Should You Buy Organic Food?

en in life • 6 min read

Short answer: it depends. But usually, not really.

The long answer is, well, yeah, longer. :-) I actually haven’t cared much about food. I was just eating what was available. I call it a seafood diet: I eat what I see. Which is more fun when it’s not written. :-)

A few years ago I bought a book It Starts With Food. Very good book. Thanks to that book I learned to notice what I eat, eat more vegetables and fruits and mostly I learned to eat broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, fish, spicy and many more foods I didn’t eat before.

It’s very hard to eat properly without cooking. I don’t cook much, so I did the lazy version. I remember what I eat at restaurants and I’m trying to have more diverse meals with healthy vegetables.

Everything is different with a girlfriend. You have a happier life, you can share your World with someone every minute, you have always clean clothes in your wardrobe and you buy organic food. :-)

My notion of organic food was better food. More friendly to nature, a bit more healthy and much more expensive. Which meant I didn’t care and didn’t want to spend more money on organic food just because.

Happy life disappeared for a while when we discussed an article from Forbes: Why I Don’t Buy Organic, And Why You Might Not Want To Either. It’s about three points:

  1. “many consumers believe that the Organic label means the food has superior nutrition and is safer, especially in regard to pesticide residues. This is not true.”
  2. Organic food needs more land and generally is not more friendly to the environment.
  3. Companies use it as a super product for marketing purposes.

The same can be seen in the following video from AsapSCIENCE, one of the interesting sources I shared a few weeks ago.

Both the article and video are about the situation in the US and we live in The Czech Republic. We agreed I will check the situation in the EU as well. The problem is, I was unable to find some good source I could trust about this issue. In one book about organic cooking, I found the situation in the EU is very similar to the US.

Anyway, in my new favorite site, Our World in Data I wrote not long ago, I found two interesting blog posts on this topic. First one is Is organic really better for the environment than conventional agriculture?

It’s not about how much healthier it’s for us, but for the environment. Graph of environmental impacts is clear about when is organic better and when is not. In the post is also described why also energy use – the only category in which organic agriculture has a clear advantage – is comparatively less important than other impacts.

On the other hand, biodiversity is affected less by organic methods. That’s why there is no clear winner. As noted in the video by AsapSCIENCE: taking one as better than another is ignoring the science.

The key conclusions are very good:

  • If I were to advise on where and when to choose one or the other, I’d advise trying to choose organic pulses and fruits, but sticking with non-organic for all other food products (cereals, vegetables, dairy and eggs, and meat).
  • If your primary concern is whether the potato accompanying your steak is conventionally or organically produced, then your focus is arguably misplaced from the decisions which could have the greatest impact.

If you want to dig more into an agricultural land problem, Our World in Data has a very good post about that. There is, for example, an interesting graph that beef or mutton is taking much more land than other meat. A lot more!

Ok, so now we know, from an environmental point of view, organic makes sense only for pulses and fruits. But what about health? Hard to say. I haven’t found anything good yet. The best I found is the following quote, again from Our World in Data:

The World Health Organization (WHO) have established a Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) which establishes ’safe' intake levels of individual pesticide inputs, where 'acceptable daily intakes' are set at levels for which exposure would have no carcinogenic effects on human health. Governments and food governance bodies then use acceptable intake levels to establish Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs). These are enforced by national governing bodies to ensure that consumer food has residue levels which are below such MRLs.

Or in other words, food from conventional agriculture is safe for us. All those laws are not only to make our lives harder but to have safe food as well. Not only wealthier people can eat safe food.

You can also check a theory if our food is becoming less nutritious because of higher levels of CO2 in our atmosphere. In case it’s true, we have another problem as it affects both organic and non-organic food.

But organic food is tastier, you can say. Well, I haven’t noticed that. I feel it’s the same. Definitely, it’s better from your garden or local farm. But not from a shop… What you can do, though, is to eat more properly to (not only) feel better and help the environment because you will need less of the food. Watch the movie Vitamania for the vitamins perspective.

You can also argue about love given by people to organic food. But again, a local farm can work that way, of course, but not all organic food has the same love you want to feel. If you need this energy in your food, then you need to find a local farm and visit them. Buying organic food in a shop doesn’t mean you can get tastier or healthier food or food produced gentler to the environment.

To make a conclusion if we should buy organic food? No, not really. Should you not eat meat to safe nature? No, not really. What makes sense is to have own garden (you can hardly have better taste), buy food in local farms (to support their work, limit travels of food), buy seasonal food (no need to use non-natural methods), buy organic pulses and fruits (the only organic food producing better environmental outcomes) and eat less of beef or mutton (other meats need much less land). In this precise order. For the rest, conventional agriculture is more than OK. Buying organic food just because is a misplaced focus.

I understand that buying organic food is an easy way to feel better. Important is to know it’s not necesarily better. If you are lazy as I’m, keep using delivery services as I do. Just do the homework and check if there are services using (good) farms. Even when a farm isn’t organic, it’s good; in the end, both methods share the same soil and water—when one method is using pesticides, even organic food from an organic farm will have some residue.

I did my homework, will you do yours as well? ;-)


Last note for my friends and all people in The Czech Republic: I can recommend SvětBedýnek. The company distributing fresh seasonal food from farms. The perfect way to stay being lazy, have good food and support farmers and the environment.





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