By Blanche from Feast in the Middle East
We hear the advice time and time again, that if we eat whole foods we can help the environment, lose weight, beat diseases from cancer to heart disease, have a sharper mind and clearer skin. However, buying whole foods has become far more complicated in the age of industrial farming and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). You can go to your local supermarket and fill your basket with fruits, vegetables, eggs and meats, not knowing how much harm they can actually do to your body.
Genetic engineering can cause unexpected mutations in an organism, which can lead to more toxins in your produce and thus your body. People have also had more allergic reactions to GMO foods that they never had allergies to before. Most of these allergies are from GMO soy, corn, and canola. While GMO fruits and veggies might look colorful and fresh, in fact they can be weeks old and have little nutritional value compared to organic produce. In studies, scientists have found that GMO crops can cause cancerous legions and miscarriages in mice. GMOs also harm the environment in that once GMO pollen is released in fields, they can contaminate non GMO fruits and vegetables, causing irreversible damage.
One way to help the environment is to support organic farmers with your dollars. Organic farmers do not use toxic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which can eventually leach into your drinking water . Organically grown food helps to preserve the integrity of our water supply.
While the FDA does not require GMO foods to be labeled, there are ways you can empower yourself.
For one, make sure any fruits and vegetables you buy are organic. Those little stickers on fruits and some vegetables can tell you a lot. For instance, a four digit number on the sticker on an apple means the apple was conventionally grown, meaning there are mostly likely some pesticides on the apple, but no GMO tampering. A five digit number starting with the number 8 means that the fruit or vegetable was genetically modified—so it is best to stay away.
You may also notice that the GMO produce does not have any smell. The nose knows-—use your nose to direct you to the most nutritious produce. A 5 digit sticker beginning with the number 9 means the produce is organic, meaning no pesticides, and no gmos.
To ensure that you get the freshest produce around, go to your local farmers market, where the fruits and vegetables were picked that morning rather than weeks before, ensuring maximum nutritional value. Not all farmers can afford the organic certification, yet use organic practices on their farms. Get to know your local farmers and learn how they grow their produce and you can pay even less for organic produce that does not necessarily have the organic label.
When it comes to meats, organic, and free range is best for your health and the environment. Make sure that the beef you buy is grass fed, as cows cannot digest corn and actually get quite sick from eating corn, thus needing antibiotics. If you want to buy ground beef, make sure you pick the piece of meat you want and have the butcher grind it for you so that there is no pink slime. More than 80% of ground beef on the market today have pink slime, which is basically inedible cow grizzle treated with ammonia to kill all of the bacteria. The ramifications to the environment is even more dire. Confined animals generate three times more raw waste than humans in the United States. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, including 37% of methane emissions and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions. Deforestation for animal grazing and feed crops is estimated to emit 2.4 billion tons of CO2 every year. You can reduce this waste by buying organic meats from your local organic farmers. Many farmers sell meats at farmers markets now, making good quality meat more accessible.
To get the freshest fish available, stay away from farmed varieties, particularly farmed salmon, which is 14 times higher in PCBs than wild salmon. PCBs are polucholorinated biphenyls, which are persistent, cancer-causing chemicals banned in the United States in 1976. PCBs actually accumulate in oceans and rivers from the fishmeal that is fed to farmed fish. Check to see if you have Community Supported Seafood or Fisherman (known as CSS or CSFs) in your area, where they catch the wild fish that day and deliver them to nearby neighborhoods. I have used this service and tasted some of the best fish in my entire life. If you live in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, check out http://www.hhfreshfish.com where Santa Cruz fisherman (like the ones pictured) share their catch of the day with you, by delivering the fish to a home near your neighborhood. Otherwise, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch for guidelines on the most sustainable fish and seafood to eat.
It is a tragedy that we must work so hard to find good old fashioned whole foods that are untainted, but the effort and extra expense is worth it to ensure a healthier mind and body. Once these shopping tips become a habit and you realize how amazingly delicious fresh, untainted food can be you won’t look back!