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Of Apples and Pineapples

May 17, 2012

You want to eat clean food? You want to eat seasonal food? You want to eat local food? Well, these three things often go together to make produce more delicious.

Fruits and vegetables taste better at the peak of their season. Local producers who can carefully bring their goods to market, don’t have to pick fruits underripe so they can be survive commercial freight. Those farmers who care enough to work with nature rather than against it tend to optimize for flavor and not tons per acre.

I believe in all of this. This is why I belong to a CSA. This is why I shop at farmers markets. This is why I love restaurants like All Good Bakers.

But now I’m going to turn it on its head.

Local, seasonal and organic is a high bar. And many have adopted a shorthand. After all, organic standards have eroded and many small farmers who engage in organic practices don’t have the time or the money to become officially certified. So the “Organic” modifier often floats away. Plus seasonal is really a subset of local. If you are buying locally at a farmers market, the producers will only bring what’s in season anyway, so most don’t need to concern themselves with this either.

And local foods are great. Except when they are not.

When was the last time you checked out the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce? It’s really a great resource to commit to memory. Because it breaks down the 12 fruits and vegetables that carry the heaviest pesticide load – for which you should purchase organically or biodynamically grown versions. On the flip side it has the fifteen cleanest conventionally grown items available to us.

Do you know what the worst fruit is? Apples. Pineapples are the best.

Pineapples are the best. They are sweet, juicy and brightly acidic. They can make a great refreshing soft drink or a killer classic cocktail. And thanks to the miracle of modern transport, they are available all year long from places that are much warmer and sunnier than the Capital Region of New York.

And taking a bite of that sunshine in the doldrums of winter is priceless. Which is funny, because despite the distance pineapples travel, they are remarkably reasonable. Pretty much all year long you can find one market that’s selling them for $3 a pop.

Don’t get me wrong, I love apples too.

We live in apple country, and there are amazing apples to be found here. But not all of our local apple orchards are the same. When I spoke to someone at Indian Ladder Farms, they explained to me that they engage in an integrated pest management program. And frankly that’s something I can get behind. They will spray their apples only when there is a pest problem that cannot be solved by other means. This practice is not what got apples listed as public enemy number one on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen.

No, what causes the heavy buildup of pesticides on apples is regular routine spraying of the trees, whether they need it or not. Amazingly, I was told by an employee at Bowman Orchards that this was their approach to pest management.

It’s an issue I care about, so when I go to orchards, I try to remember to ask.

Yes, one can buy organic apples from Honest Weight Co-op all year long. But those too come from far away, and they aren’t cheap. Plus as the months march on into winter and spring, what once was delightfully crisp in fall becomes soft and mealy.

In May, I don’t have a lot of love for apples. But pineapples I enjoy all year round. And even though this tropical fruit doesn’t subscribe to the local, seasonal, organic mantra that I regularly endorse, it is both delicious and clean.

You may have a different set of priorities that place an item’s carbon footprint above the pleasure it brings. But local isn’t always better. Organic isn’t always necessary. And if a product is hearty enough to survive an arduous trans-continental journey, the definition of seasonal can be malleable.

This isn’t to let you off the hook for eating better, cleaner, and more delicious foods. It’s just for you to know that even some of the most fastidious food lovers enjoy a certain amount of flexibility.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2012 12:39 pm

    I’d be curious to see a ranking, if you have one, of local/area orchards and how their pesticide usage rates. Since I always clean mine off before eating anyway, I hadn’t really given it much thought, but I’d be more likely to go picking at a place that didn’t use as many chemicals.

  2. May 17, 2012 5:13 pm

    WOW!!! We take the kids to Bowman’s every year…or should I say ‘used to’….I wonder what the other local orchards do?
    Sounds like its time to rank the local orchards before apple season starts…

  3. Jessica R permalink
    May 17, 2012 7:07 pm

    Very good points, and I agree with the majority of the concept. The only factor you didn’t bring up is the benefit of local food in reducing transportation, which leads to reduced pollution. But I do agree that some people put too much credence on the word “organic”, and many sustainible food producers choose, for one reason or another, not to become certified. A coworker is part owner of Black Queen Angus Farm in Berlin, and he said that to become certified organic, he would have to rip up all his fences and build new fences with untreated lumber! Wow!

  4. Weenie Girl permalink
    May 18, 2012 12:25 am

    Interestingly, when I was in Hawaii, the pineapples (which were local and in season) were a lot more expensive – $5 each. For curiosity’s sake, I checked the canned pineapple there. It was imported from China. And Thailand. Go figure.

  5. Collin permalink
    May 18, 2012 12:00 pm

    I don’t know how I feel about this post. I am afraid that what you are seeing here by the varied responses from the orchards is one orchard that is much better at fielding questions about their pesticide use then the other.

    The reason I say this is because, frankly, pesticides are expensive and NO ONE over sprays because if you do, then you are literally spraying money into the breeze. Apple trees (modern) are some of the most susceptible plants to all sorts of pests and fungi of any fruit or vegetable out there. There are many factors that play into this, but that is a whole different argument. Regardless of the contributing factor, all apple trees are sprayed, and most apple trees are sprayed A LOT. What I see when I see an explanation about “integrated pest management” I see a farm that has taken the time to craft a message that sounds spiffy, but in the end means the same thing as “we spray pesticides to prevent pests.”

    That is my 2 cents, and does not convey the opinions of my employer. I just think that you are falling victim to PR spin. Once pests get to the point where you can see them, you have already sustained damage…

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