When I was a kid, we picked wild blackberries from a nearby field, took them home, rinsed them under water and popped them into our mouths. No worries about pesticides, genetic modification or added wax. The only things we had to watch out for were bugs. They feed off plants just like we do, and produce is no exception. I remember tiny caterpillars creeping along a stalk of celery or burrowed into an apple. And some are so good at hiding between folds of lettuce or florets of broccoli, you’d never know they were there. Gross or natural?
You’ve got to expect some infestation across all types of produce grown in all areas of land if you only let them rely on their own defenses, such as in organic farming. Bugs on produce generally aren’t harmful. On the other hand, spiders that feed on those bugs can be. Black widows have been spotted on grapes! Of course, you wouldn’t eat one, but in handling the fruit you could be bitten. Due to our agricultural processes and quality control, we are lucky enough to have plentiful supplies of quality organic produce that we usually don’t need to worry about other pathogens from contaminated crops.
Sometimes, those wild blackberries were uneven and lumpy or irregular in size. In the summer, when they were ripe, we were allowed to climb up a neighbor’s tree and pick some cherries. There were always a few that were conjoined, eliciting “eew” and “yay/bonus/double!” at the same time. The vegetables at the one farmer’s stand-in town included those that were spotted, discolored or just weirdly shaped. We nicknamed some “Misfit Mushrooms” and “Awful Eggplant”. They were still quite edible though. What I’m trying to convey is that natural produce with blemishes or deformity aren’t always pretty and can be downright ugly.
With the modern concern of food waste, there is a movement to use all of an available crop. Search the hashtag #UglyProduce and you’ll see what’s usually rejected by major grocers that can be salvaged. There’s actually a market for less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables! A California company ships boxes of such produce to customers in major cities on the west coast and Illinois. A major grocery chain in France offers a discount on its “inglorious fruits and vegetables.” Organic produce may or may not be ugly, but it’s certainly more prone to natural genetic diversity and environmental exposure.
The good news about organic produce is that you won’t get food grown with synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, or derived from genetic bioengineering. The USDA Pesticide Data Program summary for 2016 indicates that pesticide residue was present in 77% of fruit and vegetable commodity (high-consumption) samples, though 99% were below the tolerance levels allowed by the EPA. The criteria for carrying the USDA Organic Seal mandate that organic fruits and vegetables are grown in accordance with the National Organic Program regulations. To certify and carry the Certified Organic seal from CCOF, it’s required to follow similar organic standards.
According to Consumer Reports’ special report “Pesticides in Produce” eating produce that is organic lowers your personal exposure to pesticides and has a myriad of other health benefits. It may be tougher on your wallet, however. Before you decide to spend up for pricier organic options, be sure you’re getting the benefit of at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
Whether organic or conventional, remember to WASH OFF YOUR PRODUCE under running water for 10-20 seconds before enjoying! Bye bye creepy crawlies, hello clean.
Note: Some organic produce isn’t certified if the farm opts not to go through the process and pay for the certifications and inspections, or the grower produces a very small amount of organic crop.