Thursday, 23 Jan 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Mental note: Buy a cup of coffee for the kind souls who stand at the top of Metro escalators in the freezing cold handing out “Save our Forests” postcards.

As I enter the office, I glance to my left at a stack of newspapers that have accumulated over the past two weeks with articles relating to the Center for Food Safety’s work waiting to be cut out — all in good time. After checking my email and making a cup of tea, I continue some research on food-irradiation issues that I began last week for our policy analyst. The USDA is poised to permit irradiated food to be served in the National School Lunch Program, even though the technology has not been proven safe and merely serves as a “quick fix” for filthy and inhumane meat-processing practices. School lunches already share some responsibility for child obesity, and it enrages me that children would be exposed to further trouble from cafeteria food; the research shows a wide range of health problems in laboratory animals that have eaten irradiated foods. CFS is collaborating on this issue with Public Citizen, a nonprofit working to protect health, safety, and democracy — which reminds me of the next task on my to-do list.

Taking a break from my research, I sit down with my lunch armed with an extensive list of co-ops around the country. I call several of them to ask if they would be willing to receive a bulk mailing of postcards for their customers. These postcards are addressed to the USDA and ask the agency not to allow irradiated food to be served in the National School Lunch Program. Co-ops are wonderful sources for material distribution, and CFS works closely with many to get our publications in the hands of consumers. One success story involves our GE fish campaign, 175,000 of the postcards we produced as part of this campaign have been distributed in 48 states. Since the filing of our legal petitions in May 2001, the FDA has received over 50,000 comments in support of our demands. Of these comments, the majority have resulted from postcards sent to co-ops; the remainder were sent by email.

I write three letters as follow-ups to phone conversations, which will be sent out along with our popular publications “Food Safety Now!” and “Food Safety Review.” Hopefully, the letters will lead to new memberships to assist our efforts; CFS proudly corresponds with 3,000 members. Before leaving for the day, I type out my findings for our policy analyst, record new memberships into the database, and check my email one last time.

Leaving the office, I reflect on the many other activities taking place in the buildings around me. In a country of over 260 million people, it’s hard to believe I make a difference at all. But every footstep leads somewhere and every footstep leaves something behind. The biggest challenge we face is creating a new norm. Normal in our culture consists of not producing one’s own food, or even understanding where it comes from. Normal is bottled water and genetically engineered food. But normal is only that which is defined by society, and we can define a new normal by returning to a more sustainable lifestyle, reconnecting with the natural order, and recognizing the intrinsic value of all life forms.