organic broccoli, my dream entree, utterly different from its cheaper chemical cousin -- creamy, earthy and all-round righteous. But there's a price tag on the pleasure -- in the middle of winter a bunch can run you anywhere from $3 to $5.
This pains me, but I struggle with the basic teaching of holistic-food sages everywhere: never compare the price of a live, natural veggie to its residue-laden other.
To understand its true economy, compare it to the nutritional value of dead stuff like a large bag of chips at the same price. And as everyone knows who has gone full-out organic, it's a tummy-filler, so you naturally eat less of everything else.
You can blame the lack of government incentives to farmers for organics' poor market showing -- it's still 2 per cent of food, but there are over 20 suppliers in the city, nicely arranged at www.veg.on.ca/noframes/pubs/naturefood.htm.
Still, some holistic practitioners are careful about pushing organics too hard in case budget-conscious consumers buy the right stuff but skimp on the amounts, thus missing out on the well-established anti-cancer and heart protections offered by 5 to 10 daily servings of fruits and veggies.
DIRTY DININGIf cost and availability make fresh- from-the-earth a difficult choice, try mitigation strategies. Boycott the worst offenders. Every few years, a new organization studies pesticides and issues a list of the most residue-laden produce.
In 1996, the U.S. Environmental Working Group chose these in order of their shame: strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, peaches, Mexican cantaloupe, celery, apples, apricots, green beans, Chilean grapes and cucumbers. In 99, the U.S. Consumers Union added peaches, pears and winter squash.
On the other hand, some notable tasties are relatively residue-clean: sweet potatoes, broccoli, watermelon and the dreaded Brussels sprouts.
RINSE RITUALSA study by the Texas-based Southwest Research Institute looked at 240 samples and concluded that the action of washing veggies with detergent and and rinsing under tap water will actually remove a large amount of residue. Not everything, mind you. And avoid contact with the skins of chemical fruit unless you've washed like crazy -- peel everything, and no using your teeth to start oranges.
EXPERTS"People tend to be more concerned with water and air, but food is the most common way poisons get into your body. My own recommendation in moving to organic is to start with meat and milk, where toxins bioaccumulate, and then work down to veggies."
Co-author, Real Food For A Change
"Our data indicated that typical household processing can remove pesticide residue. But grapes, peaches and strawberries were among samples in which residues were impossible to remove entirely."
Southwest Research Institute
On pesticide-reduced food as opposed to organic:
"We work with small farmers to grow pesticide-reduced apples and potatoes. Farmers aren't ready to move immediately to organic because their fields are more susceptible to infestation. We are helping them to get rid of the most toxic chemicals, like endocrine disrupters, and slowly reduce the others."
World Wildlife Fund
"Organic production has a higher cost due to labour input. The only possible incentive for farmers to increase organic food production would be getting government grants."
Ontario Federation of Agriculture*