Monday, July 28, 2008

Big Organic

After the sustainability-nutrition program I put together for Pow back in the spring, I feel like I still have some justice to do on the topic of organic foods. So here I'll put together a list of pro's and con's based on some of Michael Pollan's wisdom.

The organic food industry is precisely that: an industry. And with an industry in America, it was virtually impossible for for the idealistic philosophical values originally instilled in the term "organic" to be saved. And even though the USDA finally agreed to put forth guidelines that organic gurus could live with, they are still not the best, and certainly not what many people envision when they think of "organic." Factory farms can be organic, which means the animals are still cooped up indoors, being fed "organic feed," except might have a small door that leads to a narrow patch of grass that they can access for the last 2 out of 8 weeks they are given to live. And the animals that are allowed outside, such as cows, are fed grains in a "dry lot - a grassless fenced enclosure," instead of being allowed to graze on grass (the natural way).
Pollan brings to light quite a few seemingly oxymoronic phrases, such as "processed organic food." Yet it exists, food additives and synthetic chemicals and all. Essentially, the USDA found it easier to accept a list proposed by the growers themselves as standards than to do the legwork on its own and come up with more wholesome standards. And new studies are emerging linking pesticides (especially the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos - currently used on corn, soy, wheat, and many fruits and vegetables - to ADHD, obesity, diabetes, and learning disorders.

In addition, since most organic crops in this country are mass produced in the same way as their conventional counterparts, they are grown in monoclones, while historically varying up the fields with diverse crops is better for the soil. Growing the crops on such a large scale also depletes the soil of nitrogen, which means more nitrogen has to be added to the plants later (as opposed to smaller farms, where nitrogen-fixing bacteria take care of the problem). And the heavy tillage (done by migrant workers, no doubt) required of organic fields (to get rid of weeds the old-fashioned way, instead of chemicals) reduces the biological capacity of the soil "as surely as chemicals would."

In many respects, organic farming is still better for the environment and people's health than conventional means. Thousands of acres of farmland have been converted to organic farms within the last decade or two, which has eliminated hundreds of thousands of pounds of pesticides and petrochemical fertilizers. Earthbound, one of (if not) the biggest organic company, even uses biodiesel fuel (which is of questionable benefit). So undoubtedly, as organic farmer and founder of Cascadian Farm Gene Kahn argues, "Big Organic" (industrialized organic) is a better alternative - "Big Organic" is more effective than "Little Organic" (small farms) would be at converting the US's dependence away from the industrial food market (using leftover military weapon chemicals on our food).

As for nutritional quality, the USDA contends that "all carrots are created equal" and does not do a significant amount of research to determine if organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally grown produce. But a study done at UC Davis (J. Agric. Food. Chem. vol. 51 no. 5, 2003) found that organically grown produce had more vitamin C and polyphenols. This may be because plants grown organically have to work harder to defend themselves against pests and so need to produce these substances (which also happen to be good for humans), while plants grown with chemicals are given substances to protect themselves (which happen to be harmful to us) and so don't need to produce the polyphenols.
Even so, it still depends on the soil the crops are grown in - plants grown in soils with more nutrients will have more nutrients in them. And another thing - organic plants may have more flavor ("since they're not pumped up on synthetic nitrogen, the cells of these slower-growing leaves develop thicker walls and take up less water," and less water means more sugar and more concentrated flavors).

With that said, I think organic foods are a better alternative to conventional, but still not ideal. They are a good way to support the growth of organic farms in relation to conventional farms, but if you want true organic foods (with less food mileage, consuming less fossil fuel energy), I recommend going to a nearby farmer's market or growing them yourself (it's becoming more popular - see here: Small farms are more productive than big farms, anyway, in terms of the amount of food produced per acre.

Here's some more information about conventionally grown produce:
(Another option is to use a product such as Veggie Wash,

Highest in pesticide residue:
Peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes (imported), spinach, lettuce, potatoes

Lowest in pesticide residue:
Papayas, broccoli, cabbage, bananas, kiwi, sweet peas (frozen), asparagus, mangoes, pineapple, sweet corn (frozen), avocados, onions
(Source: Today's Dietitian, April 2008)

Here are some more websites to check out:
Scientific Findings About Organic Agriculture:
Where do your fresh fruits and vegetables come from?
More studies:

Earth's Health, Our Health

Today I picked up reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, where Michael Pollan's good points and tidbits of information never cease to capture my attention. I blogged on this earlier when I talked about how corn is taking over the world, but today I'll tell you about People's Park. People's Park in California is what is left of the original 60's grassroots attempt to bring farming back to its natural state. The organic food they grow is sold to Whole Foods in Berkeley - but these aren't the farmers' pictures you see on the walls of Whole Foods touting how great their product is (sorry, Pollan's style rubs off on me). Anyway if it were up to me, we could make places like People's Park into a farmer's market and this would be the norm throughout the country - subsistence farming and locally grown foods - instead of the mass industrialized supermarket. But then, this is America, and I've always been one to love the way people lived thousands of years ago and think that's the way humans were meant to live, far superior to the industrialized society we've become. I wouldn't mind reading Sir Albert Howard's An Agricultural Testamant, though, and figuring out from the expert how to compost my food scraps. There is something instinctively right about the idea of the health of the soil being linked to the health of all the creatures that depend on it - an idea that was once discussed by Plato and Thomas Jefferson.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan sheds so much light on the problems of the food industry, how it has come to allow corn to dominate us, and how food should be grown & sold. This movie also looks like it has some great information, when it comes out: What's Organic About Organic? It was developed by Shelley Rogers, a recent graduate of NYU's MPH program.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bigger than yourself, and as small as a smile

I read these articles today, sent from my newly set-up email alerts from World Hunger Year:

Hunger Crisis Through the Lens of Haiti: The last paragraph was particularly helpful: " was concluded that the short term goal is to send food to Haiti and the long term goal is assist them in gaining sustainability through the input of an agricultural initiative."

National Farm Worker Ministry Supports Those Who Work in the Field:

Why do I try so hard, dedicating my life to researching things like this, you ask? Perhaps a good friend of mine - who runs hundreds of miles to raise money to help AIDS- and poverty-stricken children in South Africa after going over there and seeing the children with his own eyes - says it best: it's "due to the mental and spiritual drive placed in your mind and on your heart due to the irreversible impact of something bigger than yourself and something as small as a smile."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Solving world hunger, one website at a time

Just found a whole sleuth of nutrition and hunger-related organizations both for NYC and worldwide. Here are some links:, especially
One of the links on this page brought me to - and a particularly good blog,
I just scratched the surface looking up these websites; I have much more to learn.

Here's a good list from the s'Cool Food organization out in Santa Barbara, CA:

And while I'm at it, go to and and set one (or both) of them as your web broswer - it's a simple way to make a difference.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

10 Things to Recycle that You Never Thought You Could:

My mom asked me the other day to look up a natural pesticide for basil. I found this. It should work as a "bug spray" for any herb and is a great cheap alternative to chemicals that harm the environment.

1 1/2 tbs detergent (such as Palmolive)
2 tbs Salt
1 Cup white vinegar
2 gal water

As I figured out when planning Alpha Lambda Delta's World Health Day event at UD in the spring, Climate Change and Global Health go hand in hand. Check out the article here:

Oxfam America is also doing a lot to help decrease the effects of climate change - read about it & sign the petition here:

Also check out this article which I posted on facebook a few weeks ago: Biofuel Use 'Increasing Poverty':

In light of the book I'm reading, The Omnivore's Dilemma and all it says about how we have an extrodinary surplus of biomass from corn in this country (and it takes petroleum to grow the corn in the first place), I know burning corn is just another way to try and use up the surplus of corn in the country. The logical answer would be to not use fuel-derived corn as fuel, but to make less corn in the first place. The other way they are trying to get rid of corn - feeding it to cattle - is another black hole of fuel... John Robbins' The Food Revolution talks about this as well. The best answer to curbing the problem of high gas prices and global warming is to switch to clean energy - i.e. wind and solar power. New Jersey has a good new clean energy program, You can help Environment America lobby Congress to pass green energy bills by checking out their webpage and signing up to get email alerts here:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating

I always come across interesting articles, look at them once, and then usually forget about them & don't pass them on. So I'm starting this blog as a sort of "database" of interesting, wholesome articles that I come across. Read at your own peril: if you follow some of the advice, it just might make you healthier! :)

Here's an article to start with: "The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating" in the NYTimes: