The Whole Planet was Organic!
Our ancestors had it great. Even Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (sans the snake of course). No toxic pesticides or fertilizers existed for time immemorial until the Industrial Age. The fecund earth nurtured the crops and our ancestors naturally fertilized and harvested it.
One of the causalities of the modern production of food is the extensive use of pesticides, fertilizers, and growth factors. Produce manufactures cover their crops with these poisons as much as I used to cover my fries with ketchup. Ostensibly, pesticides are used to combat pestilence, a scourge on any produce-grower, for it can calamitously wipe out their crop. (Think of the plagues of the Book of Exodus.) And they utilize fertilizers to rapidly increase the yield of their crops.
The industrial-level pesticides are know to be deleterious to your health. They are proven endocrine (hormone) disruptors, and have been linked to developmental disorders, asthma, GI ailments, infertility, and even cancer. Roundup (glyphosate) is perhaps the most well-known and used pesticide/weedkiller.
Genetically-modified-organisms (GMO) crops exacerbate the matter. Monsanto and the other Big Food companies have made crops that are more resistant to drought, temperature fluctuations, and pestilence. As such they are able to douse their crops with even more pesticides since the crops can resist them. Almost all of our corn, soybean, and beans are GMO in America.
Go Green and Local!
Fortunately, alternatives exists. Local farms tend to use more benign, sustainable forms of pesticide. Also, organic producers of fruits & vegetables are prohibited from using the industrial-grade pesticides and fertilizers. They also don’t produce GMO foods.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an esteemed consumer rights organizations, releases their annual list of most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables. They are called the Dirty Dozen. This list fluctuates a bit year-to-year but you will see the same culprits most years. (Some produce absorbs more pesticides than others. The difference in absorption rates may be determined by thickness of the skin/rind or other factors.) The produce on this list should be purchased organic or locally. (Local farmers, who sell their crops through Farmer’s Markets or Co-ops, tend to be more conscious of the use of toxic pesticides.)
Conversely, the EWG releases the Clean Fifteen, the produce which absorb very little pesticides and thus may be purchased in their conventional manner. Like the Dirty Dozen, these pristine ones don’t tend to stray much.
All produce not mentioned in either the Dirty Dozen or Clean Fifteen fall in the middle of the spectrum. It is up to your discretion whether to be them organic or not.
- Grow your own. Buy produce that is in season or at least not shipped in from across the globe where productions standards might be more laxed and simply they won’t be as fresh.
- I would say it is best to consume produce that is laden with toxins than not eat any at all. The nutrient-dense qualities of fruits and vegetables supersede the overall need to eschew them due to their pesticide level. That would be counterproductive to the body.
- Many of us (including poor teachers like myself) can’t afford to buy organic meat, dairy, and produce so pick your poison. Vis-a-vis which to buy organic I would rank them meat, then dairy, and then produce. (or omit dairy altogether). Luckily many on the dirty dozen are relatively cheap to buy organic.
As stated, don’t shy away from produce because of the pesticide worry. Use the EWG information to make wise and sensible choices, based on which produce is the most nutrient-dense and which is lightest on the wallet. Berries and cruciferous vegetables (spinach, broccoli, kale) satisfy this criteria the best.
A. Gregory Luna, double-certified health consultant
(I would appreciate your comments below.)