Why it's better and when you can choose conventional
There are many, many reasons to buy organic that have to do with the health of humans, animals and the planet itself. It's a lengthy, complex discussion, but I'm going to boil it down to the top reasons that I think you'll care about and agree are worth changing for.
While we are talking about food today, it really all starts with the soil. Organically farmed soil is more nutrient rich because organic farms use more traditional farming practices that conventional farms don’t. Things like crop rotation, allowing excess harvest to rot into the soil and mixed use with livestock are all ways that the soil becomes enriched over time and the food grown in it more nutritious. Conventional farms often grow mono-crops, which means they only ever grow one thing, like just corn or just soybeans. They harvest everything and use the excess for some other use rather than leaving it in the soil, and without cattle or other any other natural means of fertilizing the soil, manufactured fertilizer must be used. This is generally a mix of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium – the main things needed to ensure a plant will grow – and none of the other things like iron, zinc, magnesium and all the vital nutrients that humans need to thrive. Over time the soil becomes depleted of these things and thus the plants grown there are less nutritious.
There are also grave concerns about the effects of pesticide residue in our bodies, particularly with children. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “organophosphate pesticides have been shown to damage nervous system function by blocking acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that stops nerve cells from firing. When nerve cells fire unceasingly, acute poisoning or long-term nerve damage can result. Many recent studies show that even subtle nervous system depression can have profound effects on brain development during pregnancy and childhood.” As studies continue, links to cancer from chemicals like glyphosate, found in the pesticide Roundup, are becoming more definitive and in some cases leading to massive legal battles.
Beyond just our own health, the health of the planet, particularly the ocean, is also at stake. Runoff from ground water into rivers and streams that flow into the ocean has increased the toxicity of the ocean in many parts of the world. Long term exposure can be toxic for many fish and has been dramatically demonstrated in the low survival rate of larger ocean mammals like orcas and their offspring.
I know all that seems depressing, but you can effect greater change by making the choice to buy organic whenever you can and sending a message to the conventional producers that you don’t support their dirty products. I also know that it can be more difficult financially to support an all-organic lifestyle as these products do still cost significantly more than conventional. So, until that shift happens on a larger scale, our friends over at the EWG give us a helping hand by doing a little homework and finding out what produce carries the highest rate of pesticide residue and which ones are free from or low enough to be safely bought conventionally. It’s called the Dirty Dozen – things you should always buy organic – and the Clean Fifteen – things you can safely buy conventional. The list is updated every year so go to ewg.org to get the current list.