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Pesticides in Food?
We started questioning the role of pesticides in food production shortly after my husband Dave and I had our first child. Indeed what got us into gardening initially was that our first and second born children suffered from severe allergies soon after birth.
My eldest daughter was diagnosed with "Failure to Thrive" at around 6 months old. We found she was allergic to so many types of food:
- Tree Nuts
These allergies kept her from growing because of her limited diet.
This happened again with our son, who started exhibiting eczema at around 6 months. He was allergic to:
- Tree Nuts
His peanut allergies have also made him allergic to certain legumes like lentils and mung beans.
His throat gets itchy when he eats watermelon, avocado and banana (unless the banana is cooked).
These allergies led us to believe that there was something inherently wrong with the way that food was being produced commercially. We were not eating organic food at that time, but we could sense from reports on rising allergies that there must be some correlation between food allergies and the increased use of pesticides in food production. Or at the very least, there was some correlation between the way foods were processed in America.
So we posted our thoughts on Facebook.
Pesticides in Food and Allergies
As a result of posing that it was the pesticides in food that caused our children's allergies, we got some negative feedback from someone who did not believe there was a link between allergies and pesticides in food.
I just blocked out names to respect those involved.
In the end, we just posted on Facebook that all we could do was hold up all the good that permaculture had done for us in our own lives.
Indeed, Growing in an organic way and eating organic, did not completely erase or cure my kids allergies. Many of their allergies they outgrew, but not all of them.
Yet, we are happier, healthier overall and more producers than we are consumers than we were when we first watched our children suffer through allergies.
Growing organically has allowed us to:
- Buy less groceries, yet have quality food that is more nutritious and more delicious than store-bought
- Be inspired and in awe of the natural world and it's wonderful systems. We are more and more grateful to the Creator that made all the goodness we are growing possible
- Improve our health: We get sick less often. Digestive issues are very rare. The kids that followed after we made the switch to buying and growing organic (we had four more!) had no food allergies.
- Heal the planet. Did you know that 30% of our household actions can "draw down" atmospheric carbon? A lot of that comes from gardening.
Pesticides in Food Research
In case, you want to know the science behind pesticide in food and human health, here are some scientific studies which show the link between pesticides in food and food allergies:
- Link between the chemicals called dichlorophenols (DCPs) and the presence of a food allergy
- Pesticides associated with allergic & non-allergic wheeze among male farmers
- Study showing pesticide induced allergies
- Link of Organophosphates in inducing food (plant) allergies
Some allergies are of course, caused by genetics.
Either they are inherited or they arise as a combination of genetic mutations and environmental factors.
Pesticides and cancer
What I noticed in researching food allergies and pestcides is that most of the research links pesticide use to cancer.
According to ecologist and cancer advocate, Dr. Sandra Steingraber there are 66 possibly carcinogens in the food that we eat.
Photo via ResearchGate from Dr. Nancy Swanson
Here are some studies linking pesticide use with the development of cancer:
- Pesticides and pancreatic cancer
- Pesticides in childhood leading to cancer
- Summary of several studies on pesticides and cancer
The Pesticide Action Network says,
"In the U.S., one of every two men and one of every three women are likely to develop cancer over the course of a lifetime — and pesticides in food are part of the reason why."
It was at this time that we also started watching documentaries like Food Inc.,
This movie, among many others that followed, strengthened our suspicions that there was a link between pesticides in food and the rise of children's allergies (and other health issues as well).
Now we were starting to believe actually that the conventional commercial American food system was flawed.
Pesticides & the Environment
But not only do pesticides harm humans. They affect several different ecosystems!
- They kill off beneficial pollinator insects such as bees.
- They annihilate micro & macro-organisms, bacteria, fungi and archaea in soil
- When pesticides enter the water table and leach out into the waterways, they contaminate aquatic creatures as well and have turned male frogs (& fish) into females!
It was because of these connections that we decided to buy organic as much as we could.
Of course, this change in buying habits did not occur overnight.
At first, we decided to buy only organic milk.
And then cheese and then, becoming aware of the Dirty Dozen, we went for organic veggies.
Little by little,
year after year,
everything that we could buy organic,
And as you can imagine, our grocery bill went through the roof!
But was that enough?
Was that all we needed to do? Buy organic.
Not everything in our grocery stores is organic.
Would buying organic alone solve our problem?
Would that one act get rid of our kids' allergies?
Did these conventionally-grown foods actually nourish us?
The answer, as you would suspect, is "No."
The change we need to make is a lifestyle one.
The approach should be one that is holistic.
And the fastest way we thought to make that change was not by choosing to consume organic over conventionally grown food.
The change we decided to make was to grow our own food.
Certainly not all of it.
And certainly not all at once.
(Although I have heard of extreme stories of folks surviving quarantine by eating off of the weeds from their lawns.).
Take one small action from consumption to production today.
You can learn how to grow your own pesticide-free food by signing up for our Core Course on Permaculture Gardening (email version).