It's true that those organic eggplants, peaches and frozen burritos cost more than their conventional counterparts, which is a big reason why a lot of people aren't buying them. But there are many other reasons why more people should be voting for the big O with their dollars (no, not Oprah, although the media maven has long been a champion of healthy food).
For your health: Tests have proven the expected: that organic foods have lower residues of pesticides than their conventional cousins. The jury is still out on whether accumulated low doses of such chemicals impact human health, but more and more people are opting to play it safe and cut back on their toxic burden. Further, supporters have long believed that organic foods are likely to contain more and higher quality nutrients. Recent evidence found tomatoes grown with organic methods had more heart-disease fighting antioxidants than those grown conventionally.
For worker health: Most of the time, we don't give much thought to the many people who work for us behind the scenes of things. We don't need to know every step that our car mechanic takes to fix our engine, and we certainly don't want to hear about his family troubles or how his weekend went. On the other hand, how much responsibility do we have to the health and safety of others? It is known that farm workers have high rates of cancer and other serious illnesses. Many fruit pickers are poorly educated, and are often not trained to safely handle chemicals, or aren't provided safety gear. As a result, they end up getting poisoned for our produce.
For taste: As anyone who likes black licorice, chicken livers or Rocky Mountain oysters knows, taste is highly subjective. That's why food commodities like coffee and wine are judged by panels of professional tasters and not just anyone off the street. The Internet has long been filled with anecdotal accounts of those who swear that organic carrots taste better than conventional ones. But that's not easy to prove. What is clear is that more and more high-end chefs are buying organic ingredients simply because they are convinced that they offer a fuller, richer dining experience.
Reduce your taxes: By promoting good land management, organic farming keeps more soil in place, meaning governments have to spend less money dredging out the silt from navigable waterways. On a larger scale, keeping toxins away from workers and out of the environment will help keep health-care costs down for everyone. With a safer food supply, regulators will have to spend less time policing and cleaning up the messes of big agribusiness.
For the environment: As we learned decades ago when DDT was making bird eggs precariously thin, the natural environment can be surprisingly fragile. Wanton application of toxic pesticides is clearly having an affect on wildlife and air and water quality. Given the staggering complexity of ecology, synergistic effects of chemicals and a lack of many wide-ranging studies on ecosystem-level interactions, it's clear that eschewing as many known toxins as possible will go a long way to making sure that our children don't inherit a silent spring.
For future generations: Done properly, organic farming builds up healthy soil through moisture retention, composting, crop diversity and fostering of beneficial organisms. It takes soil so long to form that most scientists essentially consider it a nonrenewable resource, and enormous amounts are lost through erosion, chemical inundation and overly intensive commercial agriculture. Check out a satellite image of the gigantic plume of brown at the mouth of the Mississippi River to get a visual sense of what the next generations are losing to poor management.
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