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

Celiac Disease

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 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 percent 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.

Autoimmune Disorders

There are between 80 and 100 disorders and diseases that are classified as autoimmune.  A short list includes: Addisons disease, Alopecia Areata, various forms of Anemia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Celiac Disease, Crohns Disease, Dermatitis Herpetiformis, Type I Diabetes, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Myasthenia Gravis, Osteoporosis, and Psoriasis.

In addition to this specific list of autoimmune disorders, it is important to consider people whose immune systems are under-developed, compromised or fragile.  These people would include young children, people with HIV and AIDS, and the elderly.

Food Safety 

While attending Culinary School in 2007, 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 formal culinary education, reporting of incidences of foodborne illnesses has increased dramatically.  Some reports, I have come to see, fly above the radar and most, sadly, fly below.

Some occurrences we know about because they fly above the “news” radar:

•    peanut butter
•    meat
•    lettuce
•    sprouts

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

•    recalls of raisins because of undeclared sulfites
•    cilantro recalls

An interesting below the radar article is “Emulsifiers delay staling in gluten-free bread.”  This on-line report talks about the various “items” being researched so that the shelf-life of gluten free bread can be extended.  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.  Do we have ANY idea how our liver, intestines, or other vital organs are stressed by these ingredients?

About the same time that the banks went into crisis and were bailed out, thousands became unemployed, and industries and businesses became unstable, we faced another more insidious, silent, and almost invisible crisis with our food: how it’s developed, protected, manufactured, preserved, 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 O157-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.” Marler is an accomplished, internationally known personal injury and products liability attorney.

Food, Inc.

Food, Inc.; a documentary released in June, 2009 and nominated for an Academy Award highlights for viewers how little we know about the food we put on our table or in our mouths.  Upon its release, Variety’s review said: “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 view it, but if you can’t see the movie for whatever reason, you can view an extensive interview by PBS ‘s David Brancaccio with David Brenner, director of Food, Inc. The tag line of the movie pretty much says it all:  “You’ll never look at dinner the same way again.”

In addition to all the other issues that Food, Inc. exposes, there is one that still gives me cause for grave concern.  It’s the issue of the “Veggie Libel Laws.”   These laws typically allow a food manufacturer or processor to sue a person or group who makes disparaging comments about their food products.  I believe these laws limit what people can and cannot say about the quality of their food.  In my opinion, the veggie libel laws are an insidious technique that creates a hostile environment where people are afraid to criticize or honestly comment about products.  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 to eat well and had a pretty solid understanding of food “stuff.”…but the movie has so much information, it’s 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 some time now, although it hasn’t been “scientifically” proven yet, that gluten is not our only immune trigger or aggravante.  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.  But for many the question remains:  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 many people that are and will be affected by the choices that others and I make. I call them the many hands that make our food.  What about them?  So, what are the intended and unintended negative, positive, and unanticipated consequences of our choices?

Living in the World

I feel that speaking and/or writing brings a moment of attention to a thought or action.  So, here I take a moment 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 more often then not, I remember to add 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’s To Do?   

What can you do to care for yourself?

•    Educate yourself.
•    Eat less processed food.
•    Watch Food, Inc. with friends and family.
•    Buy local.
•    Buy seasonal.
•    Practice seed exchange if you garden.
•    Read and use “Food Matters” by Mark Bittman.
•    Use glass instead of plastic and use less plastic.
•    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 here: http://www.good.is/post/buying-organic/

These days, life seems pretty instant and fast paced. Fixing the food safety system is a big job.  It is, I believe, a job worth doing.  The production and distribution system is brittle and rigid and could use our care and stewardship.

I believe that any change in a system, changes the whole.

Doing is the important part.