A Spoonful of Skepticism

…helps keep the toxins away? I’m having a grand time working in the organic foods sector– Our firm is involved in Michelle Obama’s [healthy] school lunch program, my boss is pretty tight with Kim Severson, and we get free samples. Constantly. (Yum.) But being immersed in the environmental news world is also sometimes overwhelming, especially when every single day I find out that yet another common product has been linked with brain damage, cancer, sterility, etc.

Some people dismiss these reports– partly because they are overwhelming –but slowly, people are beginning to confront the facts. The President’s Cancer Panel just released a Big Important Report (like, really important). The short summary? 41% of Americans are diagnosed with cancer within their lifetime, and 21% die of it. The cause? No, it’s not all hereditary. These rates are directly connected to all the chemicals we put into our air, food, and water.

It’s scary, and yet I think it confirms an instinct that many Americans have already: that when our cleaning products give us a headache, or a certain medication gives us a severe side effect… they’re not okay. And this too makes sense: most of these products or substances haven’t been around for more than 50 years. We haven’t had time to know their long-term effects.

All the scientific innovation during World War II, combined with leftover “materials” (read: chemicals) after the War’s end led to an industry boom during the 50’s and 60’s.  Only now are we discovering that… yikes, maybe we rushed a little too confidently into our own marketing skills.

Here’s a brief overview of some of the specific links that have turned up recently:

My conclusion?

It’s sensible to be skeptical. Which means that I raise an eyebrow at something like, oh, say, a digital food printer, instead of embracing its sexy techno-seduction without questioning. Not to mention any product that gives you a headache, or smells funny, or has been on the market for less than a generation (I’m looking at you, ADHD drugs).

But I’m not against innovation: urban farming, for example, is new, innovative, and also fucking badass. But it utilizes traditional, tried-and-true methods in order to create healthier communities in the present. No skepticism about that.

UPDATE: You know what’s ironic? When I search for “cancer health” in a stock image search engine, 99% of the images are of cigarettes (one was of a virus?). Funny how we don’t want to acknowledge that the pesticides in our food might be just as dangerous.

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3 Responses to “A Spoonful of Skepticism”


  1. 1 midya August 1, 2010 at 10:46 am

    I especially like this post in light of the one about the rodeo. Who came up with all these chemicals that we now consume? If you want to up the ante a bit, throw in high fructose corn syrup. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the rodeo crowd. In fact, even if they didn’t invent the chemicals, I’m pretty sure it was ULI’s or a close iteration who introduced them into our food chain via public policy. Of course ULI’s don’t attend rodeos. They don’t want to address either the complex relationship between man and animals or the complex relationship between themselves and rodeo attendees. I’m enjoying and appreciating your thoughts.

  2. 2 Cole August 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Re: Midya

    Thanks for this comment! It’s exciting to see readers point out connections between my posts that I didn’t even (consciously, at least) intend. The food issue is definitely a perfect example of the power relationship between ULI’s and rural populatons. Because it was these types of “technologies and progress” made (mostly) by ULI’s, that in turn defined the nation’s food supply and ran the majority of farmers out of business.


  1. 1 Rurality in the News « The Orchard Trackback on August 3, 2010 at 5:00 pm

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