Our Toxic Food Environment

What’s wrong with our food supply, and the major toxins you need to avoid. Think of them as deadly nutritional landmines, and learn to sidestep their potential harm.

Originally published 2001

According to Kelly Brownell, director of Yale’s Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, Americans live in a “toxic food environment”. I couldn’t agree more. Here are some of the really critical factors that combine to create that environment:

  • Fertilizers.
    All the left-over chemicals from WW-II got sold to farmers for fertilizer. That kept the industries in business, too. Plants only need nitrogen, potash, and phosphorous to grow. But we need a lot more. The contents of the soil get “mined” as crops grow. What becomes our food winds up either thrown into a landfill or flushed down to the sea. After a while, it’s no longer in the soil. And if it’s not in the soil, it’s not in our food.
  • Non-organic soils.
    It turns out that is microbes living in the soil that do the work of binding minerals, which are then taken up into the plant via the roots. Plowing up fields (instead of surface composting), fertilizers that have none of the life-sustaining elements, combined with pesticides, insecticides, and other life-killers all combine to produce a sterile soil in which microbes do not exist. Result: Even raw food has little or no food value.
  • Missing phytochemicals.
    There are 2,000 we understand, 20,000 we know of, and potential mathematical combinations of their components that amount to 2 million. Most are formed in the sunlight, during the latter stages of ripening. But our food is picked green for shipment to market. Frozen foods are typically better than “fresh” foods, for that reason — they are picked closer to full ripeness and taken straight to the factory. But nothing beats taking it straight off the vine.
  • Effects of storage.
    In addition to the many compounds that never develop, much of what does develop decays during storage. Vitamin C and MSM are both highly volatile, for example, so very little survives in “fresh” food. Again, frozen is typically better than fresh, but that doesn’t make it ideal.
  • Refined oils.
    Even worse than what we do to fresh foods is what we do to the oils (fats) in our environment. Robert Erdmann’s book, Fats that Can Save Your Life, is a short read that will change your perspective forever. To summarize: polyunsaturated fats are the active part of basically every chemical process in the body: Nerve and brain function, oxygen transport, transport of nutrients through cell walls, and more.”Active” = “Volatile”. Because they are volatile, they are what makes food spoil. Rancidity, bad smell, etc. are basically the result of fats combining. Industry processes the oils so they won’t go bad. But the result is, at best, an oil with no value. But it gets worse.
  • Partially hydrogenated oils.
    Probably the worst offense perpetrated against nature and mankind on behalf of the food industry is partially hydrogenated oils. In nature, you have omega-9, omega-6, and omega-3 oils, depending on whether you are missing one, two, or three hydrogen bonds. (The more bonds missing, the more chemically active the fatty acid.) Each of these occurs exactly ONE way in nature.Having said how many bonds are missing, you know exactly where the gaps are and how the fatty acid is configured. High-heat processing though, really messes them up. (Erdmann’s book describes the heating, pressing, treating with caustic soda, boiling, and steam-distillation that takes place when refining oils — and that’s *nothing* compared to partially hydrogenated oils.)

    High-heat processing produces transfats (twisted configurations), bond-shifted fats, cross-linked fats, and other variations of these compounds that DO NOT OCCUR in nature. But the end of the fatty acid that joins to become a phospholipid looks the same! The phospholipids then get built into cell walls — but the fatty acids are chemically incapaple of carrying out the metabolic functions they need to perform.

    In short, high-heat processing produces substances which are, quite literally, metabolic poisons. And nothing in our 2 million years of evolution has prepared us to deal with them. This fact alone is most probably the cause for most of the diseases of industrial civilization: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, MS, and a host of other conditions. (The science is there. It’s only a matter of connecting the dots. I did that a while ago for diabetes. Since then, I’ve seen a few papers presenting that view with detailed science.)

    When you start reading labels, you’ll find “partially hydrogenated oil” in most every cookie, chip, or bread you buy, too. Not to mention margarine.

  • Meats: pesticides, insecticides, antibiotics, growth hormones.
    In addition to the pesticides and insecticides that animals concentrate in their tissues, they are dosed with anitbiotics and growth hormones out the wazoo. That’s why Paul Fernhout reported, “according to the World Watch Institute, every person on the planet has 500 chemicals in their body that did not exist before 1920. (https://www.worldwatch.org/other/sow.html)”That ain’t good. Many of these substances set the stage for cancer and other diseases, while our impaired immune systems and “hijacked” metabolic systems are ill-equipped to deal with them.
  • Industry-controlled breeding.
    When industry breeds new varieties, they focus on the wrong targets as far as you and I are concerned. They aim at apples that are larger, redder, and less likely to bruise during shipment so they sell faster. They work to get varieties that ripen all on the same day, to simplify picking. They are *not* focused on nutritive value, or varieties that can grow wild. In fact, self-reproducing “heirloom” seeds get no attention, because there is no profit. The effort goes into sterile seeds that must be resold to farmers, year after year.
  • Genetic engineering.
    With genetic engineering, industry has powerful tools that lets them do in weeks what would have taken decades of breeding previously — if it was possible at all. But not only are we looking a potentially unknown effects from a tomato with a pig gene, but industry is once again focused on the wrong targets. For example, they are researching to find a tomato that can withstand stronger pesticides, so they can pump more and stronger pesticides into the soil. They may well improve yields. But the entire farm may not have as much nutritive value as a single home-grown tomato.
  • Radiation.
    Then there is industrial radiation of food to make it “safe”. In reality, the goal is to keep it from spoiling, and drive up profit margarines. As for the effects on fatty acids…well, do we really want to know?
  • Nuclear waste?
    I’m not sure if this one is an “urban legend” or not. But one report had low-level nuclear wastes going into the top of a silo, and coming out labeled “fertilizer” at the bottom. Pretty scary thought. But definitely not beyond the capability of industry to attempt. Industry has an intense desire to sell anything they can, instead of paying to dispose of it. That’s how we got into the fertilizer trap.

If I were to point the finger at *one* thing that has gotten us the most deeply in trouble, it is the failure to achieve “separation of business and state”. We’ve separated church and state, but government policy making is too heavily influenced by lobbyists and campaign contributions. That severely limits our capacity to react to this information in a timely way. (Mistakes made in ignorance early last century were understandable. But perpetuating the folly after the all the understanding that developed in the latter half of the century is unforgivable.)

For example, the problems with partially hydrogenated oils have been known for 20 or 30 years. One spokesman said that if they knew then what they know now, they would not have not made it. I’m not sure I even believe that anymore. But it is manifestly clear how deadly the stuff is. It should be outlawed. Immediately.

But what are the chances of that happening?

Copyright © 2001-2017, TreeLight PenWorks

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