Culture Fail: In Defense of Organic

Last week, Stanford University released a study that sifted through four decades of research to conclude that organic food is no more nutritious than commercially grown food.

Not surprisingly, the study received a lot of press. Unfortunately, a lot of the press consisted of editorials gloating about how organic food is nothing but hype and those who buy it nothing but rich fools.

A prime example was delivered by The New York Times columnist Roger Cohen. In an editorial titled “The Organic Fable,” Cohen used the study as an opportunity to heap scorn on organic food, calling it “an elitist, pseudoscientific indulgence shot through with hype” and “a fable of the pampered parts of the planet.” According to Cohen, those who buy organic are blinded by their own “affluent narcissism” while those who buy non-organic foods are “serious about the world’s needs,” mainly global hunger.

Um, WTF?

I can only speak for myself, but I don’t know anyone who buys organic food because they think it is more nutritious. I’ve always assumed most people buy organic for the same reason I do.

I buy organic because I don’t think spraying over one billion pounds of pesticides in the United States each year is good for anyone’s health. I eat organic because I don’t trust the EPA’s assurances that pesticide residue on fruit is safe, especially as many other countries in the world have stricter standards for the same poisons. I don’t trust the DOA to make sure that the pesticide-laden fruits that come in from countries with laxer regulations are compliant with EPA’s guidelines. Call me crazy, but I don’t think ANY amount of, say, zeta-cypermethrinis, a known carcinogen and neurotoxin, is a good thing to feed to my infant daughter.

I eat organic because it was originally dominated by small farm owners and not multinational corporations, and I believe that trend can continue into the future. I believe that smaller organic farmers are generally more respectful stewards of the earth—they improve soil tilth, consume less fossil fuels, don’t create “superpests” or “superweeds,” and, given time and good husbandry, their yields can compete with non-organic crops.

I eat organic because honeybees make me happy and because the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico—8,400 square miles in 2002—does not.

Look, I’m poor; I can’t always afford organic food. I cringe at the price. But I also believe that that price comes closer to representing the true ecological cost of growing a bell pepper; it’s not paying for itself at the expense of depleted soils and depleted fossil fuels.

I could go on and on.

Cohen would say these arguments betray me as an elitist, middle-class fool; I say he’s a disingenuous idiot for blaming global hunger on organic foods and dismissing organic food on the basis of nutrients.

But he was right about one thing: organic is an ideology, certainly not a sacrosanct one, but one that steps in the right direction.


By Nathaniel Brodie