Better For What?

28 Mar

Throughout the section that we read, Pollan looks at the true meaning of what it means for food to be local, organic, and sustainable.  Pollan writes, “Polyface Farm is technically not an organic farm, though by any standard it is more ‘sustainable’ than virtually any organic farm.  Its example forces you to think a lot harder about what these words- sustainable, organic, natural- really mean” (Pollan 2006: 131).

Pollan devotes a large portion of book to question whether or not organic is the best option in relation to health benefits, costs, taste and overall quality.

When we ask the question “Is organic food better?” we must ask “Better for what?”

Taste: According to Pollan, the taste of organic food is not necessarily better; freshly picked conventional produce is bound to taste better than organic produce that’s been riding the interstates in a truck for three days (Pollan 2006: 177).

I completely agree with this.  Eating vegetables from my non-organic garden tastes 100% better than eating organic vegetables bought from my grocery store.

Health: Probably better, but not automatically.  Organic contains little or no pesticide residue- the traces of carcinogens, neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors now routinely found in conventional produce in meat.  What Pollan can’t prove is that the low levels of these toxins present in these foods will make us sick- give us cancer- but that doesn’t mean that those poisons are not making us sick (Pollan 2006: 177).

At the moment, I don’t think there is enough hard evidence to prove that organic is better for us health wise, although it does seem to make the most sense that the non-use of pesticides etc. is a better option.

Nutritional quality: Over the years there have been sporadic efforts to demonstrate the nutritional superiority of organic produce, but most have foundered on the difficulty of isolating the great many variables that can affect the nutritional quality of a carrot or a potato- climate, soils, geography, freshness, farming practices, genetics and so on (Pollan 2006: 178).

Environment; Farmers who grew it; Public health; Taxpayer: To grow the plants and animals that made up Pollan’s meal, no pesticides found their way into any farm worker’s bloodstream, no nitrogen runoff or growth hormones seeped into the watershed, no soils were poisoned, no antibiotics were squandered, no subsidy checks were written (Pollan 2006: 182).

Organic seems like it is the best in terms of the environment, farmers who grew it, public health and for the taxpayer… but WAIT!

Pollan notes, industrial organic is nearly as drenched in fossil fuel as its conventional counterpart (Pollan 2006: 182).  While it is true that organic farmers don’t spread fertilizers made from natural gas or spray pesticides made from petroleum, industrial organic farmers often wind up burning more diesel fuel than their conventional counterparts: in trucking bulky loads of compost across the countryside and weeding their fields, a particularly energy-intensive process involving extra irrigation and extra cultivation (Pollan 2006: 183).

So is organic really better? WHO KNOWS!



One Response to “Better For What?”

  1. foodtheoryii 03/30/2012 at 4:47 AM #

    I think the government should implement an organic board under the ministry of agriculture. Organic should be redefined as not only as biologically free of chemical residues but also organic in a sense that it came from the same soil that you, the person eating it, grew up in, produce grown locally. They should create tougher laws promoting and regulating the importing of produce that’s not grown locally. At least that should be discussed, if not, it should already be in place.


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