I’ve recently gotten religion about buying locally. I’ve long given a preferential eye to locally-made items, but Oregon’s woeful economic times have provided an extra impetus and incentive for scouring the store shelves for local products. I’m not saying that I’m willing to accept inferior quality in goods or services when buying locally (George Morlan, I’m looking in your direction!), but all things being equal, my desire that dollars stay in Oregon tips the scale when choosing between roughly equal local or national brands. Now more than ever I’m in the hunt for good locally made stuff.

Two recent favorites based in Salem: Kettle Food’s Kettle Chips and the Puentes Brothers’ Don Pancho tortillas. Even if you’re out of state or out of country, you may find that both these companies products are superior to what you’re presently buying. I know I did. See what you think.

While I’m on the topic of food, one area where Erin and I have made great strides recently is in buying organic produce. We’ve gone organic on apples, carrots, celery, bananas, and spinach among other fruits and vegetables. Except for oranges, in every other case the organic produce tastes better in addition to being a lot better for us. (If anyone knows why organic oranges don’t taste as good as non-organic, I’d love to know.)

All of this may be the next step beyond my effort to reduce our meat consumption. I’m not sure. After reading last year about the horror show that is the American beef industry, I’ve been trying to eat healthier. We’ve not cut out meat entirely, but we’re almost wholly vegetarian at home. We may eat meat when we go out, which means roughly once every two weeks. We will never return to a restaurant that gives us food poisoning as part of the entree, because frankly, there’s no way for us to tell whether the food handling tainted the dinner or the food itself was tainted from the source. Either way, given some 5,000 deaths annually in the United States from food poisoning, I’m inclined to give restaurants only one shot at trying to kill me.

In some senses, I believe that’s what we’re talking with organic produce as well. Regular produce is laden with pesticides which will kill bugs and increase crop yields. That these same toxins might be harmful to humans (particularly children) seems to matter very little to an industry bent on deriving the most money possible out of their crops. What does virtually every online medical encyclopedia suggest you do to protect yourself and your family from pesticides on fruits and vegetables?

Remove the outer leaves of leafy vegetables, and then rinse the vegetables. Peel hard-skinned produce, or rinse it with lots of warm water mixed with salt and lemon juice or vinegar. Alternatively, you may want to buy and serve organic produce. Growers do not use pesticides to produce organic fruits and vegetables.

I don’t know about you, but I have never rinsed hard-skinned produce with warm water and lemon juice or vinegar. In fact, I’d never even heard about this as a cleaning method, but again maybe that’s just me.

Over the years the Environmental Protection Agency has banned one pesticide after another from use on produce fields. To the best of my knowledge they’ve never said, “Thank God we got this off the market. It’s terrible for people!” Instead, they’ve been coy, playing up how everything was safe before, but now it’s even safer. Hopefully I’m not shattering anyone’s illusions when I say that you should be deeply suspicious of the government or the industry’s ability or willingness to protect you. As FoodNews.org points out, “…it’s important to remember that the government said that highly toxic pesticides like DDT, chlordane, dursban and others were safe right up to the day the EPA banned them.”

A typical non-organic garden salad containing only tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and lettuce has eight different types of pesticides. (Create your own salad at FoodNews.org’s Interactive Garden Salad or Virtual Fruit Salad.) Some produce is so contaminated that you’d want to buy organic or not buy them at all. Some produce contains relatively low levels of pesticides even in non-organic form.

Erin and I aren’t 100 percent organic yet on our produce purchases, but you can bet we’re trying. You can also bet that I’m recommending you investigate organic fruits and vegetables as well.