Understanding the Shifts in Human Nutrition – The Role of Chemicals (Part 2)

In last week’s article I began to analyse the ways in which our perceptions of the food we eat differs from that of our forebears. I pointed out that it would be very difficult for any modern person to maintain that all of his or her food supply is completely natural (one of the central aspects of a ‘pre modern’ understanding of food). The main reason for this is the fact that many chemicals are finding their way into our diets. Among these chemicals the most important, and harmful, is pesticides.

The widespread use of pesticides made a significant contribution to the superabundance of food that we see around us. The fact that they allowed farmers to bring ‘healthy’ crops to the market with clockwork-like regularity means that food security is much less of an issue today than it was a century ago. This perception of security came at a huge price however. It does not take a medical genius to work out that something that is used to kill a certain organism could also be harmful to other life forms!
Many companies do their best to assure us of the fact that they only use ‘safe’ pesticides. The fact is however that the build-up of even supposedly safe chemicals in our systems can be extremely harmful over the long run. The potential for harm will obviously increase with the amounts to which an individual is exposed and the length of exposure. The news is very bad on both counts! The Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA) estimates that North Americans can experience up to seventy daily exposures to traces of the most harmful form of pesticides namely ‘Persistent Organic Pollutants’ (POP’s). So pervasive are POP’s in our diets that analyses of chemical residue data found traces of them in all food groups.