I feed my children chemicals. I do it every single day. They enjoy them and it doesn’t seem to cause them any harm. As a matter of fact, there is not a child, or adult, out there who doesn’t tuck in to a tasty bowlful of chemicals several times a day.
Is this going to be an alarmist, toxin phobic column? Will it make you feel nervous about the accumulating poisons in your body? No way. In fact, I’d like us to embrace chemicals. Steady on there, all you organic living types, I’m not suggesting that we all swig bleach with dinner. Instead, we need to work out what chemicals actually are.
Firstly, there is no such thing as ‘chemical free’ (whatever your shampoo or eco-cleaner says on the label). Practically everything contains molecules that are made through chemical reactions.
Many of these chemicals are natural and healthy parts of our diet. For example, tomatoes and avocados are high in salicylates (also used in household cleaners). Items such as cheese, wine and most fruit and veg will contain nitrogen based amines, which are also used in drugs such as antihistamines or sedatives.
Lots of foods in the grocery section will contain levels of pesticides – no not those sprayed on by farmers. Instead, many plants have evolved to create their own natural pesticides to enable them to survive.
The furore over all chemicals distracts us from distinguishing from ‘good’ and ‘bad’ properties. Separating these into ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ doesn’t help either. Would you prefer the extract of organically grown belladonna or a dose of manufactured sodium hydrogen carbonate? I’d choose the latter (baking soda) rather than the natural, but deadly, plant.
The internet, packed full of information, doesn’t assist us in working out what is healthy for us or the environment. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ science can be found alongside each other, with far more space dedicated to scaremongering. Just type ‘chemicals in food’ into a search engine to see what I mean – there is little balance.
The take-up of studying chemistry at school and further education isn’t quite as low as physics, but it could be better. As a result, a significant proportion of the population, particularly girls, lacks the basic knowledge to unpick manufacturers’ claims.
Our lack of science savvy also means we can turn a blind eye to actions which are not acceptable. Here’s an example. Have you ever put batteries in the black bin? Batteries (however tiny) contain harmful mercury, cadmium or lead which leach into the soil surrounding landfill sites. Even many people who carefully recycle their glass and paper fail to take batteries to the many in-store drop-off points (for example at supermarkets) for recycling.
We can’t escape chemicals, so we need to make the effort to understand more about them. Trusting manufacturers to tell us the whole truth will not suffice. Chemicals can kill and chemicals can harm the environment, but let’s not forget, they also make your body function, your foods grow, and they make you fall in love.