I love this YouTube video of two moms trying to out-parent each other on breast feeding, when their children started to crawl and just about everything else. As the parent of three kids, I know the subtle one-upmanship that takes place on the playground a little too well.
What I find particularly fascinating in this video is how it shows that organic food has become the new symbol of uptight parenting. (A few years ago it was being alarmed about high-fructose corn syrup.)
I laugh when I see these videos, but as an environmental researcher, I also know — for a fact — that most children have some measurable levels of pesticide in their bodies. Enough to be concerned about. When they go on an organic diet, those levels go down.
OK, great, so making sure my kid eats organic does lower those levels. Does it matter?
More and more, I’m seeing research that says probably yes. In a study I coauthored, we evaluated data on several different pesticide levels in children that showed that about 40 percent of children in the United States have had enough cumulative exposure to pesticides to cause potential neurological impacts.
The world is full of things that could shave a few IQ points off our kids. Concussions, for example. But what about all those other chemicals my kids are exposed to? Because of the way the laws are set up in this country, the chemical ingredients in most of the products I buy in the market have not been tested for safety — like flame retardants, which California residents have the dubious honor of having the highest levels of in the world.
Flame retardants have also been shown to affect brain development in children. And then there’s the matter of PCBs and lead and mercury, which we all (one hopes) don’t have too much of.
I’m not really sure what happens when my kids ingest pesticides on top of all those other chemicals. I don’t want to find out, and if I don’t have to, then I can choose not to. My strategy as a parent is not to freak out over everything, but to reduce my kids’ exposure to things I know I can control, because maybe it will help offset all those exposures I can’t control.
So here’s the thing: I can choose organic food. I am fortunate to live in the great state of California (stop laughing about how broke and crazy we are). In other parts of the country, organic food can be expensive and hard to find. Here it’s just expensive. And some foods are more important to buy organic than others (generally, anything that can’t be peeled, you should buy organic).
I figure each of my kids has one brain and that’s it. So I have to hedge my bets where I can until the laws are changed and fewer chemicals are coming at my kids from other directions. I want to increase the odds that their brain growth will be maximized.
And I’m hoping that the more brain they have, the fewer battles we’ll have over homework.