YES! But How?

If you’re searching for practical ways to live sustainably, just ask us.

Send questions to YES! But How?, 284 Madrona Way NE, Suite 116, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110 or to [email protected]


Organic panic

I’d like to buy all organic food all the time, but sometimes I just can’t afford it. Which products are important to buy in organic form?

The problem with buying non-organic produce is that much of it is treated with pesticides that may be harmful to human health. There is some variation in the ranking of which fruits and vegetables are the most harmful, but overall, there is broad agreement.

Peaches, which are frequently treated with the fungicides captan and ipridione, rate in the top 10 on nearly all dangerous-produce lists. They are often sprayed with up to nine different pesticides, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Other frequent chart-toppers are strawberries, apples, grapes (and raisins), red and green bell peppers, potatoes, and celery. Apricots, nectarines, pears, cherries, spinach, green beans, and lettuce are rated slightly less harmful, but still buy organic when you have the option.

But there are foods you can be a little less afraid of if you’re shopping on a budget. Onions, avocados, broccoli, cabbage, winter squash, cauliflower, asparagus, pineapple, watermelon, blueberries, and mangoes are usually exposed to far fewer pesticides than their more dangerous cousins.

There is some debate surrounding certain foods, like corn and bananas. These items make appearances on both “safe” and “unsafe” lists.

Bananas are sprayed with chemicals linked to birth defects and neurological damage, but some researchers claim that these pesticides lodge in the peel, leaving the fruit safe.

Corn appears on many lists, not because it is particularly full of pesticides but because 75-90 percent of U.S. corn has been genetically modified (therefore, this warning also applies to corn syrup, corn oil, and other corn products).

Small, local farms typically use fewer pesticides than commercial growers, even if they don’t sell their produce as “organic.” And of course, you can always grow your own!

—Catherine Bailey

Read the YES! blog on a Month of Organic Eating



Free Beer

When I sit down for a beer, how do I know if alcohol is the only harmful chemical I’m imbibing?


Traditional beer is brewed from four ingredients: water, barley, hops, and yeast; but there are few regulations in the United States about what goes into beer. Where the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms lets you down on labeling requirements, YES! is here to help.

Among the surprise ingredients in beer are high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), gelatin, silicone, polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP, a plastic), bisphenol-A (a toxic derivative of PVPP), chitosan (from shellfish), phosphoric acid, sulphur dioxide, and ammonia caramel.

The Food and Drug Administration says these ingredients are safe in the amounts found in beer, but those who prefer all-natural, organic, kosher, or vegetarian diets may not want them at all.

The German Reinheitsgebot is a time-honored purity law that limits the ingredients in beer to water, barley, hops, yeast, wheat malt, and cane sugar. Most German brewers leave other ingredients out of their beer.

Unfortunately, the clarification process for German and most other beers uses PVPP, which is filtered out before sale, but some studies say bisphenol-A and other toxic chemicals may leach out of the plastic first. Another clarifying agent is silica gel, which is non-toxic but inedible. Natural clarifying agents include isinglass, gelatin, diatomaceous earth, and Irish moss. The first two are animal products; the latter two are vegan. British ales are traditionally clarified using isinglass. You can avoid clarifying agents altogether with cloudy, unfiltered beer.

Those concerned about HFCS should be aware that many cheaper U.S. beers are brewed with it, but imported beers and microbrews use cane sugar or maltodextrin instead. You can also look for beers that are “kosher for Passover” or “100 percent organic.” Kosher rules prohibit the consumption of corn products during Passover. Regular “organic” beers can contain up to 5 percent non-organic ingredients, so HFCS may be present unless the label states “100 percent organic.” The FDA has no official definition of the word “natural,” so a label that says “100 percent natural” tells you little about the ingredients.

If gluten is a problem, some beers are brewed with another grain, like buckwheat or sorghum, in place of barley.

One sure-fire way to know what is in your beer is to brew it yourself. Spending less than $200 and a bit of time will have you making your own microbrews for less than half the retail price.

Otherwise, use these tips to make educated decisions in the beer aisle, and you should be able to sustain a healthy drinking habit right up until your liver function collapses. Cheers!

—Mary Richter



Fly Patrol

The pleasure of the cohabitation from which the housefly draws its name does not belong exclusively to the winged ones. We depend as much on flies for decomposition as they do on us for shelter. Nonetheless, most of us prefer to have our flies do their work outdoors. Here’s how to keep them there.


Clean up. Wash everything: garbage cans, sink and tub drains, even the dog and his backyard deposits. Seal everything: Put fruits and veggies in the fridge and cover any food left out.

Barriers. Caulk every crack in the house and cover all vents with fine mesh. Garden with fly-repelling plants: marigolds, geraniums, mint, basil, purple coneflowers, Russian sage, tansy, and garlic. Burn eucalyptus leaves. Aim fans at open entrances to irritate the fly’s sensitive leg hairs. Fill a zip-top plastic bag with water and hang it above the doorway to reflect the sun: Flies’ compound eyes are sensitive to focused light.

When gentler measures fail. If you find yourself hanging a sign that says “No Flies Allowed,” mass flyicide may be your only hope. Introduce natural predators: carnivorous plants, spiders, dragonflies, mantids, frogs, or lizards. Catching flies is easy, and no need to chase them with a swatter. Use cabbage like a drug: it attracts flies and makes them sluggish enough to pick up by hand. Use sweet-smelling bait like fruit or wine to draw them into your choice of many traps: an open wine bottle, a plastic tub with a tiny hole cut in the lid, or a commercial bug trap. A spray bottle with water and detergent works as a weapon. For homemade, non-toxic fly paper, boil water or cider vinegar with corn syrup, adding sugar until the mixture is thick and sticky, then spread it on strips cut from a brown paper bag. Soon, your home will be fly-free, and you can rest with the knowledge that your winged friends are happily decomposing things outside.

—Mary Richter

Our Issue 50 Researchers:
Catherine Bailey and Mary Richter wrote this article as part of The New Economy, the Summer 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. After finishing her second amazing internship with YES!, Catherine, on the right in the photo, plans to live the (eco-friendly) bohemian dream until it’s time for grad school. Mary represents an unlikely collision between punk and hippie, wont to fling red paint on her own leather jackets. If her journalistic aspirations deflate alongside the economy, she hopes to spend her life digging holes.
Photo of Mary Richter and Catherine Bailey
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