Why Do I Buy Organic?   Leave a comment

A few months ago a study came out saying that organic food was not more nutritious than conventionally raised food. The tenor of the news blurbs and discussions that I saw was along the lines of “there is no benefit to eating organic” and even going so far as to suggest that this one study was going to collapse the organic market. My husband and I had similar reactions when we first heard about the ruckus: “there are other benefits to organic, you know”. Actually, my first reaction was an utter lack of reaction because over the years there have been many studies done on the subject with varying results, so whoop-de-do here’s another study in the same inconclusive line. What irritated me was how it seemed that this complex decision was being boiled down to one facet and then blown way out of proportion.

Why does anyone buy organic? It varies, of course, by the person. For me, first and foremost it is an environmental decision. Every item I purchase that was raised organically instead of conventionally eliminates that amount of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers released into the environment. In fact, my biggest commitment to buying organic is not actually food, but cotton. I’ve seen statistics indicating that cotton is the single crop with the highest pesticide usage in the world. So every item in my closet fits into one of three categories: new organic fabric (with minimal processing and eco-dyes since I don’t want toxic dyes, formaldehyde, or fire retardants on my clothing either), second-hand conventional fabric, or grandfathered items (I am my father’s daughter, I admit to having clothing dating back to high school and college before I went organic). I simply will not purchase something made from conventionally raised cotton for my house, including towels, sheets, etc. I have also reached the point where it is absolutely painful to purchase something as a gift for someone else that is not organic cotton.

My second reason for buying organic is personal exposure. I purchase organic food to minimize the potential for exposure to pesticide residue in my food. Even if the amount of pesticide residue on a single item is negligible, I believe in the Precautionary Principle, and I am concerned about the cumulative effects of consuming a negligible amount of pesticide on every item in my diet. I don’t have the Environmental Working Group’s “clean” and “dirty” lists memorized any more, and I think that the list is different than when I last looked at it several years ago anyway. I only buy waxed cucumbers, berries and stone fruits, and “rough textured” foods organic if I can find them. Since we do all of our produce shopping at the farmer’s market, I don’t have many certified organic options. There are a handful of farmers that are certified organic at my farmer’s market, but there are many more that simply put “no pesticides” on the pricing signs. I’m fine with that. Some of the farmers use integrated pest management, which I consider to be perfectly acceptable. In general, at the farmer’s market if two vendors have the same item but one says “no pesticides” then that is the one I will buy. I don’t worry too much about it since I figure even if the farmers are using pesticides, small farms probably use a lot less pesticides than industrial farms.

For me the nutrition aspect is sort of a distant third. I say sort of because in my mind, higher nutrient content is associated with small local farms, not specifically organic farms. I’m sure that industrial organic fields produce food that is statistically nutritionally identical to food produced in conventional industrial fields. But when you can harvest something at the peak of freshness from your backyard, or pick it up at a farmer’s market, I would think you are getting a more nutritious item than if you bought it at a grocery store where it was harvested before fully ripening. It also makes sense to me that using more natural methods of restoring nutrients to the soil, rather than just applying synthetic fertilizers and mining the soil, results in better quality produce.

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