The Experiment

For more than a century now, the planet has been under chemical attack. At first, we directed this attack at insects, then at humans, then again at insects, and now again, by default, at humans. It was war, literally and figuratively. Now it is war of another sort, a profit-driven war against life itself.

I recently explored the intertwining of technology, industry, and metaphor in the chemical war on insects and the chemical war on humans at Jstor Daily.

And I have been reading Kristin Lawless’s Formerly Known As Food: How the Industrial Food System is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture. This an excellent place to start digging into the terrible experiment life is being subjected to, with nobody’s consent. Contrary to industry’s leading argument, there’s no “choice” involved here, not when a handful of corporations control most food brands (and, perversely, are subsidized by tax-payers) and refuse to actually tell us what is in that can, plastic wrapped package, or box.

Thousands of types of human-introduced chemicals are in our food, air, water, soil, bodies. Most have never been tested. The testing that does take place is done by the very industries trying to sell the stuff. They use methods and tests that supposedly prove that low dosages are fine — while ignoring peer reviewed experiments showing that low levels are far from harmless, especially at the crucial hormonal/endocrinological level, where tiny amounts essentially create us.

DDT was banned, but not everywhere, and it still persists in the environment, which means we carry it too, all these years later. Glyphosate has been on the market since 1974; in 2015, the WHO declared it a possible carcinogen. It’s probably an endocrine and gene-expression disrupter as well. This weed-killer is poured on the foundation of the world’s human food supply: corn, soy, wheat, oats, barley, canola, barley. GMO and non-GMO; human feed and animal feed; soy and corn are also the sources of ingredients of much processed food. It’s also used to dry crops, to hasten their harvest. We know how Trump’s monstrous pirate gang is perverting the EPA and FDA so a few people can make a killing, literally, for profit, but both agencies have long been adjuncts to industry under the bipartisan corporate system. We have no idea how much glyphosate is in the food system. And that’s just one substance — as Rachel Carson pointed out long ago, almost nobody looks at how all these many introduced substances in the environment (in us) interact with each other.

So what is all this: the explosion of obesity; the lowering of the age of puberty in females; the drop in sperm counts; formerly adult diseases arising in children; cancers exploding in younger age cohorts; attention deficit disorders and autism; the well-known brain damage and psychological distortions caused by lead poisoning?

And here’s the thing: we’re colonized by both the substances in food (sugars, sodium, bad fats, in addition to all the chemicals), which act much like addictive substances, AND advertising from day one. From before day one, actually, since the food a mother eats very much sets the pattern for the baby to come. (Lawless also explores the diminishment of our gut biota after millions of years of co-evolution, by antibiotics, the growth in C-section births, and the decline of breast feeding).

Lawless takes on a lot of topics in this urgent book. On eating, she stresses her “Whole Egg Theory,” that is food that isn’t processed or adulterated. Remember how we were supposed to give up butter and egg yolks and drink skim milk? Well, now we know those were terrible ideas. (Most aisles in the supermarket are worse than unnecessary, very much filled with terrible ideas whose only point is to make someone money.) Michael Pollan‘s mantra maybe helpful here as well: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” — with food being defined as what your great grandmother ate; by this definition, the vast majority of the supermarket isn’t food. (Lawless has some excellent arguments on Pollan’s essential weaknesses.)

Of course Lawless realizes it’s not just a matter of being a “foodie,” or buying organic (a category which is itself undermined by corporate control). This is a huge issue mixing social, cultural, and political factors, notably our virtual serfdom under corporate power and the vast wealth (and health) disparity produced by it.

But consider what industry has succeeded in doing: “it has completely upended American food culture to the point where simple, unadulterated foods are un-American or elitist and foods are are processed and full of environmental chemicals are true American fare.”(They’ve been exporting this pernicious notion, too, of course.) They’ve thrown us the rope of convenience, and in our desperation, we’ve tied it around our necks.

This is a hard book to read: we’ve really dug ourselves and allowed ourselves to be stuffed into, a terrible hole.

2 Responses to “The Experiment”

  1. 1 Ellen September 9, 2018 at 9:08 am

    Yes, a huge amount of food in stores is stupidly unnecessary! It is insanely crazy when something natural is replaced with 6 different chemical versions. I prefer whipped butter, but my store only had 2 brands, and then one. But there were numerous “butter alternatives”. What!!! And people still order egg white dishes in spite of the fact that egg yolks being recognized as actually the part of the egg with the nutrients.

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