And now... "Teach your Children Well" - Our Daily Green

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

And now... "Teach your Children Well"

My sophomore child recently was assigned a persuasive paper for her English class. Over the years, we have tried to share the importance of healthy and natural eating. When the Mini-Greens were in elementary school, we watched Supersize Me and decided that fast food was not the best choice for our family. A few years ago, we went to see Food, Inc., and it changed the way we shop for groceries. They frequently come with me to markets and also help choose items for our garden. We've tried to make healthy eating a family affair. Occasionally, her friends have teased her for her mom's "crunchy hippie stuff", but I also know that nobody goes hungry when they visit. We make our own soda or fresh squeezed lemonade, we grill burgers from grass-fed beef, and always serve a tray of vegetables. Imagine my pride when her topic for her persuasive paper was:  

The Benefits of Eating Organic
since this is my blog, I'm going to hang her paper on the wall for you... I'm proud.. 

Ponder the humble fast-food hamburger; piled high in a smorgasboard of crisp lettuce, sizzling beef, and tangy ketchup, it is considered to be an all-American staple. However, many customers do not realize that with every bite, they are risking their lives. 

The food industry has become a mysterious place where fact and fiction blend to become indistinguishable. With so much uncertainty, most consumers do not even know what is in their foods anymore. Even the few consumers who do know what is in their food often do not realize how it impacts their health. From heart attacks to liver failure, diet-related diseases have been on a rise; they almost directly correlate with the increase of artificial sweeteners, factory-farming, and the use of pesticides. To prevent many of the health concerns plaguing society today, people should eat only organic, all-natural foods.

One of the biggest industries involved in the food business today is that of artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are chemical compounds that are less expensive to produce than sugar, but taste identically or very similar to the simple sucrose molecule. Some examples include saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame, cyclamate, sucralose, and high-fructose corn syrup (Spurlock 97-98). 

These sweeteners not only cost less to produce, but the artificial sweetener industry can also use less of them in foods, due to the highly concentrated sweetness of these sweeteners. Gram for gram, these sugar substitutes can be up to 600 times as sweet as table sugar (98). While this is an effective way for the food industry to cut costs without cutting taste, they often cut quality with it. The body does not digest these sweeteners the same way it digests plain sucrose. 

It all traces back to the molecules that make up these sweet compounds of both table sugar and artificial sweeteners. In every molecule of any sweetener, there are two simple sugars, fructose and glucose. In regular sugar, each molecule consists of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. However, in high-fructose, there is a slight imbalance of the two, with about 55% fructose (Parker n. pag.). Though this may not seem like a lot, the human body does not metabolize these two simple sugars the same way. Glucose is processed to produce energy, while any extra is stored as carbohydrates. On the other hand, fructose is immediately metabolized into extra fat molecules (Spurlock 97). 

With extra fat cells often come obesity concerns. These can include “high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer, and diabetes” (Parker n. pag.). However, even without taking the risks of obesity into consideration, artificial sweeteners can cause cancer, headaches, dizziness, mood swings, brain tumors, birth defects, shrinkage of the thymus gland, and enlargement of the liver and kidneys (Spurlock 99).

The meat industry is an even bigger problem. Due to a high demand for animal products such as milk, eggs, and bacon, the meat industry had to find a more efficient way to provide the general public with protein. Thus, factory-farming was produced. Raised in a traditional farming setting, one is likely to see 10-30 cows standing in a sprawling pasture, chewing on clumps of grass. 

However, this new form of farming has “as many as 200,000 cows at a time stand around in a swamp of their own feces, getting pumped full of grains” (Spurlock 101-102). Because these cattle are forced to live in such close quarters, the risk of spreading disease throughout the entire herd increases dramatically. E. coli, mad-cow disease, and salmonella are just a few of the most recent health scares. 

As a result of food-borne illnesses, all supermarket-bound livestock must be given large amounts of antibiotics, which lead to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria (105-106). Though a farm may produce 200,000 cows, those cows are worthless unless there is a way to process them into neat, pretty packages of ground beef on the local supermarket shelf. However, ground beef that looks appealing on the shelf for a mere ten days has less time to sell. Packaging companies use a harmless dose of carbon monoxide to keep meat looking fresh for up to twenty days- twice as long as it should, well after the beef is spoiled (Schmit B5).

The beef production line does its best to keep the supermarket packagers fresh for as long as possible. As soon as the cattle are mature, they are shipped to the factory part of the factory-farm and ground up into huge quantities of hamburger. Robert Tauxe, chief of the food-borne and diarrheal diseases branch of the CDC, states, “I suspect there are hundreds or even thousands of animals that have contributed to a single hamburger” (Spurlock 103). 

If one cow is infected with E. coli, mad-cow disease, or salmonella, it has the ability to affect thousands of hamburgers. To reduce the chance of recalls and bacteria-riddled meat, the meat industry exposes the ground beef to three million rad doses of radiation to kill these microorganisms. Eating irradiated meat has the unfortunate side effects of “chromosome damage, immunetoxicity,… kidney disease, cardiac thrombus, and fibroplasias” (Meeker 63; 65; 66). Even without eating irradiated meat, manufactured meat is still harmful to one’s health. “Every 1.7 ounces of processed meat consumed increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 21%” (Hellmich A1).

Pesticides literally go to the roots of food production. Pesticides are chemical compounds used to make a plant grow larger and more colorful. John Robbins poses a very simple, yet disturbing, question to society when he asks: “Isn’t there something bizarre about growing our food with poisons? Chemicals that have been designed and produced specifically to kill life?” (Spurlock 109).  Even more disturbing is that pesticides do kill life, and not just those of pests. Pesticides can impact:
the liver, kidneys, lungs, skin, eyes, and brain. Long-term chronic effects on humans include a whole series of cancers, liver and kidney failure, sterility, neurological disorders and birth defects….New evidence indicates that the proper functioning of the … endocrine or hormone system, can be severely altered due to low level cumulative pesticide exposure. (Bekkers 43) 
All these can lead to the ultimate result of death. Pesticides are found everywhere, but they are most concentrated at the produce section of the grocery store. To get the most out of a pesticide, farmers apply it to a young crop. For this reason, pesticides are absorbed into the roots of the crop, and then into the crop itself. “[W]e are actually consuming the environment in which those foods were produced” (Motavalli 27). One can wash off the outside of a plant, but once the pesticide is ingrained within the cells of the produce, it will never fully go away. The only way to guarantee that no pesticides are in foods consumed everyday is to buy and consume only organic foods, which are not grown with pesticides.

There are many better food choices than artificial sweeteners, factory-farmed beef, and pesticide-laden plants. Instead of buying another fast-food hamburger, try an organic doppelganger. Artificial sweeteners and processed ketchup can easily be substituted with table sugar and all-natural condiments. Factory-farmed hamburger can be switched with beef raised in a traditional farm. Pesticide-laden lettuce can be exchanged for a green thumb. All processed foods have an alternative, but good health cannot be replaced.

It feels like the pesticide free apple didn't fall far from the tree. Nice work, sweetie! 

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