Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fries, Anyone?

I recently finished reading Michael Pollan's 2001 nonfiction work, The Botany of Desire. In the last chapter Mr. Pollan drives out to a potato farm to see how conventional potatoes are grown. The farmer he interviews gives a detailed (and terrifying) list of the pesticides and herbicides needed to grow his perfect Russett Burbanks. I thought I'd compile the information here for my readers.

On one field, in a single growing season, the following are applied:
1. Soil fumigant (kills all microbial life in the soil)
2. Lexam, Sencor, or Eptam (an herbicide to kill weeds)
3. Thimet (an insecticide)
4. More herbicide
5. Ten weekly sprayings of chemical fertilizer
6. Bravo (a fungicide)
7. Monitor (a deadly chemical known to damage the human nervous system)
After Monitor has been sprayed, the farmer forbids anyone from entering the field for several days.

If, like me, this list is making you feel a little queasy, you may want to avoid McDonald's fries. They are made from Russett Burbanks grown on farms exactly like this one. So are Ore-Ida fries in the freezer section, and basically any fries from fast-food chains. The only way to be sure you are getting pesticide-free potatoes is to ask the farmer who planted them (like at a farmer's market) or buy certified organic.

If you have children, be especially cautious. Studies have shown that these kinds of chemicals show a far greater presence in children because their bodies are smaller. They are basically getting a much stronger dose of poisons. And because their brains are still growing, the herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides may interrupt or interfere with vital development.

Overall the conventional way of growing potatoes is not sustainable. It damages the earth and poses many health risks for people. By purchasing and demanding more organic options, you can hope your next order of fries is not served up with a side of poison.

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