Why to choose organic (at least sometimes)
Growing up, I paid little attention to what I ate and where it came from. I ate what my mom prepared for dinner, avoided fast food and assumed that this meant I was a healthy eater. When I got to college though, I began to read more about the process of growing produce and how, oftentimes, this involves pesticides that are detrimental to long-term health. Researching the distinctions between organic and conventional produce revealed some shocking facts, such as the waxy coating on the juicy apples and peppers I gorge on all the time is often petroleum based. I began to understand that the products used to preserve the shelf life and appearance of conventional produce compromise the health benefits of eating produce in the first place.
But as college students, often the additional cost of buying organic produce can be a turnoff. I have learned to pick and choose which produce to buy organic by following what is called “The Dirty Dozen.” This is a list created by the Environmental Working Group, a group of scientists, researchers and policymakers, that identifies conventionally grown produce that tested positive for at least 47 different chemicals. The group suggests buying the following produce organic: celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, domestic blueberries, nectarines, sweet bell peppers, spinach, kale and collard greens, cherries, potatoes, imported grapes and lettuce. This list primarily suggests buying organic produce that would typically have an outer layer of skin which, when eaten, would cause us to ingest pesticides directly. Richard Wiles, senior vice president of policy for the Environmental Working Group notes that produce like pineapple and sweet corn have a protection defense because of their specific removable outer layer of skin, but berries do not have this same defense. When choosing which produce to buy organically, choose produce that does not have the protection of a removable outer layer.
Trader Joe’s offers a good compromise between buying overpriced organic food and potentially harmful conventional produce. Trader Joe’s guarantees that anything carrying their label contains no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives and is not genetically modified. Trader Joe’s produce is often the same price as Schnucks but offers more information about the origin of their products.
Whole Foods sells produce that is slightly more expensive than other grocers and projects an image of offering organic and sustainable products. Whole Foods persuades consumers that buying organic is better for long-term health, warning that EPA-approved pesticides were registered before research linked these chemicals to cancer and other diseases. Buying organic agriculture prevents these chemicals from entering the body and causing future health problems. Whole Foods utilizes agricultural management practices that prohibit the use of genetically engineered seeds or crops, long lasting pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. Generally, Trader Joe’s may be the better option for those of us on a budget, but Whole Foods is a decent alternative.
“Knowing that my food came from a healthy environment and that it was handled organically takes some of the mystery away from the food industry: what chemicals producers are using and how they affect the nutrition of food,” junior Grace Niswander said.
Madeleine Shroyer, a senior at Wash. U. said, “I try to buy organic products as much as possible because it’s more natural and health conscious.”
Organic grocers promise that the investment in buying organic produce is worthwhile because of the associated health benefits. While organic produce does not contain the chemicals used to treat conventional produce, a recent study by Stanford University scientists found that fruits and vegetables labeled organic were no more nutritious than conventional produce. The New York Times outlined their research that combined data from 237 studies examining a variety of fruits, vegetables and meats. Over four years, these researchers performed statistical analyses to examine how adding organic foods to one’s diet impacted one’s health. While organic foods may not contain more nutrients than their counterparts, the study found that organic foods still contain a lower percentage of pesticides. The Stanford researchers established that 38 percent of conventional produce tested contained detectable residues compared to 7 percent for organic produce. Ingesting these pesticides is harmful to one’s health for reasons such as exposure to disease.
But how significant is the benefit associated with buying organic produce? A greater emphasis is being placed on knowing the source of food and the treatment it undergoes. Studies like the Stanford University scientist’s research proves that there are distinct benefits to choosing organic produce but also inherent similarities. An awareness of how food is processed is necessary to promote overall health and longevity. My suggestion to any Wash. U. student is to develop an understanding of where food comes from and the process it goes through during treatment.