Pain in the Arsenic


I’m not sure what I was doing back in November 2012, but I somehow missed the whole arsenic in rice thing.

I came across a reference to it in a New York Times article several weeks back, and as a pretty frequent consumer of rice, of course I wanted to know more.

So I clicked on the link to the findings, and learned that not only are significant amounts of a carcinogenic form of arsenic often found in both white and brown rice, it is also widely found in apple and grape juice.

I’m not sure what I was doing back in January 2012 either, but I somehow missed the whole arsenic in juice thing too.

It was devastating news, especially since my little dude eats rice and drinks apple juice on a regular basis. Like, almost everyday. Oh great, have I been slowly poisoning my little baby?

It was almost too much to process all at once. I took at cursory glance at the pantry and chucked a few items, like a partially consumed package of Lundberg rice cakes and a couple of boxes of apple Juicy Juice. Then I went on with my day, unsure what I should do next.

Usually when the latest food scare hits, I research as much as possible and then adjust my habits as needed based on the information at hand, however incomplete. Basically I just try to keep calm and carry on.

But with the whole arsenic thing, I am more apt to break down and freak out.

One of my main jobs as a mama is to feed my little baby good, healthy food (ahem, when he is not busy stuffing fistfuls of Pirate’s Booty and Annie’s Fruit Snacks in his piehole).

I go to great lengths to rustle up the best I can find. I read all the labels. I buy mostly organic. I shop at the farmer’s market. I regularly make a 60-mile trek for specialty items, like organic meat, which is not always available around these parts. Little by little, I am trying to replace packaged foods with homemade versions (so far, I’ve got mayo, whole wheat tortillas and granola bars pretty much down, although I’m still working on bread). Yeah, I’m kinda neurotic about it all.

So when it turns out that two major staples of our daily diets may be laced with arsenic, well, it makes me want to move to the country and raise all our own food, like a doomsday prepper getting ready for the coming zombie apocalypse.

(Oh wait, we already live in the country. I reckon it’s about time we finally till all those blackberry brambles.)

Seriously, while it’s not likely I will ever muster the energy to dig a rice paddy and grow my own arsenic-free rice, I did briefly contemplate planting some apple trees and juicing our own pristine apple juice fresh every morning. Crazy? Or crazy awesome?

(Although, in addition to all the arsenic still hanging around in the environment from pesticides, it is apparently also widely found in nature, and rice and apples for some reason are super good at absorbing the chemical, more so than the average crop. So even growing my own may not do much good anyway. Bummer.)

Anyway, I guess I just don’t know what to make of it all. Like, should I immediately cease all consumption of any suspect products? Or am I veering into crazytown territory? All I have to go on is what the internets tell me. And that is a conflicting mess of science and politics.

So, as I fumble my way through the impenetrable fog, I plan to scale down our consumption of both rice and apple juice a bit (not to mention beer, chicken and ummm, wooden playgrounds), until I figure out what in tarnation we should do.

For the time being, I think that will mean limiting our consumption of cooked rice to just a couple times a week, and eliminating all products containing rice (no more Rice Chex, Crispix, Lundberg Rice Cakes, Japanese rice crackers, brown rice syrup, or anything with rice flour in it, including the aforementioned Pirate’s Booty).

As for juice, well, juice is a little more complicated. Just don’t buy any apple or grape juice, right? Yes, but then I found out that most not-from-concentrate orange juice can apparently sit around for up to a year before it gets packaged, at which point it is freshened up with chemical flavor packs, which weirds me out a little. So there’s that.

Plus, it also seems like a lot of “healthy” products out there use apple and grape juice concentrate as an alternative to refined sugar, like the Trader Joe’s raspberry jam and Nature’s Path Corn Flakes I have in the cupboard.

And then what about apples and grapes themselves? If the juice is high in arsenic, then aren’t the apples and grapes too?

Oy, my head hurts.

So over the coming months, I think there will be a great purging of the pantry, a hunt for better alternatives and a whole lot more cooking.