I don’t know if you noticed, but I didn’t get a post up for One Simple Change last week. Why not? Well, my kids’ first days back at school were crazy busy for them and for me; also, I’m spending most of my waking hours working on my book.

Though I am technically behind on my OSC posts, I am no longer going to offer up promises I can’t keep re: making them up to you. Instead, I promise to continue to publish for One Simple Change here whenever I can! While I’ll keep trying for weekly posts on Fridays, it may or may not happen that way. If that’s the bad news, then the good news is this: if I don’t get to a full 50 posts for the series here on the blog, you’ll be able to get all the info I intended to share (and much much more!) when my book comes out late in 2013 :)

Now on to my 33rd post in the series…

I had every intention of discussing the importance of eating organic at some point for One Simple Change, and with all the recent “hullabaloo” over Stanford University’s study on organics, I think now’s the perfect time.

First things first: I am really disappointed in the way the mainstream media covered this “story”. I saw numerous articles from big papers all across the country with headlines like this one from The New York Times: “Study Questions Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce”. I believe this coverage largely conveys to the public that eating organic simply isn’t worth the extra cost. I wholeheartedly disagree.

Let’s dissect the actual Stanford study a bit before I go on: I think you should know that it wasn’t really a study. It was a “meta-analysis”: a statistical review of existing literature. If you glanced at those national headlines, you might think that an actual laboratory assessment had been performed and that it had found that organic food did not contain more nutrients than conventional food. But that’s not the case at all. A lab never came into play here. My feeling (which was confirmed by this great piece by Dr. Frank Lipman) is that this “study” was basically “a massive number crunch”. I believe we must all keep in mind that the data used in this (and any) meta-analysis is potentially questionable, and that meta-analyses are by nature quite susceptible to agenda-driven biases.

Reports that the study concluded there are no health-related reasons to buy organic instead of conventional are really pissing me off. This conclusion was supposedly based on the fact that the meta-analysis determined there is no significant nutritional difference between the two.

Huh?

I don’t necessarily grow my own organic vegetables, keep my own organically-fed chickens and my own bees, and buy additional organic food because it’s more “nutritious”. While it’s true that the soil organic produce is grown in is generally higher in nutrients (from practices like enriching the soil with compost, green “manures”, etc., and crop rotation), I think we’re all smart enough to know that’s not going to translate to a huge difference between the vitamin content in, say, organic strawberries versus conventional ones (although here’s a study that did find organic produce is more nutritious).

I buy/eat organic food because it is free of potential toxins…because I don’t want to ingest pesticides when I eat strawberries, and I don’t want my kids to, either. I buy organic dairy and meat also to avoid toxins (which concentrate in fats), because the quality of the fats is higher (there are more omega-3s, for example), and because it contains no antibiotics or hormones. I buy organic food to avoid GMOs and food irradiation.

But buying organic it’s not just about the health of MY family (or yours)…it’s about the health of everyone who’s involved in growing/harvesting our foods (including the farmers and those working on farms). It’s also about the health of the planet as a whole.

And it’s about taste.

It’s my opinion that the way this study was reported was irresponsible. Many people are already confused enough about eating healthy and something like this just makes things worse. It makes people feel as if they shouldn’t bother to buy organic. I disagree, especially when it comes to animal foods and the produce that’s known to contain the most pesticides (ie the items on The Dirty Dozen List which has been expanded and now contains 14 foods).

I would like to point out here that locally grown, conventional produce may sometimes be a better choice than organic produce. Even though apples are at the top of the Dirty Dozen list, I’ll take apples from local farms over organic ones flown in from who knows where any day (but I look for apples that are “low-spray” and I always make sure to clean them with a produce wash designed to remove any pesticide residue). Also, some farms don’t have an organic certification for whatever reason (including the expense of pursuing one) but the foods they sell are of the highest quality (for more of the benefits of eating local, please refer to this post).

I believe that every time you eat, you have the opportunity to invest in your health. So you should eat the healthiest foods you can…the healthiest foods you can afford. And I believe the healthiest foods are going to be organic foods that you grow yourself, or that you purchase from a local farm or Farmer’s Market. If procuring food this way isn’t possible then the supermarket is a fine place to shop, as long as you buy whole foods. By far the most important thing you can do for your health is eat whole, unprocessed foods, even if they’re not organic.

No matter what any study (or meta-analysis) says, I do believe organic matters. I’m going to continue to grow my own food this way, and I’m going to continue to buy organic, especially when it comes to animal foods and items on the Dirty Dozen list.

What about you? Did you read the Stanford study or the media stories about it? What did/do you think? Do you buy organic? Will you continue to buy organic? I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

12 Comments

  1. 1

    Katie — September 11, 2012 @ 10:31 pm

    Nicely done and I agree on all points. I took a similar stance in a post last week. I think your point about the impact of pesticides on farming communities is often overlooked. Thanks.

  2. 2

    Laura (Tutti Dolci) — September 11, 2012 @ 11:26 pm

    I absolutely agree with you on eating the healthiest foods you can, and the healthiest foods you can afford! I don’t always buy organic because I want to support local growers (some are organic, others are but not certified, and some are not organic). In those instances, I also use pesticide wash. I try to buy produce mindfully and make the best choices I can for my health.

  3. 3

    Ginger — September 12, 2012 @ 2:40 am

    I think most media missed the point that what you buy with organic is peace of mind, for the most part-less chemicals. And as you said, if you try to buy as much locally, it’s usually more nutritious in the long run. So many studies twist data to suit-and then the media does their own twisting. i think most people will find the fresher the better and will continue to support organic farming.

  4. 4

    Amy (Savory Moments) — September 12, 2012 @ 6:43 am

    I absolutely agree with you. I found the media reports to be awful. They didn’t consider things like soil health, pesticide ingestion, pollution of soil and water, and numerous other things that come into play when choosing organic food.

  5. 5

    Ken┃hungry rabbit — September 12, 2012 @ 7:56 am

    You hit the issue of organic food right on the head and thank you for bringing it up to your readers who care about their own and family’s well being. I’m always leery about tests and studies because while they provide information on the topic at hand, most of them are careless about explaining how the conclusion comes about. We must use every ounce of brain cells to think for ourselves and not rely on the information handed to us.

  6. 6

    Brian @ A Thought For Food — September 12, 2012 @ 10:41 pm

    I’m with you completely… ideally, I’d like to only eat organic produce (and milk, which I do), but my main goal is to get local fruits and veggies and dairy. And, for the most part, it’s all organic. And those things that aren’t… oh well!

    I do agree that those articles were misleading. Thank you for this in depth analysis.

  7. 7

    Delishhh — September 14, 2012 @ 12:28 am

    So well written. I completely agree. I refuse to eat chemicals and will try to stay away as much as i can, but it makes me mad how hard it is. It makes me mad when i go to some grocery stores and they don’t even have an organic section, i leave right away. I am glad i live in Seattle where many people buy local or organic and most grocery store have 1/2 their section organic produce or even 100%. I can go on an on on this cause now when i have a little one i pay more attention to chemicals then i have before and companies say none-toxic but it is not true, once you look deeper there are toxins, but they can say no toxins since the “other” toxins are legal in the US, makes me even more mad.

  8. 8

    Kathryn — September 15, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

    I think your point about it being about taste is really key. I don’t care what any study says, organic food (especially vegetables) tastes better. Another great post Winnie!

  9. 9

    Janet — September 16, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

    Lots of vigorous nodding! The media loves to boil issues down for us and we all know what too much boiling does to things. It’s kind of like the big news flash that home canning doesn’t save you any money-as if that was the question all along! I don’t buy organic and local for one reason alone, I buy that way for a host of subtle reasons that one factoid can’t stack up to.

    And hooray for your book! Your photography is gorgeous and I hope it’s a big feature :-)

  10. 10

    Ellie@Fit for the Soul — September 16, 2012 @ 5:45 pm

    Niiice~I like how well you put this post together. I have been buying most produce in the organic section after reading all the horrible aspects of conventional produce, and not to mention, how harmful it prob. is for the workers, just like you said!

    I’m so glad to have found your blog~it’s sooo gorgeous and I’m loving your pictures! What lens+camera do you use? Just out of curiosity. :D

  11. 11

    autumn — September 17, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

    Very well said, Winnie. I felt like the reporting around this was so sensationalized too! Such a complex issue that really got re-packaged in a misleading way. So strange to me that environmental concerns and also issues around working conditions for folks in conventional agriculture (tomatoes!) seemed to barely be part of the mainstream conversation. It got turned into “organic isn’t more nutritious so organic doesn’t matter.”

  12. 12

    Charlotte — October 28, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

    “I would like to point out here that locally grown, conventional produce may sometimes be a better choice than organic produce.”

    I could not agree more. I don’t believe in organic anything thats been transported from the other end of the world. I also met a farmer that wasn’t allowed to call himself an organic farmer (I must add that I live in the European Union, where requirements are probably a little different) because of one silly thing. I’d still much rather buy his apples than the organic apples from a different continent sold in a supermarket.
    Organic does not equal organic.