“The Dirty Dozen,” or an opaque and unquantified foray into food safety

SH moonlights in a variety of capacities, but mostly of late for Derrick’s Dad, proprietor of Mead Orchards in Tivoli, NY. There’s another blog involved… surprise, surprise. Yesterday’s reportage on the “Dirty Dozen” produce list, so selected by the watchdog Environmental Working Group has led to a crossover opportunity however, and the interfwaps was made for reposting, right?

Check out Meado here, to glimpse a tiny scratch on the surface of this issue. The EWG mined their data from the USDA’s Marketing Information Department omnibus 1993-2009 roundup report on pesticide residues, and the results aren’t pretty, not for apples or for the other eleven culprits that made the shit list.

There are other consumer resources available, on this issue: What’s on my food? even has an App, natch.

What both the EWG and WOMF fail to do, along with any number of other similar admittedly noble-minded efforts, is quantify inputs. The USDA reoport, to its credit, notes that over 500 sites nationwide were sampled, but tells us nothing about other than that they vary from mass-market supermarkets to smaller local grocery stores. Granted, it’s a complicated issue, lots and lots of data, but one apple–even 500 apples–are not representative of all apples, and there are differences hidden here that cut far deeper than a simplistic organic vs. conventional division can possibly represent. For example: a conventionally grown apple at your local Stop ‘n’ Shop, shipped cross-country from a megafarm in Washington state, is not a conventionally grown apple from the Hudson Valley for sale at the farmer’s market in White Plains. Apples grown for long-distance shipping or long-term storage are often treated very differently from the apples you’ll find at your farmer’s market; just ask whoever’s selling fresh Mutsus or Cameos the next time you go. Resources like EWG make it glaringly obvious that large-scale conventionally grown produce is a risky proposition, no matter how well you wash your fruits and vegetables. If you have to buy at a supermarket, try to buy organic. If you can’t find (or can’t afford) organic, the Dirty Dozen list, and it’s white knight alter ego, the Clean Fifteen, are good resources to jump off from. But buying local produce has other, equally important strings attached. “Food saftey” has more meanings than one, and extends out and away from the grocery store and farmer’s market in many ways: buying local protects regional economies and food supplies, maintains open space, mitigates erosion, etc, etc. Make the best choices you can, everyday: our wallets speak loudest, much of the time.

About surfactant

Surfacehot is an ongoing investigation into the representation of safety and danger. Warning labels are an interesting point of contact between industrial designers and their products’ end users–in many cases, pictograms and a few choice words are all that’s allowed. This blog is the result of a semester-long project undertaken by Derrick Mead, a degree candidate in the Design Criticism MFA program at SVA. Derrick has worked at various times with lots of sharp objects and dangerous machines, from farms to kitchens to crawlspaces all over New York State’s Hudson Valley, and still has all of his fingers and toes. He’s written recently for the Architect’s Newspaper and Eric Fischl’s America: Now and Here Foundation, and is the recent recipient of a Barnabas McHenry Grant from the Open Space Institute. You can get in touch with him with questions for his father, a third-generation orchardist and paragon of occupational safety, or any dangerous situations you might encounter, dialectical or otherwise, at dmead@sva.edu.
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