Ignorance is bliss

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Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Peter DeFazio, of California and Oregon respectively, are pushing a new bill called the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act. Either companies label their products that contain genetically engineered ingredients or the FDA will slap a “misbranded” classification on the product (Satran, “Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Taken On By Congress In Right-To-Know Act”).

There are a number of levels on which to examine this development: first, will the food activism movement’s reputation as part of the leftist, idealist, even hippie agenda prevent conservative politicians from backing this bill? Or will the importance of empowering the consumer take precedence over party lines? Glancing over to the conservative side of this issue (a perspective that I am now realizing has been markedly neglected throughout my exploration of new food activism), a blogger at “Young, Hip, and Conservative” would like to point out that liberals don’t “deserve credit for accepting science that compliments their worldview” and are unwilling to accept positive scientific breakthroughs about GMOs (Michael, “GMO phobia is pseudoscience”). To me, this blogger is only affirming the damaging political divide currently wreaking havoc on our democratic system and seems to only be interested in opposition. One can only hope that this bill can withstand such extremism and go under consideration in as objective a manner as possible.

Second, what does the Right to Know actually accomplish? I’m envisioning a significant portion of Americans suddenly and inescapably faced with the knowledge that they are buying r-BST dairy products. If you can’t afford an alternative or live in an area with limited resources, awareness could even prove to be damaging. While I am lucky enough to have access to both information and organic products, I can’t pretend to understand what it is like to be denied choice in the foods you eat. However, I would argue that empowerment through understanding (and labeling) is the first step to agency. I’ll end on Joel Salatin’s eloquent rally against the practices of companies like Monsanto: “A culture that views animals and plants as inanimate piles of protoplasmic structure to be manipulated … will view its citizens the same way. And other cultures the same way.” In the same vein, the Right to Know bill is built on the principle of treating people like humans and not like consumers, and hopefully will hold companies accountable to this idea.

Satran, Joe. Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Taken On By Congress In Right-To-Know Act.” The Huffington Post 25 April 2013 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/25/genetically-engineered-food_n_3149418.html 

Michael. “GMO phobia is pseudoscience.” Young, Hip, and Conservative. 26 September 2012

http://www.younghipandconservative.com/2012/09/gmo-phobia-is-pseudoscience.html

Maisto, Michelle.“Is GMO labeling a he-said, she-said debate?” Forbes19 December 2011

http://www.forbes.com/sites/michellemaisto/2011/12/19/is-gmo-labeling-a-he-said-she-said-debate/

“New bill would require genetically modified food labeling in US.”RT 26 April 2013 http://rt.com/usa/mandatory-gmo-food-labeling-417/

Image taken from www.nongmoproject.org

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How to survive a sweet tooth

It was the first time I had heard the word “organic” used as s derogatory term. Picture this:  I am walking down Newbury Street, and suddenly a man in a Pret a Manger polo hands me a pretty hefty container of oatmeal to promote the chain’s arrival to Boston. (Really, Pret a Manger? You think I’m going to buy something after you give me a full-sized breakfast? And really, Pret a Manger? You think the best way to lure new customers in is by handing them unsweetened oatmeal?) Anyway, this guy about ten feet ahead of me on the sidewalk halts, turns, and proclaims: “What is this organic $!#&?”

I got to thinking about this culturally-constructed divide we have in place in the United States: junk food  = tasty, healthy = gross. As a kid, I know I remember feeling like vegetables were something I had to choke down so I could get to the good stuff.

Maybe this dichotomy is a mode of coping with the inability to afford healthy food. The fact is, though, that pizza and French fries—food you might find in school lunches—are both cheaper to produce and consume and cooked to ensure a salty, pleasing flavor. Kids learn from an early age that while some foods are good for your body (or so Mom says), other ones taste really, really delicious. It’s easy, then, to throw our hands up and accept a growing epidemic of obesity and addiction to junk food. However, my anxieties were fortuitously addressed in a New York Times article from this weekend about the ways in which countries like Hungary are getting serious about changing the way people choose to get their calories.

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Hungary’s government is responding to a public health crisis; two thirds of Hungarians are overweight or obese. (This compares to one third of American adults and 17% of American children). Daley quotes a Hungarian shopowner: “‘You see the kids come in after school and pick up the bags of potato chips, and then when we tell them the price, they put them right back,’ Mrs. Devenyi said. ‘We are selling about 10 percent less of certain brands.’”

Why hasn’t this solution taken root in the United States? If I’ve learned anything about global health, it’s that ensuring health sometimes requires compromise and sacrifice. In this instance, nutrition can and should take the place of consumer choice. Daley mentions Mayor Bloomberg’s criticized decision to ban 32-ounze containers of soda, among other initiatives that have met backlash in New York City. I decided to investigate a little, and happened upon an article that ABC news ran today. In this article, Liz Neporent details the costs and benefits of junk food companies responding to the detrimental health effects of their wildly successful marketing strategies. Neporent cites a statistic from the Archives of Internal Medicine that “An 18 percent tax on pizza and soda would lead to a 5 pound weight loss per year for the average American.” Other ideas from the Mars company (big-time manufacturer of candies like Reese’s and Milky Way) include shrinking portion sizes. I can imagine that Americans will receive this about as kindly as the disgruntled oatmeal man. After all, bigger is always better. In my opinion, the underlying problem continues to be that people feel they do have choice over what they are eating—but that’s a blog post for another time.

Sources:

Photo taken from: http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/2009/10/junk-food-junkies-2/

Daley, Suzanne. “Hungary Experiments With Food Tax to Coax Healthier Habits.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Mar. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/world/europe/hungary-experiments-with-food-tax-to-coax-healthier-habits.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html

http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

Neporent, Liz. “Candymaker Pledges to Fight Obesity.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 05 Mar. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/candymaker-pledges-fight-obesity/story?id=18651140