Trimming the Fat and Getting the Skinny on Organic Food

Some of these facts about eating organically produced food may surprise you.

We know this: the last 30 years of monocropping agriculture, combined with an explosion of processed food, has done profound damage to American health. Our obesity rates continue to surge, treatable diseases have skyrocketed, and our mental health has suffered.

Most of us understand that eating poorly is terrible for our bodies and may think that whole, organic food is the Holy Grail in terms of restoring the public health. That isn’t entirely untrue, but there is other, indisputable data about the reality of organic that we should know about as consumers. Check out this fascinating list of facts about eating organic.

  1. What is Organic? USDA defines organic as: food that has been grown or processed without synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives. The obvious implications when looking at this definition is that food not meeting these criteria is non-organic, and GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) food is grown and processed with harmful substances that have no business being in a human body.
  1. Even if they meet these standards, many of producers are not prioritizing for public health. Lobbyists have weakened the laws with regard to nutrition and health impact, and according to an extensive report in the Washington Post, powerful commercial corporations have lobbied to “move the needle” toward more lenient and cheap practices. A case in point: the original law allowed five percent of a USDA-certified organic product to consist of non-organic substances as long as they are approved by the National Organic Standards Board. In 2002, it was 77 approved additives and today it’s up to 2452. This makes it possible for commercial suppliers to enjoy the profit attached to the organic craze, but maintain their usual practices3.
  1. Organic is not Green. Nope, in fact, there are some cases where it’s the opposite. To produce organic food is often more wasteful in terms of resources, waste, and carbon footprint. Take this example: according to a study in the United Kingdom, one liter of organic milk requires 80% more land to produce, and is a major contributor to greenhouse gases3. Plus, that food is often traveling from far away.
  1. Organic doesn’t mean non-toxic. There are many pesticides and herbicides that are regularly used in organic farming. A good example is Rotenone, which is naturally occurring and therefore widely used to fend off insects; it does so by attacking the mitochondria of the cells themselves. Rotenone has been linked to Parkinson’s disease and because of its use, it makes its way into the water supply4.

By contrast, many of the chemicals used legally in the U.S. do not make the cut in European Union testing for safety. Traces of chemical products also regularly show up in large-scale organic operations when they are tested4.

  1. Local often tops organic in terms of quality, price, and carbon footprint. If you have the choice to buy a bag of peaches from your neighbor versus Whole Foods, you are likely better off with your neighbor. Why? Because while he or she may not have the dough to certify the product as organic, which is costly, the neighbor would truly care about the flavor, the nutrition, and the consumer. When farmer and customer are face-to-face, both sides have the incentive to do the right thing. Whole Foods buying those expensive peaches from Chile by the planeload may not be the same quality, and burned a lot of fuel to get to you.

 

So why should we eat organic?

  1. Chemical pesticides and additives are still a good reason to avoid conventional food. The health implications from GMO are still very much in debate with both sides shouting at the top of their lungs, but the jury is out on harmful chemicals and processed food. We know these things have no place in consumable agriculture because they cause osteoporosis, heart disease, and a host of other illnesses and conditions5.
  1. Animal welfare. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that organic meat and dairy producers see part of the value of their product as an alternative to big factory farms. This means animals are fed on a diet that comes naturally to them (cows should not eat corn, but big meat packers use grain to plump them up) and livestock lives outdoors and are not administered hormones or antibiotics, which are known to create health problems for consumers6.
  1. It’s more nutritious. You get more bang for your buck in terms of vitamin and mineral content; good stuff like antioxidants shows up in higher concentrations with organic food7.
  1. It tastes better and supports the recovery of heirloom species. The homogenization of our food supply has put a huge dent in both our health and our experience of eating itself. Organic farms utilize unmodified seeds that promote natural biodiversity, and there is really no such thing as an ecosystem that doesn’t thrive with more diversity. The slow food movement has restored the art of eating fresh seasonal ingredients to the dinner table with health as a primary objective7. That’s the health of the farmer, the livestock, the land, and the consumer.

It’s tempting to give up the fight when the realities around eating organic are not so cut and dry, but there is also a grain of hope that consumers will continue to push producers toward practices that are healthier and happier for humans and the planet. Stay educated about solid sources in your area of your food so that you and your family can actually benefit from organic.

 

References:

 

  1. http://facts.randomhistory.com/organic-food-facts.html
  2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/02/AR2009070203365_2.html?nav=rss_email/components&sid=ST2009070203371
  3. http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/the-great-organic-myths-why-organic-foods-are-an-indulgence-the-world-cant-afford-818585.html
  4. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/httpblogsscientificamericancomscience-sushi20110718mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/
  5. https://www.organicconsumers.org/old_articles/organic/organic20705.php
  6. https://www.organic-center.org/organic-fact-sheets/top-12-reasons-to-go-organic/
  7. http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2014/07/14/organic-foods-are-tastier-and-healthier-study-finds/

 

 

 

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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