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Mainely Tipping Points 12: The 1980 USDA FOOD GUIDE

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Mainely Tipping Points 12

The 1980 USDA Food Guide

 

 

The tipping point for our current national relationship to food begins in earnest in the 1970s.  There are many facets to this fifty-year history:  massive national changes are never simple.  History shows these changes were not made for good scientific reasons.  They were made from a bubbling stew that contained, at least, potent, but unsupported beliefs; unchecked political power; the personal advancement of some; and corporatism.        

One piece of this much larger history begins when the USDA hires Luise Light, M.S., Ed.D., to produce the 1980 USDA food guide which would replace the “basic four” guide.  (The food pyramid guide arrives in1992.)  When the USDA call came, Light had just finished her graduate studies and was teaching at New York University.  Light’s book WHAT TO EAT:  THE TEN THINGS YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW TO EAT WELL AND BE HEALTHY (2006) documents what she calls the “bizarre” something that occurred during her time at the USDA (17). 

The first USDA effort to establish national dietary guidelines came from Wilbur Olin Atwater, an agricultural chemist, in 1902.  Atwater introduced the notion that the calorie is a good means to measure the efficiency of a human diet.  Atwater calculated which foods produced which amounts of energy, and he stressed eating more proteins, beans, and vegetables and less fat, sugar, and other starchy carbohydrates (www.healthy-eating-politics.com/usda-food-pyramid.html). 

In 1917, Caroline Hunt devised the first USDA food guide.  Hunt came to the USDA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was director of the home economics program (http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2009/12/07/how-long-have-we-known-what-to-eat/#more-2637).  Hunt ignored Atwaters advice to limit fat and sugar intake and emphasized newly discovered vitamins and minerals.  She divided foods into five groups:  meat and milk, cereals, vegetables and fruit, fats and fatty foods, and sugar and sugary foods (www.healthy-eating-politics.com/usda-food-pyramid.html). 

In 1940, the National Academy of Sciences released the first Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), and the USDA, in post-war 1946, when food is no longer under war-time restrictions, released a new guide which offered seven food groups supporting the RDA requirements.  Once past milk, meat, and grains, the categories are somewhat incoherent:  milk and milk products; protein products; cereal products; green and yellow vegetables; potatoes and sweet potatoes; citrus, tomato, cabbage, salad greens; and butter and fortified margarine (www.healthy-eating-politics.com/usda-food-pyramid.html). 

Other guides, which contained contradictory advice, existed.  So in 1956 the USDA revised its guide to the “basic four”:  milk, meat, fruits and vegetables, and grain products (www.healthy-eating-politics.com/usda-food-pyramid.html).  But, by the 1960s, writes Light, “rising rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes” prompted a “furious debate” among nutritionists about “whether the basic four food groups were more of a marketing tool for food commodity groups than a useful technique for improving eating practices and protecting the public’s health” (13).  In the late 1970s, the USDA decided to redo the food guide.    

 Light devised a plan for the new food guide “based on studies of population diets, research on health problems linked to food and nutrition patterns, and the newest dietary standards from the National Academy of Sciences “(15).  She convened two expert groups “representing both sides of the government’s nutrition `fence,’ agricultural scientists who studied nutritional biochemistry and medical scientists who studied diet and chronic disease.” The new guide would, for the first time, “target levels for fat, sugar, sodium, fiber, calories, and trace minerals” (15). 

The daily guide Light and her team recommended is as follows, with lower servings for women and less active men:  five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables; two to three servings of dairy; five to seven ounces of protein foods (meat, poultry , fish, eggs, nuts, and beans); two to three servings of whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, or rice; four tablespoons of good fats  (olive, flaxseed, expeller cold-pressed vegetable oils); and limited amounts of refined carbohydrates.  Fats would provide 30 percent of calories, and sugars, no more than 10 percent of calories (17). 

Light sent the new food guide, which was in the form of a pyramid, to the office of the Secretary of Agriculture (a political appointee), and it came back changed.  Servings in the whole-grain category were increased from two to three servings to six to eleven servings, and the words “whole grain” were eliminated.  Dairy was increased from two to three servings to three to four servings.  Protein foods went from five to seven ounces daily to two to three servings.  Fats and oils went from four tablespoons to “use moderately.”  And sugars went from no more than 10 percent of the diet to “use moderately” (17).  The pyramid form was gone. 

Light was horrified, furious, and feared, especially, that the whole-grain alteration would increase national risks of obesity and diabetes.  Light laments the notion that any product with wheat (white bread, Twinkies, Oreos, bagels) would now be considered equivalent to a whole-grain product with intact fiber and nutrients.  She laments the fact that when Congress later set the USDA guide into “legislative `stone,’ “ it became illegal not to serve the expanded number of grain servings—which affected all publicly funded food programs, like the food stamp program and the public school lunch programs.  She laments the plight of poor people who would now feel hungry all the time as cheap carbohydrates would not fill them up and would make them fat.  And, she laments the loss of credibility and integrity of a USDA tasked with being a source of reliable nutritional information, but which had ignored deliberately “research-based dietary advice” in order to “bolster sales of agricultural products” (17-21).     

Thus, Light notes, Americans increased their “consumption of refined grain products from record lows in the 1970s to the six to eleven servings suggested in the new guide.”  By the 1980s, Americans were consuming one hundred forty-seven pounds of wheat flour and cereal products, and by 2000, two hundred pounds, for an increase of 25 percent (21).  And, presently, two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese (3).  Additionally, “we’re continuously massaged by subtle, misleading persuasions to forget the consequences and indulge today” (5). 

Food, Light writes, is a big part of what some have called a “third industrial revolution” (4).  We are now “eating foods and ingredients unknown to our ancestors and even to our parents and grandparents.  Our foods have changed dramatically, but our nutritional requirements still mirror those of our ancient Paleolithic ancestors” (9).  Light writes that “in the past fifty years food has been transformed into packaged products designed by industrial engineers for long shelf life, profitability, and repeat purchases.”  And, “after sixty years of eating `scientifically,’ we seem to have reached the moment of truth.  The great Western experiment in reinvented food has proven itself to be a health disaster” (31). 

Additionally, as our environment has changed drastically, we struggle now with serious air, water, and soil pollution.  “Pollutants stored in our tissues,” writes Light, “cause damage to our immune and neuroendocrine systems, impairing our health and inhibiting our ability to digest, absorb, and utilize the nutrients we consume” (10).  And, “pollutants can raise nutrient requirements leading to nutritional shortfalls that interfere with growth, reproduction, bone strength, muscle tone, and body functions.”  This syndrome of “nutritional malaise,” Light assesses, is causing as many as 70 million adults to “suffer from some form of digestive malady…”—which is, in turn, producing more serious diseases, like diabetes, high blood pressure, cancers, osteoporosis, asthma, and arthritis” (10).  Worse, “genetic damage from toxic products can be passed on from one ge-neration to the next…” (241). 

Light’s ten rules for healthy eating center on not eating polluted, synthetic food, which includes industrially raised animals and eggs; on eating nutrient-dense whole foods; on eating natural fats (butter, olive oil, and nuts) and avoiding synthetic fats (highly processed vegetable oils, like soy, corn, safflower, cottonseed, and canola); and on avoiding all refined and processed foods. 

In 1992, eleven years later, the USDA issued a revised food pyramid which endorsed what Light calls “a healthy eating message” that has “never been so explicit again” since it, in turn, was altered along the lines heard in the era of the basic four food groups:  all food is good food (246-247).

Interesting Information: Cancer Rates, Delmarva Peninsula

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Interesting Information:  June 14, 2010

Cancer Rates, Delmarva Peninsula

The Maine Organic Farmers’ and Growers Association quarterly journal came last week some time.  The journal always list up-to-date information about toxins.  This issue had a piece of information that I’ve searched for, off and on, for some time–cancer rates on the Eastern Shore.   

The area where my niece Catherine died, called the Eastern Shore, is part of a larger geographical structure called the Delmarva Peninsula–for the states of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia which make it up.  The Delmarva peninsula is known for chicken production (growing and slaughtering) and for truck gardening.  The produce goes to neighboring urban areas, among them DC and Baltimore. 

Catherine lived just downwind from a chicken processing plant.  Neighboring fields were covered routinely with chicken manure.  These plants pumped bloody water into the bay.  Indeed, pfiesteria piscicida was discovered in the Chesapeake Bay very near her home south of Onancock.  Pfiesteria piscicida kills, massively kills, fish.  And, it has been associated with both the handling of pig and chicken manure in large, industrial practices, as a quick google search demonstrates.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pfiesteria_piscicida  and http://www.grist.org/article/last/

Anyway, here is the article from the June-August 2010 MOFGA journal, pages 9 and 10.  I’ve just retyped it exactly as it appears:

“Sheila Pell reports in Emagazine that some 70 percent of U.S. broiler chickens, as well as turkeys and swine, are given the arsenic-based growth promoting feed additive roxarsone.  While some of that organic arsenic remains in chicken meat, most is excreted and breaks down into inorganic arsenic, a strong promoter of many cancers.  In Prairie Grove, Arkansas, which is surrounded by large poultry factory farms, and where manure from those farms is used extensively as fertilizer on area fields, incidences of rare cancers are high.  A decade ago, the town’s 2,500 residents learned that 17 children there suffered from cancers including brain and testicular cancer and leukemia.  Likewise, the  Peninsula, another area with factory poultry farms, has one of the highest cancer rates in the United States.  Manure that isn’t used as fertilizer is added to cattle feed.  The National Chicken Council claims that roxarsone, an antibiotic, contributes to “animal health and welfare, food  and environmental sustainability.”  (“Arsenic and Old Studies–Pressure Is On to Ban a Hazardous but Profitable Feed Additive,” by Sheila Pell, Emagazine, March-April 2010; http://www.emagazine.com/view/?5064). 

High cancer rates on the Delmarva peninsula…  It’s nice to see it confirmed…

When Catherine was dying, and we all started at looking at why she might have gotten such an aggressive cancer–it killed her in a year despite every medical intervention tried, including a stem-cell transplant at Duke–we wondered about all the cancer in young people where she lived.  We wondered about the water.  We wondered about the truck gardening.  We really wondered about the chicken industry.

The Eastern Shore in perfectly suited for large industry, in that while there are some wealthy people who have vacation homes, most of the area is poor.  The chicken and produce industries provide jobs–though many of them, I suspect from looking at who was working in the fields, are going to illegal immigrants.  Anyway, no one locally will fight what is happening to the environment–even though many families have been struck with the nightmare of cancer.

Arsenic has never been banned in the United States, and it is still used agriculturally. 

 

Written by louisaenright

June 14, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Tipping Points 11: The Chemical Madness Maze

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Tipping Points 11

The Chemical Madness Maze

  

Three events in the past few weeks are swirling around in my mind. 

First, blueberries made the “dirty dozen” produce list.  At position 5, blueberries join apples (4) and potatoes (11)—all major crops for Maine farmers.  Being on the “dirty dozen” list is not good for business. 

Second, The President’s Cancer Panel (PCP) released its 2008-2009 report entitled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk:  What We Can Do Now.”  Consumers, especially parents, are urged by the Cancer Panel to “buy food that has not been sprayed or grown with chemical fertilizers,” a message that is increasing in frequency and volume these days. 

Nicholas D. Kristof called the President’s Cancer Panel “the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream.”  And, former President George W. Bush appointed the Cancer Panel’s current members:  an oncologist and professor of surgery at Howard University and an immunologist at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  The Cancer Panel’s report is available on-line:  http://pcp.cancer.gov .  I urge you, especially if you are a parent or are involved in chemical applications, to read it. 

Third, Maine’s Pesticide Control Board (PCB) has scheduled a series of public meetings (May 14, June 24 and 25, and July 23) to discuss the public’s right-to-know about chemical spraying.  Existing law concerning the pesticide registry, where people could register to be notified of spraying, was seriously weakened last year. 

The seven members of the PCB are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Legislature.  Because the constitution of this board obviously was designed for political and perceived economic reasons, board members are expected to defend their particular turfs, which includes chemical farming and forestry and chemical spraying businesses. 

The Cancer Panel report states that our regulatory system for chemicals is deeply broken; that we are putting ourselves and, more importantly, our children at great risk; and that we must adopt precautionary measures rather than using reactionary measures (waiting until sufficient maiming and killing has occurred) with regard to the more than 80,000 improperly tested chemicals we are allowing to be dispersed with impunity. 

 In 2009, the Cancer Panel report discloses, 1.5  million people were diagnosed with cancer and 562,000 people died of cancer.   Today, some 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their life times.  From 1975–2006, cancer incidence in U.S. children under 20 years of age has increased. 

The Cancer Panel directly connects cancer and environmental toxins:  “a growing body of research documents myriad established and suspected environmental factors linked to genetic, immune, and endocrine dysfunction that can lead to cancer and other diseases.”  The Cancer Panel is “particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated” and that human “exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread.” 

The Cancer Panel sums up current problems with our regulatory systems.  Included among the problems are “undue industry influence,” “weak laws and regulations,” and “inadequate funding and insufficient staffing.”  What results is “agency dysfunction and a lack of will to identify and remove hazards.”

For instance, the Cancer Panel determines that the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) “may be the most egregious example of ineffective regulation of environmental contaminants.”  TSCA “grandfathered in approximately 62,000 chemicals; today, more than 80,000 chemicals are in use, and 1,000–2,000 new chemicals are created and introduced into the environment each year.”   Yet, writes the Panel, “TSCA does not include a true proof-of-safety provision”—which means “neither industry nor government confirm the safety of existing or new chemicals prior to their sale and use.”

TSCA allows chemical companies, reveals the Cancer Panel, to avoid discovering worrisome product information, which must be reported, by simply not conducting toxicity tests.  And, as the “EPA can only require testing if it can verify that the chemical poses a health risk to the public,” the “EPA has required testing of less than 1 percent of the chemicals in commerce and has issued regulations to control only five existing chemicals.”  Additionally, “chemical manufacturers have successfully claimed that much of the requested submissions are confidential, proprietary information.”  So, “it is almost impossible for scientists and environmentalists to challenge the release of new chemicals.”  

In addition, the Cancer Panel notes that the U.S. “does not use most of the international measures, standards, or classification structures for environmental toxins that have broad acceptance in most other countries,” which makes meaningful comparisons difficult.  Further, U.S. standards are “less stringent than international equivalents.” 

In the chapter on agricultural chemicals, the Cancer Panel reports that “the entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping.  Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties.”  For instance,” pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides)” approved for use by the EPA “contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic.  Many of the solvents, fillers, and other chemicals listed as inert ingredients on pesticide labels also are toxic, but are not required to be tested for their potential to cause chronic diseases such as cancer.”

The Cancer Panel states that agricultural chemicals do not stay put.  Sprayed chemicals migrate on the air and into the water, creating toxic trespass into other peoples’ lives.  Indeed, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, who is quoted in the report, writes in her book LIVING DOWNSTREAM, that “in general, less that 0.1 percent of pesticides applied for pest control actually reach their target pests, leaving 99.9 percent to move into the general environment.” 

Farmers, their families, their workers, and chemical sprayers (including crop dusters) bear the highest health risks, according to the Cancer Panel.   Farm children, especially those living near pesticide use, have consistently elevated leukemia rates.  Exposure to the nearly 1,400 EPA-registered pesticides “has been linked to brain/central nervous system (CNS), breast, colon, lung, ovarian (female spouses), pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach cancers, as well as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma.”  

It is very clear that we cannot continue using untested chemicals.  It is very clear that we are massively harming our children.  It is very clear that we must develop a political will for change and that we must devise ways to help the people caught in the chemical madness maze to escape it without undue financial penalty.       

Therefore, it follows that we must all understand that the problem at hand is not how to organize a chemical spraying registry.  It follows that we must all understand that the problem for individual PCB members is no longer how to protect present chemical practices.  The problem that we must all now face is how to stop the use of untested, toxic, dangerous chemicals. 

Statements to the PCB can be sent to the Director, Henry Jennings, henry.jennings@maine.gov.        

Write the PCB members and tell them that you recognize that they now have an incredibly difficult task.  Tell them that they must understand now that their primary responsibility must be to protect us and to protect themselves and their loved ones.  Tell them that this duty must supercede all other considerations.

Tipping Points 10: Meat Chickens

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Tipping Points 10

June 9, 2010

 

Meat Chickens

 I am helping raise fifty pastured meat chickens with Pete and Rose Thomas of the Vegetable Shed on Route 173 in Lincolnville.  I am mostly a bystander at this stage.  I paid for our twenty chicks when they arrived, am paying for half of the feed as Pete and Rose are doing all the work, paid for half of some of the start-up equipment, and go admire how healthy and beautiful the chickens are about once a week.  I will help slaughter them later this month.

We got twenty pastured chickens in a Community Shared Agriculture arrangement last fall, and we would have done so again.  But, as Pete and Rose helped us acquire and manage our layers, it emerged that they wanted to raise some Silver Cross meat chickens.  They agreed to let us be partners, and we’re all learning a lot as we go along.

After watching the movie JULIE AND JULIA, where Julie Powell cooks all 536 recipes in Volume One of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (1961) in one year and blogs about the experience, I pulled out my Volume One—nearly 50 years old now and one of the cookbooks I brought with me when we culled books and moved to Maine.  I made the master leek and potato soup recipe.  Delicious!  Next, as I’ve never been a strong baker, I challenged myself with the cake section.  I was amazed at how many eggs and how little flour and sugar the French one-layer cakes contained.  And, real butter cream icing is velvet on the tongue; has an intense, satisfying flavor; and is smooth all the way down.  Yummo!

Then, I discovered the DVD set of eighteen of the early Julia Child television shows, made throughout the 1960s.  One of these shows is “How To Roast A Chicken.”  Julia lines up six chickens to compare their sizes and purposes:  a broiler, a fryer, a roaster, a capon (castrated rooster), a stewing fowl, and an “old lady” hen fit only for soup.  The broiler Julia shows weighs 1 ½ to 2 ½ pounds and is 2 to 3 months old.  The roasting chicken is 4 to 7 pounds and is 5 ½ to 9 months old.

Nowadays, we are raising 4 to 5-pound Cornish Cross chickens in six or seven weeks.

And, they are tasteless.  In her memoir MY LIFE IN FRANCE, Julia sums up the problem she encounters in 1955 when she begins to experiment with chicken cookery:  “The American poultry industry had made it possible to grow a fine-looking fryer in record time and sell it at a reasonable price, but no one mentioned that the result usually tasted like the stuffing inside of a teddy bear” (213).

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (NCAT), beginning in the 1950s, industry worked to develop a chicken that was meatier, was broad-breasted, grew rapidly, converted feed efficiently, had limited feathering which minimized plucking, and which had “other traits considered desirable for rearing very large numbers of birds in confinement.”  Uniformity dictates this model.  If all the birds are the same size, processing equipment can be designed for maximum technical efficiency (http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/poultry_genetics.html).

In April 2009, Harvey Ussery, in “Backyard Poultry Magazine,” noted that the development of the Cornish Cross has “pushed muscle tissue growth to extremes, at the expense of balanced growth of all other systems—resulting in failed tendons and crippled legs, compromised immune systems, heart failure, and other problems.”  This chicken is given antibiotics and arsenic to “force still faster growth.”  And, since they are raised in “filthy, high-stress conditions,” antibiotics are required from “day one to slaughter” (“Sunday Dinner Chicken:  Alternatives to the Cornish Cross,” Apr/May 2009, “Backyard Poultry Magazine,” www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Cornish+Cross+Alternatives.html.).

Ussery vowed never again to “coddle such a compromised bird” when he lost twenty-two in two hours during a temperature spike.  The distressed birds, wrote Ussery, were at slaughter weight.  And, they “sat…in the shade of their pasture shelter, panting desperately, and died—rather than walk six feet for a drink of water outside the shelter.”  Meanwhile, his group of “young New Hampshires, the same age as the Cornish Cross to the day, [were] scooting about the pasture like little waterbugs, crossing their entire electronetted area when they needed a drink of water.”

Steve Hode of the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, who raises chickens in Windsor, Maine, says the flesh of the Cornish Cross chickens is so soft that it dissolves in your mouth without much chewing.  Further, Hode noted, the bones of these chickens, because they grow so fast, never develop the density that makes for mineral-rich bone broths.

The efficient feed conversion factor means that meat chickens are fed, as are industrial layers, 90 percent corn and 10 percent soy.  Feeds, even organic feeds, contain the synthetic protein methionine and an array of chemicals and waste-product oils.  Changing to 70 percent corn and 30 percent soy solves the protein problem, but affects production costs as less carbohydrate (corn) means a longer growth time, more money for additional feed, and more manure (“There’s a synthetic in my organic chicken,” Rodale Institute, 1 April 2005, http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/columns/org_news/2005/0405/methionine.shtml).  A 70/30 mixture does not solve the problem of making omnivore chickens vegetarians, which affects the omega 3 to 6 ratio of the meat.

According to the Lion’s Grip web site, what chickens prefer to eat is much more diverse.  Too see this list is to understand how blighted a diet of 90 percent corn, 10 percent soy, and a bunch of chemicals is.  Chickens need ample grass and living plants, especially clover; subterranean flora and fauna; insects; and protein that raises the omega 3 content of flesh and eggs so that it is equal to the omega 6 content, like fish, meat, milk worms, and nuts.  A grain supplement should only be given free choice and should be based on a mixture of five or more grains.  Legumes should be offered with grain to balance grain proteins.  Salt should come from free-choice kelp, and calcium from oyster shells or grass-fed bone.  Oils, like the highly processed, already rancid waste products from industry, should never be added to chicken feed   (www.lionsgrip.com/chickensidealfeed.html).

We are feeding our chickens commercial organic feed, as we have not yet worked out how else to feed a large flock of organic chickens outside what the so-called free market has standardized.  We do not like giving the chickens soy, synthetic chemicals, and waste products from industry.  But we have not yet located local grain mixtures and protein sources that are economically feasible and not too time consuming to organize.

Four major transnational companies supply 80 to 90 percent of the chicks to the worldwide commercial meat chicken industry, some in the form of hatching eggs sold to independent hatcheries.  Alternatives to the Cornish Crosses are limited, but some of these companies are now offering a slower growing Cornish Cross, like our Silver Crosses, which are slaughtered closer to their sexual maturity.  And, and at least one of these companies, Hubbard, a French company, is offering a chicken sold under the Red Label system in France that is most commonly known here as a Freedom Ranger.  This chicken, apparently, takes twelve weeks to grow, forages pasture well, and is loaded with flavor.

Our Silver Cross chickens come from Henry Noll in Pennsylvania.   While still a Cornish Cross, they are slower growing and will take at least 9 weeks to grow to 5 pounds.  Crossed with a Barred Rock, they are a beautiful silver grey with barred feathers and red combs.  Pete and Rose, who ate one last fall, say they definitely taste better than the flavor-challenged standard Cornish Cross.

Our chickens are very lively and have huge yellow feet and legs.  You can tell which ones are roosters now, and they are, suddenly, looking quite heavy.  However, all of them eat like piranhas.  It’s eerie to watch them eat.  And they are eating us out of house and home.  They will eat the grass and clover in their large, movable pen only if grain is withheld.

So, for fall and the future, we are looking to the Freedom Ranger chicken.  Ussery describes the meat as being “incomparably better.”  And NCAT says the “meat is flavorful and firm, but not tough.”  Freedom Rangers are also good layers.

Do not ask us to sell our meat chickens to you.  We cannot.  The food Nazis at the Quality Assurance and Regulation Division of the Maine Department of Agriculture, in the name of food safety and without any evidence of problems, will likely be successful in revoking the 1,000-bird poultry exemption for small farmers.  Now, any farmer who wants to sell even one chicken must build his/her own, very expensive processing facility, which would only be used a few weeks a  year.  Additionally, equipment may not be shared between farmers.

Here’s exactly how government helps the big and uniform get bigger and more uniform.  Here’s how small, local, and diverse gets driven out of the market.  Here’s how tasteless chickens are created.

Tipping Points 6: The Untold Story of Milk

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(You may want to read my essays in order.)

April 26, 2010

Tipping Points 6

The Untold Story of Milk

 Ron Schmid, in his recently updated book THE UNTOLD STORY OF MILK (2009), explores the history of the commercial milk industry.  The pattern Schmid describes is the same pattern described by Will Allen in THE WAR ON BUGS (2008), discussed in Tipping Points 4.  Both men show that industry demonizes competitive practices (organic farming, raw milk), creates and uses junk science, purchases massive amounts of advertising, and acquires government support to legalize industry practices and to police industry domination of the desired market. 

Schmid shows how little freedom of choice we actually have with regard to milk.  Most Americans have lost the ability to purchase nutrient dense raw milk, and too many dairy farmers have been driven from their farms due to relentless industry pressures to produce large quantities of milk cheaply. 

Schmid demonstrates that all commercial dairy cows, including organic cows, are production units in an industrial system.  The cowness of these cows is being violated.  Commercial cows are neither grazed on pasture nor milked for a reasonable amount of milk.  Thus, the commercial milk system is a garbage in/garbage out system. The milk from these factory cows is not the same as the nutrient dense milk from a pasture-fed cow.  And, industry-processed milk is highly processed.   

Today’s commercial milk industry, as Schmid’s research shows, has not changed philosophically and, in many ways, physically since the early 1800s at the dawn of this industry.  Then, cows were located next to and fed with the swill from whiskey distilleries.  In the late 1830s, Schmid relates, Robert Hartley wrote graphically about the conditions in these dairies.  These cows stood constantly in filth and foul air (55).  They produced cheap slop milk that was so thin and blue that dealers added “starch, sugar, flour, plaster of Paris, and chalk” to give it substance and color (36).  Hartley believed slop milk to be dangerous because when he drank it unknowingly while traveling, it made him sick (33-38).  Unbelievably, the last distillery dairy did not close until 1930. 

Today, Schmid writes, many industrial cows are fed such things as pellets made from the chemically tainted sludge from ethanol plants; chicken manure, which is a known source of salmonella; grain, which increases milk production but causes acidosis and which permits the cow’s stomach to harbor acid-resistant E. coli pathogens; soybeans; bakery waste (bread, cakes, pastries, and candy bars); and “citrus peel cake loaded with pesticides” (39, 223, 358, 298, 324).  Today, most commercial cows are kept in environmentally controlled dairy barns where they stand constantly on concrete floors, which causes painful, laming infections of their feet (210-211).  Normally, cows spend about 50 percent of their time lying down (212). 

Schmid shows that commercial cows are either sickening or sick.  The average life span of a commercial dairy cow is only 3½ years, rather than the normal 12 to 15 years (206).  The national Mastitis Council estimates that some 40 percent of “all dairy cows have some form of mastitis,” an infection of the udder—which means that a lot of commercial milk is coming from sick cows who are being given antibiotics and other drugs.  Medicating sick cows, in turn, “kills off beneficial bacteria in the cows’ intestinal tracts and allows pathogens to proliferate.” 

Thus, Schmidt concludes, both the industry and our industry-corrupted government accept “a substantial amount of disease in confinement cows as part and parcel of the operation” (215).  And, Schmidt adds that “for over fifty years, the federal government has done everything in its power to encourage the production of large quantities of cheap milk and cheap food in general—at the expense of quality and at the price of driving millions of small, quality-conscious farmers off the land” (164).

Cooking milk, or pasteurization, supposedly kills pathogens (210-214).  But commercial milk contains pathogens that even ultrapasteurization cannot kill:  Johne’s disease bacteria, known as Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis and thought to cause Crohn’s disease; Listeria monocytogenes; and E. coli O157:H7, a deadly strain of this particular E. coli strain (437, 358-359, 238-239).  [Schmid cautions, however, that many forms of E.coli do not cause human illness and, in fact, “play a beneficial role in the digestive track.”  Even with E. coli O157:H7, “Schmid writes, “only a few…strains are pathogenic” (311).]  Additionally, cows eating moldy grain can excrete into their milk aflatoxins, which are liver carcinogens and which pasteurization does not kill.  And, commercial pasteurized milk has harbored antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella strains that have caused widespread illness and, even, death (231).

Many pathogens today have recently emerged.  The industrialized, centralized food system is producing these new pathogens.  They are the blowback from the breakdown of holistic farming practices that respect the cowness of cows and the levels of use the soil can support.  Using technological solutions, such as moving from pasteurization to ultrapasteurization to irradiation, is only creating further problems for humans as these solutions are altering food components. 

Schmid writes that Robert Tauxe, from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), reported in 2002 that 13 recently emerged pathogens annually cause the 76 million individual cases of food-borne illnesses, 300,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths.  Tauxe estimated that one in four Americans experience a food-borne illness every year.  Additionally, Schmid argues, it is becoming clearer that much human illness is being caused by the “reduced human immunity due to poor nutrition” caused by consuming products from the centralized food system (274-277). 

Nevertheless, Schmid writes, “milk in general—both pasteurized and raw—is a particularly safe food” when compared to the amount of food-borne illnesses created by the food industry.  In 1997, “milk and milk products accounted for only two tenths of one percent of all reported cases of food-borne illness.”  But, when an outbreak occurs, Schmid cautions, it “usually involves many individuals” (274). 

The more important question—and the subject of Tipping Points 8—is not whether commercial milk is safe, but whether, as processed as it is, it supports human health.  Schmid argues that commercial milk is, from the beginning, a compromised product that can and does produce allergic reactions and chronic illness.  In my terms, commercial milk is a fake food since the cows are not fed what cows eat, which is grass; are not treated properly, which means they are diseased and pumped full of drugs; and as the milk is heavily processed and adulterated with additives—some of which, like the addition of dried nonfat milk to skim milk, are not listed on the label as they are deemed to be industry standard practices.  

We can help our remaining dairy farmers to survive by helping them to escape the commercial system.  Unless you’ve been on chemotherapy, you can help develop a regional milk market by buying local real milk, cream, and value-added milk products, like butter, cheese, kefir, and yogurt.  The web site, Real Milk is one place that lists where to find local milk:  www.realmilk.com.  And, The Weston A. Price Foundation web site is another place where the benefits of real milk are discussed:  www.westonapricefoundation.org.  Real milk may cost a bit more, but as it is a whole, nutrient dense food, you’ll benefit more.  And, likely, you’ll spend less on treating illness.

Tipping Points 5: I Believe

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(You may want to read my essays in order.)

Tipping Points 5

April 9, 2010

I Believe

The movie Food, Inc. came to Rockland, Maine, this past July (2009), and I missed it.  My husband heard an interview with Michael Pollan, who is in the movie.  Pollan discussed how commercial potato fields are sprayed with a chemical fungicide so toxic that workers do not go into the fields afterwards for a full five days.  I confirmed Pollan’s statement and discovered he also says that once grown, the potatoes have to sit for up to six months before the toxins they contain dissipate. 

In August, while chatting with two other people in a windjammer galley, I said that I was looking forward to seeing Food, Inc. when the DVD is released.  A nearby crew member, a high school student, said, “I saw the preview, and I thought it was trying to scare me.”

Setting aside my sudden memory of a recent preview I had seen of a summer blockbuster which involved robots killing everything in sight and a soundtrack that blew me out of my seat, I asked the young man if he had seen the whole movie.  “No,” he said, and followed with what was a heartfelt and emotionally delivered statement:  “I know that the food in the supermarket is ok.  I know that my food is safe and is good for me.”

Belief systems are notoriously powerful.  People will shed blood and, even, life for them.  Belief systems are laden with “facts” that are easy to disprove, but which the heart embraces.  The mystery to me is what this young man’s heart was embracing.  What lay beneath the belief that the great majority of our national food system is producing food that is safe and nourishing when it is demonstrably neither? 

Another reaction I experience often is anger.  One young mother did not like hearing about food issues because “they make me feel like a bad mother.”  What emerged next was “I do not know what to do.”  And, she’s right.  With all the industry-produced junk science claims circulating, how does anyone know what or whom to believe?  Plus, it is time consuming to do the research necessary to figure out who is attached to industry claims and who is not.   

The current, awesome cultural power of our modern food industry represents a development span of over 150 years.  This industry has acquired massive political clout–our government supports and promotes cheap, dangerous, and fake foods and oversees an irresponsible regulatory system.  This industry has successfully managed the legal system; has driven out or co-opted competitors, like organic foods or real milk; has bought scientists who create and promote junk science; has gained control of unregulated media advertising; and has placed this fake, tainted food in one-stop, convenient outlets.  Together with the drug industry, the food industry has manipulated the academic and medical industries so that they create, promote, and teach their junk science and promote their products.

But, if one takes seriously that the safety of our food system has been co-opted by unregulated industry acting rationally in its own interests, one has to begin making personal changes if one wants to be healthy.  Our personal changes can create a new paradigm, one that supports belief with facts that can be investigated and substantiated.

Change always involves first changing the stories we tell ourselves.  There is, thus, a role for emotional belief when it supports the ethic that human and societal health have to trump industry profit.  Have hope, for there are at least three powerful philosophical concepts emerging:  the Precautionary Principle, the rights of all to “the commons,” and the rights of all against toxic trespass. 

The Precautionary Principle states that no chemical can be used unless it has been thoroughly demonstrated not to be harmful for human life.  This concept animates recent regulatory and legal changes in Europe and Canada.  The EU’s Regulation, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals Act (REACH) went into effect in June 2007.  Though considerably mitigated in the political process, especially by efforts of the US State Department under Colin Powell, which acted as agents for the US chemical industry, REACH represents a big crack in the dike. 

In Canada, activists trying to ban ChemLawn chemicals used the Precautionary Principle as a legal strategy rather than pitting their experts against ChemLawn’s experts.  ChemLawn lost.  This story is told in the film A Chemical Reaction, shown this fall at the Camden (Maine) International Film Festival (CIFF).  Portland’s Paul Tukey (Safe Lawns) became ill after applying lawn chemicals, primarily 2, 4-D–a synthetic chemical in the phenoxy class (which includes Agent Orange) and which has a strong association with the rise of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Also, Tukey’s son was born with severe ADHD which doctors think was caused by Tukey’s exposure to lawn chemicals as they affect reproduction.  After losing this particular case in Canada, ChemLawn changed its Canadian name to GreenLawn and its American name to TruGreen. 

“The Commons” concept is taken from the lost use of peasant-farmed common land in Europe in the 1400-1500s.  Today, “the commons” concept supports the ability of local areas to stop industrial dumping of Class A sewage sludge into a local environment.  Or, the extraction of local water for bottled water sales.  Or, in the case of our Port Clyde, Maine, fisherman, as detailed in the local movie recently shown at CIFF, The Fish Are For The People, the unsustainable harvesting of too many fish from our local waters by nonlocal industrial boats.  Certainly, clean air and water can be seen as “the commons.”

Toxic Trespass covers both the spread of unwanted chemicals and of Genetically Modified (GM) seeds.  In 1997, Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser noticed that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GM seeds had taken root at the edges of his fields next to public roads.  He collected his own seed, as usual, but by 1998, 95 percent of his 1030 acres were contaminated with Monsanto’s GM canola.  Monsanto tried to charge Schmeiser $400,000 for this seed, but he refused to pay or to settle since settlement included a legal “gag” provision.  Under patent law, Schmeiser lost his trial, his appeal, and, later, in the Supreme Court. 

Schmeiser quit planting.  The work of his life, the development of his own seed, was destroyed.  The movie The Future of Food (2004) suggested the idea that Schmeiser’s situation involved a trespass concept.  Monsanto seeds either blew into Schmeiser’s fields from truck beds or spread there on their own.  In 2005, Schmeiser found more Roundup Ready Canola in his fields.  He had the fields cleaned ($660) and sent the bill to Monsanto, but they refused to pay.  Schmeiser sued, and this time, Monsanto lost.    

To date, no one is holding chemical applicators responsible for chemical drift into the soil, water, or air in any meaningful way.  But, the idea of toxic trespass linked to the Precautionary Principle and our right to a clean “commons” holds promise for those willing to insist on a different, safer world.

Tipping Points 4: The Emperor Has No Clothes

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(You may want to read my essays in order.)

Tipping Points 4

April 7, 2010

The Emperor Has No Clothes

 Will Allen was the keynote speaker at the MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association) Common Ground Fair in September 2009.  I would have gone to hear him rain or shine.  His 2008 book THE WAR ON BUGS is a history of agricultural and home-use chemicals in the United States.  Allen tells this ugly story to spotlight the Emperor’s nakedness:  our society does not have a mechanism to protect people from the excesses of the market.  Corporations, acting rationally in their own best interests, are making irrational decisions that adversely affect everyone.   

The historical process Allen describes is present in the development of most American industries, but if we look at just the agricultural and home-use chemical industry, we can see clearly how irrationality has replaced rationality, how we are all, including those making decisions within this industry, being massively poisoned.  Allen exposes how the modern web of players—corporate industry, scientists in academia, media, politicians, and the government organizations whose charters are to protect citizens—cooperate to relentlessly and, so far, successfully push the products of this industry. 

Allen tells how the loss of nourishing soil fertility begins in Europe alongside the birth of the capitalistic paradigm.  The landgrab enclosure movement of 1400-1500 halts the use of the common lands; forces large numbers of peasants to relocate to cities, which makes their labor available for industry; and allows, for a few individuals at the top of the society, the acquisition of both land and cheap labor.  The stage–designed by those with the cultural power to change the laws and to control the policing mechanisms–is set now for agricultural profit taking and the accumulation of capital.  Productivity, however, declines (3-4). 

This process of careless large-scale monocrop farming is duplicated in America, except for a small group of mostly small, northern, self-sufficient yeoman farmers (3-15).  Rich men exhausted land fertility and moved to new land–which was, often, given to land companies for free or for a few cents an acre by the government in charge (21-22).  For instance, in 1749 a land grant from King George II helped organize The Ohio Company.  By 1792, after the Revolution, this land company controlled 6,700,000 acres of land along the Ohio River, making George Washington, one of this land company’s leaders, one of the richest men in America (6).        

By the early 1800s, soil fertility on large-scale farms was devastated (13).  But, the first chemical quick fix was discovered.  Peruvian bird guano, mined by slaves and prisoners, was imported in the late 1820s–until supplies were exhausted in the late 1850s (25-26).  Next, fertilizer merchants created, manufactured, and sold, with relentless, repetitive advertising campaigns, attempted copies of the natural guano (30-31). 

So, writes Allen, the stage is now set for the seemingly benign and cheap chemical fix for ruined land, for pest control on monocrops, and for the promise of the reduction of labor costs.  But, the actual price was and is the continued degradation of the land and of the food since, while these farmers produced cheaper food, this food was of poorer quality and contained poisons (139). 

Also, the developing commercial fertilizer industry allowed the continued acquisition of land by large-scale commercial farms since the process whereby small farmers who could not compete lost their land accelerated (46).  Additionally, large-scale farmers had political power.  They could and did control access to the developing transportation systems bringing food to markets that were becoming increasingly centralized in cities (66-67). 

The next set of fertilizers, continues Allen, are the waste products of industry:  sodium nitrate from salt mining; arsenic and lead pesticides from iron and copper smelting, fabric dyeing, and paint manufacturing; cyanide gas from ammonium-cyanide production; natural gas and hydrogen used to make nitrogen for fertilizers, from gasoline or coke manufacturing; and fluorine from uranium mining.  So, as time passed, our food, more and more, was grown with industrial wastes (xxv-xxvi). 

But, what Allen is able to show by looking so closely at the history of this industry is the pattern that evolves for American industry formation.  What evolves alongside the markets for these waste products—and which still exists–is a top-down imposition of junk science.  Industry endows academic “research” departments and laboratories to support the use of industrial waste products.  Academia ignores actual data from the field that does not support the new message.  Industry organizes relentless advertising campaigns and heavily invests in the media, like farm journals, which promote the claims of the junk science that sells the waste product.  Industry controls politically the government mechanisms that should be protecting citizens.  And, anyone who protests or offers actual scientific proof that the junk science is flawed is ridiculed and/or run out of the arena (35-39, 68-73, 77-79, 82-91).          

This industry knows exactly how dangerous these chemicals are to human health because most of these chemicals (fluorines, carbonates, organophosphates, bromines, pyrethrum powder, and rotenone) were extensively tested during the war years.  The U.S. Army, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the USDA, and the “dominant chemical companies on the American side” tested thousands of old and new chemicals for their toxic potential during the war years” (131).  And, the Nazis and the cartel of companies known as I. G. Farben “experimented with all the known chemicals on concentration-camp victims throughout World War II” (129).  Yet the legal process to ban chemicals in America is limited to fights to ban a single chemical, rather than classes of chemicals, and this industry wages all out war to prevent any chemical, no matter how dangerous, from being banned 235).    

The ugly truth is that these chemicals either do not get regulated or, when regulated, are not policed adequately.  Arsenic, a heavy metal that is acutely toxic, is still in agricultural use today and will have a continued presence in agricultural soils for up to 100 years (124).  Arsenic causes cancer, lung and stomach damage, and serious debilitation to people or animals exposed to application drift (233). 

Methyl bromide has been scheduled for banning for ten years, but politically powerful large-scale strawberry, grape, and fruit farmers in California and Florida successfully obtained special-exemption uses in 2007 and 2008.  This chemical has already caused serious environmental degradation from aquifer to ozone.  In humans it causes “mutations, tumors, and monstrous birth defects” and is “incredibly lethal in very small doses so that pest resistance does not develop” (233-234, 244).   

Many banned chemicals, like DDT, suspended in 1972, creep back into patented chemical formulas (Kelthane) as part of the secret “inerts” ingredients.  This company was not fined by the government (175). 

Bigger and bigger farms—which grow through the logic of unregulated capitalism–means more and more chemicals are dumped into the environment and onto our food.  Surely we can recognize, thanks to Allen’s work, that the Emperor is naked, that there is a terrible flaw in our society.  Surely we can understand the history Allen charts between these abusive, needless practices and the growth of our own illnesses and deaths.  Surely the tipping point of change must be nearing where we all support our regional networks of small farmers who produce such glorious, healthy, life-sustaining food.  

Tipping Points 2: Winning the Cancer War

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Tipping Points 2

April 2, 2010

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Winning the Cancer War

In June 2001, my niece and godchild Catherine, at twenty-seven years of age, died.  An aggressive form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma took her down in thirteen months.  She left behind her eighteen-month old daughter; a not-yet-thirty-year-old husband; and an extended family and a network of friends who all had tried, as she had, to move heaven and earth to preserve her life. 

Catherine’s death created a black hole in the fabric of the lives of those who loved her.  And, her death was most likely a casualty of the careless, heedless pollution of the land, water, and air on the rural Eastern Shore of Virginia where she lived.  There, the commercial chicken industry grows, slaughters, and dumps waste onto the fields and into the Chesapeake Bay.  There, large commercial agriculture grows vegetables for nearby urban markets, using, of course, the full array of agricultural chemicals.   

Catherine’s cancer and death is a metaphor for what is wrong in our society.  It was not until my early forties in the 1980s that I started noticing how many people around me were dying of cancer.  How many Americans, I now wonder, have to experience the kind of horrible death Catherine endured before we wake up, stop calling cancer “normal,” and insist that the poisonous practices causing cancer be stopped? 

But, when will this BIG tipping point arrive?

Catherine’s death produced a fork in the road for me.  I could continue to live life as usual.  Or, I could realize that life is precious and sometimes much shorter than we expect, and I could answer a deep longing to return to a quieter,  rural life lived closer to the earth, to its seasons, to nature.  That’s how I got to Maine. 

And, once in Maine, some time after I passed out at her dinner table from a food reaction, my neighbor recommended I read Dr. Sandra Steingraber’s book, LIVING DOWNSTREAM.  Steingraber is a scientist (biology) and an heir to Rachael Carson, who died of lymphoma.  Steingraber’s life choices have been made from the “watchful waiting” platform of one who had bladder cancer in her twenties.  She studies, and now shares, what she has learned about cancer and the connections between cancer and environmental degradation.

Steingraber demonstrates that we have no comprehensive national cancer registry.  The National Cancer Institute (NCI) “does not attempt to record all cases of cancer in the country, but instead samples about 14 percent of the populace” (37).  This sampling comes from five states and five specific metropolitan areas and has only been in place since 1973.  Other factors further complicate this sampling:  different states collect data differently, some are years behind in analysis, and the data cannot account for people who move around the country.  Some states, like Vermont, not in the NCI registry, have only had cancer registries since 1992 (41-42). 

Regardless of this vexed statistical terrain, Steingraber says it is possible to determine that “the incidence of cancer in the United States rose 49.3 percent between 1950 and 1991,” that “40 percent of us…will contract the disease sometime within our lifespans,” and that lymphoma is one of the cancers that has “escalated over the past twenty years” (41-42).  Indeed, the cancer that killed Catherine, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is one of three cancers “ascending most swiftly in the United States,” tripling since 1950 (47, 51).  Lymphomas are “consistently associated” with the phenoxy pesticides and herbicides which are used widely on crops, lawns, gardens, timber stands, and golf courses (52).  And, lymphomas occur in higher rates in agricultural areas (52, 64-65).  

My mother died in July 2009 from the same type of cancer that killed Catherine.  She lived in rural Georgia across the road from a young peach orchard posted with scull-and-crossbones poison signs and still reeking of chemicals many weeks after spraying occurred.  Even walking down the road next to the orchard drenched our clothes with the chemical odor.  Steingraber explains that when a chemical is sprayed, “less than 0.1 percent” stays on the target; the rest, or 99.9 percent, drifts “into the general environment (179).”  So, it is logical that lymphoma cancer rates are growing.

Now, in Georgia, where once there were dozens of peach farms in every little town, only about five companies control the commercial production of peaches—which means the connection between peach growers and those who live with their poisonous practices is broken.  This kind of distance is occurring all across the terrain of food as consumers, too, are distanced from the production of their food, which allows heinous practices to occur, from the spraying of poisonous chemicals, to the torture of animals, to the production of fake foods.      

Steingraber traces the history of the shift from a carbohydrate-based economy to a petrochemical-based economy after World War II when the chemical industry needed a new use for stockpiled war-produced chemicals.   After 1945, “between 45,000 and 100,000 chemicals” came into common use and only “1.5 to 3 percent” or “1,200 to 1,500 chemicals” have ever been “tested for carcinogenicity” (99).  These petroleum-derived synthetic chemicals “easily interact” with our bodies and, thus, interfere with our life processes.  Many are soluble in fat and collect in animal tissues high in fat, like human brains, breasts, bone marrows, and livers, all of which are sites where cancer is increasing.  Additionally, many of these synthetic chemicals are often not biodegradable, so they do not decay as does organic matter.  But, they are not static:  many shed, or, “off-gas,” the “smaller, more reactive molecules from which they are made,” producing new chemicals that remain largely uninvestigated, let alone monitored or regulated.  Further, when burned, many of these substances can create new reactive chemicals, like dioxin, which is poisonous (91-100).          

In totality, American industries and we, ourselves, are, every day, putting tons of chemicals into our environment without considering the implications for humans or for the earth itself.  In the early 1990s, in Steingraber’s home state of Illinois alone, “54 million pounds of synthetic pesticides” went onto agricultural fields annually and in 1992, Illinois industries “released more than 100 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the environment” (5-6).  We are, Steingraber argues, “running an uncontrolled experiment using human subjects” (270)—an experiment that has had deadly consequences since the World Health Organization has concluded that “at least 80 percent of all cancer is attributable to environmental influences” (60).  Thus, cancer cells, Steingraber argues, are “made, not born” (241).    

So, cancer is NOT caused by having bad genes or not getting enough exercise.  Cancer is being caused by the cocktail we have created, which includes at least the following ingredients:  environmental poisons; fake, highly processed foods; the overuse and mixing of dangerous prescription drugs; and the stress of modern life. 

Cancer is a creature of corporatism, of unregulated industries which are not held accountable for the harm they do.  Cancer is the blowback from a society that puts profit ahead of people and individuals ahead of community.  Cancer itself is an extremely profitable industry.  Cancer is a metaphor we can and must change.

We can start by strengthening ties in our own community.  Begin buying local products from those who follow sustainable practices.     

 

Written by louisaenright

April 2, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Tipping Points 1: Passing Out in My Plate

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Tipping Points 1

April 1, 2010

Passing Out In My Plate

In May 2006, I passed out at our neighbors’ dinner table from an allergic reaction to something I had eaten.  The attack strengthened so quickly that I never knew until much later, when we could all joke a little, that my face fell into my dinner plate.  Or, that I lost all muscle control.  Or, that my husband and our neighbors were really scared as they tried to tell a dispatcher which rural driveway the responding rescue squads should take.  Or, that our neighbors’ son drew pictures of his yard filled with trucks and emergency crews during the following weeks.   

Afterwards, for some days, I felt very tired and very groggy.  And, scared.  Why had these attacks started?  What exactly had produced this strong reaction?  What if I had more attacks, and like fatal bee stings, the next one killed me? 

Earlier that spring, I had already had four or five mild attacks where blood rushed to my face and hands, where my vision blurred slightly, where I felt ill, and where I knew something was really wrong.  In April, there had been a much stronger attack in a favorite local restaurant, an attack which had allowed me to begin to associate hot chili peppers and/or pork with the reaction, though these were foods I had eaten with impunity all my life.

But that day in May, I had not eaten any peppers.  I had eaten a sandwich at a local fast-food place, and, I remembered later, that I had not felt well and that one of the earlier mild attacks had also been associated with this place.  Since I had eaten sandwiches from this chain all across America, I wondered if I had brushed up against some sort of local, recent pesticide application.  Perhaps, too, the sulfites in the red wine we brought to our neighbor’s dinner—a deep Chilean red–played a role in pushing me over the edge of what had been a simmering attack.  The rest of the dinner were foods I eat all the time:  wild salmon and, from the farmers’ market, salad, a green vegetable, and freshly baked local bread.  At that time, it seemed unlikely that these often-eaten foods had become ingredients in what I had begun to think of as a mysterious cocktail that had the power to knock me out in seconds. 

You can see how all these uncertainties could be unsettling, how looking for the combining culprits is like hunting for a needle in a haystack.  I carried an Epi-pen everywhere and, after reading all the warnings on the label, worried that my husband might actually use it on me if I passed out.  The potential effects of the pen seemed more dangerous than one of the bad attacks, from which I have, so far, slowly recovered on my own.  I stopped drinking red wine—or any alcohol–since alcohol can intensify a reaction.  And I started being really, really aware of my environment and my body’s reactions to everything. 

The food attacks, thus, became a tipping point for me.  They and my reactions to them started me on a journey of discoveries that have led to differing life choices.  A sign at the local Yoga Barn reminds me more forcibly of what is at stake:  “Take Care of Your Body, or Where Will You Live?”   In this sense, this tipping point, has been a gift. 

I am convinced now that my body is like one of those canaries used in mines to warn of odorless, deadly gasses.  Or, I am like the frog floating in warming water.  My body is telling all of us that those like me—and there are many–are signaling some kind of fundamental overload.  For me, the foods I’ve eaten all of my life have suddenly become poisonous and eating has become a bit like gambling with a roulette wheel.  Yet, foods alone may not be the total cause.       

What I’ve learned is that corporations have changed our food radically since the mid 1970s and that too much of our food is causing wild allergic reactions and chronic disease in people.  What I’ve learned is that we humans are, literally, poisoning our environment and, by extension, ourselves.  What I’ve learned is that corporations have been remarkably successful in either creating junk science that facilitates the selling of their products or hiding science that points to problems.  What I’ve learned is that our government has a 150 year history of protecting and facilitating corporations, not its citizens.  What I’ve learned is that few people have the time to do the kind of research I have been doing, and that I want to share this knowledge.   

The good news I can offer is that we do have opportunities for making a different set of choices, for living a different kind of life.  The hope to be found is that once we understand fully the modern terrain upon which we exist—a terrain I did not understand in 2006–we will begin making these different choices.  We can join others around the country who have already become agents of change in a culture that is now unsustainable for too many of us.  The promise is a fuller, richer, healthier life.   

  

Written by louisaenright

April 1, 2010 at 10:28 pm