….Connecting the Dots…

Why is it important for people with Celiac Disease and/or other auto-immune diseases to be concerned about food safety and why would it be useful to go see Food, Inc.?

Celiac Disease and Auto-immune Disorders

Over the last 65 years, Celiac Disease diagnosis has moved from a pediatric centered, symptomatic diagnosis, to people of all ages increasingly being diagnosed by various tests, scans and more thorough biopsies.  In addition, Celiac Disease has been incorporated into a larger category: autoimmune disorders/diseases. Although I wouldn’t want to jump to any rash collusions, I think that what this means is that we can say with a bit more certainty that our immune systems are severely and continually stressed, most likely jeopardized and/or compromised. Add to the fact that approximately 70% of our immune system is in our “gut”, it makes a person stop and wonder just HOW stressed and/or compromised our immune system is or will be, and what the additional health risks and consequences are of such continuous stressing.
Food Safety
While attending Culinary School, I learned that people with compromised and/or undeveloped immune systems are more likely to be at higher risk for foodborne illnesses. And as a health educator I already know how important it is for people with compromised and/or continually stressed immune systems to be careful what they eat and drink.

Since I started my culinary studies two years ago, incidences of food born illnesses have increased immeasurably.
Some occurrences we know about because they fly above the “news” radar:

and then there are those instances that fly below the “news” radar:

An interesting below the radar article is “Emulsifiers delay staling in gluten-free bread.” The on-line report talks about the various “items” being researched for use in making gluten free bread to extend its shelf life. Although the items/ingredients may be plant based, they are used to “preserve” the product. And these are elements that are NOT listed on the ingredients list. Like the significant bank crisis last year, this year our crisis is with our food: how it’s developed, protected, manufactured, distributed, imported and engineered.

Foodborne Illness
So, when you mix foodborne illnesses such as E.coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Hepatitis, and others, with an already compromised immune system, the risk of infection and illness becomes much greater than to the “healthier” public. According to Bill Marler, “Since the 2002 ConAgra e. coli 0157-H7 outbreak “millions more have been sickened and permanently disabled by food tainted with Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, Campylobacter, and other pathogens. Thousands have lost their lives.” If you don’t already know about Bill Marler and his work in food poisoning outbreaks and litigation, I strongly encourage you to read his blog. Marler is an accomplished, internationally known personal injury and products liability attorney.

Food, Inc.

Food, Inc., is a new documentary currently playing in a theater near you. Variety’s says: “With a constituency limited to anyone who eats, “Food, Inc.” is a civilized horror movie for the socially conscious, the nutritionally curious and the hungry. …it does for the supermarket what “Jaws’” did for the beach — marches straight into the dark side of cutthroat agri-business, corporatized meat and the greedy manipulation of both genetics and the law.” I encourage you to see it, but if you can’t get to see the movie for whatever reason, you can view an extensive interview by PBS ‘s David Brancaccio with David Brenner, director of Food, Inc. Access to the interview video is at the bottom of the page within an article about “The Veggie Libel Laws.” An interesting read, the on-line article says “Veggie Laws limit your right to talk freely about the food you eat.” One of my questions is how come there isn’t a law yet to limit or provide restrictions on the health claims of food products?

The Fragile Web
The first time I saw Food, Inc., I was overwhelmed. I thought I was already doing a lot and had a pretty solid understanding of food “stuff.”…but the movie has so much information, it has taken me 3 viewings to feel like I “get it” all. Living gluten free is a HUGE challenge, and now this….It felt like I was back at the beginning.

Gradually, as I’ve reflected on the film’s messages, I’ve begun to have even MORE questions about what is stressing/compromising our immune systems. I have believed for sometime now, although it hasn’t been “scientifically” proven yet, that gluten is not our only immune trigger. So now I am in even more of a dilemma about where to buy my food. I am fortunate that I can afford to shop in many places or that I live in a place where I can buy local. How do I reconcile what’s available in a conventional store with buying food and products that support my health and well-being? Why, as a consumer, do I have to choose?

And how fragile is the web that supports the commercial food system that feeds those people who can’t buy local, for whatever reason. Although it would seem as if it’s only conglomerates that would be affected, there are people that are and will be affected by the choices that others and I make. So, what are the unintended negative consequences of our choices?

Living in the World
I believe someplace in here it’s important to notice that we are all doing our very best. Whatever I’m doing, no matter how large or small I may think it is, I’m doing it. And when I can, I add a little extra effort in the food safety department.

We live at a time in history when there are many types of “crisis of faith.” There is a lot of information, much of it conflicting. It is becoming harder and harder to know which choice is which. Sometimes for me, it’s not even about which choice is right. Now, I balance my choices on this social activity called eating and my health. When I grew up these were not separate choices.

So, What To Do?
What can you do to care for yourself? Educate yourself. Eat less processed food. See Food, Inc. Buy local. Buy seasonal. Practice seed exchange if you garden. Read “Food Matters” by Mark Bittman. Educate yourself about what goes into your food and what affect it has on your immune system. By the way, do you know who owns the organic companies you buy your food from? Check it out.
Although the landmark Food Safety Bill HR 2749 finally passed the House on July 30, 2009, the law is no where near the President’s desk. You can track the happenings at La Vida Locavore.

Lately, I think we live in a pretty instant and fast paced world. Fixing the food safety system is a big job that can and must be changed.  It’s a brittle and rigid system that could use our care and stewardship. I believe that any change in a system, changes the whole.

Doing is an important part.