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July 31, 2009

This Wonderful Life: What you don’t know...

Whenever I am feeling dangerously chipper and optimistic about the state of life, the world and humanity in general, all I need to do is tune in to National Public Radio for my RDA of suffering and panic.

Because we don’t have cable television, we are blissfully sheltered from many of the ways news programming attempts to entice and ensnare users. For many years, I watched network morning news programs daily while I got my children ready for school and dressed myself for work. Now, without TV service, I have gone almost a year without seeing a single ``Today Show’’ segment on ``jeans for every body type,’’ ``health conscious summer recipes’’ or ``ordinary household objects that are likely to kill you.’’

Know what? I haven’t missed them.

But if you took away my access to public radio, I would miss it like I would miss a relative. Yet, as much as NPR is a trusted member of the family, it’s also a relative whom I have to silence at times during breakfast, lest my children ingest news of war crimes, civil unrest and dour signs of the economic times along with their cereal.

It’s like sitting at the family reunion next to that aunt who has no conversation filter at. One minute, the conversation is pleasant as can be, then without warning, she’s describing her colonoscopy in vivid detail. Yes, I want to be informed. I want news of the world delivered in a multitude of voices, and NPR does a fine job of that. But does it always have to be so scary?

Last week, I listened to an episode of ``Alternative Radio,’’ a program that features lectures and presentations by passionate experts in the various disciplines and ways in which the human race is headed to extinction in a handbasket.

One week, you can hear about how we have already passed the crisis point for preserving a sustainable water supply. The next week, you will hear about how big chemical agribusiness is literally killing farmers in India, or at least putting some of the world’s poorest subsistence farmers in a position where suicide- by-fertilizer is preferable to farming.

Last week, I learned that microwave popcorn is just one of the long list of things that turns our bodies into toxic cesspools.

Investigative journalist and author of ``The Body Toxic,’’ Nena Baker, described the chemicals used to line microwave popcorn bags so the oils don’t leak through and burn your snack-happy fingers. Sure, it’s convenient and delicious, but when the bag is heated (which is its raison d’etre), some of that perfluorinated chemical known as PFOA leaches into the oil of the popcorn and ends up in your body. PFOA, which the Environmental Protection Agency classified in 2006 as a likely carcinogen, is very slow to break down in warm-blooded species (such as children).

Studies in lab mice demonstrate that PFOA disrupts hormone and liver function, neonatal development and the immune system. And in a supreme ironic twist for anyone who has gleefully snorfed down one of those 100-Calorie popcorn bags (guilty), PFOA exposure also is linked in studies to an increased risk of obesity.

The truly terrifying thing I learned from Baker is just how ubiquitous this chemical is in everyday products. In addition to microwave popcorn bags, PFOA is used in non-stick cookware, stain blockers in fabrics and carpets, dental floss and even jackets and rain gear.

It’s enough to send a nervous gal off the grid and into the wilderness, except that there are probably just as many things that could kill me in the wilderness as there are in civilization.

Instead of panicking, I did some research, and found that non-stick cookware seems to be safe, and manufacturers claim to be making it safer. However, heating up food in plastic containers? Not so much. As for popcorn, we’ll be making our own 100-calorie packs on the stove.

Elizabeth Trever Buchinger is lined with a grease resistant chemical. You can connect with her at www.moremindfulfamily.