Wednesday, 10 September 2008

When It Comes To Organic Food, I’m In A Bit Of A Quandary

I’ve been thinking about organic food versus non-organic for a while now and although I’m still convinced that organic food has to be better for our health, I'm not so sure about the environmental side of things because, while there seemed to be no doubt that spraying the countryside with pesticides is damaging animal habitats and upsetting the balance of things, the fact that it’s a less efficient means of farming than the conventional non-organic way is worrying me. We have a growing population in this world that needs feeding so surely we need to be looking at ways that will increase food yields rather than reducing them?

Because organic farming is less productive, organic food naturally costs more. The farmer still has to make his living, after all. Now that increase in price is all very well and good for the middle-classes with a reasonable disposable income and those of us who are naturally frugally minded but what about those who are at the poorer end of the scale and who aren’t frugal in the same way? Those who don’t understand how to cut costs elsewhere in order to be able to afford the best possible quality of food? And not everybody can grow their own, either. Some live in flats without so much as a balcony, others may simply be physically incapable of growing much other than few herbs and salad leaves. These people still need to eat a good, balanced diet that’s affordable. Not to mention the starving millions who’d be ecstatic to have a diet that comes anywhere close to the one we generally enjoy.

Here in the UK, our children are suffering from obesity. The government have warned parents about the dangers of the fats and sugars that kids are being fed with (microwave meals being a HUGE culprit), but if the price of fresh fruit and vegetables continues to rise and production continues to decrease, the obesity situation isn’t going to get any better. I personally know families who honestly believe they can’t afford to give their children 5-a-day already, let alone buy organic pasta, rice, bread, milk, meat, fish and use organic herbs and spices, and although I could easily re-budget for them, making it possible to at least ensure 5-a-day of organic fruit and veg, being on a low income myself I know it isn’t possible to buy everything in its organic version and still have money to save for other essentials and a rainy day fund. Choices have to be made, and if the organic lobby get their way, those choices will surely become increasingly unavailable?

Of course, one answer is to stop all production of animal food products. No more beef, pork, lamb or poultry. No more eggs or milk. We all know that isn’t going to happen, though. Even though I’ve cut back on the amount of red meat we eat - especially beef as cattle are a big environmental problem - the hardened carnivores amongst us (of which I have to hold up my hand and admit that I am one) are never going to just sit back and quietly accept that.

While we’re on the subject of meat, this is the one area where I do believe organic really is best. While I’m still on the fence regarding the environmental consequences of organic crop farming - the pesticides that leech into the environment versus the growing need for food - when it comes to livestock, only the best possible methods of raising them is, in my opinion, acceptable. That means no stuffing them full of anti-biotics or keeping them in conditions that restrict movement and their ability to act naturally. Unlike fruit, vegetables, corn and the likes, animals have feelings and should never be raised or slaughtered under inhumane conditions just so that we can stuff our faces. We carnivores will just have to put up with a little less meat and fewer eggs, it’s as simple as that. We CAN get our protein elsewhere and if I can accept that I can’t have an egg for breakfast every day and I have to make my meat go further by adding more veg and cereal to stews, casseroles, meatballs and what have you, then so can others. Making do with less isn’t such a hardship and it beats having to give it up entirely.

Anyway, what do you think? Apart from the health benefits of eating organic food, should we keep focusing on organic food production for the sake of the environment or not?

Sharon J


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Jennifer said...

Definitely! I believe if more of us buy organic fruit and veg than more farmland will be given over to the organic method of farming. Once the 'change' has occurred to organic, it is actually cheaper for the farmers (no chemicals to buy in) and although the yield is a bit lower, the farmers actually make a better profit. (i.e as demand increases, supply increases will follow).

There are some people in this world that will never see the benefits of organic living, especially regarding food (fruit / veg/ dairy or beef) they just want cheap or just want it fast. You have to let them live they way they wanted to Sharon.

I believe all we can do as a converted organic community is continue to push forward, continue to buy WHAT WE CAN, and accept there will be hard times when even we can't afford it all the time.

Good post!


Richard said...

Surely you've covered part of the answer - This country's population is becoming more and more obese ergo they're eating more than they need to. More discipline, more food to go round. We gasp at the amount of good food being thrown away by supermarkets yet we rarely think about the waste we leave on our own plates. When we guiltily eat it up, we get fat. Just don't prepare it in the first place!

Doop said...

I've been in two minds about orgnic food too mainly for the reason you spoke of, that there are so many people in the world without enough food that I can't help feeling its somehow wrong to use more land than necessary to grow organic food. To me it feels as if we're once again looking after ourselves at the expense of the poorer people.

Anonymous said...

While I definitely believe in buying organic I have to weigh the cost of transportation. Most of the organic produce in my area (SW Florida) is still brought in from over 100 miles away and is usually 1 1/2 to 2 times more expensive.

Perhaps we should encourage farmers to grow crops (animal or vegetable) with the cleanest methods - crop rotation, using the least amount of chemicals/fertilizers, growing varieties that are truly suited to the area. I would think this would bring the cost down, increase production and therefore make more available to the masses.

wideblueyarn said...

Just found your blog and wanted to say hi. Great post by the way. It's true that organic food has a lower yeild but we utilize so little of our land for production of food. Lawns are a great waste of space and what about parks? Surely more effective useage of at least some green areas would go some way to feeding those who have no access to a garden?
Also I think that buying local produce is as important, if not more, than organic!

Sharon J said...

@ Jennifer. Y'know, I've thought about the fact that it must be cheaper for them in the long run too, so why the high prices? Is that just the shops cashing in on the 'trend' do you think?

@ Richard. I don't agree that the country's population are necessarily eating more than the need to, rather that they're eating the wrong types of food. Frozen microwave meals and take-aways are still, sadly, popular choices amongst many.

@ Doop. Well it's very typical of the western population to look after itself at the expense of others so you could be right.

@ Anonymous. Living where you do I understand the problem. I wouldn't buy organic food before local food if it meant there were too many food miles involved either. I made the mistake of buying organic potatoes recently only to discover that they were from Israel. Next time I shopped, I bought non-organic local potatoes instead (local as in produced within 30 mils of my home).

@ Wideblueyarn. Hi and welcome. Glad you found the blog :) You're bang on about the land that goes to waste although I wouldn't include parks in that. I do think that in densely populated areas it's important for our mental health to have open spaces where we can relax and enjoy something close to natural surroundings.


It seems to me that there are so many sides to this subject that there's no right or wrong answer. I think all we can do is whatever we believe is right. As Jennifer mentioned, people have to be able to live the way they choose. All we can hope for is that enough people make the right choices, whatever they may be.