Have Organic and Eat it Too


The expression “to have one’s cake and eat it too” has always struck me as strange. It is, essentially, the act of consuming a resource and then attempting to further benefit from it after the fact. But if we deconstruct the actual words of the expression, it is a completely incomprehensible word salad. In the context of the sentence “to have” and “eat” are equivalent, so having and eating are both happening in the first half of the expression. The last part is redundant. I’m not deliberately trying to be obtuse here. I understand what the expression means idiomatically. I just think it’s a stupid expression.

What I want to talk about is organic food, using eggs as an example. I happen to work at a natural foods grocery co-op (maybe sometime I’ll get into my take on cooperativism). Some people call us a health-food store, which has certain negative connotations for certain types of people. I prefer to call it a grocery store because that’s what we sell. In fact, a pretty large selection of our product is not even healthy. Candy and potato chips (organic or not) are probably not to be consumed without restriction because you’re still going to get diabetes.

A few days ago, Science Daily ran this story. The article poses the question of whether or not organic food is really worth the cost, which is often double or more than the cost of conventionally produced food. The question is whether purchasing and consuming organic food is equivalent to having your cake and eating it too. Are you really getting health benefits that justify the cost of admission?

The article does little except ask the question. The dietitian quoted in the article is most likely right in the assertion that actually consuming fresh fruit and vegetables (organic or not) is preferable to not consuming them at all. Obviously. She also points out that there is little scientific evidence that pesticides are harmful, or that organic produce is more nutritious. Though, I suspect that there might be a suppression of evidence fallacy committed here. I have read numerous articles touting the higher nutrition value of organic food versus conventional foods.

Admittedly, the evidence is often shaky. Studies have been conducted, though there is suspicion of bias.

So, here’s my take on organic food, nutrition value aside. For the record, I consume a fair amount of both. I shop at my co-op (since I work there, it’s sort of unavoidable) and I shop at the local conventional grocery store (and also for the record, our organic produce is about fifty percent the cost, on average, of theirs).

One: Organic food tastes way better. There’s simply no comparison, especially in terms of animal products like eggs, milk, and meats. Organic, local milk is far superior to the watery lactose-juice that gets peddled at the local store. Some people think it tastes “funny” but if you start drinking it, you’ll grow to like it, and then the conventional milk will start to taste funny. Eggs are the prime example. And here, it’s not even organic that makes the difference. Free range is far more important than organic. Free range eggs have richer yolks, are more flavorful, and according to at least one study, contain half the bad cholesterol and double the good proteins and other nutrients. Whether it’s true or not, the taste justifies the cost.

Two: It’s better for the environment. A recent study showed that farms that grow organic produce had a dramatically decreased impact on soil degradation than conventional methods. And this is the clincher because, as hippy-ish as it sounds, this is the only planet that we have, and we’re going to be in a whole crap-ton of trouble in a decade or so if we keep doing things the way we are now. I’m not trying to be on a soap box or anything. Far be it from me to care about anything other than my own personal well-being, but the fact remains, these problems are imminent and might actually affect those golden years that I’d rather spend building model airplanes and blogging than dead or worse–scavenging in a post-apocalyptic world for fifty-year-old canned goods with no labels.

Now, there are other things to consider here. What is considered “conventional” in production standards was revolutionary not so long ago. The use of pesticides and herbicides dramatically increased the food supply and may or may not be responsible for the current level of comfort that Americans enjoy. We could suddenly produce food in vast quantities cheaply. Great. The long-term costs are up for debate, however. Large scale irrigation is not sustainable. Aquifers will run out of water and then where will we be? The long term health effects of pesticides and herbicides are also not known regardless of whether the foods themselves are less nutritious. Regardless, you should probably wash all produce before consuming it.

What about genetically modified food products? Anything genetically modified is automatically considered non-organic (no matter what other methods are employed in its production). Honestly, I don’t see what the big deal is. Genetic modification is something we’ve been doing for years. We’ve been putting selective pressures on all sorts of crops and food producing plants and animals for thousands of years. So much so that very few of them would survive as species without humans around. Have you ever heard of Ray Comfort? He’s this guy that uses the banana as proof of god’s existence. The problem is, for thousands of years, the banana has been undergoing forced evolution. It has been domesticated over thousands of years. Wild bananas? Not the most edible food in the world. They are ugly and look nothing like the fruit that we buy by the bunches at the grocery store.

Until someone can show differently, I don’t see any reason why adding salmon DNA to tomatoes in an effort to make them resistant to frost is somehow a bad idea. Most people that object to it have a faulty understanding of how genes and DNA work. Genes merely code for proteins. It doesn’t make the tomato taste fishy, it just makes it hardier. It’s not an exact science at this point, but I give full support to any endeavor to design foods using genetic modification. I would also like to see those foods produced without using pesticides and herbicides, but you remember what we said earlier about cake.

The bottom line here is that we can afford what we want to afford. Almost all of the families that buy their groceries exclusively at my co-op are not wealthy at all. They have merely made a lifestyle choice that I would imagine affects their health. On the one hand, their food is fresher. The fact that they buy organic food means that they are cooking most their own food and are more aware of what they are ingesting (fewer preservatives, etc). It’s a tradeoff. They probably don’t have as many other creature comforts. I mean, the simple act of cutting out cable TV frees up plenty of cash every month and would more than make up for it, increasing your well-being by forcing you to find better things to do with your time.

It’s about choices. Are you going to have your cake? Or eat it? Or…whatever.

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