Have you heard? It’s a miracle you’re alive. Killers lurk everywhere—on store shelves, in schools, in every home.
Consider just a few of the many things we’re told will cut your life short: bacon (well, really, all meat), sugar, soda, diet soda, plastic of any kind, your kid’s mattress, their clothes, corn, milk, tuna, coffee, makeup, pretty much every personal care product and cleaning solution on the market, your couch, garden hoses, playgrounds, Goldfish Crackers (and pretty much all the snacks your kids love), rain coats, shower curtains (wait . . . no, those just make you fat . . . which of course, also leads to death), wine, vaccinations, modern medicine, modern agriculture, science, sunshine, happiness, joy, laughter, fun . . .
According to one very nervous Twitter-er (Is that right? Twitterer? Twitteree, member of the Twitterati? How about we use Twit), toxins are everywhere!
Over 5000 personal care products contain cancer-causing toxins. See the #greenguidebook on how to protect yrslf. http://t.co/AY0GqRHVC4
— Green and Prosperous (@greenprosperous) September 24, 2015
She’s right. Humans do live among toxins and all sorts of chemicals but that does not mean we’re in danger and doomed to death by poison. Consider the fact that, right now, as you’re reading this article, you’re breathing in argon, neon, helium, methane, and that killer of Superman, krypton? Scary, huh! But don’t worry. Those are just five of the ten gases that make up our atmosphere, you know, the stuff that keeps us all alive.
Another carcinogen—sunshine—is something we all have trouble avoiding. Yet, thanks to the invention of some pretty beneficial sun blocks, clothing manufactured with UV protection, and sunglasses, we can mitigate the risks by blocking those cancer-causing rays. If we were to follow the advice of many of the alarmists who tell us to avoid all toxins at any dose, we’d all turn into agoraphobics—too afraid to leave the house for fear of a sunny day.
I applaud the business savvy of those who have managed to make a buck off this “fear everything!” trend. Jessica Alba has created an empire scaring the crap out of moms about the products they use (and their mothers used and their mother’s mother used). Her company’s goal is to “help you create a safe, non-toxic, and beautiful home” and to achieve that, one must simply purchase her overpriced (and underperforming) products. Nevermind that her products (diapers, dish soap, face cleaner) also contain the very toxic chemicals she warns about. Oops.
Similarly, Vani Hari (The Food Babe) moans and groans about certain preservatives and additives in the foods sold in the grocery store yet endorses many organic food items that contain the very same preservatives and additives she condemns as poison.
Another mom blogger named Robyn O’Brien warns: “80% of the ‘foods’ on supermarket shelves today didn’t exist 100 years ago.” Well, yes, that’s true. But is O’Brien’s analysis of supermarket inventory supposed to indicate some sort of risk of harm?
Those who idealize the past overlook how truly difficult it was to survive 100 years ago. The empirical truth is, things have gotten measurably better since 1915. We’re living longer than ever before; we’re healthier and more fully informed about what it takes to stay healthy longer. Poverty is down, crime is down, and literacy is up. And when it comes to food in the grocery store, feeding one’s family has never been easier. The food options seem endless—from out of season fruits and vegetables, fresh meat that’s deboned and ready to cook, whole aisles dedicated to frozen and ready-made food and canned items that can be stored for months.
Downton Abbey fans yearning for a romanticized past won’t mention what was missing from store shelves in 1915, like the many over-the-counter medicines that are now common—from cold remedies and pain killers to birth control. They don’t talk about how the laundry detergent sold in 1915 was very harsh on one’s skin, leaving it irritated every time you used it (and one’s favorite organic hand lotion to treat such ailments didn’t exist either). Shampoos and soaps also left hair and skin feeling like dry hay.
But don’t worry, the misery won’t last, because in 1915, peopled didn’t live very long. Life expectancy was around 54 (the current age of Julianne Moore, George Clooney, Toby Keith, and Daryl Hannah). Women regularly died in childbirth and kids often died from diseases that we now have vaccinations to prevent. And did I mention losing teeth? Common.
The last hundred years have witnessed unprecedented progress, thanks to the innovations that so many people demonize today. But, of course, Jessica and Robyn and the many other profiteers of fear know chemicals used properly don’t really harm or kill. And that’s what thousands of manufacturers do every single day—utilize chemicals in products in order to extend the shelf life, keep products safe from bacteria, make products more durable, and on and on. There’s a reason chemicals are used: they are effective. Consumers need to keep that fact in mind when they pay premium prices for products that don’t last as long, are fragile or don’t do what they claim to do (for an example of this now common trend, check out the fire storm that erupted this summer over Jessica Alba’s sun block didn’t block much of anything).
It’s fun to appreciate the fashions and culture of a bygone era, but we shouldn’t lose perspective on the benefits our own modern era has brought. And we shouldn’t listen to celebrities who try to profit from fear-mongering.