Healing Our World: Weekly Comment

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

Why Aren’t We Afraid of Our Food?

"The terrible tyranny of the majority..."
-- Ray Bradbury, "Fahrenheit 451"

It is sad, really sad. When it comes right down to it, our leaders are not solely responsible for taking us down the path towards destruction. It is actually just everyday people. People who are afraid to speak their minds, unwilling to hold each other accountable for their actions, resistant to saying when something is right and something is wrong, and who are so willing to rationalize their every poor choice.

And yet, there is such a thing as right and wrong. The majority of people are just so cut off from their hearts, their spirits, and their guts that they don’t know how to recognize right and truth any longer.

Every time people succumb to the mindless tyranny of the Saturday morning cartoon that demands they buy the action figure set for their child; every time we stand in line at 5 am to get that item; every time we drive by a homeless person sleeping in a doorway; every time parents let a baby cry itself to sleep, eventually passing out from fear and exhaustion, so they can get it to sleep through the night faster - we diminish ourselves as human beings.

The latest crises in our food supply are revealing much about the problems with the majority in America. A new Gallup survey concluded that most Americans are not concerned about the recent mad cow scare. Conducted during the first week of January 2004 after the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was discovered in a cow in Washington State, the nationwide survey of 1,000 adults showed that only one in three Americans thought the mad cow situation was a "major problem" or "crisis."

In the same survey, only one in six people expressed worry that they or their families might become victims of the disease caused by mad cow infected animals. An incredible two-thirds of the Americans polled – sixty-five percent - said the situation isn't worrisome. Fifty-three percent said it was a "minor problem" and 12 percent said it was "not a problem at all." Only six percent said the situation was a "crisis" in the U.S.

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) claims that all is well, many organizations and scientists say that the problem is much more serious. Most cattle slaughtered for food are killed when they are young. It is unknown how many of them could have the brain-destroying disease, since it has a long incubation period, and they are slaughtered long before any symptoms show.


Some 35.5 million cattle are slaughtered annually in the United States. (Photo courtesy NIEHS)
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, eats holes in the brains of cattle and is incurable. Humans have been known to develop a relatedbrain-wasting illness, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, from consuming contaminated beef products. Over 300 people have died from this disease, most in Great Britain, which had a mad cow epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Hilltop Inn in Evansville, Indiana, is still serving their deep-fried, egg-battered, cow brain sandwich.

It is ridiculous to believe that only one cow out of the millions processed every year in the United States has the disease. Since only a fraction of one percent of all cows slaughtered are ever tested, the fact that one turned up suggests that there are many more out there.

It is also a fact that the slaughterhouse system has been broken since its creation, resulting in the deaths of at least 7,000 people a year from bacteria-tainted meat from the filthy conditions.

Land animals are not the only ones that are a cause for concern. Around the same time the Gallup survey was taken, a major study was released saying that farm-raised salmon shouldn’t be eaten more than once a month because the fish contain long-lived industrial chemicals that increase the risk of cancer. Among the chemicals present in the fish are PCBs, dioxins, and a number of banned pesticides.

The pelleted food used to feed the farmed salmon is suspected as a source of these contaminants.

The study, "Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon," published in the journal "Science," also said that the risk of eating the contaminated fish detracts from the benefits that some claim accompany the eating of fish.


Salmon products from the British Columbia aquaculture industry. (Photo courtesy B.C. Salmon Farmers Association)
Of course, the government agencies responsible for promoting the health benefits to the heart of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish are the same agencies involved in promoting the sale of fish. Otherwise, they might reveal to the general public what those of us who don’t eat any animal flesh have known for years: that simple flax seeds contain plenty of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Flax seed oil has been available for years and is taken by millions of vegetarians and vegans every day.

The only rational explanation I can think of for this mass ignorance must be that we are profoundly disconnected from the natural world, the cycles of life, and the rhythms of nature. Abusing our environment, ignoring real dangers, and ignoring the cries of pain of our neighbors is easy if you don’ t feel a connection to the world.

There is a recklessness in the way so many people, whether they be politicians, industry leaders, or just everyday citizens, ignore the connections between our individual actions and the destruction of Earth’s life support systems, and therefore their own health.

How can such a profound disconnection be healed? Is it even possible?

I think that people are more afraid than they are willing or able to admit. They think that the only way to live with such bad news from so many parts of their lives is to deny it all.

But Gabrielle Roth, author of "Maps to Ecstasy," says that when the immobilizing energy of unexpressed fear is released, fear can be transformed into what Roth calls its "natural dynamic partner," excitement. When we give appropriate attention and expression to our fears as they arise, then the pent up energy and the paralysis can be released. Roth says, "Fear properly channeled yields wide-awake engagement."

Psychologists have known this for years. And business leaders and politicians know this as well. And the last thing that business and political leaders want is a wide-awake and engaged population.

What if everyone was wide-awake and engaged? If this happened, the face of the world would change overnight. If we were wide-awake and engaged, it would be impossible to tolerate the destruction of our ecosystems and the life support systems of our precious Earth.

If we were wide-awake and engaged, it would be impossible to tolerate the fact that four million children under the age of five die each year from diseases resulting just from unsanitary drinking water. That number increases dramatically if you include those poisoned by industrial wastes contaminating water worldwide.


Vegetables and fruits produced in the United States (Photo by Keith Weller courtesy USDA)
If we were wide-awake and engaged, it would be impossible to tolerate the World Health Organization's estimate that more than 200,000 people are killed by pesticide poisons, worldwide every year. That means 547 men, women and children die every day from pesticide poisoning.

If we were wide-awake and engaged, it would be impossible to tolerate the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on advertising every day, encouraging our children to smoke, drink, and fill their bodies with mind numbing sweets that create learning disabilities for thousands of children in our nation's schools.

But if we were wide-awake and engaged, it would be impossible to shop, now, wouldn't it? We would see the connections between rampant consumerism and environmental and social degradation. We would see that allowing businesses to dump any chemicals down the drain or in the trash would be folly. We would see that the killing of even one innocent woman, man or child in war makes no sense.

By telling us to suppress our natural fears, we are kept in a constant state of low level panic and discomfort. We are then presented with advertising images that assure us that we will feel better if we shop.

Franz Kafka told us, "You can hold yourself back from the suffering of the world: this is something you are free to do ... but perhaps precisely this holding back is the only suffering you might be able to avoid."

Acknowledge and express your fears. They won't consume you. It is totally reasonable to want to eat less meat and fish. It is not a sign of bravery to continue to eat meat and fish in the face of such obvious threats. It is a sign of denial and an intellectual decay that will be the defeat of us all.

The abuse of any industry is fueled by consumer demand. As long as people demand cheap meat, these issues will haunt us. There is overwhelming evidence today that reducing the intake of animal protein in one's diet will greatly reduce the risk of many forms of cancer and heart disease that simply do not show up in cultures whose diet has little meat.

Also, the myth that we need huge amounts of protein in our diets has been shattered. It is virtually impossible to have a protein deficient diet if one eats a variety of plant foods, rice, and potatoes.

Many people misunderstand the reason why they should care about toxic health issues, thinking that prolonging life a few years is all that is at stake. But there is much more at stake. We must act on toxic food crises because they reveal a deep and profound abuse of ecosystems, animals, and the delicate connections that make the Earth work.

With the vast non-meat, nutrition rich food choices we have in today's world, it makes little sense to base one's diet on meat any longer. And in light of the serious contamination issues, eating meat is becoming more and more like a game of roulette - with deadly consequences for the losers.

Once you acknowledge your fears, take advantage of the wide-awake engagement that can follow. You may find that the hollow assurances of our leaders make no sense whatsoever. Take back your life and do what you know in your heart is right.


1. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Demand that they fund the USDA to levels that will allow thorough meat inspection and that they halt the criminal abuses going on in slaughterhouses. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.asp

2. Check out some of the information by those against eating meat at: http://www.meatstinks.com/

3. Keep track of these issues with the Organic Consumers Association at: http://www.purefood.org/

4. Read about protein from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine at: http://www.pcrm.org/health/Info_on_Veg_Diets/protein.asp

5. See a report from the investigative arm of Congress, the General Accounting Office, on the use of hormones and antibiotics in food at: http://www.gao.gov/docdblite/summary.php?rptno=RCED-99-74

6. Get info on reducing and eliminating meat from your diet from: http://www.vegan.com/ and at: http://www.vegan.org/

7. Get foods and products that were made without animal ingredients from: http://www.pangeaveg.com/

8. For meatless recipes, check out the Vegan Chef at: http://www.veganchef.com/archive.htm

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle and the author of "Healing Our World", A Journey from the Darkness Into the Light," available at: http://www.xlibris.com/HealingOurWorld.asp or your local bookstore. His new book of photographs and thoughts on interconnectedness, “Of This Earth, Reflections on Connections,” is now available. Learn about it at: http://ofthisearth.org. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his website at: http://www.healingourworld.com}