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The Green Life: Mommy Blogger Robyn O'Brien: Don't Be Scared of Your Food

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June 21, 2011

Mommy Blogger Robyn O'Brien: Don't Be Scared of Your Food

Plate of AdditivesWho'd shoot Robyn O’Brien? As messengers go, she's easy to identify with — intelligent, passionate, and a mass of contradictions: a Texan living in Colorado, an advocate for organic who isn’t a foodie. O’Brien, a former food analyst, is a mommy blogger, like most of the women gathered last week at a luncheon hosted by Stonyfield Farms on a San Francisco pier. The organic yogurt producer is sponsoring O’Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth, on a nationwide speaking tour to explain the state of the food industry.

She's been called the Erin Brockovitch of food — but what O’Brien faces is more massive than Brockovitch’s foe. America's food system represents an aggregate of three powers rolled into one complicated monster. Together, the mass production, slaughter, and distribution systems; the enabling legislation; and the willing consumers make change difficult.

“Every single day, I was slinging blue tubes at my kids. I didn’t know how to do anything other than hit ‘start’ on my microwave,” O'Brien said. She became an educator five years ago, when her youngest child's face inflated one morning at breakfast in an allergic reaction. After doing some research, she found that American food wasn’t just food, not anymore. In the 1990s, chemicals, hormones, proteins, and flavors were engineered for the food-production industry. She learned that human bodies aren't reacting well to the alien products. Over the past two decades, children’s allergy rates have exploded, diabetes has become commonplace, and cancer is now the leading cause of death by disease in kids younger than age 15.

“I thought, 'How many sippy cups have I poured this into?' I didn’t want to think that we would have this standard where we would allow things until they were proven dangerous — but at the same time I couldn’t unlearn it.”

O’Brien started spreading the word. She faced major industry backlash but, supported by friends and family, hasn't stopped. She urged the mothers to think of tax-paying and food-purchasing as part of a national family budget. Tax money is going to grow the unhealthy crops, since organic farmers don't get the same aid, which is also why organic foods are more expensive. Americans do end up paying for the cheap stuff, though, in healthcare costs.

So how does one fight the beast? According to O’Brien, one moves it from within. Every time you shop, you vote with your money, she says. Companies count the food, and on the mommy blogs. Congressional aides realize that if you reach out to them, you probably have a lot of people behind you. And companies are capable of change. Everyone’s family is sick. Nobody likes the status quo.

O’Brien told the women at the luncheon to allow themselves to not be perfect. Don’t be paralyzed by fear or mommy guilt. “Do one thing," she said. Shop organic. Skip the corn syrup. Eschew artificial coloring. Educate your kids.

In the backdrop of the bay's blue waters, O’Brien's message rang humble and just. She just wants to share information — something everyone can do. Knowledge is power.

--Juliana Hanle

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