At breakfast, Jeffrey announced that his brown rice cereal had arsenic in it.
I think I just nodded and maybe said, "Oh, yeah?" as I surveyed the leftover boxes of crackers from New Year's and mentally calculated if I had enough to last the week for lunches.
"Yeah, the Consumer Reports said that all rice has arsenic in it and that you are basically poisoning yourself if you eat it." And he took another ecstatic slurp of his cereal.
"Well, that's awful," I said as I rolled his roast beef slices up in a paper towel to dry them, because if I don't, muh GAWD at the juices and seriously, do I expect him to eat juices? Then...
"Wait, what? Consumer Reports said what about rice?"
"It's full of arsenic. You're POISONING ME!" He grinned at me, then fell out of his chair making awful Walking Dead zombie gargling noises because he hadn't had his meds yet and also, because he's twelve.
"Get off the floor and bring me that magazine," I said, because really? Reeeaaaallllyyyyy?
Now there's ANOTHER food to worry about?
When River was born almost eight years ago (pause to let y'all who've been with me a while soak THAT one in,) I went pretty crunchy. I clean with vinegar, essential oils, and a few all-natural store-bought sprays, I stopped using paper towels in the kitchen (except for roast beef juice removal, obviously), I started buying more organic foods. This was problematic for Jeffrey and Will, who were all about minty-fresh toilet bowls and neon-colored breakfast pastries filled with something that was part sugar, part food dye, and part...what? Gummy "food product" that tastes like a strawberry's more lurid bedroom fantasies? Anyway, the boys were not keen on the whole eating-real-food thing, but after Jeffrey read a few books and articles about the subject, he also embraced my loathing of high fructose corn syrup and processed foods and, with a few exceptions, was fine with the replacement foods. (River, of course, had always had a crunchy mama and had grown up being able to say, in her piping little fairy voice, "High fruit syrup is baaaaaaaad." Sniff. I miss my little tree-hugging bitsy toddler.)
One thing both kids loved was brown rice cereal. This is basically smished up brown rice--think grits or cream of wheat --that you heat up with water so it makes a gruel. It is CRAZY expensive (the one store that carries it around here only has the organic kind,) but it is the one thing they will both eat without groaning, so I pay up the $7 a bag every month with a smile on my face. Turns out, I am poisoning the kids with their favorite food.
Jeffrey was straight up right about the Consumer Reports article. You can read it here. You also could have read a similar report in 2012, when the magazine did another study about rice. Jeffrey didn't have a subscription then, so I missed out. Dang it! Three whole years when I could have been worrying just a little bit more about my children's diet. All that time wasted...
As I tossed out the leftover bag of rice cereal (which has more arsenic in one serving that CR recommends for a week--*edited to add: rechecked the 2012 study and found that my specific brand, because it is organic, actually has less than that, but I would be over the limit just serving one more rice dish a week) and checked to see where my basmati rice was grown (TEXAS--where the highest concentration of arsenic was found--they go big or go home in Texas,) I started thinking about how obnoxious it was that we have to be told to worry about our food.
Think about it: we have to be told that our salad will give us e coli, our chicken will give us salmonella, our tuna was processed in a listeria-laden factory. We are warned about the dangers of processed-soy products and informed that the waffles we bought last Tuesday contain fillers that are likely sawdust and IT'S OKAY. Did you know that most foods processed in America have an acceptable base level for insects and animal hair and feces? IT'S TRUE. (Trust me, this is not the grossest food news that is out there in this world. Allow me not to tell you about the disturbing article I came across which detailed how Chinese food producers source human hair from barber shops to get the cysteine from it so they could make soy sauce. I just...no.)
Now, obviously, it is occasionally hard not to get hair or other weird stuff into your food when you're cooking at home. I have a beagle, which means that almost every meal is going to come with at least one of his hairs, because he has roughly 280 kajillion of them, which apparently fall out and regrow overnight, congregating every morning on the kitchen floor. And just last night, I fished a dead ant from the fall's invasion out of the last teaspoon of my kosher salt. I just shrugged and went on making my pizza crust. The difference is...this is MY hair and ant. I know exactly how clean (or not clean) the surfaces of my kitchen, the blades of my knife, and the bottoms of my pots are. So I don't wig out about the fur or ants.
But I AM wigging out about how dependent I am on an agency or magazine to tell me if my food is safe. Or, if not wigging out, at least tossing out the stuff that I don't need (like rice cereal when I have perfectly safe grits or oatmeal that they can also eat) or researching ways to make the things that we enjoy. I'm also re-committed to planting a garden this year, which is why I already have onions sprouting on my window sill and why I went out and got a bunch of lettuce, broccoli, and mustard seed to plant today. It just seems silly to have the time, resources, and land available to produce more of our food and NOT do that, you know?
Maybe I can find a grain substitute that will work, like amaranth. I'll have to get Jeffrey to check Consumer Reports about the best kind of seed to buy...one without, you know, arsenic.