Should You ALWAYS Eat Organic?

Written by Max Goldberg on February 20, 2013. Follow Max on Twitter: @livingmaxwell.

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Last week I got a comment on How Much Poison Should We Feed our Kids Today? and thought it was important enough to be a full blog post.

A woman felt guilty about feeding her kids pesticide-laden, conventionally-grown food and asked if she “should always feed them organic?”

As an organic food blogger and someone who is very passionate about organic, I am going to be biased about organic food, which should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Organic food does not allow food to be grown with toxic pesticides, genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), or synthetic growth hormones.

To me, food is medicine and that means keeping these toxic tag-alongs out of my body.

There are two primary factors when deciding to buy organic: affordability and accessibility.

Can you afford it? Is it available?

A few other things to consider when buying organic.

LOCAL

If I can purchase local and organic, that is absolutely what I try to do (See my post Organic vs. Local: Why I Choose Organic for a more in-depth discussion on this topic).

However, local does not govern my decision-making process. Organic does.

While buying local may keep dollars in the local economy, there are absolutely no standards regarding “local”, and local does not mean organic or pesticide-free.

It is very possible that local farmers are using a ton of toxic chemicals on their crops. Am I supposed to be excited about this tainted food just because it is local?

For some reason, many people seem to think so but I am not one of them.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

Without a question, organic farming is much better for the environment than conventional farming.

Not only does it practice crop rotation, but organic farming is not poisoning the water supply, damaging the soil quality, or negatively impacting biodiversity because it doesn’t use synthetic pesticides, chemicals widely used on GMOs.

Additionally, the workers are not getting sick from exposure to toxic chemicals sprayed on the crops.

USDA ORGANIC SEAL

While it is very far from perfect, I believe in supporting the USDA organic program and the companies that go through the time and expense to get USDA certified organic.

The more people we have involved in the program and purchasing products with the USDA seal, the greater chance we have to make sure that its integrity is maintained.

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I don’t believe that synthetic pesticides – which are allowed in conventional food and prohibited in organic food – have any business being in our bodies.

And this isn’t just some organic food blogger talking about the health risks of chemicals. It is what the medical experts say as well.

According to the President’s Cancer Panel report, 41% of Americans will get cancer and 21% of Americans will die from it. One of the report’s key recommendations is to eat food that has been grown without the use of pesticides.

The report also said that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated. With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States, many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives and are un- or understudied and largely unregulated, exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics shares similar concerns and says that pesticide exposure for children must be reduced. It stated that “epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems. Related animal toxicology studies provide supportive biological plausibility for these findings.”

Now back to the original question.

Should you always buy organic?

You should be eating as much organic as you can, based on how much you can afford and how much is accessible to you.

Breaking it down even further, I would say these are the priorities.

1) KIDS  I firmly believe that organic for children is much more important than it is for adults because their bodies are still developing, and pesticides and synthetic grown hormones may cause real harm. (Go read Organic Milk: The Most Important Organic Product a Family Can Buy and learn what Bovine Growth Hormones do to cows).

If I had kids and couldn’t afford to feed the entire family organic, my kids would be getting all organic while I would switch to a vegetarian, non-GMO diet – a diet that can be done relatively inexpensively.

Kids are the absolute priority, and I would do whatever it took to make sure they were eating “clean” food.

2) MEAT AND DAIRY  If you consume meat and/or dairy products, these are a must to be eating organic. And if you haven’t seen Food, Inc yet, please do so immediately.

Aside from the fact that conventionally-raised animals are allowed to be given synthetic growth hormones, many conventionally-raised animals “live” in Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations (CAFOs), the most despicable and inhumane institutions in this country.

Furthermore, conventionally-raised animals may also be fed GMO-grain.

In laboratory tests, we know that rats fed GMO-corn experienced serious liver and kidney damage.

Do we really want to be ingesting sick animals????

3) FRUITS AND VEGETABLES WITH PEEL/SKIN  Non-organic fruits and vegetables are allowed to be sprayed with toxic pesticides, insecticides and herbicides.

Fruits and vegetables where you eat the skin, such as grapes, strawberries and spinach, are the foods that should be purchased organic. Many of these foods are on The Dirty Dozen list.

Also, do not be fooled into thinking that you can buy a fruit and vegetable wash, even the best one on the market by Vermont Soap Organics, and believe that you can simply wash off pesticides from conventionally-grown produce. It absolutely won’t happen.

Pesticides have penetrated the exterior and are deep inside of the food.

4) COFFEE  Coffee is one of the most chemically-treated crops on the planet. If you’re a coffee drinker, switch to organic immediately.

5) FRUITS AND VEGETABLES WITH NO PEEL/SKIN  Fruits and vegetables where you don’t eat the skin, such as bananas or oranges.

I hear all of the time that eating conventional bananas is totally fine, and I couldn’t disagree more.

I have visited banana plantations in Central America, and they showed me first-hand how conventional bananas get lathered with chemicals.

6) CLEAN 15  The same people who put out the Dirty Dozen, the Environmental Working Group, also publish the Clean 15, a list of the least sprayed fruits and vegetables.

A few things to remember here.

One, the Clean 15 is a relative list, relative to other fruits and vegetables which are heavily sprayed with chemicals, and does not mean “doesn’t have to be organic.”

Two, a few items on the Clean 15, such as papaya and sweet corn should definitely be purchased organic. Papaya grown in Hawaii is genetically-modified and Monsanto will be selling its genetically-modified sweet corn at a Wal-Mart near you this summer.

So, the Clean 15 needs to be viewed very carefully.

SIDE NOTE: AVOID GENETICALLY-MODIFIED FOODS  On a separate but very related note, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you ever eat genetically-modified foods.

Click HERE to read the 65 different health risks for consuming GMOs, including liver damage, kidney damage, organ failure, testicular irregularities and many, many others.

In the U.S.,
- 94% of soy
- 90% of canola
- 88% of corn
- 95% of sugar beets

…………….. are genetically-modified. So, if you are eating any of the above (in most processed, conventional foods), you are almost guaranteed to be eating GMOs. Either stop eating them or switch to organic versions of them.

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Below is a video a I shot several years ago with Joel Salatin, one of the stars of the movie Food, Inc., on the high cost of organic food.

Given the topic of this post, I thought that his answer was relevant to the conversation. What he says at the end of the video is his best point – it is all about our priorities and the choices that we make in life.

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17 Comments

  1. Thanks for this great post! Good reminder that “clean 15″ is a Relative list! Thanks for all you do! I want to re-post this on my blog!

    Written by Dana on February 20, 2013 @ 9:46 pm
  2. Great article! Couldn’t agree more. It seems the local versus organic debate is a personal one often based on the primary motivating interests of health or economy. If it’s health which is is for me, organic trumps local. If it’s economy as it is for so many, local is more important. It’s cool though to watch the local-economy supporters at the Farmers Market awaken to health concerns with consuming pesticides and herbicides and to witness the slow transformation from LOCAL, to LOCAL and maybe pesticide free, to LOCAL and Organic and ultimately to it’s got to be “ORGANIC & LOCAL.”

    Written by Beth from Outta the Park on February 21, 2013 @ 9:45 am
  3. All good information, and I agree with you on eating organic food over conventional. But I do want to give a bit of perspective on local farmers, especially small ones that are farming sustainably without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers, who can’t afford the organic certification. These are the type of farmers that are not only growing healthy food for us, but are models of a closed loop (permaculture system) that enrich the soil and land they till. They are an vital part of our communities, and I support these farmers over the larger organic farms (often owned by corporations that put a lot of money into fighting GMO labeling).

    These huge organic farms also grow monocrops which deplete the soil and create some environmental issues.

    I still agree with eating organic if sustainable local is not an option.
    Thanks for your post.

    Lorraine

    Written by Lorraine on February 23, 2013 @ 1:01 pm
  4. I agree in total. Organic foods are the only way to go. It’s my experience that it costs about 10-15% more but the added expense is well worth it. Excellent article. Thanks!

    Written by Thomas Bergel on February 23, 2013 @ 1:10 pm
  5. Great article … except for one part, the part about buying organic milk … why the heck are you recommending buying milk at all?? Humans DO NOT NEED MILK! Beyond the infancy age that is from our mothers, and certainly not milk from other species. This is a good article for most people to read, but seriously flawed due to that one statement.

    Written by Garrett on February 23, 2013 @ 1:12 pm
  6. Thanks so much Dana!

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on February 24, 2013 @ 9:42 am
  7. Hi Beth,

    Great comment. I am all for supporting the local economy but far too often people equate local with organic, and the two are just not the same. If a local farmer is pesticide-free, I would have no problem buying something from him/her at a local farmer’s market. Yes, organic and local is the best for me too.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on February 24, 2013 @ 9:45 am
  8. Hi Garrett,

    I am not getting into the whole milk debate on my site, and the folks at Weston A. Price think milk is very important.

    Whether you agree with it or not, a majority of our country drinks milk. Given this reality, it is essential that families who are buying milk are purchasing milk that is organic and hormone-free.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on February 24, 2013 @ 9:53 am
  9. Hi Lorraine,

    I appreciate your perspective on small farmers who can’t afford organic certification and do farming the right way – crop rotation, no chemicals, etc. I have no problem buying from these people at farmer’s markets.

    My intention is to raise awareness of organic vs. local. Also, yes big organic farming is not without its issues.

    Thanks for your input!
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on February 24, 2013 @ 10:03 am
  10. Hi Thomas,

    I agree – organic is well with the cost. You either pay now or you pay later.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on February 24, 2013 @ 10:04 am
  11. I agree with you and Thomas. Although eating organic can cost more MONEY, NOT eating organic will cost you more in health issues.Thank you for all the information on eating organic. The priority list is really helpful.

    Written by litebrite on February 25, 2013 @ 3:34 pm
  12. I agree. Not eating organic will save you money in the short-run but definitely not in the long-term.

    Glad the priority list was helpful!

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on February 27, 2013 @ 1:31 pm
  13. The problem is a lot of farmers don’t get the big picture, and some aren’t really forthcoming and transparent about their practices. They have learned to say ‘organic’ because it’s a buzzword. Do they check to see if their feed or seeds really are organic?

    Written by Susan on April 2, 2013 @ 6:36 pm
  14. Hi Susan,

    From what I hear, a lot of farmers are switching to non-GMO and we are losing a lot of organic farmland as a result. Non-GMO means no GMOs but it sill allows for heavy pesticide use, which is incredibly problematic.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on April 4, 2013 @ 10:34 pm
  15. I have local organic vegetables delivered to my door each week; however, I still love going to the local farmers markets. I will purchase fruits and vegetables from a local farmers, who farms without using pesticides or herbicides, and doesn’t have the USDA certified organic label, any day over organic foods being shipped in from South America or China.
    Being certified organic is an expensive process for most farmers. I want to reward farmers to are trying to do the right thing.

    Bottom line is buy from a local and trusted source when possible, and Think about Sustainability.

    Written by Lori on June 20, 2013 @ 7:17 pm
  16. Eating seasonally is another great way to get the freshest foods at the most affordable price. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, do we really need to eat raspberries in winter?

    Written by Lori on June 20, 2013 @ 7:24 pm
  17. big up to mr maxwell spreading the real knowledge about our corrupt food system he always postivite and gives up good infomation i like foodbabe but i cant lie maxwell is the man!! keep up the good work brother!! PEACE,LOVE AND ORGANIC!!

    Written by blackjudahking on December 26, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

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