Is Organic Really Better?
By Tracy Morris
Organic is just better. It makes common sense. Right? It’s also more expensive, and sometimes downright inaccessible depending on where you live. Some of us are already fully ensconced in the movement toward unadulterated, natural eating. Some of us are waiting for a bit more convincing evidence that the higher costs are worth the benefits of organic foods.
Renee Loux is fully on board with the whole foods movement. In fact, you might call her a Green Guru. The raw-food chef and former restaurateur now consults with a wide variety of businesses on the concept of “going green” — when she’s not authoring books and making television shows about the same thing.
Take a look at her website, http://reneeloux.com, and you might say she’s on a mission. From the perspective of the individual, Renee’s site offers complete recipes and instructional tips on nature-based beauty to steps on greening up your own living environment. More toward the political, she discusses genetically engineered foods and related societal issues.
Her books include Living Cuisine: The Art and Spirit of Raw Foods (Penguin Avery 2003) and The Balanced Plate: The Essential Elements of Whole Foods and Good Health (Rodale Books 2006). Her television special, It’s Easy Being Green, debuted on the Fine Living TV network in April 2007. The show was so popular, it’s expanding to series format beginning in April 2008 – just in time for her third book, Easy Green Living.
I spoke to Renee from her solar-powered home on the Hawaiian island of Maui about organic eating, in terms of the average woman who wants to get and stay healthy while living within her means.
TM: First, what are the benefits of organic foods over conventionally farmed and raised foods?
The benefits are for our own health and the health of the planet. First and foremost, organic foods simply don’t have residue of pesticides and chemicals that are used in conventional growing methods. We are constantly inundated by our complex world with things we have no say about; we can choose what foods we put in our bodies.
Also, organics are currently free from genetically modified organisms, which is a growing concern for us all.
Organically grown foods usually have more nutrients in them. The way they’re grown requires natural soil fortification and management – healthy, fortified soil yields healthy, fortified food. Many studies are consistently showing higher nutrients in these foods, particularly minerals like phosporous, magnesium, iron, and vitamin C. Even if it’s only marginal, I think it’s great any time we can get more nutrition in there.
I think the benefits balance out the moderately higher costs we have to pay for organics.
When it comes to animal products, choosing organic is one of the most important things that we, and especially women, can do. Organics don’t have the levels of hormones and antibiotics that are found in conventionally-raised animals. We’re starting to see causal links between those conventional additives, which is essentially a low but constant dose of antibiotics and hormones, and human endocrine problems.
Those of us who take the option to choose organic also get indirect benefits by being kind to the Earth. Conventional farming adds chemicals to the water supply, which ends up returning to us.
TM: Are there any foods that actually taste better in organic form?
It ranges from marginal to significant. What I’ve found is that – looking at the related topics of seasonal and locally grown foods – the fresher the food is, the shorter the distance between farm and table, the more nutrients it has, the more flavor it has… Consider a farm fresh tomato that’s never seen the inside of a refridgerator – it certainly has much better taste than one that was picked green, stored, and has somewhat of an anemic albeit perfect-looking appearance.
TM: Partly because of the costs of organics, experts are recommending that consumers who can’t afford to go all out start with a few certain foods to get some organic benefits. Are there some foods that you think are an absolute must for people to try and buy organic?
I refer to them as the “dirty dozen,” because their conventional counterparts consistently test at high levels of contamination residue from the chemicals used to grow them. It’s in part because they have thin skin. Typically, the softer the skin of the fruit, the more important organic growing will be to the consumer.
Meat – beef, pork, and poultry – are first and foremost important to buy organically. Eggs… Following that are dairy products, mik, cheese, and butter.
Then, strawberries are very high on the list. Conventionally grown ones are sprayed throughout their growing season so they are really laden with chemicals. Apples and tomatoes are high on the list for the same reason. Unfortunately, a lot of these are foods that kids love – grapes, potatoes, pears, peaches… Potatoes spend a lot of time in the ground, soaking in chemicals from conventional farming. Also, leafy greens including spinach, celery, bell peppers.
As a side note, people should be aware that foods grown abroad can present a problem because other countries’ standards about types of chemicals used aren’t the same as in the States. [Renee’s website also lists coffee in the Dirty Dozen, since it’s almost always grown in countries with few standards about pesticides and other chemicals.]
And again, people should consider local and seasonal farming sources to help with costs. The less shipping and storage is needed, the lower the food will cost. I hope that the law of supply and demand will eventually bring the cost down, but there’s also a fundamental governmental issue involved.