Column: The myths and truths of eating organic food

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organicMaking good food choices is a vital part of living a healthy and eco-friendly lifestyle. When many of us go to the store and purchase foods labeled “organic” or “contains organic ingredients,” we believe the food is better for us, and maybe even better for the environment. This belief caused the organic farming sector to grow faster than any other and be worth $31.5 billion as of 2011, according to an Organic Trade Association survey. Although grabbing the bag with the big “O” on it might make you feel healthy and sustainable, this is not always the case. There are various myths surrounding society’s “organic” food needing to be debunked.

The first misconception relating to organic food is that it is environmentally friendly. Some organic food is indeed better for the environment, but a large amount of it is not much better than food grown normally. Organic food does not use the various pesticides and growth hormones of high yield farming, so in order to combat this, organic farming uses a much larger amount of land for the same amount of food.  According to the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues, modern-day high-yield farming has saved 15 million miles of wildlife habitat. In addition, ten million square miles of forest would be needed for the whole world to switch to solely organic farming. In many cases, organic foods actually create more greenhouse gases during their production. For example, research done by environmental expert Rob Johnston shows organically grown potatoes produce twice as many greenhouse gases during the plowing process.

Another myth about organic food is it tastes better and has higher nutritional value; however, much of organic food has a long shelf life and a fairly long distance to travel, which can cause the food to lose its nutritional value. If you really want the best tasting food with the highest nutritional value, purchase your food locally rather than buying food based off of the “organic” label. Locally grown food has the shortest shelf life and travel time, ensuring the best taste and highest nutritional value. Many also think because a bag of chips, soda or candy is labeled organic, it means it is better for you than the alternative. Unfortunately, fried chips and sugary soda do not fit into a healthy lifestyle, no matter the label.

Thinking purchasing organic food will support small, eco-friendly farms and not large corporations is another falsehood. Some of the biggest organic suppliers are also owned by some of the largest food producing corporations. General Mills owns Cascadian Farms, Kraft owns Back to Nature and Kellogg’s owns Morning Star Farms. These corporations understand the organic movement is a gold mine. Due to the high demand for organic food, these corporations have taken to getting organic food as cheaply as possible, many times importing it from outside of the United States. The CO2 emissions created from this transport nullify any environmental good the organic food is supposed to accomplish. Research on WebMD shows only about 16 percent of the billions of dollars of food sold at Whole Foods are grown locally.

Organic farming is not all a scandal and it does have its benefits. In regards to meat and milk production, it is much more humane. Organic meats also have a much lower risk of containing disease-causing bacteria, have a much smaller carbon footprint if purchased locally and are also getting much easier to purchase and eat. Ultimately, when it comes to food, the key is to eat locally rather than organically. Eating locally strengthens the Flagstaff economy and supports small farms making food in an environmentally friendly way.

With some insight to the myths and facts pertaining to organic food, we are one step closer to becoming the healthy culture may strive to be.



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