A Fruit Fly Made Me Do It

A Fruit Fly Made Me Do It

It seems bizarre to worry about pesticides in food when you’re being pumped full of chemicals so toxic that you have to flush the loo twice for fear of injuring the person who uses it after you. However, as I was being treated for cancer that had already spread into my lymph nodes, I was inclined to do anything within reason that might help me to get well,

‘Within reason’, of course, means different things to different people, which is why the unscrupulous are able to peddle snake oil and professional sceptics are able to dismiss everything that doesn’t come branded with a pharmaceutical company’s logo. My middle ground was anything that couldn’t harm me or do serious damage to my bank balance. And that included eating organic food.

While some people argue passionately that organic is nothing more than a waste of money there are a lot of chemicals in food these days that we haven’t been eating for very long. Despite the reassurances, I’m not convinced that we really know how they might affect us over a period of a few decades or, as they’re tested individually, in the combinations that are like to arise in everyday life.

When I finished treatment 12 or so years ago I decided to continue minimising my body’s chemical load by choosing organic food where it was readily available. When I lived at the hippy-ish top of the Blue Mountains, for instance, my market-gardening next door neighbour and the local co-operative made it easy to be chemical free. Where I live now, the local supermarket stocks a surprisingly wide selection of organic canned and processed foods but neither it nor the greengrocer next door has organic fruit or vegetables. So I slipped into the habit of peeling where I could, washing thoroughly and turning a blind eye where I couldn’t. (An aside re washing thoroughly – a fruit grower I interviewed a long time ago said it made him laugh when people ran an apple under the tap and thought they’d got rid of the pesticides. ‘As if we’d use something that would disappear in the first shower of rain,’ he said.)

Then I read about Ria Chhabra and her fruit flies.

According to well.blogs.nytimes.com, when 13-year-old Ria heard her parents arguing about the value of organic foods she decided to try to resolve the debate by with her science fair project.

Three years later, her research, “Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila Melanogaster”, has earned her top honours in a national science competition, publication in a respected scientific journal and university laboratory privileges normally reserved for graduate students. And she found that, by nearly every measure, including fertility, stress resistance and longevity, flies fed on organic bananas and potatoes fared better than those who dined on non-organic produce.

Of course, the results can’t be directly extrapolated to human health but Johannes Bauer, an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas who worked with Ria on her project, said her study has raised some important questions that might be addressed in future research. For example, were the differences in outcome due to the effects of pesticide and fungicide residue? Is there is a higher level of nutrients in organic produce? Or could it be that organic plants produce more natural compounds to ward off pests and fungi, which might offer additional health benefits to anything that consumes them, including humans?

In the meantime, the Chhabras consider the debate to be resolved – all of their fresh produce is now organic.  All of mine is, too, since my fruit and vegetables are now delivered every week by theorganicgrocer.com.au who, incidentally, also sell the best walnut bread I have ever tasted in my life, and I consider myself something of a connoisseur.

Sometimes you just have to give a fruit fly the benefit of the doubt.

One comment

  1. Great blog! I am one of those who wonders whether organic food is worth the extra price one has to pay. On the other hand, I refuse to buy fruit and vegetables from the big supermarkets as one can see that they have been stored for months. They have a cheek to call themselves the “fresh food people!” I think I will try theorganicgrocer.com.au

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  1. A fruit fly made me do it | Domini Stuart - Christian IBD - [...] Of course, the results can't be directly extrapolated to human health but Johannes Bauer, an assistant professor at Southern…
  2. Gregory Smith - I love your blog I have read this article and enjoyed it