Thursday, January 13, 2011

Part 2 of 2: An Ugly But Real Look into Organic Farming

Yesterday I wrote about what I observed at a large conference about pesticides, and some of the abuses that go on in organic farming. But despite all that I said, yesterday, I don't point the finger at the farmers. Perhaps I'm biased because I'm married to a farmer and into a farming family (who use pesticides and sell to packing sheds instead of directly to the consumer), but the farmers are just trying to eke out a living.

The labor is hard. The hours are long. The risk is huge. The pay is minimal.

Farmers are not trying to poison you with pesticides! Pesticides are expensive, they're a hassle to put on, and it's not enjoyable work. Farmers are just trying to keep bugs out of your food (wormy apples, mushy maggoty cherries, aphidy lettuce, slug-infested tomatoes... sound appealing?), to keep weeds from killing their crops, and to keep fungus from wiping out their farm.

Honestly, if I have to die a year earlier in order to keep bugs out of my food, then I say so be it.

What really upsets me about all of this, though, is not the pesticides but the additional chemical sprays put on because of the demands of the consumer.

Consumers want bigger fruit, they want their fruit anytime of the year, and they want more vibrant colors.

Emma Jean decides she wants to eat fresh (not canned or frozen) tomatoes in December. Tomatoes don't grow in December. She goes to the grocery, and there they are. But in order to get there, they had to be infused with known carcinogenic chemical gases in order to appear red.

Cherries are tiny fruit. But a big fat cherry with a crunch to it is more appealing, so growers have to bend over backward to meet the consumer's demand for huge fat red cherries. Do they naturally grow this way? No. So farmers spray their cherries with Gibberellic acid to modify the plant's natural cellular structure.

Apples should be the size of your hand. But how can you make an award winning pie with a tiny apple? Consumers want bigger apples. Growth hormones and genetic modifications are producing mammoth apples. They weigh more. The packing sheds get more money for heavier fruit. The farmer doesn't see an increased wage, because the standard is just raised and it's either use the chemical or go under when your fruit is too small. And if it's not red enough a consumer won't pick it up (taste? no difference; it's all aesthetics), so an additional chemical spray is put on to make the fruit redder.

If we wouldn't demand behemoth neon fruit and vegetables year-round (out of season), there would be drastically fewer chemicals on our food.

The same goes for our demands for fat, tender, juicy meat (which is injected with "up to 15% saline solutions" to give that effect). And milk that will last for 3 weeks. And bread that never grows mold.

So it's not fair to give one side of the story (corruption in organic farming) without showing the reasons that drive farmers to use the chemicals they do.

And that ends this two day tirade.

1 comment:

April said...

For years there was a law in Europe against selling 'mis-shapen' vegetables that was only repealed in 2009. Seriously, there was a regulation length for cucumbers and knobbly carrots were banned. You could not sell a crooked cucumber in a shop or a market, it could only be used for processing. Carrots could not be "forked, and must be free from secondary roots". How silly is that? Even now, there is still a rule that "The bend of a banana must be “the thickness of a transverse section of the fruit between the lateral faces and the middle, perpendicular to the longitudinal axis, must be at a minimum of 27mm(1.06ins)" according to the European Commission.

Over here, it's stuff like this that has made a lot of folks think that apples have to be bright red, that bananas are all the same size and that anything with a bump or a bruise is sub-standard. Luckily there is a real push towards farmer's markets, traditional butchers and home producers now, kind of in rebellion to all that. But I worry about the whole generation that still believes that things have to be look perfect to taste good. I agree, we need to re-educate consumers about what constitutes good food :) And we have to get the bureaucrats out of food production :)

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