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Why is Going Organic Worthwhile?

by Patrizia Marani

 Organic farming with cock

How the loss of vital nutrients in conventionally farmed foods affects our health. Why the higher cost of organic food is more imagined than real, and finally, how to save money and still eat organic.

According to Paul Hepperly of the Rodale Institute, organic and biodynamic farming are already technically able to match the yield of conventional farming, but numerous farmers fear that by increasing the harvest volume, they may lose the advantage they have over conventional products in terms of quality. This is a fear that, as we've already seen, is justified and supported by scientific data. The higher yield obtained by traditional farming has translated into a substantial loss of nutritional value of the final food products.

LESS NUTRIENTS = LESS HEALTH

The loss of the nourishing quality of conventional food products that has been documented in the previous articles can result in two things:
- an increase in food consumption to obtain the necessary micronutrients with consequences in terms of unnecessary weight gain or
- in dangerous nutritional deficiencies.

More than three billion people in the world are malnourished, e.g. they lack nutritious elements and vitamins in their diet (Welch and Graham, 2004). It is a paradox that in developed countries about half of the population, according to a study by the FAO, is overweight or obese and, at the same time, ill-nourished. On the basis of these data, Bruce Amis, a biochemical scientist at Berkley University, has developed an intriguing hypothesis on the increase of obesity: "If the body hungers for critical nutritious elements, it will push you to eat in the hope of obtaining them. The more we consume low quality food, the more we desire to eat, a quest of the missing nourishing elements that is at one time senseless for us, but highly profitable for the industry".

According to Amis, minimal deficiencies of micronutrients, far from the serious levels of deficiencies that provoke illness, can nonetheless damage DNA. By studying human cells in the lab, he discovered that deficiencies in vitamins C, E, B12, B6, niacin, folic acid, iron or zinc appear to replicate the effect of radiations, causing rupture in the DNA helix or oxidation lesions which precede the development of oncological diseases. According to his calculations, about half of the American population could be deficient in at least one of these micronutrients, with extremely serious health consequences.

yellow and black tomatoesWHY ORGANIC ONLY “SEEMS” TO COST MORE

Hepperly believes the danger of losing quality if the yields of organic farming grow will be warded off. The quality of the products will not be lost if the farmers continue to increase the cultivated ground surface while keeping the soil well-balanced and rich in organic substances. As we've seen, the nourishing richness of a food product directly reflects that of the soil in which it grows. The biological activity present in a healthy soil, which generates a slow breakdown of the organic material, releases a host of nutritious elements, which the long roots of organically and biodynamically grown plants will absorb avidly.

SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL More nutritious elements in the soil translates into more aromatic, tasty and colorful vegetables that are, however, varied in shape and generally smaller in size because of the slower growth, due to a slower assimilation of nutrition from the soil. Moreover, organic food products may have marks, testifying the struggles with worms and other natural elements, but those very marks symbolize the absence of toxic synthetic pesticides. These characteristics make the products less attractive in the eyes of the everyday consumer but in fact, that small piece of fruit, more dense and rich in precious nutritious elements, gives us so much more in terms of quality per every calorie consumed.

Generally speaking, having a 10-15 percent lower yield, together with higher quality, longer production time, fending off plant pests with burdensome mechanical and manual interventions, high certification costs, higher distribution costs (since the market is still small), all translate into apparently higher costs for organic and biodynamic foods.

BUT WHY IS THE HIGHER COST MORE IMAGINED THAN REAL?

First of all, because we are buying more nutrition per calorie produced by the food product: a "satisfied" metabolism, thanks to the higher nourishing capacity and higher integrity of the organic food, will satiate earlier, and remain so for a longer period of time. As a result, you will eat less, but feel full beforehand and for longer, a sure recipe to keep yourself thin and in good health. This reduces the quantity of food you will consume and BUY. At the end of the day, we'll have saved money on the purchase of food! And we also NEED to eat less to keep fit and healthy, as we're generally overeating.

All this, as the absence of toxic chemicals, translates into psycho-physical well-being and savings on medical expenses and treatments. Quality food is a  MUST for good health, and we should learn to invest more in it, and less in unnecessary purchases.

Moreover, good nutritious food whose price reflects its quality is a good incentive not to overeat and not to waste, as we learn to give the right value to food. 

Lastly, it is important to add to the price of conventional food the costs due to the destruction of the environment, perpetrated by industrial farming: consumption of enormous quantities of water, contamination of the bodies of water, rivers, and lakes; expensive treatments to make water drinkable again; damages to land and sea life; and the ever greater burden of disease due to exposure to environmental contamination. 
Tallying up all the above issues makes one realize how consuming organic products is truly inexpensive.

HOW CAN WE SAVE MONEY AND STILL EAT ORGANIC?small vegetable plot

EAT LOCAL AND IN SEASON The amount of choice in organic products can be a bit more limited compared to that of conventional farming products. This is because organic farming is based on methods which do not use artificial means and can bring to the market mostly products which are in season and as local as possible. Exotic products that come from abroad have a big environmental impact in terms of the fossil fuel needed to transport the products from distant parts of the world. It is more expensive and of low quality, since to avoid its decay it has been heavily treated. The imported product will also be scarcely nutritious as it has been most likely picked when it was still unripe (ripeness equals nutritious quality). Finally, by the time the avocado or mango that has been picked thousands of chilometres away reaches your plate, it will have lost most of its nutrition as the decaying process starts as soon as the vegetable or fruit is picked from the soil or tree. 

BE AN ACTIVIST, GET MORE PEOPLE TO EAT ORGANIC TO CUT DOWN THE DISTRIBUTION COSTS If many of us choose to eat organic, the costs of distribution that now weigh heavily on these products will decrease, making them much more accessible for everyone's wallet.

GET TO KNOW WHO GROWS YOUR FOOD A shorter production chain (from producer to consumer) can reduce the prices of organic/biodynamic foods. You can buy directly from the organic farmers by going to farmer's markets or by participating in an ethical purchasing group, i.e. families that get together and, powered by their number, collectively buy products directly from the farmer at low prices. Such a system is advantageous for both farmers, who are able to earn more from their work, and for consumers that spend less for high-quality food.

WHO SHOULD ABSOLUTELY EAT ORGANIC FOOD? 

CHILDREN Organic products are a necessity for children who are the ones that suffer the most damages from ingesting pesticides, preservatives and food additives. This is due to their lower body mass which allows a higher concentration of these toxic substances and to their still developing organ and bodily systems that are more vulnerable than an adult’s organs. The blood-brain barrier in a child is, for example, more permeable to toxic synthetic substances than in adults. Tests have detected much lower levels of pesticides in children that are fed organic foods. Organic food, because of its nourishing characteristics, represents a perfect ally for raising healthy, robust and allergy-free children.

PEOPLE THAT SUFFER FROM ALLERGIES The number of allergies are constantly increasing in the western world. For many allergies, while the triggering agents are known, the causes are not. Recent scientific research is highlighting the role of the immune system in defending against attacks from toxic substances that are foreign to the body. The main suspects are the chemicals used in agriculture and farming, as well as the deficiencies caused the diminished quality of the food we are consuming. Therefore, for people with allergies eating organic can be a very valid way of protecting oneself and preventing worse diseases, as well as a way of preventing allergies for those who have not yet developed them.

Finally, by buying organic products, everyone contributes to the health of the ecosystem in two ways: by favoring the economic development of this sector, making the costs go down, and by awarding and supporting people who are dedicated to a productive activity that has a social impact as it promotes the well-being of all of us as well as of the environment.

TO BE CONTINUED: 

THE THIRD ARTICLE IN THE SERIES: Is Organic Really Better? Brian Halweil of the Worldwatch Institute has compared the quality of products from current conventional farming with the quality of food produced in the 40s and 50s, and that of current organic foodstuffs. And here is what he has discovered.

THE FIRST ARTICLE IN THE SERIES: The Price of not Eating Organic: pay the farmer now or the doctor later

SOURCES:

Still no Free Lunch, Brian Halweil, The Organic Center

Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food, Jo Robinson, The New York Times

Hortscience, Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What Is the Evidence? Donald R. Davis, HortScience February 2009 44:15-19

XI° Rapporto nazionale sulle politiche della cronicita', A cura di Tonino Aceti, Maria Teresa Bressi.

Annals of Internal Medicine 4 September 2012 Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review, Crystal Smith-Spangler et al.

In defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Against the Grain. How Agriculture has Hyjacked Civilization, Richard Manning