Posted by: amamasblog | October 12, 2007

Thoughts on Organic Food

I have been reading a lot lately about organic food, and healthy cooking options.  Crunchy Domestic Goddess also just wrote a blog post about this topic, and after leaving a comment on her blog about it, it got me thinking.

We have always tried to eat healthy and have sweets and “junk” food in moderation.  When I was growing up, it was a cold day- you know where- if we got candy, or any sweets.  My mother was a health-nut.  I can honestly say, I have NEVER had a Twinkie in my life.  When my siblings and I got to high school, we “rebelled.”  Suddenly we could go off campus to eat lunch at McDonald’s, buy junk food at the school store, or even buy a Coke in the vending machine.

Before I got pregnant for the first time, I became very interested in nutrition and healthy eating.  I knew I’d be trying to conceive and wanted to get my body ready and be able to provide excellent nutrition for my growing baby.  When I was pregnant with both boys, I tried to eat the healthiest I ever have.  If there is one time to eat organic whenever you can, growing a new human in you is the time.  I figured I only got one chance to nourish my babies while in-utero.  Not to say, I didn’t have the cravings for ice cream, and some junk food, but I tried not to go overboard.

Now as a mother, of two young children, of course I want them to eat healthy and to make smart choices for themselves as well.  I don’t think taking the hard never-have-a-piece-of-candy- line that my mom did is the right choice for us.  I know she believed she was doing what she thought was right for us, but at times my siblings and I were like sugar junkies- anytime someone offered us some sugar, we HAD to have it, because we never, never, got it at home. 

Obviously I don’t want to go the other way, where Ryan and Cole eat a lot of sugar or junk food.  So, we are trying to teach junk food in moderation.  Yes, it is okay to have an oatmeal cookie that I baked, but only after dinner is eaten which consisted of either a fruit or vegetable.  They also have fruit and veggies at every meal.  Not to say they eat all of them every time, but they usually will manage to eat some of it.  They love strawberries, so anytime I serve those, I know they will gobble them up.

I try to buy organic produce, dairy, and other organic natural products when I can.  I believe children’s bodies are more susceptible to chemicals, and I don’t want to just give them food laced with chemicals and preservatives if options exist where we don’t have to. 

However, it is becoming frustrating, because it seems like it is no longer “acceptable” to just buy organic.  I was just reading an article in Better Nutrition, called True Spirit of Organics, which said this:

“But opponents object to large-scale farming and the potential softening of organic standards that they fear may follow in the wake of Wal-Mart’s organic crusade.

“It all depends on your perspective,” says Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Cruz, Calif. “If you’re an environmental activist, you might say ‘What’s wrong with a 10,000-acre operation going organic? You’ve just removed tons of pesticides from the environment.’ If you’re a family farmer who’s struggled for 20 years, and suddenly your highly valued apple is being underpriced by superstores, you’ll be concerned.”

On the other hand, while large-scale organic farms follow the letter of the law, they may stray from the original ideals of organic farming. Critics point out that the spirit of organics includes a philosophy of food production that promotes ethical treatment of workers and livestock, emphasizes locally grown produce (thereby reducing the amount of fuel required for transportation), and supports small farms.”

What is a consumer to do?  Support lower organic prices, so more people can benefit, or support the organic farmer by buying higher priced organics?  It just doesn’t seem like you can win. If you mention that you eat organic food to group A, they will think it is great.  It seems like the tide is moving in the direction though, if you mention that you buy organic food at Wal-Mart- not so great. 

I am all for fair treatment of workers, animals and for fair prices.  I also am concerned with the environment, but it seems like we are constantly being bombarded that we have to not only be concerned with what our families are eating, but how the land is being used, how the animals are being treated, and how the workers working on the farm are being treated. I mean if you take all of this as seriously as the outlets that put it out, it would hard to eat food from anywhere, without paying an outrageous amount of money, or only being able to eat a few local items that are in season, if you could find a farmer selling them.   

I have yet to see an article that criticizes Super Target, or Costco for carrying organic food.  Surely these companies aren’t going down the road either to buy all their organics from Farmer Bob in their communities.  I saw an article about a year ago on MSN called, The Dark Secrets of Whole Foods, which highlighted among other things, that Whole Foods, doesn’t buy the majority of their organic produce from local farmers, even though they have pictures of local farmers holding produce in their stores. A quote from a small family farmer in Connecticut from this story said,

     “Almost all the organic food in this country comes out of California. And five or six big California farms dominate the whole industry.”

At the time this story was written the reporter noticed that the only local produce in a New York Whole Foods, was a shelf of apples, but all the local farmer produce banners were up. 

Why all the criticism then when Wal-Mart brings organic food in?  It seems like it should be a good thing because one, they are lowering the prices on healthier food for people who might not be able to afford it otherwise, and two, more farm land is being converted and used to grow organic, which is better for the environment. 

It just seems weird that we are being told that buying organics from Superstores, isn’t acceptable, when it doesn’t seem like ANY store- Wal-Mart, Costco, or Whole Foods buys the majority of their organics from local farmers either. 

I think it is somewhat hypocritical to try to push the local produce aspect on consumers, when the stores themselves aren’t buying local.  It also makes me wonder how this can be regulated somewhat, so if consumers do choose to support their local farmers they can be assured the produce they are buying really is local.

The article on Whole Foods  also made a good point when it asked if you live in New York, is it better to buy tomatoes that aren’t organic that come from New Jersey, because the damage done to the environment is less when you factor in fuel, and transportation factors, or to buy organic tomatoes from Chile, where there has been a substantial amount of energy loss and environmental damage involved in them being shipped to New York?

I have decided that eating any food without chemicals is better for my family.  I try to buy my state’s local organic products first, but if they don’t have them, I have always been a bargain hunter, so if I see organics for less at Costco, versus my local health food store (which I love, and no, it isn’t Whole Foods), I will more than likely buy it at Costco.   

In the end, I think all consumers can do is do what they feel is best for their families health and budget.  But, I don’t think anyone should feel bad, or guilty if they can’t or choose not to buy organic.  After all, it may not even be local, and could be more harmful to the environment than the local conventional food in their stores. 

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Responses

  1. You touch on my major beef with organic food which is the push to keep it small and grassroots. My feeling is that a huge # of organic food advocates want to keep organic food a high-end/boutique item. I feel that EVERYONE should have access to organic food, not just rich people! And I really, really feel that the goal here should be to pressure ALL farmers EVERYWHERE to use fewer chemicals on their crops, not to keep organics to the elite few. IMO that is how we will affect global environmental change. So sometimes all the talk about organics starts to irritate me because I feel like they’re working against their own cause. Like it isn’t special if it isn’t small and exclusive.

    I’ve read both sides of the Wal-Mart debate – that Wal-Mart is evil and underselling the “good guy” and that Wal-Mart is wonderful because *every* inch of space on earth exposed to fewer chemicals is a good thing. And I realize that it’s not PC, but I agree with the second argument. In my mind the goal should (as I’ve said) to have every farmer become organic rather than make the bar so high that only a few can – and therefore make organics so expensive that only affluent white Americans can afford them.

    And I also agree with you on guilt. In my life, I do my part – I subscribe to a local CSA, I garden organically in my own garden, I preserve local summer foods for the winter and I buy organic at the store when I can. And when I can’t I buy conventional and feel good about it. In my view it’s better for us to eat any vegetable/fruit than no vegetable or fruit. Organic is better but that does not mean that conventional is poison or void of nutrition. I do what I can to balance all our needs – health and financial – and make the choice that’s best for us.

    Sorry to get off on my own soapbox, and thank you for the thought-provoking post!

  2. Hi everyone,

    Just wanted to introduce myself. This seems like a nice place and I look forward to hanging out here :)

    Pam
    http://sacredheartdietforreal.blogspot.com/


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