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Five Easy Ways to Go Organic
October 25, 2007 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Five Easy Ways to Go Organic

Executive Summary : If you want to switch to organic foods without seriously impacting your wallet, the article suggests buying organic milk, apples, peanut butter, potatoes, and ketchup as relatively affordable organic alternatives.
posted by Dave Faris (43 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is most-linked-of-the-web, but it's not best-of-the-web. Seriously, this is even more like an in-flight magazine article than most NY Times health/science/food stories.
posted by gum at 8:49 AM on October 25, 2007


What's the term for when you don't buy milk, apples, peanut butter, potatoes, or ketchup at all?
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 8:50 AM on October 25, 2007


"Filthy commie."
posted by cortex at 8:52 AM on October 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


"without seriously impacting your wallet"?

My grocery store doesn't have a website, so I can't check the price, but I just found a CNN article that says organic milk used to be "3 to 4 times" the price of "conventional" milk but that it has dropped "30%". Well well, so it only costs twice as much, eh?
posted by DU at 8:53 AM on October 25, 2007


Hey, has anyone else noticed that organic milk takes like five times as long to go bad as non-organic milk? It's pretty much the sole reason I buy it, but it's great. No one ever told me this secret. Was I the only one who didn't know, or something?
posted by Greg Nog at 8:54 AM on October 25, 2007


Oh and: For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake.

These are definitely the families that are going to be the early organic adopters.
posted by DU at 8:54 AM on October 25, 2007 [7 favorites]


I get a box of organic fruit and a box of organic veg delivered to my door weekly. It's a doss, reduces shop visits and forces me to eat a lot more veggies of increased diversity as it fucks me off to see them go off. Learned lots of new recipes/preparations as a result. Bit pricey but it probably means I spend less on other stuff as I have more proper meals.
posted by biffa at 9:14 AM on October 25, 2007


my pennysworth: No point going organic if you dont eat organic meat. Unless, I suppose, you're vegetarian.

but really: Potatoes? Ketchup?
posted by criticalbill at 9:18 AM on October 25, 2007


My college's student newspaper just discovered farmfresh.org and ran a little editorial about buying from farmer's markets. Luckily for me, there is apparently a farmer's market that sets up every Saturday morning in the parking lot no more than two minutes from my dorm. I guess I'll check it out, see if they have any ketchup.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 9:21 AM on October 25, 2007


"For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake."
I suspect the writer pulled this one out of her ass. Le Sauce Américain.
posted by exogenous at 9:23 AM on October 25, 2007


Buying local (if possible) > buying organic

Spending my grocery budget on X kg fresh produce > spending my grocery budget on X/4 kg fresh produce (and going hungry after the first week)
posted by arcticwoman at 9:27 AM on October 25, 2007


Hey, has anyone else noticed that organic milk takes like five times as long to go bad as non-organic milk?

The opposite, for us. Organic milk seems to go off quicker. That may be because the local store stocks it in open refrigerator units rather than the ones with doors on though.
posted by Zinger at 9:28 AM on October 25, 2007


I suspect the writer pulled this one out of her ass.

Considering the USDA wanted to classify ketchup as a vegetable in their school lunch program in the 80's, I can see how someone conclude that Americans don't eat vegetables. However, since Big Macs also come with lettuce, pickles and onions, you're probably right to be a bit dubious.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:34 AM on October 25, 2007


Greg Nog, nope I know that trick too, and even more so for glass-bottled. Plus I can taste the difference with milk. It's one thing I prefer organic, bar none.

On thing I do not: celery. Seriously, whatever they put on the celery that's inorganic, praise be to that stuff. Apparently our forefather's celery was sisal rope in pale green disguise.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:51 AM on October 25, 2007


"Organic" is such a beautiful scam. I wish I'd thought of it.
posted by darksasami at 9:52 AM on October 25, 2007


Actually, conventional celery is one of the 12 items that is heavily treated with insecticides.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:56 AM on October 25, 2007


No point going organic if you dont eat organic meat.

If going organic (or vegetarian, for that matter) is the long-term goal, you don't have to have all or nothing at once. If you eat at McDonald's three times a week and eat organic (or vegetarian) the rest of the week, you're still doing better for yourself and others than folk eating McDonald's every day.

If you started by eating 100 percent organic just one day a week, you would learn more about it, learn where to get the stuff and get used to going there, support the organic suppliers, and improve your health a little. You could combine it with a diet and tell yourself you'll eat nothing but organic every Saturday, where eating nothing is sometimes the better option.
posted by pracowity at 10:00 AM on October 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you eat at McDonald's three times a week and eat organic (or vegetarian) the rest of the week, you're still doing better for yourself and others than folk eating McDonald's every day.

Exactly.

And the same point applies to alternative energy. So what if Technology X only reduces our dependence on oil by 10%? That's still 10% less oil we're using. Furthermore, if you get 5 or 6 of these, we're talking about a serious dent.
posted by DU at 10:08 AM on October 25, 2007


I knew someone with an impacted wallet once. Caused him all kinds of back problems. The wallet-ectomy left his bum numb for a few days, but really reduced his back pain.
posted by bonehead at 10:17 AM on October 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hey, has anyone else noticed that organic milk takes like five times as long to go bad as non-organic milk? It's pretty much the sole reason I buy it, but it's great. No one ever told me this secret. Was I the only one who didn't know, or something?

Perhaps the organic milk you are buying is ultra-pasteurized. I don't mind spending a bit more for organic when according to the label and sniff tests, it lasts for a long long time. Non-organic milk can be ultra-pasteurized as well.
posted by pinky at 10:18 AM on October 25, 2007


darksasami writes "'Organic' is such a beautiful scam. I wish I'd thought of it."

Organic doesn't equal gourmet. It has to do with sustainable farming practices. But there are other benefits. Just recently I started paying much more attention to what I was putting in my body. That makes a big difference as to how you see organic food. In many cases, it also tastes better and is local. There is another factor: I live in a small resort town, more or less (old farming community, too, most of whom do organic now), and the non-organic produce here is generally lousy. I can spend a little more on food if it will help my health as well as supporting sustainable farming practices.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:26 AM on October 25, 2007


Here's recommended prioritization of purchasing organic food based on the individual crops' detriments of conventional versus organic agriculture and trade-offs with price, rather than on "Americans eat a lot of ketchup".

She has links in there to studies by Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:26 AM on October 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yeah, geez, don't eat conventional strawberries. The amount of crap they're treated with is appalling, and strawberries are like little sponges. Not to mention how the pesticides and fungicides affect the soil, water, and farm workers.
posted by rtha at 11:03 AM on October 25, 2007


"'Organic' is such a beautiful scam. I wish I'd thought of it."

Organic produce, organic milk, even organic ketchup, fine.

But 1/4 of the organic aisle at my supermarket is frozen processed crap. Fail.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:14 AM on October 25, 2007


The importance of organic tea can get overlooked, since it's not technically food, maybe. Tea leaves are never washed, so the pesticides sprayed on them are dried into the tea. The first time that the tea actually touches water, after it's been picked, is in your tea pot. A nice chemical bath steeping. Go for the organic!
posted by midwesttransplant at 11:28 AM on October 25, 2007


I think people are misunderstanding the fairly minimal claims that certified organic foods are making, be it frozen, processed crap or fresh produce. They do not claim to be healthier, or to taste better. They claim to have been produced without pesticides or antibiotics, and in some cases (depending on the certifying body) without any genetically modified components. That's it. It can still be high-fat sugary crapola. But I'll take mine without the pesticides and antibiotics, thanks.
posted by everichon at 11:30 AM on October 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


I am a huge supporter of responsibly provided food. At times that means local and at times it means organic. And sometimes I'm relying on something conventional. But I have come to feel that there is a distinct hierarchy to food choices. Buying local and organic is preferable than buying just local which is preferable to buying just organic which is preferable to buying conventional.

The term "organic" has become fairly deprecated through the USDA approval of policies which are just this side of conventional. Organic doesn't necessarily mean responsibly raised. One quick example is bagged organic lettuce - one purveyor, Earthbound Farms, grows this lettuce organically (great!) but grows it on 24,000 acres in the deserts of the Southwestern US and Mexico. The added water (imported) and soil augmentation necessary to grow greens in the desert does not make this organic food a responsible choice. Neither does the shipping cost to truck light but bulky bags of lettuce from Arizona to some midcountry distribution point to my own market. Though there might be fewer chemical treatments on my lettuce leaves, I definitely do not feel good overall about the quality, labor fairness, or environmental impact of this product. It's only better for me, and even that is questionable after that long trip.

I agree that it's all about better choices more often, not about making sweeping all-or-nothing change. This pyramid model, though developed byOrganic Valley Co., is one of the best ways I've seen to communicate the levels on which you can make food choices.

In general, though, I agree that choosing organic is really important with certain foods that undergo a great deal of treatment with a variety of serious toxins. Cranberries, for instance, are aswim in chemicals throughout their growing periods. Because they grow in wet bogs, they need to be protected with a wider variety of chemicals than most crops - fungicide, herbicide, and multiple applications of herbicide to protect against insects at varying stages in their lifecycles. An organic cranberry operation I've recently learned about is doing quite well - yet their yield is 50% less than conventional due to the crop loss they can't prevent without industrial chemicals. No wonder the prices are a bit higher. On the other hand, they do some saving by not paying the premium for these seriously dangerous chemicals - you'll be comforted to know that the worst of them are only moderately toxic to humans (PDF). It all washes off when you rinse 'em....right?
posted by Miko at 11:40 AM on October 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


produced without pesticides or antibiotics

No -- that's not accurate. They can only claim to be produced without synthetic pesticides or antibiotics. Some organic pesticides are at least as dangerous to people as synthetic industrial chemicals and some pose just as bad a biohazard as conventional methods.
posted by Miko at 11:42 AM on October 25, 2007


"Organic" is such a beautiful scam. I wish I'd thought of it.

Yes, because the health problems in farmworkers repeatedly exposed to pesticides is just propaganda used to separate gullible yuppies from their money.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:46 AM on October 25, 2007


Miko--good catch. Can you cite some examples? -- I don't doubt you, I just want to learn something here.
posted by everichon at 12:00 PM on October 25, 2007


You can find a lot out by Googling "organic pesticide." or "herbicide" etc. Just quickly (gotta run right now), here's an article mentioning the same thing I said. Here's one gardener's rundown. There should be a lot of info about this but I haven't got time to wade through; it can be confusing to research this area because there are vested interests in countering organic that are not seeking greater environmental responsibility but simply trying to make organic look bad so conventional will appear good, so those sources can be biased. Try looking the pesticides up by name, too (Bt, rotenone, Sevin, Neem, Sabadilla)...
posted by Miko at 12:14 PM on October 25, 2007


Rotenone, pyrethrum, neem oil, and spinosad are all commonly used insecticies that are allowable for use under at least one common "Organic" farming label. All are considered at least moderate hazards to human health. They all have significant effects when used in the environment as well.
posted by bonehead at 12:25 PM on October 25, 2007


Miko, your comment reminded me that I want to start trying to grow more of my own food. Now I've gone and looked up all the askme questions about indoor gardening.

Also, here's an essay arguing that organic vs. local is a false choice.
posted by bassjump at 12:45 PM on October 25, 2007


... All are considered at least moderate hazards to human health.

" (Neem) Effects on human health: Studies of azadirachtin mutagenicity and acute toxicity have shown that it likely does not pose a significant risk to human health. However, some people have exhibited skin and mucous membrane irritation from neem seed dust (Weinzierl and Henn 1991). Note that most studies have been done on azadirachtin, and may not show the effects of a whole neem product. Neem is used in some commercial human hygiene products."
posted by oneirodynia at 12:56 PM on October 25, 2007


oneirdynia, that's mutagenicity and acute toxicity only. Neem oil's active ingerdient is a pair of hormones and has real potential to be an endocrine disruptor. Seeing how more and more products are turning out to have significant (and deleterious) metabolic activity, I preer to be very careful when assessing the toxicities and effects of products like neem.
posted by bonehead at 1:08 PM on October 25, 2007


I think one of the best things I've ever done is start shopping at a farmers market regularly. The fruit and veg all come from nearby -- in looking it up, probably within about 25 miles. The honey comes from 600 miles away but that's still good. I'm expecting delivery of half a side of beef in December and a whole pig in January. All of this food has been raised with sustainable practices. I just don't know what I'm going to do after the market closes this Saturday -- I wasn't smart enough this year to put much food away.

I think the organic label has been co-opted, but it's still a useful one, for now. I think it more important that people actually learn where their food comes from. If everyone knew how far something travelled before it got to the plate, down to the mile, they might start eating differently. I'm seeing labels like "packed in USA," which is so vague as to be useless. I would love all food to be labeled from where it was actually grown.
posted by sugarfish at 4:13 PM on October 25, 2007


Following up on Miko's comment, a lot of what she said about lettuce is discussed in depth in The Omnivore's Dilemna. A great book. I've been kinda reading about food stuff for ten years, so I thought most of it would be old news, but most of it was new news to me. It helps you mentally picture and compare different food production pathways, totally worth a read.
posted by salvia at 6:52 PM on October 25, 2007


So y'all are saying we're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't, eh? Gah.

The importance of organic tea can get overlooked, since it's not technically food, maybe. Tea leaves are never washed, so the pesticides sprayed on them are dried into the tea. The first time that the tea actually touches water, after it's been picked, is in your tea pot. A nice chemical bath steeping.

I'd never thought of that. That's downright frightening. Especially as I don't trust China's regulations and standards.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:04 PM on October 25, 2007


So y'all are saying we're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't, eh? Gah.

I think the takeaway message is that simple because produce is labelled "organic", that it does not necessarily come with a lower toxicity burden nor is it farmed in a sustainable manner. It does have to meet certain standards (in the US and Canada at least), but those standards are quite low. It's similar the the "light" labelling that was so popular a while ago. the organic label appeals, but is ultimately fuzzy and ill-defined and not particularly helpful in making informed purchases.
posted by bonehead at 7:42 AM on October 26, 2007


So y'all are saying we're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't, eh? Gah

Not at all - plenty of good change can be made. It's just that we need to get better informed and make more choices that are less harmful. There's no one label or identifying word that will do that for you; it takes awareness and some effort. Check out that pyramid I linked to - basically, if you can make a choice higher on the pyramid, you're probably choosing something with more desirable impact. And, what bonehead said.
posted by Miko at 7:53 AM on October 26, 2007


So y'all are saying we're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't, eh? Gah

I thought what people were saying is that organic is such a low bar that you should hit it, and then go beyond. Ie, find somewhere local and learn a bit about how they produce what they produce. Or do what I do and don't eat anything at all. ;)
posted by salvia at 2:00 PM on October 26, 2007


Yah folks, which means that we're damned to ill health and health risk by eating non-organic products because they're loaded with nasty chemicals, and we're damned etc organic because they're... also loaded with nasty.

Only sure way is to grow your own, I suppose. Raised beds work really well, and square-foot technique has been working pretty well for us.

Doesn't help much with the tea, though.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:53 PM on October 26, 2007


Times Online: organic really is better.

Well, then, guess I'm glad I didn't waver from my good-foods diet.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:21 PM on October 27, 2007


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