Healthy Luddite or Ill Technophile?

Sunni's picture

I’m not sure if whatever cheer you seven gain from my recent slump being so short–lived will offset my returning to a theme that some may find tiresome. Be that as it may; it’s a topic that is only going to be increasingly important unless (or until) the collapse comes.

Food safety is a growing concern in this country, despite efforts to marginalize or trivialize some of the issues. While I do think some ideas can be taken so far as to border on absurdity (the locavore thing being one I’ve touched on before), much of the movement seems to represent a healthy shift from unquestioning acceptance of the industrializing of food. While some may deride my fondness for The Complete Patient as being largely a niche interest, from sites like it interested individuals can learn that regulatory troubles in one sector aren’t necessarily limited to that sector. The extremely lopsided responses of foodicrats to raw dairy products versus the salmonella–laden eggs that actually sickened many consumers is telling—and it isn’t an isolated example.

And finally, it isn’t just “foodies” who are putting data and threads together, and not liking the patterns that result. Today’s primary exhibit is an excellent essay from someone decidedly not a foodie: How Can We Have A Healthy Economy If Virtually Everything We Eat And Drink Is Constantly Making Us All Sick? by attorney/researcher Michael Snyder. I urge all seven of you—and anyone else who happens to wander in—to read the article in its entirety; it is a bit long but none of it is fluff. All of it is easily understood by a lay reader. His ultimate point:

It is hard to imagine any prosperous economy that is full of sick and dying people. But if we don’t stop constantly poisoning ourselves by what we eat and by what we drink our national health is going to continue to fall apart.

His first example of a poison that’s pervasive in modern foods speaks directly to my point today. If dairy products were obtained in a manner that isn’t harmful to the animals, and not treated as if they themselves are poison in their natural state, why would they need additives like polysorbate 80, or even something as (relatively) benign as glucose? The evidence seems quite clear to me that initially, some technology (viz., pasteurization) helped solve the problem of contamination of milk. However, it came with a price—that being destroying some of the nutritional value of the milk and subsequent products made from it. Those who understand this, and who sell raw milk or raw milk products—and in some places, even those who simply try to buy it for their own consumption—are increasingly targeted by the regulators.

Agribusiness, with its deep pockets and vested interest in maintaining the status quo of technologically–enhanced milk production, is almost certainly behind this to a large degree. More ominous is the regulatory mindset that insists that every thing on this planet must be standardized and sterilized before it can be deemed safe. Scientific evidence shows that idea to be utter, disastrous folly; yet many regulators’ minds are stuck in that paradigm. And they have the power to hold us in its thrall to some degree, too.

That’s just one example—and Snyder’s article mentions just a few, too. We now understand that processed, hydrogenated fats are problematic for our bodies ... monosodium glutamate appears to be bad for everyone, because it’s an excitotoxin ... so is aspartame, a common artificial sweetener ... how many of these technological “improvements” are slowly draining our vitality? How synergistic are their effects? We are the lab rats providing the evidence, even if we don’t want to be; very few of us have the inclination, much less the resources and time, to run a natural farm, with dairy, meats, and produce all raised on site.

The question I headed this ramble with is not (yet) a sincere one; I don’t think one must necessarily become a luddite to be healthy, or will necessarily suffer ill health if one’s a technophile. I did some wondering about technology nearly two years ago, and some of that conversation still seems relevant (this one does too, albeit more tangentially). We don’t know the effects of technological advances until they’ve been with us for a while. The astonishing pace of change today makes it increasingly difficult to pinpoint contributory factors to health problems. But it seems increasingly clear to me that much modern technology in the food area is more dangerous than it is beneficial.

[An interesting side note occurred to me whilst typing away: that recent bout of stress I experienced may have been almost entirely nutritionally driven: I’d stopped taking my usual anti–inflammatory supplements (fish oil, glucosamine, and vitamin C), mostly due to busyness, and then capped it with a junkfood binge that included ice cream and eggnog (at least neither had HFCS). All the crap food is now gone, I’m back on my supplements and eating somewhat better, and feeling better every day for it.]

sufficient to what purpose?

I grabbed this quote from a PBS documentary I watched a year or so ago and I think it somewhat applies to what you've said and what I intend to bring up.

"We don't have a very good vocabulary for what another species does to us - because we think we're the only ones that 'do'."

This was a line from the documentary "Botany of Desire".

Consider as one of many possible examples - the chicken. Contrast the life of an industrially raised chicken versus a chicken raised in a permaculture oriented environment. Consider the amount of preventative pharmaceutical intervention required to raise a chicken in an industrial setting - or the number of these birds that die for various reasons before 'harvest' time. Otoh - contrast the general health and resilience that chickens demonstrate when raised in an open environment where they can pretty much do what chickens tend to do all day long in addition to keeping the garden relatively pest-free. Consider the post-mortem appearance of these birds - the amount of fat versus muscle tissue and the amount of cyst and tumor-like anomalies.

The same metrics apply as well to humans - and that's part of what dictates my own choices in food and lifestyle.


Excellent points, PNO. For anyone who’s interested, PBS has some stuff online on The Botany of Desire; their documentary was based on a book of the same name by Michael Pollan.

Well, I’d rather be healthy than ill...

...whatever the cause.

“We don’t know the effects of technological advances until they’ve been with us for a while. The astonishing pace of change today makes it increasingly difficult to pinpoint contributory factors to health problems. But it seems increasingly clear to me that much modern technology in the food area is more dangerous than it is beneficial.”

Well, we know or can deduce some effects. But I’m not sure how modern “modern technology” is. Kellogg and Graham, e.g., were no slouches in the technological department some 100 years ago when they started manufacturing cereal and crackers, respectively. And canned vegetables were becoming pretty common at that time, too. While overall health has been proceeding downward since.

Margarine came into its own shortly after WWII (now 60 + years ago), and we now know that it isn’t as healthy as once promoted. (Both medical and military experts were appalled at the increased poor health of yound men going off to war even then, for whatever reasons.) In fact, the phobia against fats is so ingrained that we are afraid of any kind of fat. Organ meats, esp. liver, are totally ruled out. Hamburger is sold with fat from 30% on down to 5-7% (and God forbid any burger has OVER 30%). While poultry and all four-footed farm animals are raised solely for leanness (and size), to the detriment of their health and our taste buds.

I can remember when cereals, toast and juice were so promoted for breakfast that this is still approved for diabetics by the ADA. (Think of the carbs/sugar in that breakfast! No wonder Insulin is needed.) While eggs took such a beating in the 60’s that food experts are only now beginning to put them back on the table. And some so-called experts continue to recommend “No more than three eggs a week.”

I really believe we do know what effects modern technology has on foods AND on health — there is enough evidence out there today — but many scientists ignore that evidence in order to keep their jobs, food manufacturers cover it up, the government won’t address it (not that they should) if it doesn’t grease their palms, and the customer is either left in the dark or doesn’t care. Only the non-experts (Michael Pollan, et al) are left to scream Foul. He/they are not all-knowing, and often become hopelessly mired in statistics and exotic solutions, which only confuse the reader — but at least they’re trying to inject some common sense into the subject.

Technology is good... technology can be great — IF it’s used properly and applied safely. But just any technology is not progress by default, and “experts” are not just whoever speaks the loudest.

Not trying to blindly bash all tech

Testify, Sister Pat! We started on this technology path in food when our ancestors first began cooking meat, perhaps, so it is futile to try to eliminate all technology, or to try to tease out “modern” tech from older tech. That said, I can say with utmost certainty that I would much rather eat bacon produced and cured by early 20th century methods than those of today ...

Technology is good... technology can be great — IF it’s used properly and applied safely.

Yes; it wasn’t my intention to trash all technological advances. But I do think that once they become invisible in our lives, we run the risk of not seeing when their use is superseded by newer knowledge and/or technological improvements.