Ten years ago, I worked in the ultimate spin factory: the world of advertising. My clients were major brands that made phosphate-containing laundry soap, artificially sweetened chewing gum, hormone-disrupting room deodorizers, BPA-leaching plastic food containers, cancer-contributing personal care products and questionably targeted children’s cereals. My job was to help develop strategies to convince people that these products were essential for a happy life. Now, I wouldn’t touch a single one, and not just for personal health reasons either.
My health choices aren't just about me. When we know better, we do better.
These days, it’s hard to know what better is. After being diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that became so debilitating I could no longer work, I defied my doctor’s recommendations of medication and surgery and instead attempted what I was told was impossible (and dangerous): to heal myself through food. I took it a step further by going back to school to study nutrition formally, and I've now worked in the nutrition field for seven years.
Even with all my personal and professional experience in the natural health field, the frenzy of conflicting health reports still gets to me.
After quitting my job in advertising, I thought I’d escaped the spin. I hadn't. We hear that organics are no more nutritious for us than conventional produce, with questionably-funded studies failing to account for conventional produce’s chemical load and the risks imposed on the growers who use those chemicals. Dr. Oz sends ripples through the green smoothie world by challenging us that we’re eating too much kale. How do we know if it’s better to be vegan or paleo? Are almonds really the new gluten? Is gluten the new saturated fat? Are saturated fats the new omega-3s?
We already inherently know how to eat healthy – it’s not complicated. The Atlantic recently published a piece entitled “Science Compared Every Diet, and the Winner is Real Food.” The truth is simple: The best thing we can do for our health, and for the health of those around us, is to choose more whole, clean, sustainable, locally-produced foods.
It’s the spin that’s curtailing our success.
Let’s not get lost in the details. The more energy we waste bickering about whether gluten should be invited to the dinner table and whether the kale craze is slowly killing us, the less energy we have for tackling real problems in the world that are affecting everyone’s health.
We live in a culture where it’s considered normal for a woman to use over 125 chemicals in her morning beauty routine, much of which washes down the drain into our water supply. Our cars are deodorized with chemicals that are known to disrupt hormones in both men and women, and we coat our babies in lotions made of waste products from the fuel industry.
The standard of care for cancer treatment is to zap people with cancer-causing radiation, but making changes to diet and lifestyle as an act of prevention is considered “alternative".
Yet another lawsuit fell on DuPont this past fall when nine Ohio and West Virginia residents with cancer and other diseases alleged that the company knowingly contaminated drinking water supplies with chemicals used in the Teflon coating on their non-stick cooking equipment. These allegations come 12 years after another class action lawsuit that had DuPont settle for 380 million dollars. The reason Teflon was and continues to be so popular? So we can cook our food with less fat. And of course, “the experts” now confirm what many of us suspected all along – that good fat is good for us, carcinogenic pots and pans are not.
Thinking about health as narrowly as just what’s on our plate is missing the point of what health really means.
It’s easy to see health as an individual problem, as something to be solved by choosing low-fat yogurt or buying a vegan burrito. We may be relieved to read the latest news report claiming that conventional produce is just as healthy as organic, but what about the health of the farmers spraying our food with phenoxyacetic acid herbicides, organochlorine insecticides, and organophosphate insecticides, all of which are linked to increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma? Or that a conventional blueberry contains 52 pesticide residues, eight being known or probable carcinogens and seventeen being honey bee toxins?
We may feel good about choosing the vegan burrito, but what about the fact that it’s produced by the same corporations that own factory farms, and support the genetic modification of our food supply? We have these large corporations buying out what we think are small organic companies- the same corporations that are also buying government protection- all the while suing independent farmers, and bankrupting others, leading to an increase rate of farmer cancers and suicides.
Every choice we make affects not just our own health, but the health of our environment and the other people in it. Challenging the individual benefits of kale, green juice and coconut oil is a waste of time. We’ve got bigger and more important choices to make.
There’s no need to stress over kale. I eat lots of it. I skip the non-stick pans and the chemical-filled nail polish. I flirt with my farmers and laugh at the ridiculousness of the seriousness of all of this, and maybe that’s what matters the most. I am now eight years symptom-free from a disease I was told was incurable. I’ve learned to ignore the spin around me and work to teach my students to do the same. As for health? That comes a lot easier when we tune out the bickering, tune in to how we feel and embrace simple, healthy, delicious choices that benefit ourselves and the world.
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