Tag Archives: health

Concerned about Pesticides?

This week I was at City Market thoroughly enjoying a delicious deli sandwich that I had saved $1 on (thanks to Campus Special coupon book) when I saw a mother and her baby enter the cafe. Before they sat down at the table across from me, the mother turned to the wall behind her where framed pictures of different farms, workers, volunteers, fruits and vegetables hung nicely in black frames. I quickly noticed that the mom was in one of the photos, and she wanted to show her baby!

20120318-223132.jpgAfter pointing herself out to the baby, she sat down and started to breast feed. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought it was a pretty cool chain of events: the mom worked on a farm, helped produce food that she likely consumed, and now here’s this baby being nourished by the same body that consumed the food in the picture. This got me thinking about just how sensitive the bodies of these tiny creatures must be to different foods and substances on their food.

Earlier in the week, I read an article for class on pesticide toxicity. The article mentioned Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, a report issued by the National Academy of Sciences in 1993 documenting that  “infants and children differ both qualitatively and quantitatively from adults in their exposure to pesticide residues in foods” and that some children exceeded safe levels of pesticides in their diets.

The NAS report led rise to the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 which requires the EPA to set health-based standards for pesticides in foods, while requiring additional protection for children, infants and other vulnerable people.  In spite of this legislation however, researchers from Emory University in Atlanta reported that young children continue to be exposed to pesticides primarily through their diets. Furthermore, the Environmental Working Group (EWG)  points out three epidemiological studies published in Environmental Health Perspectives in April 2011 that show a clear link between a mother’s exposure to pesticides (specifically, organophosphates) during pregnancy and deficits to children’s learning and memory that persist through the ages of 6 to 9.

Meanwhile, agribusiness and pesticide companies are working to weaken protections in the Food Quality Protection Act, and in some cases have already succeeded. Furthermore, industry refuses to conduct developmental neurotoxicity studies, claiming it’s too expensive and difficult, yet they deny any study linking pesticide residue from diet and to human health risks. Really?

So, why should you be concerned about pesticides? For starters, U.S. and international governmental agencies, in addition to a host of researchers and doctors worldwide, acknowledge that pesticides are linked to several health problems including:

  • brain and nervous system toxicity
  • cancer
  • hormone disruption
  • skin, eye and lung irritation

Therefore, why take the risk if you don’t have to? Take steps to protect yourself and loved ones by using tools such as EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to determine which produce is most important to  buy organic.

FN 2/13

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Food Without Thought

The other day I was in produce section of the co-op and noticed a beautiful blood orange that had recently been cut in half. “Let me know if you’d like to try some. Just had one and it was delicious.” I turned around to find a friendly employee smiling while unpacking bananas. Without thinking, I responded, “Sure, i’d love to!” The slice of orange was delicious, and I ended up buying some. As I proceeded to the bulk section, I found myself ruminating over my instantaneous response to the employee’s offer. I glanced down at the oranges in my basket and realized I had just fallen for a subtle marketing gimmick. By offering samples, City Market can get customers to eat more of what they sell. Similar marketing methods are employed everywhere; it seems anything food related is set up to encourage us to eat more, not less. Why? Turns out that there’s too much available food in the U.S. today. In Why Calories Count, Marion Nestle explains that rates of obesity sharply increased in the 1980’s as the result of changes in agricultural and economic polities that promoted greater food production. The result? The number of calories available in the U.S. food supply rose from 3,200 per capita per day in 1980 to 3,900 in 1990. The average adult needs only needs half of that amount, and kids much less (Nestle, 2012). With the proliferation of cheap, convenient foods in our society there’s no denying that the norms surrounding eating have shifted. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, today half the typical family’s food budget is for foods prepared and eaten outside of the home. I suddenly recalled all the times I’d mindlessly sampled food at the grocery store, eaten because food was in front of me, grabbed food on the go for convenience sake, or conversely, grabbed more food than I need just because it was available. The fact is, companies make money when we eat more, not less. It’s vital that we not let increasingly subtle marketing methods employed by food companies slip past our consciousness and into our bellies. We live in a society where 60% of adults are considered overweight and 1/3 obese. More than ever, we must critically think about our food choices and recognize that companies benefit from us getting larger. Ultimately, it is our choice whether or not we want to bear the brunt of overabundance within the food system.

Partnerships between Food Industry and Health Groups

The other day I learned that in 1984, Kellogg arranged with the National Cancer Institute to endorse a health claim for All-Bran cereal. Within 6 months, All-Bran’s market share increased by 47% (Nestle & Ludwig, 2010). Prior to 1984, there had been no endorsement of health claims on behalf of health groups. Ever since, the use of health claims on products has proliferated (in part) because it sells.  Today, partnerships between food industry and health groups have grown in number and scale. Not only do we see the visible affects (health claims on food labels, sponsorships at sporting events, etc.) but we also see the food industry’s impact on the conduct of research and thus, public health policy.

This got me thinking: given today’s obesity epidemic, how responsible are partnerships between food industry groups and health groups? Through reading and conducting online research I found these partnerships to be irresponsible. Specifically, I found these financial ties compromise the public credibility of health organizations and groups (Nestle, Ludwig, 2008).

The first partnership I examined was between PepsiCo and the YMCA. In the article Can the Food Industry Play a constructive Role in the Obesity Epidemic? Nestle and Ludwig describe how PepsiCo donated $11.6 million over 5 years to the YMCA to support an annual community day “to celebrate healthy living, encourage kids and families to get excited about physical fun and activity and .. engage kids in play to be healthy.” Nestle and Ludwig (2010) point out that focus on physical activity, characteristically without consummate attention to diet quality, appears disingenuous. In an article titled YMCA received PepsiCo Grant Mica Wilson from Healthier Lifestyles Marketing, PepsiCo was quoted saying “PepsiCo and the YMCA have a shared commitment to find better ways to help Americans lead healthier lifestyles.” If PepsiCo were truly committed to “helping Americans lead healthier lifestyles”, don’t you think they would consider making their actual product healthier?

An even more alarming situation is revealed when we consider the influence the food industry has on the conduct of research and the development of public health policy. In a study titled Relationship between Funding Source and Conclusion among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles, researchers reviewed 206 scientific articles published over a 5-year period, all of which addressed the health effects of milk, fruit juices, and soft drinks. They found that the likelihood of a conclusion favorable to the industry was 4-fold to 8-fold higher if the study received full rather than no industry funding, raising the possibility of systematic bias (Nestle and Ludwig, 2008).

Both of the above partnerships have serious implications for public health. They are irresponsible when considering addressing the obesity epedemic for they undermine the credibility of health groups and organizations and their ability to seriously address public health concerns. It is vital that we not leave it up to the food industry, whose main purpose is to create a profit, to address public health issues. As Nestle and Ludwig point out, “appropriate checks and balances are needed to align the financial interests of the food industry with the goals of the public health”. As consumers, we must vote with our fork and think critically as to whether or not we want to support or buy into the health claims on labels and other types of partnerships between industry and health groups. If we sense something isn’t right, it’s important to raise attention to the issue, talk about it with friends and family and demand strong public health policies from our elected officials.

WP 4/27

Meat consumption and successful masculine performance

The other day I saw a young couple in their mid-20’s sit down at a table in the cafe of the co-op. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation, “You need to eat more!” a guy proclaimed in a demanding, half-joking way. He glanced down at the girls plate and smiled.  She smiled back and while I couldn’t hear her response her tone sounded sarcastic. I leaned to my left to glance over at her plate; she had a salad stacked high with a variety of veggies, and a serving of vegetarian chili on the side. The guy didn’t have that much more food on his plate, however the food he did have was heavier and richer, and he was eating meat.

This was interesting to me because I had read an article titled ‘Metrosexuality Can Stuff It: Beef Consumption as (Heteromasculine) Fortification’ literally the day prior. In the article, the author points to social scientific research on food consumption that reveals that meat consumption plays a significant role in successful masculine performance.

I thought about the look on the guys face when he said “you need to eat more!” Did he really want her to eat more? According to Burke, where it may seem ‘‘un-ladylike’’ to eat much, consuming large quantities of food seems expected from men. In western culture, consuming animal flesh, especially beef, has a long association with traditional masculinity (Burke, 261). Furthermore, research indicates that men’s eating goes largely unnoticed, whereas women often feel the social norms for proper consumption weighing down upon them (Saukko; Scott;Spitzack). Thus, it’s easy for males to tell females to eat more for that’s how they’ve been conditioned to think. Perhaps the girls sarcastic response and the fact that she seemed to take the guys comment lightly, is an indication that she’s disregarding the guys comment for she recognizes that the social norms surrounding food are different for for women and men. I don’t mean to speculate, or overanalyze this small interaction, but there’s something to be said about the expected norms surrounding eating for women. It seems every magazine, TV show, and other media outlet is screaming ladies, eat less!

The problem I have with the social logic behind presenting meat as a masculine food of choice, is that it assumes that by consuming meat men gain strength, whereas vegetables and other non-meat products provide nothing to the body in the way of substance (Burke). This is deceiving and troublesome for several reasons. One reason being, women are healthier than men and thus outlive them. We’re a strong and resilient bunch, in part because of the food choices that we make.

Burke’s article continues to explain the history behind this social logic: the cultural tradition of saving meat for men grows from beliefs about meat’s effect on the body as emboldening and empowering. Associations between men and meat seen in social behavior research and cultural critiques solidify underlying notions that men naturally hold strength and power, while women merely stand by watching.

What do you think, is this perspective insightful? Does it offer you a more critical eye as to why you might make some of the food choices you do? At the end of the day, I find it fascinating to consider how all of this is a social construction, yet the extent to which it impacts our lives (and in many cases our health) is immense.

FN 3/5

Food as Medicine

I had a remarkable discovery the other day at City Market. It started when I spotted a lady in aisle 2 holding two different brands of coconut oil. Clearly, she was trying to decide which to purchase. As she asked for some assistance from a worker passing by, the two got to talking. From overhearing their conversation, I learned that coconut oil is stocked not only in aisle 2 with other products for ethnic foods, but also in the health & wellness department. I headed over to health & wellness, and sure enough coconut oil was there.

After the lady left, I went up to Sam (the employee helping the lady) and asked why it’s stocked in two different departments. He explained that coconut oil’s one of the most versatile products, for it can be used internally and topically, therefore it is a prominent feature in body care and a lot of ethnic cuisine. Sam said that City Market has it in a couple of locations to cater to the customers needs, “to give those folks looking to use it in food and those folks looking to use it on hair an easier time locating it”.

After talking to Sam, I learned that there’s really no difference in the coconut oil stocked in the wellness department and in the grocery department– both are organic and unrefined. This sparked a broader thought about food and how its function is socially constructed. Generally speaking, as a society we see our “food” as separate from our “medicine”. But is it really? Is it possible that Hippocrates was onto something when he said “let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine thy food”?

Does stocking the same food product in multiple departments remind people how versatile certain products can be? Or does it reaffirm the notion that our “food” should be separate from our “medicine”? What if grocery stores didn’t have a health & wellness department because everything sold genuinely contributed to our health and well-being? Which raises its own question: why are we selling things that aren’t good for us?

In City Market’s case, they sell a range of conventional products because they are the only grocery store downtown. Therefore, they have a contract with the city stating they’ll carry a certain number of conventional products to help out different types of people in town.

The coconut oil encounter led to a greater discovery that left me questioning how conventional medicine has gotten so far from the notion that food can treat and prevent many of our ailments. With more people on prescription medication due to increased diagnosis’ of chronic illnesses and serious diseases, our pharmaceutical industry is growing — meaning we’re actually getting sicker. At the same time, we have a food system that values highly processed, packaged, nutrient-deficient food that undoubtably contributes to overall poor health. There’s no question that as a society we could benefit from embracing the “food as medicine” philosophy, for it would inevitably place greater value on fresh, wholesome, nutrient rich foods. The question is, how do we do it? What kind of regulations, paradigm shits, etc. would need to occur?

FN 3/26

21-day Vegan Kickstart – would you join?

I recently read a post on the Huffington Post Food blog titled Meatless Monday: Make 2012 The Year Of Eating Vegan. The article discusses a 21-day vegan Kickstart program that includes recipes, meal plans, an iPhone app and an online support community for becoming vegan. Both for fun, and because I feel there are some missing points in this post that need to be addressed, I decided to play devil’s advocate.

Quote #1: “Admit it, you’ve been thinking about it. Especially with the holiday excess leaving you feeling as puffed as a fugo.” 
Actually, I haven’t been thinking about becoming vegan- and not everyone overeats during the holidays! I found this opening line offensive and feel it perpetuates preexisting stereotypes surrounding eating habits during the holidays, instead of bringing to light positive aspects of becoming vegan- which is what I thought the blog post was about.

Quote #2: “Maybe you want to go vegan to reduce your carbon footprint. Or because you need to reduce your cholesterol.”
Who says strict veganism is the healthiest and most environmentally responsible dietary decision? Making food choices that are good for the planet and your health are more complicated than simply “going vegan”, yet the author does not mention this. The blogger leaves the reader feeling like all they have to do is join the kickstart program and their lives will transform- suddenly their food choices will be healthy and environmentally sound.

Not so fast. One of my best friends has been vegan for years, yet she dislikes most fruits and vegetable therefore her diet consists of highly processed foods that are often from halfway across the world, too. In my opinion, if you’re looking to lower your food’s carbon footprint you should consider buying local and organic before jumping into the “kickstart” program.

Quote #3: “It just became huge,” says Susan Levin, PCRM’s director of nutritional education. Over 150,000 people have Kickstarted their lives. You can, too.”
I’d be interested to see how successful the program actually is. They might have 150,000 members, but how many of them remained vegan after the program ended? The fact is, changing your diet overnight isn’t easy. Instead of presenting readers with a variety of ways to improve their diet, the blog post promotes a strict adherence to a vegan diet. In my opinion, this paints a very black or white picture in terms of food choices, and could potentially lead readers that go off the program feeling worse off than they did to begin with.

Overall, this article feels more like a marketing pitch than it does an informative blog post about veganism. The post opens by suggesting that a vegan diet has health and environmental benefits , yet never explains what these benefits are –the very reason I would assume many readers would be interested in joining the program. What do you guys think, are you attracted to the kickstart program? Why or why not? Would love to hear your thoughts!

*For the record, I am not a vegan

WP 2/23

How is this blog different?

As a lover of all things food, I’ve become increasingly aware of just how many food blogs there are that offer delicious, healthy recipes, but also place an emphasis on community and the importance of using sustainably produced, local, organic, and whole foods when cooking. Some of my current favorites are My New Roots, Green Kitchen Stories, and Sprouted Kitchen. That said, with so many healthy food blogs, you might be asking yourself-  how is this different?

Have you ever read a food or health related article that you can’t stop thinking about? The kind that you go home and email your friends, talk about with mom on the phone and find yourself re- reading before bed? Maybe I’m just a huge food dork, but this happened to recently with social researcher, Jennifer Brady’s article Cooking as Inquiry: A Method to Stir Up Prevailing Ways of Knowing Food, Body, and Identity. In the article, she suggests that cooking can be used as a form of inquiry, or a process to explore the embodied self as it relates to foodmaking. Brady recognizes  the body and food as sites of knowledge and  uses a reflexive, collaborative “visceral approach” as a means of “thinking through the body” to enlist “the sensations, moods and ways of being that emerge from our sensory engagement with the material and discursive environments in which we live” [1].  As I’m very interested in furthering my understanding of cooking as inquiry, I will incorporate some of the practices and frameworks for thinking about the relationship between food, the body, the self into my posts.

In my blog, I hope to raise important questions such as: how are issues of power negotiated through cooking? How does the space of city market encourage or discourage social relations in cooking and food connect us to others and allow us to learn more about our food source? How does privilege and access affect ones purchasing decisions and thus health? What kind of people are purchasing healthy foods, and who is not? How do we make sustainably produced and nourishing foods available to everyone? Is this possible?

As a student at the University of Vermont, I’m studying Environmental Studies, Food Systems and Women’s and Gender Studies. I’m also very interested in Food Justice issues and hope that my academic studies, combined with my love of cooking, eating and community will offer a unique  perspective on issues regarding local, organic, and healthy foods.

WP 2/23

Eating as a Philosophy

The amount of food available has skyrocketed in the past couple of decades. Part of this has to do with the extent food to which food is processed as well as sheer diversity. Needless to say, the increase has resulted in more concern and anxiety around food (Lupton, 85). As I was sitting in City Market the other day conducting my observations I noticed a few customers that seemed anxious and unsure about their food purchases, however the large majority of shoppers seemed to be enjoying their experience. In fact, it seemed as if grocery shopping was a source of genuine pleasure for many shoppers. On several occasions shoppers would run into someone they know and talk for a couple minutes. Other times I would just notice a sense of happiness and contentment that seemed present from individual shoppers, couples shopping and even groups of friends shopping for ingredients together for that nights dinner.

According to Deborah Lupton, “for many people, eating has become a philosophy, a secular means of attributing meaning and value to everyday practices. This approach places a great deal of emphasis on the monitoring of one’s diet, to the point where it is believed that it is almost impossible to achieve and maintain good health (in its physical, mental emotional and spiritual senses) without exercising vigilant control over diet.” I believe the notion of eating as a philosophy is quite true true in a place like Burlington, which is known for it’s health conscious, physically active, environmentally responsible citizens. In other words, it makes sense that people put in the extra effort to eat responsibly here.

Many people, myself included, find it important to align their actions with their values. I realized this is what I see people do every week while shopping at the co-op. Having access to the space of the co-op and being able to shop their regularly is undoubtably a tremendous privilege, and one that I believe helps people align their actions with their values. Making informed, conscious food choices and watching others do so has been a great source of pleasure throughout my participatory observations. What about you guys- is food a philosophy for you?

FN 2/6