Organics – is that really what’s most important?

Yesterday I spoke for a very short time with a local reporter about organics and local food who connected with me at the recommendation of a blog reader.  However, I don’t eat exclusively organic and don’t claim to feel any passion about the topic of organics, so I was probably the wrong person for her to speak to. The things I felt were most important didn’t seem to be of much interest to her.

What kind of things?  Like the affordability of eating a high quality diet – her presumption was that it was expensive and when I said my experience was that good nutrition wasn’t precluded by a modest income, there wasn’t any question about how to accomplish that.  It would have been better, I sensed, if I emphatically agreed that it was outrageously expensive to eat well. But I don’t think it serves people well to believe that it’s unrealistic financially for the average person to eat nutritiously – most people will just give up and feel nothing they do will make a difference when told they have to spend money they don’t have.

Then when she asked what foods we ate organically, I told her that our raw milk from grass-fed cows and free range eggs aren’t legally able to be labeled organic, but are what well-known grass farmer Joel Salatin has called ‘beyond organic’.  But the only follow up to that was to ask if I buy organic milk from the store – no inquiry into what ‘beyond organic’ means, or what the benefits of eating animals raised in this way are, or to ask how to find local sources of free range eggs.

This is part of what is annoying about the organic focus – people ignore the quality of what they’re eating and assume it’s good for them because it’s organic.  Many, many organic foods are processed and raised in virtually the same way as non-organic, except that pesticides aren’t used (though apparently the letter of the law may allow for some pesticides, and organics grown overseas aren’t restricted by US laws).  Though I prefer to buy organic when it works for my budget, I’m simply not willing to pay significantly more for what doesn’t show me to be much more value.  Foods don’t automatically become good for you because it’s organic; foods that aren’t high quality to begin with are just less bad for you.

Even though I try to eat animal products from animals that are treated humanely, I don’t like when food is turned into a moral or religious issue, and never approach nutrition from that perspective.  I dislike when dogma becomes part of the discussion, though I obviously am aware of the broader societal applications of making certain food choices.   The ethical treatment of people is much more important to me than the ethical treatment of animals, and far too many people in the ‘ethical treatment of animal’ camp don’t seem to have much compassion for people.

An example is the story I remember hearing on the radio in Seattle of three masked men who beat someone over the head with a baseball bat until he was unconscious – because he worked in a laboratory where animals were used for testing.  I would bet the irony of their concern for animals leading to this horrific action isn’t lost on the average person.  More recently Lierre Keith, author of The Vegetarian Myth, was pied in the face with a pie laced with cayenne pepper when she was giving a talk – ironically, she was talking about the evils of factory farming when she was attacked.  I therefore keep myself separate from that entire movement which has been coopted by radical elements that are frankly, seriously imbalanced.

So when asked if I felt it was especially important from a religious perspective to eat organic and local on Rosh Hashana more than any other time, I’m sure I gave the ‘wrong’ answer.  I responded that I don’t think it’s more important to care more about the quality of your food on the Jewish New Year than any other time, and that everyone should eat the best quality diet he is able to afford that fits with his needs.

Other than giving her details about locally sourced beef, I don’t think I was of much help to her.  So I won’t expect to see my name anytime soon in the paper on this topic!

(This post is part of Real Food Wednesday.)


7 thoughts on “Organics – is that really what’s most important?

  1. you are so awesome and so REAL! i am proud of you that you gave the “right” answers based on her questions- even when you sensed that was not what she wanted to hear. i wish more people were courageous enough to go against the flow and inspire others…

  2. Aviva, I really appreciate your balanced perspective on nutrition. Sometimes I get over-zealous about healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle and I’m so glad I’ve got your example to help me calm down :-). I see this post in conjunction with your previous post about your boys’ siyum. The fact that you allowed junk food to be served at your house at the request of your son is really an important lesson that friends are important, peer pressure is to be respected in its own way, and most importantly that people should have positive associations with Torah learning. Thanks for the mussar!

  3. We do the same thing here. Organic when it’s a good price, and if not…extra washing of produce. I also am repelled by sanctimonious attitudes about “organic.” There is a local shul that has “zero waste kiddush,” with utensils that literally melt when you eat cholent as they’re made from corn. Very pricey to be so holy;) Better to waste some paper and feed more people, IMO.

    Also, lets not forget that Hitler (ymach s’hmo) was an avid vegetarian/animal rights proponent.

    Mazel tov on your recent simchas!

  4. Great post-
    Many people completely miss the point in trying to get their families to eat better; like switching to “organic” junk food (chips etc.) while their diets still remain high on sugar and processed foods.
    There is also a great misconception to what organic food is. Many people associate organic eggs to chickens raised on pasture, organic meat to grass-fed etc…

  5. Your answers were honest, honesty doesnt sell. You are right, you probably won’t be in the news – but that is ok!! Lots to think about with this post – thanks!

  6. Very inspiring post, Avivah. I think the radical elements you refer to, which I totally agree exist, are more involved in the vegan movement. Those are the people who throw pies at Lierre Kieth and fight for lab animals’ freedom… I’m not so sure that those individuals care so much about organics, per se. The “organics” thing has been mostly coopted by the industrial foods marketing firms, just people who want to make money.

    I also just want to say, being someone who has worked and lived on different farms, and also witnessed different farming methods, when it comes to fruits and vegetables (and grains, for the most part) I am always willing to pay a premium for organic produce. It’s not worth saving a few extra cents or dollars in order to finance the ravages of chemical pesticides, petrochemical fertilizers, and genetically modified foods.

    Are there “organic” processed foods? Yes. Are there vast “organic” monocrop farms? Yes. They should be avoided. Anyway, just my two cents.

  7. Excellent post and wise words. I struggled with the organic issue as well as the vegetarian issue for a long time – organic foods tend to cost SO much more where I live. Better to eat lots of non-processed food – extra washing of fruits and veggies – than eat processed food. We’re doing the best we can in that regard and I feel good about it.
    In regards to vegetarian warriors: I have no patience for people who harm other people because they eat a non-vegetarian diet – I am baffled by their actions, as I am by “pro-lifers” who kill and maim in the name of their cause – because they believe they are doing something good – basically they are terrorists in my opinion.

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