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Our Children Are Trying To Tell Us Something. Will We Listen?

September 30, 2010 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News

Between what’s in our food and how much of it that we eat, Americans consume more calories, fat and sugar today than ever before.”

So said First Lady Michelle Obama, recently announcing a new ad campaign.

Today versus 40 years ago, Americans consume 56% more added oils, fats and dairy fat, 23% more calories, and 14% more sugars and sweeteners (the equivalent of 12 extra pounds of sugar per person each year).

And while Americans spend almost 16 cents of every dollar managing disease, we only spend 9.5 cents of every dollar on food. As a result, we are paying a high price for cheap meals.

In no way is this more apparent than in the health of our children who suffer from epidemic rates of obesity, diabetes, autism, ADHD, allergies and asthma, in part, because we are failing, at the federal level, to support initiatives that would make clean and healthy food affordable to every family.

With studies linking the increase in obesity to the increase in food allergies, the First Lady is remarkable in her efforts. But to restore the health of our children will require our collective efforts as a country, across every level of government and both sides of the aisle.

To address obesity, without addressing the flood of cheap, processed foods is like trying to mop up the kitchen without turning off the sink.

And while none of us can do everything, we can all do something. And if that one thing is to simply watch the clip below, then grab a seat, sit down, and listen. Because in the face of the sudden childhood epidemics that we are seeing, our children are trying to tell us something.

A Mother’s Love: “I was determined…”

September 27, 2010 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News

Submitted by Shannon Morgan to the AllergyKids Foundation September 27, 2010

When I look at photos of my son at four-months-old, I can’t help but think of the milestone that marked. Not the kind that you read about in parenting books and not one I realized until two months later. At four-months-old my son – my exclusively breastfed son – started exhibiting symptoms of a food allergy.

It began with eczema and I think it bothered me more than it bothered him. I tried different lotions and bath soaps and nothing seemed to make it better. I asked his doctor for advice but he quickly dismissed it as weather-related.

It was fall in the mid-Atlantic. It wasn’t weather-related.

Then, my son started having trouble sleeping. He wasn’t a good sleeper to begin with and now he was worse. He wouldn’t sleep unless he was being held. We tried cry-it-out. That didn’t work. We tried the swing. That only offered temporary relief. I finally resorted to co-sleeping because it was the only thing that did work – and it saved me from completely losing my mind from sleep deprivation.

I was determined to continue breastfeeding my son. I had read that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months helped prevent allergies. My husband hit the food allergy jackpot when he was a child and I wanted to give our son a fighting chance against them. We were almost at the six month mark but the last two months had been a nightmare so I went to a breastfeeding support group meeting for advice. At that meeting, I met a mom whose son was experiencing the same symptoms mine was and she had discovered that he was allergic to milk, a culprit I was starting to suspect.

So, on New Years Day, I cut dairy completely out of my diet and three weeks later my little guy’s skin cleared up, he started sleeping better and his development took off. He went from being an unhappy baby to a very happy, smiley one. I scheduled an appointment with an allergist – the same one I’d seen as a kid (oh, yeah, did I mention I had a milk allergy as a child, too?) – and at seven months my son was diagnosed with allergies to milk, eggs and peanuts (the egg allergy became evident after I eliminated milk from my diet).

It still baffles me that a child who has not eaten a solid food can be allergic to it. But the science explains it. His little body was still developing his immune system and decided that the dairy proteins in my breastmilk were the enemy. We continued breastfeeding until he self-weaned at 15 months. He’s now a very active toddler who likes to eat but is picky just like other kids his age. Earlier this year, we learned that he’s also allergic to chicken and beef. Avoiding his allergens has been a challenge but it’s also opened doors to new culinary experiences and an opportunity to really learn about what goes into our food.

Shannon Morgan blogs about being a working mom to a toddler with food allergies, her dream to write a novel, her goal to run a 5K and whatever else life inspires her to write about at http://itsmytimetowrite.com. This post was originally published on her blog in May 2010 during Food Allergy Awareness Week.

What’s your food allergy story? We’d love to hear from you at www.allergykidsfoundation.org so that we can share your inspiration.

Health Care Begins with a Grocery Cart

September 23, 2010 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, Uncategorized

“The less we spend on food, the more we spend on health care,” said Michael Pollan on Oprah.

Today, Americans spend almost 20 cents of every dollar managing disease – diabetes, allergies, asthma, cancer, obesity – and less than 10 cents of every dollar on food. As a matter of fact, according to a new study recently highlighted in the Chicago Tribune, we spend less on food (in terms of disposable income) than any other country in the world.

As a country, sitting down to our national dinner table, we have simply chosen to spend our money on other things.

And while some might argue that the jury is still out on what exactly may be causing the sudden increses in food allergies, obesity, diabetes and cancers, it is accepted knowledge that genetics don’t change this quickly – the environment does. And increasing evidence points to the impact that diet and the additives that we’ve recently put into our food supply are having on the increasing rates of diseases that we are seeing in our country.

In a perfect world, we’d all be growing our own organic vegetable garden, but most of us don’t live in that world. With picky eaters, limited time and limited budgets, we are trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got and are frustrated by the price discrepancy between conventional food and “organic” food at the grocery store.

But have you ever wondered why organic food costs more?

Organic food costs more than its conventional counterparts because as we sit down to our national dinner table, with our national budget, we have not chosen to allocate our national resources to support organic farms. Our taxpayer dollars simply aren’t being used that way.

And as a result, under our current system, it is more profitable for farmers to grow crops laced with chemicals than organic ones because they will receive larger government handouts from the USDA Farm Subsidy program, as well as marketing assistance support and stronger crop insurance programs. In other words, it pays to grow crops with chemicals.

If farmers choose to opt out of the conventional agricultural system and choose to grow crops “organically” (meaning without the use of these synthetic fertilizers and chemicals), it costs them more because not only do they not receive the same level of financial handouts from the government, but they are also charged a fee to prove that their crops are safe and then on top of that, they are then charged a fee to label their crops as “organic”. As a result, organic farmers have a higher cost structure – with added fees and expenditures required to bring their products to market – while our taxpayer dollars are used to subsidize the crops with the chemicals.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to use our taxpayer dollars to subsidize the crops without chemicals given the increasing evidence pointing to the impact that these environmental insults are having on our health? What if our most powerful weapon in the war on health care is a farm subsidy?

Health care reform could begin at the USDA, with an equal allocation of our taxpayer dollars between organic and conventional farming. The USDA could continue health care reform by providing equivalent marketing assistance and crop insurance programs for organic crops and by eliminating the organic certification fee farmers are required to pay in order to label their crops as “USDA Organic”.

If we invite the US Department of Agriculture to be part of health care reform, the USDA could level the economic playing field for the farmers, enabling more farms to grow crops free of chemicals, synthetic and genetically engineered ingredients which would, in turn, increase the supply of these crops in the marketplace – which, as any good economist knows, would drive down costs. Organic food would be more affordable to more of us.

Safe food is a social justice issue that our taxpayer dollars could be used to support. Perhaps it’s time to invite the USDA into the health care debate and address the current system under which our taxpayer dollars are being used to externalize the costs of these chemicals onto the health of our families. With the USDA at the table, health care reform could begin on the farm allowing the most powerful weapon in the health care debate to be a grocery cart.

USDA Conflicting Mandate

FDA Says Science Around New Salmon Is Unsatisfactory

September 21, 2010 •  4 comments.

 •  Blog, News

On Monday evening, after two days of hearings, an 11-member panel of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded “that they do not yet have sufficient data to determine that a genetic modification that enables salmon to grow twice as quickly is safe for the affected fish or for consumers,” according to ABC News.

The salmon in question, a product called AquAdvantage, have been genetically altered to contain a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a genetic switch from the ocean pout that turns on an antifreeze gene. The Atlantic salmon, which would be raised on farms, contain an extra growth hormone gene that allows them to grow to marketable size about twice as fast as conventional fish, enabling fisheries to increase profitability and bring salmon to market in 18 months versus the traditional 30 months.

Now the genetic manipulation and modification of our food supply isn’t entirely new. This food technology which manipulates the DNA and engineers profitable characteristics and traits into food was introduced into our food supply about fifteen years ago. But it hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention in the U.S. media despite its controversial introduction in 1994, when scientists began engineering new traits into corn, milk and soy, enabling corporations to patent this newly licensed technology and the food supply, driving shareholder value and profitability.

And now, with the insertion of an “on switch” gene into the DNA of salmon, scientists at a company called AquaBounty Technologies have modified and patented the genetic makeup of salmon and engineered fish to eat year round so that it can grow twice as fast. As a result, salmon producers will be able to grow salmon more quickly, driving profitability and capitalizing on the growing demand for fish.

Approval of the salmon could pave the way for other such biotech animals to enter the food supply while no long-term human studies have been conducted to assess what the long-term health implications might be for humans. Because of a regulatory decision in the 1980s that no new laws are needed to regulate genetically engineered foods, the FDA is actually regulating the GE salmon as a drug.

“I do get heartburn when we’re going to allow post-market surveillance to finalize our safety evaluation,” said one committee member, Michael D. Apley, a pharmacology expert at Kansas State University, according to the New York Times.

According to the New York Times, Ronald L. Stotish, the chief executive of AquaBounty Technologies, the company that developed the salmon, told the FDA committee that his company’s salmon, known as AquAdvantage, would help the world meet rising demand for seafood without further devastating natural fisheries. Addressing environmental concerns over these fish escaping into wild salmon populations, AquaBounty Technologies shared that their intellectual property will be protected because the fish will be sterile, as they will all be triploids (fish with three complete sets of chromosomes instead of the usual two) and the company’s patented and commercialized fish will all be females, making them unable to breed.

FDA committee members did not point out anything about the fish that would seem dangerous, relying on data funded and conducted by AquaBounty Technology, despite one study suggesting a possible increase in the potential to cause allergic reactions. The test showed a possible increase in the potential to cause allergic reactions that was almost statistically significant even though only six fish were used in each group in the study. In its allergenicity studies submitted to the FDA, AquaBounty converted its data into an undefined estimated measure it called “relative potency,” a term the lab was unable to define when asked by the FDA.

With a fair amount of controversy around the allergenicity associated with this new technology (which created tension back in 2002 at a government meeting of the Food Biotechnology Subcommittee of the Food Advisory Committee in which the committee’s acting chair, Edward N. Brandt, Jr., MD, PhD, said “Of course, we haven’t worked into this some kind of test for allergencity, per se… “), the 1994 introduction of the genetic modification of our food supply, without accompanying labels alerting consumers of its presence, prompted an almost allergic reaction from renowned allergist, Dr. Fred McDaniel Atkins, who said, “To me, the logical problem is that we are going to take that stuff and feed it to the public without their informed consent.”

At the same time, other nationally recognized allergists have remained relatively quiet regarding the allergenicity of genetically modified foods and some have invented patents for companies, like AquaBounty, that are responsible for the patenting and genetic modification of our food.

And while missing data appears not to bother some experts, including one of the FDA panel members who stated that “the salmon contains nothing that isn’t in the human diet,” Dr. Atkins’ concerns over the allergenicity and long-term health implications of genetically modified foods are shared by others.

We are missing data,” said panel member James McKean, a professor at Iowa State University. He said that “leaves a cloud” over the FDA staff’s analysis.

The FDA will hold its next public hearing Tuesday, September 21, 2010, as it considers whether to label the salmon as genetically modified. If approval does go through, the first genetically modified salmon could begin entering U.S. supermarkets within about two years, upon which the FDA will be relying on market surveillance measures similar to those currently being used by the egg and beef industry to assess post-market health implications.

Talking About Our Generation

September 20, 2010 •  7 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Submitted by Sonia Hunt of Noie Productions September 20, 2010

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world.

Sound familiar? There are many people out there that want to revolutionize or even revolt in some way, shape or form. I continue to see and read countless articles on childhood obesity, health issues, food recalls and food allergies but don’t see much on the execution part. The words are choice, but to me the part of this song that resonates more is:

You say you’ve got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan.

I don’t believe aren’t enough creative thinkers or executers for this food revolution to do things differently and actually make change. Celebrity Chefs like Jamie Oliver have embarked what he calls a food revolution and even has a TV show and celebrity power around it. But what difference is being made? The heart of the platform is to educate and empower as many people as possible to love and enjoy good food. Sounds fine and dandy but what if these same people cannot afford the ingredients needed to cook that healthy food because they live in low-income neighborhoods where no organic farmer’s market nor large-chain supermarket are willing to put in a store, but ten fast food joints are. To me, this platform to make these healthy foods affordable seems to come before the teaching how to cook part.

Platforms. I still have a few pair in my closet. And like the shoe, they can be pretty but you may need to sashay around the block in them a few times before really getting noticed. With 31 food allergies in all types of flavors, I got fed up with the way things are running in the restaurant industry, after a local one sent me rushing to the ER for my life in 2008 and decided to take a new direction and do something.

My company has created a new Food+Life/Style web series (http://soniahunt.com) featuring innovative and emerging chefs, winemakers and mixologists, shooting ethnic and global cuisines; spicy food that definitely contains many ingredients that even I’m allergic to. Its targeted towards a young generation of what I called a budding ‘Food Nerd’, like myself. These nerds want to eat their Banh Mi and if you tell them you’re cooking it in peanut oil, you won’t need a food critic to give you 1 start and shut down your business. Their social media tweets will do that for you. Because of my food allergies, should I not enjoy the foods everyone else does? Why do people not know the difference between a peanut and a nut? How can I utilize my story to train an industry, drive change and still enjoy all the foods I want? This was my goal.

When I meet with chefs to discuss shooting a story, immediately they are very intrigued by my list of food allergies and I become their ‘little project’. From peanuts to corn to avocado, one-by-one they don’t understand how I eat for a living. And these incredibly talented people not only have become dear friends to me, but also actually keep my allergy list in their restaurant’s kitchen so that rest assured I could eat without busting out the EpiPen. And their mind’s creativity revels as they create and re-create dishes so that I can also eat the same thing on the menu as everyone else and not feel awkward. It’s a very personalized experience in which we all learn and grow, together and mainly have fun in the process. And I get to shoot it all on camera.

So I’ve chosen a path and even if one-chef-at-a-time, my platform looks not only to inform but in a personalized way, ‘influence’ these culinary artisans into actually ‘doing’ things differently. Things like adding ingredients lists to menus, creating allergen-free versions of the same dishes on their menus for patrons (w/notification of course), educating staff about ingredients, food allergies and the differences between a peanut and a nut and a level of service. It may sound rudimentary at first, but you’d be surprised that most restaurants do not do this today and what a difference it could make.

I do this in the hopes to change the way the restaurant industry views and treats food allergies, so all the kids out there with issues can be rest assured and have a wonderful meal, just like everyone else. And you know, its gonna be, all right. How are you helping make change in this #foodrevolution? Love to hear from ya!

Sonia Hunt is the Founder+CEO of Noie Productions, LLC, an independent media production company spawning organic, innovative & chic culinary media. Watch the trailer to her new Food+Life/Style series at http://soniahunt.com