I understand that organic food is more expensive, less accessible in so-called “food deserts” and sadly, it has the reputation of being only for the privileged. But I hope to convey in this episode why it’s so important to start to transition into buying partly organic if you’re not buying any right now. And how small steps are better than none at all.
Listen to the GRASS episode here.
Listen to the SHAMPOO episode here.
Listen to the 80/20 episode here.
In the few weeks leading up to Halloween, like many parents, I was looking around for a pumpkin patch. Here in Massachusetts it’s not hard to find apple orchards and farms across the state, but I wasn’t looking for just any farm. If you’ve already listened to the episode on grass you can probably see where this is going. Today, we’re talking about glyphosate again but this time I’m focusing on how it relates to food.
To be honest, before I started this podcast, it was so much easier to turn a blind eye every once in a while. I’ve told you the Pantene Pro-V story in the shampoo episode, I’ve shared my perspective about the 80-20 rule in another episode but with other things, especially when it comes to my kid, they’re harder to ignore.
Whereas last year, we were eating apples off the trees at an orchard here in Massachusetts, I just didn’t feel like I could do that again this year without knowing more about the farming practices — specifically, the use of pesticides and insecticides.
So, the morning we were supposed to go to the pumpkin patch and apple orchard, I spent 30 minutes calling all of the farms within a 40 minute radius of our house. And the conversations I had with the employees or owners of each farm was fascinating. All of them started like this:
Me: “Hi, we were thinking about coming to pick apples and pumpkins today. I just have a quick question: do you use any pesticides or herbicides on your farm?”
What was interesting was the variation of answers I heard, even though they all said the same thing — just in different ways.
The first woman told me to look up the Massachusetts state farming regulations. When I said, “Oh, okay, I mainly just want to know if you use glyphosate” — she said, “It sounds like you’re really passionate about this so like I said, I encourage you to go look it up online.” When I pushed her further, she still wouldn’t answer.
Which boiled down to PR speak for yes, we do use Roundup.
Another man who answered the phone said, “Glyphosate? What is that like Roundup?” When I said yes, he matter of factly said, “Yeah, we use Roundup.” After the first conversation, I appreciated his honesty.
With the rest of the calls I got a combination of PR answers, non-answers and some flat out “yes’s.” But the answers were all the same, I couldn’t find one pumpkin patch or apple orchard that didn’t spray the herbicide Roundup.
And I shouldn’t have been surprised, as I mentioned in the Grass episode, glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, especially here in the U.S. I think I just had wishful thinking that it was mainly used in big agriculture — not on these little farms where kids go to pick a sack of apples.
For anyone who is local, we did end up going to an organic farm in Winchester called Wright-Locke farm. We had been there before, and there weren’t any apples or pumpkins, but there are goats, chickens and lots of woods and land to explore which seemed just as good for a two and a half year old.
Was it worth calling all of those farms and having a less fall festive farm visit? I think the answer would be different for everyone, but for me it was worth it because I now know too intimately just how bad Roundup is for our health and how often we’re exposed to it without even knowing. It goes back to that adage “ignorance is bliss” — like last year, when I kind of knew but could still look past it.
The truth is the use of glyphosate has been banned or restricted by 40 countries (besides the U.S.) because of its proven harm to humans.
And yes, the people who bear the brunt of glyphosate’s effects are farmers, landscapers and the people who work closely with the herbicide. But as consumers, we are exposed to it every day in the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe and even in the rain.
Which brings me to organic food as a whole. I understand that organic food is more expensive, less accessible in so-called “food deserts” and sadly, it has the reputation of being only for the privileged. But I hope to convey in this episode why it’s so important to start to transition into buying partly organic if you’re not buying any right now. And how small steps are better than no steps.
Several years ago, there was a common marketing message that organic food wasn’t worth it because it’s not more nutritious than conventionally grown food with pesticides.
And that’s true in some ways — the reason to buy organic isn’t because the food itself is necessarily more nutrient dense (although I’m sure some organic farmers would argue that). The main reason is to reduce your exposure to pesticides and herbicides that are known carcinogens and toxins that can cause reproductive harm, respiratory distress, endocrine disruption and other long-term health risks.
Let’s look at strawberries, as an example. According to the Environmental Working Group:
“Conventionally grown strawberries tested by scientists at the Department of Agriculture in 2015 and 2016 contained an average of 7.8 different pesticides per sample, compared to 2.2 pesticides per sample for all other produce.”
The USDA’s strawberry tests found that:
- Almost all samples – 99 percent – had detectable residues of at least one pesticide.
- Some 30 percent had residues of 10 or more pesticides.
- The dirtiest strawberry sample had residues of 23 different pesticides and breakdown products.
- Strawberry samples contained residues of 81 different pesticides in various combinations.
You may be thinking, “Well, how hazardous are these chemicals used on strawberries? They can’t all be bad.” And you’re right, some are fairly harmless. But others are linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, hormone disruption and neurological problems. And yet as disturbing as these findings are, they do not violate the U.S. laws and regulations for pesticides used on the foods we eat.
When it comes to certain foods, like strawberries, the extra cost of buying organic is a small price to pay compared to what you’re avoiding.
You may have heard the term, “Dirty Dozen” before. I didn’t come up with it but this is the list of 12 foods that have the highest amounts of pesticides and herbicides and are worth buying organic.
You can pause to type out this list on your Notes app so you’ll always have it at the grocery store. Otherwise, I’m linking to the full list on the EWG from the show notes page at cleanlivingpodcast.com/organicfood
- Hot peppers
An easy way to remember the dirty dozen list is that generally speaking, all of these fruits and vegetables have thin skins that you don’t peel.
There is also a list called the Clean 15 (again, I didn’t come up with this) but it’s a list of produce that are safer to eat when conventionally grown.
- Sweet corn (although a lot of corn in the U.S. is grown with GMOs)
- Frozen sweet peas
- Honeydew melon
There are some exceptions here, but generally, the clean 15 is made up of fruits and vegetables that have thicker skins that you peel.
There are some other foods that aren’t on these lists that are high in pesticides that you’re better off buying organic and those are: bell peppers, oats, beans and legumes, herbs and rice and wheat.
So in this episode’s this for that segment, if you’re not already buying organic, I’m going to encourage you to start buying organic only for the “Dirty Dozen” list. That will be one significant step towards reducing the amount of pesticides and herbicides in your food.
As just a quick ending note on this: I was listening to a podcast interview with a naturopath in Encinitas, California who runs a hospice center. She told a story about taking over the hospice center, switching all of the bed-ridden patients onto a whole foods, organic diet, no processed food and in less than a month they were all out of bed. These were people who were on their literal death beds.
Of course this is just one story but it really shows just how powerful the food we eat is for the healing of our bodies. And that food truly is medicine.
Thanks so much for listening to this episode of The Clean Living Podcast — I’m your host Shannon Lohr. Did you know that you can find out your own clean living score? I have a quiz on the podcast website where you can learn where you are in your clean living journey. Just go to cleanlivingpodcast.com and scroll down to the quiz. Here’s to creating a cleaner, more sustainable world for all of us.