Saturday, October 8, 2011

To Organic or Not to Organic

Please disregard my wart, this non-organic apple is perfectly safe!

That's a hard question that depends on your beliefs and your wallet.

Ever since I learned that toxic pesticides were sprayed over our fruits and vegetables I've been a believer that eating organic food leaves you with less pesticide leftovers in your body. I don't necessarily get into the argument that organic produce is better for you and has more vitamins and minerals - I just don't want to eat pesticides. But I was definitely brought up in a family that believes organics are just a racket to charge the consumer more money for the same product.

I was on the fence about these two varied viewpoints until 2004 when I was certified by the EPA to work on an organic farm for the summer. No matter the type of farm all workers must learn how to avoid pesticide exposure and what to do if exposed.

In a non-descript building outside of Richmond, Virginia (of course, nursing a gigantic hangover) I was handed 3 government pamphlets on working safely around large scale pesticides. Since many if not most farm workers don't speak English the books are in both English and Spanish and feature an hispanic looking gentleman farm worker in all the books. Just to cover their bases in case someone can't read - all the instructions are basically pictograms to graphically illustrate instructions.

And the pictures are worth a thousand, terrifying words. One shows men ducking for cover in a corn field because they didn't get out in time when the warning alarm sounded. They shield their head and eyes with their shirts from the crop duster spraying over them. Another picture shows a man running to the government mandated shower stations, eyes streaming tears and, most alarmingly, grabbing his crotch, as he stands in the shower trying to make sure all of the poison is off his body. Workers can actually be burned by the chemicals through their clothes.

We were instructed to cover the two most important and vulnerable regions of our bodies: Our eyes (for burning/blindness) and our genitals (for burning/infertility). And even if you didn't get sprayed you were instructed to go home, remove your clothes immediately and wash them separately from any other clothes. That's how toxic the chemicals are!

I've never forgotten those pictures or the idea that some poor guy who was too far out in the field to get out before being sprayed might be burned all over his body (Another rule: cover every part of your skin so it doesn't come in contact with THE FOOD).

So, if the happy vegetable picker in the pictures (before being sprayed and running crying to the showers) can't touch the food with his bare hands lest he be burned or poisoned and if he should be doused in these chemicals he needs to take an hour long shower and be taken to the hospital why on God's green earth would I want to eat that food? There is not a vegetable rinse alive that could convince me that something that can't be touched with bare hands is now o.k. to eat.

Bottom line (and what I tell my parents): This is not the food supply you grew up in. The non-organic vegetables that our parents and grandparents (and possibly even me) ate came from a farm not too far away and were probably not sprayed with a bizillion chemicals that could kill, blind, or render infertile the farm workers ( and who knows what it can do to you after you eat enough toxic apples). Remember a time when you couldn't get arugula anytime of the year and Monsanto hadn't yet taken over with their Round-Up chemicals. That's the time I'm talking about. But I digress, this post is about organics.

But here is the rub. Organics are expensive! But having worked at an organic farm I can tell you first hand the costs are justified. When you don't just spray a field with poisons you have to pay people to stand out there and spray soap on individual plants or actually pick individual bugs off of individual plants. You have to monitor closely and carefully. You have to know your land and what it can do. It's a lot more work. And the price shows.

I usually buy organic, but these days I'm broke and eating a lot more vegetables, so I've had to get away with eating the EWG's Clean 15 non-organic and trying to buy as much organic versions of the Dirty Dozen as possible. You can check out the list for yourself here.

With food getting more expensive and me not having a job I don't know where I will go with this in the future. It's better to eat non-organic produce than no produce at all and food is definitely a priority in my spending and my husband's spending but sometimes you gotta put a new transmission in the car,  you know?

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