On Nutrition: Much Ado About Organics

Happy Tuesday. I hope you had a nice Memorial Day Weekend. I was working hard on a school project (which involved trying to understand the Whipple procedure and it’s aftermath) yesterday, so I didn’t get around to posting that my latest On Nutrition column for The Seattle Times is online: “Much Ado About Organics.”
Organics is a heated subject for some, and a non-subject for others. My column was intended to mostly address the nutrition aspects of organics. In other words, we may never have a really solid answer to questions about how nutrient levels of organic produce compares to levels in conventional produce. You can thank the variable nature of agriculture for that, as well as for the difficulty of designing and conducting and adequate study.
From there, I touched on what I see as the silliness in nitpicking about nutrient content of a vegetable grown one way vs. the nutrient content of the same type of vegetable grown a different way, when when it comes right down to it, most Americans aren’t eating anywhere near enough vegetables and fruit, period. A classic example of not seeing the forest for the trees.
Finally, I addressed what I feel are the main reasons that people might consider eating organic foods even if nutrition was removed from the equation. Those reasons have mostly to do with ingesting fewer chemicals and supporting the spreading of fewer chemicals into the environment. I did not delve deeply into this aspect of organics, due to space constraints, nor did I address the valid and quite complicated question of whether organic agriculture can feed the world.
Since I did receive a few emails from readers offering opinions or asking questions on that last point, I’ll give it some attention here. In a nutshell, it appears that yields of organic vs. conventional produce vary, much as nutrient content varies. For more on this, peruse the Scientific American article “Will Organic Food Fail to Feed The World?” The article posits that a hybrid approach may be the better goal, and some of those thoughts are echoed by the 2006 Worldwatch article, “Can Organic Farming Feed Us All?” 
Another thought is that organic farming can feed the world, but the food industry, and our eating habits, would need to have to change as well. No, everyone does not need to stop eating meat, but we would have to reduce meat consumption, among other things. The changes in question would be healthful ones, but, yes, many people would not want to make those changes. The idealistic and the pragmatic parts of myself fight about this frequently.
Very little in this world can be viewed in absolute terms, and organics is no different. I myself eat organic some of the time, but not all of the time.
  • I make a point of buying grassfed beef from a small local ranch (it’s not certified organic, which I’m fine with because I know the ranchers, know how they treat their animals). 
  • I always buy organic milk and try to make many of my other dairy purchases organic. 
  • My eggs come from my own chickens until they take their winter break from laying. Then I buy organic eggs.
  • I try to make the majority of my produce purchases organic and/or local, but I’m not obsessive about it. I shift to more local produce during the main Washington growing season. We also have a backyard organic vegetable garden.
  • I don’t for one tiny second think that organic but ultra-processed snack foods are much healthier for me than the conventional alternative.
No matter what, organic or conventional, I always eat my vegetables.
Finally, I found an interesting article in the Pediatrics that deals with some of the conflicts and confusion, “Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages.” Some good food for thought. (Pun intended.)