Monday, May 17, 2010

Our Food System is Altering Children's Brains

new study has been published in the June issue of Pediatrics showing a correlation between the pesticide residues found in children’s bodies and a child’s chance of having Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Organophosphates used in commercial farming are designed to wreck the nervous systems of pests, but apparently they are also damaging the architecture of US children’s brains as they develop. 

This topic grabs our attention at Cultural Logic,  because it’s at the intersection of several streams of our work:  helping the general public become more sophisticated about food systems, pesticides, health environments, early childhood development and brain architecture.

Though the evidence being reported on today is clear and provocative and the story has been picked up on by most major media outlets, our past research on health and food systems has shown that this kind of “food scare” won't do much to change people’s thinking or behavior.

From reports like this by CNN, with its accompanying pictures of delicious-looking blueberries and strawberries, people get the message that fruits and vegetables are damaging children’s health -- but that they should not stop giving their children fruits and vegetables.  So where is the solution that makes sense to the average person?  There's no indication that farmers are going to stop using these chemicals.  At most parents are told they should buy organic produce and wash it before eating.  

(This "solution" only manages to re-frame pesticide exposure as a problem of parental poverty and neglectfulness!)

Until the public is given a more useful set of cultural and cognitive models about how the food system works, how it can be changed through public policy and what the real stakes are for the developing bodies of our children, people will eventually have to push this terrible news out of their consciousness as they have other similar stories in the past.