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’ :).