Thursday, August 19, 2010

Soap Box Wednesdays: Are they TRYING to make us sick?

It's baaaaack! After a unnecessarily long (read: I was being too lazy to do my research) hiatus, Soap Box Wednesdays has returned. Sorta.  I'll level with you, I'm pulling this SBW post out of my ass at the eleventyith [yeah, I'm making up numbers now] because I promised in my last post that I would deliver this week. And I hate breaking promises, so here goes.

Way back when, sometime last year, I cam across this article on yahoo titled, "7 Foods Experts Won't Eat". Of course I had to read it, because you know me, I'm convinced that a lot our modern "conveniences" in terms of our food culture is much to our detriment. Because this is a half-assed SBW post, but I think this is pretty crucial information that everyone should have, I'm going to share this informative article. Word for word. In school, they call it plagiarism. In blog world, they call it copy right infringement. In my world, I call it "I spent my researching time twirling around a pole, watching TV and sleeping, so I don't give a flying fuggity about copyrights, as long as I get something posted, and it's not like I said I wrote it sooo shazam!"

How healthy (or not) certain foods are—for us, for the environment—is a hotly debated topic among experts and consumers alike, and there are no easy answers. But when Prevention talked to the people at the forefront of food safety and asked them one simple question—“What foods do you avoid?”—we got some pretty interesting answers. Although these foods don’t necessarily make up a "banned” list, as you head into the holidays—and all the grocery shopping that comes with it—their answers are, well, food for thought:

1. Canned Tomatoes
The expert: Fredrick vom Saal, PhD, an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri who studies bisphenol-A.

The problem: The resin linings of tin cans contain bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Unfortunately, acidity (a prominent characteristic of tomatoes) causes BPA to leach into your food. Studies show that the BPA in most people's body exceeds the amount that suppresses sperm production or causes chromosomal damage to the eggs of animals. "You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that's a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young," says vom Saal. "I won't go near canned tomatoes."

The solution: Choose tomatoes in glass bottles (which do not need resin linings), such as the brands Bionaturae and Coluccio. You can also get several types in Tetra Pak boxes, like Trader Joe's and Pomi.

2. Corn-Fed Beef
The expert: Joel Salatin, co-owner of Polyface Farms and author of half a dozen books on sustainable farming.

The problem: Cattle evolved to eat grass, not grains. But farmers today feed their animals corn and soybeans, which fatten up the animals faster for slaughter. More money for cattle farmers (and lower prices at the grocery store) means a lot less nutrition for us. A recent comprehensive study conducted by the USDA and researchers from Clemson University found that compared with corn-fed beef, grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, omega-3s, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), calcium, magnesium, and potassium; lower in inflammatory omega-6s; and lower in saturated fats that have been linked to heart disease. "We need to respect the fact that cows are herbivores, and that does not mean feeding them corn and chicken manure," says Salatin.

The solution: Buy grass-fed beef, which can be found at specialty grocers, farmers' markets, and nationally at Whole Foods. It's usually labeled because it demands a premium, but if you don't see it, ask your butcher.

3. Microwave Popcorn
The expert: Olga Naidenko, PhD, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group,

The problem: Chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in the lining of the bag, are part of a class of compounds that may be linked to infertility in humans, according to a recent study from UCLA. In animal testing, the chemicals cause liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer. Studies show that microwaving causes the chemicals to vaporize—and migrate into your popcorn. "They stay in your body for years and accumulate there," says Naidenko, which is why researchers worry that levels in humans could approach the amounts causing cancers in laboratory animals. DuPont and other manufacturers have promised to phase out PFOA by 2015 under a voluntary EPA plan, but millions of bags of popcorn will be sold between now and then.

The solution: Pop natural kernels the old-fashioned way: in a skillet. For flavorings, you can add real butter or dried seasonings, such as dillweed, vegetable flakes, or soup mix.

4. Nonorganic Potatoes
The expert: Jeffrey Moyer, chair of the National Organic Standards Board

The problem: Root vegetables absorb herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides that wind up in soil. In the case of potatoes—the nation's most popular vegetable—they're treated with fungicides during the growing season, then sprayed with herbicides to kill off the fibrous vines before harvesting. After they're dug up, the potatoes are treated yet again to prevent them from sprouting. "Try this experiment: Buy a conventional potato in a store, and try to get it to sprout. It won't," says Moyer, who is also farm director of the Rodale Institute (also owned by Rodale Inc., the publisher of Prevention). "I've talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals."

The solution: Buy organic potatoes. Washing isn't good enough if you're trying to remove chemicals that have been absorbed into the flesh.

5. Farmed Salmon
The expert: David Carpenter, MD, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany and publisher of a major study in the journal Science on contamination in fish.

The problem: Nature didn't intend for salmon to be crammed into pens and fed soy, poultry litter, and hydrolyzed chicken feathers. As a result, farmed salmon is lower in vitamin D and higher in contaminants, including carcinogens, PCBs, brominated flame retardants, and pesticides such as dioxin and DDT. According to Carpenter, the most contaminated fish come from Northern Europe, which can be found on American menus. "You can only safely eat one of these salmon dinners every 5 months without increasing your risk of cancer," says Carpenter, whose 2004 fish contamination study got broad media attention. "It's that bad." Preliminary science has also linked DDT to diabetes and obesity, but some nutritionists believe the benefits of omega-3s outweigh the risks. There is also concern about the high level of antibiotics and pesticides used to treat these fish. When you eat farmed salmon, you get dosed with the same drugs and chemicals.

The solution: Switch to wild-caught Alaska salmon. If the package says fresh Atlantic, it's farmed. There are no commercial fisheries left for wild Atlantic salmon.

6. Milk Produced with Artificial Hormones
The expert: Rick North, project director of the Campaign for Safe Food at the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and former CEO of the Oregon division of the American Cancer Society

The problem: Milk producers treat their dairy cattle with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST, as it is also known) to boost milk production. But rBGH also increases udder infections and even pus in the milk. It also leads to higher levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor in milk. In people, high levels of IGF-1 may contribute to breast, prostate, and colon cancers. "When the government approved rBGH, it was thought that IGF-1 from milk would be broken down in the human digestive tract," says North. As it turns out, the casein in milk protects most of it, according to several independent studies. "There's not 100% proof that this is increasing cancer in humans," admits North. "However, it's banned in most industrialized countries."

The solution: Check labels for rBGH-free, rBST-free, produced without artificial hormones, or organic milk. These phrases indicate rBGH-free products.

7. Conventional Apples
The expert: Mark Kastel, former executive for agribusiness and codirector of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm-policy research group that supports organic foods

The problem: If fall fruits held a "most doused in pesticides contest," apples would win. Why? They are individually grafted (descended from a single tree) so that each variety maintains its distinctive flavor. As such, apples don't develop resistance to pests and are sprayed frequently. The industry maintains that these residues are not harmful. But Kastel counters that it's just common sense to minimize exposure by avoiding the most doused produce, like apples. "Farm workers have higher rates of many cancers," he says. And increasing numbers of studies are starting to link a higher body burden of pesticides (from all sources) with Parkinson's disease.

The solution: Buy organic apples. If you can't afford organic, be sure to wash and peel them first.

Here's what I think. *jumps on soap box*

Really, really, REALLY?! Way to fucking go US Department of Agriculture on looking out to protect the health and well being of the general public! Way to drop the ball food scientists!! Once again, did no one really think that dousing food, FOOD that people eat, feed their children, and nourish their unborn offspring with in synthetic chemicals was a BAD FUCKING IDEA?! OK, so maybe you can get a pass on the canned tomatoes thing. That doesn't necessarily set off those alarms in the minds of most. But as for the rest of this mess, SIDE EYE, SON! I'm cringing at the realization that I have probably consumed several thousand gallons of rBST laden milk in my lifetime, as I was and still am a cereal monster. Now you've got me worried that if I ever decide to host a parasite for 10 months get pregnant and bring a crumb snatcher or two into this world, I might not be able to do so without reproductive drama. And what about cancer? You know women of African descent have a higher death rate from breast cancer than their Caucasian counterparts, even though we have a lower incidence rate? And my grandmother has Alzheimer's, how are these chemicals contributing to my risks factors? SHIT! HELL! DAMN! I realize it does me no good to fret over what cannot be undone. So since reading this article, I've taken action, and I am 6 for 7 on avoiding these foods:
  • I don't really eat canned anything, and from now on, will be paying a premium for jarred tomato paste for whenever I get around to making Nigerian food or pasta sauce.
  • Corn fed beef is hard to avoid. I don't buy that much beef, but I like to eat at restaurants.The grass fed alternative is soo outrageously expensive that I've never bought it. So as of last month, I've decided to nix beef from my grocery lists, indefinitely. I don't eat it that much, so it's an easy sacrifice. It's not like it's bacon...
  • I don't eat popcorn. Period
  • Organic potatoes are hard to find. Contrary to popular belief, not all of the produce in Whole Check Foods is organic, which elicits yet another side eye from me. For the prices they charge, that's some bull shiggity! Same deal on Trader Joe's. Whose leg do I have to hump for some organic freaking potatoes?!
  • I don't buy much seafood b/c you have to cook it like IMMEDIATELY, which if you remember from this fiasco, is not something I do, like, ever.
  • Organic milk is expensive as shit, $3.49 for half a gallon! BUT I get the ultra pasteurized variety that lasts like a month, that way it's never wasted in the event of a temporary cereal drought.
  • Organic apples are available from time to time, and since I only buy 3 or 4 at a time, the cost isn't prohibitive.
So there you have it señoras y señores*. Avoid these 7 foods like your life depends on it. Because, it kinda does...

*prepare yourself for frequent bouts of Spanglish on this blog, as I am learning Español via Rosetta Stone so I'm not the idiot Americano when I move to Barcelona in 16-24 months.


  1. I can never give up Popcorn... EVER.... so for Christmas, my sister got us a popper... and we use it often... and the popcorn tastes way better than microwave popcorn.... its awesome!! Plus because it's such a hassle to melt butter on top, I usually make it sans the butter (how healthy is that- admit it... you are proud of me!!!)

  2. Acually, "eleventy" is from MadTV. So it is, in fact, a word.

  3. But seriously, thanks for the education. I will definitely stay away from canned if I could only stay away from soy EVERYTHING.

    As far as meat goes, beef left the building years ago (making a visit every few months). FYI: Chipotle's meats are free-range and grass fed. Expensive? Yes. Worth it everytime? Absolutely.

    Meat actually doesn't get alot of play on my grocery list. It's just one more thing I don't feel like preparing and cleaning up after. Vegetables and grains are just easier and more worth eating--bulkier foods with very few calories and no fat! I eat meat when I eat out for lunch or dinner...maybe. My next step is weening myself off deli chicken and turkey (beacause sodium and nitrates are noone's friend). The only temptation is that they add great flavor with very few calories and miniscule amounts of fat per serving.

    I will do my best to heed your advice. See ya soon!

    P.S.: LMAO @ "Whole Check"

  4. I'm trying to become more informed about food in general. Not only organic vs not vs genetically engineered but also what certain foods do for the body (like snacks that give me energy and so on). After watching food inc, we made some changes in diet and for a while after my husband made our bread which is what he grew up eating (he never had store bread until college). I buy wild salmon and hormone free chicken ( I don't eat beef) but I really need to learn more and since we've been eating out so much we have really fallen off. I need books to read. If you have any suggestions point me in the direction

  5. I started buying organic milk because I got totally freaked out by the hormones!

  6. Oh boy. I'm not gonna lie, come September I'll be using canned tomatoes like it's my job (once my garden dies). The ones in the jar cost four times as much!

    I buy my milk at Costco and their regular (non-organic) milk doesn't have horomones. I don't drink much milk, so I can afford to go organic.

    Frozen shrimp are the perfect seafood. They can be thawed whenever you want to eat them and they are always fresh.

    I pop my popcorn in a Whirley Pop (about $20 on Amazon). It's the bomb.

    My garden is organic (well, maybe not since the seedlings came from a nursery that may not be organic), but as for my shopping, I'm just trying to make my paycheck last until next week. I'm just sayin'.

  7. Happen to cross your blog but after looking at this... I am ready to eat nothing :)

  8. @Hillary, you're right. I am proud of you. Butter should be saved for things that count like pancakes and pound cake.

    @Liz, I also just realized that elevnty is from LOTR, so i guess i'm not so original after all. I've never eaten at Chipotle (gasp)..I'm not really into mexican food. But i've heard good things about their carnitas, so maybe i'll give it a whirl one day. free range pig...mmmm

    @LIG, in terms of books to read, i've heard that "in defense of food" and "omnivores dillema" are good reads on this topic. And there is a on of literature on sustainable farming/eating. I just haven't gotten around to reading any of it yet.

    @Kristin, yeah the more i come to understand just how critical it is to avoid synthetic hormones, the more i'm looking at all dairy products skeptically. but the organic alternative is just so expensive, so for now I'm sticking with organic milk

    @Keeley, as much as you cook, I understand where you're coming from. Have you looked at Trader Joe's? The prices are usually more reasonable there than the grocery store. And I have bought frozen shrimp before, but it's a splurge, and even then, i get paranoid about it b/c of this one bad frozen tilapia experience that still haunts me years

    @F&M you can't eat nothing! But I understand, it's frustrating trying to navigate the grocery store and make it out alive and with some money still in your pocket. smh

  9. here is so many inspirations!

    have a nice time!

  10. HI, first time reader, brought here through FB. I'd read about the popcorn/cancer thing a few years ago. So stupid and irresponsible. I thought you may also want to know about the dirty dozen of fruits/vegetables. Those are the 12 most contaminated by residual pesticides. There's also a clean 15 that retain the least. I learned about them on martha stewart. It may be more than you wanted to know.

    "the dirty dozen." These include (in order of most residue to least): peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, and pears.

    EWG's "clean 15," the fruits and vegetables with the least pesticide residue, are (in order of least residue to most): onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwifruits, cabbages, eggplants, papayas, watermelons, broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes. Grapefruit is number 16.

  11. Then there's the problem with fish/shellfish. They're really good for your nutrition but all have mercury in them. I'm scared of that, so I only have fish once every couple of weeks. The EPA has some guidelines that I try to follow.

    ( )

    So I eat salmon and not-albacore tuna. I didn't even know that I had to be worried about the trout caught in our near by river/lake. Sometimes it does seem like we have to be worried about so much food, it's a little discouraging. Good thing I loooove eating.

  12. @fotohok, I was just thinking about the dirty dozen the other day when doing some light grocery shopping, and saying I should print that list and keep it in my purse b/c I can never remember all of them. Maybe I'll do a SBW post on them as well. And yeah, you're totally right about the seafood issue. Mercury contamination is a growing problem, and seafood consumption is on the rise. It's a like a catch 22. People are eating more seafood in the spirit of healthy eating, but so much seafood is contaminated. and then there's the problem of overfishing of the seas. It's all very discouraging, but at the end of the day, I gotta eat, so I try to do the best I can and keep myself and others informed.

  13. I'm the worst!!! I don't pay too much attention to what's "hormone-free" or "chemical-free"! Actually, I think it's because my mom yapped on and on about it when I was a kid, that I was totally turned off by the whole thing. Not to mention, once she went vegan and organic, our food tasted like rubber :o/ But I realize I should pay closer attention to this stuff. SBW's are always a good reminder!

  14. Your mom made y'all eat a vegan diet at home? I'm mad for you, lol. But i'm glad my SBWs are a reminder to be on the look out :)



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