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Time Magazine Asks: Who Needs Organic Food?

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:

Eggs:

  • 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.

Milk:

  • 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.

Meat:

  • 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?

Reading Time:

3 minutes

 

 

 

13 Comments

  1. Jessica

    A good option for the organic meat issue is to consider buying meat in bulk. My family saves up and purchases our beef from a local farmer once a year. This next year we will probably go to a farm that provides grass fed beef. We usually purchase a quarter of a head of beef for one year for our family of 2 adults and 1 child and that lasts us most of a year. While you do pay the expense up front, you actually pay quite a bit less per pound and you can get high quality meat for less overall. I also like that most of the farms allow you to visit if you want to see the conditions that the animals are raised in. I love that my son has the opportunity to see where his food comes from.

    • Katie

      Jessica, we would love to do this but we don’t have any room for an extra freezer where we are living so I don’t think we can for awhile yet…I’m always curious how much room it actually takes up in a freezer, to store a quarter of a cow or a half a cow, etc…. any insight?

      • Jessica

        Well we had a small chest freezer and it filled that up for 1/4 of a cow. Now we have a freezer the size of an apartment refrigerator and we can fit the beef and other frozen veggies and chicken in there as well. I do know that some of the butchers that I have purchased bulk meat from allow you to buy bundles instead of a portion of a cow. It might be 25 to 50 pounds at a time and it has a mix of ground beef, roasts, steaks or whatever and it still comes out to a lower price than buying all those pieces individually. That might be a doable option for a smaller space. If you are using the freezer that comes with your refrigerator you would want smaller bundles anyway because that kind of freezer doesn’t get as cold as a chest freezer so the meat would not keep as long as it would in a chest freezer.

  2. Kara @Simple Kids

    I haven’t read the article yet, but I’m going to hunt down a copy so that I can.

    I agree with you and we have the same feelings regarding eggs and milk. I would rather even drink less milk, when we have a smaller grocery budget, and feel good about what it is we’re drinking than to buy less expensive milk but have that worry.

    We have been trying to do more freezing of fruits and veggies (either ones we grow, from our farmer’s market, or our local foods delivery service) and hopefully that will help us with the cost of eating those things organically over the Winter. But, I agree with you that we aren’t going to skip the veggies just because we can’t always afford organic.

  3. Kay

    Ironic the timing of this post and Time Magazine’s article. I am reading Robyn O’Brien’s book- “The Unhealthy Truth” and just posted in my blog some information I compiled from different websites about our food. I urge everyone to read more about Monsanto and GMOs (genetically engineered/biotech/gmo foods).
    It’s scary- it’s a reason to buy organic or to at least know your source/farmer. Not enough information is in the media concerning this, and GMOs are in (almost) everything!

  4. Stacy

    Thank you for posting the information from Time magazine and I completely agree with you about basically doing the best you can on a tight budget. We just returned to the US from spending a year on a biodynamic farm in Ireland. We are desperately trying to keep our diet up to high standards (organic/local/etc.) but so disappointed and sad to find that we probably can’t afford to eat the way we know we could and should. So, we are doing our best.

    Once you get used to farm fresh raw milk, eggs and vegetables…it’s hard to go back to the supermarket.

  5. Katie

    While I agree that with produce you aren’t necessarily getting more nutrients by purchasing organic, the article doesn’t get at the significant environmental impact that conventional agriculture has (not to mention the health problems for the folks who have to apply the pesticides and live in agricultural areas). From what I gather (and my husband works on these issues), the main problem with pesticides happen at the point of application and the people who are exposed to it that way, not on the consumer end.

  6. Kristy

    It seems to me like eating organic is the first step for many of us take that leads us to think about what our food is, where it comes from, and how it is grown.

  7. Julia

    Like many people, I cannot afford to buy organic food all the time. But I dispute that fact that there’s not much difference between conventional and organic produce. Sure, the vitamin and mineral content may be identical between the two. The reason I choose organic produce is because of what it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have–that’s what makes it superior. I’d rather not expose my children to organophosphates (which have been linked to ADD) if I can avoid them, and therefore I am willing to pay a little extra for better health in the long run.

    I also happen to think that organic strawberries and celery in particular taste better than the conventional versions. Does anyone else notice a taste difference?

    • Katie ~ Simple Organic

      Julia, I agree about the exposure issues with non-organic produce – the article didn’t even address those concerns. AND I agree about the organic strawberries being much tastier than non. 🙂 But other times, with other fruits and/or veggies, it is also true that I can’t taste a difference. For me, though, taste is not my primary concern. 🙂 Health is.

  8. Paula

    I haven’t read the article yet but so appreciate you providing this information to get the word out! Thanks so very much!

  9. Lloyd Burrell

    I am electrosensitive and I have been for the last 8 years – cell phones, wifi etc are a big no no for me. Since I have been eating organic foods for the last 3 to 4 years I can honestly say my health has greatly improved and it has given me more energy. There are lots of reasons to go organic but for me the primary one is better health and I think this will become clearer over the long term.

  10. Bobby

    I like organic foods and try to buy them whenever possible. In the debate over which is better, local or organic, I have found that many of the gardeners that supply my local farmer’s market, grow their produce using organic methods. It just so happens that they do not want to be bothered with getting certified organic. The food is still just as good and safe for you as the produce labeled organic.

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