Last year, I wrote about the joy of eating fresh, local strawberries and the risk of pesticides if those berries are grown by conventional methods. Conventionally-grown strawberries are subjected to up to 13 different chemicals, some absorbed into the berries through the roots and some sprayed right onto the berries. Many growers, when asked, talk of their “low-spray” program: a comfort, maybe, but not a real solution.
At the time of that post, I’d just picked a box full of juicy, perfectly ripe, but non-organic local strawberries, something I do at least a few times every June. What I don’t eat on the spot, I pack into the freezer with strawberries for smoothies the following winter.
I love strawberries.
In anticipation of this year’s strawberry season—anticipation actually began months ago—I gave some thought to this issue that troubles me every year. My discomfort with the idea of ingesting pesticides has grown, especially in the face of increasing health challenges. I’ve found that I’m reluctant to choose anything that threatens my health further.
Strawberries made it onto the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen list again this year, in spot number three. It’s nearly impossible to wash the chemicals off strawberries’ bumpy, delicate skin, and washing isn’t a panacea, anyway. Some of those 13 chemicals known to be present in strawberries are absorbed through the roots end up in the sweet, juicy flesh. No amount of washing will help.
Our government is looking out for us with fruits and vegetables, encouraging us at every turn to eat more, for our health. In the years following the explosion of agricultural chemical use after World War II, we’ve seen the development of careful guidelines dictating what’s too much to be considered healthy. Knowing that the levels of carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disrupters in and on my produce are within federal guidelines for “safe” levels should be a comfort to me, right? But it’s not. Call me a literal person, but those words are just too scary to ignore. Besides, it seems clear to me that, in setting these so-called “safe” levels, my health interests don’t weigh as heavily with the EPA as the concerns of pesticide manufacturers and big ag. Just a hunch.
Do I want to accept low levels of neurotoxins in my food? Carcinogens or endocrine disrupters? The answer this year is an easy “no.” Invisible and tasteless as they may be, knowing that they’re present is enough for me to make another choice.
When organic is an option, I often choose organic, no matter what the food. Choosing organic is casting a vote for farming methods that respect living soil, biodiversity and my own health. When buying from local farms, I don’t rely on the certified organic label alone, however. Some of my favorite farms use organic methods but aren’t certified organic—by choice.
But organically-grown strawberries are hard to find around here, and impossible to find as pick-your-own. In light of my penchant for stocking the freezer, choosing pick-your-own is an important factor in keeping costs down. I paid $4.50 a pint for organic strawberries in Vermont this week; hardly a price that allows for filling gallon bags in the freezer.
The farmers at the two area strawberry farms I usually support here at home have assured me that they use a very small amount of chemicals—commonly called a “low-spray” pesticide program. Generally, this means that pesticides are applied up until the plants bloom; after they set fruit, no more spraying.
What the chemicals are is not even the point, at least not for me. The point is that they are classified as neurotoxins, carcinogens and endocrine disrupters. Faced with the facts, I can only rationally conclude that I don’t want these chemicals in my body. Parents of small children have even more reason to be concerned, since pesticide residues have been linked to attention deficit disorder and other behavioral problems. In my case, I just can’t choose to introduce toxic chemicals into my body.
Ignorance was bliss.
I’ll be choosing organic strawberries this year, probably putting fewer berries away in my freezer.
What guides your choices when deciding on organic versus non-organic?
Did you notice the subliminal hint in the photo above? It’s not too late to throw your name into the drawing for Ben Hewitt’s two books: Making Supper Safe and The Town That Food Saved. (By the way, that’s my yummy salad: spinach, radiccio, purslane, cucumber, goat cheese, pecans and strawberries. All organic.)