This month, we’re stepping away a bit from primary foods nutrition and focusing again on secondary foods, the ones we put in our mouths. As you find your way on your health journey, getting your food choices sorted can be what Charles Duhigg calls a keystone habit in his book The Power of Habit: a keystone habit is one that not only creates a desired change—it also has a cascade of other good habits that follow in its wake. This week, we’re taking a look at the question of organic, the “O” in SOLE food. You can read the first post in this series here.
Whether or not to buy organic is a thorny issue: there are studies that support the claim that organic is better for you and studies that will support the opposite point of view. There are studies that show that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are harmful to your health and that of the environment, and there are just as many that claim the opposite.
What the heck? Why does the field of food and nutrition have so many conflicting studies?
You probably know by now: I’m not the answer lady, I’m the question lady. As with most questions regarding your health, I am going to point you back to that still, small voice inside you: do your research, experiment on yourself, and journal about how you feel. We are all bio-individual, so it’s time to stop looking outside ourselves for the answers.
Yes, you’ll probably pick up on my opinion/inclinations below…and that doesn’t mean you have to agree!
As you to do your own research and reach your own conclusions, be very, very careful about which studies you consider in the process: try to find out who paid for a given study because very often the company that benefits from showing that a product is extremely beneficial or at least totally harmless is the one backing the scientists performing the test.
A case in point is a UCLA study that found a positive influence on brain chemistry in subjects who ate probiotics in fermented milk products. Sounds great, and let me emphasize I don’t discount the findings, but since it was funded by a company that makes a well-know yogurt, I’d look for a little third-party confirmation of the results.
An example from the pharmaceutical field recently surfaced in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Check out who funded the original research on HRT…. Again, I’m not disputing the results. And I’m happy to see the other side of the story before making a choice that is right for me.
And then there are interesting twists to the questions, such as, whether GMOs are or are not damaging to our health, are they actually doing what they were meant to do, which is to increase yields and feed the world?
Personally, I choose to buy organic (and for now that means non-GMO as well) when I can, but in certain instances—usually when I know and trust the farmer selling the produce—I will choose local over organic. There are many small farmers who cannot afford or have no faith in the expensive organic certification process, yet they produce “ecological” food in a sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free manner and pay attention to the greater ecology of their farm, which includes everyone from the bees to the workers (more on that in two weeks).
If you buy directly from a farmer at the market or through a CSA, ask some questions about the growing methods. If a direct explanation is not forthcoming or is not to your liking, you can move on—try to do so with grace. It’s not our place to lecture others on the choices they make. If you get an invitation to visit the farm, particularly without making an appointment ahead of time, you’ll know this grower is all about transparency.
There are a few food items on which I personally will not compromise in the sustainable/organic versus conventional debate, and those are animal products. If you are vegetarian or vegan, particularly if you live that lifestyle because of animal rights issues, please feel free to skip the next few paragraphs—but I hope you won’t!
I firmly believe that you have the right to adhere to a vegan diet; however, many people feel better on a diet that includes a small amount of animal protein. This seems particularly true for women who are struggling with thyroid issues and/or symptoms of peri-menopause, likely because—like it or not—animal protein provides the most readily available high quality protein and because our bodies need some saturated fat (yup, that’s right) and cholesterol (yup again) to make the hormones we need to be truly healthy.
I believe that there are plenty of reasons not to shun animal products, provided you know exactly where they come from, how they are raised, and how they are harvested. (I choose that word intentionally—not because it’s prettier than “slaughtered” but because it implies an intentionality and mindfulness that “slaughtered” does not.)
And I feel that if you choose to nourish your own body in this way, you should make a commitment to honor the animals who give their lives to feed you: I encourage you to learn how to cook and eat all parts of the animal, nose (or beak) to tail.
what about the cost?
There’s a quote going around Facebook that says something like this: “If you think organic food is expensive, you should try paying for cancer!” It’s a bit heavy-handed, and yet….
Somewhere along the line, Americans became convinced that food should be cheap.
It’s interesting that as a culture, we want the best house, the flashiest car, the highest fashion, the newest technology—and we’re willing to go deeply into debt for these things—but we cringe at spending money on something as important as food.
We are delighted when we can coupon ourselves into (perceived) savings, only to discover that the highly-processed and fast foods these coupons afford us have wreaked havoc on our health. (Check out my opinion on the “health halo” in this article on SparkPeople.com.)
Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the true cost of cheap food: what it has cost our health, our environment, and our economy?
I think about spending money on quality food as an investment in the future—ours and the planet’s.
There are numerous books on the market that deal with this subject in much greater depth than I am equipped to: Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Oran Hesterman’s Fair Food, Nina Planck’s Real Food, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, and Samuel Fromartz’s Organic, Inc. immediately come to mind if you’re looking for recommendations.
Again, my strong advice on the subject is this: do your research, read both sides of the issues, and draw your own conclusions. I personally choose to buy organic, sustainably-raised food whenever I can.
Stay tuned for the final post in the SOLE food series (first week of November), in which I’ll give you lots of tips for keeping your whole, SOLE food pantry in line with your budget.
Can’t wait that long? You’ll find the information in the introduction to Fl!p Your K!tchen, which is about to turn 1 year old! (Please note that if you have trouble with the mobile version of the shopping cart, it works better on the computer. Click here for Michigan buyers (sorry, I have to charge you tax); for non-Michigan residents.)
Drop me a comment and let me know about your experiment with organic food!