I don’t exclusively eat organic strawberries. In fact, a few weeks ago, I picked and ate non-organic strawberries fresh off the stem, juicy and flavorful. And I’ve lived to tell the tale.
The California Strawberry Commission (CAC) invited (and paid for) me to join a strawberry farm tour in Monterey, California. As some of you may remember, my husband and I lived in Monterey for a glorious 18 months, not too long ago. Never will I ever turn down a chance to go back, even if it’s just a short two-a-half-day trip (and that’s including my extra day tacked on for being a tourist and getting some hang time with Molly). So, YES, I did that.
A Minneapolis-based PR team put together a list of influencers to include bilingual bloggers, dietitians, and food stylists. We convened at the Intercontinental Hotel on Cannery Row in Monterey. The itinerary started with a welcome dinner on Wednesday night, followed by breakfast with presentations about California strawberry farming on Thursday morning. The big ticket item was our farm tour on Thursday, along with the freshly grilled taco bar lunch we had on the farm, and learning more about a food that embodies this early summer season.
Each time I’ve done a press trip centered around a specific food, I walk away with a deep appreciation for what I have on my plate every day. It’s rare I take the time to stop and think, “Where did this food come from?” Aside from the country of origin stamp, I barely even know my food before I chomp it up. I don’t think about the hands or machines that put it in the ground, or harvested it at just the right time. And that’s okay. We don’t need to know everything (a la Portlandia chickens), but even a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.
Now I can picture strawberries ripening on their stems. I know that they start as a little white bloom, which takes 21 days to transform into the heart-shaped juicy red fruit we know and love. I know what it feels like to plop a ripe strawberry off and eat it. I know that strawberries are one of the few fruits (or vegetables) that are only touched by one person before they land in your grocery cart. And the berries that aren’t perfectly heart-shaped to meet your strawberry expectations get discarded in less than seconds. I know that conventional strawberries taste great, provide the same health benefits, and have no business being on the “top” of the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) disputed “Dirty Dozen” list.
Let’s talk facts, not fear, first.
The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) created a site with the facts: SafeFruitsAndVeggies.com. Our group heard from Teresa Thorne, Executive Director of the AFF, as part of our Thursday morning breakfast presentation. She presented science-based, peer reviewed information about the lack of health risks in consuming conventional produce. She outlined the ways in which the EWG, famous for their “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists (or infamous, depending on who you ask), uses a confirmation bias to substantiate their claims.
More concerning is the evidence showing that our nation’s fruit and vegetable consumption isn’t improving. The Produce for Better Health Survey shows that between 2004 and 2014 total fruit and vegetable consumption across young consumers has either stagnated or declined. Age groups surveyed include the following: 2-6,6-12, and 13-17. However, increases were seen across all age groups in Total Fruit Juice consumption. So, we do have that.
Another study survey conducted in a low income area of Chicago (2016) published this key finding: “Misleading messaging which inaccurately describes certain fruits and vegetables as having “higher” pesticide residues results in low income shoppers reporting that they would be less likely to purchase ANY fruits and vegetables—organic or conventional.” (Published in Nutrition Today, October 2016)
I’m not here to tell anyone, much less low-income shoppers, exactly how to eat. If you have an hour to spare this week, listen to episode #106 of dietitian Christy Harrison’s Food Psych podcast and you’ll understand my sentiment. I also can’t support, or even begin to understand, the fear-based messaging targeted to any consumers, regardless of income level. We ALL benefit from fruits and vegetables, regardless of a sticker deeming them holy and organic.
My key takeaway from this trip is how powerful it can be to KNOW about your food.
I liked strawberries before this trip. Now, I have an appreciation for how the berries get to my kitchen, the farmers and hard workers who literally pick each strawberry and put them right into those familiar plastic cartons, and how amazing fresh fruit can taste. I look at those cartons and I see a field in Monterey, California. I don’t care much about the 140 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C in a serving of eight strawberries, or the “low sugar” content of strawberries (compared to other fruits), or the study that suggests eating strawberries more than twice a week appears to delay cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years. Though, those things certainly can’t hurt.
Rather, I care about whether or not you get clear, truthful, science-backed messaging about all foods. I’d love for you to pick your own strawberries as a fun summer activity (especially with kiddos). I care about you buying fresh produce you can afford and knowing that a little rinsing, with good ol’ H2O, goes a long way. I care about supporting and lifting up the people who want to bring these messages to you, understanding that each household has different needs and preferences.
We can all choose either organic or conventional produce.
I only ask that we do so based on personal preferences and facts, not fear. And remember that the produce doesn’t judge you, it’s just there to be enjoyed.
That said, I’m a conventional strawberry buyer, unless I pick them up at a farmer’s market and they happen to be organic. I’m also a newly minted strawberry picking fan (you can do this locally (DC/MD) at Butler’s Orchard). And I’m happy to enjoy this delicious strawberry season. (Strawberry season is year round if you live in California, though. Because, California.)
This trip was sponsored by the California Strawberries Commission. Information was provided by CSA and broadhead, as well as the Aliance for Food and Farming. Opinions are my own.