: medals and prizes in the U.K. Royal Army Medical Corp.; the 1957 British Empire Cancer Campaign (now the CRC) Fellowship at The Hospital for Sick Children Great Ormond Street, and the Chester Beatty Cancer Research Institute, London; the 1969 Society of Toxicology Achievement Award; the 1977 National Conservancy Award of the National Wildlife Federation; the 1981 Yale University Henry Kaiser Award; the 1989 Environmental Justice Award; the 1990 Rachel Carson Legacy Award, for “Significantly Advancing Medical Research in Toxic Chemicals and Bringing His Knowledge Forcefully To World Attention;” the 1993 University of Tasmania Richard Jones Memorial Award Lecture; the 1998 Right Livelihood Award (the Alternative Nobel Prize) for International Contributions to Cancer Prevention, and for his leadership role in warning of the dangers of genetically engineered milk; the 1999 Bioneers Award; the 2000 Humanitarian Award from the National Silver Haired Congress; the 2000 Project Censored Award (the Alternative Pulitzer Prize); 2003 Honorary Member, World Innovation Foundation; the 2005 Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medal for Humanitarianism, for International Contributions to Cancer Prevention; and recipient of the 2007 Dragonfly Award from Beyond Pesticides.

Dr. Epstein has extensive media experience. This includes numerous appearances on major national TV networks including Sixty Minutes, Face the Nation, Meet the Press, McNeil/Lehrer, Donahue, Good Morning America, the Today Show, and documentaries, including the 2004 prize-winning The Corporation. He has also made frequent appearances on Canadian, European, Australian, and Japanese T.V. Dr. Epstein is a member of the National Writers Union, AFL-CIO, and the National Association of Science Writers.

Contact: University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Public Health, MC 922
2121 West Taylor Street, Chicago, IL 60612
ph. (312) 996-2297; fax (312) 413-9898;;

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Book Review: Toxic Beauty, by Samuel S. Epstein, MD

Toxic Beauty: How Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Endanger Your Health . . . And What You Can Do about It
by Samuel S. Epstein, MD

Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Benbella Books (March 1, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1933771623
Rating: *****


Most people would never willingly put toxins and carcinogens in their mouths, but think nothing of slathering them all over their skin. While this may not seem like an issue, these harmful substances are absorbed by the skin, and then they make their way into the rest of the body.

This is actually worse than toxins you eat, because the liver filters out many of those before they absorb into the rest of the body. However, when the toxins are applied to the skin, such as in a lotion or sunscreen, it bypasses the liver completely. In the case of a pregnant woman, the toxins are passed on to her baby.

In Toxic Beauty, Samuel S. Epstein, MD, reveals what our own government, the FDA and the cosmetics industry has refused to: that many of the personal care products we use every day contain harmful allergens and carcinogens. Many of these products are misleadingly labeled.

While the small dose of toxins we receive from one application of one product is not usually harmful, the daily application of these products, especially combined with the several other products we use every day, creates a build-up of toxins that can lead to major health problems. Yet, the FDA refuses to step in and hold the cosmetics and personal care industry responsible.

Toxic Beauty is broken up into three main parts: how our products became toxic, how to recognize toxic products, and what can be done to change the problem. It may seem from reading the book that you can never be clean, have nice skin or smell nice again, but Dr. Epstein offers hope as well as warnings: he explains exactly what ingredients to avoid and which are safe—including brand names of products so you know what to look for. He also discusses which companies and organizations around the world are working toward eliminating harmful substances and increasing consumer awareness.

I must admit that I was skeptical when I started reading Toxic Beauty. After all, if these products are so harmful, surely we would know about it by now? However, Dr. Epstein includes so many scientific figures and studies that his arguments were hard to deny—and I am already evaluating the products in my medicine cabinet.

The book comes with a tear sheet you can take with you to the store when you shop and pages of helpful tables and resources. This is a valuable book that everyone needs to read. It is a book that can save not only your life, but your children’s.