Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Are Organic Pesticides–or the Fruit Itself–Really Worse Than Conventional Farming???

February 7th, 2014 · 33 Comments · Food for Thought

Conventional vs. Organic Foods

Almost 40,000 people thought the “Organic, Schmorganic” article last week at Slate.com was worth sharing with their friends, including a sharp KS reader who was disturbed by the claims made, namely that buying organic produce, even for kids, is a total waste of money and not one iota safer than conventional produce.

Articles like this bug me, too.

I absolutely understand the author’s reasons for digging into the issue – every time I spend double or triple the money on organic food, I am pained. “Is it worth it? Really?” She’s not alone in asking the question.

Melinda Wenner Moyer of Slate.com decided to “dig into the literature and talk to toxicologists, horticulturists, risk experts, and nutritionists to find out whether the chemicals in conventionally farmed foods could truly pose a risk to [her] child.” Anytime I read an article like this, I try to keep a few rules in mind for assessing the facts:

  • What do the numbers actually say (rather than how they are presented) and what is the source?
  • Who are the experts cited and what is their experience, motivation, and yes, potentially on whose bankroll might they be?
  • Are the facts presented related to the issue the way the author intends? (Correlation does not always equal causation.)
  • Are the results of the study applicable to the question? (For example, in this case, the author is looking at children. Do the studies study children???)
  • And then, because I’m human, Christian, and a mom, I also look at my own experience if applicable, stories from friends and the KS community, and I do a gut check. That means I ask myself, “What makes sense to me and resonates with what I know to be true and what fits with traditional societies as well, the way things were done successfully decades and centuries ago?” Since God created the world and humans to be here, that’s a good starting point – keeping in mind that we are a fallen world and evil is real.

Let’s unpack Moyer’s research and arguments, one mom to another…

The Goal of the Research

In her own words:

I want to start off by saying that this column is not about whether organic agriculture is worth supporting for its environmental benefits (I think it is) or whether we as a society should care about the chemicals found in our foods and household products (I think we should). This column is about whether it’s worth buying organic produce for your kids specifically because you think the pesticides on conventional produce could harm them. (If you’re curious about the importance of feeding your kids organic dairy products, meats, and eggs, you’ll have to wait because I’m going to tackle that in another column.)

She discovered many facts in her search, some which make sense and support her eventual argument that we should all just buy conventional produce for our kids’ health, and some which ultimately do not.

1. Organic Does Not Mean Pesticide-Free

Ms. Moyer makes a very valid and concerning point here: Using citations and research, she lays out a few pesticides that are approved for organic farming and demonstrates that the organic versions are as toxic or more to human health than the conventional pesticides, and also that the organic pesticides typically have to be sprayed more often partly because of their ability to break down that enables them to be labeled organic, and partly because they’re just not as effective.

It’s incredibly concerning to me that one might ingest more toxic pesticides by buying organic produce over conventional. Without digging into the sources for hours and enlisting the help of scientists, there’s nothing I can do to debunk that.

However, I disagree that the news automatically means that we should avoid or fear organics.

What is most concerning about that entire section of the article is how flawed our government can be. Well done, USDA, for allowing super toxic pesticides to fall under your “certified organic” label. THAT is the real problem here, and the other problem is the use of the EPA’s “safe exposure limits” as the only measuring stick for the toxicity of one chemical vs. another (because even water is a chemical, you know).

Also, I think we can agree with Moyer that the lack of research is another real problem. After she discovered that the studies testing organic produce for pesticides only looked for synthetic pesticides, she writes:

As far as I can tell, however, no one has published a comparison of the overall amounts of both types of pesticides on organic versus conventional produce, so it’s hard to conclude much from these findings other than that, yes, organic produce can be pesticide-tainted, too.

In other words, even though it is true that some of the organically certified pesticides are more toxic than the standard conventional (by weight, never tested on children), and also that those pesticides may be used 2-4 times as often on a given crop, no one actually knows what toxins are left by the time the apple gets to our cutting boards.

Perhaps the organic pesticides, certified as such because they break down in the environment, will have broken down into much less harmful substances in the weeks or months of storage and transport from Washington state to your grocery store. Perhaps those nasty natural pesticides will have broken down into something much worse!

Without the research, we really have no idea…which means that it’s not fair to throw the baby out with the bath water, or in this case, the organic produce out with the news about toxic natural pesticides.

We just don’t know enough yet.

2. “It’s the Dose that Makes the Poison”

Moyer’s preceding argument about synthetic vs. “natural” pesticides and the relative toxicity of each segues into this quote that “any toxicologist will tell you…”

It’s the dose that makes the poison.

The EPA’s exposure limits are once again treated as solid fact, when in my experience nothing changes faster than governmental recommendations on what is safe and unsafe. We are always learning more about our complex environment and human bodies, and I don’t think it’s prudent to rest on those limits and think, “Well, as long as I’m just getting a little of this toxic substance, it will be okay.”

I don’t want to sit around and wonder what my total load of pesticide X, Y, or Z might be if I eat 5 pieces of fruit and 7 vegetables in a day, plus meat, dairy, beans and grains. I’m not doing that math whether I’m eating organic or conventional, so my best practice needs to simply be to keep my total toxin load as low as possible. (It will never be zero; let’s just understand that right now.)

Our bodies are amazing systems equipped to deal with quite a bit of crap (pardon my language) and survive it. If every carcinogen my 34-year-old body had ever encountered actually caused cancer to begin, I’d be one big huge tumor by now. But our bodies counteract, we resist, we fight, we heal. Every antioxidant we eat is going to be one more positive weight on the balance scale of our health, while every carcinogen or other toxin, even the stress we put ourselves through worrying about food, will tip the scales toward disease of some sort.

So how do we deal with all that and “it’s the dose that makes the poison?”

  1. We wash our produce well, whether it’s organic or conventional. Washing doesn’t knock out all chemicals by any means, but Moyer’s article stated that a vigorous rinse with rubbing/scrubbing is in fact going to “reduce pesticide exposures significantly.”
  2. We don’t freak out if we can’t source organics. Trust that, yes, your body can and will handle plenty of junk before it succumbs to cancer or other disease.
  3. We consider total load vs. body weight and immune system. Is organic and conventional produce equal when it comes to children? The EPA hasn’t really told us. Their levels don’t account for a twelve or twenty-pound tiny little person with a developing gut. Do I know that pesticides hurt kids more than they hurt adults? Nope. Does it make sense for me to treat my little ones with more care than the EPA says I can treat myself? Yup.

The problem, of course, is that if organic pesticides are equally as toxic as conventional pesticides (in every instance? or just apples?), then how do we know what to feed those precious little bodies that would be least toxic?

Some say there is absolutely no difference, either in levels of toxicity or in nutrients, between organic and conventionally grown produce. There’s research to prove it. But I’ve read too many stories of people who make no change in their lifestyle other than switching to organic food to believe that all things are equal there.

I may not understand what the difference is, but when you read Carrie Vitt’s journey from multiple daily medications at age 25 to vibrant, med-free health at Deliciously Organic (or her book of the same title, found here on Amazon via my affiliate link), it’s hard to believe that organic foods can’t make a person healthier. Her changes later included more unprocessed foods, but at first the only change was organic lettuce.

No one wants to reach their total toxin load. Because of genetics and experience, every person is eventually going to reach their breaking point at a different level and in a different way.

For Carrie, it was migraines in her 20s, somehow related to conventionally farmed food. For my husband, Crohn’s Disease reared its ugly head at age 19. Gluten itself was likely as much of a toxin to his body as any pesticide, even though for other people gluten would not stress their systems. For my dad, who doesn’t like to admit it but has been a senior citizen for a decade already, bladder cancer just hit last week, and we’ll probably never know this side of Heaven precisely what sequence of events or exposures tipped the scales.

Will your toxic tipping point come early or late? Will have natural or synthetic influences? No one can foresee this. We can only do our utmost to decrease the total stressors from our diet and environment.

That may not mean that organic produce is the key to long life and good health – but I don’t think Moyer proves that organic food has no worth. Rather, she makes a clear argument that the government’s definition of organic food leaves much to be desired.

3. Pesticides Don’t Impact Children any Differently Than Adults

The article doesn’t explicitly say it, but it implies that studies that demonstrated negative implications for kids from pesticides were flawed: that they measured levels due to exposure to conventional farms themselves, not from eating conventionally grown produce, or that not enough samples were collected.

So again, perhaps Moyer can convince us that we don’t know if pesticides impact brain development or play a role in ADHD or autism. But I’m not in the camp of “innocent unless proven guilty” when it comes to what I’m putting in my kids’ bodies. Just because we haven’t proven that it causes an issue doesn’t mean we’ve proven it perfectly safe.

We come up with null once again. We learn that more research is needed, which will be hard to get funding for because the big bucks are behind the chemical patents and big pharma/big ag, not against them.

4. Fruits and Veggies have Naturally Occurring Toxins

This argument came as the greatest surprise for me; it’s one I had not heard of before.

I can’t decide where to cut this quote shorter, so I’m just going to share a really long one before I dissect it:

Research conducted by Bruce Ames, director of the Nutrition & Metabolism Center at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, has found that Americans consume about 1,500 milligrams of natural toxins from plants a day, which is approximately 16,000 times more than the 0.09 milligrams of synthetic pesticides we get from food every day.

These natural toxins are for real, too: According to Ames’s work, the natural chemicals that are known to cause cancer in animals and are found in a single cup of coffee are about equal in weight to a year’s worth of our exposure to synthetic pesticide residues that are known to cause cancer.

In a 1996 report, the National Research Council, a non-profit institution that provides expert advice to the government, noted that “natural components of the diet may prove to be of greater concern than synthetic components with respect to cancer risk,” in part because “synthetic chemicals are highly regulated while natural chemicals are not.”

Let’s just sit and digest this for a minute. As if we don’t have enough to worry about, now we learn that the fruits and veggies themselves are going to kill us.

Let’s just stop eating, right?

Luckily both the researchers and Moyer quickly launch into an “eat more fruits and veggies” campaign, since the positive benefits of eating plants far outweigh the risks of consuming all those natural toxins. Moyer posits that since there are so many horrible substances in the plants themselves, we ought not split hairs about the miniscule differences between the kind of pesticide used, organic or conventional.

It’s a valid argument. But one could easily say the opposite:

Because we are exposed to so many toxins, even in completely natural foods, we ought be especially careful not to allow ourselves, and particularly our children, to be exposed to any more.

It’s all about how you say something. I laugh when people say that the new screening machines in airports expose a person to “no more radiation than a cross-country plane flight itself.” Far from comforting me, I interpret that as, “Going through the screening and then flying on a plane doubles my exposure and therefore risk of complication as compared to just flying on a plane.”

Whether any of that contributes enough to my personal toxic load to tip the scales to disease, I won’t know. But I err on the side of caution in airports, and I’m working on doing the same with what I ingest.

As for the 4-digit numbers of chemicals found inside that strawberry? I’m much more willing to trust that God who made the entire world, who fashioned the giraffe, the hippopotamus, and my children, who wants only good things for His children, was capable of creating good food for us to eat in the perfect packages, than that our sources of vitamins are laced with truly toxic substances.

If a strawberry has natural toxins, I would bet that it has exactly the natural antioxidants and other antidotes in the perfect balance our body needs to process those toxins out.

I’m much less inclined to believe that a room full of agricultural scientists have our best interests in mind when they formulate pesticides, be they organic or not!

5. Don’t Trade Organic Snacks for Conventional Produce

At the very end of the article, Moyer finally drives home the point she’s been trying to address all along: That the parents in  her circles who were so afraid of conventionally grown produce that they’d eschew a banana and offer their kids Annie’s organic crackers instead are backward and foolish.

She rightly deems that decision “not smart” and says:

It is far, far better for your kids’ long-term health to get them in the habit of eating whole fruits and vegetables, regardless of what type of farm they came from, than to give them pretty much anything else to eat, no matter how organic or all-natural it may be.

Here, I can agree 100% – but I’ll do it without hours of research to try to besmirch organics and convince people that they are not worth buying.

What Moyer Missed

Here’s “the rest of the story…”

GMOs

Organically certified food is not allowed to be genetically  modified. Granted, there aren’t a vast number of fruits and veggies that are currently approved GMO, and the research isn’t black and white on whether genetic modification harms humans or not, but…it hasn’t been around long enough to be proven innocent.

What if GMO crops do cause major health issues? Parents who mistrust GM foods need to be assured that if they’re buying organic, they’re not getting GMOs.

fertilizers

It dries me crazy that every time someone talks about organic vs. conventional food, they seem to only focus on one aspect of the issue. Over and over, Moyer used the term “pesticides” as if that’s the only difference between organic and conventional crops.

What about the synthetic fertilizers? What about the herbicides? What about those GMOs?

They are unaddressed, which makes me feel like Moyer’s criticism of the issue is about as comprehensive as reviewing a book by the preview you can see on an Amazon Kindle page. She didn’t cover the whole story.

dead soil and the future

Moyer does admit that she’s not taking into account the health of the environment, only her child’s immediate health risk. Many conventional fertilizers are causing major problems in the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s often said that U.S. farmland is becoming more and more infertile because the synthetic fertilizers are messing with the natural ecosystem and cycle of soil health.

Is it fair to judge organic vs. conventional produce without taking into account the whole picture? The health of the soil in California or Washington State will actually affect both Moyer’s and my children, because they are going to grow up depending on crops from those states, most likely. If we kill our ecosystem, humankind goes down with it, kids.

The mission of Kitchen Stewardship and the four pillars have always been focused on balancing all of our gifts. Of course I couldn’t advocate ignoring the big picture completely, even if I would rather keep my own kids’ immediate interests at the forefront of my decision making too.

Our organic purchase impacts more than just what’s on our plates.

The Bottom Line: Are Organics Worth Anything?

What all of this comes down to is that we can’t trust the government with our health, and that the amazing depth and breadth of science still hasn’t figured everything out about the human body and the ecosystem in which we live.

Our heads spin with all the stats and research we have access to on the Internet. But simply learning that with conventional produce, I’ll be exposed to fewer pesticides than the EPA says is okay is not all that comforting to me.

The EPA and all government agencies have been wrong in the past, and they’ll be wrong again, so those levels can’t be my measuring stick for my family’s health and my eating decisions. Maybe all exposure is carcinogenic in the long run. Maybe it’s all perfectly safe.

On the other hand, what this article is really saying is that “buying organic” isn’t the perfect answer. It’s not like a “get out of cancer free card.” This is a true and somber statement, and one I addressed not too long ago when I explored the safety of organic food from China.

The government, who regulates what “organic” means, has allowed natural pesticides that might still harm us. Great. Thanks, Uncle Sam. They also can’t or don’t regulate every aspect of organic farming, like the polluted irrigation water I pointed out in the article about China above.

What all this means is that it’s likely that the environment is safer with government certified organics, but we humans might not be.

What Next?

It’s a quandary – as the author said, what do we do now?

If the double and triple priced strawberries really might not be all that much safer, do we (a) buy the conventional or (b) stop eating strawberries?

Of course, we have to have food to eat! The best case scenario is to find a local farmer who doesn’t spray at all or grow your own…but for many, that’s impossible.

Ultimately we need to trust ourselves, God’s creation, and, when we can, our local farmers. I would much rather buy from a farmer who knows precisely what he or she is putting on their crops and is doing the best they can, than to blindly buy a big conglomerate’s box of organic spinach.

Sadly, in February in Michigan, I have little choice but to take the gamble on organic or conventional produce. (A secret: I sometimes still buy conventional lettuce and often buy conventional produce when the organic option travels from places more far flung than California, like peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, and more.)

I just can’t and don’t do it all, and I’m trying to teach myself to let little things go, like not worrying if I grab a quarter cup of water from the tap instead of filtered water. I have to remind myself that just a few years ago, I drank exclusively from the tap, so our current filtering is far above and beyond that.

I have never been the type to push “one way only” onto people, even in something as minor the the style I choose to write my recipes: Have you noticed mine rarely if ever say things like “organic such-and-such” or “sea salt” or “filtered water?” I just list the basic ingredients, and then if you know better and use Real Salt, good! If someone didn’t know anything about what kind of salt to use, I wouldn’t want them to avoid my recipes just because they thought they couldn’t make them without the perfect salt, water, etc.

Sometimes we can have too  much knowledge – like when I researched the anti-mold substance sprayed on the surface of all citrus. My first reaction was not to buy citrus, but I’ve found the balance in just trying to wash the citrus very well, with a scrub brush, and not using the peels in cooking or left floating in a glass of water. As repulsed as I am by the chemicals used, we need fresh fruit in the winter, and citrus is a great option.

Do I Spend More on Organic Produce?

So when I do buy organic produce, am I expecting that it’s safer for my family than conventional stuff?

Well, yeah, before I read this article, of course I did!

As with every single topic in nutrition, politics, and health, not one aspect of the discussion is black and white. There are no easy answers, and there is no shortage of controversy and conflicting research.

But in the end, I am not convinced that we should avoid organic produce and embrace its conventionally grown counterparts.

I think the most important lesson here is that conventionally grown produce is still more beneficial than anything with an ingredient list, organic or not. Another is that some conventional farmers grow fairly “clean” crops, and yet another is that organic-approved pesticides aren’t exactly as harmless as water.

We’re left thanking Ms. Moyer for her tireless research and praying all the more before we eat our meals, whether they’re mostly organic or whatever you could afford.

And while her son munches on his Shoprite strawberries at breakfast, mine will be enjoying frozen blueberries that we picked ourselves (only about 10% organic, sadly) and organic frozen raspberries from Costco – yet in small portions in homemade yogurt. I can’t afford to put a whole box of strawberries of any kind in front of my fruit-loving children at breakfast!

How do you prioritize organic produce, for children or adults in your family?

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33 Comments so far ↓

  • Katie

    Having been part of the organic farmers crowd but not being certified myself, I want to say that many define themselves this way “organic operations must maintain or enhance soil and water quality, while also conserving
    wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife.” as stated on a usda brochure entitled “Is Organic an Option for Me?”
    However, you are correct, non-synthetic sprays can be used. You can read about each type here: http://www.groworganic.com/weed-pest-control/organic-pest-control/organic-pesticide.html.
    To find out about organic requirements, visit usda.gov and search organic.
    Organic and all that is lumped in this category is not only a health issue, it is also environmental, social, political, etc. issue. Sorry for sending you to other articles.

    That being said, as a non-organic, but sustainable farmer I totally agree with this statement, ” best case scenario is to find a local farmer who doesn’t spray at all or grow your own” and all that follows. The quality of your produce, animal, etc doesn’t depend on the pesticides put on it or not, it depends on the soil it’s raised in, the food it is fed, the pasture it sits on, etc. Search out small family farms that know the value of one plant, one chicken, etc. and you’ll find good quality (and healthier) food.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Katie,
    I very much appreciate your perspective and love the extra information – it’s good to have that link here because I’ll know where to look next time I need better citations. Thank you!! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • 'Becca

    I prioritize organic on corn more than anything, because of the GMO issue and because the chemicals used on corn are so dangerous to the health of humans living near cornfields (even if they’re not as bad for those eating the corn)–lots of scary info on this in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

    Beyond that, I buy organic when it’s available at a reasonable price. I make more of an effort to find organic versions of the Dirty Dozen, and when I can’t, I try to substitute a different fruit/veg instead. For example, it’s basically impossible to get affordable organic canned peaches, so I buy canned apricots–they’re slightly higher in vitamins, anyway.

    When our next baby starts eating solids, we plan to offer mostly food from our meals rather than jarred baby food, like we did with our son–but we did buy some jars as backup for times we didn’t have anything ready to send for his lunch at childcare or we were going someplace where we weren’t sure what the adults were going to eat. For those, I ONLY buy organic; it’s easy to find here and not very expensive.

    I do make more effort on organics for little children and when pregnant and nursing. But I’ve learned to relax about it in restaurants and when my son was eating preschool-provided food. In my first pregnancy, I was so wary of non-organic dairy and eggs that I really did not get enough protein or iron, and that’s more of a problem than pesticides!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Lea Mtz

    awesome article! This is exactly what I struggle with daily. I have a 3 year old and while we ate a fairly healthy diet I didn’t become aware of sustainable/organics until he began eating solids. My awareness has turned to obsessiveness at times and I find myself struggling almost daily. We are in Chicago and organics are starting to dwindle. We are stuffing ourselves with the last local apples at our co-op and I have to rush past the grapes at the grocery store before my son flips out over why we can’t pick up his favorite fruit. It can be overwhelming and exhausting…especially on a limited budget. My general rule is organic only for the dirty dozen and whatever food my child is currently in love with. If I find something else organic that isn’t too much more expensive I will pick it up, if it’s in the clean 15 I will be ok with conventional. However I too will pick local over organics often. We do a CSA all year except for winter and we are lucky to live around several co-ops and small grocers that provide food directly from surrounding farms. All our meat and dairy is organic and/or pastured and humanely butchered but yet I stare at a conventional pepper and am guilt ridden about whether to buy it or not. I seriously need to learn to chill out and just accept that we will do the best we can. I also hope to learn to preserve the summer bounty by canning and freezing next summer so I can enjoy them during these dreary Chicago winters! In the meantime, I may just give in to my family’s cravings and pick up a bag of conventional grapes next time and enjoy them with abandon-at least once in a while!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Enjoy your abandon! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Judy via Facebook

    my concern with this article is the same as yours…that comparing apples to apples she’s insinuating (without any hard data) that organic produce is as toxic (if not more) than conventiona just because it takes less rotenone to be toxic than a synthetic pesticide. That’s horrible logic, not to mention unscientific.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Molly via Facebook

    Thank you for your thoughtful research and writing on this matter.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • casey

    I think WC Fields said it best:

    “All these health-nuts are going to feel stupid one day, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.”

    After I laugh – i interpret that as it doesn’t matter how ‘healthy’ you are, whether you eat organic vs conventional, whether you eat sugar, eat GMO’s or your 1 year old prefers toilet water over his bottle like my nephew, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to get cancer, diabetes, etc. Sure there are things we all know we shouldn’t eat, type 2 diabetes and obesity are at epidemic levels, etc. etc. But like Katie says, you can’t just go on what someone tells you – the other day I saw an article about how artificial sweeteners are perfectly fine – with quotes from scientists and lab reports and everything, but that doesn’t mean I would allow my kids to eat them. First they’re good, then they’re bad, then they’re good, then ooops regular milk is better than organic, don’t feed kids raw milk, raw milk is best, GMO’s are ok, GMO’s are bad, we don’t really know what GMO’s are, OMG my floor is emitting toxic fumes that may kill my kids, don’t buy food from China, don’t buy food from Mexico, only buy local foods, etc. etc.
    I think each person (or family, or couple or whatever) needs to make their own decisions and that we shouldn’t judge them for those. Just like Katie was talking about in her article yesterday about # of children, we are all doing the best that we can and it is our personal decisions that make us who we are. Nobody want’s to take responsibility for anything anymore – we all need to listen to our bodies and our hearts or in the case of our children listen to them, watch them, and you can probably figure out what they do and dont’ need.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Oh, man, that’s good stuff. :)

    I’m probably going to die of stress myself, but at least I’ll have earned it!

    LOL, Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Tiffany

    I always appreciate your input on these hot topics, Katie. We will continue to eat as we have which includes organic and/or local when we can, conventional when we can’t (either for lack of money or lack of options). And YES! A conventional banana over a bag of organic crackers any day.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Thank you so much, Tiffany! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sheila

    I did find that article comforting, just to know the pesticide load *is* pretty low. I can’t afford any organics right now — our struggle is to make it from one grocery shop day to the next — and I was losing sleep over how many potatoes we eat and how heavily I know they are sprayed. But I also know that with all crops there is an amount of time that has to elapse between the last spraying and harvesting/selling, and many of those pesticides do degrade. And of course we wash them!

    I did not at all like hearing about how toxic even organic sprays are. But it’s a little misleading acting as though that means there are more toxins on your apple. These sprays are quite toxic when they first go on, but they degrade extremely quickly. My grandparents used sprays like that on their cherries, and did have to spray more often because of it, but the last few weeks before harvest they didn’t spray. That did mean some bugs got to the cherries. But if the bugs were chowing down, that tells me the cherries weren’t too toxic by that point!

    There is little discussion of greater nutrition in organic food, probably because the evidence is so all over the place. Some studies don’t show any difference. Some (like those by Rodale) show a big one. My guess is it depends on how well your organic farmer is feeding his soil. Yet again, organic standards are no guarantee of really good practices.

    On one thing, everyone seems to agree: the more local, the better. Veggies start losing vitamins the moment they’re picked. So I’d rather have a really fresh non-organic tomato (well-washed) than an organic one that had traveled across a continent to reach me. Especially since the fuel use probably makes the local tomato better for the environment, too. Failing that, a canned tomato or frozen peas (which are frozen usually within hours of picking) may well be a healthier choice!

    I’m trying to shift to more local eating, which of course means more preserving for the winter. We do have a second freezer, so I feel I have no excuse!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Good for you Sheila!

    My daughter was just shocked today that I recycled a glass jar – “Aren’t you going to reuse that, Mom???” and I explained that we just can’t reuse them all since we buy tomato products new…I skipped canning tomatoes last summer, but for the reusing point alone I’m starting to think I need to find that 4-8 hours this summer and just do it!

    I do think it’s probably all about the soil, great point – and about the bugs!
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Karen

    I do like how you give recipes. No “my way only.” If I’m googling some recipe & see Himalayan sea salt or what not I run for the hills! ;)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Tanya

    Just thank you for helping make sense of it all.

    Bless you.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Julie

    A fairly recent study in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability shows that conventional breeding outperforms GMO crops both in yield and insecticide use. This turns conventional belief on its head. Does creating a sustainable agricultural system mean getting rid of the Monsanto model?

    http://www.alternet.org/food/why-monsanto-wrong-about-gm-crop-promises

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Thank you Julie!! I knew I had seen that somewhere and just didn’t track it down to include in this post. It turns the two biggest arguments for GM crops into a pile of junk, that’s what it does. Here’s hoping the reality gains traction over the dream…
    :) Katie

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  • Susan via Facebook

    Katie, I want to thank you for taking the time to tease out the issues of this hot topic. I agree with your assertion that, “Ultimately we need to trust ourselves, God’s creation, and, when we can, our local farmers.” And yes, I’ll keep “…praying all the more…”

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  • via Facebook

    As always, you do an amazing job breaking it down for others to understand. I’m totally sharing with my audience :)

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  • Loran Polder

    Thanks for putting together this info…this is a helpful article. We’re trying to make some healthy changes in our diet, but cannot afford all organic fruits and veggies, and have also wondered ourselves if they are really that much better. Totally agree that its better to buy from a farmer that you know cares about how they are farming instead of what makes more.money! And also completely agree that its better to eat a conventional plum than a box of organic cookies ;) Mostly just common sense and trying to stick with food the way God designed it.

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  • Deanna

    Thank you so much for writing this follow up!

    One of my Facebook friends posted links to these two articles this week:

    GMOs being safe: http://factsaboutgmos.org/

    And

    Hormones given to beef being okay because the amounts found in cabbage and peas are way greater and we have a ton already in our body:
    http://nefb.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/whats-the-beef-mms-and-hormones/

    Sigh. You should write responses to them that I can share them. :-)

    On the hormone one and the amount of hormones in our bodies that kind-of goes back to the thought behind their being natural chemicals, but I still want to avoid toxic (natural and not) chemicals and man made synthetic chemicals. I feel the same way about hormones.

    Thank you for all your work, Katie!

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  • tonya

    Regarding organic pesticides…these pesticides are natural pesticides from plants. Think planting marigolds in your veggie garden. Plants produce toxins. Example plants in the rainforest that are used to poison darts for hunting by the indigenous people. The only way to make organic produce chemical free would be to allow no natural pesticides, no natural herbicides, no natural fertilizers (manure, fish meal, bone meal).

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  • Eric Simpson

    Whether organic is safer or less safe might not really be the point. I think Slajov Sizek has an interesting point when he claims that paying double or three times as much for organic food is not a waste of money because what we are really buying is the ability to feel good about ourselves. See his essay on the subject here: http://www.greenfudge.org/2010/08/16/we-are-greenwashing-ourselves-slavoj-zizek-on-cultural-capitalism/

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  • Jeannie via Facebook

    https://www.facebook.com/ewg.org/posts/10102141688071765
    This is kind of a retort to the slate.com article that I thought was interesting. :)

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  • Jenny

    I’m glad you brought this up, Katie! I take a few issues with her article (though I agree with some of her points).

    First, *some* organic inputs are more toxic than *some* of the conventional inputs. BUT, and it’s a big BUT, organic farmers are only permitted to use class III (slightly toxic) and class IV (practically nontoxic) inputs (and only from a preapproved list). Conventional farms can use considerably more toxic inputs.

    Secondly, we also forget that our purchases do not only affect the health and well-being of our family; rather they affect our community, the farmers and the environment as a whole. Remember, whether or not someone is affected by these toxic substance depends on load. So while a conventional grape, for example, may have little residue, it’s important to think about how that purchase supports an industry where farm workers are exposed to very, very high levels of this toxic substances.

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    Brittany Reply:

    You make a great point that I think about a lot, living in farm country. Regardless of how much residue is left on the food when it gets to you, countless kids in my community are breathing toxins from the sprays in their air and drinking it in their water. Not to mention the workers who come directly into contact with the chemicals.

    A couple of years ago we were at a local, U-Pick no-spray apple orchard. In the fields across the street, they were spraying something on the crops. Right as a group of preschoolers were getting off a bus, a big wind came up and you could see the spray drift across the road to them. I always think of that instance when people claim there’s not any harmful amount of pesticides left on produce by the time you buy it. Maybe not (although it’s debatable), but it may have already done damage to someone else.

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    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Brittany,
    What an image! And an excellent reminder – I don’t want to be responsible for farmers and their kids and their neighbors getting all sorts of horrible diseases…. :( Katie

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  • Fearless Friday #1: Valentine's Day Edition - Mindful Meals

    […] great rebuttal from Kitchen Stewardship to an article that claimed organic produce was a waste of money. It’s not that simple, and I […]

  • Kelly @ The Nourishing Home

    Great post, Katie! Definitely sharing this via social media this week. Love how you covered each aspect so thoroughly. As for our house, we buy the dirty dozen organic and do conventional for everything else, except GMO crops, those we buy organic too. I wish we could afford organic everything across the board, but we have to make a decision about what was most important so we can afford other healthful nutritious foods in our food budget. It’s definitely a balancing act for those who live on a tight budget. But I do believe firmly that buying organic is the best choice. :) Thanks, sweet friend!

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    Kelly @ The Nourishing Home Reply:

    And by the way, the produce we do buy organic comes from our local farmers so I agree that trying to get to know your farmers is better. It’s also a great way to teach your children about where real food comes from since most local farmers will allow visits to the farm where you can see their crops and even some do U-picks. :)

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    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Thanks so much, Kelly! I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently after shopping/cooking for my dad who starts chemo tomorrow. I didn’t want to buy any conventional produce, but I couldn’t always help it….the balancing act is never easy!
    :) Katie

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  • sonja

    Thanks so much for your input, Katie! I must have missed this post due to the massive amount of snow days we’ve been having on the east coast (just had another today) — at home all day with quadruplets = little computer time! ;)

    Anyway, I think this just sums up my thoughts: we avoid processed/packaged foods as much as possible, and we eat organic when it’s not an outrageous difference in price. Life is about compromise, and I’d rather let my kids eat all the bananas and strawberries they want then limiting them to 3 berries a day or something because we can’t afford to buy organic ones.

    That being said, we did a farm share 2 years ago that I really loved and hope to participate in again in the future. The pick-up times were difficult with the little ones’ schedules, but hopefully that will change by next year.

    Thanks again for your take on this! I always appreciate your perspective.

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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