farming, Food

Inorganic Food

potassium cyanide
Ok, yeah, this stuff will kill you.

Chemistry is everywhere. Some of you may know this, but for a long time I lived with my Dad on a small New England farm, where we grew veggies and chickens and dabbled with other things. Most of it was his ideas, I was just grunt labor helping him keep up with chores. Dad’s been a fan of intensive, sustainable agriculture since I can remember, and I grew up reading Square Foot Gardening, the Victory Garden, and Mollison’s Permaculture. Now, all that is in, and hip. Organic food can be found everywhere, and even though it’s three times the price of the other stuff, if you don’t buy it, then you are a Bad Person and don’t care about your Family.

Only… what if organic food is just a marketing ploy? Dad and I never tried to go for organic certification for the Farm. It simply wasn’t worth it to us. Sure, we gardened with no store-bought fertilizers or pesticides, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t use any at all, and it is the same way with the stuff you find priced through the roof in the store. They have still had fertilizers, and pesticides, and herbicides (to control weeds) applied to them. Only difference is which ones they can use and still meet the federal guidelines. Organic is like buying brand-name, there’s no real difference between it and the regular, generic stuff.

Bowl of heirloom tomatoes
non-organic produce, grown by organic principles. Confused yet?

I’m bringing this up because I recently ran across a few articles that are pertinent to this topic, and it reminded me how much of the organic myth is based on marketing, because as you will see, there are very few actual studies that have been conducted with any kind of scientific rigor. Not that it matters to the people who buy organic, they are doing it because it fits their conformational bias, that big commercial anything must be bad. By buying organic they assuage their guilt, even if it’s based on half-truths and misinformation. That doesn’t matter, as long as they feel better.

The American Journal of Clinical NutritionThis systematic review of the available published literature was designed to determine the strength of the evidence that nutrition-related health benefits in humans could be attributed to the consumption of organically produced foodstuffs. Taken together, the 12 included articles did not provide evidence of health benefits or harm from consuming organic foods. A surprising and important finding of this review is the extremely limited nature of the evidence base on this subject, both in terms of the number and quality of studies.

I’m not the only one who has these unpopular and slightly cynical thoughts on the massive industry that Organic Food has become. Ross Pomeroy asksSo why are the misconceptions so pervasive? According to an in-depth report by Academics Review, a group founded by University of Illinois nutritional scientist Bruce M. Chassy and University of Melbourne food scientist David Tribe, the organic and natural-products industry — which is worth an estimated $63 billion worldwide — has engaged in a “pattern of research-informed and intentionally-deceptive marketing and advocacy related practices with the implied use and approval of the U.S. government endorsed USDA Organic Seal.” Like their succulent fruits and scrumptious vegetables that we eat, the organic industry has given consumers a nibble of untruth and a taste of fear, and have allowed misunderstanding to sow and spread while they reap the benefits.

Finally, before I go off to take my statistics exam, I’ll leave you with a link to an organic chemist’s blog. You know those ‘all-natural’ recipes you see pop up on Pinterest and FB all the time? Take them with a large grain of salt. Sometimes what you are making is worse for the purposes than those much-belabored çhemical’ solutions from the store. Because here’s the thing. It’s all chemical. From the dihydrogen monoxide you drink, to the sucrose in your caffeine vehicle of choice, elements make up everything that goes in your body. And your body, for that matter. The food at the store that isn’t labeled organic? That doesn’t make it inorganic because inorganic chemicals aren’t edible at all, and we’d die horrible deaths. Only we don’t. We still make delicious food, and we can afford more of it, too.

26 thoughts on “Inorganic Food

  1. On the other hand, I kind of prefer local-grown stuff when I can get it, just to support the local farms and keep them from becoming just another development full of over-entitled idiots who are likely to be in Foreclosure in a year or three. . .

    (seriously, new neighborhood down the road from mine, WAS a farm when we bought in 2007, converted to building site in late 2008, full of houses by the end of 2009, and 2/3 of them are empty and/or abandoned and rotting. . . )

    1. Oh, I’m right there with you on the locally grown stuff. And I don’t mind paying a little more for the stuff from small growers. But I balk at the high priced stuff in the store.

      I object to the organic food movement because it’s not based in reality. But small family farms are dear to my heart… should do a follow-up on that, I suppose, to go along with my farmer’s market blog a while back.

    1. Interesting! I hadn’t seen that, Chris. It looks like something I couldn’t use, sadly, with my schedule right now there are a couple of days a week I miss meals because I simply haven’t time to eat. I carry protein bars. Sadly, my personal quirk of not being able to digest artificial sweeteners puts Soylent out of possibility for me.

        1. I will take a look. I’ve thought about making my own protein bars a few times. I tend to be a little hesitant about consuming that much soy, which is yet another under-studied food.

          Still, all things in moderation is a good guide for eating, too.

          1. I like the protein bars made with whey protein. You may be able to come up with a recipe using whey instead of soy. The ones I buy do use sugar alcohols, though, so you probably wouldn’t be able to eat them. Pure Protein brand. Sold at Meijer, Walmart, and GNC up here in Michigan.

            1. I just looked at the ingredients in Pure Protein and I see that there is some soy as well at whey. The other brand that I buy, Muscletech, also has both soy and whey protein listed as well as sucralose. 🙁 I guess that I’m lucky in that I can tolerate the soy and the sucralose in them.

  2. Used to shop at the original Whole Foods in Austin. Never figured out how they could charge so much, yet their staff couldn’t afford a razor for underarm hair or for them to have something better to wear than a A line undershirt.

    Their chicken was real good though, as the free range chicken we have here.

    Organic Gardening magazine lost me when their book said the gypsum you buy at the garden center was “inorganic.” Well, yeah. But is soil a thing or a religion?

  3. I don’t buy organic produce at the store, either, unless (as rarely happens) it’s actually less expensive than the regular stuff. I do garden organically, though.

    I think that what makes a nutritional difference in the food you eat is the health of the soil. A lot of the big commercial organic farms are growing crops on soil that is just as worn out and ‘dead’ as the non-organic soil on the next farm over.

    1. The problem is, Mom, that there is no nutritional difference between organic and, um, non-organic food. It has to do with how a plant grows and what it takes up, not about the soil. If the soil is worn out, the crop isn’t going to grow well at all. Now, when we get past plants into animals there is some argument for non-anitbiotic fed meat, as eating that MAY raise the danger of coming into contact with anti-biotic resistant microorganisms. I’m not saying for you to stop gardening by the organic principles, but that goes into sustainable agriculture, not what is billed as organic. Building soil through composting just makes good sense. But it doesn’t change the chemical make-up of the plant produced.

  4. Note for all morons, there is no such thing as non organic food. If it wasn’t organic it wouldn’t be food so the whole organic versus non-organic thing is a lie perpetrated to steal money from you

  5. “From the dihydrogen monoxide you drink”

    *gasp* You do know that has been a movement to ban this dangerous substance for over 20 years don’t you. Just look at how dangerous it is! http://www.dhmo.org/msds/MSDS-DHMO-Kemp.pdf

    Are you sure you should be advocating consumption?

    ((Before someone tries to say otherwise .. .. Yes, I know what dihydrogen monoxide is. I knew what it was when I saw the article in Analog back in the 90’s.))

  6. If you figure that all those people who have reduced their cancer risk over the years by eating lots of fruits and vegetables were probably eating the non-organic stuff,–because organic has only become ubiquitous in recent years–then you can figure that the anti-oxidants in the fruits and vegetables are pretty powerful. It’s more important to get the fruits and vegetables than to worry about whether they are organic.

    I tend to buy organic to avoid pesticides, but read somewhere that organic food uses pesticides as well, just natural ones. This has given me pause. Any thoughts on that issue?

    1. Yes, organic farmers use pesticides. Let me put it this way: the American consumer expects – nay, demands – a certain look to their produce. They are not going to buy fruits and veg that are marred or look insect-chewed. So if you plan to sell your goods retail (people who make things, like jam, don’t care as much) then you are going to do everything you can to keep the bugs off. Now, I have hand-picked potato beetles and tomato hornworms, but there are pesticides that fall into the guidelines the FDA allows for organic gardening. Natural doesn’t mean chemical-free, as you know. I don’f off the top of my head know what all is permissible, and we never went for compliance. I can tell you that we used solutions like dishsoap and water for some things. Not sure if it’s common practice, but one ‘natural’ solution used to be soaking cigarette butts in water to extract the nicotine and spraying that solution on plants.

      Bottom line, wash everything. Otherwise, you probably don’t have to worry about it.

      1. When I worked for a company that (among other things) did crop spraying, the boss called me in and asked me to look the MSDS (chemical info) on a certain chemical compound. I did as asked and found that it had a long carry over (hangs around), irritated everything (almost), and caused problems once it got into the water system (streams, ponds, lakes). He read over it and handed me an aerial applicator’s journal, saying “I thought he was kidding.” The chemical was approved for use on organic farms, even though it was more hazardous to the user and had worse environmental effects than did the “synthetics” my boss sprayed. So much for the oft touted environmental benefits of organic farming. (This was 15 years ago, and I don’t recall the chemical. IIRC it was a sulfur compound, but don’t hold me to that.)

  7. I like the “cigarette butt” nicotine treatment. Never thought of doing that–but we once had a little dog (Teddy) that ate every cigarette butt he could find, and he never had worms. So it seems logical that treating plants with “cigarette juice” would work.

    1. One of the treatments for scabies in sheep was to make a tobacco dip and swim them through a tank full of it. You did have to be careful making the concentrated brew, though.

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