Before I get into this very interesting topic, I would just like to say, that I could probably write a whole book on the subject. So this is just a very concise and I hope to the point viewpoint.
There is such a conflict of information out there about what we should and should not be eating. What is good and what is bad. It really is very confusing. I mean who should we believe? Hopefully I can present some facts for you. I am not sure whether I will be able to dispel your confusion but perhaps after reading this, you may be better informed.
So what exactly does organic mean? In the context that will hopefully make it easier for us to understand and one that is relevant to how our food is produced, organic farming is based on biology or to put it another way, it is the use of living organisms rather than synthetic chemicals. Conventional farming is based on chemistry and the use of synthetic substances such as pesticides and growth hormones.
Conventional farming dominates the food production industry. It enables supermarkets and fast food establishments to provide large volumes of food at lower prices. The impact on the environment of this type of food production is well documented and something that I am not going to go into. If you wish to read more about it, have a look at the following links – https://sustainabletable.org.au/Hungryforinfo/Conventionalfarmingdamagetheenvironment/tabid/117/Default.aspx and http://leafcertified.org/the-apparel-industry/faqs/problems-associated-with-conventional-farming . The balance of nature is becoming compromised. As an example of this are the thousands of bees that are dying and the impact that this has on future food security. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/declining-bee-population-food-security_us_56d07127e4b03260bf767cf5
More and more evidence is coming to the fore as to how conventional farming also affects our health. The synthetic chemicals used on farms, obviously go through stringent testing to test their safety for human consumption. The residual of one pesticide on for example fruit, is probably to some degree not that harmful. But how about the combination of many pesticides? Many millions of kilograms of pesticides are sprayed on crops annually and the accumulative effect of these artificial substances should be questioned. Did you know that right now there are probably more than 100 synthetic substances in your body?
Synthetic substances and hormones are also used to feed livestock, which ultimately means that it ends up on our plates and hence in our stomachs and bodies. All of this has to do with the huge demand for meat, so the quicker that an animal can reach the correct weight for slaughter the better. The same applies to how many eggs a chicken can lay, milk a cow can produce and animals can be bred.
Organic farming is generally considered more sustainable as it is less damaging on the environment. However, yields are far lower than conventional farming and with ever increasing mouths to feed…well you can see for yourself the problem. Pests are becoming more and more resilient and so if a field of organic crops come under ‘attack’, it could be completely destroyed. Again leading to an inadequate yield of food. Bit of a catch 22 isn’t it? Do we continue with conventional farming and feed all the mouths but in the process compromise the planet and our health? Or do we go organic, which means we cannot produce enough to feed the masses but we will have a sustainable planet and good health? As a matter of interest: Do you know that 1 in 3 people in South Africa are obese and 1 in 3 are also malnourished?
Organic farming stipulates that animals are raised on certified organic land (no use of synthetic pesticides, fertilisers etc.), they are fed on organic grasses and grains, never given hormones or antibiotics and have outdoor access. But outdoor access could also mean a small patch of dirt with limited grazing. Grass fed beef is very popular. But is the grass organic? Equally, healthy butter is made from cows that are grass fed. The same question begs asking. Is the pasture that these animals are feeding off close to traffic pollution? Is there the possibility of underground contaminated water? Is the rain that waters the field, picking up a lot of air pollution? So as you can see, organic is certainly not a perfect science.
Organic farming also often has to use very large quantities of organic pesticides to eradicate disease. Sometimes far greater than synthetic pesticides used in conventional farming. I wonder if the effect of this has been researched?
How do I really know how my food is being farmed? It will state on the packaging whether it is organic, grass fed or it will say nothing which means that it is conventional farming. Often there are claims of ‘healthy’ or ‘natural’ but that really does not mean much and is a whole other subject. And even if it is organic, if you refer to some of the points above, we are still left not knowing the conditions of the farm. Organic farming relies a lot, on trusting the source.
Organic has taken on bit of a religious significance as far as food is concerned. One believes that if you see the word “Organic”, that it is automatically good for you. This is not true as organic foods can also be refined, preserved and highly processed. Do you think that an ‘Organic Microwave TV Meal’ is good for you?
Also remember that most food has to be transported, sometimes long distances, to its destination in the supermarket. When food is transported, in order for it to maintain its smell, taste, sight, texture and shelf life, it has to go through a process which includes adding gasses to the packaging. This is for organic and conventional farming. Freezing, drying and preserving are also other processes that food may have to go through. All of this changes the original structure of the food and sometimes what we are left with is a long way away from being a ‘real’ food. Take an organically farmed New Zealand Kiwi fruit that is exported to America. How do you think it arrives at its destination still looking good and perfectly ripe? Did you know that broccoli loses many of its nutrients two to three days after being picked? I wonder how many nutrients are left when it eventually gets onto our plate?
In the supermarket there will be a large sign that says “Fresh Fruit and Veg”. You can decide for yourself. Do you think that after it has been picked and sprayed with gas, packaged and transported, sometimes a considerable distance, that it is still fresh? Fresh simply means that it will rot sooner than the processed, preserved foods.
So it really is a minefield out there when deciding what is healthy and what we should be eating. For a lot of people, it boils down to pure economics. Processed, preserved, ‘long life’ products and produce from conventional farming are more affordable. They are also readily available and are convenient and easy.
Organic is all fair and well but even then sometimes the source is questionable. It is not readily available and usually very pricey. It has to be eaten as soon after picking as possible as it rots easily.
Conventional farming plays havoc on the environment and is not always that good for us.
Organic farming is definitely sustainable and better for us but perhaps does not offer as much food security.
In my mind, I believe that we should all be making some sort of attempt to grow our own food. We will then know where it has come from and how it has been grown. It will be fresh, nutritious and tasty. Do away with lawns that are thirsty and high maintenance and plant veggies and fruit. Plant veggies in between your flower beds. Plant fruit trees on the pavements and public areas such as parks. Keep some chickens if you are allowed to. Good for eggs and eating. If you live in an apartment, place a planter on your balcony. You will easily be able to grow your own salad goodies. Keep herbs in pots in the kitchen. Did you know that 2 veggie gardens, each the size of a door could easily feed a family of 6? After the initial set up it is easy to maintain and will not cost a lot.
Start taking responsibility for your own food security and health. Be better informed so that you can make healthy decisions. Try when possible to source food that you know where it has come from and how it has been produced. South Africa still lags behind places like America where there is a growing community of farmers who sell direct to the public. There are however outlets where you can buy organic, non certified organic and biodiversity goods. Places like the Ethical Co Op, http://www.ethical.org.za/. Organic stores are popping up all the time http://thinkorganic.co.za/, http://www.wildorganics.co.za/.
You decide what will work best for you. Invest in your future health and the sustainability of our planet.