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Know Your Food with Robyn O'Brien -- "Do What You Can."

February 28, 2012 | Jesse Baines

Knowing Your Food with Robyn O'Brien

Robyn O'Brien has been called many things - “food’s Erin Brockovich”, financial analyst and author – but Robyn’s greatest roles are as a mother of four and the founder of the AllergyKids Foundation. Robyn brings compassion, insight and detailed analysis to her research on the health of America’s families and its food system.

Robyn shares her thoughts about getting to know your food with us.

The truth is that I didn’t want to know my food. It was hard enough feeding four kids with limited time and a limited budget. But life has a funny way of teaching you lessons, and when one of my kids had an allergic reaction over breakfast, I was suddenly forced to learn about the ingredients in the foods that I was feeding my family. And while some might consider it a rude awakening, today I am so grateful for this newfound knowledge as it taught me how to better protect the health of the people that I love. And that is a gift.

I am often asked what has been the hardest part about changing the way I feed my family. And it’s a fair question, because it’s not every day that you go from nuking nuggets and serving up prepackaged mac and cheese to actually cooking for four little (and picky) eaters. Breaking our addiction to fast and “convenient” food was hard. Serving up prepackaged meals was easy. Or so I thought. Until the health of my children started to suffer.

When I began to pay attention, I realized how food illiterate I’d become, I learned that we use ingredients in children’s foods in the US (like genetically engineered toxins, artificial growth hormones and dyes) that were either never allowed for use or have been removed from children’s foods in other developed countries. That double standard hit like a bowling ball.

Why hadn’t we placed the same value on the lives of the American children that has been placed on the lives of kids in other developed countries?

When I realized that our American corporations were formulating their products differently for eaters in other countries, I also then realized that they could do the same thing here. We weren’t asking them to reinvent the wheel, just to place the same products on our grocery store shelves.

After all, if certain ingredients aren’t being used in children’s foods in other countries, is it too much to ask for our corporations to do the same thing here? Sure there might be that little naysayer in your head that asks “Who are you to do this?” But hope is the knowledge that change is possible, even when it seems hard to imagine. And each and every single one of us brings unique skills and talent to the world that no one else possesses.

You are a parent, a brother, a child, a sibling, a grandparent, an American who deserves for these ingredients that have the potential to cause harm to be either labeled or removed from the foods we eat here, too, and you have extraordinary insight and talents. You have the ability to create change in the health of your family.

So surround yourself with those that inspire you, be grateful for those who support you, and remember not to make "the perfect" the enemy of "the good".

Give yourself permission to do what you can, where you are, with what you have, because this is about progress not perfection. And remember, you’ve been here before. Remember when you learned how to ride a bike? You were brave, you were strong, you saddled up and tried again and again until you were off and rolling.

You can do the same thing here. Only this time, love is your rocket fuel.

The first step to take is to get rid of the mindset that you have to do something perfectly or not at all. This is about progress not perfection. None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something when it comes to making healthy changes. So pick one thing to get started, like opting for organic milk (and opting out of the milk that contains things like artificial growth hormones) or trying to cut back on the artificial colors (since they are not used in kids’ products in other countries). There is so much that we can do to create the changes we want to see in the health of our families if we give ourselves permission to do it in a unique way and at a pace that works.

Knowing more about your food empowers you to make choices you feel good about. So what small steps will you take to start making a big change in the way your family eats?

Share your own thoughts and ">join our Know Your Food conversation.

Robyn also recently shared her story on why she wants the FDA to label genetically engineered foods with film director Robert Kenner. Learn more about ways that you can begin to inspire changes in the health of your family and the health of the American food supply at www.justlabelit.org.


A little more about Robyn: On Mother’s Day 2009, Random House published Robyn's critically acclaimed book, "The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It," and she has written pieces for the Washington Post, Martha Stewart’s Whole Living and other media. She has been named by SHAPE Magazine as one of 2009’s “Women to Shape the World”, along with First Lady Michelle Obama; was named by Forbes Woman as one of “20 Inspiring Women to Follow on Twitter”; and The Discovery Channel named her one of its “15 Top Visionaries”. In addition, her TEDx talks have been widely received. Robyn’s work is recognized and supported by renowned individuals such as Dr. Oz, Robert Kennedy Jr., Ted Turner, Bonnie Raitt and Prince Charles.

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