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Why I'm not riding the organic bandwagon

March 26, 2012

On Fridays, my daughter and I participate in a playgroup. We have an informal group of moms and kids that get together to do fun activities. It’s a great way for the kids to socialize and learn to play well together, while having the opportunity to do something fun. Once in a while, the moms even have a chance to have a conversation, too.

Much to my frustration, though, the mom conversation has become somewhat predictable. Each time we sit down for lunch, talk inevitably turns to the measure of “organic-ness” of our lunchtime fare. It feels to me like a friendly competition of “America’s Next Top Mama” as we showcase our organic kiddy cuisine.

If it’s a competition, let me tell you who is the biggest loser: it’s me. Because I don’t buy organic. Now, before you get your reusable grocery totes in a twist, let me tell you why.

My friends buy as many products as they possibly can that are labeled “organic” or “all natural”. They do this because they want to provide the best possible nutrition for their growing kids, and I deeply admire their desire and commitment to do so!

But, there’s one little piece of the puzzle that is missing, and that is this question:

Is organic really better?

Marketing and online media have overwhelmingly convinced most of us that organic food is better and healthier. In fact, organic agriculture has been the fastest growing segment of the food market, and is now a multi-billion dollar empire.

But, have you noticed that of all the media outlets that talk about how these super foods can change your life, our scientific and medical communities have been largely quiet on this issue?

And why? It’s because the science isn’t there to support the marketing. Plain and simple.

Now, I am not a farmer or an agriculturalist. But, I do know that where there are bugs and pests and animals, there are diseases that come with them. And modern technology has developed synthetic mechanisms to combat these disease-causing contaminants. And, I do know that whether something is synthetically or naturally derived absolutely does not determine its safety; that is true in medicine as well as agriculture.

The only way to determine if one thing is healthier than another is to compare them head-to-head.

Where are the benefits?

Do people that confine themselves strictly to organic fare live longer? Do they have less incidence of cancer, heart disease, stroke or diabetes?

Do children who have been fed organic, homemade baby food live longer, perform better on standardized tests, develop less incidence of illness or disease?

The scientific research conducted to date has failed to show that organically-produced food has any significant health benefit over conventionally-produced foods, and there have not been reliable studies comparing long-term health outcomes.

Confusing the facts with feelings and fallacies

The organic agricultural marketing machine would have you believe that we are all being slowly poisoned by conventional agricultural practices, that every incidence of cancer, birth defects and any other disease is attributable to this enigmatic poisoning propagated by the conspiracy of Big Agriculture. Yet, there simply are not solid, scientific facts to support these claims.

Many of the claims of scientific facts and “clinical studies” found in various media and online outlets as well as product promotions are very convincing. They look like science to the untrained eye. But, they aren’t.

People are shelling out their hard-earned bucks on organic products that offer the same nutritional value as their standard counterparts, but at a premium price. And they do it because they have a feeling. They feel it is a healthier, more wholesome approach, that they are going above and beyond to provide something healthy for their families. What they fail to realize is that feeling has come from marketing, not factual information.

Keeping it in perspective

If someone has the means to pay more and they choose to buy organic, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But, where my frustration mounts is when the organic and all-natural bandwagon that many are riding tramples all over the facts of what we do know about health.

We do knowthat eating a diet high in fiber, rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat and sodium leads to a longer, healthier life. We know that choosing whole-wheat products, lean protein and low-fat dairy items contribute to overall health. We know that participating in regular, moderate exercise can drastically reduce your chances of developing many of the deadliest diseases in our country.

Yet, how many of us are agonizing over filling our grocery carts exclusively with items labeled “all-natural”, yet failing to model for our children the importance of physical activity and regular exercise?

How often are we giving our kids an organic, all-natural, sweetened-with-agave- nectar breakfast bar, when a good ole’ banana would serve them a lot better?

Organic isn’t better or worse- just different

The bottom line is that choosing to buy organic fare is a personal preference. It can certainly be a part of a healthy diet and a component of teaching our children a healthy lifestyle. But, the organic label is not the mark of a higher standard of health, as many would have you believe.

We can attain the same level of healthful eating and wholesome lifestyle choices without paying extra for the nonsense marketing.

And that is my un-organic preference.