Gotham Grazer Blog

The Dose Makes The Poison

An article in The Washington Post is convincing readers that pesticide residues pose no risk, but it's a bit more complicated than that.

The Environmental Working Group keeps a “Dirty Dozen” list, which identifies the top 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest amount of pesticide residues.  The goal of the list is to educate consumers about what they are putting into their bodies, and to encourage them to purchase organic versions of these crops.  However, according to this article in The Washington Post, the list actually discourages people from buying fruits and vegetables all together.

A study performed by The Illinois Institute of Technology, where 500 low-income Chicago residents were surveyed on their organic/non-organic buying habits, found that upon learning about the “Dirty Dozen” list, consumers were less likely to buy any fruits and vegetables at all, regardless of their status on the list. 

Toxicologist Carl K. Winter says that consumers should not be wary about eating non-organic foods.  According to Winter, the pesticide residues on these fruits and vegetables “pose no risk to consumers,” because “actual exposure levels are typically millions of times lower than those that are of health concern.”  (There are many scientists and professionals that would disagree with this, but for the purposes of this blog post, we will assume that Winter is correct.)

In a nutshell, this article is saying that since there are nearly-zero health effects from pesticide residues, it is not necessary to buy organic produce. That’s worthy information to share with the public, but it ignores an important entity that does face true risks from pesticide usage: the environment.

When conventional farms use pesticides, they are contributing to the pollution of our air and water systems, diminishing biodiversity, and destroying soil health.  On the other hand, organic farms do the opposite - they deter pests without using synthetic chemicals.  This, along with other organic farming practices, can help to cleanse the environment of pollutants, improve biodiversity, and increase soil organic matter.  Organic farms become living ecosystems, whereas conventional farms have one goal: produce, produce, and produce. 

Although this article makes some valid points, it does a disservice to its readers by painting the picture that we shouldn’t bother with buying organic food.  Yes, you can be healthy without eating organic - this is something that we stress to our Gotham Grazer students all the time.  But in order to eat healthy and protect the planet, buying organic food is going to be necessary. 

New "In-Between" Organic Certification

The path to becoming an organic farm is not an easy one.

Aside from the strict regulations that organic farms abide by, there is actually a three-year transition period in which conventional farms must enforce organic practices, but cannot get any of the credit.  Although the demand for organic products is on the rise, many farmers are hesitant to make the switch, because it usually results in a drop in profits during this three-year time frame.  In response, the USDA has approved a proposal for a new transitional label which will make buyers aware of a farm's "almost organic" status.  This will allow farmers to charge their crops somewhere in between organic and non-organic prices, giving them the financial support they need to successfully become organic.  For more on this, check out the original article from NPR.

Tips For Having A Sustainable Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and there is no better time to start eating sustainably.

Photo by   Satya Murthy

Photo by Satya Murthy

According to the NRDC, about 200 million pounds of turkey will be wasted this Thanksgiving, totaling to a collective $239 million down the drain. We've compiled a list of some of the best ways to avoid contributing to these statistics and to have a healthier and more sustainable Thanksgiving. 

1. "Turkey Day" No More
The history of Thanksgiving is rooted in celebrating the harvest and the wonder of nature.  Although eating turkey has become an important tradition on Thanksgiving, it is clear that this way of eating leads to mass amounts of waste.  This year, have your main course be a creative, meat-free dish - it will certainly be a conversation starter, and you probably won't feel as comatose by the end of your meal.

2. Prepare Your Guests
If your guests are bringing dishes to add to the table, make sure they know how many people will be in attendance in order to avoid excess food. Also remind them to bring containers for leftovers!

3. Buy Organic, Local, And Seasonal
Decrease your carbon footprint and support local farms all at the same time! If you aren't ready to nix the turkey completely, try to buy an organic turkey that was locally and humanely raised.

4. The Freezer Is Your Friend
Who says Thanksgiving only has to last for one day? Sometimes, the best part is eating leftovers for days - and weeks - to come.  Store your leftover prepared meals and unused ingredients in the freezer; the meals can be quickly re-heated, while the ingredients can be used to make new dishes.

5. Donate Extra Food
Although many local food banks and shelters will not accept prepared meals, they will take extra non-perishable goods, such as canned vegetables or a box of stuffing.  Find and contact your local food bank to see what you can donate!

6. Compost Compost Compost
We can't say it enough on this blog.  If you have prepared food that you can't donate, give your thanks to mother earth and recycle that food into fertile soil.

7. Just Because You Eat Potatoes, Doesn't Mean You Have To Become One
As great as it is to settle into the couch for the football game, we challenge you to get outside and play a game of your own.  Whether you decide to play football or go for a family walk, your body and mind will thank you!

We hope that all of our readers will utilize at least one - if not all - of these tips. Have a happy and wonderfully sustainable Thanksgiving!

Classroom Update: Wheat and the Industrial Food System

One of our Gotham Grazer classes focuses on connecting the students to the food that they eat - through cooking!  While learning about the industrial food system, the students took a step back in time, and made their own flour from wheat grains.  Store-bought flour is usually produced in large-scale facilities, but our students got up close and personal with the process, and cranked a hand mill to grind up their grains.  They used the flour to cook their own pancakes, and added in a delicious, no-sugar-added, strawberry compote.

 

Before making the flour, the students brushed up on their wheat anatomy.  Each grain of wheat consists of three parts: the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. White flour only contains the endosperm, whereas whole-wheat flour uses all three parts of the grain.  As shown in the diagram, the bran and germ contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients; this is why whole-wheat bread is considered more healthy than white bread.

What role does wheat play in the industrial food system?  

Wheat has been a staple crop since it was originally domesticated about 10,000 years ago.  Domesticated wheat is different from wild wheatmainly because the seeds are larger, wider, and easier for humans to harvest on a timed schedule.  Wheat, along with corn and soy, are subsidized by the U.S. government, giving farmers an incentive to grow these crops in abundance.  That is why we often see these crops being used in animal feed or as fillers in processed foods.  As industrial agriculture developed after World War II, monoculture (or farming only one specific crop on a large area of land) became the norm in order to maximize profits. This type of farming is the opposite of what the organic movement aims to accomplish; it does not have a range of biodiversity, and it makes the use of pesticides inevitable.  

So, the next time that you make pancakes, consider what type of flour you are buying.  Is it organic?  Perhaps you even milled it yourself!