Last week’s issue of Time magazine featured a special health checkup devoted to the questions and debates surrounding the organic food movement. I though it was a very interesting read; the author of the primary article, Jeffery Kluger, raised many of the same questions that have been raised by readers here at Simple Organic, such as:
What are the benefits of eating organic food? Is it worth the money? Why should I make the extra effort of going to the farmers’ market when I can get it all at the supermarket?
As is often the case, there are no easy answers to these questions, and Kluger offered no pat solutions or tidy sums. Here are a few of the points he made, and some of my thoughts on the matter.
“What’s So Great About Organic Food?”: A Summary
Kruger’s article can be summarized as follows:
• For many people, it is no longer considered “good enough” to simply eat whole, fresh foods; there is now an expectation that healthy food should be local and organic, as well.
• Organic food costs more money to buy, and it doesn’t always pay off; one study in 2009 found that nutritional differences between organic and non-organic produce can be minimal or even nonexistent.
Photo by sophie
• However, that study failed to account for things like iron, copper, and antioxidants – an area where many organic fruits and veggies tend to shine, and many North Americans are deficient.
• But the term “organic” comes with no nutrient guarantees; a piece of produce is only as nutritious as the soil from where it comes. And many have been sprayed with one or more of the 195 biopesticides approved for organic farming – less toxic than synthetics, but still toxic to something.
• The standard American diet (SAD) is not working for us as a nation (considering the obesity epidemic), and it’s not really working too well for the Earth, either. The meat industry, as it’s practiced en masse, is destroying the planet with greenhouse gasses, and only 14% of the U.S. eats enough fruits and veggies everyday.
• Organically raised, grass-fed cows produce much healthier dairy and meat products, and are much better for the planet (as well as much more humanely raised), but it’s pricey, and there’s not much of it – and certainly not enough land to feed everyone that way. (Katie’s note: I believe this point is still up for debate, from what I’ve read…)
• Pretty much everyone agrees that there’s a world of difference in flavor between a fresh homegrown tomato in season and a dry, mealy, pale pink tomato in winter. But sometimes, you just can’t tell the difference between conventional and organic varieties of many types of produce. Flavor and texture are often identical.
Chew on this:
“…for out-of-season foods to be available in all seasons as they are now, crops must be grown in one place and flown or trucked thousands of miles to market. That leaves an awfully big carbon footprint for the privilege of eating a plum in December.”
Photo by Pamela Heywood
Organic or Not Organic? That is The Question
This is a very personal decision, and one that often changes depending on your current situation. Here are Kruger’s recommendations, and my input, as well:
- Kruger: Go organic, because of the treatment of the birds in organic versus conventional settings.
- Katie: Go local free-range, if you can find it and afford it – it’s about the same price as organic in a supermarket, and numerous studies have shown that eggs from truly free-range pastured chickens are much more nutritious than even supermarket organic eggs. If not, then try to look for “cage-free” at the supermarket.
- Kruger: Organic wins here, due to all the antibiotics and hormones in non-organically raised cows.
- Katie: Again, I say local if possible – but if not, and if I can’t get the organic stuff, I will at least make sure the milk says it’s hormone-free. Early-onset puberty for my daughter is not a good thing.
- Kruger: And organic wins again. Healthier for us, the cows, and the planet.
- Katie: I personally can’t always afford to buy certified organic meat, but at the minimum I want it be to antibiotic- and hormone-free. One of our goals is to begin buying only local meats, but it may take awhile to get there.
Fruits & Veggies:
- Kruger: Conventional wins with the produce section. In his opinion, the expense doesn’t outweigh the benefits.
- Katie: I tend to agree with Kruger, although I rely on the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list to help me decide. However, I would again say that local is the best option – it’s better for the environment and for your local economy, as well. But it will hurt the wallet – so when money is tight, know that this is the first place I would cut costs. Eating lots of conventional veggies is a much better choice than not eating enough veggies just because I can’t afford organic.
Did you read the article in Time? What do you think of Kruger’s opinions and conclusions?