What goes into the food we eat and the products we put on our skin didn’t concern many people until relatively recently.
But then chemicals weren’t being used in food production before the middle of the 20th century.
And initially at least, chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides seemed like a farmer’s dream come true, increasing yields and keeping pests at bay.
Then came hormones and antibiotics, preservatives, flavour enhancers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and a host of other chemicals designed to ensure a plentiful, cheap supply of food.
Such abundance does not comes free, however, and, in the case of food, the price was our health.
In many developed countries, every chemical used in, or on, food and personal hygiene products is scrutinised for safety.
The European Union (EU) has banned the use of numerous pesticides, hormones, food additives and chemicals and the ban extends to imports containing these substances.
The United States Food and Drug Administration does not have such stringent rules and continues to permit the use of chemicals that are banned elsewhere.
The good news, though, is that demand seems to be driving supply and not only are supermarkets constantly expanding their line of natural and organic products, but the desire for home-grown, seasonal and local food is breathing new life into small-scale farms.
Local stores such as Kirk Supermarket are constantly expanding their range of organic goods and now carry fresh organic produce including eggs, dairy products, bread and dry goods, sourced on-island and from all over the world.
“Kirk Supermarket introduced natural and organic products across all areas in our store to meet the growing demand of our customers who want a healthy alternative, free of pesticides, synthetic chemicals, and growth hormones,” says Alan Harmon, category/merchandising manager at the store.
“Organically produced items contain none of these agents and help protect the environment by not introducing chemicals into the ground and water supply. At Kirk Supermarket, we embrace a healthy alternative as well as protecting the environment.
“Our customers’ response has been astounding. We are continually adding new items and expanding our selection to keep ahead of demand and bringing new and innovative products to our selection.
A number of cottage industries have also sprung up in recent years, offering unique, homemade products that are as natural as possible.
Many farmers also sell their salad leaves, tomatoes, onions, peppers and fruits at both the Wednesday Farmers’ Market at Camana Bay and the Market at the Grounds in Lower Valley on Saturday mornings.
At Plantation House in Bodden Town, visitors can stroll around the fruit and vegetable-filled gardens and pick and choose their fresh produce.
Just down the road from there, Rankins Farm sells fruits and vegetables that are in season, as well as beef, pork, goat, lamb and chicken raised on the farm.
Many of the higher-end restaurants also source as much local, seasonal produce and seafood as possible, which is giving rise to a more sustainable culinary movement.
Jessie’s Juice Bar in Camana Bay is leading the way when it comes to offering fresh local produce served up in a glass.
Opened just before Christmas in 2011, the business buys as much fruit and vegetables from local suppliers as possible, making for vitamin-packed juices and smoothies ripe with health benefits.
“People are becoming more aware of what they are eating and drinking and we have regulars coming in every day,” says owner Jessie Ormond.
Local beef and pork are also increasingly available in supermarkets. Although these meats are not certified as organic (there is no such certifying agency in Cayman) local farmers explain that their cattle are grass-fed, have plenty of space to roam and are not routinely injected with hormones or antibiotics. This makes them as good as organic insofar as they are humanely reared with a minimum of chemical involvement.
Additionally, the Department of Agriculture performs full health checks on any livestock prior to their slaughter.
It’s not only the chemicals in food that are causing a health scare, but also the endless list of unpronounceable chemicals in soaps, shampoos, lotions and other personal hygiene products that make them smell delicious and last indefinitely.
Kirks Supermarket stocks a range of natural and organic alternatives including lines such as Burt’s Bees, Nature’s Gate, Clearly Natural and many more.
Alternatively, many people swear by the all-natural soaps and lotions created on island by small businesses.
Nina Squires, for example, uses goat’s milk and honey to create soaps in a variety of fragrances, including neem which is a natural remedy said to be good for a range of skin conditions. Her soaps contain no detergents, and the packaging is minimal, ensuring they are safe for the environment as well as for the consumer.
Around the world, it seems that consumers are now crying out for a return to the “old ways”, with less use of chemicals and more natural methods of production.
People are increasingly prepared to pay over the odds for goods they can be certain have been grown organically or made as naturally as possible.
Serving up local and seasonal produce is far more fashionable today than being able to present one’s guests with strawberries in the middle of winter or seafood imported from half way around the globe.
Chemicals in food
Hormones: the EU has prohibited the use of growth hormones in cattle production since 1988. The US and Canada continue to allow livestock to be injected with growth hormones to ensure they reach maturity quickly.
The hormone residue in the meat could disrupt the normal human hormone balance leading to premature puberty, developmental problems, and breast, prostate and colon cancer. Dairy cattle may be treated with rBGH, a hormone that forces increased milk production. The FDAs approval of this hormone is highly controversial and links to colon and breast cancer in humans have been found.
Antibiotics: chickens, cows and pigs are often kept in very close confinement.
To avoid the spread of disease, which could decimate an entire herd, they are routinely given antibiotics. It its feared that the high levels of antibiotics in the meat are leading to increased resistance to antibiotics in humans and the growth of superbugs such as MRSA.
Herbicides and pesticides: these are designed to kill other forms of life so it’s hardly surprising they cause millions of cases of accidental poisoning every year. Certain pesticides interfere with the nervous system or with hormone production. Pesticide exposure has also been linked to respiratory and skin diseases, cancers, birth defects and reproductive and neurological disorders.
GMOs: Genetically modified crops have had their DNA changed to make them more resistant to disease, faster growing or more resilient to adverse weather conditions. Consuming these means consuming DNA that was not created in nature and the long term effects of this are not yet known.