Not-So-Simple Thoughts About Eating Organic

If you are one of the shoppers who breezes past the organic section of your local grocery, opting for crisper, fresher looking produce at a cheaper price, you are not alone.

Yet organic food, once the domain of ‘hippies’ and other edgy groups, is slowly drawing in more and more consumers. Despite the claim that organic is not necessarily more nutritious, (and certainly costs more than conventionally produced food), consumption of organic produce is skyrocketing.

The main attraction in many cases, is a desire for optimum health—that feeling of energized well-being and vitality we all strive for. Unfortunately it’s a state often disturbed by allergies and food intolerances, a weakened immune system, and a vague, hard-to-pinpoint awareness of feeling “not quite right”. We know now that toxins exist in our food, enter our environment and remain in our bodies for years. And it’s increasingly harder to ignore studies (Is Buying Organic Worth It? Columbia University, May 31, 2013) that say that the presence of pesticide residue is five times higher in conventional food than in organic food (38% versus 7%).

It’s not a big leap to admit that children, pregnant women. and those with a compromised immune system (that’s us older folks) would benefit from reducing their intake of pesticide residue by eating organic foods. But it’s not that straightforward—the argument for organic food remains unclear and controversial, and is more complicated than you would think.

The main detractor, and the most obvious, is the cost—in many cases 30% higher than conventional foods.

There are good reasons for the high cost of organics

-Organic farming is more labor intensive.  Chemicals provide a shortcut. Without them, more labor, and better management is required.

-Organic farms are smaller, which results in smaller quantities produced—costs are lower when food is produced in larger quantities.

-Organic farmers use compost and animal manure instead of synthetic fertilizer to enrich the soil. These require more space, more expensive shipping.

-Organic farmers ‘rest’ their fields’. After harvesting a crop, an organic farmer may use that area to grow cover crops, which add nitrogen to the soil to benefit succeeding crops.

-Losses are larger: using natural methods of controlling pests and diseases and facing a shorter shelf life add to costs for the organic farmer.

Try this to save money

In response to complaints about the cost of organic foods, advocates like David Suzuki have proposed a solution. Choose your organic purchases wisely, they say, and only buy organic when it counts.

Seek out organic for the following list of produce, since you usually consume the skin of the fruit or vegetable:

Apples

Celery

Sweet bell peppers

Peaches

Strawberries

Nectarines

Grapes (imported)

Spinach

Lettuce

Cucumbers

Blueberries

Potatoes

Carrots

Tomatoes

Green beans

Cauliflower

Buy conventional fruits and vegetables for the rest, discarding the skins, which contain the bulk of pesticide residue.

There are other naysayers

Other detractors, those involved in the conventional food industry especially, have waged a war of words, claiming that organic production takes too much space, that organic farmers use some types of pesticides anyway, and that eating organic is a rich person’s game. I winced when I read an article by Bjorn Lomborg in The Telegraph News:

“Essentially, organic food is rich people spending their extra cash to feel good. While that is just as valid as spending it on holidays, we should resist any implied moral superiority. Organics are not healthier or better for you or animals.”

Furthermore, as underlined in an article for the Modern Farmer (The Bad News About the Organic Industry, Oct. 5, 2015), prohibitively stringent measures and complex rules of certification are hampering organic farmers, adding to costs and confusing consumers.

So is buying organic worth it?

Well, it is, for many consumers, especially older people, children or pregnant women. Conventional foods may look better, because of their chemically induced longer shelf life, and cost less because they are easier to grow, but consuming quantities of chemicals in the form of pesticides and fertilizers is not a choice for these groups and others striving for optimum health.

Although the research is still inconclusive, it makes sense that pesticides and other toxins may enter our systems, affecting our health, and causing allergic reactions and chronic conditions.

If you have suffered a bout of hives, for example, after eating a simple salad, if you have noticed your asthmatic symptoms increasing lately, if you are inundated with unexplained headaches and sore joints, and if you are tired of feeling, ‘not quite right’, yes, I would say, eating organic is definitely worth it.

 

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24 Responses to Not-So-Simple Thoughts About Eating Organic

  1. I used to walk past the organic sections in the stores, but no more. After seeing the results of studies of pesticides in our food, ubiquitous presence of high fructose corn syrup in packaged foods, and the discovery of my sensitivity to gluten, I now buy everything I can afford with the “organic” label. I also try to buy “local” food, produced within 150 miles of where I live, and continue to do some of my own preserving of food. My local farmers’ market operates from June thru October, and I go every Saturday. It’s frightening when I realize that I can’t rely on our Food and Drug Administration to assure that my food is safe, since it and our USDept of Agriculture are in bed with Monsanto and other producers of poison sprayed on food, while denying the poor quality of American mass-produced grains, fruits, and food chemicals. Thanks for your post on this important topic!

  2. I tend to buy organic for the fruits and vegetables on the dirtiest list. It makes sense.

  3. ann oxrieder says:

    Yes to farmers’ markets and organic.

  4. I buy what I can, but I also buy frozen vegetables as often the fresh, wasn’t picked a few hours ago – nor just around the corner from home… and I eat as varied diet as my budget will allow…
    some of the problems with organic, go hand in hand with packaging which often isn’t biogradeable either… some other issues come about from exercise (the lack of) and eating far too much anyway…

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Frozen vegetables offer most of the nutrients found in fresh vegetables, so you are on the right path. And eating a varied diet helps too. Thank you for your balanced view, Cathy!

  5. Rummuser says:

    One should not only buy organic, fairly simple really in India, one can even grow one’s own organic vegetables at home, even in small apartments. There is plenty of information available on the web as to how to do this.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Good idea, Rummuser! I used to have a large, organic garden (many years ago!), and will never forget the satisfaction of picking newly ripened vegetables—the taste is incredible!

  6. DJan says:

    I eat organic whenever I can. Fortunately, I live in an area that has plenty of organic produce at an almost reasonable price. Thanks for a well researched and timely post! 🙂

  7. John M says:

    Great article on how we should eat. The real science says chemicals and GMO food is not the best for our health. Personally, I try to avoid factory food, that is anything that comes in a package with multiple ingredients. Our bodies do best with real food such as vegetables, fish, and grass fed beef.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Processed foods should be the first to be eliminated from your diet. However, modern manufacturing has ensured that they are tasty and addictive, so it’s hard to do! Many, like you are also questioning the consumption of GMO produced foods—another way that modern food production seems to be serving the interests of producers rather than consumers!

  8. I think that list is very helpful. I try to buy as much as I can from local farmers just because I always want to support local but not all local farms are organic. So the foods on that list I tend to buy from the organic section of the market. Poison isn’t good for anyone!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Whatever were we thinking of, when we ingested all sorts of produce bought from conventional sources, who never gave a thought to the amount of pesticides that went into the soil! So glad that awareness about this issue is building!

  9. maddy says:

    Being a cynic, I am never sure just how organic is organic. And being a tight-arse, I don’t like to pay more lol!

    My strategy is to buy fresh from my local green-grocer rather than the supermarket. Ideally I would have my own veggie patch so I could be sure.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Good point about the extent of ‘organic’, when that label is used! I used to have my own veggie patch…it was big enough for us and the pests, so I didn’t use pesticides. We also used seaweed fertilizer—a great source of natural nutrients!

  10. The Farmer’s Markets I have been to over the last years here in Ontario have relatively little in the way of local fresh produce, and what they do have is so expensive that I cannot buy it and maintain a balanced diet. I was spoiled in my youth, growing up in Niagara, where people sold fresh produce they grew themselves at the end of their driveways, and local farms always had produce of some kind for sale, out of the barn, not a fancy retail outlet with mountains of value added processed foods, games and amusements, and crafts, which are of NO INTEREST to me at all.

    We have a wee garden, it is our source of organic food. We have had our property for 8 summers, and we just blanched and froze six meals worth of green beans for the freezer last night. We have been eating fresh green beans, zucchini, and tomatoes for last few weeks. Other than that we rely on grocery store vegetables for salad, and frozen or canned vegetables, which are probably full of toxins, but our choices are limited. Every year we expand the garden, and hope that eventually we can grow and preserve much of the vegetable portion of our diet.

    The organic foods sold where we have access to them are beyond our means. Most of the food industry that focuses on local is aimed at the affluent, most of those who write about food issues are affluent, which is a shame, in my opinion. For example, Suzuki has never known the restrictions and challenges of want and need, which is a shame, in my opinion. Human economies of scale are out of control, and the profit motive behind them is not sensitive to quality of life for everyone.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Well, yes, Maggie. A lot of things stand in our way as we try to clean up our diet. You are fortunate to have a garden, no matter how small. I agree that the cost of organic food is prohibitive, which is why I stick to the ‘clean’ list. Meat has been the most costly in my diet in the past, but I now concentrate on higher quality produce, and that makes it more affordable. From what I read on your blog, you pay great attention to cost and nutrition, so you are on the right path.

  11. Irene Waters says:

    Great article Diane. I eat paleo which is a very expensive habit to keep up and do right. I love your list of fruits and veggies that should be organic purchases. We buy at the Farmers market which is organic but my husband doesn’t believe in the benefit of organic food so he often comes home laden with veggies from the supermarket. I should get him to read your article.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Interesting that you are on the paleo diet! As you say, it’s expensive, and I imagine hard to keep up. But, as with most systems, there are some benefits, and some disadvantages. If it works for you, and you are healthy, good for you!

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