The debate over organic: From a Elementary Perspective

It is easy to get tangled up in the organic vs. conventional food debate.   I find myself asking the question: would the switch really change my body, my family’s wellness, and the environment?  In the past, food was just a means to an end- connecting the dots between food and health did not happen.   But now, My food world is being turned upside down.  As I am searching for truth, a video of a little girl name Elise reminds me of how simply I need to approach this debate in my mind.  As a visual learner, this is the kind of proof that satisfies some basic questions.

Elise purchased sweet potatoes three ways:  conventional potato from grocery store,  labeled “organic” from the same store, and then from “Roots” a certified organic food market.  The test was to see how long each would take to cultivate new vines.  The conventional potato never grew vines.  The “organic” potato took over a month to grow vines, but the local farm organic potato only took a week.  Elise asked the produce man why the potatoes were not cultivating and he told her because of herbicides like Bud Nip, also known as Chlorpropham, which is designed to prevent sprouting….doesn’t that sound strange? Why would you want to inhibit grow?  And doesn’t it change the inner workings of the plant, how does the chemical impact my body?  According to the Pesticide Action Network, the dangers of bud nip include toxicity to amphibians and honeybees, important pollinators of crops we eat every day. Bud nip is also found on  common produce like potatoes, kale, peaches, broccoli, blueberries. The chemical is known to cause cancer.  Exposure Ingestion of pesticides on a regular basis does not sound like a great idea to me.  What does that do to the soil?  To the water surrounding the sprayed fruits and vegetables?  To the workers that tend the harvest?

In the past, I honestly didn’t care about conventional vs. organic farming.  I went to the grocery store, never once questioning the farming/manufacturing practices of what I bought.  If my cart had some vegetables and fruit in it, I was making very conscious decisions.  Organic was just another name for prestigious living, a social standing to eat the best quality. Or for those people who were obsessed with staying fit. I wasn’t concerned with health.  The only reason why I would watch what I ate was because of  the never ending battle of maintaining the “perfect weight.”  Starving myself, exercise and staying away from junk food was my idea of health.  I didn’t know that a healthy diet is a lifestyle choice, not a fade.

This changed when my family became members of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) from a local farm http://redwagonorganicfarm.com/.   The produce was unrecognizable.  It didn’t even fit in my fridge.  To eat “seasonally” frankly frustrated me, I was used to buying whatever I wanted. Everything was different, the touch, smell, taste, the recipes.  I felt myself shy away from the unknown for about a week challenged by the adjustments that I needed to learn.

What is this?

Until something changed.  I began to have a respect for the food.   I thought of the beautiful process of life that surrounded the produce, all of the elements that created this beautiful plant.  I thought of the community that worked at the farm- the weeding, the tending, the hard work and care that went behind keeping the farm efficient and thriving.  I cherish the harvest that I pick up each week.  Walking up to the food stand, a waft of fresh produce fills my nose and I feel at home.  It feels normal.  I feel a sense of responsibility in the preparation of the food.  To waste food convicts me, and forces me to take responsibility.

Elise asks a question that stimulates some thought:

  1. Which potato would you want to eat?
Visually, lay assumptions or personal standing aside…just from a visual stand point which potato would you want to eat?

Here are some photographs of conventional vs. organic farms..can you guess which is which?  Which farm would you like to eat from?

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Believe me, I understand the struggle with going 100% organic:

  1. I have no idea what I am doing, the whole food world is very new: it takes time, effort, and education
  2. we are a struggling family of five, if we can’t afford food how can we upgrade to the best?
  3. I really love my chips and ice cream: I must get rid of a lifetime full of bad habits. To redefine food.
  4. sometimes a quick fix is needed (I have three boys under the age of 4)
  5. Socially alienating (think of all the holidays, parties, restaurants that I couldn’t enjoy)
Isn’t it worth it to take care of this body, to build a healthy foundation for my children’s health?  The current food industry is manipulating our land, soil integrity, water quality, and the overall health of Americans.  But do we even have a chance? Often what is labeled as good for you, or organic is an advertising lie…
What are the cons of being 100% organic? What are the long term benefits?  I personally know a handful of people that have made the switch.  I never hear them complain or regret their decision.  The only negative consequence is if they happen to eat normal food (processed, high amounts of sugar and salt, genetically altered) they become extremely ill and their body rejects it.    What a perfect example of how illogical our food system is.  I have become desensitized to unhealthy eating habits.  I may not see the physical consequences immediately, but I can be sure that it will catch up with me in time.
For now this quote brings peace:  “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”  Lao Tzu
One day at a time.
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21 thoughts on “The debate over organic: From a Elementary Perspective

  1. Wow – this is a great, salient post. We try to eat local and organic at home but sometimes slip when the price point seems so much higher than conventional produce. This post reminds me why it’s truly worth paying for.

    • Thank you, I am glad to know that this post inspires you to remain true to what you know is good! I completely understand- it is easy to let prices discourage us from buying local and organic too… What is sad is that the cheap vs. quality decisions we make every day is affecting our future…Michael Ableman of Saltspring Island says it perfectly: “People who thought they were buying cheap food, were actually paying for it many times after they left the check out stand, in their personal health and the health of the land.”

  2. I had no idea how old produce is that is sold in the grocery store either. But the saddest thing is that produce sold in groceries has no taste. And they wonder why we gravitate toward the processed food full of salt, fat and sugar? Because it at least has some flavor!

    • What a great point Rumpydog! Why should anyone want produce when it lacks the flavor that it is intended to have? I love food, but false flavors are there to just confuse my brain and enable addiction! When I taste local organic produce I am shocked at the flavor (and that I actually enjoy it)

  3. Many people see the slightly higher prices of organic produce as prohibitive. I too have a family of five to feed. It was a while ago that I decided my top financial priority was the food we ate: you are what you eat. We may now only eat meat twice a week, but it will be organic meat. I will buy organic chocolate or ice cream on special offer – love the BOGOF offers (buy one get one free) that supermarkets run on many organic store cupboard essentials. The fruit and vegetables I buy are organic, but I make sure I buy in season produce, and shop at local markets towards the end of the day so pay slightly less than I would in the supermarket. There are ways and means of reducing an organic food bill. There is little room for compromise on the quality of the food I feed my family. So I also cut corners in other areas: I buy a lot of second-hand clothes (or get given them when I put the word around). This means more pennies in the pot for good food. It’s a question of priorities really.

    It’s good to see you raising these issues – the more we can talk about them, the more we can find solutions to potential problems. Look forward to reading some more…

    • I couldn’t agree more that there comes a time when you have to decide as a family what is considered “valuable”. In sacrificing in other ways, we can buy quality items and not squander our resources. It is tough to change the way of thinking of “let’s get this because it only costs a dollar vs. is this worth the extra two dollars in terms of health?” Lately I have been experiencing feeling like a “snob” when it comes to food. Like you, I would rather eat organic meat occasionally then eating conventional meat every night. Vegetables are beginning to be part of the main course, and it is challenging to cook differently. But the boys love it, and it brings a smile to my face… As mothers we protect our children from many things, and I feel it necessary to take responsibility of the “home” in this way.. Love the reminder of the BOGOF offers (I will have to look out for that!) Blessings to you and your family.

  4. We have been transitioning to organic or a year now. It’s been a tricky shift and sometimes I break out the 80/20 rule for my own convince. I realize though as I feed my two kids the best food that I can buy that I’m really making a much bigger decision. I recently had the privilege of watch my 70 year old stuck in his ways father cure himself of cancer by going on a organic and juicing diet. It was truely a stunning testament to what power our food holds. I appreciate your view and post. The food system certainly seams very backwards to me now and I couldn’t ever imagine going back. I hope the industry sees that people are getting fedup.

    • What an amazing testament of the healing properties of whole foods that you got to see with your father. And good for you that you have made the shift! We are definitely not a 100% organic family, we are allowing time and grace on ourselves during this transition. Sometimes it is easy to turn our backs and return to the old way of eating- but one day at a time right?! Thank you so much for your comment and your passion to see others living whole lives. Blessings on your family. Be well.

  5. I thought this post was fantastic. I just saw the video on Facebook. I reblogged this on my page. I hope you don’t mind 😉 pretty much if someone sees my page they can click the post and it will direct them to yours!

  6. I do like your page and discussion very much, I just learned of this Chlorpropham stuff. Your knowledge does motivate me to buy organic, but seriously, at least in the chicagoland area, buying organic is at least DOUBLE the cost, if not more, and variety is much less.. Not a slight increase in cost as mentioned over and over by you and other commenters. Is this just something i need to get over, or is going to Mariano’s, Whole I would buy it more often if it was more reasonable, but I feel the stores are gauging because it’s trendy. Any secrets to getting it at more reasonable places?

    • Hello Neal. Thanks for stopping by! It is true that organic food can be costly, however corners can be cut in order to create a more whole and balanced diet. I stretch our family’s budget by only consuming organic meat once a week (or sometimes two), with the rest of the days enjoying vegetables/grains/beans and fruit dishes. Even just the shift from processed foods to whole foods can make a big difference for your health (and budget). I also would encourage you to explore local farms and CSA’s and compare their prices. A great way to save yourself some money is growing your own food, even if you don’t have land there are many community gardens that you could become a member of. Hope this helps!

  7. Excellent post. I think eating organic, plant based was the best decision I ever made. Every once in awhile I will still eat conventional produce in the clean 15, but I do believe that there is no organic vs conventional debate anymore, it is clear that the food we eat from conventionally grown crop is junk for the most part. One other thing that made me wonder (and I don’t think I can do anything about it because we live in climates where we cannot grow year round) is the fact that the store bought organic sweet potato in that little girl’s video also took a month to grow vines. What is that telling us? Are they cross contaminated or is the government allowing certain levels of spraying on stuff that is labelled Organic? No wonder many people just give up and take their chances with the food because at times it can be very over whelming. Thanks

    • Thank you for your comment Ravik and for visiting my site. It is true that it can be overwhelming at times, and sometimes the “organic” labeled foods are not what they appear to be. Cross contamination and the letting of certain sprays slip is definitely a problem. One can not control everything that goes into our bodies, but we can try the best that we can to make informed choices. Keep it up 🙂

  8. Ah, but a sprouting potato naturally produces glycoakaloids which are highly toxic. Even a slight green tinge under the skin can indicate the production of solanine, which is highly toxic. The toxicity of chemicals is normally measured using a scale called the LD50. This means that the at a dosage of this amount (usually in milligrams per kilogram of body weight) 50% of the test subjects die. For Solanin, the LD50 is about 3-6mg/kg. In contrast, Budnip(or chlorpropham) has an LD50 of 1200 mg/kg, which means that it is under 1/200th as dangerous as the natural chemical produced by potatoes and sweet potatoes. By treating with Budnip the growers prevent sprouting and the production of solanine, and therefore actually reduce the likelihood of poisoning. So no, I would rather not by the organic product in this instance. Not that I blame this little girl – her experiment is great. It’s just the propagation of incorrect information via the internet that is problematic. You should probably dig a little deeper when drawing your conclusions. I’m not saying that organic agriculture is without merit, but please don’t use third grade science projects as your reference point for this!

    TL/DR: without Budnip potatoes produce their own toxin that is 200 times more deadly than the additive.

    Reference for Solanine toxicity: http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v30je19.htm
    Reference for Chlorpropham: http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/carbaryl-dicrotophos/chlorpropham-ext.html

    • Jim, without researching your statements, I will assume you’re accurate. It certainly makes sense that the toxicity of the chemical is a lessor evil than the toxicity of the plant’s toxins that are produced under certain conditions. But the point is being missed, I believe.

      1. People can identify the signs on a vegetable when it is unhealthy to eat. Those natural toxins are produced with clearly identifiable traits (excessive sprouting, wilted skin, discoloration, etc). The issue is that stores do not want waste from the produce they buy.

      2. Our concern is long term exposure to these chemicals. We are talking about a chronic, life long exposure – every day, multiple times, for 70 years. All to avoid the risk of eating a bad vegetable? I believe the toxicity amounts are FAR greater under your scenario, especially since it is easily identifiable when the produce has become unhealthy to eat.

      • Michael, you’re absolutely right about the desire of companies to reduce wastage, and it’s something that we should all be concerned about given the growing global population. I also appreciate the point about long-term exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals. However, this doesn’t mean that the toxicity amounts are higher. The implicit assumption that people make is that long-term exposure to a toxin will add up (eat 1 mg per day for a year, and this will add up to 365mg in your body). In fact, a vanishingly small number of toxins are accumulative, and these are almost exclusively fat-soluble compounds (in which case only a fraction of the ingested toxin is laid down in adipose tissue as it is being formed) and heavy metals (which are banned for usage in products that are destined for consumption in most countries). Almost all other toxins are either broken down in the gut or the bloodstream, and therefore their effects are either immediate or demonstrable within a couple of days. Admittedly, where dosage is higher than the liver or kidneys are able to remove it, repeated consumption can be cumulative until the backlog is cleared, but at low dosages (which is certainly the case here) this is not the case. A good example of this is alcohol – it is commonly consumed at dosages high enough for an effect to be felt immediately. However, except in cases where the potential of the liver to remove toxins is exceeded regularly, no long term damage to the body is likely.

        In addition, don’t forget that EVERYTHING we eat is chemicals, and in general we (and everything living) consume a large number of things naturally produced by food that are potentially toxic. In fact, most of the population of West Africa is exposed to fairly large dosages of cyanide on a daily basis as a result of their consumption of the staple food, cassava. We have great systems for removing toxins, which can certainly be overwhelmed by serious acute dosage or long-term exposure to cumulative poisons, but in general are very efficient at protecting the body from harm.

        It is worth noting that things that are toxic to one species are not necessarily toxic to another. The evidence to date indicates that chlorpropham is not very toxic even in relatively high dosages to mammals, although it does demonstrably affect the ability of tubers to sprout. Given that it is fat-insoluble and contains no heavy metals, there is no likelihood that it is cumulative, and therefore a rough estimate would be that at 70kg (144lb) person would need to consume approximately 5.5 tonnes of potatoes at one sitting to approach a lethal dose of chlorpropham. I’d venture to say eating as much as 3 kg of potatoes at a sitting would be damaging in a completely different way!

        Finally, the simplest method of preventing chlorpropham exposure is exactly the same as for a potato that is beginning to sprout – if you remove the peel of the potato, the concentration of either chemical drops to less than 1 part per million.

        Ref for commercial chlorpropham concentrations in treated potatoes: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19089708

      • I’d just like to add that I’m in no way saying that people should steer away from organic foods. Whilst it is impossible for organic foods to feed the world as it stands (unless we do master that little problem of food wastage), I feel that buying local foods that are produced mindfully is a good thing. I do however, feel that reactionary decisions on the basis of poor knowledge can be problematic, and it’s worth looking into things in a little more depth whenever possible.

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