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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Benefits of Eating Organic

Published: September 7, 2012
Section: Opinions

If you’ve ever been to a grocery store, you understand how important the price of food can be to your budget. And, as you circle the produce section of the market, you must make the choice between buying organic or non-organic vegetables. One saves money, the other supposedly saves the environment and boosts your nutrition.

According to researchers at Stanford University, who reviewed thousands of studies to find 237 of the most rigorous comparisons of organic and conventional foods, buying organic is not necessarily the healthier choice. They realized that there are only very minor differences in pesticide and antibiotic levels between organic and non-organic food. They also found that organic foods were not any more nutritious, disproving the idea that non-organic foods are better for your diet. Many people believe that eating non-organic produce can cause a higher risk of cancer, neurological damage, birth defects and even early onset Parkinson’s. But these high risks are related to high ingestion of pesticides, which Stanford’s researchers proved were at the same levels in both organic and non-organic grown foods.

When it comes to pesticides it’s a different story. Vegetables and fruits imported internationally also contain traces of pesticides. The Stanford team did find, however, that organic produce, locally grown in the United States or Canada, had a 30 percent lower risk of containing detectable pesticides compared to those grown outside the two countries. The levels of pesticides found are still well within the safety limits for human consumption. And though evidence states that both choices are safe, there are more upsides than downsides to purchasing organic produce.

Buying organic means choosing products that are often locally grown, supporting local farms and food projects in your area. Many local farmers employ local workers, and some even host programs for students to learn about sustainable agriculture. And though the pesticide levels are safe, many organic farms choose not to use high levels of pesticides such as atrazine, which can harm aquatic life when they filter into the waterways. Supporting local farms also supports the community and the future generation of sustainable farmers.

Another reason to buy organic is to support ecological food production. By choosing to purchase locally grown produce, the demand for these types of local farms will increase and subsequently decrease demand for expanding agriculture. Choosing organic could decrease forest destruction and farming in rainforest and tropical ecosystems, lowering your overall carbon footprint and supporting a sustainable industry of local growers that works to use what is already in place to feed as many people as possible instead of expanding into protected wilderness.

It is understandable and expected that not all college students are able to afford organic vegetables and fruits, despite their wishes. There are other ways to be environmentally conscious while not breaking the bank. Try to buy fruits and vegetables only when they are in season in your area. Buying seasonally means that your produce won’t need to be shipped from a tropical climate across the globe to your local market. Instead, these options are available only a few miles from you, once again decreasing the energy it takes to get them from the ground to your shopping cart. There are many ways to check what vegetables and fruits are in season in your area. The website Epicurious has a seasonal ingredient map that allows you to choose your state and month, and gives you a list of all the seasonal vegetables and fruits available. The website Field To Plate also has lists of local availability of fresh produce in your state and region. Many websites also offer recipes that use only locally available products.

Other steps that even a poor college student can take to keep those pesticides off your plate without buying organic is always to wash and peel produce, as well as steam cooking any leafy greens and using the frozen organic version of vegetables when the produce you’re craving isn’t available fresh during that season. Outside of buying produce, decreasing your meat intake is always a good idea. A mainly vegetable-based diet is one of the healthiest around, and can help you keep off those college pounds. Don’t be afraid to eat meat, just make sure you’re only having it one to two times per week. It may end up saving you quite a few dollars by the end of the semester.

It’s up to you to decide whether you want to spend the few extra dollars at the grocery store. The benefits are great, and buying local goes a long way in decreasing your environmental impact. I suggest a run out to Hannaford or Target in your near future to try it out. Take an inventory of the prices. It may turn out to be cheaper than you think to buy local, sustainable, seasonal food.