Committing to Organic

I’m lucky enough to have green spaces, caf├ęs, shops, and cultural centers within walking distance of my office. And there’s plenty of people-watching opportunities in our New England college town. I was outside on a beautiful day recently and fell into step behind a young woman. She was lean and blond and looked the picture of health. Then she lit a cigarette, and my impression changed in an instant.

This is not a lecture on the evils of smoking. Instead, I’m thinking about a realization I had when a fit-looking college student lit up: You can’t always determine health at a glance. Or toxicity, as the case may be.

The lesson applies to food too. At the market, in the kitchen, on our plates, and in our children’s lunch boxes—conventional foods don’t look much different from organic ones, do they? I’ve seen (and eaten) plenty of gorgeous apples from conventional orchards. But now that I know that apples are the dirtiest of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen,” I’m all too aware of the pesticide residue I’ve consumed.

Apples are, of course, just a particularly vivid example of a problem that goes deep in our country’s food system. I buy organic because it’s the best way to protect myself and my family from exposure to pesticides used on conventional farms and in food processing. (The clear environmental benefits and the safer conditions for farm workers factor in too.) But I’m convinced that organic shouldn’t be a choice that some lucky few of us get to make.

Consumers rarely have pesticide residue–detecting equipment on hand, and not everyone has as much time as I do to think about an apple’s back story. Unfortunately, we cannot make the change on our own.

Celebrated nutritionist Marion Nestle was interviewed in an impressive new volume on global food policy called Eating Planet. In the interview, she reminds us that it took “aggressive action on the part of governments” to implement anti-smoking policies. Personal choice is paramount, but what policies can we envision that create an environment where clean food is the norm—and what steps will we take to work toward them together?


Posted by: Johanna Arnone, Chief Content Officer and Strategist

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