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Be Natural-Buy Natural


 "We buy natural products in every aspect of
our consumerism. Our food is 90% - 100%
organic, locally grown and mostly seasonal. This
is a choice that nourishes us in our health, but
more importantly, begins to reverse the environmental
degredation and social ills
bred by 50 years of blind industrialism"
­Tyler, Anne & Alaya Hartford, with Gandpa Roger

By Carmela Damico

In college I took a part-time job at a nearby natural foods store. This seemingly insignificant event would change the way I perceived my personal health in relation to that of the earth and environment in profound and permanent ways. I was nineteen at the time and still adhering to the dietary habits of my parents who, for their generation, were nutritional middle-of-the-roaders. They frowned upon things like fast food and TV dinners but were not entirely convinced a meal was a meal unless it contained a hefty portion of meat and ended with dessert. The fact that this "grocery" store in which I was working, was comprised predominantly of a produce department, bulk bin area, supplement aisle and fresh juice section was curious to me. What did these "health food people" eat anyway?

To better understand my new work environment, I began to spend my breaks browsing the book and magazine section. Soon, I was buying these books and magazines and taking them home. Impressed by the respectful, life-affirming perspectives of the natural foods movement and alarmed by the questionable methods of mainstream farming and production, I was soon inspired-for personal, political and environmental reasons-to change the eating habits I had grown up knowing. I came to believe that upon learning the differences between these separate philosophies, any person dedicated to their own health and the health of the planet would change their habits, too, that a preliminary education in the benefits of natural living is all it would take.

Ten years later, this article is an outcome of that belief, a basic rundown on how switching to natural foods and products can begin a ripple effect that will benefit not only you, but your family, the community you live in and the environment, too.

Making the Switch
Upon making the change to natural and organic food, and supplementing my diet with the appropriate vitamins and herbs, I instantly felt like a more responsible and healthy consumer. The truly fortunate results of my change, however, were yet to come. The hypoglycemia I'd suffered from faded away in a couple of years and the hay fever I'd had all my life dissipated, too. My eyes grew brighter, my skin clearer, my hair healthier and shinier. But the most notable effect was the emotional and mental clarity that ensued. A tendency toward severe depression became less pronounced and my overall energy level continually increased. As I consumed more whole foods, my entire being began to feel more whole. My threshold for stress continued to rise, I slept more deeply and got sick less. In short, I became a happier, healthier person better equipped to handle life.

What about consuming a diet chiefly comprised of whole, natural, organic foods brought about such a dramatic improvement in my health? Ironically, for the most part it's what these foods don't contain that make them more healthful.

Pesticides Kill
When we consume conventionally farmed foods, we also consume the chemicals, pesticides, preservatives, hormones and antibiotics that go into their production. These superfluous and insidious ingredients cannot be "washed off." They infiltrate foods on a cellular level and, when consumed on a regular basis, they upset the body's natural balance, deplete the immune system and render vitamins and minerals difficult to assimilate.

Virtually all foods sold at mainstream super-markets, be they processed and packaged items, produce or bread, or dairy and meat, had their beginnings in chemical-laden soil. Non-organic, conventional farming methods employ a heavy usage of pesticides, applied not only to the soil but to the vegetable, fruit or grain, as well. In the case of meat and dairy, the food the animals are given to eat becomes entrenched in that animal's tissue and flesh, milk and eggs. Though most chemical manufacturers claim their products don't permeate the human blood stream, countless scientific studies have suggested otherwise.

In 1987, a National Academy of Sciences report estimated that pesticides cause 1.4 million cases of cancer among Americans per generation, while the EPA considers 30% percent of all insecticides, 60% of all herbicides and 90% of all fungicides to be carcinogenic. This isn't surprising when you consider that each of these chemicals is designed specifically to kill living organisms. How then are these chemicals being lawfully used?

The EPA approved most of the harmful pesticides in use today, and established the guidelines for creating new ones, before the research linking them to cancer and other degenerative diseases had been established. Getting them "disapproved" has been a difficult struggle for the grass roots organizations attempting to do so, since so much financial interest is invested in their propagation. According to the EPA, conventional farmers use 845 million pounds of pesticides yearly. Whenever a resistance is built up against the strain of pesticide by the pest it seeks to kill, a common occurrence, chemical companies invent new, many times more lethal substances to do the job-a profitable endeavor.

While designed to kill, most pesticides themselves don't ever die. Rather, they are carried by the wind through the air, spreading their poison through cities and towns, fields, rivers and reservoirs, wherever they land. According to the EPA, traces of carcinogenic pesticides contaminate the primary sources of drinking water in 38 of our states.

When we buy natural products, we choose not to support the corporations who would, for profit alone, choose to compromise our health. Though most organic foods are a bit more expensive than non-organic ones, conventional food prices fail to reflect the hidden costs they generate. From taxpayers' pockets comes the funding for hazardous waste disposal, pesticide regulation and testing and reparation of environmental damage­lest we mention the damage to the environment that cannot be undone. As science continues to link numerous disorders and disease to dietary and environmental factors, it's a likely assumption that the billions of dollars spent annually on health care could be socked away for healthful retirement if the majority of Americans changed their eating habits.

Hormones in Meat are Harmful
Conventional livestock producers inject their animals with hormones in order to increase their growth, reproductive and milk production rates. Though fervently contested by the spin of the meat and dairy empires, numerous studies in the US, Japan, Canada, Australia and Europe have implicated growth hormones as carcinogenic. At least four of the hormones commonly found in processed milk and meat have been found to contribute to breast, lymphatic, reproductive and thyroid cancers as well as certain tumors of the central nervous system.1

Organic Food is Good for You, the Community and the Environment
One effect the technological age has had in our culture has been the severing of our collective and individual psyches from Mother Earth. Unlike our forefathers had for generations, most of us will never witness our food being grown, harvested or slaughtered. Instead, we expect to pick up what we'll eat, neatly packaged from the store.

The mythic farmer-tanned, over-all clad, dedicated to his land and his way of life-is, sadly, by many accounts, becoming a dying breed. Entire books have been written on this subject-the tragedy of family farms being sucked into the vortex of corporate production conglomerates with whom they can't compete: It's estimated that the US lost more than 650,000 family farms in the nineties. Some corporate farms have converted to organic practices, but the majority of organic farms are still family owned and less than 100 acres. Organic farming is one of the few survival tactics left for family farms. To avoid what the FDA predicts-that soon, no more than 1% of US farms will be family owned and operated-support must be given to these small, organic farms.

You're not just supporting the small farmer when you buy organic, and ensuring that the food you bring to your table is chemical and pesticide free. You're supporting the environment as well as the community you live in.

Three billion tons of topsoil are eroded each year in the US, according to the Soil Conservation Service, an erosion rate that is seven times faster than soil is built up naturally. In organic farming, not only are pesticides and chemical fertilizers eschewed, so are methods of farming that are perilous to the soil. While nurturing the soil with natural compost and manure fertilization and practicing crop rotation, organic farmers build the strength and longevity of the soil, rather than deplete it.

Because of soil depletion, many foods, even if organically grown, may no longer contain enough nutrients for optimum health. Most of us has seen the vast varieties of herbal and vitamin supplements available for enhancing your overall health. Combining a toxin-free, organic diet with enriching vitamins and herbs is the most reliable method of obtaining peak health.

When shopping for organic produce many times you'll find that many items are labeled "local." Purchasing locally grown organic fruits and vegetables helps to support the farmers in your community who needn't employ expensive, energy draining methods of storage and long-distance transportation to get these foods to you. Because of this, local organic produce tastes better and fresher.

What About Non-Food Items?
It's important to remember that any product you rub into your skin, such as lotion or deodorant, is absorbed into your blood stream and must be filtered through the liver. Most Americans have accumulated dangerous levels of toxins in their livers due to the amount of chemicals present in our food and the environment. Many Oriental medicinal traditions consider a toxic liver to be the primary breeding ground for degenerative disease.2 Natural body care products such as soap, deodorant, toothpaste, cosmetics and shampoo are usually cruelty-free and free of synthetic chemicals, usually relying on pure botanical ingredients for their products.

Also many of the companies that manufacture paper products such as paper towels, tissue paper etc. utilize bleaches and other chemicals (whose components don't break down) that during processing are in part released directly into our environment. Whereas recycled, and/or non-toxic products help to reduce our need for natural resources and are safer for all of us.

In fact, if every household in the United States replaced just ONE roll of 1,000 sheet virgin fiber bathroom tissue with a100% recycled one, we could save 373,000,000 trees, 1.48 million cubic feet of landfill space (equal to 1,682 garbage trucks) and 155 million gallons of water. Imagine how much we could save if all households used paper towels, napkins, and other materials from recycled paper all the time? (As quoted by Seventh Generation Co. product information)

Can I Really Make a Difference?
There is a gaping hole in the information being poured out by the mainstream media. This hole is drawn with the ink of "independent studies" funded by special interest groups who would like to convince you that consuming hormones, chemicals, pesticides, additives and preservatives in your food isn't going to harm you, your children or the environment. Clearly, statistics and common sense would tell us otherwise.
Thankfully, we in the Northwest have the freedom to shop at stores that carry natural products, and stores that carry primarily natural products, called "natural food stores." In so doing, we up the chances of our longevity and health. But there are many towns and small cities throughout the US that do not provide their citizens with this option. Pesticide, chemical and hormone free foods and products should be every American's right. For this to happen, power must be shifted from conventional to "green" farmers and institutions. The best way we can possibly hope to bring this change about is to change our buying patterns by refusing to support those companies that produce food and products that prove to be harmful to us and the world we live in.

1 "Moans, Groans & Hormones: the Bad Stuff in Processed Milk", Robert Cohen, (1-201-871-5871), http://www.notmilk.com
2 "Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition", Paul Pitchford, North Atlantic Books, Berkely, CA; 1993