One Simple Change: Organic Does Matter

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.