A hallmark of our modern times is the fact that too many of us now eat processed, chemicalized, ersatz food. So it’s no wonder metabolic and digestive problems are on the rise, as are food allergies and obesity. There are real dangers in consuming the standard American diet. It’s time to get back to real food.
For millennia prior to the Industrial Revolution, most humans lived an agrarian lifestyle and people raised the food they and their families ate. Fast forward to 2012, and other than kitchen or summer gardens, most people don’t grow their own food nor do they put up food for the winter. But growing your own is something that can significantly improve your meals and your health.
Problems with not eating enough fruits and vegetables were evident long ago, particularly when sailors at sea suffered from scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency disease. The Scottish surgeon James Lind in 1753 published a paper arguing that lemons and limes could prevent scurvy. As a result, British ships were outfitted with a supply of citrus fruit and British sailors became known as “Limeys.”
Initially, when food production became industrialized, deficiency diseases became much more widespread. Problems with processed food began in earnest with the milling of rice and wheat, a process that depletes the nutrients in those foods. When these milled grains became widespread, so did vitamin deficiency diseases. For instance, beriberi, a vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency, started appearing in the early 1880s in Asia when consumption of white rice, devoid of B1, became common.
When processed corn meal came into culinary fashion, the deficiency disease pellagra also appeared, causing horrible-looking, painful skin lesions. Pellagra is caused by a deficiency of niacin or vitamin B3. It can also result from getting too little tryptophan, an amino acid precursor to niacin. If untreated, pellagra can kill within three to five years.
To offset deficiency diseases, the U.S. and other governments require food companies to fortify and enrich their products with a variety of nutrients. In 1924, iodine was first added to salt. In the 1930s, Vitamin D was added to milk. In the United States, white flour has been enriched with five nutrients, including thiamine, since 1941.
But even though food chemistry has prevented obvious deficiency diseases by adding nutrients to processed foods, there’s something sinister that is rearing its ugly head in the research being done by many food scientists: genetically modified foods, GMO foods.
An Age Of Chemicals
Ever since the end of World War II, the introduction of chemicals into our lives and foods has produced profound challenges to our health. The synthetic flavors we consume and the thousands of other chemicals in our environment interfere with the body’s ability not only to function but to synthesize nutrients, since the human liver tends to get rid of anything chemical that is foreign to our physiology.
Rachel Carson, my heroine and the author of Silent Spring, in the 1960s said:
For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death…
For mankind as a whole, a possession infinitely more valuable than individual life is our genetic heritage, our link with past and future… Yet genetic deteriorations through man-made agents is the menace of our time…
Even though Silent Spring is credited with starting the environmental movement, not much has been taken seriously about what she said, especially regarding food.
If deficiency diseases have seemingly been corrected by synthetic chemical nutrients, where does that leave us today nutrition-wise?
Close to 17 percent of the food we eat is imported from foreign countries and many of these, like China, don’t have very stringent supervision of food production.
A while back, infants’ health was threatened by baby formula that contained melamine (a chemical used in the manufacture of plastic). In my book Our Chemical Lives And The Hijacking of Our DNA (available here), I discuss much of what most Americans don’t know about food produced in China.
Consider that China is the largest exporter of seafood to the United States. As I note in my book: “Since only 45 percent of China has sewage treatment facilities, raw sewage gets discharged directly into rivers, lakes, estuaries, and coastal waters. Much of China’s aquaculture grows in raw sewage contaminated water. How much raw sewage do you think that amounts to? The estimate is about 3.7 billion tons.”
The creation of global food growing partners represents a significant shift in food production. Often, chemicals that are banned in the United States are used in foreign countries and then come back to us in fruits and vegetables sold at the supermarket.
All foods that are grown by big agricultural companies are mostly nutrient-deficient. Industrialized agriculture does not respect the soil in which food is grown. It continuously uses heavy-duty chemical fertilizers to nurture crops. Long gone are the days of crop rotation or even winter crops that are plowed under in spring to provide natural fertilizing agents for the soil. But organic farmers still employ such practices.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) represent the most serious problem with modern agriculture. About 85 percent of the U.S. food chain is contaminated with GMOs even though consumers don’t know about it. Food labeling laws in the United States do not require that GMOs be labeled on food packaging.
The really unfortunate part about GMOs is what we don’t know about their effects. We don’t know the long-term results of eating genetically modified food since humans have not consumed them in their diets until recently. What we do know is what independent scientists are finding and telling us. It’s not reassuring.
Don M. Huber, professor emeritus of plant pathology at Purdue University, claims to have found a troubling new microorganism associated with GMO technology:
A search for the source of animal infections revealed a high population of this newly discovered electron microscopic-sized organism in high concentrations in the soybean meal component of animal feed. It also has been observed in soil, fungal mycelia, soybean leaves and meal, various corn tissues, distillers meal, and fermentation feed products (corn silage, haylage, wheatlage, etc.). The new organism is in very low concentrations or absent from the non-GMO plants and grain samples evaluated to date. 
Besides what Huber claims to have found, transgenic organisms, with DNA from different species inserted into them, are cause for concern. (For instance, food companies have inserted fish genes into some of their plants.) While transgenic plants are often able to resist harsh environmental conditions, they are also sometimes made to withstand prolific spraying with glyphosate (RoundUp®), a pesticide that Monsanto (a major GMO producer) mandates farmers sign contracts to use exclusively and prolifically.
Some crops like Bt-corn produce the Bt toxin Bacillus thuringiensis, which protects them from pests. But no one knows if Bt can reproduce and grow in the human intestinal tract, an event that would make humans capable of manufacturing the Bt toxin. And some experts think that food allergies will become even more common from our constant exposure to GMO foods.
Consumers have been eating GMOs since the late 1990s. Simultaneously, metabolic and digestive problems have grown tremendously, and food allergies are also more widespread. Obesity is now a serious, ubiquitous problem. No one knows what part GMOs have played in these situations.
Nutrient deficiencies are undoubtedly resulting from an American diet filled with highly processed, chemicalized foods. When we eat a diet filled with starch and sugar and fast food rich in saturated fats, we are missing out on enzymes, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and other key nutritional factors.
We need to take back our food sovereignty and not allow others to determine what we must eat. We are unknowingly letting food corporations dictate our diets when we flock to fast food joints and purchase faux foods. Consumers must take charge of the food supply by using the power of the purse and purchase only those foods that are healthful and nutrient dense, preferably organically grown, and not chemicalized.
Let’s start raising our food again with non-GMO seeds. Large chemical companies have taken over seed suppliers and are tinkering with the seeds people sow in their home gardens. Fortunately, heirloom seed companies are still in business. If you want to grow genuine food, search for organic heirloom seed companies on the Internet.
Remember what Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine, said: “Our food should be our medicine; our medicine should be our food,” something big food companies apparently don’t believe or, perhaps, want to prevent you from knowing. Notice that nowhere does Hippocrates mention the word chemicals in his recommendations.
We can look back on our food history and see how science helped create cures for deficiency diseases. But we have absolutely no idea about what will result from our current dietary shift.
 http://www.gmfreecymru.org.uk/open_letters/huber_letters.html accessed Feb. 1, 2012
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