By Ryan Nau
With health new crazes rising everywhere we look, and health conscious people counting calories and throwing away microwaves many people have wondered what are the best and healthiest foods to eat. There is this sense when we say “organic” we instantly think maybe: free range, freshness, healthier. Through this paper I plan to show the health benefits behind organically grown food and to provide an understanding of what the term organic truly means.
Have you ever been to the grocery store and gone through the usual motions only to be pulled out of it by the increased price in that tomato in your hand, but then you realized that you have stumbled into the organic section of the store and go back to where the regular produce is. As you held something labeled “organic” did you take a moment to think why it was more expensive, did physically compare it to just a regular tomato? Probably not, meaning you are like most people who go to the store knowing what they want and already spend enough money without buying anything organic. But for the people who do buy something labeled organic, did you ever consider the same thing: why is this more expensive? If you did, you probably thought it was because it had more nutrients in it than an ordinary tomato or you thought it might taste better because it might be fresher. It is these ideas that are implanted in our mind without any facts that determines who will buy and on the contrary will not buy organic food. (Williams)
To get a good idea of what organic food is we can say it is: crops produced without the use of man-made pesticides, fertilizers, or growth additives (genetically grown). The main concept behind organic food is that it relies on the sole use of all natural products. For a produce item to labeled as organic it must exclude the use of any man-made fertilizers and implore only the use of naturally occurring fertilizers, which is why organic farmers use only naturally found manurers.
In a case study conducted in Vermont in 2003 that surveyed 2000 people on their purchases of organic apples and milk it was found that from the 519 samples that were returned the average amount of money spent on organic food monthly is $72.7. This amount is 20% of their total amount of money that these participants spent on groceries per month. Price was not important to those in Vermont who bought the organic food, it was more about where the food was grown, ie locally. The study also showed that based on the surveys filled out the demographic that was most likely to buy organic food were younger people. 56.9% of those in Vermont purchased organic food in 2001 and on a larger scale 33.3% of people in the U.S. purchased organic food in 2001. (Wang)
According to e-Business Watch, Aarstiderne is a company located in Denmark that provides organic food to about 35,000 consumers via online transactions. The company started in 1999 and directly delivers organically grown products to their customers’ home. The invention of this idea has gotten people in Denmark more interested in where their food comes from, where it has been, and what it has gone through. (e-Business)
The Vermont and Denmark studies show that people are beginning to care more about where their food comes from. People want locally prepared meats and grown vegetables because there is less of a need for those items to have preservatives added to them. There is also this push to give a little more freedom to the animals. Many farms are now switching from the usual way of housing chickens, in small cages in a chicken coop, to now allowing them to somewhat roam free in a term called “free range.” Joel Salatin is one of the farmers who is on the forefront of this organic revolution. He has coined a new term that he refers to as “pastured poultry” which is a method that gives chickens even more room to venture about. He allows them to live their whole lives completely in a large open field. Salatin also refuses to ship is meats hours away because wants his products to retain that freshness. (Salatin) Though there is no real greater nutritional value in eating meat a day old or a week old, people like this idea that what they are eating is fresh and hasn’t been lying around in a freezer for weeks.
In 1988 several farmers formed a group that eventually grew into the food provider Organic Valley which is now the largest distributor of organically grown food in the U.S. with 1300 farmers in 30 states and occupy 10% of all the organic farms in the U.S. On average the company makes about 500 million of gross sales. This rise of Organic Valley is due to the increased demand for organic food with the significant growth mainly starting in 2000. (Mid-scale food value chains case study: Organic Valley)
Now that I’ve examined this idea of what makes our food organic, let us move onto the data that compares organic food with conventionally grown produce. What we know so far is that organic produce has the lack of pesticides used on them while maturing. However, most of us tend to was all our produce, organic or not, before consuming it cooking with it. Though through experiments it has been proven that produce that has been exposed to pesticides and is rinsed washes away any remaining chemicals on it. This means that at the time that we eat either organic food or conventionally grown produce we are not exposing our body to any type of chemicals. (Novella)
Many times I know I have gone to the store and seen strawberries the size of oranges and stopped to think just what kind of scientific mutation were those farmers doing to their produce. It just does not seem natural to see something that is twice the size we usually see it when we see it growing naturally. Though we think these extra large strawberries must be unnatural they actual are not as alien as we first might think. I can explain this through the evolution of corn. Corn was originally domesticated over 10,000 years ago and started out as a grass known as teosinte. Now if we think of our modern day corn we easily see it has over a hundred kernels, but naturally growing teosinte had less than ten. Over time teosinte was crossed with other grasses and naturally the plant started to become a hybrid of the two getting larger and larger until we achieved the plant we have today. (“Evolution of Corn”) This was all done before a time of stem cell research and micro biology fusions. So though we chose to alter the crops we never touched anything on the DNA level we just allowed nature to take its course with a little push in the direction we wanted it to go. Organic food is generally smaller because it does not implore the use of genetic modifiers and so if nutrition was based on the concentration of it in the produce then organic food would have more. However with this lack of pesticides and chemical fertilizers it brings up the thought that these products are more susceptible to being contaminated by microorganisms and cause people to contract certain diseases. (Novella)
A collection of studies conducted from 1924 -1994 showed that in potatoes there was found to be 50% less levels of vitamin C in conventionally grown potatoes. Though in vitamins A and B there was a large similar amount in both organic food and conventionally grown produce. However this was not always consistent with every potato that was a part of the study. Only a percentage of them actually contained higher vitamin C values. (Williams)
The table below shows the results of 34 independent studies conducted to compare the levels of certain vitamins and minerals in organic food compared to conventionally grown food. Some of values make more sense than others. Though with the studies conducted it looks like some of the results are contradicting. If we look at Calcium (Ca) there were 21 studies that reported that organic food had a greater percentage compared to conventionally grown food, but in 20 other studies there was no difference. (Williams)
Table 2 below shows the results of a compilation of studies from 1926 to 1992 where rats and rabbits were fed organic feed. Again we see a contradiction in the data. Looking at the rodents in 1926 and 1930 there was reportedly a great amount of weight gain but in in 1977 and 1987 there is the exact opposite. However there must have been some sort of change of what was in the organic food between the decades in-between the two considering they are polar opposites. With rabbits the data seems to make coherent sense and remains mostly consistent. (Williams)
After all that we have seen it is hard to say for certain that there is a benefit to spending that extra buck at the store to get those organic tomatoes. The data is very limited because this whole craze for organic food is relatively new, but I can imagine that within the next ten to twenty years that will be a significantly larger library of data on organic food. So if you were looking to loose weight, eat healthier, or increase that flavor organic food may not be the way to go just yet, but hopefully next time you go into a grocery store you take a moment to examine the organic food and just visually see if you can tell a difference between what is conventionally grown and what is organic.
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“Evolution of Corn.” Learn Genetics. University of Utah, n.d. Web. 1 May 2013. <http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/variation/corn/>.
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“Mid-scale food value chains case study: Organic Valley.” Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. University of Wisconsin-Madison, n.d. Web. 10 Apr 2013. <http://www.cias.wisc.edu/economics/mid-scale-food-value-chains-case-study-organic-valley-research-brief-80/>.
Novella, Steven. “No Health Benefits from Organic Food.” Science-Based Medicine. Science-Based Medicine, 05 09 2012. Web. 10 Apr 2013. <http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/no-health-benefits-from-organic-food/>.
Salatin, Joel. Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World. New York, NY: Center Street, 2010. Print.
Wang, Qingbin, Sun, Junjie. Consumer preference and demand for organic food: Evidence from a Vermont survey. University of Vermont, Iowa State University, 2003. Print.
Williams, Christine. “Nutritional quality of organic food: shades of grey or shades of green?.” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 61. (2002): 19-24. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=/PNS/PNS61_01/S0029665102000058a.pdf&code=19f1c2887a42496da239898b8d35813a>.