Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bonus points if you know what Lee Marvin has to do with produce!

Dear health-conscious but not self-conscious consumers,

As you know, I advocate buying, growing and eating organic produce.  Although it's more costly than buying conventionally grown produce, I have hope because I reckon the more of us buy organic, the more popular and less costly it will become.

But as I said, it can be pretty expensive!  Sometimes I am torn - forgo eating veggies, or have pesticide-sprayed wax-coated vegetables?  I want to get lots of produce in our everyday diet - in fact, I would prefer that our diet is primarily fresh and home-canned produce.  But if I'm eating conventionally grown vegetables and fruit, that just means the more I consume, the more pesticides go into my body! Especially if you are vegan, vegetarian, or eating an all-raw diet, you are consuming massive amounts of developmental and reproductive toxicants and other yummy side dishes.

My cousin makes a mean vegan potato soup (all organic, of course!)

To minimize my pesticide intake but maximize my produce intake and grocery budget, from time to time I refer to the "Dirty Dozen and Clean 15" list (download a wallet-sized shopper's guide here), a list put together by the EWG (Environmental Working Group).  Basically, they made a list of produce that hold the most pesticides, and advocate buying those organic.  Then, they made a list of produce that holds the least pesticides, which would be the least harmful to eat conventionally grown.

"The fruits and vegetables on "The Dirty Dozen" list, when conventionally grown, tested positive for at least 47 different chemicals, with some testing positive for as many as 67.  For produce on the "dirty" list, you should definitely go organic - unless you relish the idea of consuming a chemical cocktail." (Read the full article here)

I still buy organic (including off the Clean 15) whenever it is possible, because I feel like I would rather support that methodology than the chemical-laden one.  The Clean 15 is really just the lesser of two evils, not necessarily a good in and of itself.

Bear in mind that pesticides aren't just vaguely "bad" for you - some are carcinogens (indeed, some are used to induce cancer in lab rats), can be fatal when inhaled (how good can it be to eat that??), some are neurotoxins, some you may recognize as common poisons (arsenic ring a bell?) some are hormone disruptors upsetting your body's natural chemical balance, and a host of other delightful side-effects to eating your five-a-day.

Dirty Dozen (high in chemical content): 
Celery (64 pesticides)
Peaches (62)
Strawberries (54)
Apples (42)
Domestic blueberries (52)
Nectarines (33)
Sweet bell peppers (49)
Spinach (48), kale (55), and collard greens (46)
Cherries (42)
Potatoes (37)
Imported grapes (34)
Lettuce (51)

The Clean 15 (little to no traces of pesticides):
Onions (1)
Sweet corn (1)
Pineapples (6)
Sweet peas (12)
Asparagus (9)
Kiwi fruit
Eggplant (18)
Cantaloupe (27)
Watermelon (28)
Grapefruit (11)
Sweet Potatoes (8)
Sweet onions

Another partial compromise is when you know the farmer, and you know his procedures; when Miz Carmen and I purchased two thousand pounds of apples during the fall, we spoke with the farmer and discussed our options.  He had an orchard that was mostly organic, but had been sprayed just a few times over the growing season.  We opted for those apples, in the interest of saving several hundred dollars on our bulk purchase.

Demystifying the PLU label: 
I learned this from Raw Food/Real World (a delightful, healthful cookbook): If you are in the grocery store buying fresh fruits and vegetables, look at the little round sticker on your produce. There will be a 4 or 5 digit PLU number on it.  Learn what that PLU number means!

a) Organic b) Conventional or c) Genetically Modified?

When the PLU is ...

5 digits beginning with the number 8: it is genetically modified
5 digits beginning with the number 9: it is organic
4 digits: conventionally grown

a) Organic b) Conventional or c) Genetically Modified?
a) Organic b) Conventional or c) Genetically Modified?

As a last rule of thumb - if you can, buy local produce!  The less it has to travel, the fresher it probably is.

And as a last rule of toe, often produce isn't necessarily certified organic, because certification can be very difficult to obtain; however, they can still be more pesticide-free than conventionally grown produce!  Whenever possible (for instance, at a farmer's market), get to know the farmer, and ask about his methods and even what he uses to spray his crops, if he does spray.  We're not here to be in a certified club, we're here to learn about how to protect our bodies.

We all do our best.  Let's try to stay as informed as possible, so our decisions will be the best we can possibly make with the resources we are given!

Cheers to good health,

Mrs H

For more fun: Look up pesticide levels in food here.


  1. ... those apples weren't sprayed with pesticides; the floor of the orchard had been sprayed with herbicides a couple of times early in the season before the fruit set, to keep the weeds down. Just thought I'd post that in the interest of accuracy and all...

    'Cause I'm like that, y'know.

    -Miz Carmen-

  2. Awesome well that's even better than I thought!!!!




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