I’ve been feeling a bit frustrated of late and feel that may be attributed to being removed from my ability to make independent choices….what to eat, where to buy, from what source and without all the added ingredients. So I thought I’d pen (or rather, type) my frustrations.
For me, in real non-sea faring life, I like to think that I make educated choices about the food I buy and the products I use. I always endeavour to buy local, where possible…. though I do have a penchant for avocados…and understand that they’re not so locally grown in Ireland… but I do try my best elsewhere! I also try to buy organic where I can. Not to join any ‘movement’, as I am often cajoled about by crewmates and some friends at home. I simply like to opt for the choice of non-chemically grown food versus that which is laden with potentially carcinogenic and environment-eroding pesticides.
As I don’t eat meat anymore, I luckily don’t need to worry so much about added hormones and anti-biotics in my food…as far as I know anyways!
Why Pay More?
Yes, I agree with the argument that buying organic is generally more expensive. Unfortunately, I am not currently in a position to grow my own fruit, veg and legumes, therefore I must rely on markets and supermarkets to provide me with my food.
For me, personally, I try look at the bigger picture and understand that to my pocket, yes it is indeed more expensive but on a wider scale it is ultimately less costly to nature, my health, the ecosystem and the future of successful food production.
I find it hard regularly getting the piss taken out of me, constant eye-rolling or sniggers firstly for opting not to eat meat, but secondly for trying to choose less processed and organically grown foods.
I hate the mocking voices I get when I mention ‘organic’ or ‘vegan’ in the crew mess. But I have learnt to bite my tongue and remember that I’m not alone out there, making educated buying choices where feasible.
My Reasoning for Going Organic
I am writing this piece, almost as a refute to those that say buying organic is ‘bullshit’, a a way for supermarkets to charge more and there’s nothing wrong with highly processed food. I also write this for myself, to remind me why I hold these beliefs and values so close to my heart.
I want to look behind the veil of the aesthetically pleasing marketing campaigns, employed by the giant food conglomerates and learn more about the food industry, particularly that of the United States, as I will be based here for the next 6 months or so.
I must say that observing the attitudes of others around me, that ignorance can almost be bliss. If I didn’t give a shit about the environment, about climate change, about nature, about animal rights and what chemicals are in my food, then modern life and the ubiquitous convenience food society would certainly be a lot less intimidating and much easier to live with.
But I feel that’s not the right attitude to have. Not for me.
Things will never change if people don’t assert their mindsets to see the negative impact our demand for convenience and general gluttony is having on the planet and our health.
I was brought up in an Irish household that was food orientated. My Dad was a professional chef and a man that was deeply passionate about the art of cooking.
I learnt from him, at an early age that good food takes time. Not only time to prepare and cook, but to grow, organically and naturally. We often forget that in modern society; with busy lifestyles make that a tricky rule of thumb to follow. But it can be done.
I remember my Dad would make steamed chocolate pudding over a homemade bain-marie, it took hours to cook, but the sweet, sumptuous scent of chocolate would begin wafting through the house in no time, taunting our taste buds and preparing us for what would be a mouth-watering homemade treat.
He also created rich stews that would simmer on the stove most of the day, the flavor deepening with each hour that passed. His food was nothing short of spectacular. I wish I had appreciated it more at the time.
We grew up learning to appreciate food, good food. Wholesome food. My Dad would scorn me in University if he ever saw ready meals in the cupboards. ‘They’re full of artificial ingredients. You could make better at home,’ he used to say…and he was exactly right.
However, going back to busy modern times, I believe that there are some good alterative ready made meals and sauces out there, with a growing abundance of organic and GMO free choices. It’s worth the time to read the label at the back and make sure there’s no suspicious chemicals or preservatives added.
I wish my Dad was still around today, so that I could talk about food and learn more from him and his extensive culinary background, especially now, as a fully grown adult and passionate foodie. But I will just have to go with what I have already been taught by him already and endevour to expand my repertoire, using him as my inspiration.
Be the change we want to see.
Our buying choices ultimately dictate how supermarkets operate, how farmers manage their crops. Already it’s clear that consumers have a massive influence on the market.
It is becoming commonly ubiquitous to find dairy alternatives in cafés, larger whole foods sections in supermarkets, organic isles and smaller franchises, boasting their decision on placards that they opt for organic, local produce. Why? Because more consumers are becoming aware of the real story behind their food and no longer want to support massive companies with low ethics. Instead many are using their consumer power to change the whole food industry. And YOU can do this too!
Supporting food that is grown closer to how nature intended (though I’m still certain most of the Organic fruit and veg grown in the States is still genetically modified to some degree) means less nitrogen and chemical run off into water systems and surrounding soils. It means a healthier and more symbiotic eco-system, something that in the long run, benefits both wildlife and humans.
Let’s Talk about the Birds and the Bees
Bees, birds, bats and beetles are some of our chief pollinators, transferring pollen and seeds from one flower to another, fertilizing the plant naturally so it can grow and produce food. Cross-pollination helps at least 30 percent of the world’s crops and 90 percent of our wild plants to thrive. And bees are the forerunners in this game.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council here in the States, nearly one third of all honeybee populations have disappeared. Even back home, [i]more than half of Ireland’s bee species have undergone substantial declines in their numbers since 1980. The distribution of 42 species have declined by more than 50%.
[ii]In 2006 an Irish Bee Red List was published. It showed that 30% of Irish bee species are threatened with extinction. Six species are critically endangered, 10 are endangered and 14 species are vulnerable.
Scientists are now calling this Colony Collapse Disorder. A number of factors are believed to be the cause, including global warming; resulting in out-of-season blooming, meaning no food when the bees need it; the use of pesticide on farms, habitat loss from development, growing crops without leaving habitat for wildlife, the planting of flowers that are not pollinator friendly and parasites.
I read somewhere that due to the sharp decline in local native bees and bumblebees, in some of these mono-crop farm belts in the US, people were being employed to simulate what would be their ‘buzz pollination’ with hand held vibrators on crops such as tomato plants. I have no journal to officially back this up but I have seen various articles online that suggest this is a true fact.
In many agricultural areas, bee colonies are rented to help pollinate plants, with newspapers and agricultural articles complaining about the rising cost of bee rental. .[iii] The almond crops in California are entirely dependent on honeybees, and every spring they require more than half the commercial bee colonies in the nation.
For an interesting and eye-opening read, have a look at http://agdev.anr.udel.edu/maarec/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Pollination-rentals-PNWEAST.pdf for a list of the rental costs and country-wide demand for bee rentals in the United States.
Bees are so vital to our food chain. We need to protect them for the future of food and our ecosystem.
When did we start using pesticides?
The correlation between the introduction of chemical pesticides in agriculture and the exponential growth in human cancer rates is also far too coincidental to ignore.
When entomologist, Paul Müller first discovered a use for chemical compound DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), it was quickly praised for being one of the most effective insecticide ever seen.
Soon, the idea of spraying food crops with such potent chemicals became a growing, accepted and encouraged trend in the industrial farming sector.
Müller was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work on DDT in 1948. By the mid-1950’s it became one of the most widely used pesticides in America. At the same time herbicides were making an impact on agriculture, flogged as some of the best weed killers ever created.
Farming was now turning the tide to become agri-business, rather than agriculture.
How the War made Chemicals popular
Most of these new chemicals in farming came about as a result of chemical warfare during the Second World War. Chemical companies that had produced weapons such as napalm bombs turned their attention to agricultural uses post-war, producing all kinds of new pesticides and a whole new class of organophosphate agriculture chemicals.
Many of these new agricultural chemicals were known to be highly toxic, though many of the effects would not be discovered for many years.
Though many of these post-war, left over chemicals have since been banned in food production, there is still a wealth of known toxic chemicals used today.
Monsanto, a forerunner in chemical agriculture and genetically modified (GMO) seeds has, in recent times, become front-page news the world over, criticised for a strong link between its products and cancer rates in humans.
It’s product ‘RoundUp’, with the widely controversial herbicide chemical glyphosate was finally banned in a number of countries outside the US, such as the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Columbia and Bermuda, with many EU member states considering to do the same.
’Roundup is one of the most popular weed killers in the world, and it’s one of the most common pollutants in soil and water. When a farmer sprays crops with Roundup, the chemical sinks into the ground and leaches into the water. It’s in the food that we eat and the water that we drink. The result? Cancer, kidney damage and birth defects – those are just a few of Roundup’s effects on our bodies […] Without Roundup, healthy, natural plants would out-compete Monsanto’s laboratory creations.’
A RoundUp of Monsanto
On March 25, 2015, the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization announced they had classified glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Monsanto backlash and demands for retraction were immediate.
Aside from the potential carcinogenic effects that chemicals such as Monsanto’s Round Up poses, there is also the environmental impact. According to the Pesticide Action Network of North America, the genetically modified, ‘RoundUp Ready’ seeds produced to grow in such toxic soil (no naturally derived seed could), have, in turn, created an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds” now plagues farmers. Weeds develop herbicide resistance quickly.
Cancer Among Farmers
Getting back to the effects of chemicals in farming, scientists from the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) embarked a research project known as the Agricultural Health Study (AHS) to evaluate the role of agricultural exposures in the development of cancer and other diseases in members of the farming community (of the United Stated). The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health joined the study in 2000.
They found that compared with the general population, that whilst some diseases were lower, mostly attributed to their outdoor lifestyle, the rates for certain diseases, including some types of cancer, appeared to be higher among agricultural workers and was potentially related to common work environment exposures.
It was found that farming communities have higher rates of leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma, as well as cancers of the skin, lip, stomach, brain, and prostate.
The research conducted was focused mainly on the exposure to the use of pesticides and the link to human cancer. One study in 2009, from the American Health Study revealed that people who use the weed killer Imazethapyr have increased risks of bladder cancer and colon cancer.
Imazethapyr is most commonly used as a herbicide for killing weeds in soybean, dry bean, alfalfa, and other crop fields. Similarly, the risk of colon cancer (mostly tumors in the proximal colon, where food enters during digestion) was nearly twice as high as normal (78 percent increased risk) among farmers who had the highest level of exposure, compared with those who had no exposure to the chemical.
Many further independent studies (those conducted by the big agriculture companies, with a vested interest in their multi-billion dollar products not to be linked to cancers, usually seem to be deemed inconclusive or worryingly concluded as ‘safe’ for human consumption) have revealed undeniable direct links to these strong chemicals in our food chain to cancer and other diseases.
For a full list of published papers on the study of agri chemicals and the link to disease and cancers (if you are remain defiant against the choice of going organic) take a look at https://aghealth.nih.gov/news/publications.html.
This piece began as a short piece that I felt like writing about, simply because I felt like I was constantly having to justify and defend myself for not wanting to eat meat and opting for organic foods.
As soon as I started to delve, just a little, into the agri-chemical/food industry here in the States, I was overwhelmed by the vast wealth of information relating to the subject. These points barely touch on the dangers of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers.
However, it has provided, for me, enough rationale for my desire to eat organic and that my reasoning has not been unsubstantiated.
I think if I were to go into the reasons behind why I choose not to eat meat, it might result in a short novel, at this rate!
So for now, I’ll just use this piece to explain to all the doubters in my social circle why I choose to eat Organic and why I can fork out that extra bit of money for chemical free food.
I know friends who will easily spend $200 on a handbag but refuse to pay an extra $1 for a chemical-free, naturally grown alternative to their intended veggie list.
I understand that we cannot all buy organic, all the time. But if you can spare an extra dollar or Euro here or there, when you do your weekly shop, it’s worth it…For you, for the farmer, for the environment and for the change we want to see in how we’re sold food produce.
Support your local farmer. Organic farming is hard work. The yield is often much smaller than that of chemically rich farms. But the food produced is much richer and better for you. This is why it tends to be more expensive.
The more we can buy organic the hope is that it will soon become the norm, as natural farming methods become more widely adopted due to a clear-cut consumer demand.
One last thought…
In the words of Joni Mitchell… ‘Now farmer, farmer put away that DDT. I don’t care about spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees, please’
Empower yourself as a consumer…insist on organic.
 Gabriela Chavarria, “Pollinator Conservation,” Renewable Resources Journal, Winter 1999-2000.