Pesticides have been developed specifically to help prevent our crops being attacked, so are they necessarily a bad thing?
Well, yes they are. Pesticides are designed with one purpose in mind: to kill. They are poisonous. That is why there are legally prescribed “safe” levels for their human consumption.
The use of pesticides in agriculture is a recent one, in relative terms, which means that, despite a growing body of evidence, there is no definitive long term study of their harmful effects on humans.
However, recent research in the USA, in particular by the University of Pittsburgh, suggests links between high exposure to pesticides and increased incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, brain cancer, testicular cancer, miscarriage, autism, attention deficit disorder and developmental defects.
It is surely common sense therefore to try to at least try to reduce and, preferably, avoid exposure to pesticides wherever we can.
Pesticides have become necessary in recent decades because of the rise of unsustainable farming techniques, particularly monoculture which encourages a build up of pests. Organically growers, on the other hand, use chemical-free techniques like crop rotation, natural soil enrichment, companion planting and natural predators to tackle pest problems.
One dilemma that pesticides present to the wary shopper is that we cannot see, smell or taste them on our fruit and vegetables.
However there are a few simple adjustments we can all make to avoid or reduce our intake of these toxins:
– buying organic fruit and vegetables where possible, starting with those fruit and vegetables that we eat most often;
– growing your own, if you can. It’s really not that daunting a proposition – after all, seeds are already “programmed” by nature to grow into mature, fruiting plants. Even where space is limited you can grow herbs on a windowsill, potatoes in pots and strawberries, salads and tomatoes in hanging baskets. Not only will this food be fresh and pesticide free, it will also help you to save on your food bill;
– buying Fairtrade organic produce where you can. Fairtrade is not only working to support poor farmers across the world it is also committed to sustainable farming.
Time for a pesticide-free recipe.
Through the winter months there are a good number of vegetables and fruit that guarantee a seasonal supply of nutrition. Pumpkin is a particularly good example, capable of being stored for several months. Low in cholesterol and sodium, it is also a good source of vitamins A, B6, C and E, thiamin, niacin, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese.
Here I’ve used it in a stunningly good soup, perfect for a cold autumn or winter day.
Thai pumpkin and coconut soup
2 kg pumpkin flesh, peeled and chopped into large chunks
1 onion, chopped
2 cans organic coconut milk
1 litre vegetable stock
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
For the red curry paste
2 red chillies
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
4 lemongrass stalks, tough outer leaves removed and chopped
5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
grated zest and juice of 2 limes
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4).
2. To make the red curry paste, simply place all of the ingredients into a blender and process until it turns to a paste.
3. Place the chopped pumpkin flesh in a roasting tin, sprinkle on the salt and drizzle with half of the olive oil. Put in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or so, until the flesh is soft when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove from the oven and set to one side.
4. Heat a frying pan without oil over a medium heat and after a minute throw in the pumpkin seeds. Stir the seeds constantly to prevent burning. Once they begin to release their aroma and turn a golden colour remove them from the heat and tip onto a cold plate. Set to one side.
5. Heat the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes until it is soft and translucent. Add the pumpkin flesh and the red curry paste. Quickly stir to combine and then add the coconut milk and the vegetable stock.
6. Bring the contents of the pan to a gentle simmer, lower the heat and cover the pan. Cook for a further 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat and leave to cool for a further 10 minutes.
7. Put the soup into a blender (you will need to do this in batches) and process until smooth. Put the blended soup into a suitably sized pan and reheat, but do not boil.
8. Serve the hot soup in bowls, scattered with the chopped coriander.