Sometimes, in some places, under the misanthropic guise of some people, it is easy to forget just how powerful our food is. The reality is that many of us are completely detached from where our food comes from and the only insight into how it gets from farm to our table comes while walking through the aisles of the grocery store. However, this is starting to change as more people are beginning to take interest in how their food is grown, and learning more about how the foods we choose and purchase influence the larger agriculture system.
One of the major shifts we’ve seen in the last decade when it comes to food production, as a result of this interest, is a rise in the availability of organics. Once we started to understand how the plethora of pesticides and other chemicals used to grow food en masse impact not only our own health, but also the health of the planet and animals as well, organic produce became all the more desirable.
Studies have shown that eating organic can reduce the amount of harmful chemicals in our bodies, and in addition to this; there are many other positive benefits to choosing organic whenever possible. You might already try to buy organic when you shop for personal reasons, here are a few more that illustrate the larger, far-reaching benefits of eating organic.
More Organic Means Less Chemicals in the Ecosystem
One of the most apparent benefits of choosing organic is the fact that producing these foods does not rely on the use (or overuse) of petrochemical pesticides and herbicides. Worldwide, around 5.2 billions tons of pesticides are used every year, in the U.S. around 80 percent of pesticides are used for the agriculture industry. These chemicals are used by farmers to ensure the high yields of crops by minimizing the potential for pest invasions or the overgrowth of competitive weeds that choke out the desired plants. While these chemicals might be very effective at this, unfortunately, they don’t tend to stay in one place. Many pesticides are water soluble, meaning they are easily broken down by water, making them more likely to be absorbed into dirt or carried off in run-off water.
When pesticides enter local waterways, they pose a threat to the local ecosystem – including people. Exposure to the chemicals in pesticides has been tied to birth defects and certain cancers in people. By shifting towards organic farming that does not use these harmful chemicals, we can reduce the amount of toxins that enter our environment and avoid these horrific health impacts.
In the U.S., the majority of agricultural land is devoted to a few staple crops, namely corn, soy, and wheat. These crops are mostly used for livestock feed, to bolster processed foods, and a small section is designated directly for human consumption. The versatility of these crops have made them commodity crops and the agricultural system favors their cultivation. The problem is that growing a large amount of one single crop depletes nutrients in the soil and makes it more difficult to produce high yields year after years. This can leave soil dry and prone to erosion with heavy rains – making it more likely for pesticides and fertilizers to run off as well. To make up for this deficit, farmers have turned to dousing their crops in fertilizers and other chemicals that can restore the nutrients in the soil … but also come with a number of environmental concerns.
Organic farming excludes the use of these chemicals, relying instead on natural methods to repel insects and promote healthy crop growth. Rather than growing one crop constantly, organic farmers will rotate crops to naturally fix nutrients into soil, increasing local biodiversity. Some will even grow different crops in pairs to naturally repel pests. This not only enables the soil to recover naturally but has a positive impact on the entire ecosystem.
Organic Whole Foods Cause Less Waste
Another added benefit to choosing organic, whole food produce over processed alternatives is the waste that is saved from packaging. Generally, these foods require no packaging at all. They are more often than not transported in reusable containers, such as crates, and for those of us on the ball, they will never see the inside of a plastic bag. Sure, dry beans or whole grains might require a little packaging here or there, but rarely do we find organic whole foods in a cellophane-wrapped cardboard box with plastic tray, sealed with cling film, inside of it.
The footprint of all the packaging used to make that corn chip, to have the convenience of microwave dinner, causes an almost inconceivable amount of waste. But, organic whole foods just provide some skins or peels, bits, and ends, to throw into a compost bin, which in turn provides us with rich, healthy soil for the next crop to grow in. No waste necessary.
Nobody’s perfect, and perhaps no food is either. Sure, we all enjoy the occasional chips and salsa routine, even a quick frozen meal in a rush (Why not make our own out of whole food frozen meals?). Maybe not all whole foods, say potatoes or corn, are of the highest nutritional content. That may be the case — it’s true. However, in no way does it mean that we shouldn’t strive to put more organic whole foods in our daily diets because they are better for us and they are better for the planet. By actively looking for and purchasing organic foods we can start to heal the broken food system and undo the environmental damage caused by large-scale, chemical-dependent monoculture farming … plus, we get to eat a lot of delicious food in the process. Sounds like a pretty good deal to us!
Lead image source: Alessio Maffeis/Flickr