MARQUETTE - The food we eat is necessary for keeping our bodies functioning, but conventional farming practices might have you getting a little more than you expected with your produce, meat and dairy products.
Pesticides used to increase harvests and keep pests away can still be found on the skins of fruits and vegetables and often inside the food itself, including meat and dairy products, according to Natasha Gill, outreach coordinator for the Marquette Food Co-op.
Purchasing organic food not only reduces the impact of growing that food on the environment, but also reduces the number of chemicals you and your family consume when you eat that food, she said.
Shown are organic parsnips and turnips at the Marquette Food Co-Op. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
Even if you can't afford to purchase everything organic, there are foods you can concentrate on to avoid the bulk of contaminants in foods, Gill said.
"First you should start with your meat, dairy and eggs," Gill said. "Those are the foods that have the highest amount of fat."
Although the term "organic" might call to mind fruits and vegetables, since chemical residues tend to collect in fat, meats and dairy tend to be the foods with the highest concentrations of chemicals, she said.
A certification of "organic" from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for meats means the animals must be fed organic feed and given no hormones or antibiotics, which end up in your food in conventionally-produced meats, the same with dairy products and eggs, according to Gill.
Second on your list of items to purchase organically if you have children is your kid's favorite food, whatever they eat the most of.
"Pesticides build up in their bodies faster than in adults," Gill said.
Once you've switched over from meat and dairy and whatever your kids like to eat, take a look at what is called "The Dirty Dozen," a list of foods that typically contain higher amounts of pesticides due to the method by which they are grown or because of their lack of a thick, protective skin.
Put out by the Environmental Working Group, the list identifies fruits and vegetables that are better off consumed if they are grown organically.
Also important is to keep in mind how food was grown and where, since pesticides that are illegal in the United States may still be used in countries that food is imported from, Gill said.
"Common sense goes a long way," she said.
However, if a food is certified organic by the USDA but is imported from a different country, it still has to meet the same standards as if it were grown in the United States, she added.
"When you compare (conventional versus organic) one thing that people don't realize is with conventional agriculture, you are not paying for the actual cost of that food," Gill said, referring to the environmental and health costs associated with how food is grown. "There are a lot of hidden costs we don't see at the register."
Becoming better informed about how food is grown by talking to your grocer or checking out research online can help people make better choices about what they eat, according to Gill.
"People have a right to know where their food comes from," she said.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.