Thursday, February 25, 2010

repetition is not the same as an argument

I do not eat organic food.

It's not that I categorically oppose spending $2 for red peppers. I already spend a significant amount of money on food, and it's not that I would stop buying or eating produce if I suddenly had to pay the organic price.

It's also not that I think organic food is any worse than normal produce. Actually, I can't tell the difference between organic and non-organic produce; I'd be willing to bet that none of you could tell the difference either.

My problem with organic food is that it's a political distinction which masquerades as a health distinction.

Let me be clear: organic food is not healthier than non-organic food. Scientific studies have confirmed this fact. If any of you doubt this, or have evidence to the contrary, please let me know and we can discuss it further.

What I have found, however, is that all sorts of people--journalists, hippies, and even scientists--will acknowledge that organic produce is no healthier than regular produce when pressed with the facts, yet continue to use the use the word as an equivalent for "fresh" or "raw" produce.

In a documentary I just watched, the film makers were trying to offer solutions to America's unhealthy lifestyles. One of their solutions is that schools should stop selling cheese fries and coke for lunches, and start offering real food alternatives, including lower-fat, higher-nutrition meals made with fruits and vegetables. I am personally a HUGE fan of such proposals.

The crime that this documentary film made, however, is one that I see being made increasingly more by careless people: the program's chef stressed the fact that he only feeds the kids organic foods, yet he ignored the more salient facts of his diet. While I do not take issue with this chef's political passion for sustainable farming methods, local foods, or a pesticide-free world, why did he have to muddy the waters of the argument by bringing in something completely tangential to the point? The kids in his program are not healthier or happier because they are eating organic produce instead of conventionally-grown produce, they are healthier because they are eating low-fat, low-cholesterol diets with sufficient vitamins and fiber instead of Twinkies.

I'm not sure whether this mistake is being made on purpose, a calculated effort to instill an unproven fact into the minds of uncritical listeners, or whether it's simply well-meaning, yet ultimately negligent act.

Whatever the answer to that question, the fact remains that the filmmakers are doing more harm than good to their stated goal. Some schools will be dissuaded from implementing healthier school lunches because they're unable to afford the jacked-up organic prices, and don't realize that conventional produce is JUST AS GOOD. Someday Little Debby will come out with organic Creme Pies. Some poor sod will eat even more of them because he thinks that they're healthier for being made with organic sugar.

Mostly I'm just annoyed that the repetition of a lie somehow replaces arguments or proof for something.


Jim/Blog said...

agreed. Also, I'm glad to hear about Killer At Large. I was just reading about that film because of some of the other stuff one of the filmmakers had done, and I wondered if it was any good.

direfloyd said...

Amen. I've heard that Michigan law only requires the 20 foot outer edge of the field not use pesticides for the entire field to be called organic. I can't find documentation of that at the moment though.

daine said...

I too have heard that shenanigans abound with farmers producing essentially normal produce, but being able to sell it as organic (for twice as much).

Regardless of these stories and loopholes, however, the fact remains that, even when perfectly done, singing bedtime stories and not using any chemicals on food does not actually make that food healthier. It might be better for the planet (something that should be left for another debate), but it won't make you any healthier than a conventionally grown, GMO-using, round-up-ready crop. Anyone who claims otherwise better be ready to defend their claim. Otherwise they're just lying.

Petra said...

Oh, oh, I fully agree. Have you read Michael Pollan? He's got some great stats on what a farmer has to do to be counted as organic--almost nothing, in some cases. (Same with "free-range" meats.) I try to buy local, when I can, but in general I'd way rather non-organic foods from my local independent supermarket than anything organic from Whole Foods. And, frankly, if pressed, I'd rather buy non-organic from Safeway than anything organic, because the pretention and falsehoods around that movement just plain bug me.

(Of course, when the food really does taste better, I'm not so opposed to the label that I'll avoid it.)

Rosiecat said...

Daine, I agree with the crux of your argument about the importance of eating real food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. I'll take a non-organic salad over an organic twinkie any day.

But I'm not ready to agree with you that organic food is the same as non-organic food. I need to see the data myself--can you provide some links? What primary sources have convinced you that organic foods offer nothing of health value? I suspect that the reason the organic movement is very strong is philosophical: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. What parameters are being used to define "healthiness?" That's such a broad, vague term that the research needed to back it up must be quite extensive, and in some cases, I'm not even sure a good study could be done.

I'm not going to lie: I am afraid of what eating pesticides is going to do to my body 20, 30, 40 years down the road. Breast cancer rates in women have been rising for years, but nobody knows why. Could pesticides be a cause? Sure, and so could a thousand other things. So I don't know--but I have to eat dinner tonight. I know that fear makes people do ridiculous things, and if eating organic food is the "ridiculous thing" that I do, then so be it.

daine said...

For those of you who are wondering about my sources, I am taking as my primary source the much-publicized review of literature published last year by the Food Standards Agency and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: