Once, I got to talking with a van driver on a long trip through the countryside. Let’s call him Sunil. Sunil had a farm and talked about it a lot. At the end of the long trip, I gave him a generous tip and he said he wanted to warn me about pomegranates! Don’t eat pomegranates, he said. They are contaminated with pesticides in a bad way; he knows because they grow them on their farm. They never eat the pomegranates themselves. Even if you remove the skin, Sunil said, they aren’t safe to eat. The skin does not form an impermeable barrier, and some pesticides are actually made in such a way that they get sucked into the tissue of the fruit.
I knew all about pesticide contamination in food, but after that conversation with Sunil, I paid more attention. I found out that the standards of measurement to detect pesticide residue in foods here in India are flawed, and there is weak enforcement as well. This article explains why.
Besides, in India, dangerous pesticides are still allowed. On the 8th of August 2018, India finally banned 18 toxic pesticides – but some dangerous ones are still out there. And as we continue to be exposed to dangerous pesticides, and their use is not even properly regulated, we can safely assume that food contamination in India is much higher than it is in the developed countries.
Pesticides are present in our grains, spices, in water, milk and honey.
The most contaminated fruits were apples, grapes and strawberries, with strawberries being dubbed the ‘dirtiest’ fruit. Pomegranates were also amongst the highly contaminated fruits. When it came to vegetables, potatoes and spinach were badly contaminated with pesticides. Vegetables like onions, eggplant and cabbage had less contamination and amongst fruits, pineapples and papayas were less contaminated. Check out the list of the dirty dozen and clean fifteen of 2018, here. It is US data but there does not seem to be any Indian data. Not surprising.
What’s the solution?
There are few choices. Buy organic if affordable (not that organic produce is 100% free of contaminants) and if not, then soak non-organic produce for 15 minutes in baking soda and water. Peeling the produce also helps.
If you believe that it doesn’t really matter, because after all, we are all alive aren’t we? Not all of us are being stricken down with cancer. Well, pesticides work in insidious ways so best not to celebrate. We certainly aren’t becoming immune to pesticides. True, bacteria strains have become immune to antibiotics and these new superbugs are thriving. Human bodies can adapt too, can’t they? Well, maybe they can, maybe not. But only a small percentage of bodies will, if at all, and that could take many more years. So let’s just assume that we are not on our way to becoming superhumans! Most of us, the vast majority of humans, will get diseases and live on medicines for the rest of our lives.
The best way forward is to petition the government, take part in research studies, write articles, spread awareness. And of course, buy organic whenever you can.