the organic question.

When I revamped my eating habits a few years ago, I did it for one reason, and one only: vanity.  In that world, people ate fruits and vegetables not for health, but because they had less calories.  People didn’t exercise for enjoyment or mental clarity; they suffered through it to burn off what they ate.

I never could have predicted the journey that an awareness of health would take me on.  With both the good and bad, it has ultimately transformed me for life.  Perhaps what I’ve come to enjoy most is that my approach to health is in  a constant flux: I am always learning more, about nutrition, about myself, about exercise and my relationship to it, about my decisions regarding food.

One piece has remained in the background up until the past few months.  I’ve developed a strong sense of responsibility to support local farmers, and I try to shop at the farmer’s market when I can.  But, when I stand in the aisles of the supermarket, staring, for instance, at the brands of Greek yogurt I eat daily, I am hit with a dilemma: organic or not?  To be perfectly honest, I very often go for conventional.  I see the price difference, I know I am on a strict budget, and money wins out.

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At the summit this past weekend, the speaker that truly moved me was Regina Beidler, an organic dairy farmer.  She spoke with passion and conviction, presenting the life she leads as a farmer devoted to a responsibly produced product.  She really got me thinking.

While I believe I have an open mind when it comes to eating styles, as I feel strongly that the elements of a person’s diet are personal and unique, I nonetheless wish the fresh foods I adore could become more of the norm.  It would be nice to join friends who might not care about health at a restaurant and not feel I need to dissect the menu and pay $15 for a salad that wouldn’t fill up a five year old.  

One of the ways I support this way of life is through the groceries I choose to buy, particularly farmer’s market or local produce.  Leaving processed foods with unpronounceable ingredients on the shelves and opting for whole foods allows me to do my small part in supporting a more natural lifestyle.  Regina Beidler’s speech alerted me, however, that I am choosing to see only a piece of the big picture.

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I support naturally produced foods.  How is it ok then, to purchase, for instance, a conventional dairy product?  Knowing full well, as Beidler emphasized, that the cows who produce that dairy are anything but responsibly raised?  Beidler showed us pictures I had seen before, of cows lined up in miniscule, individual stalls overflowing with corn and grain.  Leaving the inhumanity of an animal who never sees the light of day aside, the entire process of overfeeding a cow with chemically-infused feed she was never meant to eat, simply to produce an excess of hormonally-altered milk, is anything but natural.  How can I support that when I have the option to buy organic?

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I was struck most by a question asked of Beidler towards the end of her speech.  Over lunch, I spoke with a couple bloggers who grew up on farms, and I questioned how it felt to eat meat from animals they had known and raised.  Beidler was spot on in her response, as she presented the two options we have.

In one, we choose meat from a package in a grocery aisle, with no concept of the animal it came from, the farm it was raised on, or the way it was processed.  The other: we know the animal, know it was fed grass, as it is naturally meant to, know it was allowed to pasture and didn’t live its life in a pitch dark barn, and even know that it died in a humane way.  She emphasized that she eats and enjoys all forms of meat and has never intended to become vegetarian.  She simply wishes to support responsible and sustainable farming.

I’m not going to stop eating dairy.  And while I very rarely eat meat or poultry, I’m not going to stop having bites of my dad’s or limit myself should I want to eat it myself.  But, I am going to make more of an effort to know where my food comes from.  I never want my dollars to go to conglomerates who are modifying the product I buy.  So, if that means spending a few extra dollars on organic, I am going to find a way to make that work.


Is organic important to you?  

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “the organic question.

  1. Regina was awesome! She made a great point about meat. I do try to eat organic, when I can afford to. My mom has a garden and that makes it easier.

  2. Ali

    Organic is important to me, even more so after listening to Regina. Like Whit, I try to eat organic when I can afford it. Also, somethings I will only eat organically like yogurt for example. And some things I don’t care about like Bananas (if I were eating the peel I would try to buy organic, but since the inside that i eat never meets pesticides…no big deal). This was a very thoughtful post!

  3. Organic and locally produced foods are important to me, but not practical where I live. What IS locally produced and/or organic is very expensive and very limited- Scotland doesn’t have the climate to produce much locally except for potatoes and apples :P Organic- yes, when I can afford it. The way the economy is right now, it’s less than I would like but there are certain foods I regularly purchase the organic version of (milk, muesli, etc). I don’t eat meat often, but if I do buy it, it’s free-range (ditto eggs). I am happier to eat vegetarian options 99% of the time than to eat non-free-range meat/eggs if I can’t afford them.

  4. i grew up in a strictly organic household — down to the nitty gritty, inconsequential items, like ketchup and mustard. now that i’m on my own i really can’t afford organic everything. i try to buy organic dairy but struggle to find it conveniently in my neighborhood. also, i love greek yogurts and many of them (such as fage, my favorite) aren’t organic. i do spend extra on organic poultry though — i guess i’m pretty inconsistent, but i do my best!

  5. lilveggiepatch

    Great post! I agree with you about the “vanity” thing. I became a vegetarian when I was 14, but if I’d been a carnivore up until now, I don’t know if I can honestly say that going veg would be entirely for health or moral reasons. Or, at least, not until a few years ago, when I started learning more about social responsibility.

    Regina was awesome! Her speech was my favorite part of the conference itself.

  6. I don’t generally buy organic veggies or fruit b/c I don’t think it’s that big a deal. Actually, I’d prefer to buy organic, but my pocketbook doesn’t. But I’m really trying to switch over to grass-fed beef and free-range poultry and eggs. It’s a slow process, but I’m working on it. I really don’t like the way th animals are raised conventionally.

  7. I agree that Regina’s presentation was one of the Summit highlights. I am also of the same mindset that knowing where our food is coming from is vital to living a healthy and responsible lifestyle!

  8. In the US, I buy organic as much as possible. That’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to moving home. Here in Korea, more than 85% of things labeled “organic” have actually been found to be not organic because there are no strict guidelines about food labels — you can put ANYTHING on the label and get away with it.

    And things that are truly organic (as in US brands) are SO expensive — organic frozen pizza is 20,000 won ($17) here!

  9. I literally feel like I could have written this myself. I have been contemplating a post on Mark Bittman’s “Food Matters” which covers a lot of these issues and really affected me. I feel exactly the same way you do about this issue – I started eating healthily for vanity and gradually started learning about the political implications of my food choices. Same as you – I am buying the natural foods but not necessarily the more expensive, organic ones. I have made that switch with meat finally although fruit and veggies I am still working on!
    Rock on girl, I feel like you are my soul sister on this subject!

  10. Awesome post. I try to buy organic, but often tell myself it’s not worth it and buy the cheaper version. But now I realize it truly is worth it. I don’t buy that much dairy, but I will start paying more attention from now on that’s for sure.

  11. In my perfect world, I’d eat all organic, local food. But that’s not possible right now so I deal with the sitch the best I can. Organic is more expensive and isn’t as readily available as the conventional items. As much as possible, I buy local and organic produce (fruits, veg, and eggs). Even if I stopped cooking with dairy, fish, and meat, there are still a lot of non-organic grocery items that I buy (sugar, flour, condiments).

  12. i try to buy organic when i can, especially for “the dirty dozen” but sometimes….i cut myself some slack if i can’t.

  13. Great post! I’m approaching the world with the thought: Organic isn’t expensive; the other stuff is just dirt cheap.

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