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?