Food prices are rising, but unlike much of the rest of the world, most Americans have a variety of foods to choose from. Walk down the aisles of any supermarket in the US and you’ll see vegetables glistening with drops of water from the misters over them, rows and rows of red, juicy steaks, roasts and burger, fish from oceans, lakes and fish farms and canned and frozen meals and snacks. No wonder we’re so healthy with all this to choose from. But is this food as good as it looks?
Nutritionally, foods grown with conventional farming methods isn’t as nutritious as food grown organically. Chemical fertilizers deplete the soil. They don’t encourage soil organisms that promote the biodiversity of worms, nematodes, bacteria, minerals and enzymes that organic farming does. Chemically fertilized soil is sterile soil. Not what you want your carrots and peas grown in.
Conventional farming also uses synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. These chemicals remain in the soil for lifetimes and have adverse effects on our bodies. Although they’re regulated by the government, for the most part, they’re declared “safe” one at a time, not on the basis of how much of all of them someone would take in by eating the normal American diet. Babies and children, especially, with their growing bodies and higher intake of some of these foods (think apples, peanut butter and cereal grains) may be more affected by toxins.
Meat contains antibiotics and meat animals are often raised in horrible conditions, crowded together in their own filth and easy prey for disease. If cows aren’t fed on grass, their meat’s nutritional value is not as high and beef cattle (and sheep also) may be legally given growth hormones, which can act like estrogen on humans. These growth hormones have been linked to developmental delays in children and to cancer. And while growth hormones aren’t allowed in poultry-raising, low doses of arsenic are and chickens are often raised packed so closely together that some of them suffocate.
Then there’s the growth hormone, rBGH, they give milk cows that often gives them mastitis, a painful inflammation of their udders, which means they need antibiotics which show up in their milk. Another thing that shows up in milk from cows who are given rBGH is Insulin Growth Factor 1 or EGF-1, a hormone that is linked to colon, prostate and breast cancer in humans. Europe and Canada have banned rGBH, but until the US does, buying organic milk is the only way to know for sure that it’s not in the milk you drink.
Canned food almost always contains BPA that leaches from the plastic lining. Frozen food comes in plastic trays that also leach BPA and it almost all of it contains GMO (genetically modified organism) as does most processed food whether in bags, boxes, cans or bottles. GMOs are plants that have had a gene from another plant or organism “spliced” into their DNA. One problem with GMOs is that people who are allergic to something may unknowingly eat something that contains the gene from what they’re allergic to.
Another problem is that no one knows what effect eating GMO food might have on the unsuspecting people who eat it without realizing it. Because there’s no law mandating labelling of GMO food, there’s no way to tell if it’s in your food from looking at the label. There is a list of GMO and non-GMO food at The True Food Shopping List where you’ll also find more information about food safety.
So, enough with the doom and gloom. A person has to eat, so what do we do about all this? Well, we each have to decide to what degree we are willing and able to pursue safe food. Money, of course, is a factor, as is availability of organic, natural and locally produced food. In my case, I only buy organic meat, milk, veggies and fruit. If I can’t afford organic, I don’t buy it. I usually buy organic bread, but sometimes opt for the store brand of sprouted grain bread. Once in awhile, I buy frozen food, even a frozen dinner, with the theory that “once in awhile” won’t kill me.
When it’s available, I buy local, organically raised food, but that’s not often for fruits and veggies in Maine. The only fish and shellfish I eat are wild-caught. Unfortunately, there are few organic restaurants nearby, so when we eat out, we just try to choose the most natural offerings. And, of course, we garden. Although my three-year trial of going vegetarian made me realize that I’m a confirmed omnivore, I love veggies, especially when we get to pick them fresh from our own garden. Just maybe, that’s the best way to be sure that your food is safe: grow it yourself.