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We’re Not All Dead Yet

July 7, 2009

I believe in organic farming.

Sometimes when I think about the name of the practice, I chuckle and imagine what inorganic farming might be.  But when I talk about organic farming, you know what I mean.  Let’s hear it for the marketing power of the Organic Trade Association.

Still, there is a larger problem looming for organic foods, as the term “organic” is becoming more of a marketing gimmick than a philosophy of stewardship.  But that’s not what this post is about.

Today, I want to talk about another one of those handy-dandy links to the right of the post.  One specifically that has received little love.  And I can’t blame anyone but myself, for I have failed to promote it until now.

Yesterday, it read “Guide to Pesticides,” and maybe that was part of the problem.  Who wants to learn about the different pesticides used on our foods?  But that wasn’t the information you would have seen if you had clicked on the link.

Now it is the more accurate “Organic v. Conventional.”  And if you click on it, you will be whisked away to a page from the Environmental Working Group called “The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides.”  They could use some marketing help from the Organic Trade Association, because it is not a shopper’s guide to pesticides at all.

Instead, what you will see is a list of 47 fruits and vegetables ranked in order from those that carry the heaviest pesticide loads to those that have the lightest.

This is very useful information to those people who may not want to eat pesticides, but who don’t want to spend all of their money on produce either.  It could also be useful for those who want to prioritize local foods over organic ones, but still are concerned about consuming chemical residues that kill insects.

The truth is that people eat conventional produce all the time.  And they seem to go on and live normal and happy lives.  So let us not be ruled by fear.

Here are some of the changes I made to my produce purchasing since finding this list.

–    Conventional frozen peas and corn make up the plurality of our vegetable consumption.
–    I do not shy away from buying conventional onions, eggplant, sweet potatoes or even canned tomatoes.
–    Melons, bananas, and tropical fruit are all purchased in their conventional forms.

On the other hand, much to Mrs. Fussy’s chagrin:
–    We now buy almost exclusively organic apples and pears.
–    Cajun food has become more expensive with organic bell peppers and celery.
–    All of her baby carrot snacks have to be organic.

She is pleased however that I stopped buying the conventional kale and collard greens, since she never liked those braised greens dishes anyhow.

Deciding on the foods in the middle of the spectrum will be a matter of your choice based on budget and available alternatives available where you live.  I also imagine some people will have a lower psychological tolerance for pesticide consumption and will bail out of conventional produce further down the line.  Others may only consider organic alternatives for peaches and apples – the highest-pesticide crops of the bunch.

However you decide, now you can base your decisions on at least a few more data points.

Please remember, the term organic is not a food safety claim.  Organic fruits and vegetables can contain E. coli and all kind of other nasties just like conventional produce.  And there is no arguing that organic food isn’t what it used to be, now that it is a big business.  Perhaps we can talk about these things further in the weeks to come.

But until somebody convinces me otherwise, the idea of eating foods treated with heavy doses of pesticides is just not appetizing.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. brownie permalink
    July 7, 2009 11:04 am

    I agree that I don’t want to eat (and especially taste) chemicals if I can avoid it, but I also don’t want to eat e. coli. Could it be possible that the food scientists have figured out the right chemicals and dosages so that eating food treated with pesticides isn’t at all harmful to your short- or long-term health? I’d like to think that the Organic movement is a few decades behind its real enemies (DDT for instance), and there’s no need to swing from the extreme of heavily-treated food to not-treated-at-all. There might be a middle ground in there.

    This is the optimist in me, but we’re living longer, healthier lives and “better living through chemicals” is somewhat responsible. No matter how much we learn or attempt to comprehend, we will never be more than an arm’s length from food that was manipulated by science. Why try to avoid it?

    • Raf permalink
      July 7, 2009 1:49 pm

      Um, pesticides kill bugs, not germs. Wash them in the sink to get the e coli containing poo off.

      Not that you have to worry about veggies, meat boy.

      • brownie permalink
        July 9, 2009 10:57 am

        I eat my vegetables! Just because I eat crap most of the time doesn’t mean crap and I are exclusive. I regularly cheat on crap with salads, fruits, and the occasional vegetable medley.

      • brownie permalink
        July 9, 2009 11:09 am

        …one more thing. if the bugs don’t light on the food to eat it, they generally don’t poo or lay eggs on it. Therefore, pesticides prevent the spread of disease.

        And while I’m washing the poo off in the sink, aren’t I also washing away the pesticide? Like poo, there’s always a little left over, still safe for consumption.

  2. July 7, 2009 10:54 pm

    I like the list of the top 50 foods or whatever they are. I was on an organic onion kick, but seeing as how pesticides are pretty much unabsorbed, it definitely helps me be more frugal in shopping. Likewise, I had no idea how much the stone fruits absorbed. So this summer I resolve to get only organic, which means that I probably won’t eat any ;) C’est la vie.

  3. jess permalink
    July 8, 2009 6:47 am

    I tend to think there’s also various grades of conventional produce. For instance, many local farms are “low-spray.” There are many times I’d rather pick the local low-spray over imported organics, for economic and moral considerations.

    Ugh. It’s hard to know what to do. My own garden patch looks like hell from the heavy rains…

    Side note: Has anyone heard Montsanto’s new claims in their ads on NPR?

  4. omaxwell permalink
    July 8, 2009 10:47 pm

    In our family a few years ago we decided that the #1 organic “splurge” would be milk, since kids drink an enormous amount of the white stuff and are main-lining the antibiotics which are routinely fed to the dairy cows, resulting in reduced immune resistance and a happy hunting ground for superbugs.

    Since we moved to Saratoga, milk is one of the few things that cost less because we buy Battenkill which, per my scientific wife, does not use pesticides although they are not technically organic. It’s available in guilt-free glass bottles at various farmers markets but also satisfyingly cheap plastic jugs at Hannaford.

    • brownie permalink
      July 9, 2009 11:16 am

      “Guilt-free.” I like that very much. Certainly more on the point than “Save the earth,” which should really be the “Save the humans and selected things they like” campaign.

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