Thursday, April 17, 2008

Organic -vs- Conventional Consumers:
The High Price of Food Beyond the Wallet

--home + food + family--

Although millions of people worldwide are catching on to the environmental and health implications with conventional farming, and the value in organic foods, many still stay the conventional course. In my own discussion with folks I meet I often notice the flip responses to the benefits of eating conventional vs organic. One of my favorites was "we feed our kids conventional foods because there are so many toxins in the environment that it helps them build a resistance." Neat argument, but sort of fell apart when I knew that both parents quite smoking recently, because of those health hazards (and no argument for cigarettes as a method for building up a tolerance would fly). Perhaps it's the sophisticated way in which foods are marketed, competitively priced and conveniently located that makes them so darn hard to quit, and for some - easy to rationalize.

Ten years ago, going organic meant going either to a farmer or a tiny health food store miles away, run by some throw back hippie in most cases (at least in my neck of the woods). I remember days of $6 cups of organic fresh made vegetable juices and the $8 hot dogs, across the aisle from the over ripened organic fruit of every variety. Its a a very different world from ours, one where every major supermarket carries organic, or actually even has their own line of organic products. Organic foods have become cheaper and easier to access - the only issue is they still can or don't seem to market their wares.

For ages I complained that organic kids yogurt can't compete with Danon, because Danimals yogurt just looks more fun. Finally a few months ago I came across a probiotic yogurt made by Lifeway that sports a silly looking monster on the front of their bright pink and orange containers. My two year old loved it. Its a must have item in the house. I'm not much into marketing my kids into submission, but healthy intestines convince me otherwise. My six year old still waits for the Hannah Montana tie-in with our organic cheese. I think that will be a long wait.

Sometime I wonder if we simply posted the straight facts with warning labels on food, people would convert, much like on cigarettes, say "This nectarine has tested positive for pesticides - which has been linked to cancer, fertility problems, brain tumors, childhood leukemia, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma " (according to the EPA). Or how about a big sign when you walk into the grocery store that welcomes you that says "All this gorgeous looking produce comes to you courtesy of 1.5 billion pounds of pesticide that was used this year-enjoy!"

I am sure most folks innocently fondling cantaloupes in the fruit aisle are not aware that 60percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides and 30 percent of insecticides are carcinogenic (again, not my stats - but the EPA). Or for that matter all those loving moms buying pesticide ridden (yet quit healthy looking) apples and strawberries for kids lunch boxes, unknowingly putting their kids at risk. In fact children are especially at risk from the toxic effects of pesticides. Their bodies are still developing and immature, making them susceptible to such damage. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences and the Environmental Working Group have found that children exposed to carcinogenic pesticides are at a high risk of future cancer and other studies determined that pesticide use was associated with an increased risk of childhood malignancies.

It might not be popular to play chicken little in this game of organic-vs-conventional foods - but in this case, the sky is actually falling. Choosing organic is more of a philosophical shift than a lifestyle change. It's easy to change what you do, but maybe less so - what you believe. In this case - all you have to do, is listen to the facts.

HERE is a great resource on most and least contaminated foods brought to you by the Environmental Working Group. The information provided also delivers insight into the methodology for food testing.

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