Chemicals and Organic Foods

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to drink anti-freeze or any ingredient in anti-freeze. Yet propylene glycol, used in anti-freeze, is found in many processed foods including ice creams and soft drinks. I want to eat food, pure and simple, free of additives and chemicals, grown without pesticides and hormones. I won’t eat food containing artificial colors, MSG, artificial flavors or chemical preservatives. I won’t knowingly eat genetically modified (GMO) food. We don’t eat any dairy products, but if we did, I’d avoid milk or cheese from cows injected with Bovine Growth Hormone.

I prefer to eat completely organic food, but a 100% organic diet is difficult to put together in the USA, so I do my best to choose food that’s low in pesticide residues. I use the Environmental Working Group’s website to find the “cleanest” produce. The items change from year to year, so it’s best to check the group’s current “Dirty Dozen,” found on its website. Finding fresh, chemical-free foods that are not laden with sugar is not easy.

I buy a lot of produce at my local farmer’s markets. Farmers are happy to tell me what pesticides they use. Most local farmers use far fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers than do large commercial producers. Many small farms use chemical-free practices, but are not certified organic due to the expense of certification.  Ask them.

In my grandparents day, pre-World War II, all food was organic. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides had not come into widespread production or use. After World War II, the “miracle” of science introduced gazillions of chemicals, many of which make our lives more comfortable, but most of which have not been thoroughly tested for human toxicity. Farmers began to grow their products using chemical fertilizers and to saturate their fields with pesticides and herbicides, all of which increased yields and profits.

In 1990 Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act. The USDA Organic label was created in 1993. The use of the word “organic” in food labeling was codified. As always, however, buyer beware. Organic foods are not all created equal. Many small organic food companies have been bought by huge food manufacturers. (Santa Cruz Organic Juices is owned by JM Smuckers.  M&M Mars owns Seeds of Change. Annie’s Homegrown and Cascadian Farm are owned by General Foods.  Dagoba Chocolate is owned by Hershey Foods. Walnut Acres is owned by Hain Celestial.) There are loopholes in the Organic Food Act, which allow organic food processors, for example, to give pesticide-laced feed to their “organic” chickens if organic feed is not available. Knowing the practices of the people who produce the food will help you determine how “organic” that particular product is.

My advice: Eat a varied diet. Wash all produce thoroughly in lots of plain water. Make as many foods as you can at home, including things like ketchup and mayonnaise if you can’t find chemical-free, sugar-free versions. Beware of processed sauces. Bottled barbecue sauce often has more sugar than a candy bar. Most commercial brands are made with high fructose corn syrup (yetch! an ingredient I avoid completely). If you can’t eat organic foods all day, every day, that’s OK. Do the best you can.

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