No matter how hard we try, we can still be in danger of consuming herbicides and pesticides that can harm our health. Produce can be particularly worrisome, because it seems even an organic diet can lead to some chemical exposure, depending on the certifying authority.
GMO (genetically modified organism)-crop test fields are often grown near non-GMO product fields. This can lead to cross-contamination of healthy plants with genetically modified plants that should not be ingested by humans or the animals we eat.
Poor handling of GMO seeds may be at fault. However, even the most careful researchers cannot guard against every heavy rain or strong wind gust. For example, genetically modified canola seeds, supposedly grown in closed testing conditions, have contaminated non-GMO canola crops. Unless you know where the seeds are grown, you cannot be sure the canola oil you buy is strictly non-GMO.
For those who eat meat, the risk is even higher. Genetically modified corn is a common component of animal feed across the United States. Beef cattle suffer an extremely high exposure to GMO corn, as the germ is washed out and fed back to cattle in an attempt to add fat to the animal and produce a more tender cut of beef. These cattle are also fed antibiotics to reduce damage to the gut and improve nutrient absorption, in order to promote more rapid growth. The herbicides and antibiotics in the cattle feed ultimately affect the quality of the meat.
Over-crowded conditions on modern poultry farms have led to a tradition of antibiotic application in both the chickens’ food and water stretching across the lifespan of the chickens. Where pastured chickens can happily feed on weed seeds and insects, with supplemental non-GMO seeds, a caged chicken will spend her life exposed to a toxic soup of waste from the chickens around her. Her food and water will be altered with antibiotics to protect her flesh and eggs from constant bacterial exposure. What are the long-term consequences of exposure of your body to these toxins?
How can we shop and dine safely? As possible, if you must buy out of season, buy organic. However, organic produce can only protect you so far, thanks to toxins already in the soil. If you’re lucky enough to have access to local growers for seasonal produce, celebrate! Get to know your tomato farmer. Talk to the man who planted the peach trees. Dig into the process of seasonal eating again. Will you miss strawberries in January? Maybe, though they’re not very ripe nor confidence-engendering, when you consider the possibility of serving strawberry and chemical shortcake to your loved ones.
However, buying local and eating seasonally is a great start to make sure that your produce purchases will benefit local growers, protect you from extreme chemical exposure, and get you back in the rhythm of seasonal eating.
When the Farmer’s Market Closes
There are plenty of ideas for growing your own produce at home. Even if all you can get to grow is lettuce, you can limit your pesticide exposure by starting a simple pot of greens in a bright, sunny spot. Herbs can also be grown indoors, and you might consider investing in a dehydrator that would allow you to safely preserve organic produce for the winter months.
Support Organic Options At The Grocery
It’s important to note that not everyone can afford organics, and even regular produce can be expensive. Your grocer may have the best of intentions, but must meet a certain price point if he is going to survive. Reward your grocer’s organic efforts and support quality food, even if you have to pay a bit more. Your body will thank you!