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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pesticide Freak-out

I have a friend with a pesticide allergy. If she eats conventionally grown apples (or any other fresh produce), she gets all red and swollen and itchy. At times it's so bad that she needs to seek medical attention.

"Buy organic fruit" I told her. Her eyes got really wide and she looked insulted. "Organic food is too expensive! Why would I pay $5.00 for 3 apples when I can get a whole bag for less?" she questioned. I just stared at her in amazement. "Well, how much does taking care of this reaction cost you?" She could easily buy organic produce if she'd just cut back on the beautification dollars. It's not just her, we're all like that. We don't consider what we put in our bodies to be as big a priority as make-up, hair products and clothes, because make-up makes us look pretty and all that crap.

The more I think about my friend the more I see the other not-so-obvious ways this pesky little pesticide allergy effects her. She's been trying to lose weight ever since I've known her, but I only see her eating bad food, yet she says she loves fresh fruit (she brags about loving it because I don't). I just realized that she can't eat fresh fruit or vegetables because of her allergy to pesticide and her unwillingness to by organic. I recommended that she try Trader Joe's and farmer's markets and Community Supported Agriculture shares for less expensive organic produce and I also turned her on to fruit and vegetable wash, which I've decided to start using myself after all this.

We have slowly been increasing the percentage of our food that we buy organic but by no means is all our produce organic. She's right - it is more expensive and hard to justify financially. But my friend's red swollen face has got me wondering more about how these pesticides effect me and my family. Even if these washes do successfully remove the obvious pesticide residue, what does the pesticide that permeates the membrane of the produce do to the food itself, and then our bodies after we eat it? I don't believe for one second that those chemicals remain on the outside skin (remember about permeable cell membranes and all that crap from basic science?) And I also don't believe that, even though I don't get all red and swollen from conventionally grown fruit, nothing's going on inside my body as a result of these pesticides.

I talked to my guy during my pesticide freak-out and his first response when I told him about my friend's big red swollen face was "well does she not wash her apples off before she eats them?" I don't know this for sure but, as a gardener who has battled pests myself, I'd bet that most of the pesticides used on large farms are water-proof. I say this because I know that my organic pest control concoctions need to be reapplied after it rains and that's a real pain - I'm sure that the chemical companies make sure that their stuff won't wash off so easily. That's probably why running your apple under the water from the sink probably isn't that helpful.

From now on, I'll be using the fruit and vegetable wash and I hope to graduate to exclusively buying organic someday. Of course, growing some of my own produce helps. I suggested this to my friend, too. "Gardening is so not me" she snarked.


  1. Doesn't sounds like there is much you can do about your friend, but I will certainly take good care to wash my produce more thoroughly after reading this!

  2. Sorry to hear your friend has such a sharp reaction to what is considered normal produce. I hope she starts to grow some of her own in an organic way. I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the city banned chemical sprays etc years ago. Everything I grow in my garden is organic and the biggest plus is going into a grocery store in the harvest months and comparing a lot of the produce that is on the shelves to the stuff I grow in my small garden. Can't beat it!

  3. We should all eat as little of pesticide ridden produce as possible. It is truly bad for us, and I think a lot of our health problems (like cancer) stem from chemicals.

    The fruit isn't that expensive either. At the very least, eating organic apple and grapes should be a must.~~Dee

  4. I heard years ago that washing wasn't enough...produce that is dried by hand has considerably less residue of any kind. I've gotten away from doing that but I'll be trying to take the time to do it again after this reminder.

  5. While this isn't true for everyone, I"m a big believer in what Michael Pollan says about the fact that we as a society generally don't pay nearly enough for our food.... ie: in order for food to be so cheap there are inevitably hidden social / environmental / health costs that we all pay.. so when I go to the Whole Foods and bawk at their prices, I try to reconsider my reaction and realize that good, fresh, and non-toxic food actually costs a lot more than we're used to.

  6. The pesticide residue thing is really bad! Have you seen the lists of fruits/vegetables with the most pesticides?

    The info says, too, that while washing helps reduce the levels of does NOT eliminate them!

    Here's a brief overview of the list. You can see the full list at Yikes...I love fruits and veggies! I have to start buying organic!

    Check out Prevention Magazine's Dirty Dozen list, looks at other foods in addition to fruits and veggies.


    10 most toxic conventionally grown fruits and vegetables (in order of pesticide toxicity levels):



    Sweet Bell Peppers (11 different pesticides found on a single pepper)







    Pears (86 percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides)

    10 least toxic conventionally grown fruits and vegetables (in descending order of pesticide toxicity levels):




    Asparagus (7 percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides)

    Sweet Peas



    Sweet Corn


    Onions (1 pesticide found on a single onion)

    Source: Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, Fifth Edition, The Environmental Working Group

  7. "red and swollen and itchy" is so not me.

  8. Greetings, I'm a lurker, but do about this topic. You probably already know this, but perhaps not, there are some fruits and vegetables that absorb pesticides into their cellular structure, so you will not be washing anything out and will need to avoid these if you cannot grow your own or purchase pesticide free. Things with thinner skins, and all stone fruit are bad, bad, bad if they are treated with pesticides...these include--peppers, carrots, potatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes,lettuce, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, apples, and grapes. So much of the seemingly cheaper options for food available is actually subsidized by large corporations with very special interests (their own), so the cost seems to be lower but in the long run as j-dog said, in tandem with Michael Pollen, the costs are hidden. We pay for them in healthcare for example. Many people wouldn't think twice of paying $5.00 for ice cream, but flinch if you buy fresh fruit for that much. CSAs and Farmer's Markets are the way to go, also can, freeze and preserve your fresh crops during their seasons--to enjoy them later. Thanks for the discussion.

  9. Excellent discussion you started here Gina. I suspect we ultimately pay a higher price than we realize thanks to chemical and pesticide companies, and now bioengineers tampering with our food supply.

    I'm very happy to have a veggie garden again after a few years without one, and am seriously considering buying a freezer and importing our meat and chicken from some Wisconsin organic, grass-fed, and Amish farms in my mom's community when I visit there. In bulk the prices are so reasonable, easily comparable and even cheaper than conventional grocery stuff. I buy organic whenever I can, and am gradually converting my husband.

    It's so complicated! 'Organic' is a label that's often misused, and when the WalMarts of the world started selling so-called organics, the need for skepticism about the use of the label became even more apparent.

  10. I love this quote from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:

    "It's interesting that penny-pinching is an accepted defense for toxic food habits, when frugality so rarely rules other consumer domains. The majority of Americans buy bottled water, for example, even though water runs from the tap for a fraction of the cost, and government standards are stricker for tap water than for bottled water."

    I don't know how you can afford to not buy organic when you start reading about what all those chemicals will do to you later on.

    Mr Chiots and I spent this past year buying as locally & organic as possible. Because we don't eat out as much and are buying things locally we are actually spending less on our food that ever before. Organic is only more expensive if you keep shopping in the grocery stores. If you grow a bit yourself and eat oranic in season locally, it's actually much cheaper!

  11. Nowadays we all have over 200 chemicals in our system at any time, so in order to reduce this I have, in the last 8-10 years, gradually changed from buying mass market 'top end' supermarket fruit and veg to growing as much of my own organic produce as possible (given that I work, have a family, run a house etc, etc).I have also changed to organic ecologically and environmentally friendly beauty products, laundry stuff etc and have gone back to old fashioned cleaning using lemons, vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and so on - just as effective, cheaper and much better for us.
    I do feel sorry for your friend that she takes such a narrow and short-term view about her health versus cost when it comes to her food and life choices.

  12. LOL--you seem to have a very similar attitude to me. I especially like your wording of "because make-up makes us look pretty and all that crap." Priceless!

  13. For me, it is worth the higher price for what I am NOT buying....poisons.
    Nice to see you posting again!