Imports – Are They Worth the Risk?


Another installment as a guest blogger on Freshalicious with Stacey Fokas

We have been growing shiitake mushrooms here at Windy Field Farms for about 8 years now.  They are a delicious, nutritious, and beautiful mushroom.  Shiitakes are grown on hardwood, often oak, and although they are popular to grow outdoors, there are many commercial indoor growers, such as ourselves.  We grow them on hardwood sawdust blocks, which we purchase.  They are truly the “hardwood” mushroom, as it takes approximately 4 months to harvest the first crop, from the time they are inoculated.  When you compare this time to the 4 weeks to the first oyster mushroom pick, you can start to appreciate why they are more expensive to grow, and to buy at the store.

Recently, I was on a fact-finding mission at a large grocery store.  I found that they carried quite a selection of dehydrated mushrooms, including not only shiitakes, but oyster mushrooms, cinnamon caps, morels, and black trumpets.  Dehydrated mushrooms are very convenient, as you don’t have to worry about them spoiling.  Most require about 20-30 minutes to rehydrate, and the flavour is more intense than the fresh mushroom, because it is more concentrated.  However, doing the math on the cost of the package, it worked out to a whopping $28 a pound for the shiitake mushrooms.  Wow!  That is more than double the price, if not more, of fresh shiitake mushrooms.  Is that worth the convenience?  $3.99 may not seem like a lot for a 1/2 ounce package, but if you’re making a mushroom soup, it can get pretty expensive. SecMushrooms Jan 5 10 008ondly, although the label was of a Canadian company in British Columbia, the tiny fine print explained that the mushrooms were from China.  Hmmm, now the price starts to make a bit more sense.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you really do get what you pay for, and cheaper isn’t always better.  A few years ago, we heard of blue oyster mushrooms which were being sold here in Ontario.  They originated from China, were shipped to B.C, repackaged, and then distributed to Ontario and Quebec for less than our wholesale price!  And it gets better….not only were these mushrooms undercutting all the locally grown mushrooms, the wholesaler noticed that they were giving off a very strong scent.  It turns out, they had been gassed with formaldehyde, as a method of preserving them.

This was not an isolated incident.  Another time, there were skids of shiitake mushrooms, also originating from China, which were too good a price to pass up.  Upon arriving at the warehouse, they needed to “air out” for a week or two, because the stench of formaldehyde was so bad.  Needless to say, it was decided that the cheap price was just not worth the possible health concerns.  And these are mushrooms that were arriving in Canada and passing through inspection by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency!!

In 2007, the investigative television program, W5, found some disturbing news about food imported from China.  Five years later, new, improved standards and regulations have been set up, but the reality is, there is just not enough manpower to physically inspect all the food that is being imported into our country.  They are doing their best, but there is certainly a risk, especially when some countries have extremely low food safety standards.  Reading labels for country of origin is more important than ever.

Just last week, Mike Adams of Natural News wrote an article that was a scathing indictment of the Chinese organic food/supplement production system.  In it, he cited “organic certification does nothing to address environmental sources of pollution such as chemtrails, contaminated irrigation water, and fallout from industrial or chemical factories that might be nearby. A certified organic farmer can use polluted water on their crops and still have the crops labelled “organic.”  The following day, there was a quick backlash from industry, but Mike defended his stance.  Yet another reason to buy local organic.

So what is the consumer to do?  I think we have two options.  One, do your research.  If possible, learn about the source of your food, and decide for yourself if you feel comfortable with the level of health safety guidelines.  Your second – and much easier – option, is to actually know who is growing and producing the food you are eating.  Buy local, meet the farmers at your market, even grow your own delicious food.

My intention is not to scare anyone away from buying imported food.  Rather, I am suggesting that you can find fresher, healthier alternatives by buying local (organic) food that comes from closer to home.  Small diverse farms are going to be more in touch with what they are selling to the public than a huge multinational conglomerate.  You just have to do a bit of research and find out where these farms are.  This summer, explore your local farmers’ markets and market farms.   “Eat fresh, eat local! ” as Stacey always says!



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