If you had a choice between an organic strawberry and a non-organic strawberry, which would you choose? If there was no difference in cost or appearance, the answer might be obvious. If there was no difference in nutritional value, would the answer still be obvious? The availability of organic products has exploded over the last dozen years, so the choice between the two is confronting many of us with increasing regularity.
Then again, what exactly does organic mean? Instinctively, it means naturally grown and produced, without synthetic chemical warfare used during the process. Technically, it means ‘of or derived from living organisms.’ Certified organic means raised without the use of drugs, hormones, synthetic chemicals or pesticides. (No preservatives allowed.)
We define non-organic as conventional, since the natural method of growing food, at least in this country, equates convention with chemicals. A century ago organic would have been convention.
It seemed for a while that people buying organic looked organic themselves. Even those who show up early at local green markets. Naturally grown, with an unvarnished appearance. No makeup or dyed hair. No face tucks. No preservatives. Now even more conventional looking folk are getting into the act.
With the sudden growth of organic food, there has been a similar growth in studies and opinions (about the benefits of organic). As most studies go, the results are clear yet fuzzy. One study divided kids into two groups and fed one group organic food for a week while the other ate conventional (non-organic). The result showed that the group who ate conventional food had residual traces of chemical pesticides in their urine that the organically fed kids did not. It was an easy measurement. So the question is, are those chemicals harmful? Is our body’s filter system capable of processing out the bad stuff without side effects? Apparently, we haven’t done enough scientific experiments.
Current in Wikipedia: “evidence of substantial differences between organic food and conventional food is insufficient to make claims that organic food is healthier or safer…..and the benefit of buying and eating organic may simply be a halo effect.” People usually buy organic food for one of two reasons; 1) it does not contain pesticides and chemical fertilizer residue, or 2) (they believe) it is more nutritious. Some buy for both reasons. “In studies done last year there is insufficient data to support that either of those reasons would be true; i.e., there is no significant difference in nutritional content between organic and conventional food, and conventional food appears to be harmless.”
Last week in the Wall Street Journal Special Health Care Section, they featured two opposing views from experts (university professors, specialists in their fields) tackling the question of “whether we would be better off eating a mostly organic diet?” The short answers were:
- Yes, because it makes logical sense, even though there are no scientific studies to prove the benefits.
- No, because there were no studies to prove otherwise and we can’t draw logical conclusions, so why spend the extra money.
The biggest benefit of buying organic could be ecological. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, organic agriculture affects our agro-ecosystem over the long-term. “Soil building practices such as crop rotation, inter-cropping, symbiotic associations, cover crops, organic fertilizers and minimum tillage…encourage soil fauna and flora, improving soil formation, preventing soil erosion, and creating a more stable system.” Not only the soil, but organic agriculture does not have the damaging effects on our groundwater as does conventional agriculture.
Growing up my parents always had vegetable gardens. We were compelled to put in our time there, (from just out of toddlerhood until we were out of the house.) We recycled all our biodegradable kitchen waste in compost pits/piles (3 pits–one for every third year). We did this because it made sense. It made sense that if we were cultivating and reaping natural nutrients from the earth that we somehow replenish those nutrients in a natural way.
Conventional agriculture didn’t evolve out of the desire to feed more people. It evolved because feeding more people was good business. But the business stimulated other logical processes. Over time the easy availability and price of food made growing organically a disincentive. We changed our idea of what made more sense. Now growing organically is good business. But there are no scientific studies which prove that logical sense makes more sense.
It may just be that food freshness has more to do with nutritional value than whether it is organic or conventional. But logic tells us that processing toxins over time must have a downside, whether to the earth or our bodies. Even if experts and scientists don’t agree, when choosing between buying and eating organic or conventional it looks like we are left to error on the side of our own logic.