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Culture Think – America’s Food Fight

Culture Think – America’s Food Fight
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By Tami Rogers

When my oldest daughter was fourteen she came home from school one day with an announcement. She said, “Today I watched a documentary that has changed my life forever.”

I immediately began to wonder what she could possibly be talking about. Was it sex education? We already had that talk and besides, I couldn’t imagine them showing her a sex documentary. This was, after all, public school.

Then she said, “We saw a movie called Food, Inc., Mom, you wouldn’t believe how messed up our food is in this country. Just a few corporations actually control the entire system and put their own profits ahead of our health.”

Wow. I did not see that one coming. Later that week I got ahold of the DVD and we watched it together. Powerful stuff and I highly recommend it. (Although you might want to avoid watching it at dinnertime.) It changed the way I began to look at food, what I buy, and how I buy it.

That was seven years ago. Today, I am proud to say my daughter is in college studying public health, nutrition and public policy. That documentary really did have a major impact on both of us.

I’m a Different Consumer Than I was

Seven years later, I am a different consumer.  Am I a purist who will only shop local and organic? Hardly, but I try to as often as possible.  Cost is certainly a factor because organic food is generally more expensive. Depending on what part of the country you live in, it can cost much more than conventional food. (Although I have noticed over time that as the demand goes up, some prices do get more competitive.)

There has also been a change in the availability of organic and local, sustainable food. There are many more organic, locally grown options even in conventional grocery stores. This is directly related to consumer demand. With more education and awareness, along with the popularity of stores like Whole Foods, demand is much higher than it was just 10 years ago.

And with more dollars at stake, the food fight continues to heat up. So as a consumer, what are we supposed to believe? One week we hear about all the benefits of eating organic foods. The next, scientific studies come out saying there’s no difference.

Then there’s the whole GMO debate. Does it matter that genetically modified corn and other grains are in a majority of the food we consume? Can they harm us? Do we have the right to know what is in our food and make our own choices based on the facts?

And when you look at some of these studies you also need to ask yourself who is sponsoring them?  Monsanto? Coca-Cola? Or is it an organization like the Sheepdrove Trust who funds studies in support of organic and sustainable farming? (I cited a Washington State University Study below that accepted funding from them.) Read as much as you can, but always consider the source.

Organic VS Conventional

I had to start somewhere so I decided to look at two of the most recently recognized studies, and what each had to say. The first was published in 2012 and the other in 2014.

The 2012 Stanford study was the subject of a New York Times article called Organic Food VS Conventional Food.   (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/04/organic-food-vs-conventional-food/?_r=0) It concluded that there were no nutritional advantages to buying organic food.  Many critics, however, said the study took “too narrow of a view” of organic food choices and didn’t address the dangers of ingesting pesticides.

To learn more about this study and its potential bias, here is a link to a great article I found on Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/13/stanford-organics-study-public-health_n_1880441.html

A more recent, 2014 study, by a research professor with the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, had a much different conclusion.

(http://www.cbsnews.com/news/does-going-organic-benefit-your-health/)

According to this study, “Organic produce and grains contain more protective antioxidants, less pesticide residue and lower levels of the toxic metal cadmium than food raised in traditional ways.” Many scientists have disagreed with this study citing the quality of the data used.

In addition, there is also a school of thought challenging the natural, non-synthetic pesticides often used on organic fruits and vegetables because they have not had enough testing.

Personally, my reason for choosing organic produce is to avoid the high level of synthetic pesticides in my food, which is a known carcinogenic. I choose organic meat for the same reason. Animals raised in conventional ways ingest food that has been sprayed with synthetics, known to be cancer causing (although the Food and Drug Administration claims it’s safe in small doses) and those pesticides get into our meat.

It all comes down to personal choice. I avoid what are referred to as the “dirty dozen” (http://www.rodalenews.com/2014-dirty-dozen) where produce is concerned. These are the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest amount of pesticide residue. So if you’re going to buy some organic produce, this is a good list of produce to start with. Here is a list of the 2014 dirty dozen:

Apples; Strawberries; Grapes; Celery; Peaches; Spinach Sweet Bell Peppers;

Nectarines; Snap Peas; Kale/Collard Greens; Hot Peppers; Cherry Tomatoes

All in all, I try to take a balanced approach on the organic issue. I love eating out and that generally means I am not eating organic food. However, when I cook at home I buy organic meats and some fruits and vegetables. I wait for sales (Whole Foods does have them!) and stock the freezer when possible. To me, they taste better and I feel better cooking with them.

Whoever Heard of A GMO?

Before a couple years ago, there wasn’t much talk in the media about genetically modified organisms. So what are they exactly and why should we care?

GMO foods are any food product that has been altered at the gene level. Genetically modified foods are also frequently described as “genetically engineered or altered.” They have been produced in the U.S. since the mid 1990’s. Today, Up to 80% of all processed food is said to contain GMO’s.

(http://www.cncahealth.com/explore/learn/nutrition-food/youre-already-eating-genetically-modified-foods-are-they-safe#.VQg_ZGTF9Sw)

Proponents of GMO’s argue GM foods are essential to feed a growing worldwide population as they can increase crop yields, reduce the use of herbicides and insecticides and in some cases are more nutritious than traditional crops.

But many scientists have great concerns about GMO’s. There has been too little research on the effects of GMO’s on the human body. Some animal testing has found issues like allergic reactions, enzyme disturbances in heart and kidneys, growth problems and higher levels of certain fats in the blood. Not to mention the environmental impact GMO’s make.

The Non-GMO Project States: “In 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs, because they are not considered proven safe. In the U.S. on the other hand, the FDA approved commercial production of GMOs based on studies conducted by the companies who created them and profit from their sale.”

(http://www.cncahealth.com/explore/learn/nutrition-food/youre-already-eating-genetically-modified-foods-are-they-safe#.VQg_ZGTF9Sw)

Similar to the way I approach organic, I try my best to avoid processed foods. To me, if GMO’s are restricted or banned in other countries, it makes sense to avoid them when possible. But like I said earlier, I am no purist.

If you’re interested in avoiding GMO’s, the best way to do that is to look for “USDA Organic” labels on the packages of food you buy. While there is no mandatory labeling of GMO’s on conventional food, (another huge can of worms), if a package is not labeled “USDA Organic” you can assume it contains GMO’s.

Shopping at a place like Whole Foods or a local food Co-op does make it easier to locate certified organic products.  And you can find weekly and monthly coupons on-line for Whole Foods and other natural food stores.

Information Overload

When did feeding our families become so overwhelming? I grew up in the 1960’s when just about everything came out of a can, and nobody thought twice about it.

I believe knowledge is power, even when there’s loads of information to sort through. I try to stay on top of the latest food studies and consider the source in terms of who’s sponsoring them. (It can be hard to find out sometimes.)

For the rest, it’s just my own intuition and what feels right to me. That’s probably as good as it’s going to get, at least in the near future. For more information on Organic food and GMO’s check out these websites:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-bronner/gmo-pesticide-propaganda-_b_6775562.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/does-going-organic-benefit-your-health/

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09371.html

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