Imagine for a second sitting in your doctor’s office and hearing the one thing you were sure it couldn’t be.
Imagine that you’ve purposefully lived your life – through diet and exercise and priorities – to avoid this exact diagnosis.
Now imagine the doctor explaining there is no cure for this cancer. And that while there are treatments, your cancer hasn’t progressed enough for those treatment to help. That basically, you’ll have to sit and wait until the cancer gets worse before you start to treat it.
My dad, a 2:30 marathoner, a tennis coach, a studied vegetarian, was not one to sit and wait. So when this foreign diagnosis became domestic, he sought to understand how a man who had deliberately made healthy choices throughout his life, had developed multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer.
He read every study he could find. In 2003, the year of his diagnosis, researchers had already found a link between pesticide exposure and multiple myeloma. My father has lived in an agricultural region of California for most of his life. There, where farmers spray crops from the sky, he had unknowingly and involuntarily ingested the pesticides intended for the avocado groves and strawberry patches up the road.
In addition, pesticides seeped into my dad’s system through a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. Though he always washed his produce, even the most vigorous scrubbing won’t remove all pesticides. Some are even powerful enough to pass through the skin of a tomato. (And the outlook is even worse in carnivore-ville. The pesticides that cows, pigs, and chickens ingest accumulate in their tissues before being passed on to the human consumer.)
Instead of feeling helpless against a cancer with no cure, instead of feeling hopeless waiting for his cancer to progress so his doctor could attempt to treat it, he built a battle plan on choices that were still within his power to make.
He learned about organic fruits, vegetables, and dairy. He got to know the stores and markets and farmers who sold them. He even discovered organic foods in the prepackaged and frozen sections of grocery stores.
His decisions weren’t just about his own health. They were about our family’s health. Our farm workers’ health. Our community’s health. Our environment’s health.
My dad shifted from consumer – one who uses things up – to contributor, strengthening a food system through choice.
In my last post, I wrote at length about privilege of choice. And buried somewhere in the long list of choices that landed me on the other side of the equator, I mentioned the privilege to choose one’s diet.
But eating pesticide-free food is more than a personal choice.
It is a vote.
In the words of Michael Pollan, “the wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world…that’s an amazing power that we have.” (More on that here.)
(For those who don’t choose organic because of the upfront extra cost, I recommend reading this Pollen article and the FAQ halfway down this one as well. Pollan offers great advice that fits in well with the theme of choice.)
I’ve been thrilled to partner with Amy’s Kitchen, both on and off the triathlon course. The family-owned vegetarian food company has been supporting my family since my father’s diagnosis in 2003 when we were just learning about organic eating. They make convenient (and delicious) organic food for people who would like to cook from scratch three times a day, but who have prioritized training or parenting or studying or otherwise saving the world.
So why am I in Chile writing about voting with my fork right now?
For two reasons:
- It’s National Organic Month.
- I’m really missing the organic choices I had back home. And in missing them, it drove home the point that I made in my last post – what a privilege it is to be able to choose.
So, what are you voting for today?