by Kate Heyhoe
"Everything we used to consider a sin is now a disease."
In a recent televised performance, comic and commentator Bill Maher observed it's not disease which is our enemy, it's the food we eat that's causing our diseases. And treating those diseases keeps our medical bills and drug companies flowing. As Maher pointed out, watching the nightly network news is just one dysfunctional-body commercial after another. Zantac, Prilosec, Nexium, Gas-Ex, Immodium. (It's true: try channel flipping tonight as you watch the news. Gastrointestinal ads lead the pack.)
What's wrong with the food we eat? For one thing, we've allowed ourselves to be our own guinea pigs, so to speak. Whether unintentionally or by design, we're dumping additives into the food chain and our final food products, long before we know their cumulative effects. Consequently we get: Mad cow disease. Mercury toxicity. Cancers. Colon cancer, for example, is believed to be largely caused by environmental factors that stimulate carcinogens. According to healthatoz.com: "Colon cancer is more common in industrialized nations, and diets high in fat, red meat, total calories, and alcohol seem to predispose. Diets high in fiber are associated with a decreased risk [caused by] less exposure of the colon lining to carcinogens from the environment, as the transit time through the bowel is faster with a high-fiber diet than it is with a low-fiber diet."
Okay, so we are what we eat, and what we eat affects our health. Enough said. How though, given the mind-boggling number of loaded guns in the food chain, can we avoid triggering them inside our bodies? I don't have a magic answer but consider these tips:
Organic products are great, but if you're on a limited budget, they can add up. However, when you consider the slight additional cost of organics vs. a box of Prilosec, organics seem very affordable. Fortunately, because of the past two decades' growth in demand, suppliers are now selling organics at better prices, and some grocery chains are offering their own organic products, under their house or private label. Better yet, just about every town offers farmers' markets, with just-picked produce, fresh eggs, free-range chickens, and baked goods; some produce is organic and some conventional, so be sure to ask.
* When it comes to fresh vegetables, put your organic dollar where it counts most. Pesticides are most concentrated on the outer layers of a fruit or vegetable. Carrots and root vegetables come into direct contact with the soil, so buying their organic versions makes sense. (For conventional vegetables, be sure to peel them.) If you don't buy organic lettuces and cabbages, toss away the outer most leaves, which are most exposed to sprayed pesticides.
* Check the product codes on produce. You know those annoying little numbered stickers on your mangos and onions? Produce codes are either stuck on or posted, and there's a trick to deciphering them. Specialty produce has a one-digit prefix in addition to the standard four-digit code. Organic produce codes start with a 9, while genetically-modified produce codes start with an 8. For example, organic bananas would be 94011. Genetically-modified bananas would be 84011. Conventional bananas would be simply 4011. ( I hear there's a new method in the works for laser-etching the codes into the skin. Wait and see.)
* Eat seafood, but beware. Mercury and pesticide (from soil run-off) in fish and shellfish make this once ideal protein now a little scary to eat. And there's the issue of sustainability (don't eat what's in low supply or endangered.) Rules of thumb: Wild is better than farm-raised, as long as the wild supplies are plentiful (not in danger of being overfished). Large fish eat smaller fish, and the bigger the fish, the more toxins it's carting around. Factory fish farms introduce hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals into their fish, but some fish farms have seen the light and practice safe sea sex, so to speak. While controversies exist and sometimes the picture is clear as mud, everyone seems to agree that wild Alaskan salmon is a good catch, as is trap-caught shrimp, but to get a better reading tune into:
* The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy came up with a novel idea: Set Up a Network of Safe, Sustainable Seafood Buying Clubs (http://www.iatp.org/fish/goodfish.html). They've got a list of safe seafood suppliers and tips for setting up a seafood buying club in your community, and the rest of the site offers detailed food news around the world, from farm to fish.
* and for cleansing, according to author Rebecca Wood, eat more cilantro: "Apparently cilantro helps mobilize mercury stored in the brain and spinal cord and excrete it via the stool or urine. See Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, March 2001."
Like you, my readers, I'm challenged every day with finding safe food options, and it's getting tougher to feel comfortable about the food we eat, even when we cook it at home, from scratch.
Will economics bring more safe foods into the marketplace, by increasing demand for them? Perhaps, but not without a sea-change of policy in the White House and the world, one that actively commits to preserving the very places, practices, and businesses that ensure safe, non-toxic food. The battle is systemic. The bigger the government subsidized agribusinesses get, like ConAgra and Cargill, the cheaper the food is for the consumer, but not without a greater price to pay. These megaforces set prices so low, they knock the small, sustainable farmers right out of the ring (including family farmers in third world countries; they can't price their rice or wheat competitively, for instance, and thus they lose the only viable livelihood they know, starting a vicious cycle of poverty and dependence.)
So if good food is important to you on a personal level, dig a little deeper to find who in your community is producing non-toxic food, and support the stores that go out of their way to bring those products to you. On that note, I leave you with seasonal recipes easily made from non-toxic ingredients, and this final food for thought:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
As we transition from summer into fall, you'll really taste the difference that organic produce, free-range hens and their eggs, and sustainable seafood make in these simple, change-of-season recipes.
Copyright © 2005, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created September 2005
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