Industrialization has been one of the most important advances in human history, resulting in profoundly improved survival and quality of life for millions worldwide. However, a by-product of our modern-day human activities has been the production of numerous potentially noxious chemicals. Nearly 150,000 are registered by the European Chemicals Agency, and more than 70,000 were produced in the USA in 2009. Some of these chemicals are very long lasting, and environmental pollutants are now found everywhere on earth – even in remote areas, such as the Arctic. No-one is completely unaffected by hazardous chemicals and contaminants. In contrast to those of our ancestors, the 21st century human body comprises several chemical cocktails that interact continuously with our cells and organs. Here, the authors look at the links between chemicals in our food chain and the risk for metabolic diseases, including type 2 diabetes.