Another organic question

  • sfboy987

    Posts: 209

    Aug 30, 2009 8:22 PM GMT
    I think I found a thread on this a few times, but I can't find it at the moment. Anyway, I was wondering is organic really that much better than regular foods? I mean organic foods do come out a tad more expensive, and some organic foods have no taste whatsoever like organic peanut butter. Is there anything wrong with just buying generic brands from my local supermarket? It certainly would save me money. I appreciate any help thanks.
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    Aug 30, 2009 11:35 PM GMT
    sfboy987 saidI think I found a thread on this a few times, but I can't find it at the moment. Anyway, I was wondering is organic really that much better than regular foods? I mean organic foods do come out a tad more expensive, and some organic foods have no taste whatsoever like organic peanut butter. Is there anything wrong with just buying generic brands from my local supermarket? It certainly would save me money. I appreciate any help thanks.



    The problem is the word "organic" which has been compromised considerably by government regulation...or de-regualtion as it were.

    Are my home grown organic tomatoes better than non-organic safewway tomatoes........Hell Yes.
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    Aug 31, 2009 12:00 AM GMT


    I suspect the problem with your organic peanut butter may be that you bought a low salt or no salt added variety. Whether conventional or organic unsalted peanut butter doesn't have much flavor.

    As for benefits nutritional benefits in general, there are two considerations:

    1) properly grown organic foods should not be exposing you to potentially harmful chemicals used in fertilizers, pesticides and growth stimulants, etc. This benefit is probably greatest in foods that you don't peel in order to eat.

    2) There is some evidence that foods grown without artificial fertilizers are attacked by more insects and other pests. This, in terms stimulates the plants to produce a thicker cell walls, which contain higher levels of nutritious phytochemicals.

    If you're looking for substantial taste difference, I would say that getting locally grown, in season food will make more difference than whether it is organic or not. I just picked a bunch of tomatoes and basil from my garden and can't wait to have them tossed over whole wheat pasta with grilled shrimp, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
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    Aug 31, 2009 12:12 AM GMT
    "Organic" is a marketing term, and, it's been used, falsely, to conjure up the notion that it's somehow better. It is not.

    Organic farming uses old pesticides which are less specific, and more dangerous than modern synthetic pesticides.

    Organic farming has a higher carbon foot print because it requires more fuel and water to grow.

    Organic farming does not enjoy the same quality standard as modern farming methods. It's actually often food of a lower quality.

    There is NO farming that doesn't use pesticides. That's more misinformation.

    Modern farming methods enjoy more plentiful, higher quality foods, with less dangerous pesticides, and much less of a carbon footprint. That's the real truth.
  • DCEric

    Posts: 3713

    Aug 31, 2009 12:33 AM GMT
    Chucky, I sort of agree with what you say.... but yeah, basically organic really isn't any better, possibly worse, and generally is more expensive, for your wallet and the environment and contributes more to global warming by releasing Methane, which is several times more powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2
  • MSUBioNerd

    Posts: 1813

    Aug 31, 2009 1:10 AM GMT
    I'm with DCEric on this one. A whole lot of the organic stuff is just riding the coattails of the general sense that "all natural means better", when that often is not the case. The only real benefit I see to organic is that it often does genuinely have lower pesticide levels. While the levels in conventional agricultural products have not been shown to be harmful to human health, lower use does reduce the spread of pesticide resistance among crop pests. Still, from a personal health perspective, there's been virtually no demonstrated benefit of organic food consumption, so I wouldn't sweat it.
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    Aug 31, 2009 1:12 AM GMT
    I tend to prefer organic meats and dairy products over organic produce. In those cases I prefer the more natural, non-chemically altered material. As I am somewhat lactose intolerant, I can tolerate skim milk much better than 2% and whole milk. However, skim milk basically tastes like milky flavored water to me. Organic milk, on the other hand, actually tastes far superior than its non-organic counterpart. It has a much more milky texture and thickness that I enjoy, without setting off my lactose intolerance. Or maybe it's not lactose intolerance. I'm not sure. All I know is that the richer the dairy product is, the less I can tolerate it.

    As far as produce, it doesn't REALLY matter to me. I've grown some of the easier to care for vegetables (tomatoes mostly) and herbs in an organic fashion, and I absolutely love the taste of that. For the most natural product, I'd check out your local farmer's market.
  • Timbales

    Posts: 13993

    Aug 31, 2009 1:18 AM GMT
    sfboy987 saidI think I found a thread on this a few times, but I can't find it at the moment. Anyway, I was wondering is organic really that much better than regular foods? I mean organic foods do come out a tad more expensive, and some organic foods have no taste whatsoever like organic peanut butter. Is there anything wrong with just buying generic brands from my local supermarket? It certainly would save me money. I appreciate any help thanks.


    I'd say look at the ingredients more than whether the label says 'organic' or not.
  • calibro

    Posts: 8888

    Aug 31, 2009 2:32 AM GMT
    chuckystud said"Organic" is a marketing term, and, it's been used, falsely, to conjure up the notion that it's somehow better. It is not.

    Organic farming uses old pesticides which are less specific, and more dangerous than modern synthetic pesticides.

    Organic farming has a higher carbon foot print because it requires more fuel and water to grow.

    Organic farming does not enjoy the same quality standard as modern farming methods. It's actually often food of a lower quality.

    There is NO farming that doesn't use pesticides. That's more misinformation.

    Modern farming methods enjoy more plentiful, higher quality foods, with less dangerous pesticides, and much less of a carbon footprint. That's the real truth.


    Actually, that's completely wrong. Here's the study from Cornell that showed organic farming uses less energy and water. http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/July05/organic.farm.vs.other.ssl.html
  • camfer

    Posts: 892

    Aug 31, 2009 3:01 AM GMT
    Hi guys, I've been lurking for a long time, finally signed up, and then here comes this forum topic where I have quite a bit I can share.

    I farm organically for a living. My operation was first certified organic in 1999. So I've been at this a while and have first-hand knowledge. Clearly I have biases.

    The term organic in the US is regulated by the US Department of Agriculture under the rules of the National Organic Program. All it means that the grower conforms to a certain set of production practices. Making general comparisons between conventional growing systems and organic growing systems, and drawing a conclusion that one is better than another feels like a false dichotomy and an oversimplification to me.

    There are a lot of claims made for and against organic and conventional. Here's what I know.

    Fertilizers and topsoil
    Organic farming tends to increase soil organic matter and create more topsoil over time. Much of the fertility comes from growing "green manures" or crops that you grow just to turn in and feed the soil which in turn feeds next year's crops. Conventional farming uses chemical fertilizers which feed the crops directly and has the unintended consequence of killing off soil microorganisms and changing the structure of the soil,leading to topsoil loss through both erosion and soil collapse.

    Pesticides
    Both systems may use pesticides, but in organic systems you cannot use synthetic chemical pesticides. I don't know of any older pesticides that are allowed in organic production, if someone wants to give me an example of one I can look it up and see if it is allowed or prohibited. In organic we tend to use pesticides only as a last resort, and I know on my operation most years we use none on our produce. We use beneficial insects to eat the bad bugs, so using strong pesticides would be killing the good bugs I spent so much time, money, and effort on introducing and cultivating in my operation. When bugs get totally out of control, we spray horticultural oil, soap, plant extracts, beneficial fungi and/or bacteria. These are not very dangerous substances. Organic produce has been demonstrated to have fewer pesticide residues than conventional.

    Herbicides
    Organic farms use cultivation practices and mulches to prevent weeds. Conventional farms do that too, but they also use chemical selective herbicides. I believe these have been shown to be mutagens. Ever read about 5 legged frogs? The suspicion is minute doses from the adjuvants in conventional herbicides. Here we use vinegar.

    Yields
    When a conventional farm converts to organic, there are generally lower yields for a few years while the soil transitions back to an organic state. Once the soil organic matter is back up to a good level and the farmer is experienced in organic growing, studies have shown the yields are about the same in terms of salable pounds of produce per acre.

    Energy use
    Hard to generalize here, but conventional farms use off-farm inputs of chemical fertilizers derived from fossil fuels, most notably methane. It takes a lot of energy manufacture and ship that around. Organic tends to create fertility on site through growing of cover crops turned into the soil. If the organic operation is importing lots of fertility, it might have higher energy costs only in the shipment of those fertilizers. As for the claim that organic ag releases a lot of methane, I don't understand how, please elucidate. Other than fertility, I would have to state that energy use would be a wash between the two.

    Quality
    Two places to look at it, as it leaves the farm and as it gets to your house. Leaving the farm the quality is a good as the farmer and what's happened to the produce once harvested. By the time it gets to your house, the quality is generally determined by the distribution and retail system and how the produce got treated there. I've seen some really sad looking organic produce at conventional supermarkets, and I've never thought that was the farmer's fault. If you want the freshest produce, get it direct from a farm if you can, or better yet grow it yourself if feasible. Barring that, if you want to buy organic, buy it from a store that moves a lot of it, so the freshness is there. Quality to me also includes taste. I know my organic tomatoes taste better, because when I go to the farmers market, customers tell me this every week. There are conventional tomatoes at the market at a lower price, and the people shopping for taste often choose mine and gladly pay more.

    Nutrition
    There are studies demonstrating much higher antioxidants in organic tomatoes compared to conventional. There was a recent review of all the nutritional studies comparing the two systems that concluded no difference in nutrition. This was quickly debunked for a number of reasons, that are not in my head at the moment, but I can find the reference if anyone's interested. There are studies showing that the nutrient density of conventional produce has dropped considerably in the last 60 years. Personally, I feel there are more a lot more trace elements in organic food, because they are added through the organic fertilizers and are not ingredients in conventional fertilizer.

    Ecology
    In organic systems, we are inspected annually to ensure that we are improving the soil, providing habitat for beneficial organisms, and safeguarding the water. Since a lot of our fertilizers are not easily water soluble, we don't have the fertilizer runoffs that conventional ag has. There are huge dead zones where rivers flow into the ocean, caused by the runoff of pesticides and fertilizers from conventional ag.

    GMO
    Conventional ag can use genetically modified organisms, while organic farms cannot. Conventional corn, soy, canola, and cotton are almost exclusively genetically modified now. Some people feel GMO is safe, some feel otherwise, some haven't decided. Conventional beef is fed GMO corn.

    The best food is food you know how it was produced and that is freshest. There is so much space along the spectrum between conventional and organic, Conventional can use lots of the organic techniques. Then there's biodynamic, certified naturally grown, etc etc.

    The purpose of the organic seal is a shorthand so that when you're a consumer in a store, you know that some set of standards have been followed, and an independent agency has been on that farm checking for you. You may or may not agree with the standard, but that's what organic means.

    If you shop at a real farmers market, you can just ask the farmer about his or her practices. In a supermarket setting, you have the organic seal telling you something, or little to no information at all. Would I rather eat a conventional apple from a grower I know or an organic apple from China? Easy, give me the local apple. In real life it's usually not some either/or proposition like that.

    Sorry for the long post, and I only scratched the surface, but maybe this will help people understand organic a little better. There are people who have strong opinions about this topic, to be sure. Perhaps I am one of them!
  • calibro

    Posts: 8888

    Aug 31, 2009 3:19 AM GMT
    camfer saidHi guys, I've been lurking for a long time, finally signed up, and then here comes this forum topic where I have quite a bit I can share...


    Very nice post. Despite your biases, that was an intelligent and articulate piece presented fairly objectively. Welcome to the site. You might also want to check out the Cornell study that shows organic uses less water and energy.
  • camfer

    Posts: 892

    Aug 31, 2009 3:54 AM GMT
    Hi Calibro, thanks for the welcome and the link to the Cornell study.

    One cool thing it mentioned was the organic system sequestering the equivalent of 1.75 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare. Organic farming may well help with global warming.

    I've been reading a lot about pyrolyzation of crop and forest "waste" products, thinking about how I can offset my fossil fuel use with biochar. These are carbon forms that are stable in soils for at least 1000 years.
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    Aug 31, 2009 4:23 AM GMT
    wow, interesting read....thanks guys!
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    Aug 31, 2009 4:39 AM GMT
    Thanks very much, camfer, for giving us your perspective and info.
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    Aug 31, 2009 4:51 AM GMT
    Organic = 30% more money and not much else.
  • sfboy987

    Posts: 209

    Aug 31, 2009 7:53 AM GMT
    Thanks everybody for the replies, especially camfer for your post. I don't have my own garden so I can't exactly grow my own foods, but I was mainly just debating where to buy the healthiest foods. I was deciding between generic brands at Safeway, or shopping at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. I'm guessing Safeway isn't the best option. Since a few people mentioned it, I guess a local farmer's market would be good too. Anybody know a good one in San Francisco?
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    Aug 31, 2009 8:32 AM GMT
    chuckystud said"Organic" is a marketing term, and, it's been used, falsely, to conjure up the notion that it's somehow better. It is not.

    Organic farming uses old pesticides which are less specific, and more dangerous than modern synthetic pesticides.

    Organic farming has a higher carbon foot print because it requires more fuel and water to grow.

    Organic farming does not enjoy the same quality standard as modern farming methods. It's actually often food of a lower quality.

    There is NO farming that doesn't use pesticides. That's more misinformation.

    Modern farming methods enjoy more plentiful, higher quality foods, with less dangerous pesticides, and much less of a carbon footprint. That's the real truth.


    This is simply not true. Mass "organic" farmers might fall under this type of generalized information, but the farmer's market I use in the late spring, summer and throughout the fall use no pesticides, and the produce is much tastier and heartier than anything I've ever found in a mass grocery chain.

    Organic farming does not have a higher carbon footprint. Again, I think you're being misinformed. If anything, it looks like you're pulling information from an anti-organic lobby (fertilizer manufacturers or something along those lines).
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    Aug 31, 2009 9:44 AM GMT
    I converted to organic slowly over the past year. Overall better taste of the fresh products.

    The organic meat and eggs I buy is from "happy animals" . I wasn`t sure if i should go vegetarian or organic. Because I love a piece of meat sometimes I chose organic. And man, does my local green butcher knows his business!! Never met people with so much knowledge about their products, it`s a pleasure evertime to come to his store to buy meat.

    I do grow some greens myself as well and will continue to grow more in the future as soon as I have a bigger garden. I can say I am convinced that organic is better for your body as well as it is for the environment.

    It might seem more expensive but in fact it is not. You will shop more conscious instead of throwing everything in your cart. In the end you will save money. Not to mention the positve effect organic food might have in the long run on your personal health in combination with a active lifestyle.

    I thank Camfer for his post. I reccomend everybody to take time to read it carefully. Google some yourself as well if you are interested in this matter.
    You too Chuckystud!!!! :-)

  • camfer

    Posts: 892

    Aug 31, 2009 2:12 PM GMT
    sfboy987 said... a few people mentioned it, I guess a local farmer's market would be good too. Anybody know a good one in San Francisco?


    Happy to share what I know. San Francisco has got to have the best farmers markets in the nation. I'd try the Ferry Building market up at Embarcadero. I think that one is year-round and twice a week. I have heard good things about that one from one of my hardcore foodie friends. Be sure to ask the vendors if they're really the grower, and not just some reseller. A lot of farmers markets are regulated so you know everyone is really farming, in which case you don't need to ask. Prices will be how much the farmer needs to charge to stay in business, and could be higher, lower, or about the same as supermarket prices.

    Totally great that you're thinking about eating good healthy food!