There is much debate on which is better for one’s health and for the environment – organic food or conventional (non-organic) food. One of the primary resources detailing the advantages of organic foods is by Jillian Michaels, who is the author of Master Your Metabolism. Through exhaustive research, she discovered that, basically, the more chemicals one ingests through our water, food and environment, the more likely one is to have problems with their metabolism (Michaels 28-29). Her book not only covered the effects that processed foods have on our bodies, but also discussed the adverse effects of chemicals inherent in everything from the cotton we put on our bodies, to the chemicals in our shampoos, body lotions and cosmetics, to the chemicals in our Scotchguarded furniture (Michaels 171-177). Her theory is that, because, in part, of the multitude of chemicals that are so much a part of everybody's very existence, our hormones get out of whack, and that is a large part of why we gain weight or are unable to lose it (Michaels 33). That said, switching to organics is not a foregone conclusion, mainly because organic food is higher priced then non-organic food, which is one of the major drawbacks of eating organics. Additional research shows that there is, unfortunately, little consensus about the efficacy of switching to organics, either on our individual bodies or the environment. Research indicates that conventionally grown food is as healthy as organically grown food (Rosenbloom), while
there is also thought that organic farming is actually more harmful to the environment than conventional farming, due to the fact that organic farms require more land per yield than conventional farms (Leonard). Meanwhile, other studies show just the opposite – that organic food has more nutrients than conventional food (Heaton), and that organic systems can increase the world food supply by 50% (Pollan). This paper will explore these pros and cons in more detail and draw a conclusion on whether or not consuming organic food is more advantageous then consuming and buying non-organic food. The first consideration concerns the environment – is organic farming more advantageous towards the environment then non-organic farming? At least one agronomist, Norman Borlaug, indicates that organic farming is worse for the environment then non-organic farming. Borlaug has won a Nobel Peace Prize and has been an outspoken advocate of synthetic fertilizers. His theory is that organic farming takes up more land than conventional farming does because the use of synthetic fertilizers and conventional farming leads to greater crops being grown on less land then traditional organic farming. The methods used by organic farming – crop rotation and composting – leads to more land being used to grow the same amount of crops (Leonard). Under this theory, because organic farming requires more land to grow the same amount of crops as conventional farming, organic farming is worse for the environment for obvious reasons. Moreover, organic farming uses more land because there is a great deal of nitrogen that must be used to grow these crops, and, if a farmer were to get this nitrogen organically, the farmer would need more cattle to supply the manure and this would also require more land for this cattle to graze (Leonard). Although Borlaug is adamant that organic farming is bad for the environment, his is not the last word on the debate. Michael Pollan, who has authored many books on the food business and the unsustainability of the practices that we follow, has stated that the current method of food production is not sustainable for a multitude of reasons. First, the chemical fertilizers and pesticides which are used in current conventionally grown food is reliant upon energy sources that may become unreliable, such as petroleum and natural gas. Pollan contends that the conventional method of growing crops is also contributing to global warming - as much as 37% of global warming is caused by our current methods of growing crops, according to Pollan. This is because the amount of petroleum used in chemical pesticides, the amount of natural gas used in fertilizers, and the fossil fuel which is used in transportation, packaging and production. Pollan also states that the current way of growing food is inefficient – the crops are grown with synthetic fertilizers, while the cattle are grown in feed lots. Instead of using the cattle to fertilize the soil, the manure in the feed lots is wasted. A better way of farming, which Pollan states has worked in large scale farms in countries such as Argentina and China, is for the cattle to graze on land for five years, then crops are grown for three years where the cattle was raised. This means that synthetic fertilizers are not necessary because of all the cow manure left, and herbicide use is minimized because weeds cannot survive the constant tilling of the soil and the years of grazing. What’s more, Pollan envisions organic farming as a way to put Americans back to work. In an age where more and more people are losing their livelihood due to industrial plants moving overseas, there is a need for skilled people in different areas. One of these areas could be organic food production, because organic farming would necessitate more farms, as the farms being used for organic food are smaller than those for conventional farming. Therefore, there would be more demand for people to work these farms. Essentially, Pollan states that organic farming is not only good for the environment, but our economy (Pollan). What about the debate about the effect organics has on our health? Again, the jury is out on this. Rosenbloom states that organic food has the same nutrient density as conventionally grown food (Rosenbloom). Michaels states that the amount of nutrients isn’t the point – the point is that conventionally grown food contains chemicals which damage our bodies and hormones. While a tomato grown conventionally might have the same antioxidants as a tomato grown conventionally, that conventionally grown tomato also has a whole host of other qualities which are damaging to our health, namely chemicals from the herbicides and pesticides (Michaels). While the jury is still out on organic verses non-organic food (conventionally grown), my own thought is that organic food is far superior then non-organic food. Common sense would state that consuming antibiotics, which are a staple of conventionally grown meat, and pesticides, which cover conventionally grown crops, cannot be good for our bodies. Michaels has exhaustively researched the topic, and has confirmed that this is the case. Moreover, there is much evidence that our conventional methods of farming are not sustainable and are bad for the environment. Pollan’s thesis makes more sound sense then does Borlaug’s in this regard. Common sense would dictate that the use of fossil fuels to ship food long distances, as fertilizer and as herbicides will be unsustainable in the long run. It doesn’t make much sense to raise cattle in feed lots, when that manure could be used to fertilize crops, as Pollan has pointed out. Of course, there is the high cost of organic food, as fruits and vegetables are typically twice as much as conventionally grown ones, but this has a rather simple solution – promoting organics among the population at large will bring down the costs of organics as there will be more demand for the product, therefore more supply, and this will result in less cost for organic food. References Michaels, Jillian. Master Your Metabolism: the Diet Secrets to Naturally Balancing Your Hormones for a Hot and Healthy Body! New York: Crown Publishers, 2009. Rosenbloom, Chris. “Are Benefits of Organic Food Worth the Cost?” The Atlanta Journal Constitution 04 September 2008. 12 September 2011. Leonard, Andrew. “Save the Rain Forest – Boycott Organics?” How the World Works 11 December 2006. 12 September 2011. Heaton, Shane. “Spreading the Organic Word.” Organic Food News Quarterly 27 December 2005. 15 September 2011 . Pollan, Michael. “Farmer in Chief.” New York Times 12 October 2008. 15 September 2011 .