If I could give one adjective that I felt described American culture, it would be fearful. We are afraid of everything. I'm not joking. We're afraid of our cars, our bikes, our recliners, our stairs, our food, our water, our air, we're afraid that we'll die, we're afraid that we'll get sick, we're afraid that everything around us might be toxic, poisoned, heat seeking head missiles, or waiting to squash us. The weird thing is the "solutions" we sometimes come up with to quell our fears.

The latest thing I've heard talk about is food irradiation. That is, exposing food products to radiation to kill off bacteria, insects, etc. I've been well aware that Americans are deathly afraid of bacteria and viruses for a long while now. The recent swine flu pandemic is a great example. What is just a different strain of the flu gets caught by 150 people and suddenly the world is about to end (by the way, normal everyday flu kills about 3,500 people in the U.S. every year). We are so obsessed with killing bacteria and viruses in everything that we touch, that we are not only more than willing to use dangerous chemicals in order to do so, we severely harm our immune systems by never giving them a chance to fight off disease, and then when we are exposed to something, we get severely ill, when a healthy immune system would have barely noticed.

Now, apparently, we are willing to expose our food to radiation, potentially change it's molecular structure, and then eat it like it's just what nature intended. Sorry, no thanks. I'm perfectly happy with my food just the way it comes. Somehow, I think the survival of the human race will continue, and probably with better health, if we stop all this nonsense. Not that I expect it to stop.

First of all, if your food has enough bacteria, virus, etc in it to be really harmful to you, there is something more fundamental that needs taking care of than simply exposing it to radiation.

Secondly, if you are potentially changing the DNA structure of the food you are exposing to radiation, how do you know your body is going to digest it in the same way as the un-modified version? Even if it's not harmful, it may very well change the food's nutritional value, and you may not end up getting the same benefits from foods that you would otherwise.

Thirdly, I work at a Dental School. The radiologists are very careful about how much radiation exposure they give a patient, even though a typical dental x-ray is giving a pretty minimal dose of radiation to the patient. This is because radiation has been shown to have harmful effects on us. The levels of radiation, from what I can find, that food is exposed to in food irradiation is many times higher than that which you are exposed to for a typical x-ray at the dentist/doctor. The units for medical radiation are typically measured in rads, the radiation for food in grays. Apparently a gray is about 100 rad. During a dental x-ray, you are exposed to about 2-3 millirads (technically millirems, but specifically with x-ray radiation, apparently they are nearly equal). Food, even for the lowest dose purposes, is exposed to 150 grays. That's a pretty significant difference in the level of radiation, unless I'm severely misunderstanding something.

Ok people. Look. You don't have that much to fear from your food. People have been eating it for a VERY LONG TIME, and believe it or not, the human race is still going. We haven't died out yet. You don't need to treat your food with radiation, chemicals, genetic modification. You don't need to scrub your environment clean of all bacteria. It won't hurt you to eat a little bit of dirt with your vegetables, and it won't hurt you to eat a fruit fly here and there either.

Can we stop being afraid of life for a while and just live? Is that really too much to ask?


  1. This is one of the reasons that I love farmer's markets and CSAs so much! Once you have some real fresh food, it's hard to look at other food the same way again. This sort of thing is really important and weird and I wish it was more common knowledge. It's unfortunate that we have to discover all the weird stuff about the "normal" food we eat at a really gradual pace, so by the time we know it might not be good for us we've been eating it for 20 years or something. It will be very cool if the day ever comes where the government and the food industry aren't run by crazy people and we can actually be taught the truth about nutrition and food processing in a public way, like in school! I read a really interesting book called Food Politics (I think the author's last name was Nestle, funny enough) and it described the whole process of building the official food pyramid (since the original one was created) and it's totally fucked! There was a ton of other stuff in the book too but that part sticks out in my memory as being totally weird.

  2. I know, more and more I'm thinking I want to always get our food from local farms and/or grow it ourselves.

    This is one reason I love Portland, as they seem to really want to encourage people to grow food themselves (in their climate change plan, they want to create education on how people can grow food themselves in the city where they live, plus create something like 1,300 new community garden plots) - not to mention that they actually allow raising some animals in the city, like chickens.

    Personally, I think the FDA is much more concerned with generating profit than with providing healthy food. I think it's ridiculous that it's illegal to sell un-pasteurized milk, for instance.

    And we get so obsessed with cutting things out of our diet, we don't realize we really need all those things, just in the right amounts. For instance, you need fat in milk in order for your body to process the vitamins A and D in the milk. Also, your body doesn't build fat from consuming fat, it builds fat from consuming carbohydrates, but proteins help process the carbohydrates so that your body doesn't build as much fat from it. You really need all of that stuff in order to be healthy, you just have to get it all in the right balance.