Amid the abundant downers in the news—climate change, gun massacres, worldwide misogyny—at least one positive is emerging: we’re beginning to care more about what we eat.
School districts around the country are realizing they’ve been feeding kids trash lunches. New programs are serving local organic veggies and other nutritious foods, bought locally and often at lower prices than corporate crap. Until recently, hospitalized patients could literally die of malnutrition; now, here and there, decent food is finding its way in.
Even when food looks okay, dubious but invisible elements can lurk within. Do you know if your food was irradiated for shelf life, creating potentially carcinogenic free radicals? Do you know what your chickens or beef cattle were fed? Reuters reported today that Russia will ban imports of American turkey, beef, and pork due to concerns about the use of the feed additive ractopamine, a growth hormone. Ractopamine is banned in some countries because of concerns that it could remain in the meat and cause health problems, despite scientific evidence showing that it’s safe.
When you consider claims of “harmlessness,” please keep two caveats in mind. First, the exculpating research was almost always done by the corporation that sells the stuff; ‘nuff said. And second, that research takes only the short term into account. Dozens of serious toxins don’t reveal their effect for decades or even entire generations. That fact alone makes most additives and processes corporate dreams in terms of liability: we’re exposed to so many questionable substances that we can’t prove a cancer that appears today was caused by something ingested twenty years ago.
What do we do about that? I actually don’t think we need protective laws as much as we need to educate ourselves about food and buy only what we know to be healthy. The “invisible hand of the market,” as economists call it, takes care of business: the American turkey that Russia will no longer import is a $516 million loss for the ractopamine crowd.