Top 10 reasons not to go organic – and why to ignore them all

By Alive & Well

As controversial as the issue of ‘going organic’ seems to be, for me it’s actually very simple.

The reality is that you are what you eat, or more specifically, you are what you digest. And when you look at the facts, it stands to reason that organic food is better for you (particularly organic wholefoods — but more on wholefoods in another post).

A decade or two ago, it might have been reasonable to be unsure about that, even if it just seemed to ‘make sense’, but in the past few years we have seen study after study come out demonstrating that organic food is not only more nutritious, it’s also kinder to the planet. We’re also seeing a lot more about these issues in the media, in movies like Food Inc, and in seminal books like Fast Food Nation and more recently Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. It’s literally all around us.

And yet there still seems to be a level of scepticism about whether ‘going organic’ is really worthwhile.

Here are the top 10 things people say about why they don’t bother with organic food, and all the reasons why they should.

1. “Organic food isn’t that much more nutritious”

Credit: Simon HowdenOrganic produce has been shown to have higher levels of a wide range of vital nutrients, from antioxidants, polyphenols and iron to manganese, magnesium and folic acid. Numerous studies from organisations like the US Department of Agriculture, Germany’s Federal Research Institute of Nutrition and Food and the University of Hohenheim as well as the University of Newcastle in the UK and Italy’s University of Bologna have now shown this many times over.

Typically, these nutrients are missing in the Western diet these days, and they are absolutely critical to healthy bodies and minds. Much of the time, the higher nutrient count is because organically-developed soil hasn’t been drained of its goodness like mass-production fields have been.

2. “Chemical fertilisers and pesticides are safe”

In miniscule quantities perhaps. But we eat this stuff every single day — and consider this: every year in the U.S., 10 million tons of chemical fertilisers are sprayed onto corn crops alone, onto soil that hasn’t recovered from last year’s dusting, or the year before that, or the year before that.

That chemical load not only gets into our bodies and sets us up for ill-health (reported as far back as the 1950s by Theron G Randolph M.D. and many, many others since), it also produces toxic runoffs that poison, for example, the Gulf of Mexico[1]. China uses 47 million tons of chemicals annually.  The EU 17 million. I don’t want to contribute to this, I don’t want to deal with the extra toxicity load in my body, and I definitely don’t want to feed it to my children.

3. “Factory farming is highly regulated and perfectly fine”

Farm animals raised in feed lots with high-calorie feed containing antibiotics and hormones produce meat that has a drastically different omega 3 to omega 6 ratio (the omega 3 plummets when they’re fed the corn-based stuff) to grass-fed animals. This has implications for heart disease, cancer and arthritis, to name just a few (check out EatWild for more about this).

Linoleic acid levels are also better in the grass-fed animals; this acid is one of two essential fatty acids that we cannot make ourselves so must get from food sources, because a lack of it results in poor wound healing, dry skin and hair, hair loss and many other problems.

Furthermore, the animals often live in horrendous conditions and I don’t want to support that — and we just eat too much meat these days anyway, certainly more than we need to.

4. “I can’t afford it”

My local IGA supermarket stocks much of its organic food at exactly the same price as the non-organic food, and you can get the same deal at some farmers’ markets. But even if your organic food source is a little more expensive, bear in mind that cheap food carries a high price for our environment, the welfare of our animals, and our own health. You can either pay the organic farmer, or the doctor.

I know all too well that feeding a family can be expensive, and in an upcoming post I’ll be talking about which non-organic fruits and vegetables are OK to buy. But if you shop around to find a well-priced source of quality organic food, and always buy in season, you’ll be better off in so many ways.

5. “Organic fruit and veggies look weird and small”

We have become so conditioned to the way artificially-grown produce looks, we’ve forgotten what the real thing looks like. Fruit and vegetables, like humans, are imperfect and have lumps and bumps in strange places. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them — in fact, quite the opposite. It’s the giant bananas and perfectly smooth apples we should be worried about. They’ve been pumped full of water and artificial growth agents and tons of fertiliser, and they end up looking like plastic-surgery versions of the real things.

6. “It goes off faster”

Yes, but I’ll take that over toxins any day. I just make sure I buy really fresh, then use things, and freeze things, and turn things into soup or smoothies if they’re looking a little tired.

7. “It’s hard to find”

This argument is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. In Australia, there are organic lines in major supermarket chains like IGA, Coles and Woolworths/Safeway, and nothing beats the fabulous Whole Foods Market stores in the U.S.. I shop at local outlets like Kew Organics, Sprout, the local farmers market and health food stores as well. These days, organic food is everywhere.

8. “There’s no way of knowing if it’s really organic, even if it’s certified”

Sure. In the same way that you can’t trust anyone or anything these days. There are very few guarantees in life. But I get to know my food sources, and I’m confident that they’re doing the right thing. And the odds are that, like most industries, the vast majority are.

9. “We need to increase food yields to feed the planet”

We already grow a huge excess of food. It just gets distributed unevenly (more on this here and here). So while the Western world is increasingly obese, parts of the developing world starve. We have a distribution problem, not a production problem. Imagine if all those excess calories could be redistributed!

10. “My body can cope with whatever I feed it”

No, it can’t. Unless you are Keith Richards (and hey, even Keef’s cleaned up his act lately). Even if you think you’re OK now, poor nutrition will catch up with you eventually and then you’ll have some serious work to do, either physically or mentally — or both.

The fact of the matter is that the health of everyone in my family has improved out of sight since we went organic.  We deal with one cold a year (if that) in our house of 5, my youngest son’s asthma has disappeared, I’ve finally overcome my life-long eczema problem, and we just don’t have random rashes or hyperactive kids or rushed trips to the doctor for antibiotics anymore. Undoubtedly there are a number of reasons for that, but nutrition definitely plays a huge part.

And even if you totally discount all of this, you can’t deny that organic TASTES better. This summer’s organic mangoes are the juiciest, most succulent things you can imagine. And there’s no competition between an organic heirloom tomato and its non-organic cousin. Once you go organic, it really is hard to go back.

Of course, you can eat organic wholefoods all day every day and still load yourself up with organic sugar, which will impact your immunity and wellbeing no matter how healthy the rest of your diet is.

The bottom line is that it always comes back to ‘we are what we digest’ and as far as I’m concerned, the case is closed.

Do you have any good organic suppliers near you? Have you noticed a difference since you went organic? Still not sure it’s worthwhile?

[1] See ‘Fertilizer Runoff Overwhelms Streams and Rivers Creating Vast “Dead Zones”‘ by David Biello, March 14, 2008, Scientific American; ‘Gulf of Mexico “Dead Zone” Grows as Spill Impact Is Studied’ by Leslie Patton August 12, 2010, Bloomberg