This is really a question of perspective and relativity. The short answer is organically grown produce is better for our bodies than conventionally grown produce. This fact is essentially indisputable. The pesticides sprayed on our foods are predominantly toxic chemicals and the jury is still out on the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), but do you want to wait around for someone to tell you, “Oh, by the way, that GMO food you’ve been consuming for the last 10 years that we said was safe….we were wrong. It ain’t.” That being said, the decision is not always an easy one because there are challenges when it comes to deciding whether to choose organic over conventional.
The most obvious challenge is organic is typically more expensive. This comes down to a question of priorities, which is a very personal choice. While you may know it’s better for you, you may not be willing to shell out the extra .25$ or .50$ per pound. There is nothing wrong with that as long as you are honest with yourself and have considered the options.
Sometimes organic is simply not available. Produce by nature is seasonal and during the off-season for a particular vegetable when it is shipped from a far-away tropical climate there are less options. Additionally, some markets have more organic choices than others. This is why local farmers’markets and co-ops are something to consider. The choices there tend to be fresher and obviously more seasonal and local.
One challenge that is often overlooked is when the conventional choice looks fresher than the organic choice. It is not uncommon to see organically grown kale that looks wilted and dry next to conventionally grown kale that looks crisp and bright green. I can tell you that in the list of priorities fresh is a better choice than not fresh, regardless of whether it’s organic. This is because the nutrient content of produce begins to decline—rather rapidly in fact—from the moment it is harvested. So the longer it sits, the lower the nutrient content. And while studies have shown that organically grown produce inherently retains more of its nutrient value than its conventional counterpart, this does not make up for the loss of nutrients that occurs when it sits for 4-5 days.
When we talk about organic, we are also talking about free-range versus conventionally raised livestock. Most of the same issues apply, except when it comes to meat and dairy freshness is an even greater concern because you are dealing with potentially harmful bacteria as opposed to just lower nutrient content.
Since we are talking priorities, what if, as much as you’d like to go all organic and free range, you just can’t afford to do it all? If you have to decide between free range meat and organic produce, which has a greater potential impact on your health? The fact is that the conventional meat industry has more weapons at its disposal when it comes to increasing production. Not only do they have the pesticides they use on the grazing fields, they have the GMO’s used in the feed, and the growth hormones and antibiotics they inject into the animals to fatten them up. I believe the impact on our health when we consume these animals is much greater and can potentially do much more harm than the pesticides on our produce. So if you have to choose, I say go with the free range.
In sum, fresh is better than organic or free range and free range is better than organic. It’s all about choosing your battles and choosing between the lesser of the evils.