For those of you who are familiar with my work, you’ll know that I am a fan of getting as many nutrients as we can from our food. Unfortunately, though, there are a variety of factors that can contribute to whether or not we obtain enough nutrients from our food, including the quality of the soil the food is grown in and what is used to “treat” it while it grows.
The use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and insecticides on food became widespread in the 1940s and has only accelerated since. They are therefore relatively new to the food chain when you consider that humans have been on the planet for about 150,000 years. Today, food grown without the use of these pesticides is referred to as ‘organic food’, which 80-odd years ago was simply called ‘food’.
In conventional farming practices, it is common practice for only three nutrients to be fertilised back into the soil: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. That means there can be 52 (or more) nutrients missing from the foods we eat. As soil becomes increasingly nutrient deficient, so too does our food. Despite all of our technological advances, we owe our existence to the quality of 30cm of topsoil and the fact that it rains. So, how do we ensure that our food contains the nutrients that we need for health?
Biodynamic and organically grown food
Eating biodynamically and organically grown food can play a major role in decreasing the synthetic chemical load taken into the body. Fruit and vegetables can only be called certified organic when grown without the use of synthetic chemicals including antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilisers, insecticides or growth hormones. Certified organic also means the produce has not been genetically modified. Biodynamic farming takes these principles further and utilises livestock manures to support the health of plants – which fosters nutrient recycling – as well as improvement of soil quality, including nutrient density and carbon content. A diversity of plant and animal life is encouraged via crop rotations, cover crops and green manures, to allow for optimum biological activity of the soil and enhance the biological cycles between plants, animals, the soil and the atmosphere. Biodynamics views everything as being interconnected.
These nutrient-supportive practices typically focus on:
- Applying organic materials such as manure and compost to supply nutrients and maintain soil organic matter
- Planting cover crops to retain nitrogen and carbon that might otherwise be lost, this helps to hold onto valuable nutrients, protect the soil from erosion and provide a source of fresh organic matter, which increases soil microbial activity
- Crop rotations to enhance the microbial population and diversity within the soil
- An intimate connection between nutrient management and environmental health
When to opt for Organic
If solely buying organic or biodynamic produce isn’t viable for you due to cost or accessibility, consider thinking about how you will eat the food you are choosing. For example, you peel a banana to eat it. How much of the insecticide residue gets through to the fruit you will eat? We don’t know.Yet, with an apple, you tend to eat the whole piece of fruit and because the sprays you want to avoid are fat-soluble, they don’t wash off in water. So, for example, you might select conventional bananas and organic apples.
To help remove the sprays from conventional produce, you might like to fill your sink with three parts water to one part vinegar, wash your fruits and vegetables, then rinse them in fresh water and pat them dry before storage.
You may also like to consider growing your own produce at home or connecting with a community garden. There are some wonderful vertical gardens available for those who are short on space.
Please don’t be overwhelmed with these considerations. Reflect on your values and do what is practical for you… and then gradually stretch a little further.