Some things seem so logical, we just assume they’re true. For example: “Organic fruits and vegetables are healthier for you.” Are they really? It depends.
In Grumpy’s enlightened opinion, the overall healthiness of organic produce involves three distinct issues — nutrition, safety, and environmental impact. So let’s examine the most important question related to each issue.
“Is Organically Grown Produce More Nutritious Than That Grown With Chemicals?”
(I’m gonna get a lot of hate mail for saying this, but the honest answer is…) No. There is absolutely no evidence that a healthy plant grown organically contains more vitamins and other nutrients than a healthy plant grown using synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. A plant genetically programmed to develop a certain level of Vitamin C and calcium isn’t going to raise its game just because you replace Miracle-Gro Tomato Food with George Carlin’s Hippy-Dippy Kelp Meal. Some new vegetable varieties have noticeably higher levels of healthy antioxidants, such as lycopene (‘Health Kick’ tomato) and anthocyanins (‘Indigo Rose’ tomato), but this is a result of breeding, not how they were fed.
“Is Organic Produce Safer for You?”
Absolutely. True organically grown fruits and vegetables do not carry significant traces of synthetic insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, and other pesticides routinely applied to the vast majority of produce grown in this country — as well as to that imported from other countries where pesticide regulation is weak or non-existent. Of course, you should always wash fruits and vegetables to remove any chemical residues before eating, but pesticides can penetrate some with thin skins, such as peaches and strawberries, lessening washing’s benefits. According to the Environmental Working Group, the top six crops most contaminated with synthetic pesticides in 2012 are (in order) apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, and imported nectarines. Click here for EWG’s complete list of the “dirty dozen” and “the clean 15.”
To be fair, some naturally occurring, “organic” pesticides (nicotine, rotenone, pyrethrin) can kill you or wildlife just as fast or faster than synthetic, chemical ones. But they don’t persist in the environment very long. Nonetheless, Grumpy recommends you wash all produce before eating it, organic or not.
Is Growing Produce Organically Better for the Environment?
Yes. Growing organically means paying more attention to the health of the soil. If you don’t, you won’t succeed — it’s as simple as that. Organic farming is more sustainable than giant, corporate farming, because it emphasizes such beneficent practices as returning manure and other organic matter to the soil; reducing run-off and water pollution; integrated pest management (IPM); no-till agriculture; and preservation of local, heirloom varieties. Organic produce costs more, because organic farms tend to be smaller and more labor-intensive and must follow stricter guidelines. But as food-eaters weigh the pro’s and con’s, more and more are happy to pony up the extra change.