We live in a society of choices, and there’s one that causes a lot of discussion: organic versus non-organic.
When it comes to grocery shopping, many people can feel a lot of pressure because of that choice, particularly parents trying to weigh whether or not exposing their children to pesticides will be harmful. In an excellent column on Slate, Melinda Wenner Moyer tackles this question, reminding us that even in organic produce there are pesticides — albeit natural instead of synthetic. “As any toxicologist will tell you, it’s the dose that makes the poison. In other words, just because both conventional and organic produce are sometimes laced with pesticides doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re doing anyone any harm,” writers Moyer.
There are many reasons to buy organic, particularly from an environmental and sustainable agricultural perspective, but simplifying shopping choices down to organic vs. non-organic is too black and white. If you require an organic label on your produce, then what about the stuff that comes from your local farmer who doesn’t have the funds to pay for such labeling? And if an apple is organic but comes from New Zealand, do you choose it over the non-organic one that comes from your backyard? When the store has organic tomatoes but it’s not tomato season, do you still buy them? Do you even know when tomato season is?
We live in a society with a multitude of options, so it’s nice to have a label that simplifies our purchasing choices, but food is much more complicated and nuanced than one simple dichotomy. Certainly, we should support organic agriculture, for a multitude of reasons, but if we want to deal with the growing public health problem of obesity, it comes down to this: we have to change the Standard American Diet, and that means eating more fruits and vegetables, whether they’re organic or not.
As Moyer goes on to say in her column, “One review concluded that the quartile of Americans who eat the most fruits and vegetables, organic or not, are about half as likely to develop cancer compared to the quartile who eat the least. Fruits and veggies may also prevent heart disease and diabetes.”
At the end of the day, most Americans are eating too many processed foods and not enough fruits and vegetables, and before we can even launch into the organic debate, we simple need to get more people filling their diet with fresh produce. A non-organic orange is better after all than a bag of potato chips, organic or not.
Should we eat organic? Yes. Should we eat local? Yes. Should we eat local food that isn’t organic? Talk to the farmer and find out about their practices. But if we can’t do all of those things, and many of us can’t, because of economic reasons or other, we still need to be providing our body with the produce that it needs to survive.
Fewer chips, more fruit. Fewer fast food fries, more potatoes. Let’s remember to not just talk about whether or not people should be eating organic, but how we get people eating more produce and less processed food in general.
Photo Credit: thebittenword.com