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Written by Robyn O’Brien after visiting farmers in Iowa in August 2010.
Had someone told me four years ago that I’d be standing tractor-side, appealing to farmers who grow genetically modified corn and soybeans for their support on the cornfields of Iowa, I’d have thought they were nuts. But there I stood in August in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa for aTractor Ride for Tots.
The event had been the brainchild of a big-hearted farmer named Scott McAllister. Scott, a fourth generation farmer, had reached out after learning about my work. He wanted to show me the farms.
So there we stood on a humid August day – Scott, farmers and tractors- ready to kick off our 50 mile tractor ride across the small towns of Iowa, and I had no idea what to expect. As Scott introduced me to the farmers, they smiled in amusement eager to get out on their tractors (reminding me more of my boys on their bikes than the agricultural giants I’d been a bit fearful of meeting).
And as I spoke about how 1 in 3 children now has autism, ADHD, allergies or asthma, they nodded in agreement as they’d seen the TV commercials on their local stations that spoke of how pervasive autism had become in military families, now affecting 1 in 88 children and knew what was happening to their grandchildren. They then introduced themselves and we set out on our tractor ride.
It was pretty quiet.
As the day wore on, so did the stories. A man named Mark shared tales about his high school reunion, while “Pa” shared stories about his grandson. And one they called “Beauford” spoke of their stewardship of the land learned at their grandfathers’ knees, record harvests and record rainfalls (and told a funny tale about how his wife moved out on him). They shared stories about lost crops, lost livestock and lost loved ones. They were sincere and authentic, proud and humble, and dedicated to their trade in ways seldom seen in today’s culture. As fourth and fifth generation farmers, their legacies were deep and their commitment strong.
Yet at the same time, as they spoke about the recent changes in agriculture and its new costs structures, there was an ambiguity. With trait fees, licensing fees and technology fees now required of farmers, this wasn’t the same business model that their grandfathers had built, and they knew it, with numbered lot signs and logos down the sides of their fields. As we discussed the privatization and patenting of agriculture and the impact it was having on their business, one of them shared, “The toes they step on today will be the tush they’ll be kissing tomorrow.” As they had witnessed firsthand the impact that this new cost structure had on debt loads and declining income levels and spoke candidly about monopolistic practices and predatory pricing.
And as we road from town to town, they laughed about their lives and livelihoods being in the hands of Mother Nature, saying “It either makes you religious or alcoholic,” as all of them chuckled. And having seen billboards juxtaposed against each other on the side of the Iowa highway, I had seen what they were saying and couldn’t help but listen.
I asked about their friend, Tom Vilsack, who now serves as the Secretary for the United States Department of Agriculture, and they shared stories about how he’d lived in their friend, Jimmy’s, childhood home, as well as his unusual political beginnings, quickly rising to Mayor, when a gunman shot and killed Mt. Pleasant’s mayor. And I listened as they shared their stories, shared their lives and shared their passion for farming.
And as the day came to a close, a farmer named John asked, “Did you see that lady with the white hair back there?”
“Yes. She smiled and waved and was so pretty,” I said.
“Well you see, you see…..that…well….she’s my wife. And, and, and…..” And as I looked into the face of this farmer, his eyes welled with tears, and my heart hurt, and I asked, “Is she sick?” And he nodded. Cancer. Twice.
And as the tractors were put away, we said our good-byes, reflecting on new dialogues, new knowledge and new friendships. And we knew that we were all in this together.
And while none of us could do everything, we also knew that all of us could do one thing. And sometimes that one thing is simply taking the time to listen. Really listen. Because if you do, you may realize that there is far more that unites us than divides us, as our hearts beat in unison for the love of our families.
Since the original posting of this article, Big John’s wife died of cancer. She was beautiful, and it was an honor to meet her
Stars like Emmy Award winners Michael J. Fox and moms like Julie Bowen and Ali Larter have joined the efforts to label genetically engineered (GE) foods.
The celebrities are featured in a new Just Label It (JLI) video calling for the FDA to require labeling of GE foods. Fox, Bowen and Larter are joined in the video by 24 other entertainers like Chevy Chase and advocates and Just Label It (JLI) Chairman, Gary Hirshberg.
Bowen, a mother of three sons, shows her support for labeling by revealing a sign in the video with the message: “Every modern family has the right to know what’s in their food!”
As a mom, she gets it. And it’s a message many of us can relate to.
It’s great to see mothers like Bowen, Ali Larter, Kimberly Van Der Beek and Anne Heche stand up for their right to know what’s in the foods they are feeding their families, as it’s a right that’s already been given to eaters in dozens of countries around the world, even in China, Russia and India.
The United States remains one of the few developed countries in the world that has not yet labeled these ingredients, introduced into our food supply in the 1990s, in our foods.
The message in this video sums up the argument JLI has been making throughout the country: every American deserves the right to know about their food and whether they are eating or serving their families food that has been genetically engineered.
Just Label It is petitioning the FDA to update its 20-year-old voluntary guidelines and require labeling for GE foods, giving a voice to all Americans who are concerned about wha is going into the foods they are feeding their loved ones. Today, more than 1.2 million Americans have joined the petition. I hope you will too, so that together, we can have this same basic right enjoyed by citizens around the world.
To learn more, please visit Just Label It .
Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in private practice specializing in metabolism and sport nutrition. She is a friend of the AllergyKids Foundation, and we recently invited her to share her thoughts on the Stanford Study, the value of organic foods and other topics.
In an analysis of 237 studies of organic produce, meats and dairy foods, Stanford scientists determined that organic foods are no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts. The recent study published in The Annals of Internal Medicine has the food world spinning. The scientists looked at vitamin C in produce and omega three fatty acids in animal products among other nutrients and concluded that there just wasn’t enough difference to impact human health.
Human nutrition is a young science. The first “vitamin” was discovered early in the 20th century, the Recommended Dietary Allowances were first released in 1941 and the first dietary guidelines were established in 1980.
Since the beginning, nutrition science has been preoccupied with identifying essential nutrients. This early orientation has led too many nutrition scientists down a path of reductionist thinking, as if food were merely a delivery vehicle for essential nutrients in our diet. Today the rest of the food world is pushing back. Farmers, chefs, journalists, environmentalists, foodies, as well as many more integrative nutritionists, dietitians and other health care providers are crying foul.
The push back to the Stanford study has been enormous. Many Americans have become far too sophisticated in the post Omnivore’s Dilemma era to take the narrow findings of this study at face value. Every post I have read over the past two days immediately points to the real differences between organic and conventional food. To many consumers, the value of organic food production was never only about the nutrients.
The Problem with Reductionist Science
The traditional approach to studying nutrition is fragmented. Nutrition science often focuses on the smallest components of the diet, the essential nutrients. Most funding for nutrition research is appropriated for studies regarding specific nutrients.
It is easier to study a single nutrient compared to the overall diet. This is why you get to read front page stories telling you to avoid fat, or more specifically to eat more unsaturated fat, and even more specifically to consume more omega 3 fatty acids.
There is very limited research looking at overall dietary patterns, and even less linking the production of food to anything. Too often the only concern is what happens to man. Nutrition science tends to ignore the rest of our ecological home. Today, there is a need for nutrition science to connect more of the dots.
WHAT ABOUT THE VITAMINS AND MINERALS
Most critics of the Stanford study focus on the findings of the researchers. People want to think organic food must be far superior compared to conventionally raised foods. But research looking at nutrient content of organic versus conventionally grown food is mixed.
Sometimes conventional foods show higher nutrient content. (Although research shown below shows that organically grown produce has higher content more often) Still, this kind of data doesn’t often inspire the average Joe or Jane to pull out their hard earned cash to pay a premium for an organic product.
OMEGA THREE CONTENT IS DIFFERENT
The omega three fatty acid data is more compelling. Greater amounts of omega three fatty acids are thought to be health promoting. A lower ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is linked to less inflammation. Less inflammation is associated with reduced risk of everything from cancer, diabetes, and heart disease to allergies, asthma, and more.
Grass fed beef is markedly different than beef from conventionally raised cattle. Grass fed beef contains more omega 3 fatty acids. Grass fed beef has a 2:1 ratio of omega six to omega three fatty acids; conventional beef has a ratio of 9:1. The greater amount of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in grass fed beef is bonus.
WHAT ABOUT ALL THE OTHER FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE HEALTH, NUTRITION AND DISEASE?
The Stanford’s study glaring omissions are exactly what has so many people energized about eating closer to the earth and preferentially choosing organic foods.
- People know that water is important. Runoff from conventional farms using conventional NPK fertilizer pollutes the waterways and creates dead zones in the oceans.
- Today’s educated consumers don’t want to consume added hormones in their food supply. The use of recombinant bovine growth hormone in dairy cows is far less common than it once was. Many consumers won’t buy milk containing rBGH.
- The educated food consumer knows that 80% of all antibiotics are used with animals, often in animal feed as a growth enhancer. They worry about the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
- Today’s consumers are concerned about exposure to pesticides, insecticides and other chemical agents used in conventional farming. They are aware these substances pose risk to human health. They bio-accumulate in fat stores.
These agents are known endocrine disruptors. 95% of “persistent organic pollutants” enter our body via the food supply. These chemical agents impact all life forms, especially compromising biodiversity of insects and microbes in the soil.
- Consumers have every reason to be wary of genetically engineered and GMO foods. Studies regarding the safety of genetic engineering are inadequate.
Proponents of genetic engineering would like consumers to accept that GMO foods are “substantially equivalent” to traditionally cultivated foods. Currently, substantial equivalence is determined using 90 day studies with lab rats. No wonder the current initiative to label GMO foods in California garners huge public support.
WE CAN NOT AFFORD TO EAT ACCORDING TO REDUCTIONIST SCIENCE
When making food choices we can no longer afford to only consider the nutrient content of food. The way food is grown and harvested matters. They way in which food is processed matters. The methods and packaging used to transport our food matters.
Today nutrition scientists need to broaden their scope and consider their findings in much broader context. The range of issues impacting human health encompasses the health of our precious resources: the vitality of livestock, crop diversity, soil ecology, the health of our oceans, our supply of fresh water and clean air. Everyone connected to the food supply needs to understand and respect this truth. Good nutrition has never been just about the nutrients.
Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in private practice specializing in energy metabolism and sport nutrition. Bonnie works extensively with individuals and families addressing nutrition concerns throughout the lifecycle, with a special focus on maternal, infant and child nutrition. She is a speaker and author, writing her blog at www.muchmorethanfood.com
At AllergyKids, inspiration matters to us…a lot. Because when you are handed a diagnosis – whether it’s a life-threatening food allergy or a child’s cancer – you need every shot of hope, inspiration and strength that you can get.
So when a friend emailed an article titled, “Happy Anniversary,” the same week that marked the 6 year anniversary of that life-changing breakfast that resulted in a food allergic reaction at our breakfast table, I reflected on how there really are no coincidences. Just lessons.
And we are grateful for them.
And when we hear stories like the one you are about to read below, we feel compelled to share them. Not because we believe that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellness, but because they offer so much hope. And hope is the knowledge that change is possible even when it seems hard to imagine.
I have never been into anniversaries. That sounds so un-romantic. I am always aware how many years Lance and I have been married, for example, and secretly psyched when we made it a decade, and kept on going, but I didn’t care about making a big deal about the actual day. I like to celebrate random days, not necessarily THE day.
However, this anniversary is different. It’s significant. It brings mixed emotions. Usually when you say “Happy Anniversary” it’s because that particular day was a celebratory one. A year ago was not celebratory for us. In fact, it sucked. It was hands down the worst day of our lives. I was sitting in ICU thinking all the worst things one could think, crying my eyes out, ridden with shock and sadness.
So when I look at where we are now, I think now that’s something to celebrate! Lately, I’ve been looking at Lance, thinking, “Damn, you look good.” In fact, this past weekend, we were at some hot springs near Winter Park with our friends. We were all coming out of the changing rooms with our swim suits on and both my friend and I took a double take when Lance came out in his bathing suit. He looked fit and strong and healthy and just plain good. My friend said something to me about how Lance looked, I nodded.
And when I think about all that we learned and grew and did and tackled and accomplished in the past year, it makes me beam with pride. We worked hard at getting where Lance is today. We didn’t let anything get in our way…not doctors, not naysayers, not statistics. We just put those aside and tried to be the best students possible. We continued to learn as we went along and added, or subtracted whatever was serving us or not serving us and kept on forging ahead. This included not only nutrition, but meditating, visualizing, resting, learning, learning, and more learning, being conscious in everything we did and being really clear on what we had time for and what we didn’t. It was like the ultimate fine tuning of our lives.
Also, a year is significant because getting to a year in Lance’s case was a big deal and increases his chances all the more. A couple months ago, I started feeling that sense that we were coming up to a year and Lance was doing so good and it made me think of the little engine that could and I kept thinking, “Come on, you can do it.”
While my Dad was in the hospital here in Boulder with his broken leg, I asked him if he would like to see Lance’s last MRI. Since my Dad is a retired radiologist (that specialized in neurology) this whole business with Lance has been a little touchy. I knew without discussing his views that we had very different perspectives on Lance’s condition but he kept his thoughts to himself (thanks Dad, I am eternally grateful to you for that). However, in this bonding father/daughter moment, I showed him Lance’s last MRI and watched him as he stared in quiet disbelief. He really could not believe what he was seeing. Because what he was seeing was practically NOTHING!
We didn’t immediately share Lance’s results on purpose for 2 reasons. 1) We both needed it to sink in and savor it. 2) We don’t want to jinx ourselves and seem cocky (we are still in this game). Basically what was once the size of a racket ball is now the size of a pea (and that could be just dead tissue).
So what we have to celebrate is a successful year of extreme discipline. I don’t think about that day, one year ago, and what it was like. I think about today and how far we have come. I think about how life and every single day should be celebrated, not just that one day. I think about that no matter what you are going through, there is always hope, there is always beating the odds, there is that silver lining. I feel grateful that Lance and I were blessed with that strength and foresight to have the outlook we have had. I hope that no matter what you are going through, whatever adversity you are facing, that you can have the strength to pull yourself out of it. Know that life is constantly changing and if you face your issues head on, with love and openness, before you know it a year has past and you think to yourself (as I do know),”What a difference a year can make!”
About Nancy Gentry: Nancy is living proof that norms, rules (and diagnoses) are made to be broken. In January 2011, Nancy’s husband found out he had brain cancer and had major brain surgery a few days later. Rather than accept the doctor’s dismal diagnosis, Nancy decided to tackle her biggest life challenge with food, juicing, love, laughter, meditation and more and put her and her husband on an uber-healthy trajectory. It took a little while for the burger eating, fried food loving, multi-tasking, too busy running Justin’s Nut Butter president to adapt to this way of life. However today, Lance and Nancy feel they could not be healthier and look back on 2011 as one of the biggest gifts of their lives. Their new balanced lifestyle and attention to every aspect of their lives has given her husband a new perspective allowing him to thrive. Nancy has begun coaching others on incorporating love, laughter and veggies into everyday life (www.lovelaughveggies), creating preventative, inspiring lifestyles for those who want to live life to the fullest and healthiest both inside and out. She hopes to inspire people (and you!) to take care of themselves and learn from their experience and learn how to prevent DIS-EASE by implementing some simple changes in their life NOW. From the non-stop frenzy of producing her own tv show, to the runways of the Parisian modeling world to being one of the world’s first moms to choreograph their husband’s healing from a malignant brain tumor, Nancy is living proof that norms, rules and diagnoses are meant to be broken.
You can follow Nancy and Lance at www.lovelaughveggies.com