Sunday, October 20

The Realities of America's Food System

 Last month, the LA Times published an article lamenting that
"Children’s allergies to peanuts, dairy and other foods cost the U.S. nearly $25 billion a year, according to the first survey to come up with a comprehensive price tag for a condition that affects 8% of American kids."
The researchers coming up with the figure included in their calculations:
  •  Doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, trips to the emergency room and other direct medical expenses 
  • Lost productivity of parents who had to take their children to such appointments
  • Expenses associated with buying special allergen-free foods, placing children in allergy-sensitive schools and making special arrangements for child care in nut-free facilities
  • Long-term costs incurred by parents who give up, restrict or modify their careers to accommodate their children's medical conditions
They came up with a total of  $24.8 billion a year spent or lost as a result of children's allergies in the
U.S. This, of course, is a gross underestimate. It does not take into account the innumerable cases of gastroenteritis, rashes, headaches, and other allergy-based symptoms that are brushed off as the flu or other generic childhood malady simply because an allergy has not yet been diagnosed or because parents were unable to connect the result with the cause. Considering that 83% of individuals with Celiac disease go undiagnosed or wrongly diagnosed for an average of 7 years, and that is only one example, the true cost of food allergies is staggering.

Allergies are only the tip of the ice berg, anyway. Diabetes, cancer - many of the most devastating health issues facing America in terms of personal and financial costs can be directly linked to our deplorable food system.

What most Americans either do not realize, or choose to ignore, is that these costs stem directly from the greed of major packaged food producers who are getting rich producing and selling packaged foods of every type that are loaded with exactly the kinds of things that trigger and exacerbate food allergies, diabetes and other ailments - wheat, corn, soy, and nuts (often in oil form). In 2011, Monsanto reportedly made 11.8 billion dollars. Pepsi made over 66 billion dollars - and these are only two of the big players! The struggles of the average family make no difference to them when there's that kind of money to be made.

As has been demonstrated by some excellent documentaries, major food producers own the FDA and USDA. There will be no reforming of the system or change of heart from within either the producers or the agencies supposedly charged with policing them. The only alternative is to opt out. Buy local. Make everything you possibly can yourself. Vote with your wallet!

Budgets are tight across the nation, and it doesn't seem that we can expect that to change any time soon. But I'd like to offer a word of encouragement: everything counts. Even if you take baby steps to educate yourself, to find alternatives, or to change an existing habit for a better one - every step you take towards reducing your dependence on these companies frees you a little bit more from their grip and makes them a little bit weaker. And it's worth it.

Can I encourage you to look this week for just one thing you can do to be more aware of the dangers of America's food system or to reduce it's grip on you?

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