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Jun 2, 2012 09:06 AM

Organic Food is a Nutritional Joke

There is an old saying, and I paraphrase (shorthand for saying that I am too lazy to look up the actual quote): you are what you eat. If you eat good, nutritional food, you will be strong and healthy, contrariwise, if you eat fattening, sugary, nasty food, your health will be equally bad.
This is total nonsense, and I shudder to think how many people have mutated their existence attempting to confirm to this incorrect belief.

I graduated from UC Berkeley in 1980. At that time, was merely a glint in the eyes of local farmers. When I bought a bag of, say apples or nectarines, the dude at the table in the farmers' market could tell me at what time and even which tree those fruits came from. Yes, more expensive than grocery stores, but he would always give you superior quality for your money.

I learned that 20 acres is, more or less, the limit of how much land a single guy (and maybe a couple of family members during harvest season) can till, de-rock, fertilize, water, care for, and love without hiring illegal workers. In my mind's eye, this is the genuine definition of “organic” food.

Clever 'organic' farms are really just regular, corporate farms who have slightly altered their agricultural and botanical practices to legally meet the easily-exploited requirements of 'organic'. There is little, if any, difference from ordinary corporate farms and 'organic' ones. A recall, from, say, E. coli is just as likely to occur as with generic supermarket or corporate agribusiness produce as from an organic farm (organic spinach, anyone?). Does using fertilizer from waste products make food any safer or healthier than using a bag of chemical fertilizer or seed stock that comes out from, say, Monsanto? Do they contain more vitamins, minerals, or fiber? Hmmm? How? Why?

Take a vegetable, say broccoli or cauliflower, and buy one from the supermarket and an organic one from a farmer's market (I was about to suggest this for apples, but it is not apple season; however I suggest you do this test in the fall getting the same apple variety from the generic supermarket and organic farmers' market). Cook up both in exactly the same way, and look, smell, and taste. Is there any difference? Do they both taste and look exactly the same? Yes, then why spend the extra $$$ on organic?

Neither does this contaminate our environment any less: ammonium nitrate will contaminate water supplies, and it does not make any difference if the source is organic or chemical.
However, there is one aspect that is helpful: organic discourages the use of insecticides and herbicides. A small farmer will use these chemicals, but sparingly if at all, because he understands that he is disrupting nature's balance, and will not use it prophylactically as is the practice at corporate/organic farms. Using, say, hand soap as an insecticide rather than Sevrin might make us feel better psychologically, but they will both end up drifting around our environment in unpredictable ways. Arguing which is more effective is an equally useless activity.

The above applies only to produce, but there is a such thing as organic meat. Here again, we must ask: is it effective or helpful? In this case, it discourages the prophylactic use of drugs and assorted hormones and enzymes; this is a very good thing, but we can accomplish the same thing with a short, simple law without the kabuki dance of being 'organic'. How does it benefit the cow or pig or chicken to eat field corn that is organic rather than not? Maybe husbandry: more humane treatment of animals destined to sit, butchered and cooked, in my sandwich? Perhaps it would be more effective to be vegetarian? Are the animals happier? Have more vitamins or minerals? Lower in fat? Taste better? Happier just before we butcher them? Beef that is grass-fed tastes better, not because grass is organic, but because grass tastes better (though some think corn-fed tastes nuttier and fattier).

It is important to love and care for our land. These are a gift from God, and we surely ought not to waste it, but nurture it. However, pretending that we are 'being organic' is not the same thing.

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  1. Boy are you all over the place. I will just stick with your first paragraph in which you write "If you eat good, nutritional food, you will be strong and healthy, contrariwise, if you eat fattening, sugary, nasty food, your health will be equally bad. This is total nonsense." So you believe that it makes no difference what you eat? That you could just eat candy, Coke and bacon cheeseburgers w/ mayo all day and have no problems. How about scurvy and rickets for a start? Not quite sure what your point is but I guess you have some problem with organic...clarity would help.

    2 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      *Boy are you all over the place*
      my point exactly. it is not clear or obvious that *organic* bag of Doritos is better than a non-organic version.

      1. re: jerry i h

        This is so true. But certain brands are minimally processed and do have less additives, etc.
        I'd hazard to bet that a bag of red Hot Blues has more nutritutional value than the equivalent amount of nacho cheese doritos.

    2. I am old enough to remember the commercial stressing the superior taste of corn fed beef versus the best grass fed, which rarely became prime. In a state with plenty of grass fed beef, I am pleasantly surprised by the texture and taste differences when I travel to the midwest.

      When I had a citrus grove, My mangos where 2 to 3 times the size of the ones in the stores and never had anything but natural fertilizer. Usually by the guys during a party as we only had 1 bathroom at the time. I sold these huge things to the local stand 2 for a dollar and they went for $3.59 each with huge organic signs. Based on my say so.

      How many state inspectors are veryfying "organic"? When was the last time you verified that that local purveyor of free range chickens do more than give them an hour or so of sun each day. I have eaten 2 year old free rangew chickens and roosters. Nice flavor and about as tender as old shoe leather. 3 to 4 hours in the stew pot. i no longer get rid of friend's pets as they are too much of a hassle. I would rather enjoy 10 pounds of leg quarters for $6.59 at wally world.

      Thanks to agribusiness, we are not fighting wars over food. We have passed 7 billion inhabitants of the world and still feed a billion pets a year. As a former oceanographer, I have witnessed the inhililation of the fin and shell fish stocks in the seas. There has been a systematic failure by local and federal regulatory boards in order to support local business as well as the recreational industry. A truly organic industry that is no longer viable in central Florida.

      Organic to me is the same marketing ploy as Angus beef. For the few times when I value it, such as antibiotics or growth hormone, the cost far outweighs the benefits for me.

      2 Replies
      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

        $3.59 for an organic mango? Where the hell do you live?

        We sell organic mangoes for $1.29 where I work.

        1. re: Jackie007

          A one woman food stand. And in an area of backyard citrus, they sold out the two bushels in 2 days.

      2. Your post sure is provocative, Jerry. Two points:

        While I'll grant you that eating good food does not necessarily guarantee good health, I do think it's pretty well established that it improves the odds. You can eat healthy your whole life and still wind up with a terrible disease, and there are those who eat awful stuff every day and live long & healthy lives. Like smoking- some smoke two packs a day and never suffer any consequences; others never touch the stuff and die young of cancer or heart attacks. This doesn't mean that smoking has no effect on health.

        Second, there are still sincere organic farmers who consider themselves stewards of the land and ethical providers of quality food for their consumers. It's true the legal definition of "organic' is essentially meaningless nowadays because our government's been corrupted by countless millions spent through corporate lobbying- certainly the evidence is plain everywhere nowadays. But that doesn't mean that nobody anywhere is doing it right anymore.

        You're sure right that they've made it easy to feel good about "being organic" without really being organic though. The joke's on us.

        36 Replies
        1. re: eclecticsynergy

          "Take a vegetable, say broccoli or cauliflower, and buy one from the supermarket and an organic one from a farmer's market. Cook up both in exactly the same way, and look, smell, and taste. Is there any difference? Do they both taste and look exactly the same? Yes"

          You either have amazing supermarkets in your area or terrible farmers markets. Lets forget about cooking food for a second and go to food in its raw state like you wanted to do with apples but they are out of season. Tomatoes happen to be in season. Do you find grocery store tomatoes to be of the same quality as local vine ripened tomatoes at the farmers market?

          EDIT Didnt mean to reply to you eclectic, meant to respond to the OP

          1. re: twyst

            *Do you find grocery store tomatoes to be of the same quality as local vine ripened tomatoes at the farmers market?*
            yes. If you get a *beefsteak* tomato from both sources, they will taste identical. farmers' market tomatoes are better, not because they are organic, but because they have: zebra or cherokee purple, varieties that chain supermarkets usually do not offer.
            *amazing supermarkets in your area*
            I live in the SF/bay area.

            1. re: jerry i h

              "yes. If you get a *beefsteak* tomato from both sources, they will taste identical"

              In my experiences that could not be farther from the truth. Local tomatoes, even those of the same variety, are several orders of magnitude better than supermarket tomatoes. The same is true of most fruits. Supermarket produce has to be harvested with being shipped and remaining shelf stable in mind, it often doesnt even hit the store shelves until a week after harvest.

              1. re: twyst

                Agree completely. Claiming otherwise is sheer idiocy, or else provocation for the sake of being provocative.

                1. re: carolinadawg

                  Which, I believe, is the point of this thread.... provocative. I agree, a store tomato will never taste like a garden tomato. period.

                  1. re: wyogal

                    Not to speak for the OP, but I think he crossed up his argument when he laid out his thesis (organic does not necessarily equal better) and tried to support it with a challenge (test an organic farmers market tomato versus a supermarket tomato).

                    To support his thesis (which I think has some merit), I assume the more relevant challenge would be a test of organic versus non organic from the same type of vendor, be it super or farmers market. To that point, I haven't been able to tell a difference, although supposedly its more nutritional so I do it. However, there is clearly no comparison between farmers market produce (organic or not) versus supermarket produce (organic or not). obviously, fruit that is picked at the peak of ripeness and meant to be consumed within 1 - 2 days is better tasting than the stuff at supermarkets that is picked early in order to survive transport.

                    1. re: FattyDumplin

                      yes, that's what I said. I never said that organic was more nutritious. Or that organic was more tasty. I said that a supermarket tomato will never taste as good as a garden (farmer's market) tomato.

                      1. re: FattyDumplin

                        Supermarkets don't simply pick the fruit early. They are selling deifferent tomatoes.

                        Different tomatoes are grown for supermarkets vs food service (think Subway) vs farmers markets.

                        A supermarket tomato must look gorgeous or it won't sell. Must be deep red. Cannot be bruised. Taste doesn't matter. Consistensy doesn't matter.

                        A food service tomato is served to the customer already sliced, is usually 'free' with purchase, so what it looks like unsliced doesn't matter. Since it's free, taste doesn't matter.They can be as pink as can be. What matters is that they cannot be liquidy inside or they will make a ton of mess in the slicing machine and they will lose product.

                        Farmers market tomatoes are grown for taste first. Most customers have learned to accept the imperfections and possibly the bruises. That doeasn't mean they all taste good, but that is the number one criteria for why they are grown.

                        1. re: Steve

                          Great point.

                          All I know is that organic or not, I love the fruits and veggies at the farmer's markets around me. Before moving to Cali last year, I had no idea how many varieties and how amazingly delicious stone fruits could be.

                2. re: jerry i h

                  "yes. If you get a *beefsteak* tomato from both sources, they will taste identical."

                  Surely you jest.

              2. re: eclecticsynergy

                * legal definition of "organic' is essentially meaningless nowadays*
                thank you - my point exactly. being a loving steward of the land and being an 'organic' farmer or agricorporation are not synonymous.

                1. re: jerry i h

                  This I can agree with you on. I dont really care about foods being organic per se, but I just cant get on board with the idea that grocery store produce is as good as farmers market produce.

                  1. re: twyst

                    I'm with you twyst. On a couple of occasions I have had to buy produce from the grocery store that I usually buy at the Farmers' Market. The difference in appearance, taste, texture and freshness was amazing. As to whether organic tastes better that is not why I choose it but rather because produce certified organic at my FM cannot use pesticides and chemical fertilizers and are inspected to make sure they meet certification standards.

                  2. re: jerry i h

                    The USDA does have a very precise legal definition of "organic" as it applies to food, which can be found here:, or summarized in the Wikipedia entry on "Organic Certification". It's been enforcing it since 2009.

                    The problem is, there's never been any scientific evidence to support the idea that organic produce is any healthier. safer, better-tasting, or more nourishing than non-organic produce. The superior taste some people discern in organic produce is generally attributable to its being fresher or &/or from a more flavorful variety. Same is true for farm stand produce.

                    The aura of healthfulness and purity that surrounds the notion of "organic" produce is mostly superstition, albeit a very strong and persistent one.

                    1. re: dr_mabeuse

                      I do remember when the legal definition of organic was being created - I remember that those on the side of organics thought that the standard was inadequate and even harmful - I don't remember what the controversy was about, though.

                      dr mabeuse, so it's OK to consume pesticides?

                      1. re: sandylc

                        Organic food, as defined and regulated by the USDA, is essentially a "no chemicals" label. Most farming techniques are ok as long as they do not use synthetically produced chemicals. This is both antithetical to what many "organic"/holistic/sustainable/etc growers believe is appropriate farming, but it also supports the misconception, as evidenced above, that organic farming is ABOUT food being healthier/safer/better-tasting (ie, that if it is not, there is no point in growing organically or supporting organic farming).

                        The organic standard allows for monocropping, for heavy inputs rather than crop rotation, for broad-spectrum pesticides (as long as they are naturally derived), for heavy tillage and other topsoil-depleting techniques, and many other farming practices that have negative and unsustainable effects on the farmland and broader environment, so long as the inputs are not derived synthetically. It also allows for hydroponically produced foods -- just add the organic formula rather than the synthetic one!

                        So basically, anyone who was growing "organically" before the standard went in place (ie, for ethical reasons rather than marketing ones) found the official organic standard to grossly mischaracterize what organic farming is about. The larger, established agribusiness growers were ecstatic because they could now market their product as Organic without really changing much about their growing practices.

                        1. re: yellowstone

                          Thank you! Excellent explanation. It also highlights what was bugging me about the original post - it seemed like something was being missed about the idea of organics. A lot of nay-saying regarding organics has happened here for sure!

                          So, I'm getting here that products labeled organic are following the letter of the law but giving the finger to the spirit of it?

                          1. re: sandylc

                            No, just that there is as much variation in the quality of farming practices with in Organic farming as with in Conventional farming.

                            1. re: AAQjr

                              This is a very important point and often missed. You can have crappy organic soil which will result in crappy product. I still prefer the organic when I can afford it as I don't like eating herbicides and pesticides.

                              I have certainly noticed an improvement in the quality over the years. I hope it's from improved technique and not some exploitation of a loophole in the standard.

                        2. re: sandylc

                          Outside of industrial accidents, I'm not aware of any scientific studies that link consumption of residue levels of common pesticides to health problems. What evidence there is appears to be anecdotal and probably psychological. Meanwhile, pesticide-free produce can be demonstrated to contain more insect filth and infestation (under the skin as well as on it) than its pesticide-treated counterpart, and there are more recorded cases of people getting sick from eating organic produce than from non-organic.

                          But still, I wouldn't dismiss the placebo effects of eating organic foods, which can be real and significant. If you believe in the superiority or organic produce, then you're probably going to feel better if you eat it. In an objective double-blind test, though, I'm unaware of any studies that show any demonstrable health advantages. One of the big reasons there's so much controversy and contention about the standards for 'Organic' is that they're based on no scientific evidence, and therefore merely reflect people's opinions of what 'organic' should mean.

                          1. re: dr_mabeuse

                            "there are more recorded cases of people getting sick from eating organic produce than from non-organic."

                            Do you have studies that show this? I'd find it hard to believe given that far fewer people eat organic foods that there would be more incidences of people getting sick from organic than non-organic.

                            1. re: chowser

                              I'd like to hear too. I have read articles that claim such things, but every time I have traced their authors/funding back to the Hudson Institute, which is in turn funded by Monsanto, ConAgra, etc.


                              1. re: chowser

                                Here's an article from the NY Times about an outbreak if salmonella that occured in organically grown peanuts:

                                And here's one from the FDA about the danger of organically-produced eggs:

                                Better yet, just check out this Google search page for reports of contamination in organically grown spinach, pistachio nuts, and bean sprouts:

                                Part of the problem is, we've come to equate "natural" with "wholesome", whereas in truth, Nature is quite capable of making some very nasty toxins without man's help, and without man's intervention, food can be a lot more dangerous and less appealing. The most potent carcinogen we know of is a natural product: Aflatoxin, which comes from a a mold which grows naturally on stored peanuts unless they're treated to prevent it. All almonds naturally contain cyanide compounds, and mushrooms, no matter how organically grown, contain a host of chemicals linked to cancer. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

                                We are a chemophobic society. We assume anything that has a chemical name is a poison, which is just nonsense. At its worst, our chemophobia leads to mass hysteria like the Alar scare of 10 years ago, which devastated the apple business for years after Meryl Streep, that notorious expert on food chemistry and safety, testified before congress:

                                There's no scientific study I'm aware of that shows that man-made chemicals and pesticides in the doses permitted under USDA/FDA guidelines are harmful to humans. Believing in something for which there's no factual evidence is called "faith" by some, "superstition" by others.

                                But my point isn't that organic food is bad, or a scam, and I believe that if it makes you feel better to keep an all-organic diet, then by all means, go for it. But organic food is not the Philosopher's Stone to good health that some advocates would have us believe.

                                1. re: dr_mabeuse

                                  I'm not disputing that organics have problems. I'm disputing your fact that there are MORE recorded cases of people getting sick from organics than not. Given, as I said, fewer people eat organics, I'd find that fact hard to believe and none of the articles you've linked have shown that. I don't think anyone here has stated that organics are perfect and have no disease. But, an organic tomato is no more a "nutritional joke" as the OP asserts than a conventionally grown tomato.

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    Well, when I said 'more', I meant 'proportionally more'. I apologize for not being clearer.

                                    I'm entirely willing to be proven wrong on this, if you can find some documented examples of (proportionally) more people getting ill from eating 'inorganic' produce than from eating the organically produced counterparts. I say produce and not meat, because the problems with factory-farmed meat are well-known.

                                    But there's a price to be paid for not using pesticides, and that's that organic produce is simply exposed to more pests, including insects and their eggs and larvae, and fungal infestations that you just don't see in treated produce. And the use of manure as fertilizer carries with it certain risks, especially if it's not composted properly.

                                    1. re: dr_mabeuse

                                      "I'm entirely willing to be proven wrong on this, if you can find some documented examples of (proportionally) more people getting ill from eating 'inorganic' produce than from eating the organically produced counterparts."

                                      I think we have to define "ill" here. Periodic food poisoning from natural organisms that a person or persons doesn't/don't happen to have the right intestinal bacteria to fight off? Or, cancer from thirty years of ingesting pesticide-laced food (hard to EVER pin that one down)?

                                      1. re: sandylc

                                        It IS hard to pin down. Because no one has ever been able to show a cause-and-effect relationship between FDA-allowed levels of pesticides and cancer, at least as far as I know. In other words, science, which seems to be the best method of establishing empirical truth that we've been able to devise, cannot find evidence of such a link.

                                        People are entirely free to choose their foods by whatever criteria they like, and I have no doubt that one's attitude towards one's food has an influence on one's health. But so far, there's no scientific evidence that FDA-approved levels of pesticides in food are harmful. And I'm on the side of the scientists.

                                        1. re: dr_mabeuse

                                          "And I'm on the side of the scientists."

                                          Any scientist worth a dime will tell you that absence of evidence is not proof of absence.

                                          For many years, plenty of tobacco industry scientists offered support saying there was no proof that cigarette smoking caused cancer. Smart folks didn't bet their lives on the absence of that iron clad "proof."

                                          Lots of our most prestigious researchers claimed it was long proven that HRT prevented CVD, stroke and dementia in menopausal women, til independent research found that HRT actually promoted them. Smart women didn't take those 25 years of "proven" benefits to heart and didn't take the pills pushed on them by their doctors.

                                          I'm on the side of objective science and biochemistry, because there are too many with the title, but not the ethics or discernment of real scientists.

                              2. re: dr_mabeuse

                                Are there any studies which focus on looking at an entire community/society that eats organic and those they don't? Say, Buddhists in the mountains of TIbet vs. John Q Public USA? Are there different cancer rates, for example?

                                1. re: Steve

                                  That's a great question. My only problem with it is that studies seem to be usually skewed/biased/misrepresented/misinterpreted/edited, etc. to the point where I don't think most reports that make it to the media can be trusted. Any study that contradicts things that big business relies upon for their big money gets buried.

                                  1. re: Steve

                                    It would be hard to find identical societies, with similar genetic backgrounds to compare two groups ones that eat all organics and ones that don't. Far too many factors other than diet.

                                    1. re: chowser

                                      From my un-scientific viewpoint, the ignoring of millions of extraneous complicating factors seems to be the norm for health/diet studies. Also, cause and effect seem to get muddled around. Maybe it's just that by the time info hits the media, it's become misinterpreted and summarized incorrectly.

                                      1. re: sandylc

                                        Yeah, but if the conclusion were that Budhists who live in the mountains have lower detected rates of cancer than someone eating in NYC, non-organic, that would be meaningless. I don't think studies are all poorly done, just that it's hard to get two large, similar groups. Most studies do have some sort of control groups.

                                        The cause and effect conclusions that the media draw is a pet peeve of mine. Or, as I said to my stats class when I was teaching correlation, you could correlate wearing bikinis w/ eating popsicles but that doesn't mean one causes the other!

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          The real problem with most nutritional studies is this: Food just doesn't really make that much of a difference. Certainly not enough of a difference that it emerges as a smoking gun in nutritional studies with a clear cause-and-effect relationship.

                                          Yes, if you live on a diet of lard and twinkies you'll be sicker than someone who follows a more prudent diet, but any health difference between drinking 2 and 4 cups of coffee/wine/whatever are dwarfed by other lifestyle factors, many of which are still unknown, and so the statistical results they come up with are pretty much meaningless. And that's why last year eggs were poison and fish oil prevented Altzheimer's, and this year eggs are nature's perfect food again while fish oil does nothing.

                              3. re: dr_mabeuse

                                there's never been any scientific evidence to support the idea that organic produce is any healthier. safer, better-tasting, or more nourishing...

                                how about studies like this?

                                1. re: soupkitten

                                  Okay, I apologize and I stand corrected regarding polyphenols in tomatoes.

                                  "The more stress plants suffer, the more polyphenols they produce," points out lecturer Lamuela.

                                  So factory-farmers need to scream and abuse their plants more.

                          2. I agree that organic vegetables and especially fruits tend to taste better, even if some probably comes from factory farms that may be organic in name only. Not claiming I'd always be able to taste the difference in a blind test though. But the big beautiful ruby red strawberries in my supermarket's produce section are a good example- they're almost entirely flavorless. And the apples you were gong to cite are another good one: I'd much rather have a couple of small apples with some imperfections than huge ones that look great and taste little better than cardboard. Same goes for carrots, especially when I'm juicing 'em.

                            You probably know already that there's a strong and growing trend in quality restaurants of looking for locally sourced organic produce because it tends to taste better. Again, perhaps not universally true in every single instance (and I admit that local non-organic produce would probably taste better just because it's fresher), but they wouldn't be paying more if there were nothing to it. Mostly the chefs and establishments are not using this as a selling point. They're doing it because the food simply tastes better.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: eclecticsynergy

                              Where I work we also own a local farm. It's not certified organic, but it's grown organic...certification is just too expensive and I think the taste/freshness is amazing. Our carrots are pretty ugly and small, but they are delicious. The rest of the produce is certified organic, though.

                            2. This is a post I wrote on another thread, but it applies here
                              Just another reason not to buy any meat/poultry raised/grown on factory farms, not only are they raised in very inhumane conditions; but the quality of the product is affected too. Beef that is injected with antibiotics, not for sickness, but to make the animal gain weight faster,growth hormones also feeds made from other"animal by-products", How about those battery cage raised chickens fed a meal that includes chicken feathers as a primary ingredient, along with "poultry by-products" and in the case of beef, feed lots where the animals are chest high in liquid manure, is not where I want my food sourced!
                              I have adjusted my purchasing of beef, pork, poultry to finding local, small producers who are proud of the way they raise, feed and process their livestock. Sometimes these operations are very small, but they are around, even close to "big metro areas". I have been successful finding eggs, from pastured chickens, meat chickens fed grains only, also pastured, naturally raised rabbits, grass fed beef that is also finished on grass, no grain fattening, and heritage pork not raised in cages but, again in pasture, Even met a guy who raises Bourbon Red Turkeys for Thanksgiving, had one last year and reordered for this year, Delicious!! Now, working on getting aged cheese (90 days) from a producer of raw milk.
                              Anyway, my point is it is out there if you have the time to do the research and investigation.