Organic foods have always seemed like luxury items to me. Throughout all the years I was a student I would buy the cheapest produce at the local grocery store, trying to find ways to eat a healthy well-balanced diet while scrounging up every last penny I had (I ate a lot of bananas, curry, and natto!). After I started working full-time I began buying more organic produce. More than any great attentiveness to the food I eat, this was based on a conscious consumerism, trying to support businesses that were making steps toward being ethically produced and environmentally friendly.
Before Elinor’s lecture last Friday, I had only this narrow perspective on the importance of organic foods. I had noticed during our meals that I had gotten full much faster than I normally do, and even when I wanted to power through and keep eating, I had completely lost my appetite. When Elinor brought up the tables comparing the nutritional content of conventionally grown vs organic foods it was like being hit with a lightning bolt. Organic tomatoes have 500 times more nutrients than conventionally grown tomatoes? Lettuce has TWO THOUSAND times more?? As Elinor explained, when your body is still craving certain vitamins and minerals it will encourage you to keep eating, which oftentimes means consuming empty carbohydrates.
On top of that, these foods that we consume on a daily basis are sprayed terrifyingly wide array of chemicals with little known side effects. I was taken aback by the possible connections between consuming these many different chemicals and the increasing rise of allergies, gluten sensitivities, and obesity (I shudder thinking about all the unwashed apples I’ve eaten in my lifetime). What if my digestive disorder is also a result of ingesting pesticides? The fact that there is so little research into these possible connections is very disquieting.
So, Elinor won me over. Organic foods are not just an ethical choice, but probably linked to a wide variety of public health problems. But what about the issue of accessibility? Navigating our food choices might not just be costly, but it can also be confusing parsing through all the competing messages and labels that are present in our supermarkets. All-natural versus non-GMO, versus Organic, versus Locally Farmed – sometimes it feels like you need a degree just to fill up your shopping cart! After the lecture, many of the interns were approaching Elinor asking, where do you buy your meat? Where do you buy your coconut oil? Thankfully for us, Elinor is a fountain of knowledge about organic foods. But how do we make this information accessible to folks everywhere? How do we break down the many barriers that stand in the way of people’s ability to live healthy lives?
As advocates of organic farming and organic produce, it’s clear that we will have to do more than just increase awareness of the dangers of modern day agricultural practices. We will need to push for systemic change that relieves the burden on the individual, and instead strives for new regulatory and economic structures that support sustainability and human health over corporate profit. Organic foods can’t remain a luxury for the few, but must be attainable for the many. Because if it isn’t accessible to the poor, it isn’t radical.