4 reasons why I am not a food alarmist

This is a bit of a soap box post. Fair warning.

I’ve talked before about online petitions and their effectiveness, as well as the hype over the “yoga mat bread” debacle. These things are all tied to what I call food alarmism. And it drives me nuts.

To me, food alarmism is taking a concept related to food (particularly health food) and then blowing it way out of proportion and abandoning all reason, just to advance your agenda or philosophical position (and in some cases, a business interest). It’s often done in the name of advocacy – framed as public health crusaders trying to save the American people from themselves. 

But there are a few reasons why I will never subscribe to this type of advocacy and actually feel it’s detrimental to the broader food movement. (Put another way, it makes people who care about what we eat look like psychos.)

#1 – “Chemicals” are not always the enemy. You could make water sound like a scary additive if you called it dihydrogen monoxide. Just because a substance has a chemical-sounding name doesn’t make it dangerous. Everything we eat is made up of chemicals – even our bodies are made up of chemicals. (Trust me, having a thyroid disorder mine are often out of whack.) 

I used to be on the anti-chemical bandwagon pretty hard for awhile, but the more I read, the more I realize there are a lot of harmless chemicals out there and a few that actually ARE health hazards. So you’ve got to find out what a ‘chemical’ actually is, how it’s used, what research is out there about its safety, etc. before you decide it’s poison. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t reduce our exposure to chemicals that have been linked with health hazards. But be smart about it.

#2 – Junk food is junk food. The idea of trying to get a company that makes fatty, salty junk food to take an ingredient out of its fatty, salty junk food to make that fatty, salty junk food “healthier”? That’s crazy. Here’s a simple solution. EAT LESS JUNK. And don’t expect companies that sell junk food to make that junk food healthier. When you do, all you get is health-washed food that looks healthy but actually isn’t. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever eaten Sun Chips in your life because you thought they were “healthier” than Doritos? Yeah. My hand is up too.)

#3 – Hype is hype – whether it comes from Monsanto or a food blogger. Many people are in the business of getting people whooped up about very small issues. This is a good thing for companies and individuals who want people to be distracted from the larger picture (public health, access to healthy, whole foods for all people, the fight against hunger for starters) by starting crusades on the small stuff. What if all the energy spent on getting Budweiser to tell us what’s in their beer was spent trying to get access to fresh produce for hungry people? Which brings me to my next point.

#4 – There are bigger fish to fry. The way I see it, there are really huge issues that we need to address as a nation that relate to our food supply. Namely, making sure everyone gets enough. And that they get enough actual, healthy food. Those of us who consider ourselves foodies (with all the good and bad that term carries) need to understand that the fact that we can even make the food choices we do is a privilege that not all of our fellow citizens have. 

Besides the availability of food in general, we have a really big and rapidly growing problem with antibiotic resistance. And it’s not just food bloggers or animal rights activists who think that. The Centers for Disease Control has made it clear that the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in livestock has contributed greatly to antibiotic resistant bacteria. Even the FDA acknowledges that it’s a problem (and they basically don’t acknowledge anything as a problem). So if we want to get behind something that can really make a difference in public health (not to mention animal welfare, but that’s another story), we should rally behind removing non-therapeutic antibiotics from our livestock. Rally behind the piles of scientific evidence that we are one major antibiotic resistant epidemic away from a true public health nightmare. 

So while Vani Hari (a.k.a. Food Babe, She of Many Petitions) rallies her army of disciples to expose the chemicals in a Budweiser, I’ll choose to lend my voice to issues that might actually end up helping people – and are backed up by science, reason and common sense.