Friday, January 25, 2008

Why I Eat Organic Foods

Photo: Warren Wilson College (Asheville, NC) where students grow organic foods that are served on campus

Needing a label like “Certified Organic” is an indictment of our ill society. We shouldn’t need a label to tell us that the foods we buy and eat are viable. All foods should be produced in balance with nature. All foods should support optimum health and well-being. And all foods should be ethically grown and distributed.

But the industrial agricultural system in the United States is so far removed from reasonable, health-promoting, sustainable and ethical that a label like “organic” is indeed needed.

In legal terms, organic means crops are grown “without the use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers, human waste, or sewage sludge,” and are processed without ionizing radiation or food additives. It means animals are “reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones. In most countries, organic produce must not be genetically modified.” (Wikipedia)

In philosophic terms, organic signifies respect for nature’s wisdom. It shows appreciation for the foundations of health and for the basics of good food production and consumption. And it illustrates what is critical in our society for our health and well being—particularly since both are statistically rapidly declining.

Most of the food I buy and eat is organic. This is because I want to be healthy in body, mind, and spirit. The chemicals used in so-called “conventional” farming are neurotoxins—polychlorinated bromides, herbicides, pesticides, dioxins, antibiotics, and furines—all poisonous to our nervous system. So if you eat non-organic food from the average American grocery store, you are putting these toxins in your body bite after bite, day after day, year after year, decade after decade.

All of these toxins are traceable to neurological disorders, whether or not the FDA, the EPA, the USDA and the AMA acknowledge it. We don’t have to look any farther than our homes and workplaces, schools, churches and gathering places of any other sort—not to mention doctor’s offices and hospitals—to see the plethora of neurological disorders that toxins cause: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, autism, epilepsy, migraines, hyperactivity, attention deficit, etc. Many studies show that these disorders have increased manifold in the last 50 years, since we began our industrial agricultural practices. Before then, the major causes of disease were pestilence and contagion.

I also eat organically because I want to help protect the earth. When I eat organic foods, I feel pleased and proud that I am supporting change in the way Earth and nature are treated. Organic agriculture works in harmony with nature: it protects water sources, it builds and protects soil, and it enhances the diversity of animal and plant species, all of which are essential to maintaining a balance in our ecosystems.

Water, air, animals, vegetables, fruits, grains and soil are all part of our natural resources, whether or not we consume them. So when we squander, waste and destroy these resources, as industrial agriculture does, everyone and everything loses. But as we build up the resources and respect their value and sustainability, we provide for ourselves in both the short run and the long run. And we can have a sense of pride that we are being good stewards of the Earth.

Organic food tastes better, too. Flavor isn’t a deal breaker for me, but it’s a strong motivator because I want to eat tasty food as well as healthy food. One of my most sensory memories from childhood is sitting on my front porch eating a ripe, whole tomato. It was sweet, salty, juicy, crunchy and bursting with flavor. How delicious! It’s not often that a tomato like that can be found anymore, especially with genetic engineering, where your tomato might even include flounder fish genes. Who is this benefiting? When I eat organic, I feel the essence of health in every flavorful bite. And I feel like I’m nurturing myself and anyone I’m cooking for with the simplicity and perfection of nature’s brand.

With all these benefits, why not eat organic? Price? Other quality issues? If we examine true cost, we can see that the extra cents we may pay per pound for organic food is monumentally less than what we ultimately pay in hidden costs as our health care is affected, the environment degrades, crop variety diminishes, animals are exploited, antibiotic resistance increases, hormone disruption takes its infertile toll, CO2 emissions are worsened globally, small farmers are trampled…the list is extensive. To me, the most serious issue of all is that with genetic engineering the miracle of life, regeneration, is being removed from seeds! We don’t have to peer far into the future to see the catastrophe that this forebodes.

As I eat organic foods, I feel that I am doing more than just putting good food on my plate. I feel that I am supporting my health and well being and that of my family, the environment, the farmers who are freed from toxic chemical handling, our economy (which depends upon our natural resources, with citizens being part of those resources), the animals, and all the leaders in the organic foods movement who have, much at their own expense, helped guide consumers and fierce industrial foes to look at the benefits for all in returning to some of the basics of respecting, valuing, appreciating, and honoring each other and nature in its infinite expression.

We can move forward as consumers by buying and eating organic foods. We also need to encourage elected leaders to put our true welfare ahead of donor interests. The USDA and members of Congress are heavily influenced by the multi-billion dollar industrial agriculture industry, and are moving to lower organic standards and seize control of the organic label. We must work to keep the integrity of the label. Organics need strong and reliable political and institutional support in order to flourish.

Enjoy your health and happiness!