Aug. 5, 2012
‘Times’ Blows Smoke on Food
By Jim PathFinder Ewing
The New York Times printed a study (actually a study of studies) on Tuesday that implied organic food is not more nutritious than conventionally (read: chemically) grown food, which has raised quite a hubbub.
Specifically, the article reported: “Stanford University researchers concluded that fruits, vegetables and meat labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts.” (To read the article, see: http://ow.ly/du0KN)
The study itself is deficient, but unfortunately, it was printed under the even more dubious headline “Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce,” which is demonstrably false.
You know the saying for computer results, “garbage in, garbage out.” That goes for studies (or studies of studies), as well.
The basic flaw of the studies is that increasingly organics is not about locally grown, fresh nutritious food as it is about chemically free food. That’s a big distinction that is lost in the analysis.
Organics today is big business. Most of the organic produce you buy in the grocery is trucked thousands of miles from where it was grown (or even flown in from other countries).
Moreover, most of it is grown, treated and harvested under the same conditions as “conventional” farming by giant agribusinesses using industrial farming techniques with the sole exception of not using synthetic chemicals or genetically modified seeds.
So, the question here is: Why wouldn’t it be different in nutrition? If all factors are the same, except for the absence of chemicals, then wouldn’t the produce be the same except for the absence of chemicals? Well, uh, yeah.
As Marion Nestle, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, points out in her blog in response to the article (http://ow.ly/du1CH), the point of organic food is to be free of chemicals and hormones — precisely as even the study on studies supports.
But here’s the garbage part: To conclude that organic food is less nutritious than conventional food removes a few essential factors — such as soil fertility, plant hardiness, climate, and most important, freshness — that vary according to source both for conventional and organic farming.
A key difference between any food harvested from the soil may be less the method of growing (except for the potential for toxic chemicals) than how fresh it is. Food that is grown and harvested locally is more likely to be fresher and hold its nutrition longer between field and plate than any produce that’s shipped thousands of miles.
This is not to say that people should not buy organic, even if shipped across the continent or flown in. Organic still results in demonstrably lower levels of dangerous chemicals and toxins — as the study on studies itself reports. Rather, the best of all possible worlds is to buy local organically grown produce.
That is, if you care about health, nutrition and chemically free food.
In the final analysis, this study is more smoke about food that plays on people’s fears, is subject to misinterpretation by the media and perfect for exploitation by vested interests afraid of losing even more market share to organically grown and locally sourced food.
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.