07/04/2012 04:29 EDT | Updated 09/03/2012 05:12 EDT

Why Find a Cure When the Search is So Darn Lucrative?

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation's 10th annual Cook For The Cure. I am all for getting into the spirit of things but it gets a bit trickier when the very foods being served are known contributors to the development of the disease (remember the deep fried Twinkies for Crohn's Disease?).


Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation's 10th annual Cook For The Cure.

As you can imagine, this sounded like my kind of thing; a fundraiser for a cure that involved cooking!

The idea was that guests would give a $20 contribution which would include a complimentary glass of wine and dessert. They were asked to wear white,  pink accents would be provided and to bring their own food as part of the "Pinknic."

I don't actually have any white clothes.

I spent some time wandering around, peeping in on what people brought, and chatting with some of the guests.

What I wanted to know from the people in attendance is what they were doing in their own lives to help cook up a cure, or rather, working to prevent the disease in the first place. I got a lot of blank stares and embarrassed declarations that they don't really think about it as much as they should.

When I asked if they knew where the funds for the evenings event were going, the blanket response was "research".

Apparently $2.1 million has been raised through the Cook For The Cure initiative for breast cancer "research" since 2002 but no one seems to know just what that research is. There are grants being awarded and loads of products being painted pink but breast cancer rates continue to increase and treatment options don't seem to be improving or diversifying.

Could it be that there is a missing link with a lack of sound knowledge around prevention, namely an awareness of what each and every one of us can do every day to reduce our risks?

On the Breast Cancer Foundation of Canada website it claims that "Since 2000, the Foundation has funded $12.1 million in research grants and training fellowships focussing on prevention and risk factors."

The only prevention related study mentions a connection between high fat diets and charbroiled food increasing the risk, but no further info was offered. Strangely, back in the fall when I was emailing the foundation about the current prevention related research being done, they told me they were sorry they hadn't gotten back to me but they were having problems with their email server. I still never got an answer.

Heres the thing. It's 2012 and this is what is listed as risk factors on the Cancer Foundation's website:

Non-Modifiable Risk Factors

Gender and age

Personal cancer history

Family cancer history and genetics

Early menstruation and late menopause

Breast density

Breast conditions

Modifiable Risk Factors

Body weight

Physical activity

Alcohol Use


Exposure to hormones: the Pill, IVF, and HRT

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Radiation exposure

Did you see diet, cosmetics or cleaning products on those lists? Me neither! What about the fact that the food we eat impacts our epigenetics, meaning our genetic expression, or how our DNA is going to work for us or against us?

The fact that the food and cancer connection is left out of the  "Cook For The Cure" event, may explain why this year's feature chef's table was laden with deep fried chicken, cheddar biscuits, platters of charcueteri (fancy word for cold cuts) and even a duck pie for the Pinknic.

I am all for getting into the spirit of things and enjoying treats in the spirit of celebration. It gets a bit trickier when that spirit of celebration is working to raise funds for cancer research and the very foods being served are known contributors to the development of the disease (remember the deep-fried Twinkies for Crohn's Disease?).

I am going to assume that the deep fried chicken, cheddar biscuits, duck pie and charcuterie were all locally sourced and organic, but was this the best choice for a breast cancer fundraiser?

You may remember the hoopla from a few years ago when KFC was attempting to cash in the Breast Cancer theme with pink buckets of fried chicken?

Deep fried chicken, as well as barbecued, pan fried, and high heat grilled, all have been found to contain high levels of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and benzo[a]pyrene (BaP), which are known carcinogens.

I am sure the fried chicken and biscuits were amazing if you like that. And any other picnic? Fine, the choice is the eater's -- but for a cancer fundraiser?!

Aside from the pink accents, there was nothing about this event that seemed to connect it with a disease that will affect one in nine women.

As with most Breast Cancer fundraising efforts -- which includes everything from plastic bottled water, pink ribbon wine, and carrying sponsors like Revlon, PepsiCo, Kernels popcorn and Egg Farmers of Canada who all produce the very products that contribute to the modifiable risk factors of the disease -- I'm thinking that "finding the cure" is a ways away. The search is just so lucrative.

If $12 million hasn't found the cure, is $13 million going to do it? How about $20 million? How much are we going to give before we realize that maybe they're looking in the wrong places?

Given that our food and lifestyle choices are so closely connected with everything from the prevention of cancer right through to the recovery post-medical intervention should we get sick, it would seem to me that this event and the hundreds of others just like it, are prime opportunities to engage the public in how they could start to cook for the cure in their own lives.

For this Cook for the Cure event, easy things could have included:

  • Getting some local farms on board to lend greens to every table so everyone's Pinknic would include some fresh green salad.
  • Picnic suggestions sent out upon registration that include meals and recipes with key cancer fighting foods.
  • Water fountains to offer the opportunity for guests to get water without needing it to come from plastic (BpA found in plastic bottles leaches synthetic estrogens and are linked with an increased risk of breast cancer).

The challenge with these types of fundraising events is that, yes, in theory they are for great causes, and people donate so much time and resources to making them happen, but are the organizations including the Breast Cancer Foundation of Canada, really engaging the donors that they rely on to take precautions against the diseases for which they are fundraising? Are they really informing people on what can be done NOW, rather than once their cancer has been detected early? Early detection is not prevention! (Tweet today's tweetable).

The parting gift for this event was a garlic press. Fantastic. A total win as garlic works to prevent every kind of cancer out there. But  attached to the garlic press was a recipe for raspberry frosted cupcakes (a pink recipe of course) loaded with white flour and sugar, the primary fuel to feed cancer.

It just doesn't connect.

I fully appreciate the importance of finding cures for these increasingly common diseases and the great work these foundations do in supporting people emotionally during recovery, but there is a consistent lack of attention being given to prevention and to the nutritional and lifestyle connection that not only helps prevent but can serve to ease and accelerate post operative/treatment recovery. To ignore this fundamental key to health is radically irresponsible.

Early detection, more effective treatments, new drugs, and new procedures, are great for those who choose that path, but with cancer rates only increasing every year, when does the importance start being placed on individual responsibility to own our health and strive to prevent the diseases in the first place? Again, I stress that early detection is not prevention!

If you choose to support any fundraising organizations, I commend you for your generosity and also recommend that you take a close look at the financial reports and research projects for which you are funding to ensure that they really support what you want to be supporting.