Picture this: you’re standing in an aisle full of baking ingredients at your local Loblaws (or Longos, or No Frills, or Metro, or Sobeys, etc) looking at the selection of cocoa powder. You have the option of buying either organic or non-organic. Maybe you’re inclined to buy organic because you’ve heard the benefits and because you care about the environment. Or maybe you’ve barely been exposed to this and you automatically reach for the Fry’s Premium Cocoa Power (the yellow can with the red top, we all recognize it). But there’s one factor that makes the decision much easier: the Fry’s rings in at $4.99 for 250g, while the organic variety comes to $7.99.
There is nothing easy about choosing to buy something more expensive with our hard-earned (and if you’re young, probably very scarce) money when the bottom line is that it often doesn’t taste any different. This is the case with most organic foods. The problem with our food system is that we don’t physically see a lot of the harms or benefits of our food choices. Buying an industrially-raised chicken from Loblaws, we aren’t given details or visual information on the way our meat was treated. Likewise, when we buy organic instead of non-organic in the case of say, blueberries, we don’t see positive environmental effects of our financial support.
So why would we bother then, when it really makes no direct difference to our lives?
The environmental benefits of buying organic food are difficult to disagree with, but they’re also difficult to care about because we rarely see them with our own eyes. We don’t see the land degradation caused by single-crop agriculture that has rendered some of North America’s most fruitful land useless. We don’t see the bodies of water polluted by non-organic farm runoff leading to complete ecosystem destruction. Alternatively, however, we don’t see the clean rivers that run alongside organic farms either. If you care about preserving the environment, one of the easiest ways to do so is to commit to buying organic foods whenever you have the opportunity.
If you buy meat from Canada or the United States that is Certified Organic, the animals were raised under a strict set of standards that include:
- Being fed 100% organic food with no genetic modifications
- No use of growth hormones or antibiotics
- No forced cannibalism (i.e. no animal bi-products are used for feed)
- Humane treatment/living conditions
When you buy organic meat, you know exactly what you’re eating – you’re eating animals that led healthy, stress-free lives and were slaughtered ethically. Even though you don’t often see the living conditions of animals raised industrially (let’s just say industrial farms go to great lengths to prevent this kind of publicity), you can rest assured that these animals did not live remotely happy lives. They were miserable and they suffered in order to make meat cheaper for us in the grocery stores. To add to this, some studies suggest that animals raised poorly produce essentially stress-infused meat – meat that not only tastes worse than organic meat, but also has lost many of its health benefits.
Health (both physical and mental)
This is the most selfish of the three, but if we can’t be selfish when it comes to our own health when can we be selfish? When you buy non-organic vegetables, fruit, meat, potato chips, anything, you risk putting harmful pesticides, preservatives, hormones, and any other number of questionable ingredients into your body. There’s a reason why there’s no such thing as organic Twinkies – because half the shelf-foods we eat have way too many things that are “food-like products” rather than actual food. We don’t have a lot of information about the long-term effects of these additives in our food, since this type of industrial food production of this manner didn’t begin until the 1960s-70s (in other words, people that ate it from childhood aren’t old enough be dying of “natural” causes yet), but all reasonable information tells us that our bodies aren’t meant to have these unnatural additives inside of them. When you buy organic, you can rest assured that you know exactly what is going into your body – there won’t be any chemicals added (i.e. ones that don’t naturally occur in the food).
When it comes to mental health, the relationship is less direct but has been extensively researched by renowned psychologists such as Dr. Bill Plotkin. It all boils down to an intense clash between your values and your practices that could be causing some intense psychological conditions, such as anxiety and depression. For instance, you may be an animal-lover who would never consider harming any animal, whether in a home, on a farm, or in the wild. But while you’re at the grocery store, you purchase chicken, beef, and pork that are non-organic (when the option to buy organic is often in your peripheries). Although you might not be thinking about it consciously in that moment, you’ve likely been exposed to some information about the treatment of animals on industrial farms, or about the hormones put into the animals that you know are harming your family’s bodies. But this meat is less expensive, so you let your ethical conflicts remain below the surface, and you select the non-organic meat. And that’s exactly where the conflicts stay – below the surface. Your choice to buy meat from animals who were treated and nourished in a way that conflicts with your moral standards may not feel like it directly affects you, but research says that somewhere in your mind, this is causing psychological damage that may be manifesting in conditions that you suffer from on a daily basis (anxiety is a big one).
The choice to spend more money on organic products is a difficult one. But if even one of these reasons inspires you to try making a change, you will be making a difference and supporting positive change in the global food system with your dollar. It’s important to remember that making the effort to try to buy organic when you have the opportunity is much more valuable than not trying at all – you don’t have to go cold turkey on the other stuff! Simply thinking more about your food choices will bring about slow change, and you’ll be surprised how easy it becomes over time.
If you're in the Vancouver or Victoria area, SPUD will deliver local and organic produce right to your door, and for a limited time, you can get a $40 box for $30 ($10 of that $30 will be donated to the Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society)! See spud.ca/cpaws for details.