An Enlightening Conversation
I’ve been following @unhealthytruth (a.k.a. Robyn O’Brien) on Twitter for months. I’m not sure how I discovered her or when I ended up following her, but her tweets are always interesting and informative. One day one of her links lead me to this interview where she shares her story.
In her interview, she explains that she is a former food industry analyst who was insensitive to the rising incidence of food allergies and ignorant about the dangers in our food supply until one of her own children developed an allergy to eggs.
Suddenly she began to research our food, where it comes from, and how it is regulated. She went from operating under the assumption that organic food was a luxury to be enjoyed only by the rich and famous to being a passionate advocate for the organic movement. She founded the Allergy Kids Foundation and wrote the book The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick – And What We Can Do About It.
Her website puts it this way:
A Texas native raised on Twinkies and PoBoys, Robyn O’Brien is a critically-acclaimed author, researcher and mother of four who has leveraged her experience as a food industry analyst to uncovering how one of life’s most basic activities – eating – has become a risk to our health.
Her story fascinates me because I, too, used to roll my eyes at food allergies and consider organics an elitist lifestyle only the wealthy could afford. As my own children developed various food allergies and I watched my gastrointestinal complaints as well as my children’s allergies and skin conditions improve by eating primarily organics and whole foods, I have become passionate about this topic.
I always find it interesting to hear the perspective of someone who was once a doubter and came over to the other side of an issue — any issue — but particularly an issue that is near and dear to my heart.
This week I had the privilege of hearing Robyn O’Brien speak at a luncheon sponsored by Stonyfield Farms. We ate at the highly acclaimed Fork Restaurant in the historic Old City section of Philadelphia.
Fork is a nationally acclaimed New American bistro offering delicious food that is seasonal, fresh and inventive. The menu is printed daily and reflects international influences from around the world. Fork uses only the highest quality ingredients, many of which are supplied by local farmers from throughout the Philadelphia area.
Our lunch menu was created especially for this event, and each course used Stonyfield’s Oikos organic Greek yogurt. Take a look at the main course:
I wish I’d saved the cards they provided us with the description of our meal, but I wasn’t thinking ahead that much! Suffice it to say, it was delicious. (And gluten free!)
We got a chance to chat a bit with Robyn before the event officially started, and then she gave her presentation. I had seen this presentation on YouTube, but hearing her tell her story in person, standing just a few feet away from me, was like hearing it for the first time. Even though I knew what was coming, I had tears in my eyes as she shared her moment of realization that our grocery store foods are not as safe as she once thought they were. I found myself nodding along with her as she shared the information she discovered as she delved into the subject with her analytic approach.
Her question was, how and when did food become unsafe? Why is there such a rising incidence of food allergies? What has changed since we were growing up?
She uncovered the disturbing information that in 1994, big changes were made to our food system when growth hormones were added to our conventional milk supply and genetically modified organisms were allowed into our grains. Even more startling is that other countries chose NOT to allow these same changes to their foods because they were not confident that they were safe. But here in America? We valued profitability over safety and now we have an entire generation of kids suffering for it.
Now she tours the country, sharing the information she has learned and trying to educate and inform. For example, did you know that big food companies such as Kraft and Coca-Cola formulate their products differently for other countries? Her message is that we can have an impact and companies making our food will change their practices if there is consumer demand.
I can’t begin to disseminate the wealth of information she shared in a single blog post, so here is a clip of her presentation. It’s about 20 minutes long. It is SO worth a watch.
Her message is appealing because she is realistic. The two biggest takeaways from her speech are: “It’s about progress, not about perfection.” and “No one can do everything, but everyone can do one thing.”
She urges parents to make one change at a time, even if it’s using 3/4 of a packet of fluorescent powder in your mac-and-cheese. She makes it sound do-able, and she points out that every change helps decrease the toxic load on our kids.
Want to know what you can do right now? Robyn’s site, AllergyKids.com is a great resource.
As Michael Pollan says, we vote with our forks. We can demand that the companies producing the food on grocery store shelves make it safe, both by spreading the word and by purchasing brands that are already producing safe foods. Everyone deserves safe food, especially our children.
I want to thank Stonyfield for providing this opportunity and Robyn for traveling to Philly to share her story. She is truly an inspiration.
Disclosure: For attending this event, we received a copy of Robyn’s book, The Unhealthy Truth, as well as a gift bag including the Stonyfield Yogurt Cookbook.