Organics - A Re-emerging Tradition
Organics Not New
You could be forgiven for thinking that organic farming is a new fad, but in fact it was the only way food could be grown until around the 1930's, when petrochemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides came into use. Traditionally, if you wanted a big profitable crop the only way to do it was to invest in the inherent health of the plants and soil, which of course means greater nutrient density in our food.
So, Why Organic Food?
If you understand my Metabolic Food Pyramid, you'll understand that a healthy diet is not just about fats, protein and carbohydrates. You can be eating all the "right" foods but still be going backwards if you are unwittingly poisoning your body and not supporting your metabolism. These two issues underpin many dietary problems.
Modern Foods Not Good For Us
How can this be so? There are two aspects here - modern farming methods and modern seed stocks. Modern farming methods are all about yield, profit and shelf life. You might've thought food farming was all about nutrition, but nutrient density is one thing that farmer, processor and supermarket are seldom paid for - unless you're talking about organic foods, of course.
What Exactly Is Wrong With Non-Organic Methods?
Farmers, food sellers and fertiliser/pesticide companies are all in it together - not a conspiracy, a simple commercial reality. The farmer wants to sell a big crop that costs as little as possible to grow; the fertiliser and pesticide companies want to sell lots of their unique proprietary products; the seller wants a big markup on the largest amount of food that can be distributed across the biggest distances to as many people as possible after all the transportation, storage, waste, labour and marketing costs are accounted for.
From a yield perspective, big, fast growing plants that don't get eaten by pests seem best. Unfortunately, big, fast-growing plants are not necessarily healthy plants, nor are they necessarily equal or better in their nutrient density; in fact, the converse appears to be true when grown the modern way.
For example, the standard NPK fertiliser has a great track record of producing fast growth but what does it feed the soil with? Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium - three minerals. Count them again - that's three minerals out of a list of around 86 or so that would normally be found in healthy soil and in the plants grown in it. But these three can at least grow plants fast. You can read more about the importance of minerals here.
The consumer thinks it's all good news - lots of cheap, fresh-looking food, even when traditionally out of season, but without once considering that cheap, mass-produced food could in any way be of inferior nutritional quality and have a negative impact on their health.
The Effect of Eating Non-Organic Food
The deleterious effects of eating non-organic food can be summarised in two key points:
- Increased toxic burden on the body from pesticide/herbicide residues in the food.
- Mineral and other trace nutrient deficient plants lead to nutrient deficiency in those who eat them.
In other words, your exposure to toxic products is increased while your ability to metabolise them and to build your body is decreased.
Benefits of Eating Organic Food - A Simple Equation
Conversely, with organic foods you have no additional toxic burden, while receiving an increased nutritional intake to help you deal with all other toxins you are exposed to in the environment. Of course, anybody who refrains from using Genetically Engineered seeds/seedlings and pesticides can call their food "organic", but the best growers understand this simple equation:
Better soil health = Better plant health = Better human health
A Truth Not Easy to Swallow
Apart from a few unscrupulous types, I suspect that the vast majority of people involved in food growing and sales have no idea that non-organic food could be inferior in any way, mostly assuming that a piece of food that looks good must be good. Even less would they imagine that it could actually be harmful.
So, you'll probably read elsewhere a lot of uninformed opinions motivated anywhere from deliberate deceit because of vested interests through to a person being unwilling to consider themselves part of a harmful practice.
An example is certain studies that "prove" that organic foods offer no better nutrition than non-organic. Just like three minerals are being pumped into the soil, you can bet only a handful of nutrients are being measured in those tests. There are far more, likely thousands more, trace nutrients that are important for health than those currently known, named, measurable, tested for, or understood.
For example, there may be tens of thousands of vitamin C-like substances alone, according to some authorities, and yet only 1-3 of them are normally isolated for measurement or research purposes.
But you can also let your taste buds be the judge. Organic foods (the reputable certified ones, at least) almost always outperform non-organic foods in taste. The health benefits of a great many of those taste factors, as chemicals, are only being discovered now.
No Conspiracy Worth Dwelling On
There is a whole bunch of conspiracy overtones that we won't even mention here because in my extensive experience in the food industry, there are very few people out to hurt someone else. It's just that most people haven't stopped to think, or been educated to think, that their part in the food chain should be more about what contributes to the health and wellbeing of the customer.
Most people think simplistically - "Apple good; burger bad." Maybe this is somewhat true as far as food choices go, but what really makes for good nutrition is the quality of the apple or burger - a well-grown apple can be significantly more nutrient dense than a poorly grown one. Rather than quibble over judgemental and often subjective choices between burgers and fruit, how about getting really focussed on how we can all grow, sell or choose the best darn apples or burgers?
The picture I'm trying to paint here is that nutrition is a human drama, somewhat driven by ignorance and wishful thinking, rather than a mass corporate conspiracy. In other words, the quality of the food choices we make reflects our consciousness, and the quality of food available to buy reflects our global consciousness.
Q. Organic food seems so expensive - where do I start if I'm on a budget?
A. You have a few options: some people get big discounts by starting or joining a co-op so that organic foods can be bought in bulk at wholesale rates. There's also enough competition now, at least in bigger cities, to keep prices down - many supermarkets even carry a reasonable range of organics. My personal experience is that different shops have their unique "loss leaders", making it worthwhile to shop around.
Q. Are some foods more important to eat organic than others?
A. The top priorities are meat and dairy because all animal products, being at the top of their food chain, will concentrate toxins in their systems, especially in organ meats and fat tissue. The next priorities are those crops that tend to include lots of genetically modified organisms, like corn and soy. Then the crops that seem to get sprayed with pesticides and herbicides more than others. This list seems to change almost every year, but I'd at least suggest any foods that you wouldn't normally peel to eat like apples, berries, seeds, leafy greens, etc.
Q. I've heard you can reduce pesticide levels in food by washing or peeling them. Does this mean I don't need to buy organic food?
A. Washing (especially if you have energised or distilled water) and peeling non-organic foods is definitely better than nothing as far as sprayed crops go, but many pesticides/herbicides work systemically, meaning that it isn't just the surface of the food that is toxic. But even if you could deal with all toxins this way, you'd still be missing out on the superior nutrient density of organic foods.
Q. Does organic food taste as good as "normal" food?
A. No - it tastes better!
Q. Why does some organic food look smaller or less appealing than non-organic foods?
A. Some of this is to do with the rules of organic growing, such as non-use of artificial colourings, synthetic fertilisers, mineral fortification, genetically modified plants, etc. Also, some of the non-organic crops, GE ones in particular, that are bred to be big are not strong enough (inherently unhealthy) to survive without abundant pesticide use and so are not suitable for organic growing. To be fair, some organic growers are also much better at it than others, so you will also see variation because it takes more skill and effort to grow superior food.
Q. If organics are so good why did we stop doing it this way in the first place?
A. Good question and one that could be asked of many traditional practices. It's all about money and desire for short term gain over long term sustainability. Only now, as we begin to understand what we're doing to our environment are more and more people beginning to understand the crucial importance of organic farming, even, or perhaps especially, in your own back yard.
Q. I've heard of organic cotton T-shirts and the like. Is this some sort of joke?
A. Alas, cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops, so although you don't have to eat your shirt very often, you also don't really want to put it next to your skin if you can avoid it. From a budget/benefit point of view, start with your underwear, socks and bedclothes.
Q. Where can I find more information about organic growing?
A. You'd probably get a million hits on Google. In New Zealand there is OrganicNZ (formerly the Soil and Health Association), which prints and sells many great books, as well as the monthly magazine OrganicNZ, which is essential reading on organic farming, including growing your own, and environmental issues. They have a vision for an organic New Zealand by 2020, which is fast approaching, and do a lot of community and political work to help bring this about. It's an organisation worth supporting.