I grew up eating junk and I’m fine

junk food

The other day I was talking to someone about cutting processed food out of my diet, she said (with some irritation), “Well, I grew up eating junk food and I’m just fine!”

It reminded me of when car seat belts first were installed (before children’s car seats). A friend at the time told me, “Well, I’m not going to use them and I’m certainly not forcing my kids to wear them. When I was growing up, we had a station wagon and we kids played in the back on our trip across the country and back and believe it or not, we survived!”

These responses fascinate me. They infer that respondents don’t believe that something new could possibly have been discovered, that their own experience is the basis on which they make all decisions and that they know for certain that nothing we do or have done in our lives may affect us in the future.

So when thinking about why the rates for so many diseases have soared (from cancers to autism to diabetes), I don’t need to wonder why it is difficult for people to accept that perhaps something they are eating or in their environment, could be triggering, creating or worsening these problems.

Let’s face it. We mostly live on autopilot. It’s easier that way. And when confronted with an idea that runs counter to desires or habits, the “…and I’m fine” response pops out. And once it has, people feel the need to defend it.

Anyone who is involved in sustainability hopes to influence people to change their minds about a huge variety of issues from thinking there is such a thing as “clean coal,” to eliminating BPA from cash register receipts to substituting healthier alternatives for Halloween candy. We’ve all run into people whose reaction to our thinking is, “Hey, I lived next door to a cement plant and I’m fine.” “Or I was raised on soda and candy and I’m not fat,” or, well, you get the idea.

I would wish that when we are approached with a new idea, even when it runs counter to what we believe, we would be open to the possibility that we, or our doctors or our government officials could be wrong. I’m not saying we or they are or that every new idea merits our immediate adoption. But new discoveries are being made all the time about how the environment affects our health and the health of the planet. Is every one definitively proven? Nope. But if we automatically react to those that run counter to our own experience or thinking, how does that help anything?

Will cutting processed food (primarily laden with GMOs) out of my diet prolong my life or make it less likely that I develop the host of diseases these products can cause? Is it too late for me? Too late for the planet? I don’t know. But I do believe it’s worth my time to evaluate new information rather than automatically reject it.

The downsides of investigating when new ideas come up are: 1. I may end up confused by conflicting information and 2. Research is time-consuming.

But for me, it’s worth the time, trouble and mucking about in gray areas to know I’ve done my best to understand and come to a conclusion that works for me.

I don’t trust my own judgment on autopilot. Should you?

Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and authors of  Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, and founders of Green Halloween®.

CC Image by cattisb via Flickr


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I grew up eating junk and I’m fine — 7 Comments

  1. Great post! A big problem with “running on auto-pilot” is that corporate paid advertising is what really drives decisions—not something the people actually think for themselves. That advertising is put there to shape thinking and drive dollars. Period. I am not bashing ads–that’s how businesses let themselves be known. I just suggest that people do the research and understand what decisions they make. I grew up on junk food, too. But I now know a lot more about that food than I did and make decisions based on what I know now.

  2. Thank you! People tend to get quite defensive when being introduced to a new idea… even if it’s better for them. Something else I’m always surprised at is how much ‘good’, ‘sustainable’, ‘natural’ products or ideas are questioned and scrutinized. The ‘bad’ stuff never gets so much scrutiny!! It boggles the mind. Thanks for a great article.

  3. That’s why I refused to give up animal fats when the gov’t banned them from public food services as a response to heavy lobbying from the veg oil corporations who make millions, not because it isn’t good for you. Clogged arteries and heart problems increased almost 80% from that date to the mid 90s and continues at an alarming rate. Does that mean I give my daughter (who became vegetarian a few years back) a hard time? Absolutely not. It’s her business. Makes her own creams and milks, etc. However, I have noticed that her family has had increased medical problems ever since then, and need a closet full of vitamins. (processed man-made vitamins) Everything new isn’t always right; but, in my opinion, junk food is always wrong for your body. People don’t look into things because it’s takes time and effort. Excellent post. But, the ones reading it aren’t the ones needing it. [Stepping off soapbox.]
    SharleneT recently posted..Tallow 2012 – Too Late Smart!

  4. Great post! I get frustrated with this “logic”, too. When my son was a baby and toddler, I was amazed at how many people (including, once, a total stranger!) would butt in to tell me that it wasn’t “safe” to walk on the sidewalk carrying him because it was cold outside and therefore we should ride in their car without a carseat! Once, when someone at church was trying to insist on this, saying, “I had a carseat, and I’m still alive!” another lady stepped in to say firmly, “I grew up as one of nine kids who rode around in the back of the station wagon without seatbelts. Now I’m one of eight kids who have to live with the memory of seeing our sister’s brain on the asphalt.” Yikes! But it certainly makes the point that those of us who survived are not the only ones who were exposed to the risk.

    I do, though, calm my worries about my kid’s diet by thinking of my childhood friend who was brilliant and got straight A’s all through school and was slim and healthy, despite eating Super Sugar Crisp, Wonder Bread with trans fat margarine, and Dr. Pepper for breakfast every single day. I remind myself that an imperfect diet won’t Ruin Everything, so I can relax sometimes. But that doesn’t justify allowing my kid to eat that badly all the time, because we’ll never know how much MORE brilliant my friend might have been if she’d had a healthy diet!
    ‘Becca recently posted..Lots of Science Projects for Kids!

  5. Auto-pilot is so EASY! Thinking and opening your eyes are, like you say, hard work, and frightening also. The upshot is almost invariably more hard work, as you conclude that you had better start cooking from scratch, using more elbow grease, pushing pedals on your bike, etc. Euch. I get tired just thinking about it.

    Besides, I don’t know how old you all are, but speaking for myself, when I was young junk food was different: contemporary junk food is new and improved and capable of messing up your digestive tract, your endocrine system, and our planet, much faster and much more thoroughly. That’s called progress.
    CelloMom recently posted..Is Energy from Natural Gas Cleaner than from Coal?

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