Exploding Watermelons, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Grow my Own

by: Heather on 05/19/2011
Posted in: Food

Like many of us, I have occasionally been guilty of buying the occasional box of Chinese Mandarins or  off-season package of snow peas. I steadfastly ignore my inner voice - you know the one that berates you for all the excessive food miles and says "it's from China - you don't really believe that organic label, do you"? After all, the kids love mandarins. And ok, I'll admit it, I do too.

But an article in Tuesday's Guardian may be enough to finally change my wicked ways. It seems that Chinese farming practices are far worse than I'd realized (and I wasn't kidding myself that they were great, either). Spurred by media coverage of fields of exploding watermelons in eastern China (yes, exploding watermelons, you heard me correctly), caused by farmers mistakenly applying a growth accelerator called forchlorfenuron in an attempt to chemically boost their fruit yield, Chinese media is working to expose the lax farming practices behind a rash of food safety scandals.

Some of the stories include:

  • heavy metal cadmium found in rice, toxic melamine in milk, and arsenic in soy sauce
  • human birth control chemicals being used on cucumber plants
  • borax being added to pork so it will resemble beef
  • barite powder injected into chickens to increase their weight.

Greenpeace activists point out that China's agricultural chemical dependency has been promoted by state subsidies keeping fertilisers cheap in the interests of maximizing food output. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are many farmers that refuse to eat the food they grow for market, preferring to feed their families from separate gardens.

While avoiding Chinese imports is probably wise, the best solution for those of us that are concerned about what we put into our bodies is to grow as much of our own food as we can, and be as informed as possible about where the rest of it comes from.

If you're interested in maximizing your food production, Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times is an indispensible guide to rediscovering traditional low-input gardening methods to produce healthy food with little cash outlay and minimal watering. And for those in the Pacific Northwest, Backyard Bounty will get you growing a surprising amount of food 12 months of the year.





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