Sometimes, when I am picking veggies for our CSA, I may notice a bug on the produce. That happened this week. There were harlequin bugs on our chard. I tried my hardest to shake them off before I put the chard in the bag, but I was pretty sure someone was going to be terrorized when they opened their bag of chard. This kitchen terror might not be all bad. Let me explain.
We are not using pesticides, so bugs are, by nature, living all around and in our fields. I know this may sound obvious, but it really isn’t to many people. We have become so disconnected from where our food comes from and how it is produced, that having flawless bug free produce is considered the norm. It really isn’t the norm, unless you are using chemicals to make that the norm. In a pesticide free field, there will naturally be insects on the leaves and sometimes spots as well. The beautiful red and black harlequin bug is a summer constant. It gets in the kale, the chard, and any other leafy green. It actually isn’t even picky. It will get on okra! The good news is that this lovely guy might do a little damage to the leaves of produce, but it doesn’t bite or cause any trouble for people. If you get one, just be glad you are getting a bug and not a chemical! When the weather cools down, they will go away.
Did you know that when an insect feeds on a plant, it elicits the plant to spring into action defending itself, and begins producing defensive compounds to deter the pest. Some of these defense compounds are phenolics, and may serve as strong antioxidants, with multiple human health benefits. Plant phenolics have been reported to have both antiviral and antimicrobial properties, as well as being anti-tumor agents. Sometimes, I wonder if there is a natural relationship between the environment, plants, insects and animals that all needs to stay in balance. The insects, and the way plants defend themselves, probably plays a part in human health. By trying to keep our crops so perfectly clean, we are not only needlessly exposing ourselves to chemicals that could harm us, we are also circumventing some key antioxidants and lesser known plant compounds that may be key to our health.
I remember when I was a kid, I would go apple picking with my grandparents. Then, we would spend the afternoon peeling the apples and slicing them to be dried for pies in the winter. We never expected the apples to be perfect. We just cut around any holes or bruises. The same was true with corn. When we shucked corn, we fully expected there to be a big fat worm in the top. We just cut the tip off and didn’t worry about it. My grandparents never expected produce to be perfect. It seems our entire expectation about food has changed to a level that is not obtainable unless you are a large grower with good spray equipment. I believe we need to change our expectations. We can’t say that we want pesticide free produce, and then be appalled if there are some spots, holes, or even an occasional hitchhiker in the bag! That is the way it should be. If it isn’t, beware.
Eat your veggies and don’t worry about the hitchhiker!