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Features on StarChefs Contaminated Food and the Environment Contaminated Food and the Environment Contaminated Food and the Environment Contaminated Food and the Environment - Food Debates on StarChefs
Contaminated Food and the Environment Contaminated Food and the Environment Contaminated Food and the Environment Contaminated Food and the Environment
Contaminated Food and the Environment Contaminated Food and the Environment

The Issue: Contaminated Food and the Environment

The Summary:
Toxic foods are found throughout the world, from Argentina to the Arctic.

Pesticides, industrial waste, and other toxic substances are sprayed onto our fruits and vegetables, contaminate our soil and water sources, and ultimately end up in our bodies.

Protect yourself: scrub your food, be an informed consumer, educate others, be politically active, and support fundraising events.

Discuss the Issue:
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Check Out:
The Center for Health and the Global Environment is an organization whose aim is to investigate the connection between human health and global environmental change.


An Event:
On Monday, April 28, 2003, at 7:00 P.M., Hamersley's Bistro of Boston, Massachusetts will host a benefit dinner that will raise money for the center.

The event will feature six of Boston's top chefs and highlight the accomplishments of Dr. Jane Goodall.

The participating chefs are: Gordon Hamersley of Hamersley's Bistro, Ana Sortun of Oleana, Jody Adams of Rialto, Steve Johnson of The Blue Room, Rich Vallente of Legal Sea Foods, and Chris Douglass of Icarus.




Archive
Contaminated Food and the Environment

What Goes Around Comes Around:
Contaminated Food and the Environment

by Nina Rubin


Most of us learned the basics of nutrition from that bible of good eating: the Food Guide Pyramid. Based on its teachings, many people think that if they focus on fruits and veggies and lay off the Fritos, they’re doing just fine. They are, nutritionally speaking. But these days there’s more to it than that. You know that giant salad you ate for lunch? Aside from bestowing your body with essential vitamins and other goodies, it also probably gave you a healthy dose of toxins.


A World of Toxins

From poisonous fish to toxic infant formula, toxic foods are found throughout the world, from Argentina to the Arctic. In Argentina, exposure to pesticides was found to be associated with sperm counts below the limit of infertility. In the South Adriatic Sea (off of Italy), researchers found that fish have mercury levels exceeding the recommended maximum. (Mercury contamination is also an issue in U.S. freshwater fish.) Mercury is a potent brain toxin, particularly dangerous for the unborn children of women eating the contaminated fish [1].

But avoid fish and you might still be causing your baby harm, according to a 2001 report. Researchers found that a soy-derived estrogenic chemical found in many soy infant formulas causes developmental abnormalities and tumors in infant mice. One can only wonder what this chemical would do to human babies [2].

Speaking of babies, Inuit infants (of the Arctic) were recently found to have a significantly higher risk of contracting certain infectious diseases. This is due to their diet, which is rich in marine mammal fat, and therefore persistent organic pollutants (a group of chemicals, such as the pesticide dieldrin). By the way, this same pesticide is also thought to confer an increased risk of breast cancer. What’s more, breast cancer patients who have high levels of dieldrin are believed to have a poorer likelihood of survival. Such pesticides can be found in a variety of edible products, from milk and meat to fruits and veggies [3].


What Goes Around Comes Around

You might be scratching your head at this point, wondering how these toxins end up in our food. The answer is quite simple. Those pesticides that are sprayed onto our fruits and vegetables? They end up on our plates and in our bodies. How about the runoff from chemical plants? It goes into our oceans, our fish, and then our bellies. And what about the toxic waste buried deep in the ground? The waste infiltrates our underground water sources and contaminates our soil. This is the very soil that yields the grain that we eat, and that is fed to the cattle that we raise for meat. So if you’re not getting toxins one way, you’re likely to be getting them another.


What Can a Poor Boy Do?

For most people with a pulse, these facts aren’t pretty. If this information hits your panic button, here are some things that you can do:

Scrub and rinse your produce thoroughly.

Buy organic food. According to recent USDA organic labeling laws, products with the label “100% organic” were grown without the use of most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Most rather than all because certain chemicals that are considered “toxic” by the EPA are still approved for use under the USDA’s organic standards.

Support local food producers. A lot of people see this as more of a symbolic gesture than a practical solution. But recall the fact that other countries – the very countries from which you are buying food – have varied environmental guidelines. Pesticides such as DDT that have been banned in the U.S. are still being used in other places. So if you consume imported products (which is likely, given that approximately 25% of all produce in the U.S. is imported), you might be getting more than you bargained for on your next trip to the grocery store [4].

Be an educated consumer. Of course, it’s hard to know everything about the food you eat. Especially if last night’s steak was from a restaurant – perhaps they don’t even know the source of the meat, so how could you? But don’t hesitate to ask questions. Find out about that hamburger. What were the cows fed? Were they raised on land that is near a toxic waste site? The more you ask, the more you’ll know about what you’re putting into your body.

Try your hand at politics. Affect change by rewriting the books.

If none of these seem like viable options, you can always donate money to a local non-profit organization. Or, eat your way to a toxin-free world. That’s right – believe it or not, your appetite could contribute to positive environmental change. Take the upcoming benefit dinner hosted by Hamersley’s Bistro in Boston, Massachusetts. The event will feature six of Boston’s top chefs and highlight the accomplishments of the queen of primatology herself, Dr. Jane Goodall.


Chimps and Chow

Fail to see the connection between culinary stars and chimpanzees? The dinner, at $250 a head, should bring in quite a bit of cash – all of which is going towards environmental research. The proceeds will go directly to the Center for Health and the Global Environment, an organization whose aim is to investigate and raise awareness about the connection between human health and global environmental change. (To find out more about this event, click here.)

The center, run by Harvard Medical School, is the first medical school-based organization of its kind. The director, Dr. Eric Chivian, hopes that the Boston event will not only provide financial support for the cause, but also raise public awareness through media coverage. He also points out that the chefs’ involvement in the event is, in itself, a form of political activism. "These talented chefs…are dedicated environmentalists by what food they allow to be brought in, cooked and consumed in their establishments. By doing so, they are informed messengers of today's environmental threats and solutions."


The Bottom Line

It’s an eye-opening and often frightening experience to realize that our most beloved foods are not just sources of comfort and nourishment, but also vehicles for toxic substances. An increasing number of studies support this fact, and the public is starting to get the picture: If the planet isn’t healthy, neither are we.

More and more, people in unexpected places – like the fine dining industry – are facing the facts and taking action. Chivian’s efforts and the culinary capers of a group of Boston chefs are shedding light onto the connection between food and the environment. And putting a new spin on the saying: You are what you eat.

Let the debate begin.

Footnotes:

1 Quarterly Review, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School, http://www.med.harvard.edu/chge/qrsummer02/review.html.

2 Quarterly Review, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School, http://www.med.harvard.edu/chge/qrsummer02/review.html.

3 Quarterly Review, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School, http://www.med.harvard.edu/chge/qrsummer02/review.html.

4 “Mexican Use of Unregistered Pesticide Exports,” http://www.american.edu/TED/MEXPEST.HTM.





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