Is organic produce really worth the price?
Over the past several years, the popularity of organic food has boomed. And when I say boom, I mean more than doubled since 2010, according to the USDA Department of Agriculture. Organic food has widely been associated with “eating clean”, with so many buyers believing that consuming organic is more beneficial for their health lieu of conventional food.
While I am not a registered dietician nor an expert in food science, I have been closely following the health and nutrition field since I was a freshman in high school, and I did take Nutrition Science and Exercise Science classes last semester. I have done my research, and the article is compiling these years of what I have learned about eating organic.
So, let’s view some of the research done comparing organic to processed food.
First and foremost, I would like to clear up a few vocabulary words. The definition of “organic” is, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides.” To put it simply, organic food is grown without pesticides.
On the opposite end, “conventional”, when used in terms of food, is defined as “made using pesticides, chemical herbicides.” From these simple definitions, it can appear that organic is automatically “healthier”, but there is more to this than meets the eye.
Harvard Health released a study in 2019 titled “Are organics worth it?” Their research acknowledged that, although consuming organic may help the environment due to the fact they are grown without pesticides, “there isn’t clear evidence that organic foods are healthier for people”.
Organic farming forgoes fertilizers and often tends to pay more attention to the environment when cultivating crops. Their meat is not given antibiotics or hormones. These methods are beneficial for the environment and cause less harm than conventional farming. If being eco-friendly is your concern, then buying organic is worth it.
My problem is the claim that organic food is “healthier” for consumers.
There has been an enormous boom in the consumption of organic over the past decade. According to the USDA, in 2010 the U.S. spent $26.9 billion on these products. Over a mere decade, this number more than doubled, with Americans spending $52 billion in 2021 (prices were adjusted for inflation).
Why do we spend so much on these products? Because the media has decided that these are “healthier”. Everywhere you look, from commercials to Instagram feeds and celebrity endorsements, the world tells us that we will be “healthy” if we eat a certain way.
I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but if you eat conventional food and suddenly switch to organic, that will not automatically make you “healthy”.
It is commonly known that organic farmers do not use synthetic pesticides and allow their animals to be “free range” in an attempt to make their products as natural as possible. However, according to the USDA, the exact language is that “Regulations prohibit organically processed foods from containing artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors ….with some minor exceptions. For example, processed organic foods may contain some approved non-agricultural ingredients, like enzymes in yogurt, pectin in fruit jams, or baking soda in baked goods.”
Washing fruits and vegetables with non-residue soap and rinsing in water can help reduce the pesticide left on the food, and also removes bacteria and dirt that may be present. Keep in mind that there are regulations on how much pesticide residue can be left on foods. Small amounts are not a concern.
And, even with the organic label, there are some exceptions. Not everything is certified “healthy”.
But is there really, truly a difference between the two products? Do people who eat organic become “healthy” even though there are not as many pesticides in organic?
York College in Pennsylvania did a study comparing the two, just one study of many. Their conclusion was that “there is currently not enough evidence to suggest that one method of growing makes food more nutritious to eat than the other.”
The University of California also released an analysis of organic food completed by pediatricians. They also concluded that, after comparing nutrient levels, the benefits of conventional produce are similar to that of organic.
In these foods, the only difference is the method they were grown or raised. The nutrient level does not differ from an organic apple to a conventional apple. By the time they arrive at the grocery store, the only difference between them is the price.
We are all well aware of how drastically prices have gone up over an extremely short period of time. Groceries seem to become more and more expensive by the week. Even before inflation struck hard, organic foods were ridiculously out-pricing conventional. According to the USDA, organic food can cost anywhere from 10% to 134% more than the conventionally grown product! Much of the population has a hard enough time affording conventional food. To afford organic is typically not in the budget – I know it’s not in mine!
An apple is an apple. Carrots are carrots, hamburgers are hamburgers, and so on. If you are set on eating organic to be “healthy”, then perhaps rethink your methods. Merely switching from conventional to organic does not make someone “healthier”. If you want to eat more fruits and vegetables, don’t bother beating yourself up if they are not “organic”.
On the flip side, if you are concerned about hormones in animals and more eco-friendly farming methods, and you can fit it into your budget, then organic works for you. Maybe it won’t impact your health, but merely eating your fruits and veggies is a small victory right there.
I may not be a food expert, but I do consult the experts when I have questions. I encourage you to always do your own research before letting the media dictate how you should live your life, whether it be in the food you eat or anything else in your life.