BOOK REVIEW: ‘From Cupcakes to Chemicals’

“I was going to be an earth mommy — with my baby secured in my organic cotton baby sling, wandering around the farmers market, making friends with the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker,” says Julie Gunlock in her new book, “From Cupcakes to Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes us Afraid of Everything and How to Fight Back.”
However, that’s not what happened. Mrs. Gunlock did her homework and decided that being an “earth mommy” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
“My synthetic fertilizer-free garden failed to thrive, and I couldn’t afford the near-100 percent price mark-up for organic produce to have trendy, organic milk delivered to my door (June Cleaver style),” she laments.
Today, Mrs. Gunlock, who is a friend and colleague of mine, works for the Independent Women’s Forum, where she strives to educate other moms about what she sees as an alarmist network of media, activists and government — all of whom seek to scare or force us into living their way of life.
“We deserve better,” says Mrs. Gunlock. Accordingly, she produced a refreshingly honest and delightfully blunt book that’s both educational and entertaining. With it, moms everywhere can better digest and decipher the alarmist messages, make informed choices and not fall victim to unscientific, alarmist hype.
Alarmists, Mrs. Gunlock says, use a tactic that information-technology professionals refer to as “FUD,” short for “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt,” and it entails generating fear about competitors’ products to beat them in both the marketplace and the regulatory world.
In the world of politics, the tactic has also become a proven strategy for alarmists, such as the “food nannies, health, environmental, anti-chemical activists,” whose fear mongering leads politicians to the conclusion that “something must be done,” Mrs. Gunlock observes. Usually that something involves regulation that comes at the expense of consumer freedom.
One example is the chemical Bisphenol A, which Mrs. Gunlock points out “has been blamed for everything from cancer to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, infertility and sexual problems.” BPA is a chemical used to make hard, clear plastics as well as resins that line aluminum and steel food cans to prevent the development of pathogens in our food supply. Trace levels of the chemical can migrate into food and eventually be consumed, but Mrs. Gunlock isn’t worried. She notes that it is quickly metabolized and passes through the body before it can do any harm. “BPA simply doesn’t hang around long enough to do any damage,” she explains.
Yet anti-BPA campaigns have led to bans on its use for baby bottles and sippy cups, and now they want the resins used in food packaging banned, potentially jeopardizing food safety because substitutes may not work as well.
In another chapter, Mrs. Gunlock addresses the “pink slime” controversy, which ABC News sparked with its report on the meat product in March 2012. “Pink slime” is the name that the news show gave to “lean, finely textured beef,” which butchers make with the small pieces of lean beef that remain after the animal has been butchered. It is then mixed with ground beef to make the final product leaner and more nutritious.
Just weeks before ABC launched its attack, the inventor of this product received an award for this innovative process that reduces food waste while producing a highly nutritious product. Ironically, he was also recognized for his “almost fanatical concern with food safety,” Time magazine reported in March 2013.
By dubbing the meat product “pink slime” and wrongly suggesting it was dangerous because meat producers use small amounts of ammonia to sterilize it (which is used for many foods), ABC sparked a flurry of erroneous news coverage and activist attacks against the product.
Mrs. Gunlock lays it on the line: “The public’s ignorance of the meat-production process is understandable in our modern world, but it’s important that people make the distinction between things that are actually dangerous and things that are merely unpleasant.”
Indeed. If you read further in this chapter, you’ll realize that traditional meat-production processes are certainly no prettier.
Mrs. Gunlock sums up the truly ugly part of this story: “It resulted in terrified consumers, fewer jobs and most concerning, a less safe food supply.” The bad public relations closed three out of four lean, finely textured beef-production plants and even led schools to purchase fattier, less healthy meat for school lunches.
So what should consumers do when confronted with such alarmist hype? Mrs. Gunlock offers six healthy tips. For these, you will need to get a copy of her book.