There is much hoopla in the media right now about some research that sort-of determined that organic food is not any better for your health than conventionally grown produce. I, and many others, have lots of questions about the validity of this study. The worst case scenario here, I think, is something we’ve known all along—that the standard for organic certification is not yielding the quality product that it could or should. I would much rather have a delicious, vine-ripe heirloom tomato from a passionate local producer who isn’t certified organic than a grown-in-hothouse perfectly round, red certified organic tomato picked green and shipped cross country to my local grocer. Which one do you think is going to have more health benefits?
My point here is this: All organic food is not created equal. Specifically, I want to purchase from farms who are concerned about the state of their soil and the nutrients within. Even a natural farmer can quickly deplete the minerals from the soil, malnourishing plants and in turn the people who eat them. As any gardener who has been knee deep in animal waste while shoveling out a neighbor’s barn stall knows… making great soil doesn’t happen accidentally. Terms like biodynamic go beyond the idea of organic as simply growing something without the use of synthetic chemicals.
I’ve stated before that I don’t always buy organic, but I still think the organic conversation is an important one to have. Studies like the one currently being overplayed in the media are dangerous because they mislead consumers who are already ill-educated on the truth about what they put into their bodies. But for the argument’s sake, let’s imagine that there are no health benefits to purchasing organic food. (Anyone who has gone from a mainstream American, processed food diet to eating natural, whole foods is chuckling at the ridiculousness of that assertion at this very moment.) There are still a myriad of benefits to purchasing local, natural food. (Yes, I’m emphasizing local, because I think it is an important key to the benefits of watching what you eat.)
- Flavor. It just tastes better.
- It forces you to evaluate your food choices. Before I set out on a quest to eat most of my diet local and natural, I felt mildly guilty indulging in something like a package of Oreos. (There’s no argument here—we all know this sort of thing is bad for us.) Now, when I’ve worked so hard to craft a gorgeous meal of local, organic food it seems almost sacrilegious to defile it with processed crap. (So I make homemade oreos. A lot.)
- Also, flavor.
- New friendships. I love love love when I can look at my plate and name the person who grew everything on it. I love going to the farmer’s market and chatting with my farmers. I feel sad at the thought of the market season being over. Compare that with a trip to my local shall-not-be-named grocery store—where I typically leave with a pounding headache and a frustration with civilization as a whole. I try to skip the whole grocery store racket as much as I can by stocking up on great Kentucky Proud products when I visit amazing places like Good Foods Co-op.
- Financial benefits. It’s no secret that organic, natural foods are more expensive typically, but I beg of thee to shop around. For example, at my local Kroger, you can buy natural heirloom Kentucky Proud tomatoes right now for $4.25 a pound. At my local farmers market, you can get them for closer to two dollars a pound. (Money which stays directly in the pocket of those farmers I love so much without the middle man.) Not to mention, as you develop friendships with your producers, the opportunity to save a few bucks usually presents itself. Some farmers are happy to barter with you, while others may happily let you glean their fields. Just recently, my kids and I spent a sweaty afternoon picking tomatoes at a friend’s farm to put up for sauce without paying for them. He was more than happy to let them go rather than see them waste, but you have to be a paying customer for a while before you get the freebies! Two others ways I enable myself to afford good food: eliminating processed/packaged stuff and eating vegetarian for part of the week.
- Cooking. Let’s face it: there aren’t a lot of prepackaged, frozen meals laden with additives that also happen to be organic. If you are buying organic, chances are, you are going to have to cook what you eat. Cooking may be a dying art, but I think it is such an important thing to keep in our lives. It forces us to slow down and connect with ourselves, our food, and the people around us.
- Environmental benefits. So, even if organic food doesn’t benefit our health (which I still beg to differ on that one), it certainly benefits the health of the environment. Anytime we aren’t dumping known toxins into the soil, the world is better off. Bonus points if you are buying locally and saving the fossil fuels involved in transport.
- Passion. It’s hard to explain, I suppose, but when I talk to growers who grow naturally, organically, and sustainably, they seem really really passionate about what they do. When I talk to conventional growers, they are almost always burnt-out, disillusioned with the system, and fed up with their career choice. They are struggling to make huge farm payments and tractor repairs and fertilizer purchases. The natural growers, while still living on a shoe-string, are wildly passionate about making the world a better place for their neighbors. Personally, this is the kind of business that I want to support.
- Really, theres’s just one last thing: flavor.
Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing an awesome post from Alison Wiediger of Au Natural Farm about organic certification and what it means to you as a consumer and to her as a farmer. Don’t miss it!