Monday, August 17, 2009

Why I (Sometimes) Choose Organic

Yesterday, the friends we have over every other weekend asked me something like, "Why are you obsessed with organic?" They've noticed that the snacks I bring out when they come over tend to be organic rather than conventional junk food, which is always a bit odd (is it really healthier to eat a Newman-O rather than an Oreo?) And Ed chimed in to point out that I drink organic milk.

The vast majority of the food I eat is not organic, especially because I eat quite a lot of restaurant food, but I do choose organic foods relatively often.

With regards to agriculture and sustainability, I don't know what the answer is. I know that eating less meat, especially less beef, is the biggest step you can take towards lowering the environmental footprint of what you eat. Both conventional crops - which require vast amount of petroleum and other limited resources to produce - and organic crops - which require more land per unit of production - have sustainability problems. I think in general this aspect tips towards organic only because the people who buy organic tend to be more environmentally minded and are thus working on and paying attention to these issues. (I also don't think there is any risk that suddenly all of America is going to eat mostly organic foods and thus we'll have to convert a lot more land to growing crops.)

All things being equal, I would rather not eat pesticide, herbicide, etc., residue. I think the amount of that stuff in our food is actually very small and quite safe, but I admit that the idea of not having it on my food does appeal to me.

I often choose organic (or organic-related) dairy and eggs because those practices tend to be associated with less animal cruelty. But again, most of the dairy and egg products I eat are from restaurants, where I exercise no control over how the animals are treated.

Although I haven't proceeded very far in this direction, I am trying to trend towards eating more natural, whole foods. I would like to cultivate in myself the idea that eating a bag full of cheap corn derivatives and chemicals (e.g., oreos) is unappealing. I'd also like to feel that a hyperpalatable, overly-engineered food like southwestern egg rolls from Chili's is gross rather than delicious. Because people who hold these values often choose organic foods, organic prepared or semi-prepared foods tend to reflect these values. So even though I doubt Newman-O's are actually healthier than Oreos, if you read the ingredients you will find mostly things you would cook with yourself. Here, in fact, are the ingredients for Newman-O's:
Organic Unbleached Flour, Organic Sugar, Powdered Sugar, Organic Palm Oil, Canola Oil (Expeller Pressed), Organic Cocoa, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Organic Unsweetened Chocolate, Natural Flavor, Salt, Sodium Bicarbonate, Soy Lecithin, (an Emulsifier)
and for Oreos:
Sugar, Enriched Flour, High Oleic Canola Oil and/or Palm Oil and/or Canola Oil and/or Soybean Oil, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cornstarch, Leavening (Baking Soda and/or Calcium Phosphate), Salt, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Vanillin - An Artificial Flavor, Chocolate
Those are not actually as different as I'd anticipated, but this trend does exist in general.

I want to eat things that are more like things you would make and less like things invented in a factory, and I find that choosing organic encourages me to develop that aesthetic.

So, in short, my reasons for choosing organic are mostly these:
  • reduced animal cruelty
  • not eating pesticide residue
  • possible long-term land use, sustainability, and environmental benefits
  • encouraging in myself a preference for natural, whole foods


rvman said...

I like how Newman-Os manage to make it look like flour, rather than sugar, is the main ingredient by separating "Organic Sugar" and "Powdered Sugar" as if they are different things. I mean, not only are they nutritionally the same thing, they are chemically identical - both are C12-H22-011 ground to a slightly different level of granularity.

Tam said...

True :-)

Also, for the record, Newman-O's are not quite as tasty as Oreos.