by Christopher Hassett
I’m continually hearing from family and friends that I should only be buying organic. For the difference in price, is organic really that much better? --Mitchell
Buying organic is worth the difference in cost, since in doing so we support an entire range of practices that benefit not only our bodies but the long-term health of the planet. We are living in a time when the global agribusiness is consuming and destroying every aspect of our environment, from our soils to ground wells to rivers and gulf-waters, our few remaining woodlands, to the very air we breathe. The immediate consequence is that we ourselves, our bodies and minds, are similarly being compromised: our body tissue, blood and respiratory system, all of which have correlatives in the soil, water and air of our earth, are now in a general state of imbalance and decline, and this has everything to do with the mounting impacts of industrial farming.
When the environment we move through begins to fail we should absolutely be concerned, and things are indeed failing all around us. Consider, for instance, the massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, an area as large as 7000 square miles, which is annually killed off by agricultural pollutants washed out from the Mississippi River, itself now wholly poisoned by a slurry of pesticides, fertilizers, animal wastes and an enormous yearly run-off of toxic soils from commercial farms the river high. And this one dead zone replicates numerous others around the world, all rendered lifeless by an corporate agri-complex that profits handsomely in the ruin.
Consider as well the produce in our markets that is now as contaminated with pesticides as the groundwater used to cultivate it. Consider farmers who breathe in these pesticides, pesticides they are forced to buy lest they be promptly muscled out of the business, only to die at alarmingly high rates from respiratory disease, organ failure and cancer. Consider the animals on these industrial farms who we in turn eat as chicken breast or filet or pork loin or pâté -- these animals are routinely shovel-fed their own waste along with the minced bodies of other animals who commonly drop mid-step from organ failure or disease or from the sheer exhaustion of a lifetime of abuse and fear.
These same animals are pumped regularly with arsenic (yes, arsenic!) and antibiotics to help cut down on parasites and infections (with the bonus from arsenic of adding an appetizing color to the flesh) and growth hormones that work so incredibly well that legs tend to snap under the freakish weight of their synthetically swollen bodies. The solution for this trifle annoyance? Chop off the legs and let the beast languish in its own excrement until, no hurry, it’s ready for slaughter. And there is no better word, for they are indeed slaughtered in ways that would, were they human, be considered crimes against humanity; in other words, their deaths are unimaginably more inhumane than was their entire existence on “The Farm.”
Yet all of this is supported in the marketplace by our dollar, which in turn is supported by our unique expectation, culturally speaking, for cheap produce, dairy and meat. No other country has such unrealistic expectations, but then no other country has so contentedly given over its power, principles and pristine lands as we have in the last half century, all for the luxury of having low cost eggs and two dollar burgers.
There are alternatives to this mad-cow system, and buying organic is an excellent first choice. Despite the regulating fiasco for conventional farming, organic practices are fairly well monitored in the US. Animals raised under organic guidelines cannot be fed antibiotics or growth hormones, nor can their DNA be genetically re-engineered to produce more desirable, i.e. profitable, traits; excrement and dead bodies cannot be mixed in with the feed; access to the outdoors must be allowed for all animals, including access to pasture-land for grazing. A mere few decades ago this was considered normal practice; today it is called enlightened farming, and it is one we should support.
Produce grown organically cannot be chemically fertilized, cannot be genetically modified, cannot be irradiated for longer shelf life. Raw sewage can’t be pumped onto the soil. Needless to say, food grown organically tastes better and is substantially more nutritious than conventionally grown crops. It is higher in vitamins, minerals, and higher even in actual weight. Perhaps the cost difference in your question is perfectly addressed here, for when dried, organically grown crops weigh as much as 95% more than their conventional counterparts, which means more actual food content. So if you’re spending 50% more on an organic apple and getting 95% more apple, then the differences in cost will often even out.
But if the dollar remains your fixed bottom line, and I understand how this is the reality for many of us today, then not everything you buy need be organic. For purely ethical reasons I still strongly encourage all animal products be purchased organic, no matter the difference in cost. Go a step further and look for labels that say “pasture raised” or “grass fed,” since these more specific labels lets us know that the animal has indeed spent a good portion of its life in a more spacious outdoors. Some health food stores now help us in making better choices by rating how well an animal has lived, how well it’s been cared for during its time on the farm, which beyond the euphemism is time spent in preparation for our plates.
Consider that one idea alone when weighing the price of your meal: this animal you are buying for dinner lived its entire life for that single purpose, for that moment when you will cook it and eat it. So is the life of that chicken worth eight dollars or twelve? Eight dollars equates to a life of cruelty and absolute misery; twelve to some standard far better. Your four dollars changes everything, including the energetic value of what you will be putting into your body.
With produce, however, you can shop more thriftily and traditionally while still being aware of what tends to be harmful on the conventional shelves. A conventional apple, for instance, is laced with 40 different pesticides, many of which cannot be washed off. You will eat those pesticides, absorb them, and years later there will be a greater potential for things to go amiss. Celery, strawberries and peaches sit in our stores like art in their perfection, yet on their skins await 60 different pesticides ready for our consumption. Spinach has 50. These five top the dozen or so foods (all listed online) that you should definitely avoid when selecting conventional. Buy them organic without any hesitation. Avocados, on the other hand, along with lemons, oranges, watermelons, onions, garlic, and anything else that peels away to a protected inner flesh, these you really don’t need to buy organic if money is of concern.
It’s time for us all to take a stand against the noxious practices of industrial farming, not only to protect our own vulnerable bodies, which are notably larger and sicker than ever before in history, but to also to protect the irreplaceable resources of this earth, which each day vanish before our very eyes.
Christopher Hassett is a life coach and teacher of self awareness. You can reach him through his website at www.threeperfections.com. Do you have a question you’d like Christopher to respond to in his column? Email him at email@example.com.