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Sarah Skaluba: Food for thought

By Sarah Skaluba, Opinion Columnist
Published November 15, 2012

Welcome to the United States of America. We’ve held the gold medal for “fattest” country in the developed world for quite some time now, yet have unfortunately made very few genuine efforts to remove ourselves from the not-so-coveted distinction.

In a country where Mickey D’s is located a mere 10 feet from your local Whole Foods Market, a rather remarkable juxtaposition of food cultures exists. We have the granola people — those of us who covet locally-grown, organic meals free of pesticides and Genetically Modified Organisms — on one side, and, on the other, we have the consumer-driven, mass-produced food culture of big America — big corporations, big government and even bigger consequences for the consumers. So is there a happy medium out there? Can our nation be health conscious but not overly regulated by the federal government?

The presidential elections have come and gone. President Barack Obama was re-elected, Mitt Romney conceded and things are slowly returning to a state of everyday blandness — no more campaigns bombarding us, no more students in Angell Hall pestering us to vote and no more drunken, ideological conversations with friends about who should be running our nation. OK, that’s old news — I get it. But did anything else of major significance occur this past election? Yes. As a matter of fact, something did happen. The American people finally spoke up about their health and well-being. So let’s cheer to that, shall we?

But in all seriousness, it was a pleasant surprise to find so many health-conscious proposals on the ballots this election cycle. Though they didn’t all pass by popular vote, at least we know the American people are starting to take a greater interest in their health and exactly what they’re putting into their bodies. On Election Day, proposals across the nation ranged from whether or not marijuana has reasonable medicinal uses to whether certain food labels should be required in the state of California.

The latter raises an important question about what we, as consumers, have the right to know about the food we’re eating on a daily basis. GMOs are used in more than three-fourths of the processed foods we’ve come to know and love. Even raw produce and soy products are being genetically engineered. Yet here in the ever-savvy United States, we don’t require food companies to label products containing GMOs, which have been continuously linked to health concerns and environmental damage — every granola lover’s worst nightmares.

So why am I blabbering on about food labels and genetically engineered produce? One: because eating is clearly one my favorite hobbies. And two: because this actually poses a serious problem for all of us. I mean, if the entire European Union, for that matter, Russia, China and Japan have all imposed strict GMO policies and required food companies to label these products, then why is the United States not following suit? If one state were to set an example for the rest of the United States, it would’ve been California. California’s Proposal 37 would've required the entire food industry to inform consumers as to whether or not their products contain GMOs by labeling food packaging.

But unfortunately, this proposal didn’t pass on Election Day. Only 47 percent of Californians supported the idea, giving the food industry the OK to carry on their big profit, low nutrition mentality. So yes, that may have been a bust in the realm of public health consciousness and well-being, but let’s just be thankful our nation is starting to move — or at least crawl — in a healthier direction.

On a more positive note, North Dakota did ban smoking in public places, making three-fifths of our nation officially smoke-free. So at least we’ll be able to enjoy our GMO-packed meals without suffering from secondhand smoke the next time we go out to dinner. It may be slow, but it’s progress nonetheless.

Sarah Skaluba can be reached at sskaluba@umich.edu.


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