Soaked nuts figure prominently in our diet. They are healthful, satisfying and delicious in scores of ways. One of our favorite ways is in a date ball (like those seen at left, recipe HERE). I often rely on almonds because the price of other nuts like pecans and walnuts, is well, nuts. Since these are 50% to 60% less than other nuts I tend to to grab almonds more than others. But, I would be lying to you if I did not cringe a little when I do so; after all there is some pretty intense processing on these innocent little things, like chemical additives and pasteurization (Whole New Mom has a great post on it HERE with some suggested retailers given).
It seems like an inconsistency in my buying practices to seek out raw, unprocessed milk and honey and other foods and then by gassed almonds. Just because American processing laws require processing of almonds does not mean that they are not available; they are. Raw and unprocessed almonds grown in other countries do not have these same requirements. There is a downside to this in that they are both pricey and prevent me from purchasing from the more local (though not very local) grower. In the same way I would like to see a broader availability of raw dairy products, I would also like to see a broader availability of raw almonds. The reason that the American government places the processing restrictions on almonds is really very similar to the reasons for the forced processing of dairy products. There is a small but growing advocacy organization promoting the legalization of raw almonds and dedicated to supporting farmers which is called "Action for Almonds". According to their website (see HERE).
There are about 6,000 almond growers in California. In 2001 there were some reported cases of Salmonella infection traced to raw, non-organic almonds from a single packer and three orchards. In 2004, Salmonella infection was traced to a consumer’s open container of non-organic almonds from a particular retailer. It is not clear whether the contamination originated in the kitchen, at the retailer, during transportation, during packaging, or in an orchard. But large agribusiness growers and handlers of almonds, who claimed to be worried about an almond scare (and for the most part don’t offer organic almonds), asked USDA to impose a national ban on sale of unpasteurized raw almonds. In a nutshell, USDA imposed the ban on unpasteurized almonds because California’s almond agribusiness giants asked for the government ban.
Interestingly enough, according to Action for Almonds reports that there has never been any salmonella infection traced back to organic almonds, raw or otherwise (see their FAQ available on their site). Often organic foods are grown and processed with more care given their fragile nature and premium value and this could contribute to their safety. But in the end, really the issue is that no food is perfectly safe and that eating is a risky affair which is why I support raw, unprocessed almonds. The fewer hands my food passes through reduces the opportunities for contamination and brings me a peace of mind. I feel safer feeding my children unprocessed food and this extends to almonds. In 2008, California growers filed suit demanding that their right to produce a food, therefore my right to purchase and consume, be protected. This is a good plan, it supports American producers and American consumers. The texts of the legal filings and briefs as well as the court findings against raw, unprocessed American almonds are available online through Action for Almonds under their Litigation tab.
I think you are smart enough to decide for yourself and for your families what you want to eat. As adults, I don't think the USDA should have the right to decide for us just what should and should not be on our plates. Given the information available, you should decide whether or not you want processed or unprocessed nuts and actually be able to buy what you choose. Of course, the USDA does not agree and so far neither does the US court system. What do you think?
Linking up to Fat Tuesday!