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The Organic Food Myth

Instead of asking why organic food is so expensive, we should be asking why conventional food is so cheap. I call bullshit.

Organic Food Myth - She Eats

Have you seen that meme circulating the social medias? I won’t lie; I was one of the first to slap it on my Facebook page all “rah rah down with Monsanto!” and all that hippy-dippy, real food advocate, pro-kale baloney. Because that’s just how I roll, yo. And while I totally agree with David Avoacdo Wolfe (how great is his name?!), he’s missing one key ingredient in the equation: Not everyone can afford to buy organic ingredients.

It was after contemplating his overly-simplistic solution that I came across a recent blog post by Tiffany at Don’t Waste the Crumbs, and I got all hot and bothered. And not in a sexy way.

Her compelling article, 14 Facts the Organic Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know, was in fact compelling enough to warrant a very heated discussion in the comment section on her blog, multiple link backs from other bloggers, a massive Facebook uproar, this blog post and even a direct response from the Organic Trade Organization itself*. Much of the response hasn’t been admirable. 

But isn’t that exactly what our discussions around food rights and food politics SHOULD do? Generate conversation, ruffle our feathers and provide us with information from which we can make the best decisions possible about how to feed our families, friends, selves, and planet?

Tiffany isn’t being critical of organics, she’s critically thinking about the organic industry and acting on well researched, intelligent and comprehensive information. And this is the epitome – the soul – of democracy. No?

Fresh Limes - Organic Food Myth - She Eats

I wrote my university thesis on food politics. As a result, I don’t typically buy CERTIFIED organic because it’s such an expensive and lengthy process – a lot of smaller farmers can’t afford it. And the larger organic farms aren’t necessarily local.

Did you know it actually costs more environmentally to ship organic food long distances than it does conventional? This is due to transportation costs like truck fuel, plane emissions and refrigeration; Non-chemically treated food simply doesn’t store long distances so they have to keep it “extra cold” to get it to its destination.

The organic myth – the idea that organics are pure, idealistic, elitist and expensive – pervades our beliefs and warps the reality of eating food in the modern world.

Not that I’m arguing for us to eat cheap, conventional produce. Rather, I suggest we focus our energy and hard earned dollar bills on buying from producers who practice organic & perma-culture growing methods in combination with what’s in season locally. Patronizing local farmers is usually cheaper than any food shipped long distances because local farmers have a regional surplus at the time and you don’t cover the costs of movement.

Spring Radishes - Organic Food Myth - She Eats

There’s no way to avoid cross contamination of organics as long as companies like Syngenta, Conagra and Monsanto are alive and there generally does have to be some pesticide use as Tiffany’s article suggests – most large organic companies are growing food on mass scale. But it’s generally less and much better than what the enormous mono-culture farms require.

It’s true; not everyone can afford certified organic. And that’s awfully shitty. So for those who can’t, you do the best that you can with what you can, when you can. Anything is better than McDonalds, Twinkies and Kraft Singles.

For those of us who can afford it we may choose to avoid certified organic, instead sourcing our food from local growers who practice organic growing methods and farmers who pasture raise their animals or we may say fuck the facts the organic industry doesn’t want us to know and buy the labeled product anyhow. Whichever you choose, do the best that you can with what you can, when you can.

For all of us, there are steps we can take to help alleviate that problem – but here’s the stickiness of that solution, the stick up the butt about it so to speak: It requires us actually doing something.

Rustic Dinosaur Kale - Organic Food Myth - She Eats

No system is perfect but we can work to making it better through activism, purchase habits, being respectfully vocal in our communities about how to make good food choices and by leading by example.

This is our moment to really stick it to big-Ag and make real change. Right now. And feel – nay taste, the work we do.

Fresh Strawberries - Organic Food Myth - She Eats

I know we’re accustomed to being handed the quickest, easiest solution in our culture but we have to take some personal responsibility as Tiffany’s done when it comes to knowing what a good food choice is and what isn’t. Googling it, finding out the info for yourself and taking a day or two to really understand where our food comes from allows us to then make the best possible choice for our families and ourselves (or the planet, farm workers or animals if that’s something that’s important to you).

It’s something we can all do.

That’s what’s so great about the young farmers and the small, acre-sized farms that are popping up in back yards, city/rural neighbourhoods and the like – they’re educating themselves, taking a hit financially (farmers generally aren’t rich) and doing something about the problem – they’re feeding us.

And I’m so grateful for that.

I’m not in a place right now where I can take up the fight to that level but I can buy my meat from local farmers at a reputable butcher or the farmer’s market. I can choose to not eat strawberries or blueberries out of season which saves me money. I can elect to grow a pot of tomatoes and a collection of herbs which is way cheaper than buying them from the store on two fronts; Volume and I get heritage seeds from to grow new ones the following year. Take that Monsanto! I can forgo the one meal out in exchange for pastured eggs, milk and cheese from a local producer I trust. I can talk to my friends and family about how good it feels to eat and live this way and share meals with them that highlight quality ingredients.

Not everyone has the luxury to eat this way and I can respect that. We do the best with what we can, where we can, when we can. But most of us here right now can afford to do at least a little something to make the food wealth imbalance more equitable. We need to dispel the organic myth once and for all and make the world a better place.

As Tiffany says in her blog post:

I’m prefacing these facts with a disclaimer that I’m not calling organics bad or good, nor am I calling conventional bad or good. I firmly believe, and will continue to encourage every family to make the best decisions that suit their needs.

That sounds fair to me. And just. I’m sorry David Avocado Wolfe (I just like to say his name), but we shouldn’t be asking why organic food is so expensive or why conventional food is so cheap. We should be asking what is the best decision we can make right now for the health of those we care about, ourselves, the planet and the people who produce, harvest or slaughter our food.

We should ask “What’s right?”

Do you buy organic? Non-organic? Non-GMO? What are your thoughts on The Organic Food Myth? On Tiffany’s article? Spill it!

* The Organic Trade Association is an industry and their response to Tiffany’s article is biased based on the fact that their business model requires them to be for the sake of profit. Hence the ridiculous debate between Non-GMO & Organic labeling. It never fails to amaze me that two sides of the same coin duke it out over profits or methods. It’s obviously a mechanism of industry that Organic certification pushes back against Non-GMO. Rather than wasting our energy on infighting, I wish both sides would see that BOTH labels afford consumers the choice and awareness to eat better. The way we get there is of course important but REALLY we should be supporting each other, not ganging up and throwing tantrums against the other because one side might lose some revenue. If Organic and Non-GMO really truly care about good food options, they’d partner and leverage each other. Organic & Non-GMO – we’re on the same team!

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  • linda spiker
    March 22, 2015 at 10:46 AM

    Fabulous. Love it. Love your blog. Sharing. Gush:)

    • Kristy Gardner
      March 22, 2015 at 2:33 PM

      hehe thank you Linda!! That means the world to me. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article and I value your sharing it. Hope you’re having a great Sunday!!
      Kristy Gardner recently published…The Organic Food MythMy Profile

  • Janice @Kitchen Heals Soul
    March 22, 2015 at 11:16 AM

    What really bugs me is that the average person thinks organic = pesticide free AND that they think “natural” pesticides are healthier than synthetic pesticides. Hah. It’s such BS! Nature can kill you just as much as a synthetic chemist (and probably more efficiently) and organic farmers do tend to use pesticides, sometimes multiple rounds of pesticides. Ugh. Drives me NUTS this whole debate!
    Janice @Kitchen Heals Soul recently published…“no-knead” cinnamon raisin breadMy Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      March 22, 2015 at 2:36 PM

      haha – it’s kind of like the drug theory right Janice? like because it’s natural, it’s okay for your brain. I’m not anti-drugs, in fact I’m quite the opposite but I am definitely of the mind and agree with you that people need to be smarter when we think about how food is grown and what goes into it.

      ps. I loved the “more efficiently” aspect of your comment. nature is much better at causing havoc in our bodies than humans will ever be. maybe. depends how much sci-fi you watch I suppose.
      Kristy Gardner recently published…The Organic Food MythMy Profile

  • Becky
    March 22, 2015 at 11:59 AM

    The whole debate about organics is really for those of us lucky enough to have such a choice in our budgets and shopping options. Not every family can afford it, nor is it always easy to find organic options everywhere. What we need to focus on is making fresh, healthy foods available to all.
    Becky recently published…Routine.My Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      March 22, 2015 at 2:40 PM

      I completely agree Becky – we are so privileged to be able to sit behind our computers and rag on where to spend our money. at least we HAVE money. this is definitely a conversation that’s often carried on by people who can afford to do so. sadly food disparity – in particular quality food – disproportionately affects lower income people. like you say, instead of raging on about “the debate” maybe we should be talking to the people who can’t participate to due income, social status, location, etc… and implementing ways with them to facilitate more food freedom, choice and safety.
      Kristy Gardner recently published…The Organic Food MythMy Profile

  • Tara
    March 22, 2015 at 1:06 PM

    I loved hearing your thoughts on this subject, as always (and appreciated your thoughts in response to email about my grandfather’s farm awhile back). I have always believed that buying local is far more important than any other label, especially when people blindly assume that an organic or non-GMO label means the food they’re consuming is somehow better (not to mention the high and mighty attitude that often accompanies it). A small side rant: one thing that frustrates me incredibly is the belief that all GMOs are created equally. Some are perfectly safe and in fact, quite beneficial- take the case of the rice in India that was genetically modified to add vitamins to it, to aid the malnourished people who would not have been able to get these vitamins otherwise.

    Mostly debates like these, where people
    declares one way of eating as the ultimate truth, drive me batty, but I always appreciate hearing other points of view. Personally, I try to eat as many whole foods as possible, as locally as possible. That’s how I was raised and that’s what sits best with my tummy and my conscience.

    PS those rose steamed clams you posted on Instagram made me swoon <3

    • Kristy Gardner
      March 22, 2015 at 2:48 PM

      hey Tara! I am aware of your fathers farm and I always say he does good work. He does the best he can and that’s all anyone can ask of him – of any of us. And I know how much you promote your local farmers – so important. The farmers of the world feed us and I can’t imagine a more praise worthy deserving job.

      ps. I do have to make a point about the rice you mentioned, “Golden Rice” as its called. It may (I say may because I’m highly suspicious of global corporate food companies) have been developed with good intentions but the research across the board shows that despite claims of nutrition, it was actually Significantly less nutrient dense than the crops growers in the region were originally harvesting. this led to mass malnutrition, heritage crops being wiped out and massive water shortages which all eventually helped to contribute to farmers actually killing themselves when their farms, families and communities failed many are still trying to pick up the pieces only to find they’ve become unfairly dependent on Western companies monoculture crops, high GMO plants and chemicals. I’d be happy to direct you to some of the literature on is if you wanna read more 🙂
      Kristy Gardner recently published…The Organic Food MythMy Profile

  • Tiffany @ Don't Waste the Crumbs
    March 22, 2015 at 2:01 PM

    Kristy, I love that my article has spawned this simple yet poignant post, and I seriously cannot be more overjoyed that despite your formal education in the topic (and my lack thereof), you haven’t taken the “my way is best” approach like so many others. I am thrilled that you’ve shared my post with your readers, and firmly believe that sharing what we’ve learned with each other is the only way to create an even playing field against big ag and their formal organizations.

    Why is it that their tactics seems to be an attempt to keep the average consumer from discovering the facts that they’ve been quietly sweeping under the rug? If what we discover isn’t that big of a deal, then why the big fuss? Kinda makes me wonder if we’ve opened a miniature pandora’s box in the organic’s world… 🙂

    • Kristy Gardner
      March 22, 2015 at 2:55 PM

      Tiffany! I’m so glad to see your smiling face and to hear you take part in this discussion – thank you for inspiring my blog post!

      I think too often we jump down people’s throats because what we choose to eat is such a personal decision – it’s a deeply held belief and when we think we know something (ie. best), we miss a lot of the intricacies people face when it comes to food. so while I myself may promote a certain kind of eating – locally organic, seasonal, regionally appropriate, pastured – I’m not going to rage on someone else for having a different set of beliefs. As long as we are doing our part to sift through the food industry’s veil of bullshit, acting more like citizens than consumers and trying to make the world a better place for our communities, I’m open and accepting of anyone’s food ways.

      If the people stand united, respectful of each other’s differences, and think critically – rather than with our emotions (because we all get it wrong from time to time ) – big Ag and industry got nothin on us 😉
      Kristy Gardner recently published…The Organic Food MythMy Profile

  • mike
    March 22, 2015 at 10:11 PM

    All this article is BS. I tell you my experience with a local farmer. The truth is you don’t know what you buy from a local farmer. nobody control that farmer when is spraying with what or how much. He may say all organic , but he can spray with what ever he wants. One day I was talking with one farmer about his products and pick your own. wasn’t an organic farmer, but was local. “How you’ll manage the spraying programs with pick your own in your cherry farm?” he answered: “Well, today I am spraying on left side block, I put a sign with recently sprayed and my customers won’t go there , they will go on the right hand side block to pick my cherries. Tomorrow, I’ll spray on right hand side, and put a sign, my customers will go to pick on left hand side.” And I reply with a question: But you not suppose to wait a week or two according with the packaging instruction of the product you are spraying with, before start picking your fruits? ” He replied back to me: the customers won’t know , and nobody check my spraying programs!” This was happening 2 years ago in Ontario, Canada. Since then, I don’t buy any local products, I prefer to go to groceries store, at least those products are controlled by the CFIA. If you really really want local , organic products, grow your own products in your back yard or on a piece of land.

    • Kristy Gardner
      March 23, 2015 at 7:46 AM

      Hi Mike! Thank you for your thoughtful comment – I’m so sorry your experience with that farmer happened. I myself went to the St Lawrence Farmer’s Market once when I first moved to Toronto from Victoria. I was berated and yelled at by a farmer who was outraged that I’d even ASK about spraying his crops. Of course he did he said, “how else can I make a profit?!” ….I skulked away, head between my legs, questioning whether or not I even knew what I was talking about. And then I remembered I wrote an entire thesis on the topic and my experiences everywhere else in my life had taught me that he was an anomaly. He was the kind of farmer who isn’t it in for the right reasons and we all know there are people in EVERY profession who are dishonest, resentful and generally unpleasant to be around.

      As I mentioned in my article, I agree that we should – if we can – grow our own food but not everyone has access, time or money to do that so buying from farmers you trust (which does involve talking to more than one grumpy local farmer) is imperative to sustaining the local economy and feeding our families and friends safely.

      SO… In short I am sorry he was such an ass and that you had to go through that. I DO however take exception to you calling my entire article BS. My blog is a personal forum that we can use for respectful, productive conversation and debate with the hopes that we make our food ways and communities and ultimately in the end, the world a better place. I can empathize with what you went through and that the farmer you met was clearly a giant A-hole, but it doesn’t mean you have to be. I wonder if this could have been an opportunity to engage with your local authorities about what was happening – to make the system better?

      Thank you again for your comment; it’s good to hear from you. Have a fantastic day and I truly hope you’ll find better luck (and food) the next time you go to the farmer’s market.

  • Lindsey @HalfDimeHomestead
    March 25, 2015 at 2:31 PM

    I am so sick of corporations and bureaucracy in all forms that I could just vomit.
    So, instead of padding the wallet of some suit, I choose to shop locally, grow my own, butcher my own, and teach my daughter to do the same.
    I’m on the path to opt OUT of corporate America, and opt IN to frugality, sustainability, and eating small and seasonal.
    Although I tried nettles this last weekend and I didn’t like them. But I will forage on!
    I just voice my opinion through my wallet. Works a treat, if you ask me.

    I like this post. Thanks for being you.
    Lindsey @HalfDimeHomestead recently published…Getting Your Worm Bins Ready for SpringMy Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      March 29, 2015 at 8:32 AM

      I LOVE love love that you butcher your own Lindsey. You are a constant source of inspiration for me – I wish I could have chickens in my second floor no-pets-allowed apartment. And bunnies. I’d eat bunny every day if I could. And quail. God I’m hungry.

      I love that you talk about opting in, not just opting out. A lot of the time in these discussions we get all whacky about what we shouldn’t do but you point to a really good aspect of the conversation – what we CAN do instead. I appreciate that – and you – so much.

      PS. I’ve never tried nettles! I want to. One day. And then we can finally have an opposing view of something. Or not. Because I may well hate them too.
      Kristy Gardner recently published…Currently: The March 2015 (I Want to Eat All the Food) EditionMy Profile

  • Heather Tupps
    May 17, 2015 at 5:18 AM

    Great post. While I buy almost completely organic, I’m not going to argue that my food has perfect mineral quantity and no trace of toxins. That just isn’t realistic. Pesticides, GMO’s etc can stay in the ground for decades, meaning they will contaminate our food to some level.

    Very realistic thoughts on the matter!

    Love the blog, Heather

  • Hursh
    April 20, 2016 at 4:06 AM

    Hey, great share…..

    I really loved your post. I agree that the health benefits of organic food are more based on perception than real facts. However, the sweeping public opinion that organic food is healthier than conventional food is quite strong, and is the main reason for about 30% of growth in the organic food industry over the past 5-6 years.

    Thanks for sharing post.
    Hursh recently published…Rainy weather has brought with it the Brighton Road soup & brioche specialMy Profile