Essay: Organic Food Is Better Food? Deconstructing

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Organic Food is Better Food?

Deconstructing a current cultural myth

Organic food, the media has counseled us, must be better for us than food cultivated by other methods. After all, we have been taught to believe that natural is better. A work colleague of mine is devoted to buying 'all organic,' and every morsel of food she brings with her to the office is organic, from the orange juice she drinks to the mustard she puts on her organic veggie burgers eaten on organic whole wheat bread. However, I remain unconvinced of the inherent value of organic products, either of their benefits to the environment or to human health. Eating a healthy diet that leaves a small carbon footprint is more important to me than simply buying organic. In other words, oranges may be good for you, but organic oranges are not necessarily 'better.'

To begin with the issue of 'organic' produce: an 'organic' orange, even though it is grown without chemicals, might be shipped in from far away. Growing crops without pesticides and artificial fertilizers can be expensive, and sometimes only very large farms can accomplish this task. It is not better for the environment if people eat fruits and vegetables shipped for long distances. Buying produce from a local farmer entails less damage to the environment, because it involves less burning of fossil fuels used in transport. It also ensures that the customer knows what the practices of the farmers are, given that he or she can talk to the individual who is selling the produce -- or, even if buying the local produce at a supermarket, the consumer at least has the confidence that the buyer at the supermarket knows the provider of 'Jersey tomatoes' if the New Jersey Pathmark is buying from a farm in New Jersey.

Buying locally makes it easier to avoid the type of scares that occurred regarding spinach grown in California, where spinach became tainted with e.coli after being watered with liquid laden with the deadly bacteria contaminated with human waste. The spinach was organic, but grown by a large, commercial farmer. The farm may have been organic, but it was impersonal in its outlook, and had no ties to a community or sense of responsibility to the community like a local farmer. While organic produce is not supposed to be fertilized with human waste, the water was contaminated from an outside source and with no protections to guard against the infection (which could also happen with rainwater, which does not carry human waste, but may be contaminated with other harmful substances) the organic produce quickly became infected.

The spinach scare brings up another issue with organic produce -- some toxins in the environment are deadly, and certain 'unnatural' methods may be required to protect produce against these dangers to consumer health. Protecting crops from certain insects and bacteria with chemicals may be medically and economically necessary, to ensure a steady stream of produce is provided to consumers. While many chemicals are indeed harmful and should be avoided, simply because a substance is 'unnatural' does not automatically make it toxic, nor does the fact that something is 'natural' make it healthy. After all, bacteria and viruses that carry deadly diseases can be natural, and without chemical treatment they may be more difficult to eradicate from organic food. Ideally, organic food should not be exposed to already-existing harmful substances lying in the soil because of regulations as to how the organic farming must take place. But given that it is impossible to eliminate every possible bacterium from the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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