Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Post from the Conscious Shopper (Have you missed me?)

I had an epiphany as I was walking to the boys' school one afternoon last week. Purely out of laziness, we have only walked to or from school a handful of times this school year, but that afternoon the sun poked out from behind the gloomy grey clouds and began to call my name. A few minutes later, with my body preoccupied by the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other, my mind slipped into deep thoughts. And then I realized: "This is why I haven't felt like writing!"

Let me share some of the thoughts I had last week. I came across a blog post about ways parents make raising kids harder than it should be (for example, giant birthday parties), and while I agree completely with her point, I have a bone to pick with the part where she talks about buying organic. She says something like (and I'm completely paraphrasing from memory), "I get that eating organic food is best for our health, but do we really need organic everything? Organic diaper bags? Do we really need the bags we store our poopy diapers in to be organic? Are we eating them later?"

Okay, yes, it's funny. But it so completely misses the point! And it's a "missing the point" kind of statement that I hear all the time. Health is one reason to choose organic products, but it's not the only reason. In fact, the science is still out on whether or not organic food is actually healthier than non-organic. You can find studies to support either side. Personally, I think it's logical to assume that if we use chemicals on our crops with the specific intent to kill other living creatures, it can't be very good for our own bodies.

But health is not the only reason to choose organic!

I put that in big, bold font just in case that's the only sentence you read in this entire blog post.

Back in 2009 (four years ago!), I wrote a post called "Seven Reasons to Eat Organic," and since I'm lazy (see first paragraph above), I'm just going to quote myself here:

1. Organics protect soil quality. Years of monocropping and intensive use of synthetic fertilizers depletes soil quality and leads to massive topsoil erosion. On the other hand, sustainable farming methods generally used by organic farmers - such as rotating crops, planting cover crops, and composting - protect and replenish the nutrients in soil.

2. Organics protect water quality. Chemical fertilizer run off causes algae overgrowth, leading to huge ocean "dead zones" (areas where the water on the ocean floor has so little oxygen that marine life can no longer survive there). Scientists estimate that there are now 400 dead zones in the ocean, covering a combined area half the size of California. Additionally, chemical pesticides and intensive livestock farming contribute to water pollution.

3. Organics promote biodiversity. Industrial farming focuses on a handful of crops, choosing the varieties that are hardiest and stand up to shipping rather than those that taste best. Many organic farmers, on the other hand, grow a variety of plants, including heirloom varieties with interesting colors, textures, and tastes.

4. Organics support small farmers. Although more and more large, industrial-type farms are becoming certified organic, most organic farms are still small-scale, independently owned, and family run. Keep in mind that not all farmers that use organic farming techniques are certified organic. Becoming certified is a cost many struggling small farmers can't afford. So ask your local farmers about their methods for pest control and fertilization, focusing more on sustainability and less on certification.

Another reason, which I did not include in my original post: Organic farming is less harmful to the people who work the farms and the people who live around the farms.

I have to admit that not much of what I buy these days is organic. Over the past few years, our health insurance premiums have gone up, our taxes have gone up, and our kids have gotten bigger, and that has meant tightening the budget more and more. Organics are expensive - I admit it. I buy organic when I can, and when I can't, I focus on other ways to be green and don't beat myself up about it. But I'm aware of why buying organic is an important goal to have, and for me, it has very little to do with my own personal health.

Organic farming is part of living sustainably, of protecting and cherishing this planet that we live on, and of respecting the people who grow our food.

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