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20 February 2012

An Organic Journey - One Year Ago

I was talking with a 14 year old boy last year, while he was eating a piece of Little Ceasar's pizza, and I was slicing an organic peach. I sliced the peach for him and his sister and listened as they told me how delicious it was. His sister said, "I just ate a peach yesterday. It wasn't this good." I said, "organic food is always better."

The conversation actually began a few moments earlier, when my daughter told me that the young boy ate a banana skin. I said that was fine, as long as they were our organic bananas.
"Why?" They all inquired.
I explained how non-organic bananas were often grown in bags filled with chemicals to protect them from pests. That if they ate those banana skins they would really be ingesting pesticide residue. I further explained that all non-organic fruit should be peeled before eaten because of chemicals and poisons.
The young boy seemed intrigued. I first wanted to give my disclaimer. The one where I explain that I'm not some radical liberal who jumps on a trendy cause and then takes it to the extreme. (Although my sister would disagree with this.) Instead, I watched my children's father die of cancer.
While he was sick, I was teaching at a local university. I had access to scholarly databases. I researched cancer from my laptop while watching my husband disintegrate from the disease.
I quickly learned that cancer is a guessing game, a waiting game, and a game with unclear rules. But what wasn't unclear were the causes.
The carcinogens and toxins we introduce to our body everyday cause disease. Some of these toxins we can avoid, and some, not so much. I learned that simple sugar (glucose) feeds all the cells in our body.  Ultimately, diet has a major impact on the growth of cancer.
I also discovered antioxidants help the body fight disease. The role of an active life and exercise in battling disease is also well understood.
I learned that not everyone exposed to toxins will get cancer, but that it is possible to decrease the risk.
My organic living is no more a one dimensional decision than cancer is a one dimensional disease.
Not long after George died, I was pretty certain my time was near. I lived in a fog of mortality. Add the stress of grief, to the stress of work, to the stress of raising two children without a father, to an unhealthy diet and lack of consistent exercise habits, and I was closer to death than life for sure. I had to make a choice.
I don't simply want to live long. I want to live healthy. I want to live.
My doctor ran some tests, to ease my mind. Instead of easing my mind, they propelled me into more research. My liver was struggling, fatty liver disease, he said. I toiled with this diagnosis; I don't drink. Aren't liver problems for people who drink?
On my way out of the office, startled, confused, and certain death was looming over me, Wendy, a most comforting English nurse, said, "Melissa, the good thing about your liver is it can heal itself, it can regenerate."
More research. This time what I learned compelled me to change. Diet, the digestive track, exercise and disease, inextricably linked. Not some food pyramid article in the newspaper, or in elementary school health class, but the role of nutrition and diet in living became lucid.
My liver was compared to foie gras (which means fatty liver in French). Feed a duck corn sugar and voila, a delicious liver, a spongy and diseased delicacy. This was happening to my liver.
Liver for dummies: the liver processes every toxin the body is exposed to. When the toxins overload the liver, disease occurs. Toxins are not only in our diets, the unnatural foods we eat, names on labels we can't pronounce, artificial ingredients, high fructose corn syrup, but also in the air we breathe, pollution, smoke, aerosol sprays, laundry soap, air freshners, etc...
My liver was compromised, and I wanted to live to take my grandchildren kayaking, biking, and hiking.
Organic living was not a single decision in a single day, but rather a series of life changes.
I began with the concept of high fructose corn syrup. What I learned is that HFCS and sugar are not all that different. HFCS is a cheaper, chemically created, sweeter version of sugar that is good for the economy. Too much of either is harmful (remember cancer cell growth escalates with too much sugar), but when I'm making my choices, I'll choose real sugar, sparingly.
The Good Human summarizes the comparison of the two fairly well.
While talking to the young man in my kitchen, I stressed that obviously, not everyone gets cancer or dies from disease caused by food, yet most people are living on toxic diets.
We know the link exists, and as for me, I want to reduce my chances. But trying to avoid death is not living.
The real living is in my cooking, a passion of mine, where simply by switching to organic ingredients, my food really does taste better.
The real living is in riding my bike along the beach, or kayaking out back in the river.
The real living is playing with my children and reading good books.
The real living is in teaching and learning and waking up everyday feeling alive.

And as for my health, I feel better. I'm no longer sluggish and lazy. My liver is repairing itself. My mind is less foggy. I feel stronger, healthier, and happier.
These are the cumulative choices:
I buy organic food. I use glass not plastic; plastic is toxic.  I don't use toothpaste with chemicals in it. I don't use chemical anti-persperant. I use natural castile soap in the bath. My shampoo is organic. I clean with all natural products (vinegar and baking soda) Mrs. Meyers and Dr. Bronners are in the house. Perhaps I'm buying into a trend. Perhaps it's all another big irony playing out in my life. I'm making choices.
I really do feel and look better. I really am healthier and happier. And most of all, I really am living.

Later the young man's sister sent me this text. "James just said, I could talk to her for hours."

Works Cited

All linked data connects to the original source of the information.

Donaldson, Michael S. "Nutrition and cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet." Nutrition Journal 2004, 3:19. 20 October 2004. Web.

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