The Illusion of Control

A ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are for. 

~John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic

I haven’t quite figured out why this is, but as a survivor I am routinely asked my opinion on all sorts of things I know nothing about. Being me, I opine anyway.

Are you okay that they are putting a CELL PHONE TOWER on the school grounds?

To be sure, we don’t know enough about the dangers of cell phone towers. Technology is moving faster than our ability to know what the risks are, but perhaps the better question is “Do YOU let your kid talk on a cell phone, right next to his brain?”

Do you let your kid eat hot dogs with NITRATES?

I’ll let my kid eat almost anything he is willing to eat…and the occasional hot dog is probably not going to do too much damage. However, you should know that celery juice, the ingredient most companies use as a nitrate substitute actually becomes…you guessed it…a nitrate, with the same risks associated with “regular” sodium nitrate. 

Don’t you buy only ORGANICS?

I’m lucky to live in California where I have ready access to organic produce, and so when I can choose that, I do. I also choose hormone-free meat, non-GMO foods and rBST-free dairy products. The ever-increasing exposure to hormones is equally as problematic as the exposure to pesticides. In fact, in some cases they are one and the same. Case in point: the pesticide Atrazine, most commonly used on corn (which is, of course, a ubiquitous ingredient in American food products), has been proven to cause a hormonal imbalance that actually promoted the development of ovaries and eggs in male frogs.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, with a list of nearly 800 known carcinogenic elements, sometimes it seems that cancer is nearly inescapable. In fact, in 1970 1 in every 11 women were diagnosed with breast cancer. Today it is 1 in 8. Cancer is, by and large, a disease of aging. As such, our cancer risks increase as our life expectancy does. There are risks that are simply associated with living. Humanity has always lived with risks, and our wellness hangs in that balance.

Our global community means we have less control over our environment than ever before. Those of us concerned with the plethora of issues related to the intersection of environment and health are lucky to be part of an emerging trend, and the internet provides ever-increasing access to helpful resources. Some quick examples:

  • Environmental Working Group (EWG) issues an annual list of The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 — those fruits and vegetables that are most and least likely to contain pesticides, so that we can make informed decisions about when to buy organic.
  • Commenweal, a California organization focused on health and wellness, monitors a Safe Cosmetics website which brings pressure to bear on companies in an effort to promote safer, less toxic products. Also check out the EWGs Skin Deep website. Enter a product and learn more!
With tools like these, the ability to read scientific articles, contact experts, share resources and more, we have the ability to make better decisions than ever before. We also, however, have the potential to be swayed by the avalanche of mis-information out there. As consumers we must be careful to take everything we read at face value and to compare opposing points of view, validate data, and seek in some way to quantify findings through multiple sources.
Even then, perhaps the best we can do is keep sight of the fact that so much of life is simply “controlled chaos.” With what we know about cancer today, a diagnosis typically seems to be a random event, influenced by both a plethora of factors, and their cumulative interactions. To be sure, there are things we can control…diet, exercise, and stress, to name a few. I suppose that the more we chose to isolate ourselves, the less risk exposure we have. In seeking control, perhaps we can keep ourselves relatively safe. But is that what life is for?
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