It was at the emergency room that former food industry analyst turned passionate food activist, and mother of four, Robyn McCord O’Brien learned just how serious food allergies can be. When her youngest daughter had a violent allergic reaction, everything changed for Robyn. She started researching food allergens, which led her to co-found the Allergy Kids foundation and write The Unhealthy Truth: One Mother’s Shocking Investigation into the Dangers of America’s Food Supply – and What Every Family Can Do to Protect Itself.
Robyn was recently honored for her efforts to clean up our food supply with the Green Parent Award from Hollywood’s Environmental Media Association. I caught up with Robyn by phone shortly after she returned from Hollywood. Here’s what I learned about her mission and our food supply.
Moms Clean Air Force: It sounds like your child’s allergic reaction was sort of a punch to the gut!
Robin O’Brien: Once that happened, I started reading the labels on all the foods I was feeding my kids. I realized I was totally illiterate! I grew up in Houston. When I had my kids, I thought if something was on the shelf it was safe.
As I did more research and looked at the data, I realized that we were at a crisis point for our kids. It’s estimated that two kids in every classroom today – that’s one in every 15 kids – has food allergies.There’s so much stuff in our food we don’t know about! (Tweet this)
Is the problem particularly bad in the U.S.?
Yes, there’s a double standard between what Americans get and what Europeans get. American food companies produce food to higher standards overseas because our trading partners don’t allow GMOs (genetically modified organisms). But if they can produce safe food for overseas, why not here? Of course, they can do it. We just need to show there’s demand for it.
Other countries link food dyes and hyperactivity in kids. The Europeans conduct more studies. Here, we have multinational corporations like Coke, Pepsi and Doritos dominating the conversation, advertising during the Superbowl. It’s created more acceptance here for poor quality, unsafe food.
It sounds like you think the marketplace, and what people buy and what they spend their money on can make a difference. That’s a big focus for me too.
We can definitely create change through the marketplace. That’s exciting because it creates the opportunity to develop safe food product lines. And that’s true whether it’s General Mills or a start up food company. The key thing to keep in mind is this: we have a food system that no longer works for our families. But we also have the opportunity to create a system that does.
I’ve been under the impression that we’ve made a lot of gains with organic food.
It’s crazy, but only 1% of food is under organic production.
Are any companies doing the right thing?
Costco is working with its farmers to convert to organic. Other companies are making their own private label brands to meet growing consumer demand. Kroger has introduced an organic line under their own private label. Then there are companies like Stoneyfield, which are organic.
Do you think there’s a connection between the increasing use of GMOs to produce food and the allergies kids suffer?
I don’t have the science background to state that definitively, but a correlation of this magnitude merits investigation. These allergies are increasing at the same time use of both GMOs and glyphosate, the pesticide also known as RoundUp, have taken off.
What advice do you have for parents who think their kids may have an allergy but haven’t yet been diagnosed?
See a pediatrician right away. Then, see an allergist. Whether your child is having an acute reaction, or a rash, eczema, runny nose or itchy eyes, get your child tested so you can figure out what foods might be triggering those responses.
Rotating the diet is critical. Don’t keep eating the same foods day after day after day. Think of your digestive system as a set of pipes. If your child is eating food loaded with artificial ingredients, it’s corroding your digestive pipes. Get back to the basics of eating real food. Have a healthy diet in rotation. It’s not rocket science. Our grandmothers knew this. We lost this literacy of what food can do. But we can get it back.
What about school lunches?
I’m on the advisory board of Chartwells, which serves 2 million lunches a day. School lunch programs have maybe $1.20 to feed a child a lunch a day. As you can imagine, there’s not a lot of safe nutrition packed into that lunch. If possible, moms should pack their own lunches for their kids.
Do you have any words of encouragement for Moms Clean Air Force members?
The health of American children is pretty dire. The good news is, we have power every day in what we choose to shop for. Let’s use it!
WATCH Robyn O’Brien’s famous TEDx HERE.