What's the hottest trend on the Twin Cities suburban women's social scene? Product parties are passé. Volunteering at the food shelf sounds so yesterday. Still, gals gotta have fun -- and a sense of superiority.
Edina housewives may have hit the jackpot with a new EcoMom group. Now they can brag about their kids' soccer triumphs and save the Earth at the same time.
The mostly stay-at-home EcoMoms gather in a member's living room and sip merlot under a banner that proclaims, "Sustain your home, sustain your planet, sustain your self." Along with the other 11,000 members of the national EcoMom Alliance, they say, they are "making the world a better place through local, organic, sustainable, non-toxic, slow choices."
It can be a tough message to sell. "Some people are very attached to their Escalade, and you have to take them along on baby steps," club leader Julie McMahon Jones told the Star Tribune.
The EcoMom Alliance started -- where else? -- on the glorious Left Coast of California.
The New York Times recently visited a club chapter in San Rafael, Calif. "Perhaps not since the days of 'dishpan hands' has the household been so all-consuming," the Times reported.
But instead of focusing on "gleaming floors," talk centers on "the pitfalls of antibacterial hand sanitizers and how to retool the laundry using only cold water and biodegradable detergent during non-prime-time energy hours (after 7 p.m.)."
In Edina, EcoMoms exchange tips on packing "waste-free lunches," discuss saving rainwater in barrels, explore yoga and plan events like a "nature walk and compost party."
But some aspects of the EcoMoms' mantra -- "Reduce, reuse, recycle and rot" -- may prove more daunting. Take vermiculture, or worm composting, which is lauded at the Edina group's website, tsunami mommytsunami.wordpress.org.
It takes a bin of 800 to 1,000 worms to eat one-half pound of organic garbage a day, according to a site linked from the website. If my family's output is any measure, I'd guess about 10,000 of the slimy critters are needed to keep up with the demand.
But don't despair. At "Worm Woman," you can stock up on everything from redworms to "compost tea brewers" to bumper stickers proclaiming your eco-enlightenment.
Yet, worm composting could have limits in posh Edina neighborhoods like Country Club. As EcoMoms' numbers swell, an infestation of worm bins could, shall we say, eat away at property values. And you thought that "monster houses" were a problem.
No threat to the biosphere is too small to merit a dedicated EcoMom's attention.
Wracked with guilt over sending your kids' old toothbrushes to a landfill? Edina EcoMoms' website links to www.CoolMomsCare.org, where you can learn to convert them into bracelets, assuming you have the time. After boiling the toothbrushes in water, you'll need to painstakingly pluck out each bristle with tweezers.
At the heart of EcoMoms' appeal, I detect a serious search for meaning. This crusade demands penance for what are called "eco-sins," and promises redemption through righteous action. The religious flavor of it all is intense.
An ecological apocalypse looms if the rest of us don't convert to the EcoMoms' creed.
Environmental hobgoblins range from idling cars in the school parking lot to toys made in China to "off-gasing" from wall-to-wall carpeting.
On the Edina group's website, one mom -- a yoga practitioner -- described her dread at learning that her son's school and some neighbors use lawn chemicals. "I need to breathe (from safe inside) through this frustration and practice asanas of 'letting go' postures," she confided.
Before declaring gloom and doom on all fronts, EcoMoms might want to compare the dangers they face with those their great-grandmothers confronted: potentially deadly diseases that are now a distant memory, including diphtheria, dysentery and polio. In fact, life has never been safer. Even teeter-totters have vanished from our playgrounds, thanks to safety-obsessed folks like these good women.
Does EcoMomming have a future outside affluent suburbs? I doubt it.
We all know what organic produce costs. And toxin-free kids' togs from companies like Hanna Andersson can also set you back a pretty penny. That company sells "100% organic cotton" clothing in which "every fabric, button, thread and zipper is rigorously tested for over 100 potentially harmful substances."
The surprise is that there are any survivors at all among the poor folks who shop at Sam's Club.
In the end, EcoMoms' appeal may arise from the abundant supply of new-age status symbols it provides: "organic" dog beds or the first stainless steel cleaner "completely free of petroleum distillates" or lawn signs that proclaim that your pesticide-free lawn is "safe for all living creatures."