Just about everybody knows that our vegetables are covered with pesticides and just about everybody knows they're probably pretty bad for us, but you could make a solid argument that pesticides are a necessary evil. Without them, we'd be hard-pressed to feed the human population.
Still, things have gotten gnarly.
Every year, about 1.3 million pounds of pesticides are used on U.S. crops. That equates to about 6 pounds of pesticide on every acre of farmland.
Of the 35,000 registered pesticides used in this country, fewer than 21% have been tested for carcinogenicity. Fewer than 10% have been tested for their potential to cause mutations and fewer than 40% have been tested for their potential to cause birth defects.
The good thing is that we've banned plenty of pesticides and since we're nothing but savvy businessmen, the U.S. exports between 100 and 150 million tons of these banned pesticides every year to suckers in other countries. Unfortunately, we import 40% of all our fruit and about 12% of all our vegetables back from these countries, so it's fairly certain that we end up eating these banned pesticides anyway.
Several months ago, while trying to master Chinese cooking, I went to a Chinese grocery store and bought some cucumbers, bok choy, and assorted Chinese vegetables, all presumably from Asia.
I ended up buying more vegetables than I needed, so I stored the remainder in my crisper and promptly forgot about them. I rediscovered them four months later while rooting around for something to throw in a stir fry. Amazingly, the Chinese vegetables appeared just as fresh as the day I'd bought them.
Maybe it's a side effect of using our banned pesticides! They've turned their Chinese cucumbers into agricultural versions of the long-lived, hard-to-kill John Coffey in The Green Mile!
I think I even I heard the things talking as I put them back in the crisper.
Maybe it wasn't the pesticides. Maybe it's some sort of super preservative that the Egyptians used to make mummies. Regardless, it should make you wonder what in God's name is being put on produce.
We do know that imported fruits and vegetables usually have three times the amount of pesticides that our U.S. grown counterparts have, and that the FDA only manages to check about 1% of the stuff we import.
That's not to say U.S. grown produce is much better. One third of the "home-grown" versions contain multiple residues, exposing us to cancer-causing chemicals and possible neurological disorders, not to mention the disturbing endocrine disruptions caused by many of these chemicals.
As you might guess, some fruits and vegetables are worse than others. Some, because of their leafy configuration, attractiveness to certain insects or fungi, or length of growing season, require more pesticides than others.
The Consumers Union (the publishers of Consumer Reports) and a research group named the Environmental Working Group, using data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have compiled a list of the worst fruits and vegetables in regards to health risks associated with pesticides.
If you eat just five fruits and veggies from this list, you've ingested at least 10 different pesticides, many of which will gleefully take up residence in your organs and body fat.
Here's the list:
- Bell Peppers (both green and red)
- Cherries (US grown)
- Cantaloupes (Mexico grown)
- Green beans
- Grapes (Chile)
- Winter squash (US)
Yeah, yeah, I've dissed your favorite fruit or vegetable. Tough.
Apples? They've got some Vitamin C but otherwise have little else in the way of measurable nutrients or carotenoids. In contrast, they contain a shitload of pesticides. In fact, have been more pesticides (36) detected on apples than any other fruit or vegetable, and up to 7 different types have been found on a single sample.
You're mad about the strawberries because you and your girl like to dip them in chocolate Metabolic Drive and feed them to each other. Get over it, Romeo. They're a good source of Vitamin C, but so are a lot of other fruits and vegetables. What they do have in abundance, though, is really high levels of fungicides, two of which are probable carcinogens. Another of these fungicides interferes with Testosterone.
Fortunately, there's also a list of fruits and vegetables that are relatively clean in terms of pesticides.
Here it is:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas
- Cantaloupe (US grown)
- Sweet potatoes
- Honeydew melons
You have several options.
- You could relegate yourself to just eating foods from the "Clean 15." Unfortunately, you wouldn't be getting much variety.
- You could say "screw it" and continue eating whatever fruits and vegetables you fancy, hoping against odds that the healthy and life-promoting constituents of these foods will outweigh the possible negative effects of the chemicals and pesticides. Good luck on that one.
- You could go organic. The trouble is, buying organic is expensive. Secondly, fewer than 1 or 2 percent of the farms in the U.S. are certified organic. Thirdly, no one's really set up a legal definition for the term organic, so many of these farms could be screwing us.
- You could simply make a willful effort to eat a large variety of fruits and vegetables so that, hopefully, you won't ingest large quantities of any one liver-glowing pesticide or chemical.
- You could wash your fruits and vegetables in a solution containing one teaspoon of dishwashing detergent in a gallon of warm water. Swirl the produce in the solution for 10 seconds, and then rinse thoroughly, lest you prefer your stir fry be flavored with a dash of Palmolive.
- You could peel those fruits or vegetables that are amenable to peeling, thereby mechanically removing most pesticides or chemicals. Similarly, you can discard the outer leaves of vegetables and just eat the stuff inside.
- You could buy frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. The washing and blanching that prepares fruits and vegetables for freezing or canning supposedly removes between 80 and 90% of pesticides. The same concept applies to Biotest's Superfood, a freeze-dried preparation of 18 fruits and vegetables.
I know, I know, lately I've been the harbinger of bad nutritional news, and I suspect that the impulse of the average reader is to go out on a big cancerous, limp-dicked (from the hormone disrupters) foodfest and eat everything you want to eat since it's all going to kill you anyhow.
I can appreciate that overreaction, but I'm still a firm believer in knowing the truth about anything and everything regardless of the pain or consequences.