I was at a food show a few years back and making a day of sampling various food oddities and talking to different food purveyors. For those of you that have somewhat of a foggy notion of what to expect from a food show; think of it as a trade show, held in a cavernous convention center with aisle after aisle of booths hawking everything from bacon-flavored vodka to sugar cookies with the likeness of your child inked on the cookie surface. I found myself talking to a fruit and vegetable importer and was asking him my usual 20 questions about the provenance of his fruit, in this case it was tomatoes. After asking about whether or not his tomatoes were cultivated with the use of pesticides, he responded, somewhat defensively, with, “You know, organic tomatoes don’t taste any better than conventional tomatoes and they are no better for you either.” While I couldn’t speak to the subjective idea of whether one tomato tastes better than another, I was pretty sure that an organic tomato, beyond the fact that it was neither sprayed with pesticides nor grown with chemicals, was actually nutritionally more robust.
In all honesty I had no hard evidence to back up my claims, but at the time, it just felt correct and factual. The fact is, the debate as to whether or not organic food is nutritionally superior to its conventional analog has been a hard fought one between adherents of organic living and those of a more conventional mindset. Now comes some evidence published in the Journal of Dairy Science by a group of British scientists that showed unequivocally that organic milk had higher percentages of heart-healthy fatty acids than conventional milk. Scientists who led the study claimed that by choosing organic milk, consumers can reduce artery-clogging saturated fats in their milk by 30 to 50 percent and still get the same level of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Scientists on the study also found that low levels of “good” fats were attributable to the cows’ conventional diet, which typically is low in fresh grass, and high in silage, hay and grain rations (typical for confined cows).
Excepting this new bit of scientific news, the jury is still out on whether organic food is more inherently nutritious than conventional food – as in whether an organic tomato has more concentrated nutrient value than a conventionally grown tomato. Some studies have suggested as much, but proving this beyond a shadow of a doubt has been tricky. It would be fair to say that organic food, lacking pesticide residue and chemical fertilizers, is healthier than food that is not quite as pure, but no one is willing to prove it (or willing to accept it). The Mayo Clinic published a report saying. “A recent study examined the past 50 years’ worth of scientific articles about the nutrient content of organic and conventional foods. The researchers concluded that organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs are comparable in their nutrient content.”
Would it matter to you if there was no sizable difference in the nutritional content of organic food and conventionally grown food? Is it enough to know that your food is “relatively” free of chemicals and toxins, or do you demand more nutritional value from the organic price tag? Does the USDA Certified Organic label mean anything to you? If so, what?