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Watch AllergyKids on Fox News

May 20, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

For many parents it’s tough enough trying to figure out how to get dinner on the table let alone worrying about what could be causing food allergies.

But it doesn’t have to be difficult and there are ways around this.

Last week, I joined the team at Fox News in Washington, DC, for a segment on food allergies, why the sudden epidemic and steps we can take to protect our families on My Fox News DC.

Food Allergies and Their Symptoms: MyFoxDC.com

Pesticides and Our Kids

May 19, 2011 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Erik Hoffner as originally seen on the Organic Valley blog

Recently published human health studies link prenatal exposure to pesticides with learning problems in children. Turns out that these commonly used agricultural pesticides, designed to act like brain poisons, really do their job, and not only on insects! Specifically, a family of chemicals called organophosphates has links to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and lower IQs in children, syndromes with life-long ramifications. Children suffer these effects long after birth, too. Those with above-average levels of the pesticides in their urine have been found to be twice as likely to have a diagnosis of ADHD, for example.

The findings (and those associated with other chemical assaults on our kids’ brains) are laid out brilliantly in “Mind Games,” a feature piece in a recent edition of Orion magazine by biologist, author, and mother Sandra Steingraber, whose new book Raising Elijahcame out this March, and who has a rare knack for making dry research data come to life. After reading it, I could not dispute her statement that “If organophosphate pesticides are damaging children’s brains at background levels of exposure and above, they should be abolished.”

Think of the enormous amount of fossil fuels that the agri-chemical industry uses to synthesize chemicals like organophosphates, which in turn irreparably harm the developing brains of our next generations. All because our farms are so huge—in seeking those economies of scale—that sustainable pest management techniques cost too much. Which really begs the question of what kinds of costs ought to be borne, and which ones ought not.

Until these chemicals are indeed abolished for their long-ranging effects on human health and the environment, the main way to protect yourself and your kids is by buying organic food. As Organic Valley’s “Why Organic” page states, “An organic diet provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposures to organophosphorus pesticides.” This rapid decrease in the levels of such chemicals in kids’ bodies, just by eating different food, is a very hopeful fact.

But it would be unwise to halt our remedial action at the point of food consumption. In order to see the end of these chemicals, a grassroots movement to pressure the government will be needed. The EPA, after absorbing the findings of the studies, responded weakly that its work to date has phased out a limited number of organophosphate pesticides. Which means that millions of pounds of these toxins remain in regular use annually on U.S. farms!

Sorry, that’s just not good enough. As Steingraber expressed in an email to me this week:

“At what point do we parents rise up and say, ‘Enough is enough. Like cigarette smoke in public places, pesticide residues in food represent, for our children, acts of reckless endangerment.’ Like seatbelts, sobriety, and smoke-free buildings, organic agriculture needs to become the new normal way of growing food. Parents are perfectly poised to lead that charge.”

I invite you to consider the moving thesis of Steingraber’s Orion article and decide for yourself what role parents can play in this debate, and what future, if any, agricultural shortcuts like organophosphate pesticides should have in a society that loves its kids.


Erik Hoffner is a photojournalist, fine art photographer, and a writer for Grist.org, the biggest green news site in the U.S. By day he’s Outreach Coordinator for the award-winning journal of nature/culture/place, Orion, based in Western Massachusetts. See more of his work at www.erikhoffner.com.

Food Politics in the Food Pyramid

May 18, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

Today’s article is a guest post from Dr. Jonny Bowden, also known as The Rogue Nutritionist, a nationally known expert on weight loss and nutrition whose articles have appeared in Forbes, the New York Times, Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal

Have you ever heard of Dairy Management? Sounds made up, I know, but it is very real. In fact, it’s part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Most intriguing is its mission: To get people to eat more cheese. According to The New York Times, “…the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese.”1

So, on one hand, the government — through a corporation that’s part of its own USDA — is telling us to eat less saturated fat and yet, out of the other side of its collective mouth, is telling us to eat more of it (in the form of cheese).

What is going on?

It All Starts with Pizza…

Several years ago, Domino’s Pizza wasn’t having a good year. Sales were low, profits were down, and, according to The New York Times, Domino’s tied for first in a big national survey of the “Worst Tasting Pizzas In America.”

What to do, what to do?

Well, if you were a big corporation with flagging sales and an unpopular product, what would you do? You’d go the experts.

Which is exactly what Domino’s did.

They went to Dairy Management, Inc., whose experts basically gave them the following advice: Make the pizzas cheesier!

Dairy Management teamed up with Domino’s to create new pizzas with 40 percent more cheese and devised (and paid for) a $12 million marketing campaign for the new creation. People loved the stuff and sales soared “by double digits,” according toThe New York Times.

Of course, people became outraged. How can the government (via Dairy Management) tell us to eat the very thing (saturated fat) that they are also telling us to avoid? Easy.

The advice we get from the government about what food to eat (or not eat) is completely tied to special interests from the industries that produce that food.

Food Politics…

Our government heavily subsidizes the farming of sugar, wheat, corn, and soy. Do you really think you’re ever going to see the USDA recommending that we eat less of any of these products?

The Dairy Industry has managed to lobby behind the scenes to practically criminalize the sale of raw milk. Do you think that’s for health reasons? Or for economic ones?

But I digress.

When the World Health Organization (WHO) put out a report in 1990 called “Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases,” they made a very reasonable and conservative recommendation: keep “added” sugars to 10 percent or less of the diet2.

OK with you? Find anything wrong with that? Actually, who would find anything wrong with that?

I’ll give you three guesses and here’s a hint: The Sugar Association.

The Sugar Industry was completely up in arms about this, wrote to WHO, waving all kinds of data and studies showing that this recommendation was completely unwarranted. (This is just one of the many examples of such their protest letters.) More tellingly, they used their considerable lobbying power to try to get Congress to end all funding for WHO, unless WHO changed its recommendations.

Do you not think this happens every day? Read Food Politics by Marion Nestle.

Buyer beware: You’ll never look at the “food pyramid” in the same way.

Your Food is Big Business…

Even the government is not stupid enough to pay for the growing of food and then turn around and tell you not to buy it or eat it. As long as our antiquated and anti-health farm bill dictates food policy (beneath the radar of most people other than Michael Pollan), you can expect our government “health” agencies like the FDA and USDA to make decisions in keeping with their economic interests.

It’s interesting that with all the shouting these days about “income redistribution” (on both sides of the aisle), the biggest wholesale income redistribution of all is going on right under the radar: it’s the distribution of your tax dollars being paid to agribusiness to produce tons of wheat, soy, corn, and sugar…and to subsidize them so they can be made more cheaply and plentifully. (It’s called “The Farm Bill.”)

Our government — through your tax dollars — literally subsidizes the growing of foods that are making you fat and sick.

And, in a stunning parallel to what goes on in the pharmaceutical industry (and oil industry for that matter), the players move porously and effortlessly from government to academia to industry, a congressman one day, a lobbyist the next, an industry executive one minute, and a member of the group regulating that industry a nanosecond later. This kind of lateral movement from industry to regulator-of-that-industry is legion.

So am I saying that you shouldn’t trust the government about anything? Or that it is all a vast conspiracy?

Absolutely not.

What I am saying is that there exists a very complex and porous set of relationships between the players in academia, government, industry, and agribusiness. That relationship — sometimes subtly and sometimes bluntly — influences most if not all of the “government approved” health directives like the Food Pyramid.

These relationships color, filter, and shape an enormous amount of information that the public, unwisely and naively, believes to be “scientific and objective.”

“Special Interests” Anyone…

So what do you do? Ignore all government recommendations and throw out anything you hear from mainstream health organizations like the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, or the American Dietetic Association?

No. But you take those recommendations with more than a few grains of salt, and you supplement them by reading, learning, and studying on your own. Read the “gurus” (and their critics). Investigate both sides of every argument (especially when those arguments are compelling and not just some internet B.S.).

Don’t ignore “mainstream” recommendations, but see what other people that you respect think about them. There are a lot of really smart establishment critics out there. I’m glad you’re reading me, but you shouldn’t blindly follow me any more than you should blindly follow government or medical recommendations.

So, do your own homework, check with multiple sources, then make up your own mind.

And, most importantly, be willing to change it.

Remember, if history is any guide — and it usually is — in 50 years we’ll be looking at some of these government approved recommendations for eating, rolling our eyes and saying, “What were they thinking??”

To learn more about the author of this article, Dr. Jonny Bowden, whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC and on Fox News, please visit http://www.jonnybowden.com

References:

1Moss, Michael. While warning about fat, U.S. pushes cheese sales. The New York Times. 2010 Nov 6.

2WHO Study Group. Diet, nutrition, and the prevention of chronic diseases. World Health Organization Technical Report Series. 1990.

Love in a Carrot Bag

May 16, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

This week has been busier than most.

With a business trip, an in-law visit and the incredible amount of after school activities that always tend to accompany the end of the school year, there really hasn’t been a whole lot of time to stop and smell the flowers.

And then as we were making dinner tonight, something stopped us in our tracks.

Some might call it a “God wink,” others might call it a sign…

We call it “Love in a Carrot Bag.”

Copyright Robyn O’Brien

How My Children’s Allergies Have Made Me a Better Mom

May 14, 2011 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Daniella Knell of www.smartallergy.blogspot.com

I had NO food allergies growing up. My spouse had a few. Sure, I suffered from occasional seasonal allergies. My greatest challenge was remembering that the shiny, green leaves were poison ivy NOT a pretty decorative addition for my flower display. Yes, this was my biggest seasonal obstacle as a child.

Up until 8 years ago, I didn’t know the difference between being lactose intolerant and milk allergic. Sugars versus proteins? I had NO clue. Gluten versus wheat? I couldn’t tell you anything about it.

Then came along children. My six month old infant’s first real food was dairy based yogurt. She enjoyed this new delight by gobbling it up and smearing it all over her face. And then we wiped it off. Hives everywhere. Our parenthood journey was instantly transformed. Turns out our children would have more of their dad’s genes than mine.

Our pediatricians have always been empathetic to the fact of us having to deal with food allergies. Our allergists have been compassionate as she/he confirmed each allergy as it came along, and what our plan of action needed to be. Our nutritionist gave us a list of nutritional alternatives and books that may be helpful. Then, we were on our own.

I have had a few struggles to navigate along the way.

Frustration and a bit of anger. I have needed to rely more on my abilities and knowledge as a cook and label reader. My cooking skills already needed improvement and I wasn’t sure I could rise to the occasion. The list of ingredients to avoid has at times changed and seemed unmanageable. Milk, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, avocados, bananas, kiwi, mango. Then add in the medicinal and seasonal additions – can’t these kids get a break? Eating out? Buying pre-packaged goods? Never again, was my original reaction.

Fear. Where do I begin with that one? Fear that I would make a mistake and give them something they shouldn’t have and make them sick. Fear that my children would do the same thing. Fear of letting them go off to school and trusting others to care for them. Fear that their peers would taunt or tempt them because their dietary needs were different. And the greatest fear: that someone wouldn’t be there who knew what to do in an emergency situation.

Information. I needed more and didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t know where to shop, what to shop for, what my resources were and where to go for support. It was the need to better protect my children that drove my passion to learn more. I have embraced the challenges thrown our way and turned them into incredible learning and teaching tools for all of our family.

EDUCATION. Be pro-active in educating yourself, your children, your family and anyone or group in your community who is willing to listen. Being knowledgeable, approachable and non-threatening will open up many opportunities. Go to FAAN, local allergy support groups, or web based resources for help and ideas.

There have been some wonderful discoveries. I am a decent cook and baker. Turns out others will even pay me to bake for them. We CAN eat out. We DO HAVE a list of favorite pre-packaged foods that make having lunch and dinner easier. And OTHERS CAN BE TRUSTED to help keep my children safe. My nicest surprise? Turns out my children’s classmates are their strongest advocates. Due to yearly Allergy Awareness classes I have presented, their peers are often more aware of mychildren’s allergies than are their teachers.

I am a more compassionate person and very engaged mother because of my children. Their challenges have provided me with a focus and passion in life which I never imagined existed.

I challenge you to go out and make a difference for your children, even if it’s only one person at a time!

Daniella Knell is the owner of Smart Allergy~Friendly Education (SAFE), www.smartallergy.blogspot.com