Human beings are a funny lot. Since the 1940s, we’ve studiously developed and deployed over 75,000 unique chemicals for use in food, water, our environment, our pets and even our own bodies. A lot of people are of the opinion that there are agencies at work that have the mandate to protect us and that anything with which we come in contact surely must be safe. Right?
Unfortunately, the emphasis isn’t so much on protect our interests as it is protecting the interests of business. I know this sounds contrary to common sense, but our reality is quite different than what those in power would like us to believe. Things, in fact, are far worse in some areas than could possibly be imagined.
One hotly contested environment that all manner of corporations would like to control is the school cafeteria. Roughly 80% of North American schools have official agreements with Coke or Pepsi, for example, to be official suppliers of beverages. Junk food and carbohydrate-rich meals feature heavily on the menu of most school lunches. With the processed food manufacturers offering generous incentives to school boards to adopt them as sole suppliers, it’s difficult for well-meaning food services managers in the school system to make a difference. Money is a pretty powerful carrot.
I’ve always found it interesting how laws of commerce dictate the socially-accepted norms for behaviour. One of the most amusing — and damaging — issues involves the wholesale addiction to sugar we create in our children. Sure, it’s against the law to give your kid crack cocaine and heroine, but there’s nothing wrong at all with loading your kid up on sugar-laden breakfast cereals, sugar-laden chocolate drink, cookies, jelly beans, crepes, gummy bears, cola, etc. We know that sugar is possibly THE most addictive substance known to humanity, yet we have no trouble whatsoever jacking up our kids on the junk and ruining their bodies. Maybe even their lives.
The problem with chemistry isn’t limited to sugar, though. Many processed foods are rich in calories and almost entirely devoid of nutrition. Any time you see the word “enriched” on a label, understand well that it is a smokescreen to distract you from the grim truth that the base ingredient has been so selectively processed, distilled and refined that it no longer represents the nutritional profile that you’d find in the complex occurring in nature. In an effort to try to keep the junk from killing you outright, they add a few token synthetic vitamins or nutrients to try to make it at least marginally acceptable.
It works, but only to a point. North Americans are nutritionally starved despite their chronic obesity. The North American diet that has so dramatically skewed to processed foods over the last 25 years features a glut of calories — mostly in the form of sugars and high-fructose corn syrup — and a dearth of nutrients. Thanks to the triggers of high carbohydrate intake combined with the lack of nutrients, it’s rather common for somebody to overeat and be exceptionally full while at the same time feeling utterly unsatisfied.
Sugary, sweet desserts fake the satisfaction for a few minutes until the body gets wise to the missing good stuff that sugar content in fruit would normally suggest, i.e., complex vitamins, bioflavinoids and other essential nutrients. Whereas we’ve adapted and evolved to tolerate fructose as a necessary evil to get a load of other good stuff in return, our modern view is that the sweetness itself is the desired attribute. It entirely misses the point.
Environmentally, we spray, pump, bury and dump chemicals all over the place for any number of reasons. In a large number of English-speaking countries, industry even managed to sell industrial waste for use in the water system: fluoride. In these countries, the mass-drugging of the entire population is being served up wholesale, without a shred of scientific evidence to support that ingestion of fluoride improves dental health. On the contrary, fluoride-using countries do not enjoy better dental health than those who abstain from fluoridating the water.
Better Living Through Chemistry? We’ve been taught to think so, but the reality is less convincing.