The Great Organic Panic That Isn't
Say it ain't so! A new study being reported just about everywhere finds (gasp!) that organic foods (no!) are no more nutritious (horror!) than conventional foods (shock!). Media alarms are blaring. Big Agriculture is crowing. Consumers are confused, and just about everyone appears to have forgotten the most important thing of all.
The new research is a metastudy, which means it's a study of studies. Scientists reviewed 240 different projects that one way or another compared nutrient levels in organic foods to levels in conventional foods, and they concluded that when all the evidence is in, there generally isn't much difference between the two.
The reports that followed had the sky falling in on organic foods, which over the last 15 years have exploded from a few hardscrabble hippie farms out on the edge of town into a $26.7 billion-a-year industry. "Shoppers have been fooled," shouted the headlines. "There's no point in paying more for organics. They're just like the cheap stuff!"
Except that they aren't, and saying otherwise completely misses the point.
Organic foods were never supposed to be more nutritious to eat. Any evidence that they were was always just a happy bonus, icing on the organic cake that never impacted the decision to have a big slice in the first place.
Instead, organic foods are ultimately about a much different type of health—the kind that happens when our food system is sustainable and producing the sustenance we require doesn't damage our world and undo our future.
It's about a brand of healthy eating that doesn't come covered in chemical pesticides, destroy our soil, pollute our waters, and sicken our atmosphere. It's about meals that weren't grown in human sewage and didn't have their molecules blasted apart by gamma rays. It's about fruits and vegetables that haven't had their DNA scrambled in modern-day labs and weren't drowned in fossil-fueled fertilizers. It's about treating the living creatures that feed us with kindness not dubious synthetic growth hormones and antibiotic overkill.
It's about sanity.
Though many may have forgotten (half of those surveyed said they buy organics because they're more nutritious), this is why we chose organic foods in the first place. It had nothing to do with vitamins and minerals, and everything to do with the well-being of our world and everyone who lives here.
We buy organics because we believe our food, one of life's most vital necessities, should be as natural as possible. We serve them because we recognize that we ourselves are of the Earth and the farther away we eat from it, the less healthy we may become.
Yes, an organic tomato will give you the same basic dietary boost as one birthed by science, grown in effluent, and raised on pesticides. But it comes with something that that other tomato will never have: a life that leaves no toxic legacy upon the land and no debt to be paid by our children and their bodies.
That will never change and neither should anyone's opinion of organic foods. They're still the best choice and the biggest bargain when it comes to everything that matters.
Photo: Jim Linwood