Why my family eats pesticide-sprayed, foreign-grown food.
I don’t buy organic, at least not as a rule. There are occasions – when there are no “non-organic” bananas left that aren’t browned and smushed and my daughter is begging for bananas – I might be convinced to make the buy. But our mattresses are not organic. Our clothes are, by and large, not organic. Needless to say, our milk is not organic. So a New York Times article on a mother fretting over just how organic the mattress her baby boy is sleeping on should have made me feel bad, right?
Not really. Because for all the maternal guilt I can muster over things I have and haven’t done for my daughter, I have enough other pressing things to worry about: The hole in the ozone layer. The mortgage. The reason the cat has started turning up her tail at the litter box instead of inside of it.
I’m also still grappling with the exact moment when “organic” became interchangeable with “good for us” in the United States. Arsenic, after all, is organic.
Dressing my daughter in one hundred percent cotton denim or mixing up a stir-fry of non-organic vegetables and run-of-the-mill brown rice doesn’t quite cut it according to the green-baby parenting books. But whoever said organic and green were the same thing?
Researchers in the Department of Rural Economy at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, found the greenhouse gas emitted when organic produce is transported from great distances mitigates the environmental benefits of growing the food organically. And organically fed cows, which produce organic beef and organic milk, emit the same methane gases as their antibiotic-treated counterparts, which in turn contribute to global warming (the EPA estimates all our livestock – organically-fed included – produce twenty percent of our nation’s methane emissions). So if I can’t buy organic for the environment, surely I’d do it for my child’s health, right?
Sure – if you could tell me that buying organic and only organic was the best thing for my daughter.
Except, no one can.
Not the USDA. They oversee organic labeling, but they’ve remained mum on putting their own seal of approval on the O word.
Not a lot of scientists either. They say it’s good for you – don’t get me wrong. But better for you than anything else could possibly be? Not yet.
A study by the Danish government’s International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems last summer found no differences in the nutrients present in the crops after harvest; nor was there any evidence that lab rats retained different levels of the nutrients depending on how the foodstuffs were grown. And no matter how many organic ingredients get piled into the mixing bowl, if you’re making a cake, you’re still not making health food.
The truth? I can’t afford it. It’s all compelling evidence. And yet, none of it represents the real reason I’m apathetic about organic. The truth? I can’t afford it.
What I can afford are cotton jeans that breathe versus polyblends that don’t. I can afford healthy foods for my daughter – the whole grains, the fresh vegetables straight from the farmers’ market in the summer and the grocery store in the winter. The more money I save by not buying organic, the more I have left to spend on broccoli and sweet peas – foods that actually fall on the Environmental Working Groups (EWG) list of the dozen “consistently clean” foods they say you can feel pretty safe purchasing, even when they’re not organic.
In case you haven’t heard, the economy is having a few problems at the moment. And considering the Organics Consumer Association itself puts the prices of organic products anywhere from fifty to one hundred percent higher than non-organics, I have had to make some tough choices along the way. As long as buying pesticide-free means making nursery school tuition harder to pay this month, or my daughter needs a new pair of shoes, I’m okay with buying that non-organic bunch of bananas.