Have you seen the news this week about eating organic? It was an article from Quartz Media which is a digital business publication from ‘The Atlantic’. The headline reads ‘Buying Organic Veggies at the Supermarket is a Waste of Money’. When you dig in you’ll find it’s a pretty harsh piece as well. This has been an ongoing debate for the last two years. Last summer the LA Times published a piece entitled ‘Organic Foods Are More Nutritious According to a Review of 343 Studies.’ They were not the only ones to share these findings and these studies set off another media storm of articles completely debunking the findings. See links below to read full articles.
Confused enough? I don’t blame you. Don’t despair, since I read a lot about wellness culture, I can tell you that the argument has been pretty much settled amongst the scientific and medical communities. The conclusion is, there appears to be no consistent differences in the level of vitamins and minerals in organic versus conventionally grown produce. So, when you read the article from Quartz this week, you may come away with a pretty cynical view of the organic industry in general. And I remind you of the word ‘industry’. Big business is big business and ALL of them, both conventional and organic have their interests to protect. So when you live in a capitalistic, consumer market driven society like we do in America, you pretty much have to question everything and always weigh all your options. Why read a lot? Because industry isn’t so much worried about your annual physical, as they are about their quarterly reports! Does this mean you shouldn’t buy organic as the Quartz article concludes? Not so fast–let’s discuss this with some real context…
Right about the same time as these studies and arguments flared up, Marion Nestle PhD and Nutritionist added her expert opinion about this and the headline was…
Marion runs the Food Politics website and is one of my wise gurus at WWB. I trust her assessments because she asks the right questions, always offers context and seems to be an advocate for Public Health. Here are a few of her comments regarding the studies claiming organic food is more nutritious circa 2014.
1. The study is not independently funded. One of the funders is identified as the Sheepdrove Trust, which funds research in support of organic and sustainable farming.
This study is another example of how the outcome of sponsored research invariably favors the sponsor’s interests. The paper says “the Trust had no influence on the design and management of the research project and the preparation of publications from the project,” but that’s exactly studies funded by Coca-Cola say. It’s an amazing coincidence how the results of sponsored studies almost invariably favor the sponsor’s interests. And that’s true of results I like just as it is of results that I don’t like.
2. The purpose of the study is questionable. The rationale for the study is “Demand for organic foods is partially driven by consumers’ perceptions that they are more nutritious.” The implication here is that research must prove organics more nutritious in order to market them. But most people who buy organics do so because they understand that organics are about production values. As I said, if they are more nutritious, it’s a bonus, but there are plenty of other good reasons to prefer them.
Dr. Nestle said she buys organic foods, because she believes they are better for the environment and wants to avoid pesticides. “If they are also more nutritious, that’s a bonus,” she said. “How significant a bonus? Hard to say.”
I have always found Marion Nestle grounded, unbiased, and wise. Great reasons to follow her website Food Politics. Almost every article I researched on the subject concluded it is better to eat more fruits and vegetables regardless of the source ( organic or conventional). But I found the following two statements disturbing. In the recent Quartz article, there was a pull out statement that read,“Organic” has essentially become another way of saying “luxury.” In a recent article from the LA Times (May 2015), now with a different headline (one year later) Is Organic Food Worth the Higher Price? Many Experts Say No, the journalist ended the article with a statement from Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at UC Davis.
As for organic foods, she said, consumers shouldn’t stress about buying the priciest shade-grown, free-range, no-chemicals-added products.
“My advice is to buy organic when affordable,” Applegate said. “But for a consumer trying to feed a family in as healthy a way as possible, the cost probably isn’t worth it. What’s more important is simply eating fruits and vegetables, no matter how they were grown.”
If the ‘luxury statement’ is true and it turns out organic is really healthier and less harmful, then where does that leave the majority of consumers who can’t afford it? The haves and the have-nots should never be divided when it comes to food or education and yet that seems to be where we are headed in this country. I am sure there are many who will defend organic or agree with the Quartz article. I would love to hear from all of you. But please remember my only goal here is to ask questions and find context when there are so many confusing and conflicting reports out there in mainstream media. I am always going to tell you, “Be Your Own Guru”!
Another sound article on the subject is from the Mayo Clinic. Follow this link for their easy to digest report on the Organic debate. I pulled the following safety tips for you from the article, so we can try to be safe no matter where we get our produce from! Speaking of safe, all certified organic foods are free of GMO’s and this is a whole other highly charged debate and topic. But something you should know when considering the organic debate…
Food safety tips
- Select a variety of foods from a variety of sources. This will give you a better mix of nutrients and reduce your likelihood of exposure to a single pesticide.
- Buy fruits and vegetables in season when possible. To get the freshest produce, ask your grocer what day new produce arrives. Or buy food from your local farmers market.
- Read food labels carefully. Just because a product says it’s organic or contains organic ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthier alternative. Some organic products may still be high in sugar, salt, fat or calories.
- Wash and scrub fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water. Washing helps remove dirt, bacteria and traces of chemicals from the surface of fruits and vegetables. Not all pesticide residues can be removed by washing, though. You can also peel fruits and vegetables, but peeling can mean losing some fiber and nutrients.
In the end I agree with Marion Nestle. When it comes selecting my produce I would opt for less chemicals and pesticides. I don’t want to read 10 years from now that certain cancers could have been avoided if we only used less of them! I do look at EWG’s dirty dozen list and the clean fifteen. If organic farming is the ideal and healthiest production method, then why don’t we make sure all our food sources are produced safely for ALL of us. Safe produce shouldn’t be a ‘luxury’. On the bright side, I did find the closing statement of the tough Quartz article pretty wise….
If you want to know more about your fruits and vegetables, buy them at the local farmers market, organic or not. The prices are often competitive with supermarkets, the in-season goods will be fresher than those shipped long distances, and any questions you have on production practices can be asked and answered on the spot.