Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Red Pill or the Blue Pill?

When Robyn O'Brien sought the cause of her youngest child's egg allergy, what she found shook her world. No, she didn't find out that humans are enslaved by machines as Neo did, but what she found was almost equally disturbing. Robyn O'Brien shares her shocking findings in the book 'The Unhealthy Truth'. I've taken the liberty of boiling the book down to what I think are it's main points, for you, my readers.

rBGH is bad mmm...kay

rBGH stands for recombinant bovine growth hormone. Basically, it's a synthetic hormone injected into dairy cows so that they can produce more milk. If you're like me you initially think "Ok, that's not so bad, why shouldn't the farmers get more bang for their buck?". Well, here's the thing. It enables cows to produce ONE extra gallon a day. Over a heard a cows that adds up obviously, but overall I think the costs far outweigh the benefits. Don't get me wrong, I'm no friend to PETA or a tree hugger, but cows that are injected with this hormone end up having lots of health problems, and that concerns me. The life expectancy for an average, non-hormone injected dairy cows is about 4-10 years. Cows treated with rBGH have a life expectancy of about 2 years. Wow. In addition to a shorted life, cows treated with rBGH also have more udder infections. Which means there are more antibiotics in the already antibiotic laden cows, which of course gets into the milk, sour cream, cheese and what have you. I think most people are becoming familiar with the dangers of over exposure to antibiotics, so I won't go into that now. One of the things that I find most frightening is what the author calls 'sub clinical udder infections." Basically, the cow is suffering from an infection, but not enough for the farmer to notice, so no antibiotics and the milk is likely to contain some of the infection from the cow. Mmmm, Got Pus?

I'll have mine without the yellow # 5

Additives, preservatives and artificial food colorings have been hotly debated for a while now. Some parents insist that their children are sensitive to them while pediatricians and food experts claim that this is impossible. I'll admit that the first time a child told me he couldn't have a particular piece of candy because of the food coloring I just rolled my eyes. However, in 2007 researchers at Southampton University in the U.K. published this ground breaking study about the effects of preservatives and artificial colors on children. They found that across the board that when children were exposed to artificial colors and preservatives that they experienced more hyperactivity, irritability and crankiness. Seriously, look up the study to get more information about it, it's kind of crazy! Anyway, in response to this study and the hue and cry anticipated from consumers, the British versions of Kraft, Mars, Coke and Wal-Mart took the artificial flavorings and preservatives OUT of their food. Let me say that again. These American based companies took out the bad crap in the U.K. Here, not so much. Like not at all.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Corn

One of the issues O'Brien discusses is Genetically Modified (GM) crops. Again, like the hormone injected into cows, it doesn't sound so horrible at first. We're getting more yield per acre right? These crops will be resistant to anything, right? We can feed starving children in Africa! Sadly, the answers are, no farmers are typically getting less yield per acre, the GM crops don't always do what they're supposed to do and many countires have the hee-bee-gee-bies about GM produce and won't accept it (possibly rightly so).

The author goes incredibly in depth about the subject and I really can't do it justice. I can wrap my head around two of the most important points, however. Point the first is that no one knows if these newly created crops will cause allergies (potentially deadly reactions) in the human population. Basically, what happens when some one has a food allergy is that the person's body identifies that protein in that food as an invader. The next time the person encounters that protein, the immune system sends out the Marines, the cells that are going to go kill that foreign invader. What happens then is an allergic reaction. Please bear in mind that this is my horribly simplified explanation of this. So, what happens in GM soy, for example, is that scientists are mucking about with the proteins of the soy to give it more desirable (or less, depending on your point of view) qualities. So they've changed the protein that your and my body has come to recognize. This is previously a protein that did not exist. See where this is going?

Robyn O'Brien noticed a change in the number of children diagnosed with peanut allergies in the U.S. from 1997-2002. The number in fact doubled. Odd, right? Well, Robyn did some digging and she found out that in 1996 GM soy hit the market for human consumption. She goes on to say that soy and peanuts are cousins, both legumes. So it's theoretically possibly that when children were fist exposed to this new soy protein that their little immune systems identified it as a threat because it wasn't familiar (most people who have food allergies don't react until they've been exposed a second or third time to the allergen.) And the next time (or first) they had peanuts, their body recognized the similarities in the protein and Wammo! Allergic reaction. I believe that she says the the U.K experienced a similar phenomena when GM soy was introduced into their food supply. Is the hair standing up on the back of your neck yet?

So, point the second. As of now, the U.S. is the only country (I believe) that allows GM produce for human consumption. Neat, huh? The U.K, France, Germany, Japan and Australia do not permit it. Why you ask? Well, no one really knows what GM produce will do to us in the long or short term. And since no one knows, they're using caution (probably waiting to see what happens to us). I should take the time now to tell you HOW some crops have been genetically modified. Most of the ways in which crops have been altered is by adding an insecticide to them or making them extremely resistant to weeds. Yay! More chemicals in our food! They've actually managed to genetically modify a tomato with, I kid you not, a scorpion, to make it more resistant to insects. They've modified corn (which I should add is not for human consumption, but for livestock. But we eat the livestock...)and soy to be resistant to a weed killer and insects. So that means that farmers can use more powerful chemicals on the food without fear of killing the food. I don't know about you, but that doesn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

So, just who's driving this bus anyway?

If you're like me, you're thinking, "Well, all these things can't be THAT bad or the FDA would step in and do something about it.". Well, here's the thing. All of these GM products and the rBGH are manufactured and distributed by the same company. This company has had top executives go to work for the FDA, and top officials from the FDA have gone to work for this multi-billion dollar company. So, basically industry is in bed with the government in this case. Additionally, the FDA is too underfunded to be able to police each and every single corporation, so they leave it up to the corporations to police themselves. Conversely, the corporations argue that it's not their job to regulate themselves. Seems like a hopeless mess, no?

So what now?

Well, if you're like me you could be feeling a little angry and bewildered at all this information. I think that Robyn gives very practical approaches to improving the diet of your family. She said that weaning her family off the bad stuff was a long and slow process and she gives tips for it in an entire chapter as well as meals and recipes to use. I think one of the most important concepts to take away from her, is her 80-20 rule. She said you can adjust is as needed to fit your life, but basically 80% of the food your family eats should be good food, and 20% can be junk. I think that's pretty easy to follow, provided you're not avoiding foods due to allergies or food sensitivities. For example, the other night Jeff and I went to the grocery store. We were out of Mac n'Cheese, which is an occasional side on our table. I looked at Jeff and said "I don't know about you, but the radioactive orange doesn't do much for me.". He agree and we found a box of Safeway brand that had white cheddar, and actually nutritionally was better across the board than the Kraft stuff. Safeway's brand of milk also comes rBGH free. No, it's not organic, so the cows probably are still treated with antibiotics, but because they're less likely to get sick, it's less antibiotics. It was a choice that I could live with. Even if you're not ready to switch up your foods, just read some labels the next time you go shopping, you may be shocked, or pleasantly surprised by what's in or not in your food.

So what can I do?

Well, I highly suggest that you read the book ;) Robyn O'Brien goes into much greater detail about the topics I've discussed. She also discusses food sensitivities and allergies in children and what the symptoms are. If you're got a child who has symptoms that just won't go away, her book may be well worth the time it takes to read. I imagine many adults also live with the symptoms of undiagnosed food sensitivities and allergies. She also discusses the immune system and the possible effects that all of these unnatural things can have on it. I didn't realize it until I read this book, but scientists now believe that the majority of our immune system is in our gut. Food for thought.

Another starting point would be to do your own research on the topic. Robyn O'Brien is not a doctor or food expert or scientist. She's a mother of four who wanted some answers. She researched this book quite well, citing studies done and consulting with doctors and experts. After I finished this books last night, I realized that I know quite a few people, some with PhDs, who could shed some more light on the subject. I have an uncle who's a retired chemist for a food corporation, a friend's dad in the FDA and another friend's father who works for the USDA. In addition to that I've got a family friend who has a soy farm. So look around, I bet you could find some of your own experts too.

Something else you could do is just simply be supportive of families that make these changes. At one point in the book, I get the distinct impression that the author feels very isolated from her extended family because of the changes she made to the diet of her family. I can't imagine that switching your children from their beloved multi-colored snacks to something healthy is easy, but I imagine its harder when you don't have any support. I'm not saying that you have to go out of your way to accommodate the diets of different people, but maybe a little more understanding and a little less eye rolling would go a long way.

And finally, get the word out about all the stuff in our food. Maybe if more people knew about it, companies would cave to consumer pressure and remove some of this stuff. They did in the U.K. after all.

And so now, I'm getting off my soap box. I'm looking forward to a yummy dinner at Chipotle, where I know their food is free of hormones and other garbage and is just delicious!


  1. I love this, thank you so much for writing it! I am currently taking a class about vulnerabilities in our food and water supply - do you mind if I pass your post along to them?

    Thanks for writing this, food for thought INDEED!

  2. sigh, I thanked you twice. (braindead.) haha

  3. You can, but bear in mind that it's just my poor summation of the work of some body else.

  4. haha! yep definitely :) i won't submit it as an APA source hehe