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Should We Fear Our Food?

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Irradiated Food continued...

The Potential Danger
Though most food scientists point to a 50year research history showing irradiation to be safe, some activist groups claim that the process changes food flavor, destroys nutrients, and forms compounds called unique radiolytic products that may raise the risk of cancer.

Should You Worry?
Dozens of scientific organizations around the world have concluded that irradiation is safe. "There's no scientific basis for concern," says Anna Resurreccion, Ph.D., a professor of food science and technology at the University of Georgia, Griffin. Knocking electrons around in food does form unique radiolytic products, she says, but the low doses of irradiation needed to kill germs aren't powerful enough to produce harmful levels of the compounds. As for taste, "There's absolutely no difference," says Resurreccion. "The only difference is that irradiated food is safer. Why are people dying from eating contaminated spinach when technology is available to reduce or eliminate the problem?"

In the wake of recent E. coli outbreaks, consumer organizations are taking a fresh look at irradiation. But you may not find irradiated food on grocery shelves. Says Foreman: "It must carry a label showing it's irradiated," [a flowerlike image surrounded by a broken circle] "and many people won't buy it." Which just goes to show that it's smart to educate yourself fully about technology's impact on food, so that unsubstantiated fears won't turn you away from healthy choices.

A Year of Sustainable Eating

Tired of living on food that traveled hundreds to thousands of miles — and guzzled gallons of gas along the way — to reach their home in Arizona, awardwinning author Barbara Kingsolver, her husband, Steven L. Hopp, and their two daughters, Camille, 20, and Lily, 10, decided to embark on an experiment. When they moved to their farm in the Appalachian Mountains to be near family, they also made another change: For one year they followed a local/sustainable diet, eating only what they grew themselves or bought from area farms, markets, and food makers — no fast food, no excuses. Their new memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, details how this family learned to think globally and eat locally.

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