Science, Now + Beyond

Does buying organic actually matter?

Why a switch to organic food will make you healthier and happier.

Should I shell out the extra two bucks for the organic chicken? There has to be a reason it’s two extra dollars, right? RIGHT?

Actually, that is right – it’s not a ploy for your hard-earned pennies after all. Buying organic will not only make you feel like one of those hair-flipping, healthy Whole Foods, yoga-on-the-grass-outside girls, but scientists are increasingly hopping on the organic train.

Break it down for me.

Here’s the gist of it: the purpose of organic foods is to avoid exposure to chemical pesticides. Do you want to be eating a cocktail of pesticides every time you bite into an apple? No, thank you. At least, I don’t think so. When we’re talking about organic meats, we mean that there can be no added growth hormones or antibiotics, the animals cannot be fed animal by-products or pesticide-grown feed, and the animals must have outdoor access. All of which sound pretty reasonable to me.

Why are pesticides bad?

 

  1. Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., of Washington State University found that pesticide exposure increases your likelihood of two things: cancerous tumor development, and your body’s inability to control tumor growth.
  2. Chemical Cocktails. The EPA limits the amount of each specific pesticide allowed on your food, but there is no limit to the number of different pesticides applied. Read: effects unknown. I prefer regular cocktails.
  3. The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics has linked common pesticides to ADHD in children ages 8-15.
  4. Contaminated Water. In the Southern United States, where there are an abundance of factory farms, as many as one-third of all underground wells fall below EPA safe drinking water standards for nitrate – a form of nitrogen that is concentrated in chicken waste. Contaminated run-off from pesticides and fertilizers disproportionally affects low-income and minority communities.

What are the benefits of buying organic?

Besides avoiding chemicals, there are several benefits of eating organic to you AND to the environment.

The first is that eating from organic farms allows for both a healthier water supply and soil content due to a reduction in fertilizer and pesticide run-off. Toxic waste sites and facilities that release toxic emissions (such as factory farms) are more likely to be found in low-income neighborhoods containing primarily minority residents. Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately encumbered by water hazards, from lack of clean drinking water due to inequalities in the execution of water policies and federal stipulations, to legacies of discrimination in housing that perpetuate water injustices (such as the recent lead contamination of low-income communities in Flint, MI that was brought to light by Virginia Tech researchers).

The second major benefit is the nutritional value in organic foods. The British Journal of Nutrition found that organic crops contained higher levels of vitamins antioxidants than their non-organic brothers and sisters.

Lastly, a recent USDA-funded study found that salmonella frequency in fecal samples from organic poultry farms was considerably lower than conventional factory farms – 6 percent versus a whopping 39 percent.

Okay but … I still can’t afford it.

Me neither, sister. At least, probably not all of it. Here’s a short list to prioritize which foods are the most important to buy organic:

“The Dirty Dozen” for 2016 provided by the Environmental Working Group: strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. These foods tested for the highest concentrations of pesticides as compared to other produce. These are the ones you are going to want to try to find organic versions of.

The cleanest? Avocadoes. Go on with your guacamole-self: non-organically.

Chicken. Organic chicken is typically raised without the drugs and growth hormones that cause chickens to grow abnormally quickly to speed up the slaughter process. What they eat, we eat – when we eat them, that is.

Beef. Organic cows are also raised without the typical drug cocktail of conventional factory farms. However, you should always be looking for “grass-fed” beef; cows are not, by nature, able to successfully digest the conventional grain diet that is used to fatten them up. Grass-fed cows are often healthier.

Eating organic allows for a lower exposure to pesticides and chemical cocktails, the effects of which are still being studied. Not only that, but it gives space and opportunity for local farms to grow in profit and compete with the big produce giants, while declining the level of water and soil pollution that pesticides produce. What do you think? Is it worth the hit to your wallet?