J500 Media and the Environment

Does water wash away pesticides? by micolea

I enjoy eating fruit. I would even go so far as to declare myself a fruit lover. Often, I find myself nibbling on slices of mango, crunching into an apple and noshing on pieces of a pear.

Photo by mbgrigby/Courtesy Flickr

Recently, I have found myself consistently craving the sweet and slightly tart flavor of apples. So much so, that for the past two weeks I have eaten an apple every day. I always rinse fruit before I consume it. Usually, this routine consists of me holding the fruit under a stream of water for about 10 seconds. Normally, this would appease me, but now that I have discovered that apples rank second in terms of fruits and vegetables containing pesticides, it leaves me with a sour feeling in my stomach.

I try to be a conscious consumer and like to purchase organic when my monetary budget allows for it. The Environmental Working Group’s publication of the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of 12 vegetables and fruits with the highest pesticide residue and the “Clean 15”, those produce with the lowest amount of pesticides, provides useful information about which produce should be purchased organically. The majority of the fruits and vegetables that are considerably pesticide laden are those with a thin outer skin.

There are varying opinions about how to clean produce in order to get rid of bacteria and pesticides. Some advise that water and a scrub brush is all that is needed to wash away unwanted waxes and pesticides from produce. While others think using a fruit and vegetable cleaner is the best and safest bet. Washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating reduces the amount of pesticides, but does not completely eliminate them.

A peer-reviewed study released in 2008, found vast amounts of pesticides in children who ate an assortment of conventional foods. Consequently, when these same children substituted organically grown fruits and vegetables into their diets, no traces of pesticides were found. Scientists who study the effects of peoples continual low-level exposure to pesticides are still investigating how will it affect our health in the long-term.

Nevertheless, the decision is still ours.

No, not all of the food I eat is organic, and I’m sure that there will still be times when I eat a conventionally grown apple. However, I will be more inclined to purchase peaches, apples and strawberries from a co-op rather than a commercial foods store. It’s a compromise; but now I know which produce items to compromise on and which ones are worth the splurge.  

Micole Aronowitz


More Atrazine Please! by Sean T.
April 2, 2010, 2:39 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 10 | Tags: , , , , ,

Scrolling through the Lawrence Public Works Department’s water quality report I found one item frightening. Levels of atrazine in Lawrence are halfway to the legal limit. Some pollutants might not affect our health but I’ve found that atrazine is best avoided.

Atrazine is the most widely-used pesticide in the world. Source – plantersproducts.com

The EPA sets the Maximum Contamination Levels (MCLs) for pollutants in our drinking water. Ideally, the MCL is the most a person can daily consume of a pollutant without suffering “adverse health impacts.” The EPA can enforce the MCL legally if it is breached. Atrazine’s MCL is 3 parts per billion; the highest level found in Lawrence is 1.4 ppb.

Syngenta, the company that makes atrazine, denies any negative health effects. It says the benefits of atrazine are “clear and substantial.” It is the most widely-used pesticide in the world. The EPA’s reports have found no glaring dangers but the agency are in the midst of redoing test work.

Not all agree. Environmental Health Services reported that atrazine disrupts reproduction abilities in rats. The chemical lets off a stress signal that interrupts ovulation in females. When ovulation stops, reproduction can’t happen.

Now, think of all of the women that live near farms (or within range of farm run-off). If they are constantly barraged with atrazine  in their soil or drinking water the same stress signals will be activated. The signals are not as intense as the rats’ but enough to complicate reproduction.

As reproduction complications continue, cancer can develop. Prostate and breast cancer are cited as results of atrazine. Following the atrazine ban in the European Union, some Americans are taking steps to eradicate it from our agricultural diet.

Charlie Novogradac doesn’t use pesticides on his chestnut trees. As co-owner and operator of Chestnut Charlie’s, Novogradac refuses to use chemicals like atrazine. He says he won’t use them because he knows it would hurt his soil and because he doesn’t want to expose himself. Novogradac mentioned that tree crops like chestnuts require less pesticides. He thinks tree crops serve as an alternative to chemical-laden corn or soybeans.

Since atrazine has a carbon bond it persists in our environment. A new product could degrade active compounds in the soil. It’s an option for local government to consider if it wants to clean up the local water system. A local ban on atrazine might work but, because of it popularity the chances going statewide are not good.

In the meantime, getting a clean source of water is important. Buying filtered water or buying a new water filter that works against atrazine are essential steps. Hopefully all farmers will say no to atrazine soon, but until then it’s up to us to  stay out of its path.

Sean T.

Uncovering the ‘Meat’ of the Issue by micolea

I grew up in a family of meat-lovers. It was guaranteed that the centerpiece of each dinner dish was a slab of protein. You name it- beef, pork, chicken, lamb- and my family and I ate it. As you can imagine, being brought up at a young age on an eating plan that made meat mandatory but fresh fruits and colorful vegetables voluntary, my eating habits were not very healthy.

When I was in high school, the Atkins diet became popular. It appealed to me (and my insatiable appetite for beef), so I decided to try it. I was in meat lover’s paradise. On this eating regimen I was able to consume all the bacon, steak and pork chops my stomach (and arteries) could handle. Now, as not to make too bad of an impression, I also grazed on vegetables. My side dishes consisted of leafy greens, including asparagus, broccoli and spinach. In hindsight, chowing down on a diet of meat everyday was not great for my body or mind, but at the time, I thought otherwise. I ignored the fact that meat contained a lot of saturated fat. My reasoning for eating meat and poultry was because it provided my body with sustenance and likewise, it filled me up. Protein kept me feeling full for hours, whereas, carbohydrates did not sustain my hunger for very long.

I continued the Atkins diet for a year. I was completely unaware that the processed meats I was ingesting were composed of pesticides and preservatives such as sodium nitrate. Never did I expect that eating a slice of honey-cured ham would expose me to many toxic chemicals and additives. These meats come from animals raised on factory farms controlled by manufacturing corporations. The conditions under which factory raised animals are kept are inhumane, to say the very least. In these factory farms, the animals are packed together in small spaces, have their DNA altered, and are injected with hormones and antibiotics and at times wallow in their own feces. 

Photo by Farm Sanctuary/Courtesy Flickr

There are some that argue that factory farms will never completely disappear, and because of that, they are conceiving a method to lessen the pain these animals are forced to endure. Adam Shriver, a doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis, is one of those people. His article in the New York Times suggests genetically engineering animals in slaughterhouses, therefore minimizing their pain. Though the idea is novel, it doesn’t conclusively alter the animals living circumstances. 

These days, I maintain an eating plan that balances vegetables, fruits, whole grains and meat. There is an alternative to factory farm meat- choosing to eat organic, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. Now that I am conscious of the reality of the happenings in factory farms I will try as often as possible to support organic farming practices.

Micole Aronowitz

Forming a Stronger Relationship with the Food We Eat by micolea

I admit it. I was a child of the fast-food and processed food generation. When I was younger I never bothered to look at the ingredients listed on the label of a Hostess cupcake or a bag of Doritos before I devoured it. I also didn’t concern myself with finding out where the beef in my quarter-pounder came from or what toxins that meat would be putting in my body. It is only when I opened my eyes and looked closely at the ingredient label that I realized what I was really consuming.

Photo by foodcore/Courtesy Flickr

I agree with the statement, “ignorance is bliss”, because throughout my childhood and teenage years, I was completely unaware of what unnatural ingredients, harmful chemicals and pesticides are contained in processed foods. Which is why I continued to eat processed and fast food until I learned the truth about the science behind how these foods are made (and made to last on grocery-store shelves).

It was astonishing for me to discover that a Twinkie contained ingredients which are also used to kill weeds and make cardboard. For Steve Ettlinger, author of “Twinkie, Deconstructed”, to uncover these additives that manufacturers insert in processed foods is a true eye opener. An interesting point made by Ettlinger, in Anne Underwood’s article, “MMM, Tasty Chemicals”, is about why these chemical ingredients are added to Twinkies. “To stay fresh on a grocery-store shelf, Twinkies can’t contain anything that might spoil, like milk, cream or butter.” As consumers, it is up to us to scrutinize food labels in order to be aware of what we are putting in our mouth. In Michael Pollan’s new book, “Food Rules”, one of his rules is, “avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.” By educating ourselves about where our food comes from and how it is made, we can begin to improve our relationship with food.

Though it is not common to use the words fast food and natural ingredients in the same sentence, in the case of Chipotle, these words create a perfect harmony. According to Chipotle’s Web site, its food has no artificial colors or flavorings. More so, Chipotle is the largest restaurant buyer of naturally raised meats in the country. Hopefully, soon, more restaurants and manufacturers will follow in the footsteps of restaurants like Chipotle and realize the important relationship we all share with food.

Micole Aronowitz

Earth’s Green Thumb by alyv

The first green revolution grew out of the never-ending need to feed the increasingly ridiculous amount of people on the earth.

The green revolution of the 1950s ushered in a new age of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified organisms and monoculture farms expected to increase crop yields.

The list of problems caused by this mad rush for food – soil erosion, eutrophication, salinization – has left the earth’s soil, and most ecosystems, virtually beyond repair, and millions of undernourished people.

The acreage of arable land across the world continues to dwindle, leaving some experts to predict the amount of acreage left for each person to be smaller than the size of a quarter-acre suburban lot (which is really alarming if it takes four worlds to sustain you like it does me).

Well, the first green revolution has had enough time to destroy the planet’s ecosystems, and I say it’s high time for the new era of Green revolutionists to show them how growing food is really done.

Contour Plowing

In a word: agroecology. Agroecology plants the sciences of agriculture and ecology in the same field, where they grow off each other’s knowledge to yield the best – and most – food in a sustainable way.

Agroecology means terracing crop fields. It means contour plowing and strip farming. It means reduced tillage and natural mulch.

It’s a new way of planting, watering, growing, harvesting that yields far more (up to eight-fold) than fertilizers and pesticides, and helps humans work with nature, rather than bending it to our insatiable will.

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides have had their chance. Let’s remove the grime from our Mother Earth and let her show us what she can really do – on her own.

These concepts don’t have to be hard to understand, and it really is easy for everybody to be an “Everyday Environmental Hero.”


Thanks to the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point for the photo.

Thanks you You Tube for the video.