Over the past several months I’ve become much more interested in the quality of what I eat, as well as the cost of eating well. I was diagnosed with leukemia in late March 2010, and went through 19 months of nearly continuous chemotherapy (either IV or pills). The type of leukemia I was diagnosed with is acute myelocytic leukemia, subtype M-3. That particular type of leukemia is diagnosed by analyzing my chromosomes. It’s that ‘deep’ in how it impacts someone’s body. Two of my chromosomes had switched their ‘arms’…also known as translocation (on chromosomes 15 and 17). I wasn’t born with this, or I would have died as an infant. Something caused this change. While I don’t know for sure what it was, I’ve been looking at the impact of nutrition, and more importantly, what types of food are produced in this country.
I had heard vague information about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and how they relate to our food supply. The vast majority of the corn, soy, and canola produced in this country are GMOs. This is a very rudimentary explanation; there is plenty of information online. “GMO” can mean they have had a bacteria that acts as an herbicide (weed killer) injected into the seeds, or a bacteria that acts as a pesticide (bug killer) has been injected into the seeds. These are the seeds that grow up to be our food, and these bacterial/ chemical changes haven’t been tested on humans. Go ahead ! Look it up ! Monsanto (the parent company of the majority of agricultural seeds) says it’s not needed. The mice got sick, but that’s OK. Monsanto came up with the hormones given to cattle to increase milk production. Oh, and Monsanto also made sure that NutraSweet and Equal didn’t require the full amount of testing the FDA originally wanted once they purchased the company that made aspartame. How handy for them ! $ Monsanto is a pesticide and herbicide company… producing our food seeds.
In the years since GMO foods have been around, food allergies and intolerances have increased many times over. High fructose CORN sweetener has contributed to obesity, as it’s added to who knows how many things- and that corn hasn’t been tested on humans. I don’t remember peanut allergies when I was a kid- but now some schools don’t let ANY kid bring the old PB & J in their lunch in case someone in the class is allergic to peanuts. I wonder if it’s the peanuts, or the additives in the peanut butter. Monsanto sure doesn’t want us to know. In fact, they don’t want OUR food labelled saying whether or not it is even a GMO food at all ! Yet many countries refuse to allow our GMO crops within their borders, and/or don’t grow or sell GMO products in their countries. But in the US, it’s just fine.
Here’s a way to identify produce. You know those annoying little stickers on each piece of fruit? The code tells you if they’re organic, conventional (topical pesticides), or GMO. If the number starts with a ‘4’, it’s been grown conventionally. If the sticker number starts with a ‘9’, it’s organic. If it starts with an ‘8’, it’s GMO. “Hate 8, nine is fine” is how I remember that (and four is OK, but needs to be washed well). GMO foods can’t be ‘washed’ of their ‘GMO-ness’… it’s IN the genetic make-up of the product. And you eat whatever that is. Wheat has also been genetically modified for decades, even longer than the others. Rice hasn’t escaped, either. If your steak, bacon, or eggs used to eat corn or soy based feed, you don’t escape in the barnyard, either.
The cooking oil spray you use? More than likely it’s canola or soy. You can get oil misters and add your own organic oils. It’s a bit more expensive, but chemotherapy costs a lot more. The snack foods with corn? GMO. ‘Healthy’ popcorn? GMO. You can look up GMO foods/products online and find out the horrible list. It’s in nearly everything unless you pay attention. It’s possible to get good organic products- but unless it says “USDA Certified Organic”, it may still come from GMO seeds, but is grown organically. It’s a tricky business.
I’m on disability, I’m diabetic, I’m a cancer survivor, and I’ve got a somewhat weakened heart from chemotherapy (so retain sodium/fluids more than I used to). Food quality is important, and my budget is limited. But it’s about priorities. I can’t afford to buy everything ‘organic’. I pick and choose (there are websites that tell about the most important things to buy organic if you don’t go in all the way). I’ve still got some ‘bad’ foods around, but I’m more aware, and make choices that work with my budget. I still get a few things that I really like once in a while, even though they are GMO-ridden. I’m working on that !
I’ll always wonder how much the contamination of the national food supply affected me ending up with leukemia. I’ll never forget the day I got the bill for the first six weeks of being hospitalized, and seeing that the hospital and drug costs alone were $300K+. Nearly a third of a million dollars. For six weeks of a disease that will be monitored for the rest of my life. Medicare ended up with most of that, and I got help from the hospital itself for my part; I didn’t qualify for Medicaid. That didn’t include the doctors. Or the next 17 1/2 months of medications, office visits, chemotherapy in the hospital (I had to be on a monitor), chemotherapy pills (one was $120K/year), lab work, bone marrow biopsies, and heart testing. I’m sure in the time up until then, I didn’t eat $300K+ of any sort of food; organic would have been an overall bargain. I’ve since purchased a Medicare supplement that covers virtually %100 of my part of the cost of being on Medicare. Medicare doesn’t come near to covering the bills without a GOOD supplement (post for another day !).
Become informed. I still need to do a lot more reading, but at least I’m aware of what items are pretty well guaranteed to have GMO crops in them. It’s a staggering list. But learning more gives me the power to change how I’ve done things. If that means I reduce my chances of having to do another round of cancer treatments, it’s worth it. And spending a bit more on quality food may increase my odds in many areas of my health.