A nutritionist explains when and why she buys "organic" fruits and veg

Originally published at: A nutritionist explains when and why she buys "organic" fruits and veg | Boing Boing


Maybe next time, go with Walt Whitman!


And now I need to grow my own jalapenos and serranos.


Several years ago a study came out showing organic vegetables didn’t have any more nutrients than non-organic and I heard some conservative pundits harping on this fact. Which of course was a complete red herring: nobody I know who prefers organic produce ever thought there were necessarily more nutrients, possibly some thought they tasted better, but everyone was interested in avoiding pesticides (as well as not promoting the use of pesticides.)


I recall a study on chicken eggs that said chicken eggs are chicken eggs and all the analysis they could do showed no nutritional difference between organic, specially-raised chickens and the awful, awful, awful conditions of most chicken farms.

I have never bought farmer’s market eggs and when I lived near a Dollar Store I used to buy my eggs there, along with my daughter’s arts and crafts supplies.

Penn and Teller had a segment on their debunking show that “revealed” that people couldn’t discern the difference between organic and conventional by taste. Which should be unsurprising to anyone who has ever eaten organic produce, it tastes like produce. There’s probably some health benefit, but primarily I buy organic when I can afford it as I want to reduce polluting.


Citation that refutes this?

"Our study showed that differences in the chemical composition between the eggs of organic, nutraceutical, and conventionally reared hens were significant. The yolk of organic eggs contained the highest protein, K and Cu levels. Meanwhile, the yolk of conventional eggs was the most abundant in Mg and Fe, and nutraceutical one – Ca as well as Mn. Differences were found also in the content of protein and ash in albumen. Albumen of organic eggs contained the highest level of protein, whereas nutraceutical eggs were the most abundant in ash, K, Zn, and Mn. It was shown that – from the nutritional point of view – organic and nutraceutical eggs were characterized by more beneficial chemical composition than conventional ones. Simultaneously, yolks of nutraceutical eggs were characterized by the highest amount of monounsaturated fatty acids and n-3 fatty acids, as well as the lowest level of saturated fatty acids.


An old girlfriend insisted farm-raised eggs tasted better than factory-farmed eggs. I tried to see if there was a difference but I couldn’t tell if any taste difference was psychosomatic, or if maybe I just needed a larger statistical sample.

I’m open to the idea (the stress of factory farming could impact taste) but there were other variables-- dollar store eggs are often closer to expiration for example.

It may have been the 2012 Stanford study referenced here but I do not recall and can’t find anything more specific.

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I do conservation agriculture work in developing countries, which includes helping farmers to achieve certified organic, certified rainforest friendly, and certified fair trade status.

Organic just means not grown with petrochemicals or mined minerals for pesticides and fertilizers. Organic farmers can still use fertilizers and pesticides, they just have to be organically derived. Some organic pesticides can be just as deadly to humans as nonorganic. Fruits and vegetables are still picked before they are ripe and processed through pre-cooling facilities where they are ripened, which diminishes nutritional value. Organic farmers may also rely on labor that isn’t treated humanely (or worse). It doesn’t even guarantee that the farmer will earn more money; organic is at a premium and buyers and major retailers are demanding it more and more, to the point where many commodities, such as coffee all but require organic, fair trade certification for anything above Folgers crystals, and farmers don’t see a significant farm gate price increase. It’s the middle men to retailers that reap most of the benefits.

If someone wants to buy organic, more power to them, but organic labeling is more a marketing gimmick than a promise that food is safer or more nutritious. Better is buying from a local source that harvests closer to ripeness and whose practices you can verify, or grow your own.

I know every can’t do this. But in a pinch, veggies and fruits from any source are going to be better for you than any highly processed foods.


The only eggs where I have seen a clear discernable difference is between eggs in the US and in Japan.
Japan is one of the only countries I know of which pasteurizes eggs, making them safe to eat raw.


It depends on the farm. @snigs mentioned nutritional differences, but ultimately it’s about what the birds eat. A factory farm layer egg is going to taste the same as a “free range” layer if they are both being fed the same industrial feed.

If the free range layer has a truly diverse diet (some feed, lots of grasses and other greens) then it will taste different (and better in my mind).


If that’s true, then why do you bother helping farmers to achieve certified organic?


Primarily to access higher value markets, but also to increase production at lower cost. For some foods, such as grains and various fruits and veggies, we don’t actually work towards organic certification, but we teach organic growing methods because it is locally less expensive than buying chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

For the high value crops such as coffees and spices, the certified organic is the “entry fee” needed to access foreign (ie higher paying) markets. Sometimes they wind up being selected for exclusive labels and get a price premium, but without it they can’t access the US, European, and Japanese and Korean markets and their farmgate prices are even lower.


This is cool. I didn’t know about the “clean 15” and “dirty dozen” lists. Those will be handy.
It’s funny to read that people thought organic produce would have more nutrients. I’d never heard that. There are a bunch of reasons I buy local and organic when I can afford it, but that has never been even on the periphery.
Side note/warning: we’ve just banned it here, but if you live in a place that allows spreading sludge (a mix of dry matter and sewage sludge) on agricultural fields as fertilizer, turns out its laden with PFAS, which are also called “forever chemicals,” and are carcinogenic. Until recently, organic farms were allowed to use them here. :frowning:
Now nobody can, but the tainted fields are still tainted. Be careful, happy mutants!


I’ve used EWG’s List of produce for years. Most of my shopping habits come from being a Canadian transplant in the US.

Iif I can go to a local farm and ask them about their practices, I will do that first. Sadly, that is more difficult here in the US than in Canada. :frowning: Otherwise:

1 - pay attention to the clean fifteen / dirty dozen. Conventional for the former, organic for the latter.
2 - buy either local small-farm meats and poultry, otherwise Certified Humane, otherwise Organic in that order (Organic includes the certified humane requirements but costs more because of the costs to certify)
3 - Pasture-raised eggs. Weren’t an option in Canada (and Canada is lagging behind the US in egg welfare partly due to climate.) Organic eggs if pasture-raised ones aren’t available (again, animal standards are included in the certification).

Important to remember that organic produce != pesticide-free produce. It’s just that they’re only allowed to use natural pesticides. These natural pesticides can and do still have an environmental impact. Regenerative / Restorative farming practices are more important for everyone (including what you eat), and even dairy/meat/poultry products practice these processes more and more now.

Yes, it sucks to have to research your food. I had much more trust in Canada’s ministry of Ag than in any us state or federal law. But in doing so, I’ve realized that my dollars will also support these processes and help them scale, be successful, and be available to more people than they otherwise would be. I also recognize that I’m privileged enough to do this now financially - not that long ago, I was happy to be able to afford any dairy/meat/poultry, and I recognize that is still true for far too many.


It’s not so hard in Portland, right?


Little Debbie baked goods under a greenish florescent glow? Freaks me the fuck out.

If you’re afraid of things that glow, I’ve got some bad news for you about your teeth… :grimacing:

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Farmer’s markets aren’t necessarily free-and-clear, here. There’s a lot of business as middle people selling, and the sourcing isn’t as tight as you might expect. It’s a business same as others, and there’s a lot of times you’re buying an aesthetic more than an actual supply chain.


That’s why it’s worthwhile to talk to the sellers. To find out, for instance, if they’re the actual growers of what they’re selling. I’ve been buying from several particular farming families at a farmers market for years now.