I’ve decided to morph my Tuesday posts into a compendium of facts I find totally outrageous. These are things most of us know nothing about and yet they’re hiding in plain sight.
It’s about to be strawberry season so I’ll start my What You Don’t Know posts with methyl iodide, a soil fumigant pesticide used in the farming of these juicy red treats that just so happen to be my favorite fruit. This known carcinogen and neurotoxin, which causes late-term miscarriages (according to the Pesticide Action Network of North America), is approved for use in California, which is where most of the strawberries in the U.S. are grown. I’m no strawberry farmer, but I know this stuff is bad news for farmers, the groundwater, and eaters. So much so that I got several emails last week from environmental groups and other organizations (including FoodDemocracyNow.org, Center For Environmental Health, and Change.org) pushing to have it banned.
To put this all into perspective: last week Environmental Health Perspectives announced a study showing that children exposed to pesticides in the womb are more likely to have lower IQs. From their press release: “…it makes sense that pregnant women should limit their pesticide exposure. They should use the smallest amount possible, have others place it, and just do what they can to minimize contact.” Uh huh. I prefer none.
Guess who doesn’t permit these sort of chemical pesticides on strawberries? USDA certified organic. And, to answer a question I get all of the time: No, washing and/or peeling conventionally grown fruit doesn’t get all of the pesticide residue off. Sorry; some of it is internal.
Fortunately methyl iodide isn’t what’s being used on my local strawberries (but that doesn’t mean I’m not signing petitions left and right and hoping you will, too). Unfortunately, I’m left trying to decide if I prefer local lightly sprayed to USDA organic but not-local-to-me strawberries, when all I want to be deciding is how many cartons to buy and how best to eat them–by the handful or in jams and pies.
In The Conscious Kitchen I discuss the difficulties of this local vs. organic push-pull, using strawberries as my example. Here’s an excerpt:
Unless you’re 100 percent organic or 100 percent local (most interested eaters fall somewhere in between), it’s hard to figure out how, when, and why to choose local over organic, and vice versa. Amy Topel, an educator and former food columnist for the now defunct Green Guide – the publication that existed before National Geographic bought the property – refers to this experience as “flummoxing.” That’s about right. “In Whole Foods they have local strawberries and organic ones,” Topel says. The locals aren’t organic, and the organic ones are grown halfway across the country. “I’m feeding my baby and I want him to eat organic; he should not be taking in those pesticides. For ten minutes I walked back and forth – Do I care more about my baby? Or everybody else? I ended up deciding I didn’t want him to have the pesticides.” This is just one instance of choosing organic over nonorganic local. This mental tug-of-war is a familiar process for those of us trying to decide what the ratio of organic to local should be in our diets, especially where kids are concerned. Pound for pound, developing little ones take in more of the harmful chemical spray residues than adults do, which is why organic is so crucial for them and for pregnant moms.
The trick to coming to peace with this local versus organic dance is to educate yourself on the concerns. If health is your main concern, then you might decide that you always want to avoid ingesting sprays that have been linked to cancer, no matter how small the amount. You’ll mainly choose organic. If you decide local strawberries are the most delicious things on earth and you prefer to risk pesticide residue for a short season once a year and support small farms nearby, you’re going local, especially when you can locate low-sprayed local. Soon you will arrive at your working ratio of organic to local. One suggestion: If you’re feeding kids, choose organic over local but lightly sprayed when buying what the Environmental Working Group refers to as “The Dirty Dozen” – the twelve most contaminated conventional fruits and vegetables.
Buy these organic:
Peach, Apple, Bell Pepper, Celery, Nectarine, Strawberry, Cherry, Kale, Lettuce, Grapes, Carrot, Pear.”
Once you’ve decided about if you’re going local or organic (or both), indulge and enjoy. Ultimately the point of all of this fretting is flavor. And nothing tastes better than strawberries in season.
Now you know.