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:
Sweet bell peppers
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.