Is Organic All That?

Recently, I read an article that talked about how studies found that “high organic food scores were inversely associated with the overall risk of cancer.” This made me curious because I had been reading in various respectable publications that organic might not be worth it. So I did a little digging and it turns out that the answer is “it depends.” And what it depends on is which part of the elephant you are trying to identify, trunk, tail or tusks. So here are three ways of looking at organic foods and their benefits or non-benefits.

Healthfulness

Eating fully organic foods means that you will ingest fewer health damaging pesticides. There is no doubt about that, as the earlier mentioned studies found. However, not all foods need to be organic to be healthy and that is where all the confusion starts. Let’s focus on healthfulness first.

The Environmental Working Group published the 2021 Dirty Dozen and there is no surprise about what is on the list. Try to choose organic versions of these foods.

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale/Collard/Mustard Greens
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Bell Peppers and Hot Peppers
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes

Then there are the Clean Fifteen. These are foods that either don’t have much pesticide residue or that are peeled before eating. You can get these conventional or organic when measured by healthfulness:

  • Avocados
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapple
  • Onions
  • Papaya
  • Sweet Peas (frozen)
  • Eggplant
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Kiwi
  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Honeydew
  • Cantaloup

Bottom line, it is still better to eat even conventional versions of these fruits and vegetables than to subsist on processed foods. I’m working on getting more fruits and vegetables of all kinds in my diet.

Impact: High

Impact to the environment

This is debatable and gets mixed into the healthfulness category but is really a completely different subject. In the US organic fields tend to have lower yields and thus less food per acre gets produced. Growers might also use manure or large growers use other questionable fertilizers so it is critical that you clean organic produce before consuming. Farming methods need to evolve to ensure important quantities of food are produced per acre. One way that is gaining traction is to create integrated environments that grow food mixed with other things such as raising chickens. Also crop rotations alternating with plantings of legumes and then plowing them in. Interestingly, organic farming in places such as India seems to have higher yields.

Impact: Depends

Economic impact

Yes purchasing organic foods is more expensive. Not because it has to be but because it can be. No matter what we do, our environment will continue to degrade and climate change will keep damaging our crops and forests. So choosing to eat smarter and make better choices if we can afford them is critical. If only as small percentage of well off individuals chose to buy organic and local we could make a difference.

Impact: Depends

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