How do you eat more organic food without going crazy trying to find it or going broke buying it? When this compelling question is posed to me on the same day by a woman who produces a newsletter for a Darien environmental group and a sixth-grade student in Bridgeport, I'm inspired.
Consumers' problems range from the difficulty of finding any organic food at all in many stores to the higher cost of some organic foods when they can be found. This isn't surprising because the conventional food system (including supermarkets, convenience stores and chain restaurants) has been created to take advantage of the enormous quantities of cheap food produced by damaging chemical/industrial methods. Fruits and vegetables can be picked unripe in California, Mexico or Chile, sprayed with an assortment of fungicides to prevent rot, and then shipped thousands of miles for sale at rock bottom prices. From what customers at the Farmers Market tell us, this produce is often rock hard and tasteless, until it rots from the inside out.
There are many reasons why people are now choosing organic foods. The most prominent is for health: that is, to avoid residues of the toxic chemicals that are used routinely in producing and shipping most non-organic foods. This seems to be increasingly important to mothers of young children, for those who are working to heal themselves of serious illnesses, and for the elderly (who are less resilient). Many of these people already know that the fats, sugars, refined carbohydrates and synthetic ingredients found today in so many processed foods are probably more damaging to health than pesticide residues are, and have cut back on these, as well. That's good, because searching for organic TwinkiesTM or Happy MealsTM misses the point, although enough advertising could create just such a fad.
The rapid introduction of genetically-modified organisms into the food supply has spurred many to search for certified-organic foods, especially dairy products. This new technology is not allowed in organic production. Studies indicate that many people should eat fewer dairy products, anyway, which can make up for organic dairy's reasonably higher prices.
There are other, more altruistic reasons for eating organic food. Growing demand increases organic farming practices which in turn can protect soil, water, air, animals and farmworkers. This also leads to fewer toxic wastes in places like Connecticut where pesticides are manufactured.
Eating organic food, however, won't necessarily address other negative effects of the American food system, such as enormous energy- and resource-use for processing, packaging and transportation, and its tendency toward very-large-scale enterprises. Lettuce trucked in from California or tomatoes flown in from Holland consume the same transportation and packaging energy and create the same pollution and waste problems whether they are grown using organic or conventional methods. Consuming more locally-grown, seasonal foods and learning to cook with basic ingredients like vegetables, grains and beans is an effective and accessible solution to these problems.
The majority of the world's people live on diets which consist primarily of whole grains and legumes. The complex carbohydrates, fiber, low fat and other nutrients in these foods are widely recognized as being very beneficial to health. Organic grains and beans, in bulk from a health food store or food co-op, are a real nutritional bargain compared to processed and prepared foods.
It's not surprising that in Connecticut, the highest concentration of stores selling organic food is along the "Gold Coast" in Fairfield County. There are, however, organic foods growing abundantly in back yards and community gardens in every town and suburb throughout the state. Growing more of the food that you want to eat is important, even if it is just a jar of sprouts on your kitchen counter.
To protect your health, become familiar with the fruits and vegetables which are most contaminated with pesticides. Peanuts, strawberries, green peppers and melons rank high on this list. Avoid these foods altogether if you can't find organic sources.
There are few consumer choices that can have so many positive effects in so many places. What are your reasons for eating organic food? One good one is: changing the way you eat, can change the world!
For more information, send a self-addressed, stamped envelop to Organic Food, WSHU, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1998 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.