Once considered a boutique food item, organic food is now a staple not only on the shelves of most American supermarkets, but also in the average American kitchen.
The widespread assumption amongst consumers is that organic foods are healthier than those conventionally grown. Although if pressed, many might be unable to define the actual, long-term impact this type of eating has on health and lifespan. One immediate, clear impact needing no definition is that of organic food on the American pocketbook; less pesticide on our food equals less money in our wallets.
On average, organically grown produce costs between 20-100 percent more than non-organic produce. Red leaf lettuce at $2.12 a head instead of $1.57 may not sound like much, but those nickels and dimes add up quickly. Ironically, the trend towards organic, sustainable food production may be economically unsustainable for many families in today’s less than robust economy. Is this pain at the register worth it? Or are there other options, better suited to both budget and health?
The inconclusive scientific studies
It should be simple. You want to buy food that is healthy and safe for your family without murdering your bottom line. Many people feel guilty about avoiding organic food because of cost, yet the evidence supporting the benefits of pesticide-free food is not clear.
Multiple studies indicate that no health benefits are associated with organic food, yet others conversely extoll its virtues. A meta-analysis of multiple studies done at Stanford University reported there is little nutritional difference between organic foods and their conventional counterparts, although acknowledged that pesticide levels were higher in foods grown via conventional means.
At the end of the day, no study can claim conclusive evidence about either the pros or cons of going organic, which is not great news for the average consumer who simply wants to eat a salad in peace without cowtowing to either side’s ideology.
Peel your way to health
Contradictory evidence aside, several non-disputed earmarks of organic food production, such as less pesticide residue on produce, pollution reduction for the planet and more humane livestock conditions, may be positives worth the added expense for you and your family.
Scientific studies may be contradictory, but common sense rarely is; if eating pesticide-free food is important to you, but so is paying the rent, consider buying some organic foods yet purchasing other foods grown via conventional means as well. This middle-of-the-road approach may be more than just a financial balancing act.
According to non-profit, pro-organic Environmental Working Group, you need not go organic when buying foods with peels you remove prior to eating, like pineapples, oranges, onions, corn and bananas. The organization suggests splurging instead on produce such as organic lettuce, apples, bell peppers and strawberries, which more readily absorb pesticides which can’t be removed with washing.
If hormones and antibiotics in chicken leave a bad taste in your mouth, you may also wish to opt for free-range fowl and organic, cage-free eggs. Another viable bang for the buck is organic milk, which is typically higher in omega-3 fatty acids than regular milk.
The bigger picture in health
Going organic may or may not be the answer, but no matter how they’re grown, most people simply do not eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.
Currently, a number of affordable, fast food restaurant chains are addressing this concern with surprisingly positive results. There are multiple veggie-based alternatives to the all-American burger and consumers are beginning to extoll the taste, as well as health benefits, of foods made with veggie protein and other high-quality, vegetarian ingredients. While it’s unlikely that Veggie Grill will supplant McDonald’s anytime soon, a slight, yet significant shift towards a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables seems to be making its way throughout the country, albeit slowly. This is very good news, as multiple, long-term studies clearly indicate the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables.
Food movements may come and go, but few things in life seem to elicit as much reaction in us as our food supply does. The quest for affordable, organically grown food or readily available, cruelty-free livestock are more than just hot-button issues, they are also powerful motivators influencing our buying habits and the economy.
No matter which studies you choose to agree with, the one thing you can be sure of is the foods you choose can affect your health. Unless the day comes when a specific food trend is unilaterally heralded as the only true path to health, it may simply make sense to take a common sense approach with you on your next trip to the supermarket.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.