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Biggest picture

4 Sep

My friend Cat at Consume This First shared this article from ABC news on her Facebook page today, which reports on a new Stanford study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine comparing organic to conventional foods.

I take my mainstream news articles on food and health with a big dose of skepticism. I’m used to reading food features clearly written by biased reporters, proofread by editors who have forgotten that news stories should be reported on and written in the third person.

So when I clicked through to “Organics Safer, No More Nutritious Than Conventional Foods” by Liz Neporent , I was expecting to read an unfair portrayal of tree-hugging hippies spending their “Whole Paycheck” on over-priced tomatoes, with an accompanying stock photo of a mom choosing between the antibiotic free Horizon Organic brand milk and the Pathmark brand.

I was met by a version of  the expected photo. But the article itself was suprisingly fair, and fairly informative for the uneducated consumer. That said, I will still surprised at what seemed to be the impetus for writing the article — People think organic food is better for you.

When I choose organic produce, I do so because I want my fruits and veggies free of pesticides and grown by farmers who think about people, not just profits. I want to reduce the amount of chemical exposure I and my children face every day; and I know that food is one area in which I have some control. I go one step further sometimes, and buy from small, local farmers because I want to reduce the global environmental impact of shipping food across the world.

I don’t buy organic because I think it offers me higher nutritional content or that it packs a more powerful punch of vitamins. But apparently a lot of other people do.

Why?

Because just as there is false advertising  and overstated claims on food labels that convince us to buy unhealthy food, there is false advertising and overstated claims that convince us to buy healthy food. (Think of the frozen waffles “now with Omega-3!”)

Just as there are plenty of people buying unhealthy food unaware of the dangers they face ; there are plenty of people buying organic food without really knowing why.

This is the true news story.  This is the unexplored angle.

Why we buy the food we buy. What compels us to change our habits. What compels us to spend money on one product and not another.

I don’t know everything about the food I buy — and I’m still learning more about food every day. (Just last month, in fact, I learned that organic food is at risk of contamination by mycotoxins, something I never knew before, and that conventional food MAY be less at risk due to fungicide use.)

But I am frightfully aware of the need to know.  Waking up to the fact that I don’t know much about the food I buy was my biggest wake up call of all. And continues to be.

 

= = = = = =

My hope, when I share information with friends and readers, is not to convert conventional shoppers into organic shoppers. My greatest hope, actually, is that when people read my blog, they leave with more questions than answers. They leave with a desire to learn, to investigate, and to question. They leave with the understanding that no one person holds the answers, no matter what their title; no matter what their degree.

You can’t count on advertisers or the food industry to educate you — and sadly, their advertisments, packaging and labels are where we get most of our information about food.

You also can’t often count on the media, an industry that’s churning out more and more biased reporters.

You can’t count on your physician, who is likely as educated or less educated than you are about food and nutrition.

You can’t count on the university professor whose study is being funded by a large chemical company.

And you can’t even count on like-minded bloggers like me — we have an agenda, as well. We want you to think like we do.

But don’t despair. Don’t give up.

You can count on yourself — to do the most thorough job of information gathering possible (from the all of the above sources), and then to information gather some more.

You can count on the distinctly human ability to question and seek the ever-changing truth.

 

 

Complete idiots

30 May

There are a few people I know who think they’re avoiding looking like complete idiots by acting like one.

Of course, they don’t think they’re acting like idiots.

They think they’re being smart.

Beating the system.

Like the people who think someone is trying to scam them into buying organic food. Like the people who laugh at those of us who spend a little more money so we can eat vegetables without chemicals on them.

Joke’s on you, fellow.

There is no scam.

No one is trying to cheat you.

In fact, most of the farmers who grow organic produce or who raise grass-fed cows, antibiotic free cows, are actually losing money because they would rather sell a product that nourishes you than make money.

Sadly, do you know who’s the fool?

Our children. The future generations who will one day look back and ask why our pride overruled our common sense.

Organic is not a marketing ploy. It’s not a brand.

(Despite that, yes, some companies employ it as both a marketing ploy and a brand.)

Organic, or chemical-free, is not a lifestyle choice.

It’s a survival skill.

Believing is believing

10 May

This morning, when a friend linked to an article about the dangers of zinc oxide in sunscreen, I once again thought to myself. “Maybe my husband is right.”

As supportive as my husband has become over the years as a partner in my quest for optimum health for myself and my family, he is still a bit of a skeptic.

The skeptic in him comes out most when I demand he switch food brands he really loves (like Heinz Ketchup), but especially when I  quote a new statistic or finding I read about in the news. He’s quick to belittle the study, or at best, consider it only when it seems to make sense to him.

He blames his attitude on years of retractions from the scientific community, and/or the pseudo-scientific community. (He does not hold any bias in that respect.)

Once upon a time, doctors told us sun was good for us. Then they said sun causes cancer. Nope, wait a minute, it’s actually good for you. Nope, only good for you certain times of day and in certain seasons and just at 56 degrees longtiude.

Or the story of eggs: Once, they were a part of “this complete breakfast.” No, they cause high cholesterol. No, eggs are okay in moderation. If they’re organic. And free range. And home bred. In your backyard.

What can we believe, really? he claims. And for how long will it hold true?

The other day I showed my husband an article a friend forwarded me written in Psychology Today about getting your kids to sleep, as this is a personal challenge that we’re facing for the third time. For some reason, I thought the  Psychology Today reputation (whatever that is) would inspire him to believe the claims made in the article (that genetically our children’s bodies are wired to be afraid to go to bed alone) or at the very least impact his decision to read the article carefully (or more carefully than the 3000 other articles I send him every week).

He read the article, but as he said, “I don’t know if I can believe that’s true.”

Astonished, I asked him, “But why not? It’s in Psychology Today. The author says kids want to sleep in our bed because of their genes. That’s science, man! That’s not some quack talking.”

“Look,” he responded calmly. “It just doesn’t sound right to me that our genes are the same as our hunter-gatherer ancestors were 10,000 years ago. Look at all the other ways we have evolved since then.”

Now, listen. Before you think otherwise, my husband is really smart. And open-minded. And a lot of other things he would be too embarrassed for me to share on a family-friendly forum like The Wellness Bitch blog.

I think my husband is like a lot of us. Even me.

This morning, I was listening to The Art of Breathing and Centering, a book on CD by self-help guru Gay Hendricks, at the recommendation of someone I trust. I was listening while washing the dishes, but with an open mind and a true desire to become a better breather and more centered.

And yet, when Hendricks tells an anecdote on the CD about a woman he cured of a mysterious lung disease that doctors couldn’t, I found myself, for a moment, in disbelief.

Really? I thought.

Cured her? By teaching her how to breathe?

And then I stopped myself. If I didn’t believe this story, what would the impact be on my listening and receiving of the rest of this CD? The rest of his advice and his technique?

I realized I had stopped listening.

Which is what I think many of us do when confronted with the possibility that something unbelievable might be true.

We stop listening.

Instead of taking a moment to consider our disbelief, acknowledge it, and then choose to believe anyway, even for a moment (or in this case 58 minutes of the Hendricks CD), we stop listening. We just shut down completely. We let nothing else in.

How could it hurt me? 58 minutes of believing that what Hendricks says is true? Believing him when he says he heals people?

How could it, instead, help me?

It’s amazing to me how much our fear of being disappointed gets in the way of our healing. We don’t want to believe for fear of disappointment. And so we shut down instead of opening up to the possibility that a new modality, or therapy, or vitamin, or diet, or study might be the one that makes all the difference.

I invite you, the next time you either hear yourself out loud say, “Yeah right.” Or “I don’t think that’s for me.” To consider where that response comes from.

Does it come from a place where you’ve evaluated the opportunity objectively, and turned it down?

Or does it come from a place of fear and/or worry that you will be disappointed?

A nugget that Hendricks shared on the CD right before I turned it off to write this post is:

Anxiety is excitement without the breath.

Let us all take a deep breath the next time an opportunity for healing is presented to us. Perhaps, then we can consider accepting the opportunity instead of turning it away due to fear.

 

 

Angry mom

18 Feb

I feel blessed in my life for the moms who get it. I’m glad for the ones I’ve met in real life and the ones I have come to know and love virtually.

It’s these moms — the ones who struggle day in and day out to provide their families with their version of “healthy” despite society’s constant roadblocks — that bring me back down off the angry ledge. It’s these fellow moms who struggle as hard as I do; who understand the often daily battles I fight with myself and my kids. The struggle between giving my kids what they want and giving them what I think they need. The struggle between saying yes and saying no. The struggle between choosing to fight a battle and choosing to lose it. The struggle between choosing easy and choosing hard.

I need such a support group desperately here, in my real life community, where I am forced to make choices all the time between what I know is right for my kids and what other moms let their kids get away with.

I’m feeling very, very “angry mom” lately.

Here, in the small community in Israel where I live, there is so much I love. But what I hate to my utter core is the “makolet.”

The makolet is basically a corner grocery store. The Israel equivalent of a NYC bodega. Internally, I like to call it “the kiddie crack house.” It’s the bane of my existence and it’s representative of something I really can’t stand here: Israel is very far behind in the healthy eating revolution, and in denial that feeding kids crap contributes to their physical and emotional well-being.

Every day on the “yishuv” where I live, the average Israeli child walks out from his preschool and is taken by the hand to the makolet where the average Israeli parent buys his child the average Israeli after-school snack — namely a popsicle, a chocolate milk, a snack pack of peanut butter puffed corn, yogurt topped with candy or just plain candy.

It’s the Wellness Bitch’s worst nightmare. Can you imagine?

For over a year, I’ve tried to make peace with the makolet. My husband and I have tried various incentive plans to get our kids on board with the idea that we don’t feed them makolet crack every day. These are kids who, up until a year ago, were happy to get candy once a month at a birthday party, and whose daily sweet treats included an organic sandwich cookie or a beet-colored fruit roll up. Now, these kids can be seen walking once a week clutching a bag of “Kliks,” slurping on sour gummy worms, or sucking down a spray bottle filled with the EU version of Red #40.

We’ve tried “Makolet Day,” one day a week when our kids get to pick something from the little store. But one “Makolet Day” a week suddenly turns into three when Saba comes to visit, or when the 3-year-old goes home with a different parent for a playdate and the two kids wind up sucking down “Shock-o,” the  chocolate milk drink packaged in sports bottles mechanically engineered for preschoolers’ tiny mouths. “Makolet Day” becomes a way of life here when my kids are treated to a “krembo” by their teachers or tutors or soccer coaches for doing a job well done. “Makolet Day” in not just a day here when it’s piled upon birthday parties and holiday celebrations and kiddushim, for which the focal point is sugary, processed crap masquerading as food.

Yesterday, I lost it because my daughter walked out from preschool with a snack bag full of candy thanks to an in-school birthday party (which they seem to have twice a month here). I told her she could have the birthday candy or “Makolet Day,” not both. She agreed. She proceeded to eat a handful of m-n-m’s and then ran to the makolet to pick out

her weekly treat. When I reminded her of our agreement, she had a meltdown. That melt-down turned into a kicking and screaming performance for all my friends and neighbors (Did I imagine the tongues clicking in compassion for my daughter  or was that my imagination?)

As I buckled her into her car seat, I screamed out loud in frustration to her and her two brothers, “That is it! No more makolet! I hate the makolet. I hate it so much I am going to come here in the middle of the night and spray graffiti all over the makolet! Do you hear me?? Graffiti!!!!”

Don’t you love days like that? When you are so angry, and yet so defeated, that graffiti is your best threat? (What would I even write? “F-off Makolet?” “Die, Makolet, Die?” And, really, how long would it take before they discovered the English expletives belonged to me?)

Don’t you love it when, in an effort to do right by your kids, you completely do wrong?

Don’t you love it when their meltdowns produce your meltdowns?

Somebody, please hand me a Krembo.

For years, I was luckier than I realized. I had a built-in community and support system in New Jersey. I lived in an educated, middle to upper middle class, health conscious neighborhood. I had a Whole Foods Market ten minutes to the West and one ten minutes to the East. I had a “Holistic Moms” network nearby, five yoga studios to choose from, a “green thumb” and a “wellness” committee at my kids’ schools.

For all that I gained when I moved to a small, country kibbutz in Israel, I lost that wellness-focused community.

And now I have two choices: I can stay angry or I can build…community, that is.

I do both really, really well.

I simply need to choose now, as we all do at some point, which one serves me best.

I recently mentioned to the members of my bi-weekly woman’s “self development” group that I think it’s time I start speaking up — getting “my leader on,” so to speak. On the one hand, it’s been nice living in my bubble, the one in which I pretend like I don’t have much of an opinion and don’t have experience leading community efforts for change. Inside this bubble, I’ve allowed “little Hebrew” to become synonymous for “little voice.”

But the truth is, I have a voice. And it’s loud. And it’s lonely hiding here inside the bubble.

The weakest link

8 Nov

About seven years ago, I completely lost faith in my government.

It’s likely that I was always wary of government and just never really noticed before. I’m not someone who typically submits to or mindlessly accepts authority. On the other hand, before seven years ago, I wouldn’t have called myself an activist either.

Seven years ago, the scaredy cat in me still hoped that my government was doing a good job protecting me from the bad guys.

Seven years ago, I didn’t know how many bad guys I needed protection from.

But then I woke up.

When I woke up, I slowly started to notice a chain that led from the government to my health and my children’s chronic illness.

A chain link of connections beginning with my oldest son’s first allergic reaction to peanuts and then his reflux and then his asthma. A chain link connecting my second son’s colic and his eczema. A chain link connecting my children’s health and the food they were eating and the cleaning products they were being exposed to and the vaccines they were receiving and the sprays that were blanketing the lawns they played in and the water they were drinking from the tap. A chain link connecting their health to their the environment.

And then I woke up to the weakest link.

The chain that was supposed to connect the government to our environment to our food to our water to our big business to our farms to our pharmaceutical companies was broken.

Is broken.

I don’t know when it broke. When profit and political office became more important than protecting our children.

And I don’t know if one man or woman elected to office today can heal my wounds enough to restore my faith in government, but I would really like someone to try.

If your name is on a ballot today, please:

Try being a stand for my children.

Try being a stand for the environment.

Try being a stand for what nourishes our bodies and our minds.

Try fixing the break in the chain.

Connect us again. Heal this country. Heal this planet. Heal our families. Heal yourself.