In a recent discussion with my friend Ross, we discussed the idea of paying more for organic food. The discussion involved why one should pay more than you do for normal food. As we do sometimes, Ross was the sceptic and I played the part of the organic crunchy guy.
The problem breaks down into two problems really: Why should you buy organic, and then, seperately, why should you be willing to spend more money, sometimes signifigantly more.
First, I discuss my personal reasons why one should buy organic, and focus on health.
One argument for buying organic is for your health. In reading Fast Food Nation, I have become increasingly aware of where honest natural flavors are entering my body and where I’m simply being fooled by chemical flavoring. In addition, excess chemicals used for preservatives, texture, and appearance further complicate the chemical balance of your food. For the purposes of discussion, I’ll focus on the chemicals used in flavoring, but the argument applies to any of these other “enhancements.”
Fast Food Nation explains that by the FDA’s own definition, artificial and natural flavoring are both created by artificial means. Having chemicals in your food is not in itself inherently evil – many of these chemicals do in fact exist in all natural food. What is discomforting is that you are introducing additional chemicals that would not have otherwise entered your body with that particular food. These “chemicals” in themselves may or may not be harmful, but the issue is that your body evolved to process specific proportions of protiens, carbs, and fats, along with specific proportions of vitamins and minerals. Your body has will absorb the proper nutritional content based on these proportions. When you muck with them, you muck with your own system for absorbing nutrition.
Organic food consists of either raw food such as vegetables and grains, or combinations of these raw foods, without excess processing. What this means is that when you eat organic granola, you are ingesting the specific balance of nutrients that naturally occurs in each ingredient of the granola.
For example, according to Dan Benaroot in Nutrition for Serious Atheletes, iron is more easily absorbed when eaten in meat. Vegetables have oxalic acid, which “reduces iron availability.” I don’t know much about the specific chemicals involved in flavoring, but just suppose oxalic acid was something that made hamburgers taste better – perhaps enhancing the “grilled” flavor, or making the burger taste less oily. If this chemical were added to your meat, the meat would become less nutritious! This is of course entirely based on supposition, but I think it illustrates the concept well. As the human race has evolved to survive at least into the last century, our bodies are naturally geared towards the existing chemical balance that exists in unenhanced food. Flavor companies are not trying to enhance the nutritional value of the food they are flavoring. They are often working independent of nutritional value.