Like Organic? Then You Gotta Love Eating Worms

2010 July 10
by welovejam

There is a long standing association between worms and apples, though in modern culture today we never see worms in our produce. It probably had to do with the days when fruit was grown with no pesticides and you never knew when you bit into an apple if there would be a worm or not.

Most food grown with the help of pesticides are completely uninhabitable to insects. They won’t even go near it or they will drop dead. We have all grown up with perfectly unblemished fruits and vegetables thanks to the big chemical companies. Marketing campaigns between big farmers and these chemical companies have over time led people to expect perfect-looking produce. To make matters worse, farmers and grocery stores sort fruit and vegetables and toss out anything that doesn’t look pristine.

I used to know someone who worked at a fancy natural food store here in San Francisco and was the produce manager. He told me they would open up crates of apples, oranges, lettuce and only display those that looked perfect. Anything with a mark or blemish was taken home by the employees or put in the garbage. This is still common practice today – everywhere.

So when more organic produce is becoming available why does it still look so perfect? I mean no pesticides are used but the fruit generally looks great. Why are there still no worms in the apples like the olden days?

Blenheim apricots being sorted

Blenheim apricots being sorted

Sorting. Yes, people still sort. And those who do it are very good at identifying the signs of possible entry by a worm. Small holes, dark spots by the stem (an easy entry) etc. Keep in mind by the time you see that apricot or plum in the grocery store, or in a wood crate at the farmers’ market, many eyeballs and hands have inspected the fruit to make sure you are getting the best. Here are the best Blenheim apricots that have been sorted being weighed in containers destined for supermarkets.

pristine apricots being weighed

pristine apricots being weighed

Now if you grow your own fruit and vegetables you know there are always the ugly ducklings so to speak. And there always is fruit that looks weird and that has been nibbled on, and worse yet, penetrated by hungry insects. That is life. And we just cut out the bad part and that is that. For example the Blenheim apricots we use are famous for being ugly. This is why traditionally they are sun dried. They get big black spots on them and for us we have to remove them which is time consuming. Why? Because when cooked into jam, the fruit gets translucent but the black spots get darker and look horrible in the jar. We can’t catch them all but we try. So for Blenheim apricots there are the good, the bad and the ugly. Here are the good and the ugly:

good apricots

good apricots


Ugly apricots

ugly apricots

But what about organic prepared food? The company that makes that organic frozen pizza, or tomato sauce or yikes – jam – do they sort? Not as much.

Yes, the sad fact is far less sorting is done on an industrial scale of produce that is processed compared to raw produce presented to the buying public. I will never forget when I was in high school I was reading some magazine in the library and there were some statistics published about gross things you normally don’t know about. One that was burned into my mind was the FDA allowed a certain number of maggots – yes maggots – in a certain amount of canned mushrooms. Then there was a certain amount of rat poop allowed in cereal. To this day I refuse to eat canned mushrooms or cereal. And what really bothers me is I have a fondness for hot and sour soup and all Chinese restaurants always use canned mushrooms. Why? What is the matter with fresh?

Anyhow, flash forward 20-something years and I know the reality of this. The organic apricots we use to make our jam have worms in them. I would say 1 out of every 30 apricots has one this summer – more than normal for some reason. We can generally tell since we hand inspect and cut open each apricot. There are tell tale signs, but now and then a perfect looking apricot is split open with a huge fat worm inside – and all these brown bits – yeah, their poop. Talk about gross! And yes, we toss these apricots in the compost bin. These are the bad apricots. Very bad!

bad apricot

bad apricot

But when you get organic food that is produced on an industrial scale, where you can’t have people inspect every piece of fruit like we do, the FDA has created allowances for the worms, maggots, spiders, bits of rat poo that can be in the food. Why, because once you start manufacturing at a high enough volume, it is impossible to keep everything bad out. Even our jam, that is done so meticulously by the two of us, we are sure a few worms must slip by.

Of course, if it is cooked there is no harm. If you ever find a worm in our jam, first it is an organic worm and second it was cooked at such a high temperature it is just as safe to eat as the bits of apricot. Yeah we know, it still is gross. But we know our food has far less bad things in it than stuff made by bigger companies.

So when you are eating any type of prepared organic food you have to keep in mind you will unknowingly ingest worms and other bugs. But look on the bright side. If the fruit or vegetables were safe for these bugs to live on or in, it is much safer for you to eat than produce that is saturated with chemicals that would kill those insects.

Ugly apples, lettuce with nibble holes and spiders between the leaves, apricots with big black freckles, worm holes, worms inside, ants swarming over banana blossoms – this is all perfectly natural with natural fruit and vegetables. These insects know a good thing too – and love to eat just as well as we do. Today, we have to rethink our priorities on what is normal again. And normal is a worm in your apple – or apricot now and then.

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