The Produce Section Revealed
Tuesday, 22 February 2011 Written by Alexandra S.
One of my dear friends was diagnosed with breast cancer, and while she is currently cancer-free, the first two things she told me still resonate: 1) I will never stand in front of the microwave again and 2) I never did wash the grapes well enough; I’m going to start buying organic.
I think most of us have some skepticism when it comes to buying produce at the store as we are now faced with the choice between buying conventionally grown fruits and vegetables and purchasing organic. Recent reports I’ve found, such as in a Mayoclinic blog article, Nutrition and Healthy Eating, conclude that while nutritional content of both organic and nonorganic produce is equal, “Conventional growers use pesticides to protect their crops from molds, insects and diseases. When farmers spray pesticides, this can leave residue on produce.” Of course, many of us naturally cringe at the thought of consuming chemicals, but upon biting into those cold, juicy grapes, the thought tends to disappear. After all, the grapes taste good. However, upon further research, one can begin to discern that those pesticides might actually lead to health problems or even diseases.
Below you will see a pie chart published in Environmental Factors in Breast Cancer, a supplement to Cancer Magazine. The chart, as Figure 2 says, identifies mammary carcinogens. Sure enough, pesticides do have a slice of the pie.
While I’m not using these references as a scare tactic, I think it’s important to know what leading science and health literature examines and what their conclusions suggest. At the very least, we should be knowledgeable. And with that knowledge, comes a level of responsibility. So, before looking at what could happen, let’s start with the most obvious question; simple and smart, the Pesticide Action Network (Pesticides on Food) has done this work for us: “How is it that these two pesticides [chlorpyrifos and DDT] are found in over 90% of Americans? Through the food we eat.” PAN points out that “Chlorpyrifos remains one of the most widely used pesticides in U.S. agriculture. DDT is a long-lasting persistent organic pollutant (POP) that bioaccumulates up the food chain, and can be found in most butter and milk. These are but two of the dozens of pesticides found on our food, even after washing.”
Perhaps, the grocery shopping we do in the produce section of any supermarket shouldn’t just sit in our stomachs as a dilemma but rather, create a dilemma of action, a dilemma that serves as a catalyst for a change in habit, for a change in our passive, select-and-drop-in-cart behavior. Before you put those bananas in your cart, you should caution: Those bananas are not just bananas. Both bananas might be equally yellow/green in color; they might be the same size, offer the same amount of potassium. However, we should note that the conventionally grown bananas will contain much higher levels of pesticide residues than the organically grown bananas.
As I think through my own grocery trips, I decided to ask for some help; I posed a question to my college students in my Composition course.
“This has nothing to do with class today, but I want to ask you a question—a very important question.” They quiet and turn their attention to me. “How many of you actively search for organic produce when you grocery shop?” Out of twenty students, four raised their hands. “Why do you four make that choice to buy organic?”
“I’m a health nut.” One responds.
“It’s healthier.” The other chimes in.
“But why is it ‘healthier’?” I push for an answer. “Where did you acquire that knowledge?” He doesn’t know. Shrugs. Now, I know this is not an act of God, of transient knowledge granted to her by the angels in the outfield. My suspicion is that it may have come to her, but in the form of concrete, commercialized phenomena. In her article, Organic vs. conventional: What do experts say? Posted on CNN.com, Amy Spindler reports “The organic market is growing at a steady pace of nearly 20 percent annually, and that translates into organic alternatives in nearly every grocery aisle.” In Ann Arbor, there is a Whole Foods, Plum Market, The Produce Station, The Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market—I’m probably missing some, but you get the point: specialized, organic-only stores/sections in stores have ravaged the town—but certainly not for evil. The only deterrent, I feel, is the cost.
Organic food can cost up to 20% more than conventional food, as a straight comparison at any grocery store will tell you. I understand completely—I go to Whole Foods and spend no less than thirty dollars—even if it’s a quick, one-meal shop.
A simple solution: Learn more. Know which fruits and vegetables soak up the most pesticides and purchase accordingly. Grapes are pesticide heavy: go organic. Grapefruits are not pesticide heavy: safe to buy nonorganic.
By avoiding the foods most contaminated with pesticides, consumers, such as you, can reduce pesticide exposure by 80% without affecting your budget.
I say, we say: Yes, be cautious. Yes, continue to keep up with the knowledge that’s out there; be responsible and take action for your own health and well-being. And please, share the gift of health and awareness with others.
Note: Saagara’s new Organic Diet Buddy App is designed to help you choose which fruits and vegetables you should buy organic.