More cynical is one way to describe how view the world these days. For me, it’s a trait which has developed from life experience and knowledge gained along the way because I believe most people become a little more cynical as they get older.
When I first joined the Army at just 18, I was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed standing in absolute awe of our corporal recruit instructors and even more so of our Regimental Sergeant Major and I used to think these guys were infallible and knew everything about soldiering.
However, at the end of my military career (and a Sergeant Major myself) I could clearly see the cracks in the system and after several ordinary superiors in my last few years of service I knew that even the most professional organisations were capable of harbouring incompetence within their ranks. Impressive and many qualifications on paper are one thing but in practice the degrees and diplomas aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, if the system doesn’t have the checks and balances to ensure individuals in privileged positions are responsibly and competently discharging their duties.
Society relies heavily on subject matter experts in positions who are supposed to know their disciplines and we take their advice in good faith. Unfortunately, history shows that whether through incompetence, complacency, or corruption, some of the advice we’re getting (and what we’re not getting) is flawed.
As consumers, we trust our food authorities to monitor our food quality and to ensure it is safe to eat; however, I fear there has been limited progress in food monitoring by our authorities over the past decade. My reasons for thinking there has been a drop in food monitoring standards is through my own observations and by a steady flow of media reports or insider accounts exposing bad practices in the food industry. Media, the public, and whistle-blowers shouldn't be keeping the food industry honest – that's the government's job!
Government funding cutbacks and staff level reductions have left the industry vulnerable. "Tick and flick" training courses have left industry open to incompetent personnel making decisions above their skill levels. And, corporate pressure to make huge profits driven by shareholder greed have influenced policy and blackmailed governments by threats of food shortages and job losses.
We live in a society where the quality of our latest phone is more important than the quality of our food. Most people know more about the latest iPhone than where their ham, cheese, and tomato sandwich comes from or what region grew the apple they’re actually eating.
I'm not saying the whole regulated food system is broken, I'm just saying don't be a blind believer and think everything we buy to eat is tested and completely safe because it isn't.
Good food contaminated with chemicals
I don’t want to harp on too much and spill out a huge list of everyday foods we consume, which may be contaminated in one way or another, but I do want to give some examples of what is happening to the produce we buy and consume. The following list are just a few examples of what common/simple produce is contaminated with, either inadvertently or deliberately:
Ham – Sodium nitrate (special type of fine salt) is used as a preservative and food colouring, for example, to keep corned silverside looking red instead of an otherwise grey appearance. It’s also used as a fertiliser, for making gun powder, and curing ham. Yes, it is true sodium nitrate is a naturally occurring mineral and already present in many fruits and vegetables so some believe adding it to food (like processed meats) is fine. Look, I understand salt preserving kills some very nasty bacteria, which can otherwise grow in meats etc; however, using sodium nitrate in large quantities means eating lots of it and that’s not good obviously. Hams and meats cured in the old fashioned way with some normal salt and spices may not have as long of a used by date but I reckon they are less harmful to eat and taste better too, than the sodium nitrate loaded food many producers are manufacturing today.
Rice, fruits, poultry – Arsenic is sometimes added to chicken feed in the form of a drug by some farmers to make the birds grow faster and have a pinker meat. Arsenic was used in many pesticides but it is banned in most countries now; however, the soil on some farms is still contaminated and will be for many years to come.
Vegetables – Glyphosate (weed killer) is being found in fruits and vegetables. This weed killer is supposed to break down and be harmless in seven days but if this is true why is it being found in our food? Are fruit and vegetables sold at major retail outlets being stringently tested for chemical residues like they are supposed to be? Or, are food and health officials just too busy and understaffed to enforce the regulations? These questions need to be addressed better as independent studies on people and food are finding toxic residue in their systems and in/on the produce.
Olives – Sodium hydroxide or caustic soda – used to make detergents, drain opener, paper, and to process road kill by road maintenance teams as sodium hydroxide aids in faster decomposing of animal tissue. To cure olives the old fashioned way usually takes many months sometimes even 9-12 months. Slicing or de-seeding the olives helps the salt better draw out the bitterness for a faster cure but the wowsers want olives whole without tsalmon and cheese crackerhe “inconvenient” waiting time for curing. Therefore, many commercial olives are now processed with caustic soda as this chemical can penetrate the olive and draw out the bitterness in a matter of days! I just wonder what it’s doing to our guts…
Salmon – Farmed salmon are fed pesticides to keep them from developing diseases and because the fish are unable to eat a natural diet their farmed flesh goes white instead of the orange/pink we’re used to; therefore, farmed salmon are fed chemicals to artificially turn the flesh a more appropriate colour…hmm, yummy. I started a thread on our forum about salmon farming here.
Milk – Permeate is a by-product produced when separating milk from the cream and some manufacturers add this back into the milk we drink to (for want of a better word) make the milk go further and save money. Many (including top scientists) claim there is nothing wrong with this practice, but major supermarkets have been spooked enough by the public backlash to remove it from their shelves here in Australia. Some may think I’m whacky but before the permeate practice was exposed by independent dairy farmers, I had been complaining to my wife for the past 5 years that some bottles of milk tasted “odd.” So odd, I couldn’t drink it and I got to the stage of buying two different brands or dates of milk at the same time as sometimes one would be ok if the other tasted funny. When permeate was exposed, my wife was the first to hear about it and immediately told me the news, although she never could taste the difference herself she always believed me. In Australia, some milk brands are now labelled “permeate free” and since the public exposure I haven’t tasted any “funny” milk now for ages. Is permeate harmless? I don’t know, maybe it is, but why should they add it to our milk anyway – and, why didn’t they tell us?
Doggie snax – Even dog treats are treated with preservatives these days! Don’t believe me? Have a look at the ingredients written on the packet of commercial dog treats and you’ll see even Fido eats chemicals. We make our own dog treats at home by dehydrating kitchen scraps or making our own doggie jerky with cheap cuts of beef. Preservatives aren't required – it's DOG food for goodness sake.
Irradiation of fruit and vegetables
Not technically a chemical, irradiation is the treatment of fruit and vegetables by radiation – yeah, It's true! Fruit and vegetables are being exposed to low levels of radiation to kill pests and diseases and to make the produce last longer through transportation and on the shelf.
In America, irradiation of food or ionising radiation has to be listed (by law) as an ingredient on the package so consumers are aware; however, how often do we hear about irradiation or clearly see it labelled anywhere? If people were stopped in the street and asked, would many of them even know what irradiation is, or have even heard about it?
This practice is just another example of “don’t alarm the consumer” because they don’t understand the science behind “nuking” their food so it’s best to just use obscure labelling, smoke and mirrors, and no one will be the wiser.
What happens if the science changes 20 years from now and they find irradiating our fresh food actually causes cancer? We don’t need our fresh fruit and veg to be radiated – that’s ridiculous! And, whether it's so-called "harmless" or not, given the choice of an irradiated tomato or one without irradiation I know which one I'd choose.
Avoiding or limiting our chemical exposure
Can we avoid these unwanted chemicals entering our system? It isn’t likely we can totally avoid ingesting some of these chemicals in our diet. I mean, most of us no matter how self-sufficient we’ve become still need to rely on other produce to supplement our diet and some chemicals (like arsenic) are naturally occurring as well as manmade. However, I do believe we can limit or lower our intake of poisons through food.
Our bodies do a great job of filtering out toxins, if it didn’t, people wouldn’t be able to drink alcohol for a start. It’s only when we over-tax our organs with poisons like over indulging in alcohol or consuming too much bad chemicals in food, where we run into trouble.
The build-up of poisons in the body can induce organ problems or even trigger cancers. Body organs, which are made to work hard over a long period of time cleansing our body from ingested toxins can also wear-out faster than they should.
Therefore, the obvious fix with over indulgence on the “drink” is to drink alcohol in moderation but how do we stop/limit consuming pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, preservatives, additives, softeners, colours, flavour enhancers, etc in our food? The following are some ways we can reduce the toxins in our diet:
Buy from local markets – A good saying is to be only one degree of separation away from your food meaning if you haven’t grown it then you must know the person who has grown/made the produce. Knowing the grower at the Sunday markets or at least knowing the history behind the produce they are selling can be a terrific way to buy chemical free food. Question the seller and if they can’t tell you confidently all about the product like: where it’s grown, how it was grown, what (if any) chemicals were used, then walk away.
Buy in season – If you are buying “fresh” mangoes in winter then there’s a big problem. Imported fruits and vegetables need to pass quarantine for a start and that means chemicals all over the produce to ensure any nasty pests and diseases are destroyed and not introduced into the country. Understand what is in season at what time for two reasons, firstly, the quarantine rule I just mentioned, and secondly, crops grown in season as opposed to out of season are less likely to require chemicals to make them grow well. If you must buy an imported product because your country doesn't grow or make it then research where it's from and know the background as it just doesn't make for interesting chatter at a dinner party, it also empowers us by knowing what's in our food.
Support retail and products made preservative/chemical free – There are commercial operations out there which do have a conscious and do care about the products they make and sell. Whether it be organic farmers, natural small goods manufacturers, free range domestic animal farming, or ladies selling preserves at the school fete, the more we support people doing the right thing by placing importance of quality over profits the stronger the message is sent to others who aren’t. Ok, these certified goods usually cost a little more than the others but so does a good hair cut or the latest iPhone… Paying a little extra for quality is worth every penny.
Limit our intake of heavily processed foods – Most people (including me) like the odd naughty treat like a hotdog or a quick ready sliced cured meat packet from the shop. I think, completely abstaining from all processed and chemically laced food is impractical for individuals let alone a modern family. Nevertheless, being mindful of the points above and making an effort to limit our intake of processed foods shouldn’t be too hard for anyone. If you can totally abstain from processed food without you or your family becoming miserable then go for it.
Often, overindulgence and ignorance is our undoing, hence, we should only eat processed food and produce farmed with chemicals in moderation. We should self-educate on what we’re actually consuming so we know the origin and background of the produce. This knowledge helps us make informed decisions about the foods we and our families eat.
Greed in our society often overrides sensible judgement and the easiest way to maximise profits is by cutting manufacturing costs, minimising staff, producing more in less time, and making it with an extended shelf life so it can store longer. This usually means, less staff to control quality, the use of chemicals during growing /production, and the use preservatives.
Although I don’t want to come across as an alarmist, I do consider the subject of commercial farming and food manufacturing an important public debate we should always be having. Unfortunately, if we consumers don’t keep our governments, authorities, manufacturers, growers, and retailers accountable they’ll slacken off and we’ll be the ones suffering because we're the people at the end of the food chain.
Feel free to use the comment section below and have your say (no email is required). Or, better still visit our forum and discuss this article -I have started a topic here.
Thanks for reading and thanks for your support.
Look, and see the Earth through her eyes
Mark Valencia – Editor SSM