I'll take the peppers, hold the chemicals, please!

Friday, January 26, 2007

I received my seed orders in the mail recently and they included two kinds of bell peppers I'd like to try growing: Buran Peppers, a Polish heirloom, and the Purple Beauty Bell Sweet Peppers, which I spotted in a photo on another gardening blog, A Study in Contrasts.

More than any other vegetable -- aside from tomatoes (because, of course, we have to have tomatoes) -- I hope to grow a few bell peppers this year. Red bell peppers are my favorite kind, with the orange, yellow, and purple varieties following close behind. The colorful bells have a sweeter flavor than the green ones, and they are always a special treat to have in salads and other meals.

But for awhile now, I've had issues with bell peppers. Did you know they are one of the most polluted vegetables? According to the Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, bell peppers rank among the top twelve "dirtiest" of options in the produce aisle because of the pesticide residue on their skins. (Kind of unappetizing, isn't it?)

I rarely see organically-grown peppers in the supermarkets. Even in Whole Foods I usually only see the conventionally-grown kind. And the last time I bought some there, they were a jaw-dropping $2.00 a piece. The local farmers' market is probably the only place that would have organic bells, but I can't always get there on the day the market is held. (And peppers aren't in season now anyway.)

So this all leads me to want to grow my own. And here's where gardening, for me, gets a little bit political. Growing my own is a form of protest against the things I find undesirable about our food system: Produce (which is supposed to be good for us, right?) is all too often grown with not-so-good-for-us (nor good for the environment) chemicals, bred for sturdiness rather than taste, and then trucked across the country (an average of 1,300 - 2,000 miles) in vehicles spewing more climate-warming pollutants into the air. Now that's a lot of baggage to carry when all I simply want is... a pepper. And a healthy one at that.

Do I only eat organic produce? Well, no. I don't. I can't aways find organic varieties and sometimes I don't want to pay the higher prices for certain things. I really admire the locavores who are taking on the challenge of a 100-mile diet. But personally, I am not willing to go headlong into that kind of commitment yet. (And much less in the middle of winter.)

Food choices can be overwhelming sometimes. Do I buy organic or locally grown? Wild-caught or farm-raised fish? Is my coffee shade grown? Was it fairly traded? Did that chicken get to see the light of day or did it live in a crowded cage all its life and get pumped up with hormones? All of these considerations about food can be a bit much when I'm just trying to put together a quick meal!

But here's the thing. I am trying to make at least a few choices that will make a difference, for my health and for the environment. I pick and choose the battles I want to fight. Strawberries, for example, are also among the "dirty dozen" in produce, so I only buy the organically-grown version of those. And only if they are in season. The same goes with grapes. And now peppers.

If all goes well with my own-grown peppers, I will use them to make Giada de Laurentiis's Stuffed Bell Pepper recipe.

Yes, the ones in the photos are Pesticide Peppers. I know, I can do better than that. I want to do better than that. And fortunately, I have a little plot of soil where I can at least give it a try.


Blogger Unknown said...

Those picture are making me hungry...

You sold me--I'll plant some peppers, too. This will be my first vegetable garden. I did tomatoes only last year.

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm definitely cheering you on in your peppery adventures this coming season -- home grown peppers are the best, for sure. The worst part of it, though, is waiting while they ripen on the plant, if you're not looking for all green, all the time.

I share many of your concerns about the food delivery system and how we're getting what we eat. It's a constant challenge to balance out my own ethics with what I can afford with what I can feasibly work into my busy life. I'd love to take part in the 100-mile challenge, too, but haven't yet gotten up the energy to take part.

So I do the best I can. And try to grow what I can. Hopefully I'll be able to learn from last summer's mistakes and land some better peppers this time around!


10:18 AM  
Blogger Marc said...

Great post! Thanks for all of the great information links too. I am adamant about growing my vegetables organically, but I don't think enough about the fact that produce at stores and restaurants are usually full of chemicals :(

Good luck with this year's pepper growing! Your stuffed bell pepper recipe looks great too!

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peppers require a very long growing season. I grew some last year (zone 7), and got some small green ones. So this year I'm starting them indoors really, really early, yesterday in fact. Hopefully they'll have more time to ripen this year. Even my pathetic, and probably not fully ripe green ones were way better than what you buy in the store.

Great post! And good luch with your peppers.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been growing all kinds of peppers for a few years now and the purple peppers are my favorite. They are always a big producer and adjust to our ever changing weather in CT. It's a very dependable seed and best of all you know where it came from!! Seeds of Change is the best!!


10:20 PM  

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