NPR recently reported on a new study from Stanford, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine , which found that there is little evidence that organic food is actually better for you than the average pesticide-laden produce you pick up at the grocery store. The specific conclusion of the study is "The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria."
People have different reasons for eating organic. I don't eat organic because it might be more nutritious. I eat it because it is not exposed to pesticides and because organic farming techniques are significantly kinder to the environment and animals than Big Agra-style farming. It also tastes a lot better than produce you get in the grocery store, especially if you buy it from a farmer's market. NPR's article does acknowledge the environmental angle, and also acknowledges that the study in question doesn't look at the longterm or subtler effects that conventional food may have on the body.
Also, the study found that most convential food does not exceed the "allowable limits" of pesticide residue as decreed by the government. Which comforts me not at all, because I don't trust the heavily lobbyist-influenced FDA and USDA to have my best interests at heart. They certainly don't have the best interests of small farmers. The incident linked to smacks of jack-booted thuggery, if you ask me. Toe the company line set by Big Agra or suffer.
But getting back to organics ... is the science behind them, or isn't it? My own admittedly unscientific opinion is that this study is incomplete. I think there are many other factors that come into play, and that the lack of evidence in support of organics' health benefits may simply have to do with them not being sufficiently investigated. Or maybe I'm wrong, and it's just fine to ingest small quantities of bug poison and genetically modified crops, like our government says it is.
The comments section following the NPR article is well worth reading, though. One commenter suggests that when considering this study's validity, we should "follow the money". Stanford, she claims, has received a great deal of money from the Gates Foundation (whose CEO is also on the Stanford Board of Trustees), which in turn has partnered with Monsanto on billion dollar projects.
Organics are big business now, but not all organics are created equal. Sure, you can buy organics at Walmart, cheaper than at Whole Foods! But they come from China and other distant places, where production processes are suspect. There's not much point in eating organic food that has to be shipped in from across the planet. Better to buy local, if you can. It's in season and usually tastes better.
Speaking of which, there's a relatively new small farmer's market in my vicinity. I went there last week with my mom and sister-in-law. My haul included some gorgeous oak leaf lettuce (a new-to-me variety, buttery and tender), Boston lettuce, beautiful organic red bell peppers, sweet potatos, and homemade paranthas from a really nice Indian man who was very appreciative of our business. The paranthas went with me to a party that evening, where they were a HUGE hit.
There were some organics, not as many as I would like; but then I am more likely to buy conventional produce at a farmer's market, after speaking to the farmer about their growing practices. Many haven't taken the steps to be certified organic, which I understand is an expensive and time-consuming process; but they don't use pesticides anyway, or use them minimally. And locally grown food is always more environmentally friendly.
And while we're chatting about the health benefits and safety of certain types of food, a couple of weeks ago I heard a very interesting report, also on NPR, about expired food. Apparently, there are auctions of it, and you can get cases of expired but still edible food for a fraction of the original cost. Of course, this is mostly the typical highly processed stuff you find in inner aisles of the average American grocery store, but if you've gotta get your Cheeto fix and you're not worried about the expiration date, this might be the way to go.
I found it quite informative because like most people, I didn't realize that the so-called expiration dates are not legally required (except for baby formula) and that they are more or less a marketing tool. I confess that I have been known to eat expired food. In the comments section following the NPR article, there's a remark by a chef and former dairy processor who says, "The rule of thumb that I have always lived by, in good health, is: If you aren't sure whether it is bad, eat it; rotten food is obviously rotten... Please believe me, you will not mistake the taste or smell of rotten food."
Huffpost also has an interesting little article on how long past the sell-by date it's safe to eat certain foods. And here's a whole website devoted to the question of whether you can safely eat your expired can of tuna without inspiring a lengthy worship session at the Church of the Porcelein God.
Bottom line: like anything else, you have to educate yourself about food and nutrition. That includes where your food is coming from. The most recent study is something to keep an eye on, but ultimately it doesn't change my mind. I'll keep eating organic.