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What’s Worse: Pests or Pesticides? [Poll]

by | Dec 2, 2009
Photo by star5112

Photo by star5112

It’s never fun to find an unwelcome critter in your food, but if you spend much time shopping at farmers markets or buying organic produce it is something you need to get used to. Without pesticides, sometimes there are pests.

But… usually not.

Before you get too grossed out and dash to your kitchen to throw away your organic apples, I want to make it clear that the vast majority of the food I buy (~90% purchased direct from farms) is perfectly clean and insect free. But unlike sprayed and irradiated conventional produce, occasionally there will be a bug. And sometimes there will be many bugs.

But as scary as this can be the first time it happens, bugs really aren’t so bad. Most critters can be easily rinsed off under the sink. Some of the smaller, more persistent little buggers can be coaxed out with a short bath in water spiked with a splash of vinegar.

Herbivorous insects pose no real threat to humans beyond mild annoyance. Yes, they can add an unpleasant crunch to your food if you don’t find them in time, but generally they contribute no flavor and–as many of my Twitter followers pointed out–they may add a little protein to your diet.



I somehow doubt that insects really provide a significant protein source, though I’ve heard they can contribute substantial vitamin B12 for vegetarians who ingest them accidentally in rural societies (couldn’t find a credible reference). But the point is that whatever insects do add to your diet probably doesn’t impact your health in a negative way.

That is, if you even notice them. Chances are you have never actually tasted an unwanted creature in your food (I know I haven’t), but they are probably there sometimes and you’ve probably eaten them.

Let’s be honest, the problem with finding bugs in your food isn’t how they taste. The real obstacle is our perception of bugs. In our society bugs are considered gross, so we don’t want to eat anything they have touched.


But not all cultures consider bug eating repulsive (see photo). And after you’ve dealt with a few insects yourself, eaten your food anyway and come out unscathed, you realize there isn’t really anything to worry about.


Only once have I encountered a situation where a vegetable was infested beyond salvation. These were some baby cabbage I had left for too long in the fridge. Over the course of a week the insects multiplied and completely took over. It wasn’t pretty.

But instances like these are rare and, in my case, it was self-inflicted.

True insectophobes, however, will not be comforted by this argument. I am entirely sympathetic to this viewpoint–at one time in my life I used to joke that I was afraid of butterflies (OK, live ones still creep me out when they get too close).

But what scares me even more than eating bugs is the alternative.


We don’t yet know the extent of the damage done to our health by pesticides, but the history (dioxins, malathion, etc.) hasn’t been encouraging. The environment we live in is also significantly impacted by pesticide use.

Even if cancer and polluted lakes are a bit too abstract for you, there is still the bland, one-dimensional flavor of food produced on factory farms to consider. Taste is what really won me over when I first changed my eating habits.

I don’t mean to imply that it is never okay to eat conventional produce, just that there are serious issues to consider regarding where your food comes from.

Pests and pesticides can both be a little scary (I forgot to mention the live wasp that once crawled out of my spinach), but at this point it seems we do have to choose one or the other.

Which scares you the most? Vote now!

[poll id=”6″]

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