Eat Up Those Pesticides

The exact effects of pesticides on humans can be debated. Some claim there are no definite links to cancer, while others make provocative statements such as:

“The research used to compile this list is from extensive independent tests run by the FDA and the USDA from more than 100,000 samples of food. The chemical pesticides detected in these studies are known to cause cancer, birth defects, nervous system and brain damage, and developmental problems in children. In other words, panic if it isn’t organic.”article

However you want to construe the research, I think we can at least agree on a few things:

1. Given a glass or pill that contains pure pesticides, we would not partake. In other words, when faced with a blatant choice concerning the consumption of pesticides, it’s a no-brainer.

2. If we have feasible ways to eat foods with less or no pesticides, then it’s at least worth considering.

I should also state that my Christian world view is my guide here as well. Since God created my body, I have an obligation to care for it. In addition, the pesticides used on fruits, vegetables, and in who knows what else are polluting our streams and rivers. I think that clean drinking water may come in handy sometime in the future. Just a guess.

So there are a number of reasons to buy organic, all the more so if the organic farm is local. Buying from local businesses and farms is a great way to keep your money in the community and to preserve your community’s unique character (a really big deal for Vermonters!).

Now that I’ve frightened and guilted you into considering organic foods, here are some practical steps forward.

First of all, it is helpful to target the worst foods that should never be purchased without the organic label, courtesy of (a web site that is mostly about ads and is secondarily about information):

  1. Nectarines – 97.3% of nectarines sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  2. Celery – 94.5% of celery sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  3. Pears – 94.4% of pears sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  4. Peaches – 93.7% of peaches sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  5. Apples – 91% of apples sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  6. Cherries – 91% of cherries sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  7. Strawberries – 90% of strawberries sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  8. Imported Grapes – 86% of imported grapes (i.e.Chile) sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  9. Spinach – 83.4% of spinach sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  10. Potatoes – 79.3% of potatoes sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  11. Bell Peppers – 68% of bell peppers sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  12. Red Raspberries – 59% of red raspberries sampled were found to contain pesticides.

But it’s not all doom and gloom!

There is another list of foods that you can buy in whatever form you choose. They are fairly impervious to pesticides. Once again from

  1. Asparagus
  2. Avocados
  3. Bananas
  4. Broccoli
  5. Cauliflower
  6. Corn (However, almost all corn is genetically modified)
  7. Kiwi
  8. Mangoes
  9. Onions
  10. Papaya
  11. Pineapples
  12. Sweet Peas

Alright, so even if onions, asparagus, and cauliflower aren’t on the top of everyone’s “I love to eat this all of the time list,” at least we need not purchase everything at the top organic dollar.

Now that I’ve lulled you with some assurances about cauliflower, I have some more bad news. There are a few other foods to watch out for. From this article:

“Most coffee is grown in countries where there are little to no standards regulating the use of chemicals and pesticides on food. The United States produces and exports millions of tons of pesticides, some of which are so dangerous that they are illegal to use on American farmland. Foreign countries import these chemicals to cultivate food, which is sold back to the United States. Coffee is an unfortunate culprit in this vicious cycle of malevolent agriculture. Purchasing “Fair Trade” coffee provides insurance that the premium price paid for this treasured beverage supports farms and workers with more equanimity and reward.”

Beef, Pork and Poultry
The EPA reports that meat is contaminated with higher levels of pesticides than any plant food. Many chemical pesticides are fat-soluble and accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals. Animal feed that contains animal products compounds the accumulation, which is directly passed to the human consumer. Antibiotics, drugs, and hormones are a standard in animal husbandry, all of which accumulate and are passed on to consumers as well. Ocean fish carry a higher risk for heavy metals than pesticides, though many freshwater fish are exposed to high levels of pesticides from contaminated water.

Milk, Cheese and Butter
“For reasons similar to those for meat, the fat in dairy products poses a high risk for contamination by pesticides. Animals concentrate pesticides and chemicals in their milk and meat. Growth hormones and antibiotics are also serious concerns and are invariably found in commercial milk, cheese, and butter.”

If this is the first time you’ve run into these issues, I understand that it can all be very overwhelming. Keep in mind that a move toward organic products need not happen overnight. It may be a process that takes years. I still refuse to purchase most organic meat. I just buy a lot less conventional meet. Beans and rice, tofu, or eggs supply protein to keep us going until we splurge for a nice steak, turkey, or whatever.

If you’re new to the organic world, try this: look for just one organic item that is reasonably priced from the list of foods from the organic list. Maybe a bag of apples, grapes, or lettuce. Keep on the lookout for farmers markets or local farms that sell organic food at a lower price.

Perhaps your local supermarket will sometimes have organic meat on sale or it will occasionally carry organic milk that is not ultra-pasteurized. Take advantage of these times while exercising restraint when the prices are high. I believe that changing one’s eating habits is a process.

We are still in the midst of this. It’s not easy and it’s not cheap, but I also view it as a competition. I have X amount of money to spend each week on groceries. Can I find healthy food that will be enough for the week within the parameters of our budget? Ah, the challenge.

I’m sure others have tips about eating organic. Please feel free to drop them in the comments.

For additional reading: here, here and here.

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