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Is the organic food movement full of compost?

Published: September 16, 2011
Section: Opinions


Maybe it’s due to my liberal arts education. Maybe I’ve been influenced by my friends. Perhaps my upbringing changed me in some way. I’m not sure which of these sources changed me, repulsed me to the point that I can say, with absolute certainty, that I hate organic food.

I seem to be the only person I know who has no preference between organic and non-organic foods. SEA supports the purchase of organic foods over non-organics, and my friends love to buy organic fruits that they get from markets that definitely don’t have a “super” prefix. Yet I find the organic food industry to be a complete waste of time and a hoax meant to steal the money of unknowing hippies and mothers who want their children to eat only “the best.”

What defines the best? I define it as food that is healthy for you and helps you live longer and maintain all your vital organs and limbs, among other things. What are “the worst” foods? Any food that is unhealthy for you, meaning foods that give you cancer, foods with trans fats and anything in between.

I specifically have a problem with organic fruits. What I have been led to believe is that organic fruits are better for you partially because of their use of natural pesticides. Nonorganic fruit is grown with synthetic pesticides, which apparently cause the whole “third arm” cancer thing that we try to avoid. And, in that respect, I completely agree. We should not be eating foods that cause cancer or any other diseases. But that is why I support real research into healthy foods and eating habits, not armchair knowledge, which seems to be what the discussion of organic foods has become.

I’ve thought about the role that organic foods play in a healthy diet before, but I was always a skeptic. In a recent science lecture class, my professor made a little reference to this debate and did not seem supportive of the consumption of organic fruits at all. This got me thinking about the true health benefits of organic fruits in regard to synthetic versus natural pesticides, leading me to do a quick Google search, which led me to a New York Times article and, lo and behold, it was titled “Synthetic vs Natural Pesticides.” How convenient.

Finally, an answer to my prayers! And by prayers I mean Google search and by answer I mean one man’s answer. Via citation of a scientific paper by a famous and well-respected scientist named Bruce Ames, the writer—John Tierney—argued that the synthetic pesticides humans ingest cause cancer no more than natural pesticides.

The article points out that, while synthetic pesticides are more likely to cause cancer, you eat such a small amount in your lifetime that it is very unlikely that they will cause cancer. At this point, I decided to read the actual scientific paper that Tierney cited, just to verify what the paper was actually saying.

I am as much a skeptic of articles from The New York Times as I am of organic fruits, so I came to this paper with no preconceived notions, except the notion that Bruce Ames is a wonderful scientist based on everything I had learned about him in science class. The paper seemed to have the same conclusion that the Times article had: Synthetic pesticides in the quantities we consume are no worse for us than natural pesticides. But the paper took it a step further; it claimed that organic fruits are actually causing cancer because they are taking focus away from eating habits that actually cause cancer like, oh, I don’t know, not drinking soda every day. Or not going to Sherman every night and gorging yourself on eggs and toast (story of my life). Or not eating three bagels at a time because you have to use up a meal. Proper diet, meaning eating foods that are healthy for your body such as low-fat, low-calorie options, is a much larger determinant of whether or not you will get cancer. By taking the focus away from proper eating habits, organic foods are truly the wool in sheep’s clothing of the food industry. And I never thought I would put those words together in a sentence, but crazier things have happened.

I take Ames’ argument a step further. Not only are organic fruits “causing” cancer, but I postulate that the organic fruit industry is nothing but a sham to play on the fears of unknowing customers who are led to believe, maybe by the organic fruit gods, that organic fruits are better for you. These companies charge more money for products that, while costlier, most likely do not cost the large amounts that we see in supermarkets. I only have my speculations, of course—it’s not as if I actually know how much it costs to produce and ship organic fruits—but it’s at least a plausible situation. Isn’t it at least plausible that the organic fruit industry is feeding off of peoples desires to provide nothing but the best for their families? The funniest thing is that the people who buy organic would probably buy fruit anyway, so in that way the organic fruit industry would truly be scamming people out of their money.

I’m not saying that you have to agree with my thoughts, all I suggest is that you think about these kinds of things for yourself and do your own research so you can create personal conclusions about what to eat and how to live. In short, have an organic thought before you have an organic fruit.