As a race, we humans: live to eat. Eating expresses who we are and who we want to be. From freshly made home-food, to cozy weekend brunches, dinner parties, travelling for food and even food concepts like fresh-from-the-farm organic food -gasm. Human life and pleasures are nothing without food. But like all aspects of urban living, food to is not safe from pollution. If you think this is all just modern day mumbo-jumbo then here’s a shocker — did you know that the nutritious, fiber-rich apple has again earned the number 1 spot in the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Dirty Dozen,” – a report that lists the fruits & vegetables most often carrying pesticide residues? Yes!
So wondering how to eat clean? The UrbanMeisters recipe for pollution-free living has always been: Think positive, think green. And we tell you how to ensure that your greens, meats and dairy are not polluted. Read, rise & shine to a cleaner palate 🙂
But first… let’s munch on this…
Just like food provides nutrition to our bodies, when food has toxic chemical or biological contaminants (which are not naturally present in food or are present over permissible levels) it does the opposite. Contaminants too get ingested by our bodies and of course cause us harm as levels of the pollutants accumulate & increase. Food pollution can occur at any of the various stages – from its source of origin to cooking. Now read to understand what’s on your plate that shouldn’t be…
1. The deal with meat
Before we give you the low-down on what’s on your plate, we want to tell you a little about the impact of meat production on our poor planet. As the world’s demand for meat has increased, so has meat-producing assembly-line factories. These factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases, e.g.:
- In US Tyson Foods, one of the largest producers of meat in the world, is responsible for dumping more toxic pollution by volume into U.S. waters than oil and gas companies like Exxon and Dow Chemical (Source).
- An estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.
- A study by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.
So besides animal-cruelty, and diverse health issues, like heart problems, the impact meat demand has on our planet is the other reason you should think about giving up meat consumption. However, even with reduced consumption, the dangers of pollution in meat stem from:
- The animals consume « pollution » themselves through polluted water and/or food and also the the pollutants propagate and concentrate through the food chain.
- Antibiotics and animal drugs – Veterinary drugs which are administered to live animals, can remain as residues in animal tissues.
- Unhygienic conditions of meat factory – from animal excrement at facilities, to slaughtering, infection etc. Cross contamination from intestinal feces during the slaughtering process can occur with meat and poultry.
- Processing & Packaging of meat – Packaging materials, metal equipment etc can also lead to contamination.
To ensure that you are eating the clean meat:
- Reduce consumption.
- Buy meat from organic farms. Watch out for butchers where meat is free-range, free of antibiotics, drugs, … and the animals are not grain fed (Because the stomachs of cattle are meant to digest grass, not grain). acheteralasource.com helps you find organic farms in France, ichessbio.de offers even home delivery of organic meat in Germany. Please tell us if you have found an initiative in your country here.
- When cooking, remove the fatty part as these tissues tend to accumulate a lot of the drug residues.
- Buying fresh meat wrapped in parchment paper packaging is better than buying meat from supermarkets packaged in plastic packaging.
- When you have a doubt on the origin of the meat avoid eating rare cuts as much as possible. Well-done is the safer option.
2. Poultry & Eggs
Like jeans, eggs are omnipresent across cultures. The go-to choice of a lot of vegetarians, fitness freaks and considered essential for nutrient-provision, eggs have their own runny down side. Something that stands true for the preferred lean meat – chicken – too.
The cracks on the good side:
- Bacteria like salmonella is an ever-present threat with eggs & chicken. To prevent the many harmful bacterial dangers the hens are often vaccinated with various antibiotics. This presents a threat to us as these antibiotics have the potential – and have in the past – ended up on our plates.
- Pesticide is the other contaminant that’s not unusual in poultry as birds feed on ground which is already has pesticide residue.
So how do we counter this threat?
- Organic eggs come from chickens that are free-range (cage-free plus access to the outdoors), fed organic feed (no synthetic pesticides) and receive no hormones or antibiotics.
- However there has been much debate and many reports claim that free-range farms are just a myth. The more credible label is pasture-raised as these are the eggs that come from hens which have largely spent time outdoors.
- Always wash eggs before boiling as they invariably may have some excrement stains.
- Purchase directly from a local farm where you can verify the growth and breeding conditions yourself. Sites like LocalHarvest.org for the US, tierschutzbund.de for Germany and again the French acheteralasource.com help you find farmer’s markets near your vicinity to buy fresh produce.
- Try and buy organic poultry and eggs as much as possible. Because there are strict govt guidelines to be certified organic. Example: the diet of the bird needs to be organic all their life – should not include any genetically modified ingredients or toxic synthetic pesticides.
3. Seafood fanatics
Seafood fanatic? Know your Chutoro tuna cut from Otoro? Crabs, clams and mussels make you melt? Well time you wisen up to the dangers as well.
- With seafood the biggest problem is the high levels of toxicity. The consumption of fish is by far the most significant source of ingestion-related mercury exposure in humans. Methyl mercury is formed by bacterial action in an aquatic environment from dumping of industrial mercury as well as natural sources of elemental mercury. Mercury tends to bioaccumulate in humans and can damage the central nervous system. Methylmercury binds tightly to the proteins in fish muscle and remains there even after the fish is cooked. Anglerfish off the coast of Italy were found with concentrations as high as 2.2 milligrams of mercury per kilogram, higher than the recommended limit of 1 milligram of mercury per kilogram.
- Besides this, oil spills and plastic waste is also causing contamination of seafood. Have you heard of the Great Pacific garbage patch? It’s a massive patch of trash that’s accumulated in a swirling subtropical gyre in northern Pacific Ocean. There are 5 such patches across the world. Besides breaking down into harmful toxins as this plastic waste gets bleached in the sun, it’s also ingested by the marine life. And that’s how it ends up on our plates via polluted seafood. The situation is really alarming as was discussed during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos early 2016. By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea (Source).
Here’s how to eat seafood confidently:
- Reduce intake of mercury by reducing fish consumption, or by switching to species that are less likely to be contaminated. As a general rule we read to go for smaller fishes, because larger fishes tend to accumulate toxic chemicals being higher up in the food chain i.e. eating smaller fishes and being long-lived. However at UrbanMeisters we are never a fan of general rules so we advice you to check the guides prepared by Greenpeace. For the US we have also found this convinient mercure calculator.
- Pregnancy and fish is particulary tricky one. One the one side fish gives important omega 3 fatty acids, on the other hand the way of preparation (no raw because of parasites, …), the choice of fish (no tuna, as it is a mercury-bomb) and the frequency of fish should be well considered. For this we advice to talk to your doctor or nutrition.
- Another option to get omega 3 fatty acids – fish oil supplements. These supplements provide EPA and DHA and are mercury-free. Since mercury is not fat soluble (it doesn’t get stored in fatty tissue), so it’s not in the oil.
- When storing fish, do not use plastic wrappings.
- Cook fish properly to ensure that there can be no bacterial poisoning.
4. The vegans
You already read the shocker about Apples. So if you thought going vegan was driving in the safe lane, clearly that’s not the case. Even with sticking to vegan diet, the potential threat comes from:
- Toxic chemicals like lead -It is estimated that approximately half of human lead intake is through food, with around half originating from plants. The content of lead in plant foodstuffs is found to be higher than in foodstuffs originating from animals.
- The other big concern is pesticide residues and agro-chemicals. Insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers and some others contaminate soil and water are all part of agriculture practices today. These chemicals are linked to various health issues, e.g. birth defects, hyperactivity, autism, childhood and reproductive cancers are all on the rise because of it.
- Various vegetables may get contaminated with toxic bacterial strains (from irrigation water, groundwater, or soil).
- Even with organic food, inspite of stringent certification rules, if crops are grown in areas where land soil or water or air is already contaminated, then the pollutants will move up the food chain. Pollution through air usually comes into the plant through roots after being first deposed on the ground with precipitation water. This is why some non-edible plants are actually used to remediate low to moderately polluted soil by extracting pollutants from soils.
- A surprising source of pollution across the world is contamination of soil and water due to military waste. Farmers in northern France had been ordered in 2015 to destroy the year’s produce because of pollution caused by World War One armaments left in the soil, according to French media (Source). Also contamination at military bases in the USA hat are used for bombing and training leading to hazardous chemicals being released into soil & water. Lead, antimony, copper, and zinc are the primary chemicals used in arms. Perchlorate, the explosive ingredient in solid rocket fuel is a contaminant that according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control has contaminated the nation’s food and water supply in at least 22 states. This poses a serious threat to everyone especially children and pregnant women.
Some preventive measures you can take to combat vegan pollution:
- Of course buy organic whenever possible.
- Thoroughly rinse and scrub fruits and vegetables.
- Remove outer leaves of leafy vegetables, such as cauliflower, cabbage.
- Buy local seasonal produce as imported food items as well as out-of-season produce invariably is sprayed with chemicals to keep it fresh longer. Also nutritional value is highest when the vegetable / fruit is ripe and buying local in-season food allows you to have access to fresh ripe produce as nature intended.
- Invest some time & energy in growing your own kitchen garden. After all a lot of organic restaurants also grow their own. We give you some tips in our article on Super-Foods for urbanites, take a look, we have prepared a video to show you how easy it is to grow Pineapples at home. Read here.
There is sooooooooo much more to say on food. As often as food is eaten (and photographed), as various are the issues of the food industry. One article cannot give all information. In this post we focused on those subjects linked to pollution and did not go into the ethic aspect of animal cruelty, the nutritional aspect or the very controversy and long debate of genetically modified food or natural, organic, … certifications. This will be for future posts. Over the next few posts, we will also talk of safe practices around food storage at home, consuming packaged, processed food, street food and fast food. In order to continue addressing the infinite topics on food, we invite all experts to co-write with us an article, talking about aspects close to your heart. To write, click here.
We will leave you with 2 food for thoughts:
1. As Albert Einstein said: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet”. We are not saying go vegetarian or vegan, but eat less of it, but more qualitative.
2. And always favor local food. It gives you more transparency and control over what you eat and allows you and the farmers to be more in line with nature than making eggs travel 1000 of kilometres.
Stay green, stay hungry 🙂
Read more on how to eat better if you are an urban living in any global city across the world:
1. SUPERFOODS FOR URBANS – Haute organic chef Caleigh Megless of KEILI Paris lists out superfoods that help urbans whiz through the week:
2. WINTER IS COMING – Prep for the season by getting tips in our exclusive chat with Ines Leonarduzzi:
3. ONE POWER INGREDIENT PER SMOOTHIE – We bring to you a list of power ingredients to add to your power brew like spirulina, hemp, maca and bee pollen. Take notes:
4. STRIKE GOLD 1 – Emily Gimellaro explains the different bee products besides honey and how they are the absolute power foods. Get bee-wise:
5. STRIKE GOLD 2 – The positive health benefits of Honey is no new news. But we list out 16 proven health benefits & explain the different types of honey with dietician Jacky Miller:
6. LONDON PARIS EXCLUSIVE – THE ORGANIC ORGASM– For citizens in these two cities, we list where to shop local seasonal produce – from farmers’ markets to organic food chains:
7. MEAT ALTERNATIVES FOR FITNESS ENTHUSIASTS & JUST ABOUT EVERYONE – Fitness trainer Chris lists out eco-friendlier plant-based options to get your daily dose of protein. Why switch? Because meat is one of the biggest sources of global pollution!