I Am Not Usually Long Winded, But This Is Important: We Have the Right To Know
I spent my last year of graduate school interning with a rheumatologist. Most of the patients I saw were referred for signs or symptoms of a rheumatic illness: joint pain, swelling, stiffness, headaches, vascular problems, abnormal lab values.
Occasionally there was someone with a simple case of osteoarthritis, but most of these people were sick for reasons nobody in western medicine could explain. Oh, sure, there was always some marker identified on a lab test. Or a neurotransmitter deficiency. Or lousy genes.
But what nobody in the nursing or medical community questioned was what these patients were putting inside their bodies. Nobody said, “Hey, maybe its the corn.”
There was one patient who was an exception. She came in with pain and loss of feeling in three of the fingers on her right hand. By simply looking at her fingers, it was clear that without intervention she would lose them. When she asked why the physician I worked with told her the truth: it was caused by her smoking.
Her reply was, “Nobody tells you about this. All they tell you about is lung cancer. Nobody tells you that your fingers will fall off.”
Her illness was directly related to what she was putting in her body. And maybe everyone else’s illnesses were, too. Nobody raised this issue fifteen years ago, but voices are being heard now.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend an event co-hosted by Stonyfield Farm (the yogurt people) and Healthy Child Healthy World, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about how our food supply affects our health and lifespan. There were several speakers, and all were inspiring, but I left with a feeling of guilt because I have not been practicing what I know is the best way to eat. I’ve been cheating with too many frozen pizzas and passing by the organic produce because it might cost forty cents more. I left feeling guilty because I know better.
I’ve had the privilege of taking nutrition and ecology courses from two of the top universities in the country. I was raised by a mother who, in the 1970s, did not allow the dentist to give me fluoride and fed me okra, raw honey, and home made bread. I have read books written by experts and followed grassroots movements.
So I have no excuse. I know what kind of scary shit awaits me on the cracker isle. Heck, even on the produce isle.
But most people don’t know. Yes, eating well is, to an extent, common sense. I don’t believe for a minute that anybody, college educated or not, can say they truly think a Big Mac is a healthy meal choice. But when the average person buys lettuce, fruit, corn tortillas, and a gallon of milk he probably doesn’t know that the nutritious food he has chosen to spend his hard earned money on is laden with chemicals that can’t be washed off.
He probably doesn’t know about the dangerous hormones and antibiotics in his milk or the genetic modifications made to the corn so that it grows it’s own pesticide. The corn that is used to make the tortillas and the fillers and syrups and packaging for everything else sold on grocery store shelves.
Even if corn was the only genetically modified food (and it’s not), the majority of what we eat would still be affected. Because half the time we are eating corn and don’t even know it.
I often think about that patient I had and wonder if she is still smoking. And I wonder, too, that if people were told the truth about smoking? That their chances of getting lung cancer are actually quite low, but they are almost guaranteed to suffer from cardiovascular problems, would they make different choices?
Genetically modified foods have been linked to these kinds of health problems and more. Other developed nations warn consumers when a food item contains genetically modified ingredients. Shamefully, the US does not. But the next time Californians go to the polls, we will have a chance to say Yes, we want to know what kind of crap is in our food by voting YES on Proposition 37, which would require manufacturers to label genetically modified foods.
Naturally, Kraft is against it.
Please, spread the word, as many will head to the polls without ever having heard of Prop 37 and, thus, are likely to vote against it simply because they are not familiar with what it means for Californians, and ultimately, the rest of the nation.