Lately you may have read in the news about controversy surrounding a partnership between the Komen Foundation (Race for the Cure folks) and Kentucky Fried Chicken (now called just KFC) where KFC is donating money to the Komen Foundation for each special promotional pink bucket of chicken purchased. The gist of the controversy is that many people and organizations have called this Komen-KFC partnership an example of "pink-washing", a term coined by Breast Cancer Action, which describes a situation "when a company purports to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink product, but manufactures products that are linked to the disease". In this case the pink bucket of chicken (grilled or fried) is representative of the multiple food items sold by KFC that are very high in calories/fat, which contribute to being overweight, a scientifically accepted cause of post-menopausal breast cancer, with a second factor being that KFC is an example of the over-representation of fast food establishments in neighborhoods or communities that are considered "food deserts".
In addition, last week the President's Cancer Panel released its newest report called Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, What we can do now, which in a nutshell said that said many more avoidable cancers than currently acknowledged are being caused by pollution, radon gas from the soil, and medical imaging scans in addition to those caused by what are called lifestyle or personal choice behaviors (smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, poor food choices such as inadequate fruits and vegetables), with a call to increased research in this area.
Both have met with an almost astonishing combination of excitement, hope, fury, scolding, polite distancing, and a yawn.
Basically I think these two issues are pitting those who believe that cancer (and other chronic diseases) are pure and simple caused by individual choices of behavior and/or lifestyle factors versus those who see the bigger picture that choices are often formed and limited by the larger environment of which choices are any one person's default choice within their culture.
In our society, we currently have created an environment where it takes a great amount of knowledge, work, and resources to lead a healthy lifestyle whereby each and every day we resist all the advertisements and temptation to do otherwise and don't smoke, choose and have access to good food (healthy, green, fair, affordable), a safe place to exercise, and minimal exposure to pollutants in our air, soil, and water, let alone from articles of daily living like make-up, clothing, carpeting, the lining of food cans, etc, etc.
Cancer is a very tough task-master. No one should be saying that any one person caused their cancer by any one thing they chose to eat (i.e., fried chicken as just one example) or do (or not do) once a year. However, patterns of what we do or do not do or is happening to us, patterns of what is available for us to choose to do based on knowledge, affordablilty and accessibility are important. This is called synergy where 1 + 1 + 1 is equal to more than 3. The concept of synergy works for both ways, (1) what is potentially beneficial, i.e., eating a combination of foods that contain thousands of phytochemicals working together at very low levels that together may interrupt or even reverse cancer processes = a good thing, and also (2) what is potentially harmful, i.e, the low-level of multiple pollutants that each of us has in our body, including, sadly enough, newly-born children, that may also be working together to cause or promote cancer processes, however, in this case, synergy is likely to = a bad thing.
What to do,, what to do? Listen carefully to the messages. Who stands to gain with these types of campaigns or reports? Who is protesting? What is the "agenda" for each of the messengers, whether promoters or those on the backlash side?
Briefly, (because I really want to get outside before it starts raining again) I am troubled by our increasingly unbalanced food and agriculture systems, which make unhealthy food cheap and easily available, our more and more polluted environment, and by partnerships between organizations and funding donors where there is questionable motive, all of which may be increasing disease instead of health and wellness.
Here is how I ended my comments to some of my professional friends about these two news events last week:
• We must be the change we wish to see in the world. ~~ Ghandi
• No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little. ~~ Edmund Burke (1729 - 1797)
• Healthy soil grows healthy food and healthy food nourishes healthy people who create healthy communities. ~~ Angie Tagtow, MS, RD
Change is such an up-hill climb, but we are all here to help each other. I hope that some of what I post on my three blogs, on my website, and in my book is helpful to my readers. :-)
"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"
Diana Dyer, MS, RD