The conundrum about organic and conventional  food, and how to make it  safe and affordable.
Posted on July 14th, 2017

Chandre  Dharmawardana, Ottawa, Canada.

There are many toxic substances used in our food. Because every substance  is toxic when exceeded beyond certain limits, and these limits are quite low for many substances.

It is not just tobacco which is now well known as being dangerous, but the CEOs of tobacco companies have not been hauled into court. Perhaps equally important is the toxic effect of sugar, or meat eating, consuming “preserved foods” etc. But no labels are put on them. However,  public fear of “preservatives” in conventional food seems disproportionately  high, especially among the educated upper classes who may however be more prone to internet propaganda, who have the elitism to demand a choice of foods even in a world where Africa and parts of Asia are hungry. . The most common preservatives, namely  salt, sugar and fat are ignored and are of course  they are bad. Their effect is seen in the increasing obesity and cardio-vascular health of populations all over the world. But this is ignored, and people are concentrating on parts per billion traces of preservatives and pesticides”, following the lead of the California elite and its judiciary lead by people who have supermarkets filled with inexpensive food, and  now demand the right to have food which is 100 % safe and pure, natural  foods”. The vasha visha naethi rata” is a copy of the Califronia Elitist paradigm.

Let us take the view that:

” if a worm has eaten a into a papaw (papaya) or mango or any other fruit I think is a virtual guarantee that the fruit is not affected by any harmful chemical”.

If worms have eaten into a fruit or vegetable, and if there are insects, weevils, aphids, thrips,

(http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/14-001.htm), or signs of snail tracks, I would be very concerned.  Contaminated water can get in via the worm holes. Flies lay eggs in them. A fruit good for a worm is not  necessarily good for a human. The fruits may have been  grown  “organically” and human or animal feces (excreta) may have been used without  proper composting. If so, the  product may very well  contains  parasitic worms, E-Coli etc. Also, worms eat the fruit and their excrement may contain  toxins and allergens. Moulds and fungus growth are  likely near worm holes, and will affect sensitive consumers. We come to this question again, further below.

Here is a fairly common point of view which is fine for individual use, but may not be applicable on a wider scale:

“Also fruits grown using organic or natural fertilizer and allowed to ripen in due course (without making it ripen faster it by artificial means) are generally tastier, which is my experience”

This is what they tell you about preservatives. What are these preservatives? Ask what are the trace amounts of pesticides (not preservatives)  in Australian fruits, and you can that find out. But ask for details of what is in organic fruits or vegetables, and they have no information. It is the same problem with organic fertilizer. If you take it to the lab and get it analyzed  yourself, you find that they are quite contaminated. People want to buy fruits, even during winter and  as cheaply as possible. The market caters to this demand by providing fruit ripened “artificially”. In natural ripening, the plant produces the same chemical or a similar chemical to ripen the fruit. But most people cannot afford the fruits produced by the slow “natural” process. Naturally ripened fruit may get crushed in transport.

Here again  is a fairly common point of view which is fine for individual use, but may not be applicable on a wider scale:

“Also I seldom or never buy apples and other fruit imported from the West or Australia or New Zealand because of the preservatives used for preventing them rotting during long sea voyages. It is safer and tastier to consume fruits brought by a relative or friend from such a country since their traveling time is a matter of few days and therefore the fruits remain almost fresh having been purchased from markets or cultivators there”.

Fruits and vegetables, meat and fish are no longer shipped by sea route, at least for several decades;  in fact they are sent by air as it is cheaper than sending  by ship as the cost of harbour operations, refrigeration for the sea voyage etc., are  prohibitive.

Preservatives have been mentioned several times as if they are a danger.

What preservatives are one thinking of? Wax is used as the preservative for fruits, cucumbers etc.

Fruit farmers need a solution to protect their produce beyond the harvest season. Fruit wax is used as a preservative to keep apples, oranges, cucumbers, and other produce from going bad.  Fruit wax seals in moisture and such fruits taste better than unwaxed “organic” apples unless they are just plucked”. The wax seals in the flavours that enter  the nose when one eats the fruit. Waxes also make fruits look more attractive. Wax creates a shine and protection from browning. On average , produce that has  been waxed  will have a 50-60% longer shelf life.

Markets  claim that consumers prefer shiny waxed fruit, and in many cases it’s sprayed for cosmetic reasons rather than by necessity. But fruit wax can also prevent fungi from growing on produce. So certain food products that tend to grow mold quickly may get waxed  to lengthen shelf life. Waxing  makes the food safer for people who can be allergic to fungal growth on fruits.

If you are buying conventional non-organic fruit you need to be more concerned about pesticides than about wax and such preservatives. But fruits are washed thoroughly (and in a way better than you can do at home) mechanically before they are sprayed with wax. Now, some people have claimed that the wax may contain petroleum residues. But you can wash  off the wax with hot water.

Another example is fish. In Canada, the most fresh salmon is what is air-freighted from Chili (overnight), while the salmon caught in the  Atlantic or in Quebec take four days to come by train unless airlifted. It is well known that eating local food is not ecologically more optimal than transporting food from major producers (see the book  Just Food” by Prof. McWilliams for the detailed data.)

The argument about better taste is a common elitist argument of the upper classes who have enough food and now worry about choice.  But  the real problem of the food scientist is feeding  large areas of the world with famine, malnutrition,  and hunger,  coupled with exploding populations with poor education. If social planners and religious leaders cannot teach family planning to poor societies, we need to at least keep up the food production. The environment we live in is threatened by the billions of people who live on earth.   They cut down our forests and build homes, and depend on  mass agriculture to feed themselves. In reality we need to go to a higher level of technology where we return our  plantations and tea estates back to forests, and grow our food in food towers which use only a minimal  amount of land and water. In such grow towers   the water and the fertilizer, CO2 emitted etc.,  are  recirculated without release to the environment. As the tower is enclosed, no insects and pests can you hardly  need insecticides. You still need to control against viruses. Or, the alternative is,  we have to reduce the world population and its GREEDY elitist consumption patterns.

If  your friends brought  apples from Australia  or from Canada, they are not allowed to bring them in to an island country like Sri Lanka without fumigation  requirements – they have to be treated. Illegal importation can be disastrous to the fauna and flora of a country. Also, if  they bought the apples from a supermarket in Australia, then they  are no different from  what is imported legally to Sri Lanka from Australia. If they are imported from India,  beware of DDT  and worse things, even in tea or  in Neem products. If they are from Australia they are safe and probably freshly air-lifted.

Similarly, some people think that unpasteurized milk (containing bugs), or cheese containing worms, are safe “because there are worms”. Actually, unpasteurized milk is a leading cause of hospitalization in communities that insist on the basic human right” to drink unpasteurized milk or what ever they want.  Quack doctors  like “Doctor” Mercola are  against pasteurization, vaccination, fluoridation to prevent dental carries etc., as they want it all natural, or treated by their  own alternative products which cannot be sold  in pharmacies, so they use  the internet.

Here is a typical guide to dealing with fruits and vegetables. If they are claimed to be “organic”  I myself exercise MORE CAUTION because no body knows what is in them:

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Instructions for washing and checking fruits and vegetables for use at all certified caterers and food establishments:

(A document like this was prepared by me, together with more details of chemical analysis procedures,  in the 1970s for student use, when I was setting up the Food Science and Technology department at the Vidyodaya University, at which time I worked there as the Head of the Chemistry Dept. Here sections on chemical analysis  are removed and the common sense “washing” procedure is stated, and I have updated the preamble about “Keera” (leafy vegetables like Kankun, Mukunuvenna) ).

In the tropics, all fresh vegetables should be washed and cooked.  Many herbs are grown in unsanitary marshes and sold by “keera karayas” and street vendors. Of course, they are organic” since no pesticides  or fertilizers are used. They were  grown in Vanathamulla marshes some years ago and in the 1970s,  and now they have moved further out. Some “keera” is grown even now in Meethotamulla-like areas;  the “fertilizer” comes from the rotting  garbage and sewage via the  common water table. Such urban waste usually contains toxic heavy-metal (e.g., cadmium, lead, arsenic ) contamination.

Washing is mandatory, and  best done with a touch of baking soda and mechanical rubbing – the longer the better because vegetables grown along the road side or sold on the road side are contaminated with diesel and petroleum residues which are the main problem in Sri Lanka. Toxic leaded petroleum is still used in the country. If the fresh vegetable is to be consumed without cooking , wash with condis crystals (permanganate) and then thoroughly wash many times as amoeba and chigella  and such organisms are not killed  or removed even by boiling, let alone  simple washing, and they may be  found in all fruits and vegetables (irrespective of being  “organic” or otherwise) grown in the tropics. Obviously, fruits like banana are safe because they have an outer skin, if they are NOT insect or worm infested, or if their skin is not damaged allowing water and contaminants o get into the fruit.

Fresh Vegetables: check (a) type of Insect (b) location of Insect (c) methods of Inspection (d) Aphids and thrips (e) tropical worms, invisible worm eggs, weevils etc. The latter  have to be destroyed by boiling or by applying radiation. They are found on organic as well as conventional  fruits, but to a lesser extent in the latter. If fruits and vegetables have been in contact with with organic matter or  untreated (e.g., unchlorinated) water, they are very likely to contain E-Coli. We begin by looking at some vegetables which are not too familiar in Sri Lanka but found in Up-country.

Examine   solid , Cabbage, Articoke or similar sheath vegetables:: On the surface and lodged deep between the leaves.    Thoroughly wash and rinse prior to use. Make certain that leaves are attached and not falling off.

Arugula and similar leaf vegetables:  Check for thrips or leaf miner worms (indicated by trails), in the leaf curls and inside the leaf.

Asparagus: Thrips under triangle parts, along the stem, and in the tips at the top of the asparagus

Green Asparagus:  1. Shave down the tips located on the head  2. Remove the triangle parts along the side of the asparagus – ensure that the asparagus is smooth 3. Wash thoroughly

White Asparagus: Wash thoroughly before use; may have been grown in a soil rich in metal toxins, or in contaminated water. Those problems are more important than chemicals as the white asparagus is under the soil and less subject to sprayed chemicals.

Broccoli

Aphids, thrips, spider mites, or broccoli worm; some of these insects may appear brownish after parboiling process. Lodged in the floret head or at the base of the under-part area connecting the floret to the stem.

Florets: Fresh: Fresh broccoli, carefully check and wash stuff, mites possibly lodged in the florets

Frozen: safe,  as insects and bugs would be killed. Thaw and wash thoroughly. Mechanical action

and slight backing soda help to wash clean. Stems only: Wash thoroughly; Most frozen vegetables are

a safe, inexpensive alternative.

In general inspect the source of the product (i.e. in what locality  it is produced, what type of soil and likely contamination of soil and water, because plants absorb and ACCUMULATE toxins found in the soil and water, and that is much more important than the parts per billion glyphosate that may be on the skin of a banana ). So  inspect the product, then wash thoroughly with agitation and even a soapy detergent, backing soda etc.  Products from large organizations are likely to conform to regulations, while small private farmers do not usually conform to any regulations (even if it happens to be one of your “friends”), especially in countries like Sri Lanka and India.

Then, if these precautions have been taken,  the product being organic or not does not matter, and it can be consumed without worry. If you are willing to pay more, and if you are willing to hire a good cook, you get tastier fruit and vegetable. Food technology can make lousy food taste good because we know that “taste” is controlled by the influx of certain esters and polyphenols, sugars etc., by the nose and via the mouth.  They can be added to the food,  A good cook or a food scientist can make even lousy vegetables taste good! They are mere attachments and cravings.

Chandre  Dharmawardana, Ottawa, Canada.

2 Responses to “The conundrum about organic and conventional  food, and how to make it  safe and affordable.”

  1. Nihal Perera Says:

    Very informative, and factual indeed.. As an avid backyard vegetable gardener and a home cook, I am quite familiar with the facts and issues you have mentioned in your article. I wish more and more people educate themselves by reading articles like yours, and practice good eating habits to stay healthy, and avoid many diseases caused by various type of unhealthy food products. Thank you.

  2. Cerberus Says:

    These are two very important videos which show the connection between many diseases such as Autism, Diabetes, Heart disease etc to Glyphosate. The hyperlinks have been removed to prevent delay by Lankaweb editor.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snNRfAfSeUk

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYC6oyBglZI

    Some more information about dangers of Glyphosate.
    Former pro-GMO scientist speaks against the use of glyphosate at a lecture in 2014.

    Thought this video presentation (39 minutes) made in 2014, might interest you.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bN3LXjigjIg&t=57s

    Another video interview that might interest you.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QqR68BY6F4

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