What’s Making Our Children Sick? How Industrial Food Is Causing an Epidemic of Chronic Illness, and What Parents (and Doctors) Can Do About It
By Michelle Perro and Vincanne Adams
Chelsea Green Publishing
Cancer. Digestive disorders. Autoimmune disorders. Allergies and asthma. What once was rare or reserved for the elderly now afflicts the young in startling numbers. Indeed, the only reason I am writing this review is because, as a so-called “healthy” twenty-four-year-old, I suffered from dental decay, terrible allergies and eventually duodenal ulcers that drove me to change my diet to save my body.
Michelle Perro, MD and Vincanne Adams, PhD attempt to explore and explain what is causing our children to face such significantly increased rates of disease. Their thesis is that our food supply—the very thing meant to nourish and sustain us—now sows the seeds of our sickness. Genetically modified (GM) foods, glyphosate and other pesticides lead to compromised gut health and set the stage for the rapid, early onset of disease, sometimes even before birth. The book is a densely written, two-hundred-plus pages that combine discussion, stories from the doctor’s practice, history and science.
There is one important thing to note. In this book, the authors use the word “pesticide” according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) definition, which includes herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and other chemicals that all fall under the umbrella term “pesticide.” In other circles, many people use the more common division of pesticides (bugs and other critters), herbicides (grasses and plants) and fungicides as separate divisions or categories, but in the government classification system, everything gets lumped under “pesticides.” The authors also use the word “toxicants” to refer to all the various, potentially damaging chemicals we encounter from the environment and our food.
The book’s main focus is on our food supply, but the two authors do not ignore environmental and other considerations. Rather, the role of environmental and other factors in increasing the toxic burden of the modern world and compromising our immune, genetic and microbial defenses helps explain why some people become far sicker far sooner than others.
Discussing the EPA, Perro and Adams state (page 45), “The EPA’s task has been to monitor the nearly 100,000 chemicals produced in or imported into the United States. Of these 100,000 chemicals, the EPA has only taken action to reduce the risk of over 3,600 chemicals, and it has banned or limited the production or use of only 5. It has not actually regulated a single chemical in the United States since the mid-1980s…. The EPA does not conduct rigorous research on the effects of chemicals.”
What’s Making Our Children Sick? is also careful to explain that just because modern foods and chemicals make us sick does not mean that we all will get sick in the same way, at the same speed or for the same reasons. Genetic, environmental and other factors all play a role in why we become ill. Thus, “not all people will get sick from eating unhealthy foods at the same rate”—but “this does not mean…we should assume that those foods are therefore healthy.”
A great deal of the book (Chapter Six, in particular) discusses the microbiome. The authors report that “some researchers now suggest microbes might themselves be a source of the mucus layer and its associated metabolites.” In other words, that essential protective layer that coats our entire digestive tract—microbes do that! Indeed, that isn’t all that microbes do; certain species can produce folate and other nutrients right where our body can easily absorb them. This means that gut dysbiosis may explain certain nutrient deficiencies even better than dietary factors. Perro and Adams also point to a growing body of research showing that many substances that are not considered or called “antibiotics” act like them when introduced into our bodies. Many things can alter our microbiome, which should lead us to eat and live prudently, lest we damage our first line of defense against all sorts of health problems and diseases.
GMOs are a constant theme throughout the book. There are stories of people who have experienced immense health improvements after they stopped consuming GMOs. Perro and Adams also discuss the history of Monsanto and other agrochemical companies, and the science that shows just how risky it is to flood not only our food supply but all flora and fauna with these freakish chemicals. They rightly note that glyphosate, the main chemical currently used in GM agriculture, first was patented as an antibiotic. From there, it has become the number-one chemical used in food production in America.
The discussion of glyphosate is as depressing as one would expect. As I wrote this review, what popped up in my news feed? All five major brands of orange juice have tested positive for glyphosate. And glyphosate isn’t just in our food. It is also all over our urban landscapes: our city parks, our green spaces, our sidewalks and our lawns. It is in our water, in our bodies and in our babies. While working through the glyphosate chapter, I thought about how many studies show that male animals generally have far worse responses to glyphosate than female animals. Could this be why autism spectrum disorders are far more prevalent among males than females? Studies already show that boys with autism and similar disorders are far more likely to have compromised digestive systems, along with genetic vulnerabilities. Is glyphosate what pulls it all together?
Although the book was a hard read for this dad of five, it is filled with stories of hope. The book describes person after person and family after family who have escaped from the modern pharmaceutical mouse-wheel by moving to real foods that are properly raised and grown and free from the pesticides and toxicants that now define the modern American diet. This is what happened to our family years ago, and it is one of the reasons I became a member and then a chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF). In fact, the book ends by stating what Weston A. Price showed us—that how we grow our food and how we grow our health are intimately interconnected.
My one quibble with the book is the final chapter and its title, “A call to action: warrior moms.” Until men in our culture and nation value the health of their families as much as moms do, the fight to restore our food system to some semblance of sanity is going to remain an extremely difficult uphill battle. It is no surprise that studies and personal experience show that women already tend to care far more about these issues than men do. Women do not need to be stirred to action in this area, but the other roughly 50 percent of the nation does. We need to learn how to appeal to and persuade both men and women. Only if both recognize the great importance of these issues will we truly succeed in saving not just our food supply and farmers, but our future. Two thumbs UP.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2018.