Monday, January 25, 2010

Lets talk about the air.

So, I'm a plant freak and botany geek. Anyone who's been around more than, say, a minute or two, probably knows that. It confuses people who know me in real life, because I'm seriously casual about what we eat. I don't go all organic or anything like that. While I don't advocate living on Twinkies (and will address what I do get that's organic, at the bottom), here's why I don't get too het-up about what's in my food:

LEAD: The natural concentration of lead in the atmosphere is about .1 microgram per cubic meter. (No, I'm not converting that to imperial.) Needless to say, that's not a lot. It comes from stuff like volcanic eruptions, forest fires, stuff like that. However. Thanks to leaded gas that was burned in vehicles for decades (and is still used in many countries that don't honor the Kyoto Accord or otherwise don't give a shit), there's more lead than that in the atmosphere now. How much? No one will say. Everyone claims that levels are dropping since we began phasing out leaded gasoline (which I believe) and that in some cases it's nearly back to normal (which I don't believe). Large cities are of course at more risk than rural settings, which is true for nearly all contaminants. But of course cities don't exist in bubbles, and that crap spreads. Incidentally, inhalation and ingestion are the big risks. Lead in metal form (like roofs or downspouts or like that) are fairly safe and in practical terms not a real risk unless you intend to grind them up and huff the fumes. Still, you're inhaling lead and these other environmental pollutants every time you take a breath.

CARBON MONOXIDE: This isn't just screwing the planet in terms of global warming; it's also really bad if you inhale it. Natural sources are fires (including smoking cigarettes) and volcanoes and the like. Car exhaust is a major source too. As with lead, levels are slowly dropping now that the planet is getting more serious about car exhaust, but levels are still higher than the human body evolved with. Carbon monoxide will act like oxygen in your blood stream, bonding to the red blood cells in the place of the oxygen. Unfortunately your system can't use the carbon monoxide, so all it does is take up space that should be carrying oxygen. Short version, inhaling this stuff causes you to suffocate at a cellular level.

RADIOACTIVE HEAVY METALS: Thanks to the atomic bomb tests run by the US, Russian, French and probably other governments, mostly in the fifties, we've got all sorts of shit in the atmosphere that the human body was never meant to inhale. The biggies are Strontium-90 and Cesium-137. It is everywhere. People in jungles who've never seen white men or known metal tools have inhaled it. Our bones are radioactive due to it. I've spoken to doctors who think the astronomical increase in bone fractures are due to it (I think extreme sports play a role, but this stuff isn't helping). While I've discussed natural sources of radiation in the past, this isn't natural. The human body was never meant to deal with it. Every time you inhale, in it goes. Unless you live in a full-inhalation face mask with HEPA filters.

That stuff's just the high points. We've got tons upon tons of sulfur, other heavy metals, CFCs, ozone, and the gods only know floating around out there.

I'm not putting this out to be a total bitch, or a downer, or to rag on people who try to eat right. I salute those of you who are really working at it. The reason I'm saying this is to try to SAVE YOU SOME MONEY. You can see from the above information that even if you were to shift entirely to organic everything in your food, there's no way to avoid environmental contaminants. Organic food is expensive. Damn expensive. Instead of going whole-hog on it, I suggest instead making some choices about what you buy organic, and saving yourself some money.

Hormone free meat is worth the extra money. If you can find it. Everyone agrees that stuff will mess you up, and it's not something you can easily avoid by buying regular and trimming the fat or something easy. So that's worth the expenditure.

Strawberries are one of the most pesticide-intensive crops grown. Period. Anywhere. So I'd spend the money on organics there. (I'm allergic and so don't buy any, but if I did, I'd get organic.)

Apples are another really super-intensive pesticide crop. If you can't find organics, either peel the apples or wash them down really well. (Usually I wash down regular apples right before I eat them.) Citrus is much the same; get organic, wash it down, or peel it.

Yes, other vegetables are sprayed with pesticides, fertilizer, and other crap. But the levels are usually low enough that a good wash of the stuff before you eat it will take care of the worst of it, and while you will get a few extra chemicals, I don't think it's worth getting worked up with, in the big picture.

Oh, and if you get organic foods imported from overseas? There's no possible way to be sure they're REALLY organic, or if they were grown in the same field as regular crops and just marked organic to make a few extra dollars. Globally there is almost no tracking on food crops, where they come from, or where they go. It's rather scary, really.

Avoiding processed foods is probably the easiest, least-expensive way to eat well. It's more time-consuming to cook that way, but you avoid a lot of preservatives and other chemicals, even if you're not using all-organic raw materials.

Yellow 5 (tartrazine) is one of the few food additives ever proven in studies to trigger hyperactive behavior. It is banned in some countries, and most others require ingredient listing so people can avoid this. It is one of the few things I actively try to avoid.

Sugar only causes tooth decay, but it doesn't really do you any good. At least brown sugar has some vitamins and minerals; white sugar is worthless. This goes along with avoiding processed foods.

High Fructose Corn Syrup is evil. There's a lot of argument from the Corn Refiner's Association, insisting it's healthy, but please. Their paychecks depend on selling the crap. This stuff is so highly processed the human body doesn't really know what to do with it. Over three decades, the use of HFCS has tracked right alongside rising obesity rates and increased diabetes cases, fatty liver disorders, all those 'excess' diseases in the US. Researchers are finally starting to make headway against the propaganda put out by the refiners of the crap, and I hope soon we'll be using the stuff to make ethanol instead of putting it in our food.

Soda, well, soda is just a nasty old soup of chemicals. Often there's nothing natural in there at all, if you get the diet ones. We can argue for days about each chemical and what its effect is in the human body, but the bottom line is, we didn't evolve drinking the stuff, and all those artificial, non-naturally-occurring chemicals are unlikely to be good for us.

So, there you go. Why I don't eat all organic. And what I do instead, to try and be intelligent about what I eat, without going overboard. Anybody else got some ideas? I know a lot of you eat right - thoughts on doing that, on a budget?


Barbara said...

You hit all the high spots I got. My big thing is all the salt in processed foods that we don't need. I'm trying to eat better to feel better physically and starting with fresh food and cooking it has been working for us. And I've lost 40# since May.

I love the way your mind works. You're so smart and curious, I'm always excited when you post. You entertain me and make me think. What could be better? Oh, and you're raising one kick-ass kid too. I love the Goob--in a friendly, non-stalker-ish, from a distance way.

Katharine said...

Really interesting and helpful, thanks! I don't get all worked up about organics either, but I figure it can't hurt to eat organic if I can. It's one thing I can control and the air isn't. I figure that we are surrounded by harmful contaminants and anything I can eliminate from my life must do some good.

That said, we're also on an EXTREMELY tight budget too. So I can't afford to buy much organic at the grocery store. We just joined a CSA for this coming year. It was super affordable – worked out to about $12.50 a week. But we're in a rural/small town area and I know CSAs are pretty expensive in metro areas. We also try to buy from farm stands in the summer. It's cheap and supports local families.

We've almost eliminated processed, packaged food entirely. I make bread, which is something I enjoy and is also much more delicious and healthful than packaged bread.

The one thing I can't figure out is milk. I don't like the risks of hormones and antibiotics in grocery store milk, but I can't afford to pay $7 or 8 a gallon at a minimum for a herd share. Do you know anything about milk? Samurai or anyone else?

Julie said...

Oh yes, I'm all in favor of eating organic if possible. Most grocery store chains these days have their own lines of organics for comparable prices as 'regular'. I always go for those if the price difference isn't much. Why not?

Anonymous said...

The only unit in my Bradley class that was really worth it to me was the nutrition one. The instructor talked about how cereals fortified with vitamins, and most anything fortified with vitamins, are useless because our bodies evolved to absorb the vitamins from a specific source.

I took that to heart and try to cook more from scratch so I can control sodium, sugar, and add extra nutrients by adding an extra ingredient. I don't really like to eat salads, so I eat a lot of soups, rice, and lentils because you can add just about any plant to them and they're better. I eat oatmeal just about every day for breakfast. Sweet potatoes with a pat of butter and some cinnamon don't actually need brown sugar because the cinnamon accentuates the natural sweetness of the potato. I get hormone free milk, eggs, and meat when I can. Sometimes I don't because I'm lazy and it requires an extra trip to another store.

One thing I've found is that eating lighter meals, like rice and beans, works better with my metabolism than a meat-heavy meal. I have a fast metabolism and tend to graze to keep up with it, but not since I started eating more grains. When I eat a lot of meat, I feel hunger after an hour even if I'm still uncomfortably full. I don't feel hunger until I need to eat again now, and it is gradual instead of a sharp drop like it was before.

debsnm said...

First, never, EVER believe what "they" tell you on TV. Somebody somewhere is making money from it, so that's why it's there - including the news. Global warming is a hoax - check the temps this winter, folks - this is the coldest winter on record for many places, with record amounts of snowfall - warming? I think not. There's a change in the global climate, but it's way too early to tell if it's long- or short-term, and whether or not it will turn out to be warming or cooling. The planet has gone through several ice ages, and warm-ups, and will continue to do so. So, while as a species, we seem intent in shitting in our beds, really, what we do is not a catastrophic as everyone would like you to believe - remember "Carbon offsets?" Wish I'd thought that little gem up!
The cost of your food includes everything that goes into it - including the plants/seeds, water, chemicals (fertilizer & bug-killer) and labor. The thought that I have to pay MORE money for the growers to NOT put stuff in my food they're already putting there is just beyond stupid. Again, only in it for the money, it's not necessarily better or worse than non-organic (over the long-haul).
A couple of years ago, there was a formula going around the internet, stating that 8 ozs of water a day was not enough for the average person. I don't remember the formula, but I remember that by their calculations, I should be drinking between 2 - 3 GALLONS of water a day. I should just move into the bathroom. Then, I looked really close at the web page with the formula. Sponsored by Crystal Springs - BUY MORE OF OUR WATER.
OK, I'm done. Thanks for giving me the space to vent!

NeedleTart said...

Stuff You Should Know (a pod cast) did a short explanation of why high fructose corn syrup is bad for the body.
Yellow 5 is also known to cause reactions in people allergic to aspirin. Something about its being made from the same base chemicals.
Around Chez Gordon we try to stick to what we call the "Grandma Diet". If my mother's mother wouldn't recognize the ingredient we avoid the "food" and always buy organic strawberries and apples.
(BTW since cutting out the HFCS I've lost 25 pounds, also stopped all steroids at the same time so not sure which is the activator)

amy said...

When I started trying to eat better, I made changes incrementally. Organic dairy is a priority, because the nasty stuff gets concentrated in the fatty areas, and milk has fat in it. If organic isn't possible, at least the stuff that says it has no growth hormones in it. (Have they all switched over yet? You'd think so by now.) I keep an eye on the top 10 list of contaminated foods and buy organic apples, strawberries, celery, potatoes, spinach, and I forget what else is on there. I don't think Whole Foods store brand is all that expensive, but to be fair, I've been shopping there for quite a while and so can't really compare anymore. At first I bought only a few things there, and I gradually added as we were able, and now it's just where we shop. (I know they independently certify the produce that comes from other countries, but I don't know the whole process.) We don't eat meat every night, and that probably helps with keeping things somewhat reasonable. We also still supplement with, for instance, cereal bought in bulk from BJ's. I guess my advice would be the same as yours: prioritize, and make changes gradually as you can.

My pediatrician would rather the kids have sugar than HFCS, but he'd rather they barely drink juice at all. And they don't, unless they're sick and I'm pushing fluids. A juice box in the middle of the day is a huge treat for them.

Louiz said...

Tartrazine is related to Sunset Yellow, which has exactly the same effect on children, and is a related "food" colouring (it's also in children's medicine).

Best thing if they're not too expensive in your area is a veg box - I know we get them here, organic yummy veg, a nice variety and different sizes - and I believe you can get the same thing in the USA.

During our really broke times, we eat a lot of risotto - cooked in some kind of chicken stock with tomatoes and sausages or hotdogs when we're feeling flush. Tasty, covers all the food groups, and cheap.

Emily said...

Out of sheer laziness, I eat very little meat...which is a little silly, because I live with a chronic illness & probably need more protein than I get. Meat, alas, is a super-concentrated source. Organic tastes way better, I think!

But I make my bread (jusy like it better), stay FAR away from HFCS. Organic: well, I'm grateful for the suggestions there, Julie. I mostly don't bother for myself...
I'm older, after all...but for the kids it's mandatory over here.

We do have a local food co-op; I should just go join it.

walterknitty said...

You hit a lot of good points. Being a veg, I try to buy mostly organic or pesticide free veggies. If I cant or if it's super expensive, I dont and it's no big deal.

Having a farmers market close by really helps. It helps when it's open. I can get all my fruits and veggies plus bread for a week and it's 20$. Some of the farmers at the market pay extra for organic certification, most do not but use many of the same organic farming techniques. The prices companies charge for organic dairy is highway robbery. I get it that cows who are not pumped up with growth hormones make more milk, but to charge 7 or 8$ a gallon is crazy. I dont drink milk often but do buy hormone free cream and butter, it's nearly the same but costs less.

To save money I try to buy what is in season. Sure this means no fresh tomatoes in Jan but so what. A 28oz can of tomatoes is only a couple of bucks and can be used to make sauce for pizza, soup, spaghetti sauce, and other things. They can even be used to make salsa.

If your grocery store has a bulk section, buy bulk. A lot of the cost of food comes down to packaging. This is especially true of spices. Getting enough dried oregano to fill your empty jar may only cost 0.30$. Buying a whole new bottle can be a 3-4 bucks setback! Get your friends, relatives, and neighbours together and buy bulk groceries from a wholesaler. Yeah, 15 lbs of lentils sounds like a lot and it is for one person but the same amount split between 7 people becomes more managable.

Cooking is essential to having a more healthy diet and saving money. It takes time, but at least I know how much of what is going in my food. Drink lots of water. Water is free and free is the best price. Drinking lots of water flushes your kidneys, is good for your skin, and can help with appetite. What I've been told is that your body can confuse hunger and thirst. Unless the water supply in your area is contaminated, water is better for your body than soda.

If there is space, try to grow some of your own veggies or herbs. It takes time and patience but is a total pay off.

Meat is not an essential part of the every day diet and I dont say that just because I'm a veg. I grew up in an area where meat is for every meal, every day. Beans, legumes, nuts, and grains/rice are good, make a great meal, are just as filling, give a complete protein, and give lots of vitamins and minerals. We have molars for a reason. :)

Cindy said...

FWIW - My thoughts;
Organic dairy products - worth every penny (my brother works in the dairy industry, believe me it's worth it).

Organic meats - worth it although mostly to avoid inhumane industrial farming practices more then dosing with contaminants.

Organic fruits & vegs - worth it b/c of the environmental impact of industrial farming, not b/c of any chemical dose to me.

Jane said...

More farms converting to "organic" is a great thing for the soil, the air etc. Celery is another one that should always be bought organic. It's sprayed heavily with fungicides. After living in farm country for many years I would never buy berries of any kind if I didn't know what farm they were from. Spraying in the fraser valley in B.C. on berry farms is so intensive,fungicides especially, that during growing season the air is filled with it and you can taste the chemicals in your mouth. I am not exaggerating. As for saving money I make all our bread, we don't drink pop (soda) and this sounds simplistic, but we eat what we buy so not much gets thrown away. That's my new years thing because there seemed to be a lot of waste over Christmas and it drove me nuts. (My grandmother would have rolled over!)
As for the question of dairy believe me if I had small children in the house I would go organic dairy. The dairy farmers I know love anything that helps produce more milk, hormones being at the top of the list.
Love your posts.

Donna Lee said...

I stopped buying processed foods a long time ago. Too much salt, sugar and preservatives (ok, except for Kraft Mac and Cheese with fake orange cheese-the girls loved it and I gave in once in a while). I cooked from scratch even while holding down a full time job and chauffeuring three girls to various activities. I used the crock pot extensively (and still do). Our local stores carry hormone free dairy at close to regular price. It's worth it.

One of my favorite food stories is that the girls came home from a friends house all excited to tell me, "MOM, guess what? Soup comes in CANS!". I never bought soup in cans, too much salt.

I guess the bottom line is to do the best you can and eat the best you can afford.

Roxie said...

Don't spend extra for "Free Range" poultry unless you know how the birds are raised. Many chickens are raised in closed coops untill the last two weeks of their lives. Then, when they have no idea that they CAN go outside, the doors are left open to comply with regulations so the birds can be called free range, but the poor critters never leave the coop.

TinkingBell said...

Here in Australia, organic means going through an enormous rigmarole to get cetified - and if your neighbours aren't organic, then you can't get certification.

The real real real biggie? DO NOT EVER BUY AND EAT VEGETABLES GROWN IN CHINA, no matter how cheap they are. China has absolutely no rules about pesticides and other chemicals, and they fertilise using raw human sewage. Farmers tend to think that if X amount of chemicals are recommended, then 4 times that should be even better - and there are no withholding periods
When we lived in Hong Kong, several people died every month from pesticide poisoning eating Chinese grown vegetables. Hepatitis A and B were endemic, mainly from sewage.

We try to grow and eat a fair amount of our own food, or at least eat what we know the provenance of. I don't knock myself out about the organic stuff, but I don't spray anything I grow.

Mainly because I'm too lazy.

thoughtfulknitter said...

Nice post, I try to do most of what you said, with the added attempt at buying locally grown food when I can so as to reduce the travel time of what I eat (I think it is really strange to eat something that has traveled more miles in a few weeks than I have in a year). One thing though, I would like to point out that a more productive use of the corn, or rather the resources used in growing the corn, would be to grow other food crops because corn ethanol isn't very efficient and doesn't really produce more energy than it consumes (provided by fossil fuels in most cases). Otherwise a great post, I always enjoy reading your blog!

Anonymous said...

Gosh I was just thinking about this on the way home.

I used to work at a restaurant (free lunch) so I have no idea what to make for lunch. I am also having some stomach issues so the doc told me to go low frutose, no HFCS.

I was thinking that I have to start using the crock pot more.

When I had $$$$ I used to buy organic eggs from one specific farmer at the market. He always has open house once during the year so you can go see how every thing is grown. All is free range, cows, pigs and chickens.

Those were the best eggs I have ever had. Taste better and looked better.


Robyn @ Coffee & Cotton said...

Woot! Good information. I agree about organic. If it is a trusted source then good, but expensive. Locally grown and in season is one thing I try to do. Many times a local farm IS organic they just cannot afford the cost to be certified. Also local cuts down on carbon output caused by shipping. Peppers and cruciferous veggies are pretty safe to go non-organic.

AnnaT said...

Here in the UK there seems to be a "new" trend of growing your own. Having had an allotment for the last 5 years I love knowing exactly what and how some of my fruit and veg is grown.
I don't aim for organic, but I never know what sprays to use anyways.
Good things to grow if you can are the luxury crops - like asparagus, strawberries, and new potatoes. The rest can be brought at the local greengrocer/supermarket without hours of labour, huge amounts of land and enough chemical control to kill something.
How many in the US grow their own veg?

Louiz said...

I would just like to add to my comment that we also put beans in. A can of whatever beans we happen to have (except baked beans which is a totally different thing) or a pint glass (UK pint) of soaked dry beans.

I forgot to put that in my original comment.

Eleanor said...

Some foreign climes have certifiable organics! UK has the Soil Association. Ok, I realise we're not the biggest exporters of anything :P

Amy Lane said...

You're right--and it's one of the reasons I haven't stressed about it (too much). The knowledge that extra toxins are too prevalent to get rid of... it's scary, and it can't be solved by buying 'organic' foods! (So, like you said, why spend the money!)

laurel said...

Interesting stuff (I say as I drink a coke, lol).

A side note really, I was reading the "diet" book called Skinny Bitch which is aimed more as a life style changing book than a fad type diet and I do think some of the organic stuff is kinda faddish. The book is realy promoting Veganism. It says that we (humans) are not equipped to process meat like true carnivores. Our saliva and stomachs are not acidic enough.

Also that we are not really capable of processing dairy well. I did notice that after I eat dairy I produce a lot of phlem (delicious) and that we are the only thing that steals milk from other animals. Plus that since dairy, human kind included, is designed to ready the biggest growth spurt of mammals it makes you a fattass if you keep consuming it past early childhood.

What do I say to this? I say I really, really, REALLY like ice cream from time to time and I like coke. And I say I will die eventually anyways no matter what. Just ditto what Julie says, man cannot live on Twinkies alone.