ControverSunday: Organics

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As always, go say hi to Perpetua and Accidents to get the link up and the cool badge to join the ControverSunday fun. Oh thank them while you visit! If you haven’t played before, please do! We love newbies!

Okay, so last week was FOOD week for ControverSunday- and it was very interesting. Since this week is Free Topic Week, I have decided to respectfully engage someone’s ControverSunday post from last week in a friendly debate. Because I love friendly debate. And I thought about 25 000 times about posting a comment on this one, but refrained, because it would have turned into a novel. I thought I would save my thoughts for Free Topic week.

First, go read Lorry’s post from last weeks ControverSunday.

Okay- so here are my thoughts on this one. First of all, I get the organic skepticism. Truth be told, there is a lot of ‘green washing’ out there (marketing that tells people things are better for them or the environment, when that is not necessarily the case) and terms like organic are very poorly regulated. And, as Lorry points out in one of her comments, many organics are made by the same companies who make the non-organic versions, which brings up the question as to if they are really produced any differently, other then the use of ‘organic’ pesticides rather then ‘traditional’ pesticides and is one really all that different from the other.

I also think that her point in terms of the the argument that we need a lot of food to feed all the people on this planet and that organic produces less food per square foot of land is a reasonable concern. This is something that society, and the organic movement, needs to address.

So it’s not like I don’t see Lorry’s point and value what she has to say.

I just disagree that ‘organic’ is without value. For a number of reasons. First, it isn’t just about pesticides. That is not the only issue when you look at organic food. In fact, the biggest reasons why I try to buy organic food is more about how the food is grown and treated.

The two categories of foods that I think are most important to buy organic is dairy and meat. Even more so then produce. People focus a lot on produce and in doing so focus on pesticides and GMO. These are important issues, but when you look at meat and dairy there are even more reasons to consider organics.

There are a couple reasons why dairy and meat are so important to consider buying organic.

1) Hormones and antibiotics: I disagree with the hormones (specific to the dairy industry) and antibiotics used on livestock. 100% disagree. The reason they are given antibiotics is because they are being fed a diet they were never intended to eat (corn) and because they are so many of them per square foot. Just like humans, when you have more bodies in close proximity, disease spreads faster.

2) Size of the farm: A big part of the reason why they are given antibiotics is because of the large scale of industrial farming. Sure, they reduce some costs via the economy of scale of 10000 head of cattle versus 200 per ‘farmer.’ But 200 cattle just ate the grass growing on the farm. And didn’t need antibiotics (nearly as often- I assume in small scale pre-organic farms antibiotics were still occasionally used, but I don’t know). Farms will self-sustaining- saving seeds, feeding animals off the land. They didn’t need the huge expensive inputs that industrial scale farming needs. Today’s industrial farms truck in and out a lot: food, water, waste, equipment, ect.

3) Health of the animals: Part of the issue I have is the way the animals are treated and their health. I heard somewhere that the length of time from hatch to harvest for an industrial chicken has been dramatically reduced over the last 100 years, by over feeding for the sake of a more ‘efficient’ harvest. Think about that for a minute. If you are fed way too much what happens? You gain fat. So are these super-fast-to-market chickens who get no exercise because they are packed into a very small space, really healthy for us to eat if the reason they are harvested so quickly is that they packed on the fat? Michael Pollan talks in his book “Omnivores Dilemma” about the difference in the type of fat in a organic grass fed meat versus an industrial grain fed meat (on p. 267-268 to be exact). It seems, not surprisingly, that grass fed, pastoral animals have less saturated fat and more essential fatty acids then their industrial counterparts.

Anyone who has watched Food Inc. and seen some of the images of what industrial farming means for animals has to at least question if they want to eat that. Sorry, but it is gross.

Now for some side notes:

A) Caution on the word organic: just because a meat or dairy product says its organic, doesn’t mean that it is raised in a pastoral, grass fed, small farm organic way. When it comes to meat and dairy, organic only means that no antibiotics or hormones were used and all the feed was organic. But that could mean organic corn, rather then grass fed. So not all organic is created equal.

I certainly think it is worth questioning products that claim to be healthier just on the basis of being organic. I mean, an organic cookie is still a cookie. I don’t think you should just replace processed non-organic food with processed organic food. The key is to eat less processed food all together. At the same time, I find that organic products (take spaghetti sauce for example) tend to have fewer ingredients then their non-organic counterparts. (Few ingredients typically indicates that it is less processed). I assume that is because it is harder to find organic ingredients so they tend to be simpler products.

But. I do think buying organic, local or industrial scale, is a way of voting with your money. It sends a message to the businesses you buy from that you are conscious of your families health and the environment, even if those products are not helping the environment as much as they good or aren’t hugely different from their non-organic counterparts in nutrition. I think part of it is just about sending a message that we care about our food and we don’t want highly proceeded, chemically laden, industrial “food” anymore.

B) Nutrition content: To Lorry’s point about the nutrition content of organic produce: I don’t know if I can argue with the claim that food has more nutrients if it is fresh and it has nothing to do with being organic. This may be true of produce. (As I said above, I do think what an animal eats will impact its nutritional makeup.) I don’t know. Most of the food I eat that is really fresh is local. And the explicitly local stuff tends to be organic (small scale organic, rather then industrial organic). But I have to say that if we are going by look/taste local Alberta asparagus in season and local organic Alberta beef both look and taste about 1000x better then their industrial counterparts. Come visit and I would be happy to serve you up some.

C) Meat’s caloric efficiency: And I should address the meat being the least efficient food for input versus calorie output. I agree. This is true. Certainly cutting down on meat consumption is good for the environment. Our family is conscious of this- we aren’t digging into the beef every night of the week. But we live in Alberta and well, that is just about the best local ingredient we can come across. And good fresh organic Alberta beef is amazing. Aaaamazing.

If you* don’t want to buy into ‘organic’ per se, I get that. I understand the criticism. It is over used term which doesn’t always live up to the ideal. But consider where your food comes from and how it was produced. Be aware of the hormones, antibiotics and chemicals that could be present. Buy fresh food. Cook fresh food. Avoid the over processed and chemically derived non-food ingredients.

*FYI- Lorry- this ‘you’ is not directed at you. It is directed generally at anyone who reads this. I am not at all trying to single you out and I have no idea the type of food you buy or what you cook, except I am willing to bet it is not ‘organic’ :).

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11 responses to “ControverSunday: Organics

  1. Lorry May 2, 2010 at 8:23 am

    It’s funny you bring this up, because my facebook comments (the downside to importing my blog into facebook is I get comments in two places… blarg!) were all about animal wellfare, which I didn’t discuss at all, and didn’t actually know that much about. I knew that the paltry U.S. organic standards were laughable in this department, but are better in other countries.

    One comment: “This is the standard for products coming from Canada: The philosophy of organic production is to provide conditions that meet the health needs and natural behavior of the animal. Thus, organic livestock are given access to the outdoors, fresh air, water, sunshine, grass and pasture, and are fed 100 percent organic feed. Any shelter provided must be designed to allow the animal comfort and the opportunity to exercise. Organic practices prohibit feeding animal parts of any kind to ruminants that, by nature, eat a vegetarian diet. Thus, no animal byproducts of any sort are incorporated in organic feed at any time.”

    I imagine it’s still possible to meet those standards and still be providing a poor quality of life, but it’s definitely an improvement, and I wasn’t aware of that. So… I actually agree with you mostly. πŸ˜‰ I also discovered the U.S. standards are getting stricter later this year, so that’s good too. The Danish standard of “Animals must be on grass for at least 150 days” still doesn’t impress me, though. They could still be in a cage and be on grass.

    And the type of food I eat? Lately, it’s whatever I think will stay down. πŸ˜‰ But yes, in general I like to know where it comes from and I like to be able to pronounce the ingredients. πŸ™‚ Good post!

    • amoment2think May 6, 2010 at 7:22 pm

      I am glad you enjoyed the post- I am always nervous to challenge someone’s view. But that is what is so good about ControverSunday- we can challenge respectfully and it generates a good discussion. πŸ™‚

  2. Perpetua May 2, 2010 at 9:37 am

    I said “newbies” too! HA!

    I think your focus on dairy and meat makes a lot of sense, because it’s true that that’s where the most damage (to us, not to the land necessarily) is or isn’t done. The over-use of antibiotics is a big problem for everyone, as are the strange things that go on with hormones and animal diet.

    I grew up in an area with a lot of small family farms, and the difference between how those animals and “industrial” animals are raised is incredible (and appalling). I’d also sooner eat a cow from a non-organic small farm than from an organic large farm, in part because I like knowing where my food came from (we’re lucky enough to live outside the city and are near the farms from which we buy some of our food).

    • amoment2think May 6, 2010 at 7:23 pm

      Small family farms are always the best. There are a number of great ones around us that are open to visitors and we would love to do a bit of a ‘tour’ of them this summer. πŸ™‚

  3. Sophie May 3, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Just to add to your post, when it comes to produce, I read recently (and I can’t remember where… I know, not very useful. It could have been in one of Michael Pollan’s book, but I’m not sure) that they actually found organic produce to contain more nutrients and vitamins. I don’t know how big of a study it was so I understand it may or may not be a good argument, but the theory of the scientists were that having to fight for their life (fight bugs, etc.) in a more natural setting stressed the plant and made it produce more vitamins.

    Again, I don’t remember exactly how it worked, and of course that probably wouldn’t apply to large-scale organic farms that use methods very similar to non-organic large-scale farms. But I thought it was interesting.

    • amoment2think May 6, 2010 at 7:25 pm

      I have read too about the nutrition being higher in organic. But I haven’t done a ton of research on that, and the argument made on Lorry’s blog was that it wasn’t so much the organic, it was the freshness of the produce. I have no idea which is true. Although I will say that I recently bought an organic small scale farm and a regular tomato recently and the color difference was amazing- and they usually say that color and nutrition are linked… so I don’t know.

  4. Megan May 3, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    I love it!

    I am only recently getting into this whole “food revolution” thing, but, I am trying my best to follow through with it. I ate fast food over the weekend, and was grossed out by it. That’s a first for me!

    My biggest obstacle in eating organic is my location. I live in the desert, in a very corporate-friendly place. Produce is not too big a problem; I live in Southern California, and we have farmer’s markets up the wazoo. I have to travel about an hour for a good one, but I can make do with grocery stores in the meantime. Buying locally is important to me for environmental reasons, as well.

    Meat and dairy are very difficult to come by organically in my neck of the woods. My husband is a big meat eater, so I have to keep us stocked, but even if I buy all my meat from Trader Joe’s, the true organic status is questionable.

    The best I can think of to do is really limit mine and Charlotte’s meat intake, and feed Chris the best I can find. But, I am open to suggestions!

    • amoment2think May 6, 2010 at 7:29 pm

      Yeah, where you live can make a BIG difference to what you have available for local/organic, especially when you are talking affordability. There is very little in the way of local fruit we can get here (although our lovely province to the west, BC, provides some great fairly close by produce). Alberta is all about meat, dairy and root vegetables, hence the ability to get good meat.

      So maybe we need to do a food swap! You send produce, I will send meat. Expect it won’t travel well…. Hmmmm. You might just need to come and visit! πŸ™‚

  5. Accidents May 4, 2010 at 8:21 am

    I agree with your emphasis on dairy/meat here–whether you buy organic produce, it’s worth it to buy organic milk. The hormones put into regular milk…shudder. Why are little 8 year old girls getting their periods? Hmm!? Hormones in milk.

    (Here is where I admit that, like many other parents, we buy organic milk for Henry and regular milk for grownups. Well, I drink organic soy milk, because it’s the same price as non at our grocery store, and Baby Daddy drinks regular milk).

    As far as our purchasing practices, I’ll say without giving an elaborate explanation that our primary focus in buying food is to buy local first. Then organic second. If we can do both? Excellent. It’s most important to us that we support small farms, independent and family businesses, and we’re not buying things shipped from the other side of the world (carbon footprint blah blah blah).

    Anyway, great post! Lorry’s post got me thinking but I’m also so glad that you added to that conversation here, so we can all be critical and well informed about the choices (not blindly buying into either camp without more info).

    • amoment2think May 6, 2010 at 7:31 pm

      Yeah, we drink organic milk (A can’t drink milk yet as she is still in milk allergy recovery… so yogurt and cheese only) but I buy non-organic cream. Mainly because the closest place that stock organic cream is a 15 minute drive from the grocery store I go to and at 8pm when I finally finish my weekly shopping I just don’t have the energy. Essentially I drink hormones because I am lazy. Ekk.

      Anyway, yeah local and oraganic!

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