J500 Media and the Environment

The Processed Produce Section by KaylaReg

Growing up, my mother would never buy me Twinkies. Not because she knew those adorable snack cakes were made with sorbic acid (made from petroleum), corn dextrin (used as the adhesive on postage stamps) and ferrous sulfate (found in disinfectant and weed killers). It takes someone like Steve Ettlinger, author of  Twinkie Deconstructed, to examine all 39 ingredients in the dessert to fully explain the health and environmental risks that come with Twinkies and processed food in general.

Of course, my mother’s problem with Twinkies wasn’t with the chemicals in it. If Ettlinger came out with an “Instant Potatoes Deconstructed,” I doubt it would change her grocery list. She was more concerned with living by the food pyramid than checking for mycoprotein, and in a perfect world that should be enough for healthy eating. Both of my parents worked full-time jobs to put well-balanced meals on the table, so even when we had to pass up a grilled chicken breast for instant chicken tetrazzini, fruits and vegetables were still always on our plates. More and more though, the problems considered unique to processed foods are spanning into the produce aisles on which we depend to make healthier choices. Unlike a box of Twinkies, however, the grapefruit I eat for breakfast doesn’t come with a label telling me what’s actually in it or from where it came.

The 2007 Hawaii–Los Angeles Multiethnic Cohort study, widely discussed by networks such as Fox News, showed that eating small amounts of grapefruit every day increased a woman’s risk for breast cancer by nearly a third. The study failed to mention, though, that the grapefruits used weren’t organically grown, but had been exposed to the heavy pesticides and insecticides, many of which are estrogen based, that come with conventionally grown citrus farming. They also failed to account for the numerous other studies, including this one by Cornell University, that have shown an increase in breast cancer cells when exposed to estrogen based farming chemicals such as DDT and Round Up.

The science behind fruits and veggies doesn’t stop there. The United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t require genetically engineered (GE) foods to be labeled as such. Alternately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) places a huge burden on companies that have eliminated GE ingredients to label their product as NON-GE.

There's more to this grapefruit than what meets the eye. More than likely, herbacide, pesticide and other feats of chemical engineering have gone into growing this citrus item.

According to truefoodnow.org, neither the FDA, Department of Agriculture, nor Environmental Protection Agency have conducted any long term tests on the human health or environmental impact of GE crops. Doctors and scientists around the world warn that such crops could likely come with hidden health risks, such as new allergies or antibiotic resistant diseases. Laboratory and field studies have shown that the use of GE crops can also harm beneficial insects, damage soils and contaminate neighboring crops with GE genes, potentially resulting in uncontrollable weeds.

I know one clear answer to this would be to only shop at natural food stores or buy organically. But like my mother, I don’t always have the time or option to go the extra mile. We can’t all be perfect consumers all of the time, but it’s unfortunate that today, sticking to the food pyramid is only one small part of committing to a healthy lifestyle.

– Kayla Regan


6 Comments so far
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Really compelling piece, Kayla. Do you have any thoughts on the re-engineered food pyramid? The Department of Agriculture has revamped the configuration of grains and meats. If your mom was shopping for you today, she’d probably reach for different items.
Simran Sethi

Comment by j500

Kayla, I think that is very interesting. I think that often we are told “eat your fruits and veggies”, with the assumption that they are good for us, when sometimes they aren’t as good for us as we think. What do you think would happen if the U.S. started placing labels on all of the produce that was not altered?
Becca N.

Comment by beccan

That study on the grapefruit and increased cancer risks was really interesting. I’ve always heard that it was important to buy produce with soft skins (apples, peaches, potatoes, berries, etc.) organic because the pesticides go directly into the core of the fruit. But I had heard that buying conventionally grown produce with thick skins (bananas, avocados, pineapples, oranges and, yes, grapefruits) was okay for your health because the pesticides weren’t able to penetrate past the skins. This is really confusing. I am curious, after hearing that study… how often do you still eat grapefruit? -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev

I agree. Very interesting information Kayla! I was particularly interested in the grapefruit fact. Although I do not like grapefruit, it is still interesting to know that they could increase the risk for breast cancer.

I was also intrigued by your comment on how labels are not put on GE foods. Why do you think labels have not been required in the U.S. thus far? Do you think after articles like the above there will be more requirements to start placing the labels on these items?
Jackie M

Comment by jackiemcc

I think it’s interesting to note that although the food pyramid is supposedly based on the latest nutritional science, the last time it was revised was right after the Atkin’s diet craze in 2005 to make reduce carbohydrate intake and raise suggested protein servings. I agree, much more to account for nowadays than getting the five food groups!
-Jacob M

Comment by jmuselmann

Thanks, everyone! As far as the reengineering of the food pyramid goes, I’m having a little trouble understanding this new one. While I can see it goes more in depth and really looks at what a person needs to be eating in general, it lost the simplicity of the old one. And with simplicity, it could very well lose its accessibility. I also think it’s a little contradictory in some of its advice. I’m looking around the government site (http://www.mypyramid.gov/) and it does offer some great tips and resources, (you can make your own pyramid, based on what’s right for you) like telling consumers to buy organic and in season produce, but on the very same page it says to stock up on frozen and canned vegetables. If they’re going to make to contradictory claims, they should at least provide the rationale for each. And also, why is this information not in our super markets? Where are the government hand outs next to the bagged apples? This information isn’t hitting the people who need it, it’s going to the people who are already motivated.
As far as the labeling goes, I know California recently passed a law requiring all GE food to be labeled. I totally support this, but things being as they are at the national level, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a similar federal law any time soon. In regards to labeling Non GE foods, I would totally love to see that happen, but I also understand (somewhat) why they have a heavier burden to live up to. They have to meet higher expectations, and in order for that to happen, they have to be more regulated. What’s sad is this high expectation only applies when we’re willing to pay for it. It all goes back to dollar voting, I guess.
And yes. The Grapefruit Study. Wow. For anyone to say that a fruit causes cancer when there are so many instances of cancer causing chemicals in citrus production takes a lot of cajones. But there is soooooo much science jargon involved in these studies, and there are tons of studies. It’s very easy to look at one aspect of them, pick out a casual observance, and blow it out of proportion, or skew it to fit your own agenda. Honestly, I didn’t understand everything I read in that study. It took me two or three reads to get this one sentence, “These include the identification of some congeners of DDT as environmental estrogens (40–48),” and I’m still not sure I really get it. Right now, we have experts on both sides breaking down the facts and figures. But what we need is someone without a message to prove to tell us what it really means, and I have a feeling that these studies will tell us things both sides will be surprised about.
-Kayla Regan

Comment by KaylaReg

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