In the winter-time, I worry less about whether the produce I eat is local. In fact, I often treat myself to things that really can’t be grown in our local climate even in the summertime. I will still pick up the odd tomato or pepper for a recipe, or local “winter vegetables” like cabbage, carrots, celeriac and apples; but I also enjoy avocados, bananas, oranges, and mangoes. I figure that if I’m going to buy imported produce in the winter months anyway, I might as well go for the stuff that I can’t get locally, right?
Of course, there are options for eating fresh and local in the wintertime beyond winter veggies. You can grow your own salad and baby greens indoors. I’ve heard even cherry tomato plants grow ok in a sunny room. You can also sign up for a basket by Lufa Farms, a year-round urban rooftop greenhouse farm in Montreal. But why not take advantage of the winter to enjoy imported tropical fruits and veggies. For me, it means I’m less likely to be tempted to buy them in the summertime when local produce is readily available.
The next question becomes whether or not to buy organic, or even fair trade. Here is a run-down of a few of my favourite tropical treats and how I choose to buy them.
I’ve heard mixed things about the importance of going organic on avocados. Theoretically they could trap a lot of pesticide residue since they contain a lot of fat. However avocado is actually #4 on the Clean Fifteen, so very little pesticide residue. I suspect the tough outer skin protects the flesh inside. It may also be that not a lot of pesticides are used. Apparently, this has historically been the case for avocados coming from California, which strives for integrated pest management as the primary source of pest control on its farms. That’s not to say pesticides aren’t used. I also don’t have much information about avocados from other countries.
I buy organic avocados if I see them and they fit into my budget, however I’m also happy picking up conventionally-farmed ones.
Even though this is another fruit with a thick skin, apparently it doesn’t offer nearly as much protection. It didn’t make the Dirty Dozen, but it’s not a Clean Fifteen either. The bigger problem with bananas is the supply-purchasing system. Like coffee, the price that a plantation receives for their bananas is controlled by the large companies that buy the bananas. Consequently, plantation workers receive a very low wage, are often exposed to dangerous pesticides, and most of the profits go to the importing businesses and countries.
I try to buy Fair Trade bananas. Organic is less of a concern for me. I avoid conventionally-farmed bananas.
This is another fruit that makes the Clean Fifteen. I haven’t done a lot of digging into mango farming, but I do understand that pesticides are widely used to control a variety of insects, some of which are quite toxic to farm workers.
If I see organic mangoes, I pick them up, however they seem hard to find. Usually I gauge how bad my mango craving is and I go conventional.
Pineapples seem very popular these days, and relatively inexpensive. They also check in at #3 on the Clean Fifteen. However, it’s not all good news. The popularity of pineapple means that land is being converted in tropical countries, mainly Costa Rica, for monoculture pineapple plantations. This is bad news for local ecology and also likely to increase pesticide use. As well, like bananas, conditions for workers are poor. Also, apparently the pineapple industry is quite cut-throat.
I look for Fair Trade pineapple with organic being my second choice. I usually have enough willpower to give the conventionally-grown ones on the store shelves a pass.
Do you have favourite tropical fruits and veggies? What do you buy?Photo Credits: Avocado from Mallory at TotalNoms, Creative Commons License. Bananas by me!