Why Eat Organic Food? Part 1 of 2

by Tarilee Cornish, Certified Nutritional Consultant

The number one reason that organic enthusiasts offer for eating organic is that the food is poison free and safer for their family. They will usually cite the superior nutrition and better taste of the food next. Then they may reflect on the good feeling they get by contributing to the clean up of the planet and the protection of our environment, our children, our grandchildren, our wildlife and our farm workers. Some will even express the satisfaction they gain from supporting small family farms, improving the quality of our food supply and reintroducing community values into our culture.

There are many rewarding but less obvious reasons to choose organic products that few people are aware of. Sadly, it is the mere "safety" of the "poison-free" good that is most often used as the key persuasive argument in favor of naturally grown, organic choice. Wayne Roberts, co-author of Real Food for a Change, describes organically grown food as "anxiety-light" and says that "it's a sad commentary that the biggest selling point for organic food today is that it won't harm you."

Here are ten of the most popular and well-published selling points from an article by Sylvia Tawse from Alfalfa's Markets, Boulder Colorado:
  1. Protect future generations.
  2. Prevent soil erosion [by supporting soil building organic practices.]
  3. Protect water quality.
  4. Save energy [by supporting organic farming by-hand methods]
  5. Keep chemicals off your plate.
  6. Protect farm worker's health.
  7. Help small farmers.
  8. Support a true economy. [Lower priced conventional food prices reflect subsidies paid by the taxpayer for chemical management and clean up.]
  9. Promote biodiversity. [Organic farmers use crop and field rotation as pest management and clean up.]
  10. Taste better flavor. [You can easily locate the full version of this article by searching the Internet for "Top ten reasons to go organic."]
As we become more aware of the direct and indirect benefits of eating organic, we become inspired to participate in the movement to support it.

Aren't organic foods a lot more expensive?
Although organic foods have a higher sticker price than highly subsidized conventionally grown produce, meat and dairy, the true costs are less. Lower conventional produce, meat and dairy prices reflect multiple subsidies that are absorbed by taxpayers. These subsidies cover the costs of the chemical management and environmental clean up associated with agrichemical use. Some would argue it would seem more appropriate to have organic subsidies and polluter taxes in order to encourage more farmers to go organic. As we continue to express our opinions to our members of parliament/congress and make our money talk, we are moving in this direction. Of course, as the demand goes up, the price naturally comes down. Just by buying organic we are helping to increase its availability and affordability for others. Every time we exercise our power as consumers to create a demand for a product we believe in, we make it that much easier for the next person to do the same.

If conventional pesticides and herbicides were dangerous, wouldn't they be banned? Our fruits and veggies are supposed to supplement and protect our health with vitamins, minerals and phyto-chemicals (a unique class of plant-based nutrients beneficial to health). Unfortunately, some of our chemically grown produce could be said to be more of a "pesticide supplement" than a nutrient supplement. Our government agencies accepts a generous serving of these hazardous agents. Their safety testing standards are based on levels of exposure deemed safe for the intake of a single agrochemical. They do not take into consideration the complete cocktail similar to what we actually consume every time we sit down to a meal. Also, the testing is based on "allowable" levels for healthy adults and does not consider the greater sensitivity of children, the ill and the elderly. Most of us agree that correcting our declining air and water quality is essential to our health and our future on this planet. Strangely, we have not so easily recognized the importance of purifying our food growing practices. Although air and water quality get more media attention, our food quality has a greater impact on our health. Food quality is of course partially affected by the air and water in which it is grown. However the negative impact of polluted water and air on food is small compared to the detrimental effects caused by the agrichemicals that saturate the foods and the soil they grow in.

The Hidden Condiment
A close look at the health risks associated with a handful of our most commonly used pesticides reveals a rather dark repertoire of symptoms associated with acute exposure. They include: ataxia, cholinesterase inhibition, central nervous system impairment, confusion, convulsions, coma, diarrhea, vertigo, hallucinations, headaches, liver damage, nausea, psychosis, salivation, shock, sweating, vomiting, weakness, heart attacks, reproductive toxicity, mutagenic and carcinogenic effects, fetotoxicity (toxic to the fetus), infertility and more.

These potent chemicals are designed to kill everything in the soil and on the plant. Not surprisingly, several are known for causing bird deaths in the farm fields, as well as illnesses, abnormalities and deaths in animals and fish living close to or downstream from the farm. Through continued use of these agents, their concentration in our groundwater is increasing.

According to Consumer Report researchers, the fruits and vegetables with the highest concentration of toxic pesticides are apples, bell peppers, cucumbers, green beans, peaches, pears, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes and winter squash.

A Modern Day Farm Romance
Our farm workers are exposed to hazardous levels of chemicals everyday as they handle the "tools" of their trade. They pour, spray and breathe these powerful agents, often without protective clothing or masks. Some of them even live on farms where chemicals are regularly sprayed from airplanes. Many of our farm workers are immigrants whose language barriers may prevent a complete understanding of the hazards of chemical farming.

Today's modern farm conjures up a bleak-looking picture of gas masks and protective clothing combined with gigantic tractors with chemical tanks and octopus-like arms spraying poisons in all directions. This picture is a far cry from the peaceful, fresh-air image of the old-fashioned homestead that most of us would prefer our vegetables coming from.

Going organic can take the fear our of eating (and out of farming for that matter) and replace it with a quiet celebration and enjoyment of the great taste of natural whole-nutrition foods. When we eat organic foods we can feel reassured that they have been grown with love and respect for nature and human health in the true spirit of give and take.

Are organic foods more nutritious?
Conventionally grown fruit such as tomatoes, oranges and bananas are routinely picked before they are ripe and are ripened using gases and/or color-enhanced using dyes. When picked prematurely, the nutrients intended for the fully ripe fruit have not yet developed and will not develop. In the conventional farm field, powerful fertilizers speed growth at the expense of micronutrient uptake. Essential minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc are commonly deficient in these plants. The bare minimum of nutrients is required for a plant to grow into a pretty vegetable but we know that up on the next level of the food chain, our bodies require plants with complete nutrition to help us grow into healthy humans.

Nutrient-Rich Soil = Nutritious Food
Organic plant management respects the natural cycles of plant development and utilizes natural soil enrichment practices like composting to ensure sustainable, nutrient-rich topsoil. After all, it can only be in the food if it's in the soil in which the food is grown. "Leave the soil better than when you found it." is the cardinal rule of the organic farmer. This conscientious approach to nutrient management has been scientifically proven to pay off in the nutrient density of organic foods.

Conventional produce frequently travels for days before reaching the retailer(wasting much polluting fossil fuel in the process). As the food loses freshness, it also loses flavor and nutrition. Organic distributors and organic farmer's markets make selling local produce a high priority. Unnecessary shipping is reduced and food reaches the customer while it's still fresh.

Fresh or Radioactive?
To preserve "shelf-life" some non-organic foods are treated with a process called irradiation that uses radioactive Cobalt-60 to slow spoilage. Irradiation leaves carcinogenic residue in the food. George Tritsch of Buffalo's Roswell Parke Cancer Institute says, "Irradiation can produce so much genetic damage and create so many carcinogens that cancer rates will inevitable increase. Potatoes, spices, wheat and onions are commonly irradiated in Canada and many more foods are exposed in the U.S. The irradiated vegetable may have been sitting on the retailers stand for much longer than you think, losing nutrients by the day.

Tell your grocery retailer that you want irradiated food to be clearly labeled so that you can choose whether to expose yourself to this nutrition and health experiment. Nutrient-rich organic foods are never irradiated.

Do they really taste better?
The artificial growth acceleration and mass production techniques used to grow conventional produce and livestock sacrifice nutrition and taste. It is a well-kept secret that many highly accomplished chefs prefer organic ingredients. Two prestigious organizations, Knives and Forks and Chef's Collaborative, support local organic growers to supply their professional members with the ultimate raw materials to produce their culinary masterpieces.

What does the qualification of "organic" really mean?
Organic foods are grown without the use of toxic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Produce is grown on land that has not been treated with chemicals for a minimum of three years. Certified organic produce is certified free of any genetically-modified-organisms (GMOs). The processed organic foods come with a promise that all efforts were made to screen out GMOs. Pre-packaged organic foods are minimally processed using only naturally extracted and processed raw materials and benign packaging additives (like organic corn starch for example).

All certificed organic products also come complete with a link to a paper trail that can trace the food back to the farm it was grown on. There are different degrees of certification and labeling regulations that limit the wording on organic labels to avoid misleading claims about the actual amount of organic ingredients in a product.

Does the chemical use in modern agriculture affect the purity of my drinking water? In his TV documentary "To the Last Drop," David Suzuki demonstrated that toxins enter the water table by leeching through the topsoil and finding their way to the groundwater, lakes, oceans and drinking wells thousands of miles away by traveling beneath the earth in vein-like channels. He gives scientific proof that a poison introduced on one side of the world can be traced, within a few years, to the opposite side of the world thousands of miles away. Humans have long acted recklessly with their dumping of hazardous wastes into our earth and water. Industrially-caused human health disasters like the famous Love Canal tragedy (Niagara Falls New York in the 1970's) show us the dark consequences of doing so.

In North America Approximately 25 million people source their water straight from the Great Lakes, complete with contamination by agricultural run off, other industry pollutants and acid rain. Our water purification plants are able to remove very few of the dangerous chemicals that end up in our water sources. What we put on the ground, or down our drains for that matter, eventually ends up in our kitchen tap. By buying organic we are using our consumer power to help ensure a clean water supply for the future.

Next month, part two, including:
  • Doesn't our government protect our environment from being polluted?
  • Should we really worry about losing a few animal species a year?
  • Are genetically engineered foods dangerous?
  • Are dairy and meat from organically raised livestock any better than conventional?
  • If not from the food industry as we know it where will we buy our food?
  • How do we get a great big industry to change?
Steinman, Epstein, Diet for a Poisoned Planet (New York: Ballantine Books 1990) p. 353-368
Colby, Michael, Nuked meat Madness, Food and Water (Spring 1998)
Roberts, MacRae, Stahlbrand, Real Food for a Change, (Canada: Random House of Canada, 1944) p. 45
Globe and Mail, (July 22, 1998).
Additional references available upon request.

Tarilee Cornish is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner with a special interest in immune and digestive recovery including general detoxification and recovery from food allergies and candida overgrowth. She is especially passionate about pure healing food choices that have a democratic, ecological and compassionate production and distribution chain. Tarilee is a moderator on the WholeApproach Support Forum.

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