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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Non-Partisan Look At Food Safety

"Non-partisan" seems to be a pretty big buzzword lately. Maybe because neither parties seem to be doing much of anything useful or good, and who wants to be associated with that? I've been non-partisan, however, for a long time. Since I came of age, it's been pretty obvious to me that neither party was a good idea, that they were both fundamentally broken, and that politics was full of overinflated egomaniacs and liars, all of them crowing to see who could be heard above the rest of the cacophony.

So, when I say "non-partisan", I'm not secretly pulling for any party's agenda. I really mean non-partisan.

I recently read a few articles that have my hackles raised and my eyes rolling. Simultaneously. It's a scary sight, I'm sure. One was about the new GOP "victory" over biodegradable waste. Speaker Boehner triumphantly tweeted that they had gotten the styrofoam cups restored! To the benefit of....who, exactly? The other was a brief article on Grist that mentioned the GOP trying to close down the poison control centers in the United States to save a whopping $27 million...barely a scratch on the surface of the national deficit. And what are the Democrats doing to stop this? Grumbling. Impotently.


The worst part of all of this is that while they do their back and forth power plays, the people are the ones suffering. Poison Control Centers are very important. My mother called that number so many times when I was young, and my siblings and I got into all sorts of things that we shouldn't. I've used it as well, for bites and stings and rashes and chemical burns. It's kept us out of the ER when we didn't need to go, and gotten us there in a hurry when a visit was necessary. Why shut down such a useful service, when it will barely make a dent in the deficit?

Then there's the styrofoam issue. The problem is that the use of styrofoam on Capitol Hill belies a much larger issue. Certain very prominent politicians and public figures are currently denouncing climate change, and anything to do with curtailing the current warming trends. This viewpoint disgusts me because it's as though they are blatantly celebrating all of the more disgusting things about American Culture. It's as though they are perpetuating every negative stereotype simply because they are greedy and have some sort of weird superiority complex. He with the loudest engine wins, even if the oceans are turning into barren wastelands and our food is full of toxins.

It boils down to this. There's no arguing that climate change isn't real; there are miles of studies backing it up. There's no arguing that we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels; they are a finite resource, they destroy the environment, and the prices will never stop going up. There's no arguing that we need to produce less trash; landfills are overflowing and the toxins from plastics and styrofoams are leeching their way into our water and food supply, and thereby into our bodies. These are facts, and even if we can't interpret the data one hundred percent accurately, isn't it worthwhile to take calculated measures to make our world safer and better for the next generation? For our own generation?

There's another fact: that the First World is getting fatter, that we are currently dealing with an obesity epidemic, and that obesity has been shown to be more dangerous than smoking. Big Tobacco panicked when the FDA began regulating their ads and practices, but the health evidence was astounding: tobacco use was addictive and supremely harmful. Now Big Ag and the food industry are panicking too, but the health evidence says all that needs to be said.

Food safety isn't just about pesticides or factory farms or animal welfare or low-calorie school lunches. It can't be boiled down to a regulation here or a better system there. Our country's food system is fundamentally broken, and in order to fix it, we need to work our way back to the sources. It isn't about what's hip or what's currently popular, it's about looking at these chemical laden, environment destroying farms and factories and at all the health problems our country and our children are facing and choosing to do something about it. Blue or red or something else entirely...if we are going to sustain our species, we need to learn to live sustainably.

This is more than styrofoam cups and poison control centers...but if we start de-prioritizing national health in favor of oil and politics, we can't expect our country to last too much longer. It's time to take a look at what actually matters...and legislate from there.  

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