09 January 2008

Big Food Making You Sick?

This mother in Colorado seems to think so:

But some days, her imagination gets away from her and she wonders if it’s only a matter of time before Big Food tries to stop her from exposing what she sees as a profit-driven global conspiracy whose collateral damage is an alarming increase in childhood food allergies.


Her theory — that the food supply is being manipulated with additives, genetic modification, hormones and herbicides, causing increases in allergies, autism, and other disorders in children — is not supported by leading researchers or the largest allergy advocacy groups.

That only feeds Ms. O’Brien’s conviction that the influence of what she sees as the profit-hungry food industry runs deep. In just a few dizzying steps, she can take you from a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese to Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds to Donald H. Rumsfeld, who once ran the company that created the sweetener aspartame.


Ms. O’Brien encourages people to do what she did: throw out as much nonorganic processed food as you can afford to. Avoid anything genetically modified, artificially created or raised with hormones. Don’t eat food with ingredients you can’t pronounce.

Once she cleaned out her cupboards, she said, her four children started behaving better. Their health problems, which her doctor attributed to allergies to milk and other foods, cleared up.

“It was absolutely terrifying to unearth this story,” she said over lunch at a restaurant in Boulder, Colo. “These big food companies have an intimate relationship with every household in America, and they are making our children sick. I was rocked. You don’t want to hear that this has actually happened.”

Robyn O'Brien's conspiracy theories may seem a little over the top, but her personal experience with Big Food is quite similar to our own. When our firstborn started on solid food, everything he ate seemed to be making him sick. This continued for years, as we experimented with different foods and had him tested for all kinds of allergies. Only when we threw out the processed foods and began cooking from scratch with organic brown rice did his health improve. Whether he was experiencing "allergies" or just "reactions," I don't know (and frankly don't care). What did become clear is that something about the way modern "food" is processed to death was making him sick.

As I've posted on other occasions, getting control of our food supply was a big reason we moved to the country and began small scale farming. Yes, there are certain foods that make our kids sick no matter how they are raised or processed; even if we grew our own organic wheat and threshed it by hand, or our own open-pollinated organic corn, our kids couldn't eat it. The key has been growing the things they can eat (eggs, chicken, lamb, goat, goat milk, fruits, vegetables) and buying organic, minimally-processed versions of the things we cannot grow (rice, beef, certain vegetables at certain times of the year, etc.)

It's interesting that awareness of problems with "Big Food" seem to be spreading. My only fear is that with stories like these in the New York Times, some will come away thinking we're a bunch of kooks. Robyn O'Brien might seem a bit paranoid, and perhaps she is. But she does seem to be exactly right about what Big Food was doing to her kids and ours.

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