This is the third in a series of posts about organic versus conventional farming.
The Ecologics of Organics describes why the biochemistry of conventional farming has made it the popular choice, but why that short-term biology is failing, plus the options ahead of us.
The Economics of Organics was more a look at the political inertia, and the chemical impact upon society, why the green revolution didn't work, and what you can do about it.
This article is more about the impact it has upon our choices regarding which foods are affected by chemical farming. Understanding the principles generates a priority list in which some foods are more important to buy organic than others.
The relative vigour and robustness of the plants we grow will determine how much assistance they require to survive in the situations we grow them in.
Obviously, trying to grow pineapples in Antarctica will require a lot more management than if we grow them in California. But aside from how suited they are to the environment, another player is how well suited these plants would be to any natural environment.
This is a product of how hybridised the plants are.
For millennia we have been manipulating plants for our own productive ends, cross-fertilising the biggest croppers, and fastest growers.
We've got really busy with this in the past century or two, aiming for profit above everything else of course, but with modern transportation techniques, we have been able to forgo even the robustness of the product.
This has allowed us hybridise towards even sweeter fruits at the expense of thinner skins, but as we can now transport them well packaged and chilled, they make it to their destination without bruising. We can make things go further and faster by picking them earlier in the productive cycle, and ripening them en route using chemical or heat treatment.
All of this is great for the distribution, but takes further away from the nutritional content.
So we find ourselves in a food chain that has become completely reliant upon us and our ability to manipulate and maintain certain environmental factors, which means that almost none of the foods we eat could survive at all without us. And ultimately, we could not now survive in the our multitudes without them.
The further we remove them from their natural setting, the more they lose their vitality.
If we compare the nutritional quality of hybridised foods against the wild foods they are originally breed from we find a shocking degree of loss. And comparing the average salad leaf against edible 'weeds' (that wild animals eat) the numbers are even more staggering.
Thus the subject of wild foods is a growing counter-culture, as is wild foraging.
Until it was coined like this in modern culture, we might otherwise have heard of it as herbal medicine. Using the vigour of ancestral plants to offset the complications of nutritionally deficient crops.
Some plants struggle more than others when mono-cropped together en masse, while others are naturally thick skinned and more resilient in themselves.
So, combining these factors, together, we come to a list of various foods that need to be sprayed with pharma-chemistry in order to do what we need them to, starting with those that tend to be more heavily laden with such chemicals, or other ethical or nutritional concerns.
You can find a simple list of foods in their position according to the following criteria here, but there will always be foods on your shopping list that aren't described here, so below is an explanation of the reasons why foods are affected in this way.
So understanding the 'why' means you can make up your own list according to your food requirements.
Buy them organic because...
1. Thin Skins : These fruits are heavily hybridised, and would not exist in their current form in the wild as they would be attacked by mildews and moulds, let alone burrowing fruit worms. Also this aspect of them increases the amount of pesticide that leaches into the fruit.
Apples, grapes, nectarines, peaches, cherries, tomatoes, berries (especially strawberries)
2. Surface Area : The greater the proportion of skin compared to the content, the more pesticide is used per Kg of crop. The greater the surface area, the more potential for leaching into the product.
Salad leaves, grapes, berries, peas, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, celery
3. Hungry Feeders : Plants that are very nutrient-hungry will denude the ground quicker, and thus more fertiliser is required to keep up. This ultimately increases the amount of pesticides used as the crop weaken.
Bananas, peppers, tomatoes
So while you want to buy all them organic wherever possible, the reverse is true for these following foods. Making them less of a priority to buy organic.
Worry less about these...
Thick skinned : Receiving less pests thus less pesticides
Corn, avocado, pineapple, cabbage, onion,
Big Product : Less chemical leaching, and you're likely to discard the outer layers.
Pumpkin, grapefruit, melon, cauliflower, broccoli, kiwi
Hopefully from this understanding you can make up your own mind about foods that are not actually listed here. Ask yourself some questions...
- Does it have thin skin ?
- Do I eat the skin ?
- Is it mostly skin ?
If any of the answers to this are 'yes' then you're best off buying it organic.
Mushrooms are a class unto themselves with the organic question - but then they are such a special, ancient, diverse and quirky life-form, they usually come into a class of their own on every front.
Commercial mushrooms are grown on a substrate that has to be disposed of as toxic waste - that is how laden with fertilising and protective chemistry it is.
So if you're gonna buy anything organic, these are a good place to start. Consider them a super-thin-skinned, small fruit, and you'll see where they fit.
Other ethical concerns...
- How far has it come ?
- Was it picked green to get here ?
- Can I know anything about the welfare of the farmers ?
4. Human Rights : Many of these crops come from developing nations which do not patrol the use of farming chemicals, and are encouraged to use more than necessary by the salesman.
The lifespan of these farmers are shorter, and their health declines early, many of them children.
Bananas (lowest lifespan of any agricultural worker)
Cacao (chocolate has the worst reputation for utilising child slave labour to harvest)
Tobacco (second next to cacao for child slavery plus appalling pesticide use)
The Fair Trade movement started in these products because the human right abuses are endemic within them.
Of course there are numerous other products out there selling themselves on their organic status - some are genuine, while most are simply using sales techniques and jumping on the bandwagon to charge more. Beware !
Some help in differentiating it can be found here.
Most of your household products and skincare range can be made at home with great ease, and for far less money.
We're written previous posts on this subject, like this one on making your own cosmetics.
Trusting your suppliers is the shortcut to navigating the minefield of marketing strategies and false claims.
If you're trying to do so in a chain store or, worst of all, a supermarket, then you're looking in the wrong places. Those obnoxious organisations will only stock things that have massive shelf life - necessitating the use of powerful and poisonous chemistry to make sure no biological processes can go on in their products - obviously troubling to the biological life that wants to go on in you too. Avoid them at all costs.
Aside from the horrendous (and well hidden) treatment of the supply chain, from producers, farmers, suppliers and even consumers, they are the worst thing that can happen to a local economy. So buy your products and produce from local suppliers.
You're gonna get much better advice and purchases from the mad-looking wholefood shop, rather than the drug section of the supermarket or Holland & Barrett, where the workers are paid minimum wage...
And with the age of the internet, you are not at the mercy of information control. You can research anything if you care enough. You can blame no one else for your choices.
Take control of your spending, and change the world by being the consumer you want to be - an ethical one, heading for both fairly traded and organic signs.
All power to those who act deliberately on any of these levels.
The world is your organic oyster