Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rotten Apples

The following guest blog was written by Melinda Hicks, holistic mom and co-founder and president of Little Me Tea.

It took us all by surprise. The announcement on The Dr. Oz Show: “Your child’s apple juice may be contaminated with arsenic.” Considering how many of us have given our children copious amounts of this liquid gold, it’s no wonder parents everywhere panicked. Arsenic affects the nervous system and causes cancer—of all types. Dr. Oz himself was shocked and felt duped because he had been a proponent of using apple juice in place of cane sugar.

Should we be worried—or was this just another ruthless ratings scheme inflicted on a gullible public?

First things, first. Scientific results have merit. Dr. Oz and his folks broke the news and I have little doubt that the findings of their extensive testing are accurate. Of course, it caused controversy and some even said it was “scaremongering.”

Shoot the messenger, right?

But stalwart publication, Consumer Reports, echoed the Dr. Oz Show results in their January, 2012 issue. Consumer Reports’ thorough investigation is an eye-opener and well worth the read.
So, what do you think?

Should we blame the beverage manufacturers? After all, it’s their product and their responsibility. How could they not know that their juice was laced with arsenic? Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t. The bottom line is this: if you’re not testing for arsenic, you won’t find it. Beverage manufacturers test for things like nutrient levels and use analyses to determine caloric and sugar content; unless they were concerned about the safety of their beverage—and in particular, arsenic—they would not test for it.

The real question is this: how did the juice become tainted with arsenic in the first place? As Consumer Reports stated, arsenic is prevalent, both as a naturally occurring element and through a number of man-made sources. Lead arsenate insecticides, pressure-treated lumber, coal-fired plants and smelters; they’re all culprits, tripling the amount of natural arsenic existing in the environment. Arsenic is plucked out of the soil by plants and trees and makes its way into the fruit, in the same way that a baby in the womb absorbs the substances that its mother ingests, regardless of how unhealthy those substances may be. Arsenic in the soil = arsenic in the fruit = arsenic in the juice. It’s that simple.

This isn’t scaremongering; it’s simply the facts. Houston, we have a problem.

Blame can be spread across the board: on the pesticide companies, the farmers who sprayed the fruit, and even our own country whose lax regulations allow potentially dangerous products on grocery shelves.

But is that where the blame should end?

We are part of an agricultural blueprint that has taken us far from our roots, toward a cheap and easy model of abundance at any cost. As consumers, we will not tolerate scarcity. At some point during the year, apples cease to grow in the U.S. and yet there they are—right in front of us on in the produce aisle—fat and happy throughout the year. Most of us don’t care how they got there; we’re just glad to see them. We also won’t tolerate imperfection. No spots on my apples, please. How many times have you picked up an apple, noticed a blemish, and flippantly tossed it back to its teetering stack?

We forget that Mother Nature is imperfect. She is also a tough adversary who likes to throw her weight around. Drought, disease, insects; more often than not, the odds are against us. We respond in kind, brandishing our own potent weapons. Chemical warfare is fought on the very fields that are meant to nourish us. The result: bright, spotless apples and plenty of them. While they look pretty and taste even better, they’re quite possibly hiding a dark secret.

But much as I would like to think the problem begins and ends with apples, the alarming fact is that our entire approach to the environment is fraught with reckless abandon toward the consequences of our actions. Leaded gasoline has left soil tainted with lead, which now shows up in our food and beverages. A flame retardant chemical has infiltrated everything on the planet, showing up in the blubber of whales and shockingly, in mothers’ breast milk. Coal plants emit mercury, which rains down from our blue skies and poisons our waterways, making the fish in our oceans risky to eat.

Arsenic in apple juice is yet another symptom of a sick planet. With all the mounting evidence of our self-prescribed poisoning, why are we so shocked to find that a simple bit of nourishment given to our children has also been tainted? Maybe because as mothers, we know that first and foremost, our job is to protect our children. And so when someone lifts the veil and reveals the true picture, we are angry—at those who delivered the message, at those we feel deserve the blame, and at ourselves for putting our children at risk.

What do we do about it? As an advocate for organics, my first question upon hearing the arsenic news was to wonder if organic apple juice contained dangerous level of arsenic. Fortunately, according to Dr. Oz, the levels of arsenic in organic apple juice samples did not exceed the 10ppm limit that the FDA sets for water (a bellwether for how they determined what constitutes dangerous levels). So the first thing that you can do is to buy organic, in all cases; not just apple juice. The idea of purity in this modern age is absurd; we must now deal with the lesser of evils and organic, while not perfect, is the cleanest food you can get in an unclean world. Memorize the Dirty Dozen list, and don’t buy a single conventional item that’s on it. Second, limit the amount of juice your children drink. Most children drink far more juice than is recommended. There are other options: water, milk, herbal teas.

But even more importantly, take action. Some ships have already sailed, but every day, we get the chance to vote with our wallets, to choose a cleaner environment. When we purchase conventional foods, we are giving power to the chemical companies who poison not just our environment, but also our bodies. When we buy caustic cleaners that flow down our sinks and into our water supply, we are in essence saying, “My clean house is more important than my clean body.” When we turn a blind eye to any environmental degradation, we are betraying our children’s future because we know that somewhere down the road, we will have to pay the price.
And make no mistake: we are paying the price. Whoever would have thought that an apple—such an elemental symbol of life itself—would become a representation of so much that is rotten in our world?

Melinda Hicks co-founded Big Time Tea, the parent company of Little Me Tea, in 2008 with her husband, Michael, when their daughter Julia turned four and they realized with great frustration the lack of healthy, low sugar drink options for kids. An avid tea drinker and advocate for an all-natural, organic lifestyle, Melinda began experimenting in her kitchen and created blends of drinks for Julia using caffeine-free teas splashed with organic juices. Julia loved Melinda’s concoctions and so did her friends who came for play dates. Other moms gave such great feedback, support and encouragement that Melinda created Little Me Tea.

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