Is Eating Organic BS? (Part II)
As promised, here is Part II of Monday’s article on organic foods. I examined an episode of Penn & Teller’s: Bulls**t in which they called “BS!” on the whole organic food craze based on these five factors:
- Small Business Farmers
You can read Part I here.
Today I will be discussing nutrition, taste, benefits for the small farmer and conclude with the absolute best option when purchasing raw produce.
One reason people cite for choosing organically grown food is because it has a higher level of nutrition than conventionally grown produce.
Penn and Teller
The show quotes a 2009 LA Times’ article quoting (I know, a lot of quotes) a study conducted by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in which they concluded that there was no significant difference in nutritional quality between organic and conventional food.
From the LA Times article:
Surveying 50,000 studies conducted over 50 years, the authors focused on 55 that met their standards of scientific rigor. The studies that led to the group’s controversial conclusions covered a wide range of crops and livestock that are raised and marketed under organic standards.
For 10 out of 13 food crops studied, the researchers found no significant differences. Where they did find differences, those were attributed to differences in fertilizer use (say, the use of nitrogen vs. phosphorus) and the ripeness level at which the crops were harvested. The authors judged the differences observed “unlikely” to “provide any health benefit” to consumers.
While the study draws an interesting conclusion, the results really depend upon the farm and the farming methods, whether organic or not (e.g. the soil quality, when the fruit is picked, etc.)
That’s why I highlighted the portion of the quote regarding ripeness; I believe the ripeness level of the food to be the real key. The closer the food is to being tree-ripened, the more nutritious it will be.
This is especially important for fruits that do not continue to ripen after being picked. It’s also one reason your best option is to eat locally sourced produce, but we’ll get to that a bit later.
For now, let’s take a look at the fourth criterion.
I’m sure you know this one! How many times have you been told (or maybe told others) how AMAZING organic produce tastes compared to conventional?
Penn and Teller
For this portion, the show conducted a blind taste test for which they had multiple people tasting two different unlabeled plates of food (conventional and organic apples, tomatoes, and bananas) and then asking them which one was organic.
In each test, the majority of the people chose the conventional fruit because it was tastier and so they figured it was organic!
The last test was my favorite part of the show. A girl—a raw vegan, actually!—was given half of an organic banana and half of a non-organic banana and asked which one tasted better.
She was very enthusiastic about the organic half, exclaiming that it tasted more like a banana than the conventional banana. In actuality, both halves came from the same conventionally grown banana! It was just one banana!!!
I know, pretty mean, but she was a good sport.
When it comes to fruit, I have to agree with the taste testers. Organic fruit is typically less tasty than conventional. And while the quality has definitely been improving over the years and I’ve had some tasty organic fruit, it still isn’t miles and away better than any conventionally grown fruits I’ve ever had.
Greens, on the other hand, are another story. Organic greens are almost always tastier than their conventional counterparts. I’ve also had bitter organic greens—in that case I throw them out—but usually the quality is very good.
Benefits for the Small Business Farmer
Lastly, many people interested in eating organic do so because they believe that they are lining the pockets of small business farmers.
Penn and Teller
According to Penn and Teller, this is BS. Now that the organic food movement is such a profitable industry, most (if not all) of the organic farms are owned by large companies.
While it is definitely true that the organic foods you find in your local grocery store mostly come from corporations, you can still support small businesses by purchasing produce from local farms at farmers markets—or from the farms directly—in your area.
Which brings me to…
The Best Option
By far the best choice for fresh, tasty, nutritious, environmentally friendly produce is to buy locally.
The closer the produce is to where you live, the less distance it will have to travel to get to you (environment). Also, the fresher and higher-quality it will be because the farmer will not have to worry about the food decomposing on the way and will be able to pick as close to ripe as possible (nutrition).
As far as pesticides go, each farm is different. However, it has been my experience that while many of the farms at the farmers markets are not USDA certified organic, they practice many sustainable methods (i.e. no sewage sludge, no genetically modified seeds, and no irradiation) and use as little harmful pesticides (or even none!) as possible.
There actually IS a certified organic farm at one of my markets, but the prices are ridiculous and the fruit tastes no different than what is offered at the other farms.
Oh, and taste! Fresh, ripe fruit is always tastier than fruit that was picked early to ship, wait in a warehouse, sit on the store shelves, and finally find its way into your kitchen.
The absolute BEST tomatoes, peaches, cantaloupes, watermelons, and blueberries I have ever tasted were not certified organic, but were grown just a few miles (in many cases, less than 30) from where I live.
The best part about buying local produce? You actually get to communicate with the people growing your food and buy directly from them! You can ask them all about what produce they grow, their prices, their farming methods, etc.
Bruce Ames, famous biochemist and creator of the Ames Test (a test that screens chemicals to see if they cause cancer) quoted in this NY Times article:
Everything you eat in the supermarket is absolutely chock full of carcinogens…But most cancers are not due to parts per billion of pesticides. They’re due to causes like smoking, bad diets and, obesity.
And here again in a Reason Magazine interview:
I just think all this business of organic food is nonsense basically. We should be eating more fruits and vegetables, so the main way to do that is to make them cheaper. Anything that makes fruits and vegetables more expensive may increase cancer.
In other words…
Stop obsessing over organic and EAT MORE FRUIT!!!
UPDATE: Judy brought up an excellent point: home growing! Growing your food yourself is even better than sourcing locally grown produce, for obvious reasons: you have complete control over the seeds you buy, the composting you use, the soil, pesticide management, etc.
Go raw and be fit,
P.S. Need help filling up on fruit? Check out my healthy and tasty raw recipe book below:
P.P.S This is the 100th post on Fit On Raw!