Jiving with Nature Organically OR... Conventionally?

You're perusing the shelves of your local grocery store, the brightly colored fruits and vegetables beckoning tauntingly:

"Roast me until I'm sweet as candy," the sweet potato cooes.

"Smash me to smithereens, and mix me up with some garlic, tomatoes, and jalapeno," the avocado croons.

"Don't forget about me," the banana interjects. "I make a mean smoothie OR ice cream substitute. Just freeze and blend me, you'll see."

You glide amongst the fruit, dancing from item to item, your hand alighting on a juicy peach, ripe for the picking... and then you see a big "ORGANIC PEACH" sign, and you pause...

Your hand hovers over the conventional peach, priced at $0.69 each. Hesitantly, it inches its way toward the organic peach, mouth watering, eyes shifting to the price. $1.09 each. Fifty cents more? 

After a slight pause, you go for it. You hastily shove three organic peaches into a green plastic produce bag and proudly place it in your basket. You are trying to make better choices, after all, and organic is the better choice, right?

RIGHT!?

Hold your horses, compadre.  I'm gonna dish out some facts here that lead toward the conclusion of: not necessarily.

Let's break it down, shall we?

Fake News? Alternative facts? 

Fake News Item #1:  Organic produce is healthier and has more nutrients than conventional produce.  

While that’s fun to imagine, researchers at Stanford released findings in 2012 regarding a study of organic vs. conventional produce, and the results were clear:  

Organic produce is not any more nutrient or vitamin dense than non-organic produce.

However, some nutritional benefits found in organic meat and by-products are:

  1. Higher Omega-3 content in organic milk (though I'm not a big proponent of drinking milk, myself, organic or not)
  2. "Organic chicken and pork appeared to reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, (but the clinical significance of this is also unclear)" -Stanford Medicine

Okay, so it may not always be more nutritious, but, and this is a big but...

Fake News Item #2: Organic produce may lower your exposure to pesticides and antibiotic resisting bacteria, right?

Some studies have indicated that exposure to pesticides increases the risk for the likes of:

  • cancer
  • reproductive damage
  • liver and kidney damage, and
  • brain disorders

A thorough study was performed looking at the effect of pesticides as endocrine disruptors which indicated that pesticides may emulate testosterone and estrogen in the body, which could cause the aforementioned risks. However, more research is needed and scientists hesitate to draw a direct conclusion.

Pesticide use is regulated, but the residue found on conventional produce, while considered safe by government standards, is argued by many experts to still be highly unsafe.  

To support this point, we can look at the following analogy:

It’s a bit like touching a hot stove.  You can touch it for 1 second or 1 hour, and either way you’re going to get burnt.  An hour would be much less advisable and result in far worse injury, but you certainly wouldn’t want to touch a hot stove for 1 second, either.

Organic produce often carries a larger upfront sticker price, but if it saves us money on our health long term, is it worth it?

But then... other studies point to the fact that organic produce still has traces of pesticides.

Say what now?

"While researchers found that organic produce had a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination than conventional fruits and vegetables, organic foods are not necessarily 100 percent free of pesticides. What’s more, as the researchers noted, the pesticide levels of all foods generally fell within the allowable safety limits." -Stanford Medicine

A toxicologist at the University of California, Davis, Dr. Carl Winters, who specializes in studying the effects of toxins on the body argues that the amount of pesticides found on conventional produce are not enough to merit concern; basically, according to Winters, it's the dose that makes the poison, and there simply isn't enough residual pesticide. (source: Business Insider)

A few studies have pointed to the fact that pesticides are least tolerated in utero and in infants, toddlers, and children, so perhaps our biggest concern should be feeding organic to our youth.

Of course, it isn't only about our health, when it comes to choosing organic.

There are environmental concerns, and especially when it comes to meat and animal by-products, ethical treatment and factory farming impact can be brought to the table.

    Me? I choose to eat organic a lot of the time, though it's rarely fear of pesticides that motivates me.

    I find organic produce to be tastier, I'm concerned about ethical treatment of animals (and I still find eating meat challenging after years of being a vegetarian/vegan—y'all should have seen me break down crying over the mooing cows in the truck next to me in traffic at the stoplight yesterday), and if it reduces my chances of developing a terrible side effect in the future, well, that's just an added bonus, isn't it?

    But truly?

    The magic is in LOCAL and SEASONAL eating.

    The best way to eat fruits and vegetables (maybe even grains and meat and cheese and eggs and milk) is to buy directly from a farmer in your area.

    CSAs (community supported agriculture) and farmers markets are an excellent opportunity to not only meet and thank the hands that grew your food but also have a conversation with them about how they farm.

    What kinds of methods do they use to reduce pest infestation of their crops?

    Do they use pesticides?

    How are their animals treated?

    Who works the farm? What hands cared for the beautiful bounty and raised it to nourish you?

    Also, if you're eating from your local farms, this means you're not only supporting your local economy, but you are supporting your sweet bod!

    That's right: your body is meant to eat the foods that are in season.

    Why consider eating seasonally?

    It's all about jiving with nature and living in alignment with your environment. In the winter, we need all the comforting, warming foods we can get (like little bears preparing for hibernation), but come summer, it's time for light, cooling, refreshing foods.

    Or ancestors, up until quite recently, had very little choice but to eat seasonally.  Local, seasonal fruits and vegetable were not a luxury but a necessity. They ate what grew in the garden, and the idea of eating an orange or a lemon in the dead of winter was quite a treat. (Hence the tradition of getting fruit in your Christmas stocking.)

    As technology has grown (as well as our importation/exportation/trade industry), we have forgotten to consider what the earth is offering us to eat.  However, Mother Nature still knows what to produce at any given time of the year. In the winter, most everything is hibernating, and only the toughest skinned, heartiest produce can survive (i.e. nuts, kale, squash, roots). In the spring, nature is reborn, with delicate, sweet greens and fresh new growth (i.e. dandelion greens, spring lettuces, and asparagus). Come summer, the earth gives us fleshy fruits and vegetables full of water to cool us down.

    Eating locally grown food in line with the seasons helps you stay in harmony with yourself, your body, your neighbors, and the earth.

    Should you decide you want to go the organic route and you feel you may not be able to afford to eat organic 100% of the time, take a look at the Dirty Dozen list of produce infected with the highest level of pesticides, released yearly by the Environmental Working Group (an updated list is available yearly; you can sign up for their mailing list to have it delivered when it’s out).*

    I'll leave you with this offering:

    We do our best where we can. We don't have to be perfect.

    The most important thing is to eat whole foods. Fruits and vegetables. A wide array. Eat the rainbow. And please, enjoy your food. Savor it and love it and eat with gratitude for every bite. I wish I had lived that way for more of my life, rather than with harsh control, strict rules, and unforgiving perfection. But then... I probably would be here writing this letter to you. 

    So I guess for that I am grateful, too.

    *Check out the study abstract from Dr. Winters look at the EWG's list.

    Brittany KrigerComment