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Organic: For Better or Worse?


There was a time when buying organic food was something of an ordeal except in summer and fall, when one could always find a farmerâ??s market and stock up on fresh fruits and veggies.

There was a time when buying organic food was something of an ordeal except in summer and fall, when one could always find a farmer’s market and stock up on fresh fruits and veggies.

But looking for anything beyond in-season produce meant driving to some out-of-the-way shop with dusty shelves and paying black-market prices for a bag of flour.

Organic Goes Mainstream

Boy, how the pendulum has swung! Once only the realm of the most dedicated health nut, organic foods have been increasingly embraced by the mainstream. They are popular and lucrative, too–every major supermarket chain has cashed in on the organics trend in recent years. Some retailers, in addition to stocking a growing array of organic products, have even launched their own organic lines.

You can witness the buzz on magazine covers, with articles trumpeting the growing popularity of organics. Many of them ask: “Are organics really better for you?” The usual suspects are called in: from nutritionists to organic farmers to federal agriculture reps; all are “experts” with opposing opinions. The debate rages on, and readers don’t walk away with an easy answer.

Better for the Planet

Now is it just me, or is the whole “better for you” argument beside the point? I do think that although the results might be difficult to measure, food with fewer pesticides is a good thing for my body. But, really, I don’t care a fig whether organic foods are better for me or not. I’m more interested in protecting the health of something more fragile–our planet.

I grew up in a farming community, where families worked together and ate what they produced. I don’t want to romanticize that way of life, because heaven knows there’s nothing romantic about it. (When’s the last time you shovelled manure?) But we all understood what it took to produce food and wouldn’t give anything to our plants or animals that we didn’t want on food we would eat ourselves.

Fewer Fossil Fuels

But hardly any of us are farmers any more, and most of us get our food from the grocery giants. We have come to expect an endless supply of food all year round, and our supermarkets comply. The trend toward carrying organic foods is part of that. This means that organic products must come from far-flung climates, resulting in greater use of fossil fuels. When you add in the fact that some organic labels are owned by major corporations, you start to see that the organics business is big business, and it’s based on profit, not ethics or health.

Part of what makes organic foods appealing to me is supporting local farmers, preserving the quality of our soil and water, and reducing the energy expenditure required to keep me full. If the stuff on the shelves isn’t doing any of those things, then maybe it’s not that much “better for me” after all.



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