Fear of a Toxic Planet

A common theme I see everywhere in the health space is how toxic our environment has become. Our food, our water, our soil, and pretty much everything is loaded with toxins that will make us sick, give us cancer, and kill us.

Yet despite all these toxins, people aren’t dropping dead. In fact, life expectancies for most countries are continuing to rise. I’ve been skeptical of the entire thesis that our world is a toxic mess and that unless we open our wallets and spend copious amounts of money to protect ourselves from toxins, we are doomed to a worse outcome. Fear sells.

Assuming one doesn’t smoke, do drugs, is at a healthy weight, and keeps alcohol use low, how much benefit does one get from spending their way to better health via “clean products”? I’m guessing not by much, if at all. There will be exceptions, but my guess is we know far less than we claim to know.

Many of the people I see spending their way to better health at Whole Foods or the Farmers Market, develop a transactional mindset to accomplishing their health goals. Buying the best food, the best sports gear, and the best gym membership becomes how they demonstrate to the world and to themselves that health is a priority. Spending money is easier than actually doing something that would yield a measurable benefit. Of course, this is not everyone, but I see this behavior far too often.

The people I see spending the most money on organic food are also the same people that buy a lot of high-end alcohol. Do they subconsciously believe that their grass-fed steak gave them enough “healthy credits” to polish off that bottle of wine? I’ll take my conventional potatoes and no alcohol and we will see who gets better sleep and has a better outcome.

Several years ago I was a member of a local nutrition group based on the principles of Weston A. Price. The group is no longer around, but I did spend a couple of years with them. I never saw a group of people more concerned about the quality of food in my life. They would call local farms and ask them what the animals were fed. They shared spreadsheets of data on where to get the best quality of meats and produce.

Did their obsession with food quality yield them optimal health? Nope. In fact, despite all the effort and money I watched them throw at the problem, their health never seemed to get better. They were fanatic when it came to controlling their food environment and they stressed whenever they didn’t get it 100% right.

fear of a toxic planet

Photo by @cristian_newman

I don’t fear a toxic planet. For a brief moment, the free-range-organic-heirloom people made an impression on me, but as time passed, their case seemed greatly exaggerated. I’ll freely admit that my bias is to be frugal. But being a peasant has served my health well. And I honestly don’t see how having this toxic planet viewpoint can be useful.

Toxins are stored in our body fat. The best way to reduce toxin load is to not be heavy. This means if you are already heavy, you will need a plan and some willpower to get lean. You can’t buy that at the Farmers Market or Whole Foods.

Doing a Potato Hack or High-Intensity Training will do more for your health than the most organic superfood you can buy.

If you are already lean and can afford to spend money on the highest quality food, knock yourself out, but don’t be deluded into thinking you have a major health edge over the rest of us. That is my view.

In my next post, I will cover a dirt-cheap plan for reducing toxins.


Add yours

  1. Hi MAS –

    I’ve been looking forward to this piece since you teased it a few weeks back. Thanks for posting. I agree with you that the health benefits of the organic movement may be over rated. If nothing else, think of all the organic “junk food” you can find at Whole Foods or any supermarket. Organic potato chips fried in organic canola oil? C’mon. Perhaps you should add avoiding junk food to your list of factors that drive health outcomes (or is that part of maintaing a healthy weight?).

    While recognizing this wasn’t the point of your post, I do think the local food movement and farmers’ markets have some distinct non-health benefits to recommend them. To me, the ethical component – care for the land and proper husbandry of animals – is one. Supporting local producers over big agribusiness by investing my spending in my local community is another. Growing personal relationships with food producers is yet another. It’s hard to have a realtionship with Earthbound Farms, but I can get to know my local farmers and get more information about growing and preparing their foods.

    So I still think there may be a good reason for supporting local farmers by buying at farmers’ markets or through a CSA even if the food is more expensive. I just don’t do it for the purported health benefits.

  2. Everyone owns a bioremediation plant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioremediation) , if they care to feed and nurture it. It lives in our gut. Gut bacteria have all sorts of tricks for dealing with toxins, even radiation.

  3. @Geoff, thank you for that thoughtful comment – I agree with every word.

  4. @Geoff – I do like the Farmers Market for sourcing offal. Getting liver and kidney as clean as possible is a good thing. But $5 for a fistful of kale? Never. 🙂

  5. Love the phrase “a fistful of kale”. Makes me think of an alternate universe with vegan Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Kale” starring a young, up and coming green smooth conniseur named Clint Eastwood – “When a man’s got kale in his pockets he begins to appreciate peace.”

    $5 for a fistful of kale is steep, I agree. They must be gouging Seattle with “city slicker” prices, MAS. Where I live the “farmer’s market premium” isn’t that bad. I also tend to hit the market near the end of the day to score better bargains.

  6. @Geoff – One of my unfinished post ideas was to break down the economics of nutrition at the Farmers Market. https://criticalmas.org/2014/08/blog-drafts-never-finished/

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