The Dreaded “Grey Area”
Today, let’s talk about convenience foods. Before we can talk about using food as medicine, we need to discuss the safety of our food supply. We each have some tricky decisions ahead to make about GMOs, pesticides, and food additives.
I want to ask you to keep an open mind. Read the whole post before deciding what you believe to be right and wrong. I’ll try my best to provide you both sides of each topic with potential pros and cons. And I’ll try to keep my opinions to myself so that you can decide what to think for yourself.
I also want you to keep in mind that there is no perfect solution when it comes to our food supply. Our world is broken and falling apart more and more every day. Just look at the increasing rates of unexplained diseases and natural disasters if you don’t believe me.
It turns out that every action has consequences, whether good or bad or both.
And many times the consequences aren’t seen until years later. So, each of us has a responsibility to be aware of the consequences as they show up. And for each decision we make, we have to be willing to accept the consequences for us and our families.
You may want to make sure you’re sitting down for this one. It’s going to be a long one. If it seems like information overload, don’t worry. I have something at the end that will help summarize it all.
Convenience Comes at a Price
Convenience food, according to the dictionary, is food that is pre-prepared or requires little work to prepare it. I would also argue that pretty much anything in the grocery store is convenient too. Though we still have to put effort into cooking fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat, we didn’t have to put in all the time, effort, and money to make, grow or take care of it. So, there is a level of convenience that we have today because of grocery stores.
And there are many pros to these convenient foods. We can work in the corporate world instead of having to grow our own food. We also have access to a great variety of foods to meet our needs and wants. But, at what cost is the convenience to us?
One saying that has resonated with me is from Once Upon a Time – magic comes at a price. I believe that convenience comes at a price. And that price is GMOs, pesticides, and food additives.
Now, before we jump out of the frying pan and into the fire…
I want you to know that I am a city girl. I don’t know what it takes to be a farmer. However, my husband is from a farming family and knows from personal experience what it takes to run a farm. For those of you who are farmers or ranchers, you understand the difficulties of providing food for the masses. For those of you who are like me and don’t even have a garden, we don’t quite understand the burden of convenience that we place on farmers and ranchers.
But First, An Analogy
I have the perfect analogy for this. Just last week I took my 3-month old son out to get groceries. A woman at the store gave me this judgmental look and said, “It’s a little cold out.” She looked down at my son (who was wrapped in a warm blanket with a warm hat on by the way) and repeated it.
It was then that I realized that she was judging me by what she perceived the situation to be. But she didn’t know the full story. She didn’t know that we were out of groceries at home. Neither did she know that we were out in the morning so that my son wouldn’t be around more people who may have the flu. And it’s not like I could leave him in the car or leave him at home alone. And we can’t not have food either. I made a judgment call. I took into consideration the risks and our needs and did what I believed to be best.
For those of you like me who don’t have personal experience with farming or ranching, we have to be careful not to be the judgmental passer-by who doesn’t know the whole story.
We often hear dramatic stories from media about GMOs, pesticides, and additives and are quick to believe them. Then we tell farmers and ranchers that they need to do this or that. But that’s like the woman telling me how to do my job as a parent without taking into consideration my side of the story. My husband told me that the farmers are doing their best to meet high demands with the information they have.
So, let’s just take a step back and look at the facts, then we can work together to find the best solution. Remember, there is no perfect solution, so there will be consequences no matter what choice is made.
The Great GMO Debate
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have received a bad rap in our culture. And to be clear, GMOs have had their DNAs changed by inserting unnatural genes into theirs. This differs from conventional plant breeding, which has been done for thousands of years, in that conventional breeding brings out desired characteristics that the plants already have.
With this newer technology, GMOs help crops grow better in the climates they are planted. They also allow us to have the variety of foods we enjoy at a reasonable price. Foods that have common allergens (peanuts, milk, etc.) can also be changed to be less allergic.
Did you know that papayas at one time contracted a virus that nearly wiped them out? The papaya seed was genetically modified with a vaccine against the virus to protect them. Thanks to GMOs, we can continue to enjoy them today.
GMOs also allow for nutrients to be added to foods to boost diets. Golden rice is a good example of this. In some developing countries, children are likely to have vision problems because their typical diet is low in vitamin A. If caught early enough, these problems are reversible. This is where golden rice comes in. Golden rice was genetically modified to have vitamin A in it. In doing so, it can be used to help develop these children’s vision and prevent permanent blindness.
But with the manipulation of the natural comes consequences.
Several of the cons of GMOs include the potential for bacteria and viruses to affect the crops, disruption of consumer’s hormones, production of naturally occurring toxins, and potential for chemicals (like pesticides) to be in the food.
Genetically modifying food can also cause nutrient imbalances that lead to deficiencies and or toxicities, as well as nutrients negatively interacting with other nutrients. And since GMOs have their DNA changed, they may produce proteins in the foods that aren’t recognized by our bodies. This could be the cause of the increase in food intolerances or allergies to GMOs. There isn’t much evidence for or against that theory yet.
I have listed several sources you can check out to learn more about GMOs at the bottom of this post. I recommend you look into the topic as well so that you can make sure that the risks are worth the benefits or not.
There is much more to be learned about the consequences of GMOs that we don’t quite understand yet. That being the case, you have to decide for yourself what is best for you and your family on this matter.
Controversial Topic #2: Pesticides
Pesticides are always a hot topic when it comes to our food supply. And this is rightfully so.
Pesticides have been great at keeping weeds and insects away from crops. Since the demand is high for food and there are not very many farmers, pesticides are commonly used to help meet the demand. And as those who have or had gardens already know, it can be really difficult to keep pests away.
I, at one time, attempted to grow tomatoes. And just a few days after planting the tomatoes, the ants took over and killed my plant! So I completely understand why someone would want to protect their plants by using insect or even weed repellant. This also means that the better yield farmers have, the more supply, and more supply means lower cost.
However, we are now seeing the high price we are paying for the convenience of pesticides to our health.
Certain pesticides AT HIGH LEVELS can cause damage to the nervous system, irritation to the skin and eyes, cancer, and alterations to consumer’s hormones. These consequences are not typically seen with the small amounts of pesticides we may ingest on our foods. This is why it is important to wash the fruits and vegetables you get from the store.
The effects of the pesticide are also determined by type (insecticides have shown to be worse), toxicity, and duration and route of exposure.
Did you know that pesticides are also in insect repellants, cleaning products, weed killers, and in some drinking water? They aren’t just in foods.
This is tough because we tend to want to get rid of pests without thinking much about how we are doing it. You have to decide if the potential risks above are worth getting rid of your pests.
There is good news here. The EPA has banned several pesticides. Farmers are also using pesticides that are less toxic. But, there are still questions that linger. Like how toxic are these other pesticides and how do we know if we just aren’t seeing the consequences yet?
If you want to avoid buying food that has had pesticides used on them, then you’re either going to have to pay a high price for products from farmers that use natural pesticides or grow your own.
Last But Not Least – Food Additives
Food additives are added to boost nutrient value or improve taste, texture, aroma, appearance, consistency or shelf-life. Additives can be natural, like components in eggs and turmeric’s yellow color, or synthetic, like artificial colors and flavorings.
Additives have to be added to foods for us to have the convenience of not growing or making our own. They prevent foods from going bad before we get them home. Also, additives are used to make the foods more appealing. If you saw a brown-colored tomato, you probably would prefer the bright red tomato over it. Appearance makes a difference in what people buy.
Note, food additives are approved by the FDA and have to be safe, purposeful, and effective.
As for the potential harms of food additives, I looked really hard but couldn’t find any research on it. However, there are additives that have been removed from the list due to evidence of harm. The harms included a potential increase in cancer risk, the presence of toxic metals (lead, mercury, and arsenic), and irritation and sensitivities to the additives.
Though I couldn’t find evidence of harm of approved additives, we still have reason to be a little concerned. Foods are being manipulated in order to increase appeal and extend the life of the foods. This convenience cannot come without a price. It may be that we have just not seen the consequences yet. But, maybe I’m wrong and there are no harms with food additives. It’s up to you to decide for yourself.
If you want to limit additives in your diet, cut out processed foods like chips, cookies, and even lunch meats. You can look at the list of ingredients on the nutrition label if you’re unsure about an item. Don’t buy it if you see several unfamiliar ingredients.
Taking it All in
I know this is a lot to take in. So to help you out, I’ve created a cheatsheet with the pros and cons of each of these topics. Feel free to download the free cheatsheet below.
I want to leave you with this important point… We, humans, do not know every consequence of our actions and many times won’t know until many years later. When we change how something is naturally designed to work, there will be consequences.
The only way you can avoid all three is to grow your own food. Even then, a large percentage of wheat, soy, and corn are GMOs. So, every wheat, soy, and corn ingredient (including corn syrup, soy lecithin, etc.) is most likely from a GMO.
I don’t want to scare you with all this.
You have to realize that the potential harms here are similar to the ones you take on with medications. Convenience comes at a price. At the end of the day, you may believe the benefits of convenient foods is worth the risks. And that’s totally ok.
This is why it is so important that you are aware of the pros and cons of each situation. You are responsible to discern what’s best for you and your family. But, you need the whole story to do so. Don’t just believe what I say, or what the media says. Look for yourself and be confident in your decision.
I’ve provided a list below that I used to write this post to get you started on your search…
- GMOs vs. Conventional vs. Organic. https://www.forbes.com/sites/gmoanswers/2016/11/15/gmo-conventional-organic/#791e28956c5f
- Are GMO’s bad? https://wallethub.com/blog/are-gmos-bad/29362
- Factors influencing U.S. consumer support for genetic modification to prevent crop disease. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666314001007
- A mutant of the major apple allergen, Mal d 1, demonstrating hypo-allergenicity in the target organ. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2222.2005.02390.x/abstract
- Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects. https://www.nap.edu/read/10977
- How GMOs differ from conventional methods. https://consumersunion.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Wide-Crosses.pdf
- When is genetic modification socially acceptable? When used to advance human health through avenues other than food. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0178227
- The allergenicity of genetically modified foods from genetically engineered crops: A narrative and systematic. http://www.annallergy.org/article/S1081-1206(17)30550-1/fulltext
- Health effects of agricultural pesticides. http://www.alliedacademies.org/articles/health-effects-of-agricultural-pesticides.html
- Food and Pesticides. https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/food-and-pesticides
- Pesticides Exposure. https://ephtracking.cdc.gov/showPesticidesExposuresLanding.action
- The Statistics for Pesticides http://npic.orst.edu/ingred/stats.html
- Pesticide Residues in Food. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/pesticide-residues-food/en/
- The Natural and Synthetic Nature of Food Additives. http://www.dummies.com/health/nutrition/natural-synthetic-nature-food-additives/
- Color Additives: FDA’s Regulatory Process and Historical Perspectives. https://www.fda.gov/ForIndustry/ColorAdditives/RegulatoryProcessHistoricalPerspectives/
- Food additive safety: A review of toxicologic and regulatory issues. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319485543_Food_additive_safety_A_review_of_toxicologic_and_regulatory_issues
- Food Additives: Friends or Foes? https://www.allegiancehealth.org/wellness/article/45431
- Factsheet for Food Additives. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/food-additives/en/
- GRAS-Fed Americans: Sick of Lax Regulation of Food Additives. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2668409