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Save Your Health and Save the Planet: Go Organic and Local Now
- Pesticides on conventionally-grown produce can cause serious side effects, not only for humans, but animals, too—from disrupting the endocrine system and hormones, to damaging the liver, to causing cancer.
- Even the President’s Cancer Panel and the Environmental Working Group have admitted that eating organic produce lowers your risk of cancer and a host of other diseases.
- Non-organic produce can contain up to 67 different contaminants, according to testing. Many of these contaminants come from pesticides and herbicides, like glyphosate, also known as Roundup. While many are aware of the Dirty Dozen, the fruits and vegetables with the highest contamination from chemicals, it’s still best to buy all your produce organic.
- Along with choosing organic, local is a healthier option for your body—and you’re supporting farmers near your home. Local produce does not travel more than a few hundred miles, meaning it’s less susceptible to experiencing mold, disease, bacteria, and other damage in transit. Conventional produce can travel thousands of miles before it ends up in your corner market.
- Local food is picked at peak ripeness, allowing the fruit or vegetable to have the most time gaining nutrients from the vine or tree and soaking in the sun. This means more vitamins, minerals, and health-boosting compounds, like antioxidants and phenols when you eat it.
- The Rodale Institute concluded that if every acre of farmland and pasture was converted to organic farming, we could reverse climate change, leaving a safer, healthier planet for future generations. Not only is choosing organic great for your health, it’s wonderful for the environment, too.
- Every time you make a purchase, in the store, at the market, or online, you’re placing a vote with your dollars. If the majority of the population is fine with conventionally-grown produce, large corporations will keep mass-producing it. If conventional produce sales decline and organic goes up, we may see an increase in number and variety of organic options.
It’s Saturday morning. You wake up to the sun streaming through your partially-closed blinds, roll over to the side of your memory foam mattress, and place your feet on the ground. After making your way to the kitchen, you open the refrigerator and realize all that’s left is a bunch of celery, some wilted kale, half a lemon, and a bottle of spicy mustard from when your brother came to visit two years ago.
It’s definitely time to head to the grocery store, so you weigh the options in your head. Stevenson’s, the local grocery store, is the closest to your house with the best prices, but the least organic options. Organix is a health food chain, which is a thirty minute drive, but has the best-quality store produce and “real foods.” And there’s also the local farmer’s market on Saturday mornings, which has decent pricing and a good mix of organic, local, in-season veggies: freshly picked apples, stone fruits, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage. Yum!
The best option to choose, according to research? Both local AND organic. Plus, your farmer’s market is a wonderful resource for learning about the origins of your food. Where else can you speak to the grower about their farm, their practices, their pesticide use (or, hopefully, lack thereof), when the fruits were picked?
Non-organic produce surrounds us everywhere, from our local deli to the dressed cheeseburger we love from our favorite burger joint. What you probably do not know, however, is that just one of the non-organic vegetables or fruits you might be eating today could contain nearly 50 contaminants in it—or more!
So to answer the age-old question: Is going local and organic really better for us? We can finally say, undoubtedly, YES.
A Pesticide and Contaminant-Rich Society
Conventional produce—that is, any produce not labeled organic—is likely full of insecticides, herbicides, and pesticides. Insecticides, like ant killer, target usually one type of insect (or a group) with the intent to kill. Herbicides target weeds or otherwise undesirable plants. Pesticides are chemical contaminants that kill fungus, bacteria, disease, and even snails and slugs. All three are designed to keep unwanted bugs or pathogens away from farmers’ crops, to increase the chance of successful crop yield. All three are filled with countless, damaging chemicals. Farmers use these products so they can earn money, not so they can keep you healthy (they’ll keep you fed, but not healthy).
The word “pesticide” simply means “to eradicate pests,” from the Latin root -cide, or “to kill.” Common pesticides include weed killers, fumigants, herbicides, and more. Here are some of the most widely used offenders.
- Glyphosate: This herbicide was introduced in the 1970s, also known as Roundup, a weed-killer. This spray is incredibly common around the world, yet it has been shown to be toxic to human cells, DNA-damaging, and disruptive to the endocrine system. Endocrine disruptors can act like hormones in the body, throwing off estrogen, testosterone, thyroid, androgen, and other body systems.1
- Atrazine: Atrazine is a common herbicide used to keep weeds away from corn, sugarcane, and even on golf course grass. It’s now showing up in soil and groundwater, due to frequent use by farmers and other businesses. Many studies cite the negative impact of this herbicide on local animals, like snails and turtles, where it inhibits growth of cells and decreased health markers like fatty acids.2
- Deethylatrazine (DEA): This herbicide is similar to atrazine, and is frequently found in water run-off, polluting soil and the environment.3
- Metam Sodium: The third most common pesticide used in the United States, Metam Sodium, is used to kill nematodes, insects, fungi, and weeds. It has neurotoxic effects on humans after exposure. In 1991, a nearly 20,000-gallon spill into the Sacramento River showed its negative and dangerous side effects on the immune system, as well as fatty formation of plaque in the arteries, failure to thrive, and others.4
- Simazine: A popular herbicide in California that has been shown to cause cancer in test animals and disrupt the neuroendocrine system.5
- Prometon: This herbicide, according to studies, increased testosterone in females and altered reproductive markers, changing androgen hormone levels due to exposure.6
- Chlorpyrifos: This pesticide, Chlorpyrifos, is used to kill termites, roundworms, mosquitoes, and other bugs. It has been found in fat and intestinal samples of animals who ate pellets with its residues. Livestock, poultry, or other animals who feed on produce and fields exposed to Chlorpyrifos retain the chemicals in their bodies, possibly transferring them to humans who later consume these animals.7
- Metolachlor: This herbicide is considered a Group C carcinogen, because in testing on rat subjects, liver cancer and follicular cell lymphoma incidence increased.8
These pesticides and herbicides are harming the environment, and us as well. Are we all moving so fast that we are not thinking about the long-term effects of our unhealthy choices? From the polar bears trying to hop from one rapidly-melting glacier to another, to the bee population dying, to our increasingly-polluted soil, grasses, grains and vegetables that are endangering both our children and ourselves? At what point will we begin thinking about the long run?
Somewhere in our fast-paced, technology-saturated, hyper-industrialized society, we have become so hungry to make a fast buck and then whisk through McDonald’s drive-thru that we have forgotten one very important word…consequences.
If we want to save our wildlife, our planet, and ourselves then, no matter what the cost to our pocketbooks, we are going to have to start thinking about the health and environmental consequences of not eating organically.
Philosopher Michel Foucault said it best when he forecasted the future of mankind back in the 1970s. When asked what he felt would happen to the world if society kept moving at its current pace, he said, “one can certainly wager that man w[ill] be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.”9
Evidence Reveals the Health Dangers of Non-Organic Produce
Recent studies have revealed the true extent of potential dangers of eating non-organic produce. “The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15,” PBS writer Jackie Pou notes that the President’s Cancer Panel recently affirmed that “eating produce without pesticides [will] reduce your risk of getting cancer and other diseases.” Pou adds that the Environmental Working Group (EWP) now advises eating organic produce can “reduce the amount of toxins you consume on a daily basis by as much as 80 percent.”10
To warn people about vegetables and fruits that should never be consumed non-organically, the EWP released a list now popularly known as the “Dirty Dozen.” These foods include some of the most popular veggies and fruits consumed by Americans including potatoes, lettuce, kale, apples, peaches, celery, blueberries, nectarines, collard greens, spinach, cherries, and grapes of all kinds. The twelve vegetables and fruits on the now famous The Dirty Dozen’ list, “when conventionally grown, tested positive for at least 47 different chemicals, and some contained a whopping 67 contaminants.11
Scientists are now finding how damaging these contaminants are to humans. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a report linking pesticides used on crops to be linked with serious childhood disorders and maladies such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cognitive deficiencies, birth defects, and childhood cancers such as leukemia. Many other major studies are now emerging that also confirm how dangerous eating pesticide-coated foods can be to our health.12
The Environmental Benefits of Going Organic for the Planet
In her seminal article “Why Organic Farming Could Save the World,” Emily Main notes that
“[p]esticides, GMOs, fighting a broken food system…there are lots of reasons to go organic. But saying that organic farming could save the world? That might feel like a bit of a stretch. Except that it’s not. A new review of research on the links between organic farming and climate change has just been published by the Rodale Institute, the country’s oldest nonprofit organic-farming research institution. Its conclusion: If every piece of cropland on earth and every acre of animal pasture were converted to organic methods, we could not only stop climate change in its tracks, but we could reverse it.”13
Without harsh chemicals and pesticides soaking into the ground, the soil will be healthier and the water much higher in quality. With zero chemicals used to grow these foods, there will be less chemical runoff, and the human race as a whole could leave a much smaller carbon footprint.
One of the most beneficial things about farming organically is that crops are more resistant to climate change and are less likely to wither and die in the case of a drought.14 This is significant because it means the crops are naturally more stable and reliable than the traditional chemically-treated crops. This could be especially helpful in poor rural areas where food is not abundant and successful crops are needed to survive. Giving these areas food security through organic farming could be an invaluable resource.
Humans and the environment are not the only ones that benefit from organic food. Animals profit too. Free-range livestock can live a natural, happy life free of cages and stalls. They have free access to pastures to roam and increase muscle tone. They are treated more humanely and are not given growth hormones or unnecessary antibiotics. They are fed one hundred percent organically, from crops grown organically, benefiting mankind and animal-kind overall.
The most compelling argument for growing organic comes from Mark Smallwood, executive director of the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, who states, “If we’re looking to feed the world for the next 50 years, conventional can do it. But if we’re looking at feeding the world for the next 1500 years, we must switch over to organic.”15
In fact, scientists are concluding that the pesticides used in growing organic fruits and vegetables are harming wildlife, our soil, and the animals that feed off pollutant-contaminated growth from the soil—be it grains, grass, vegetables, or fruits. And, this has a negative effect upon the larger animals that consume these contaminated smaller animals. So, now we have a real problem at hand, with polluted seas with grocery bags littering the sea floor, polluted rivers, polluted soil, and now polluted creatures of all kinds—including man.
Proven Nutritional Benefits of Eating Organic
Research is finally evidencing the proven nutritional benefits of eating organic as well. Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., and sustainability expert from Washington State University confirms, “[Studies are] telling a powerful story of how organic plant-based foods are nutritionally superior and deliver bona fide health benefits.”16 Here are just some of the nutritional benefits:
- Organic foods are richer in health-promoting phytonutrients
- Organic foods contain 40% more disease fighting antioxidants
- Eating just one organic fruit or vegetable is the equivalent of eating several extra servings of fruits and vegetables, giving us more nutrition and less calories
- Organic foods are richer in phenols and polyphenols, which are naturally occurring compounds absent from pesticide-ridden foods our bodies need for our brains, gut, and liver
- And organic food is 69% richer in flavanones and 50% richer in flavonols, which protect us against specific cancers such as ovarian and skin cancer and prevent high cholesterol as well17
As Merz adds,
“We [now] know that going organic is the best way to keep pesticides out of your body and to protect the environment. It’s also the most efficient way of loading up on nutrients without loading up on calories or poisonous metals at the same time, according to new research published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Reviewing 343 studies, scientists concluded that organic foods blow conventionally grown foods out of the water when it comes to certain nutrition standards.”18
Why Local Produce is Healthier and Will Last Longer
While it’s clear that going organic can help the environment, animals, and humans, eating local has its own set of benefits.
Our conventional produce, grown far away from home, is becoming less nutritious. Commercial farmers need to produce huge crop yields, and figure out ways to protect those crops via herbicides, pesticides, and pesticide-containing GMO-rich produce. What scientists for these industrial farmers are doing is using various genetic and artificial methodologies to make industrial crops stronger, higher yielding, and more pesticide-resistant so that farmers can use even more pesticides on them. It’s as simple as that.
In fact, all kinds of scientific procedures are used on crops to protect them from pests and increase yields. Industrial farmers also use special varieties of less-nutritious, more water-loaded breeds of vegetables that look bursting with flavor that are really just bursting with water.
Other dishonest and unwholesome practices in conventional farming include not only using pesticides like DDT and growing genetically engineered crops rich in pesticide-rich GMOs, but also less nutritious plant varieties that might produce an abundant yield, but not vitamin-rich produce.
While industrial farmers use certain kinds of high-yield plant varietals that have been proven to produce big (but less-nutritious) crops, local farmers pride themselves on their plant varieties, offering their customers produce from seeds that grew only the finest vegetables. Local farmers do not have to worry as much about huge commercial yield, so they can focus more on heirloom crop varieties with lots of vitamins and minerals. As the authors of SustainableTable.org note, “farmers involved in local food systems often place a higher value on plant varietals that are more nutritious by virtue of their variety (i.e., not bred for yield alone) or by their method of production.”19
As Donald Davies notes, “Efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly, but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth.” Davies blames this on the inadequate root systems these high-yield hybrids often have, ones that are too fragile and don’t dig deep enough in the earth to tap nutrients.20
Davies, in fact, conducted a monumental 2004 study of local versus industrial produce, and found an abundant decline in nutrients in vegetables from 1950 to 1999. His study showed that the average overall nutrient decline in fruits and vegetables NOT grown locally was about 15 percent. Protein content in wheat and barley also decreased by a whopping 30 to 50 percent as well.21
Other major studies have yielded almost identical results. For example, a study at the Kushi Institute found that between the years 1975 to 1997, the nutrients in 12 fresh vegetables suffered a major decline, with a drop in iron by 37 percent, a drop in calcium by 27 percent, and a drop in Vitamin A by 21%.22 Another study conducted in Britain and published in the Journal of British Medicine showed similar results from crops analyzed over the time period of 1930 to 1980.23 As Jo Robinson, in his article “Are We Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food” notes, “If we want to get maximum health benefits from fruits and vegetables, we must choose the right varieties” and those are most certainly not industrial varieties.24
Conventional produce can travel 1500-3000 miles before it shows up in your local grocery store, while local produce cannot travel more than 400 (and often, much less). Therefore, local produce is not subjected to damage, disease, bacteria, mold, and decay in transit. Local foods are obviously fresher for this reason, as they don’t have to travel for days via truck or airplane to reach you.
Local produce also allows farmers to harvest when the fruit or vegetable is at peak ripeness, rather than picking it early to allow time to ripen in transit. This gives local produce time to acquire their nutrients from the sun, water, and the vine. In fact, the Journal of Food Chemistry found that fruits, specifically blackberries, lose over 45 percent of their nutrient rich anthocyanins when picked green. Another recent study published in Horticulture and Human Health notes that apricots and apples picked before they were allowed to ripen had zero vitamin C in them. Zero! The same fruits picked ripe contained an abundance of vitamin C.25
Also, you can be sure your local produce hasn’t been artificially ripened with unnatural gases, like ethylene, which conventional farmers use to make the fruit or vegetable appear to be fresh. Local produce just is fresh.
Local produce typically is not grown genetically modified. The introduction of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) into our world has had cataclysmic effect upon the amount of pesticides now sprayed upon and soil-infused into our produce. Everything absorbs into the root system, skins of plants, and cells of plants, including the DDT they are often sprayed with. Now scientists are putting pesticides not only on the outside of plants but on the insides as well, so that they can become more resilient to other pesticides. The non-organic farming world sure is a scary one.
GMOs are found in genetically or crossbred plants to make them either resistant to pesticides or to release insecticides within plants to keep away rodents and insects. And this means that these plants are able to withstand super-pesticide spraying. And to think, you can avoid these GMO, apocalypse-ready, frankenfoods just by choosing to shop organic at your local farmer’s market!
And finally, when you eat local, you’re also eating seasonally, which has other wonderful benefits. And fresh, non-GMO, organic, local foods just taste better, too!
While it’s true that some stores carry a wide variety of organic produce, sometimes even local, the best place to pick up spinach for your frittata or cauliflower for your fried rice dish is always the farmer’s market.
Most market vendors will tell you that their food doesn’t travel more than a hundred miles, at the most, with much of it coming from just down the street. Certain vendors grow foods that need a specific climate to thrive, and in those cases, your fresh California oranges and lemons might come from the central valley over to the coast to the bigger markets. Your organic apples might come from Apple Valley, a few hours away. Rest assured, though, that they’re not being flown in from across the country or being pulled from cold storage covered in gases, picked a year ago.
Additionally, many small farms cannot afford to or choose not to get certified organic. It’s an expensive and lengthy process, costing thousands of dollars and months of applications, inspections, and interviews. Even though they might not be certified, you’ll find a number of farmers follow organic practices anyway, or at least low-toxin, chemical-free ones: no spray, organic fertilizer, and minimal processing for prepared goods.
It’s always a good idea to speak to the vendor or farmer about their practices if you have any questions. Here are some ideas for what to ask at the farmer’s market:
-Are you certified organic? Or do you follow organic practices?
-Where is your farm located?
-How far does this produce have to travel?
-When was the produce picked?
-Do you use sprays? If so, what kind?
-How do you deal with disease, weeds, and bugs?
-Do you use fertilizer? Is it organic or chemically-based?
-What’s your favorite recipe for this fruit/vegetable/ingredient?
-What do you feed your animals?
-Are the animals cage-free, antibiotic/hormone-free, free-range, pasture-raised?
-Do the animals have access to outside?
-How are the animals processed?
-How do you make and store these prepared foods?
-How does this taste?
-How long should this last in the fridge/freezer?
-Do you accept cash only, or credit card?
Most market vendors are more than happy to answer your questions, ensuring you can buy the healthiest, freshest, least-pesticide-laden local produce possible. Happier body, happier planet.
I hope by now it is overwhelmingly evident that going organic and local can save our planet, our bodies, our children’s mental and physical well-being, and the longevity of our planet—not to mention it just tastes better too.
Eating organic and local will allow us to stimulate the economy of farmers growing organic and, thus, stimulate the sale of organic foods. This will, in turn, increase both demand and supply, driving cost of these foods eventually down, enabling and empowering more people to eat organically.
Our world can only flourish if we make it a healthier world. Then, we, and our children, and our grandchildren can enjoy better bodies and a safer environment. We can look forward to health and prosperity for many centuries to come—and we won’t have to leave our planet for one that has not been so contaminated by pollutants that it can no longer sustain life.
And what all of this research is telling us, in screaming neon letters folks, is to buy fruits and vegetables the way God intended us to eat them. Let’s buy sweet potatoes and freshly dug beets with the dirt still on ‘em. And seriously, let’s support our local farmers and farmers’ markets. If we don’t, we might just damage just about every finely woven cellular strand in the fragile spider web of our existence.
Want to read more about diet and nutrition? Check out Intermittent Fasting: What Are the Benefits? and Against the Grain–The Problem with Processed Food.
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- Kabra, Akhil N., Min-Kyu Ji, Jaewon Choi, Jung Rae Kim, Sanjay P. Govindwar, and Byong-Hun Jeon. “Toxicity of Atrazine and Its Bioaccumulation and Biodegradation in a Green Microalga, Chlamydomonas Mexicana.” Environmental Science and Pollution Research 21.21 (2014): 12270-2278. PubMed. Web. 29 Dec. 2017.
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- Silva, Marilyn, and Poorni Iyer. “Toxicity Endpoint Selections for a Simazine Risk Assessment.” Birth Defects Research Part B: Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology 101.4 (2014): 308-24. PubMed. Web. 29 Dec. 2017.
- Villeneuve, Daniel L., et al. “Evaluation Of The Methoxytriazine Herbicide Prometon Using A Short-Term Fathead Minnow Reproduction Test And A Suite Of In Vitro Bioassays.” Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 25.8 (2006): 2143. PubMed. Web. 29 Dec. 2017.
- Li, Rui, Xiaofeng Ji, Liang He, Zhiqiang Liu, Wei Wei, Mingrong Qiang, Qiang Wang, and Yuwei Yuan. “Evaluation of Chlorpyrifos Transferred from Contaminated Feed to Duck Commodities and Dietary Risks to Chinese Consumers.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 63.21 (2015): 5296-304. PubMed. Web. 29 Dec. 2017.
- Silver, Sharon R., Steven J. Bertke, Cynthia J. Hines, Michael C.r. Alavanja, Jane A. Hoppin, Jay H. Lubin, Jennifer A. Rusiecki, Dale P. Sandler, and Laura E. Beane Freeman. “Cancer Incidence and Metolachlor Use in the Agricultural Health Study: An Update.” International Journal of Cancer 137.11 (2015): 2630-643. PubMed. Web. 29 Dec. 2017.
- Foucault, Michel. (1970). The Order of Things. France: Pantheon. Print.
- Pou, Jackie. “The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 of Produce.” Need to Know. PBS. 13 May 2010. Web. 30 Dec. 2017.
- Freese, Bill, Ashley Lukens, and Alexis Anjomshoa. “Pesticides in Paradise: Hawaii’s Health & Environment at Risk.” Center of Disease Control. (2015). Web. 30 Dec. 2017.
- Main, Emily. “Why Organic Farming Could Save the World.” Rodale’s Organic Life. 02 May 2014. Web. 30 Dec. 2017.
- Azadi, Hossein, Sanne Schoonbeek, Hossein Mahmoudi, Ben Derudder, Phillippee De Maeyer, and Frank Witlox. “Organic Agriculture and Sustainable Food Production System: Main Potentials.” Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 141.1 (2011): 92-94. Science Direct. Web. 30 Dec. 2017.
- Satran, Joe. “Organic Agriculture Benefits Revealed In New Long-Term Study.” The Huffington Post. 06 Dec. 2017. Web. 30 Dec. 2017.
- Merz, Julia. “Huge New Study Finds Organic Food Is The Healthiest.” Rodale’s Organic Life. 14 July 2014. Web. 30 Dec. 2017.
- Lerner, Helaine. Welcome to Sustainable Table.” GRACE Communications Foundation. GRACE, 2017. Web. 30 Dec. 2017.
- Davis, D.R., et al. “Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 23 (2004): 669-682. [Print]
- “Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious?” Scientific American. 02 July 2016. Web. 30 Dec. 2017.
- Barrett, Diane M. “Maximizing the Nutritional Value of Fruits and Vegetables.” UC Davies. Web. 30 Dec. 2017.