by Sean Croxton
Last week I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Abel Bascom for his popular Fat-Burning Man podcast. About thirty minutes into our conversation, Abel pitched me the most rant-inducing question he could have possibly delivered.
Abel’s query pertained to the recent study out of Stanford University concluding that organically-grown food is no more nutritious than its chemically-laden counterpart.
My answer: I don’t care.
To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t even heard of the study — very likely because I pay zero attention to what’s reported in the news, especially mainstream media reports on anything having to do with health.
I’m sure people all over the country employed this study as one ginormous gotcha moment, an opportunity to finally prove to their hippy friends that they had been wasting their hard-earned cash for apparently — and scientifically — no reason whatsoever.
In your face, hippies! Told ya so!
Well, I’m no hippy. And, yes, the nutritional value of food is important to me. But regardless of what those smart folks at Stanford may say, and what Anderson Cooper may read off of his teleprompter, I prefer my food to be poison-free. It’s really that simple.
Then again, maybe simplicity is what has gotten us into this situation. As cheap, fast, and convenient have become the primary motivators for why we buy, we have lost sight of how the foods choices we make are directly connected to our environment, an ever-worsening health crisis, and whether future generations will actually have enough fertile land to grow food on. At the same time, we must understand how these more complicated matters lead back to our wallets.
Let’s start with the pesticides themselves. In the foreword to Maria Rodale’s book Organic Manifesto: How Organic Food Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe, Eric Schlosser, author of the Fast Food Nation, writes,
“Pesticides are poisons. They are manufactured to kill insects, rodents, fungi, and weeds. But they can also kill people. Organophosphates — one of the most common types of pesticide — were developed in Nazi Germany to be used as chemical weapons. It was later recognized that the same sort of nerve gases formulated to attack enemy soldiers and civilians could be used against agricultural pests.”
Those who have recently turned their backs on the organic produce section for the “equally nutritious” conventional alternative have done so in favor of poisoning themselves with small daily doses of chemical weapons.
Writes Schlosser, “The effects of direct exposure to various pesticides aren’t disputed. Pesticides can cause damage to the central nervous system, brain damage, lung damage, cancer, birth defects, sterility, and death.”
In fact, a newsletter produced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that agricultural chemicals may increase the risk of diabetes, as concluded by the Agricultural Health Study. Specifically, a link was found between diabetes and seven pesticides: aldrin, chlordane, heptachlor, dichlorvos, trichlorfom, alachlor, and cyanazine. (Rodale, 25)
I can’t even pronounce that stuff. Why would I want to eat it?
If you think organic food is expensive, you should know that people with diabetes spend $11,744 a year on health care expenses. Just think of all the poison-free organic food you could have bought with that.
When Soil Goes Wrong
I find it ironic that in our eco-aware culture in which Going Green is the mantra of so many, the topic of soil management and its impact on climate change (whether you believe in it or not) and water pollution has yet to take the forefront. Because if you’re giving your pals a hard time for melting ice caps and drowning polar bears with their gas-guzzling SUVs, you had better be eating an all-organic diet while you’re doing it. If not, you’re driving your Prius down Hypocrisy Lane, my friend.
We can debate about nutritional value until we’re blue in the face, but no discussion regarding food is complete without mentioning the soil from which it is grown. Maria Rodale writes,
“We know more about outer space than we do about the ground we live on, and about the soil that sustains us. In general we don’t think too much about soil. Frankly, it’s not sexy.”
There are two things everyone should know about soil. And in my opinion they are both dead sexy.
First off, underneath the soil are a fungi called mycorrhizal fungi that grow on the roots of plants. These particular fungi do something really cool (and sexy). They pull carbon out of the air and sequester it within the soil. Yes, the soil beneath our very feet is one ginormous carbon sink that no one seems to want to talk about for some reason.
So…what do you think happens when conventional farmers apply FUNGIcides to their crops?
No more fungi. Carbon sink gone.
You’ll hear more about these fungi once some giant company learns how to make money off of them. As we speak, there is surely some biotech lab feverishly trying to figure out how to genetically modify fungi to withstand chemical application. Just give it some time.
Coming to a teleprompter near you.
Second, the structure of healthy organic soil has an uncanny ability to hold onto water. However when soil is treated with chemicals, its structure eventually becomes weak and degraded. Like the wiped-out fungi that can no longer sequester carbon, the soil can no longer retain water. Heavy rainfalls cause water runoff, sending soil, nutrients, and chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, etc.) into the surrounding waters. Topsoil is lost. Dead zones — where the water is oxygen-starved and marine life cannot exist — are created in our oceans and lakes. Drinking water is contaminated. It’s one big mess. One that we end up paying for when the federal government spends millions — if not billions — to clean it up.
And if you’ve ever seen news reports of major flooding in the Midwest, just imagine how much less destructive the rains would be if all of that soil was organic, well-structured, and could hold onto water the way it is supposed to.
Add to that the fact that chemical farming requires synthetic fertilizers, which require large amounts of petroleum energy to produce.
I’m no overt environmentalist. You won’t catch me outside of Whole Foods asking you to sign a petition or to make a donation for cleaner air and water. No, I made my contribution to our environment when I was inside the store. I purchased organic food.
The Stanford study means nothing to me. The answer I gave to Abel was the honest truth — I don’t give one flying fork about that study.
What I care about is having clean water to drink and air to breathe, and that future generations will have access to real food made in the way that Mother Nature intended.
I’m sure she intended for it to be poison-free.
Author, The Dark Side of Fat Loss
I hadn’t heard of details like this until now, but this sounds EXTREMELY important.
So I had to look up this mycorrhiza stuff. Turns out you can go one step deeper (according to what I read on Wikipedia). Glomalin, something produced by these mycorrhizal fungi (discovered in 1996!), is apparently the specific thing responsible for carbon sequestration AND soil stability — points one and two about soil.
But the thing is, it isn’t completely understood! I mean, who reads the Canadian Journal of Soil Science? Well here’s something important it seems they published: http://pubs.aic.ca/doi/pdf/10.4141/S04-003 It seems there’s your proof Sean.
Thank you Sean! =]
Great points Sean. I think its sad what has happened to our food sources. knowledge is power.
The line you used “You’ll hear more about these fungi once some giant company learns how to make money off of them” is so sad but so true. For some reason health advice only becomes excepted once a company sells it to you?!
I find that my clients and students (and even family), are much more likely to follow the costly advice of food companies (and the research they directly and indirectly fund) than a few free ‘truth bombs’ from someone that is honest and passionate about real well-being.
Looking forward to reading Organic Manifesto
Well Sean, I want to especially acknowledge you championing truth and justice and having the cajones to go up against Stanford. Your next book can be called the Dark Side of Food Truth. Bravo! Until we remove the corporatocray from our government, our health care, food and bedroom, we will be distracted by these kinds of studies, paid for with dollars from those very companies that create the chemicals. You step into deep waters here. Most Americans are asleep — from all those chemicals in their food — to the realities of the long chain of impact – from the fungi – to the offshore accounts and power grabs. Clean food needs to be top of all of our minds and forefront in our (political) actions. Awareness of the subtle, discernment and interconnectedness of all is crucial to a healthy life on the planet. I applaud you taking on the issue with integrity and simplicity. Message well delivered!
Fantastic article! I wish we could make everyone read this article!
totally agree to Loriel!!!!!
Who paid for the Stanford study? That’s the important question. Who had a particular interest invested in one particular outcome over another? Are any companies “donating” funds to Stanford University, building a new wing etc. with a nod and a wink to divert the attention in a particular area? We are getting wise to the antics of these unscrupulous industries, thanks to the downright criminal activities of big pharma, we have an insight to the desperate measures they resort to. This is very good reason to ignore every single health related headline. Read books instead; written by independent researchers, professors etc if you want to know what’s what. And bin the TV.
Thanks for your positive adage to this Stanford Study. I am wondering if Rumsfeld had anything to do with this one, and if not then as David said, Who Paid for this study? And I do care because these CONglomoCorps have one agenda: prove that their proprietary petro-based formulas are all that there is. We in the know know there is proof in Mother Nature’s pudding; good ol’ organically grown perrineal foods.
Mycellium and bacteria work hand in hand with the root hairs of plants in helping to uptake the nutrients for the plants needs. Petrochemical fertilizers bypass this uptake system and stimulate growth but leave the plant’s immunities vulnerable to disease; henceforth why conventional (deceptional) produce needs pesticides. I am really curious how this study measures the nutrition. I smell China Study all over this bullshit Stanford petro propaganda.
As Jon Rappaport states:
“For example, Washington State University did the right thing with strawberries. John Reganold and his colleagues took the same strain of berry and planted it in two plots of earth right next to each other. One patch was conventionally grown (with chemicals) and the other was raised organically.
Same soil, same weather, same strain of berry. The result? The organic strawberries had higher nutritional content.
In the recent infamous Stanford study that is raising a ruckus, the conclusion was: conventional and organic food are nutritionally equal. But no planting of food was done. No study was done at all, in fact. It was a review of prior published studies, and there is no indication that those prior studies handled crops the correct way, as the Washington State strawberry researchers did.
Therefore, it’s not science. It’s perhaps cogitation, contemplation, comparison, but it’s not science.”
So now what Anderson?
Carghill, Carghill financed the study. Enough said.
I love this post so much. SO, so much. Thank you, Sean, for refocusing the discourse around the REAL issues at hand.
I wrote a rant on my own blog when the study came out, because I’m so sick of the way we are not even given the opportunity to have the real discussions–instead, through smoke and mirrors (and clever wording), the media diverts attention to talking points and buzz words. Whatever looks, as you write, “sexy” on the evening news. In the case of this study, it’s the straw man argument about healthy vs. nutritious. I can’t tell you how many people have read my post and started to fight with me about how pesticide and GMO foods don’t matter, because organic food isn’t more nutritious at the end of the day.
It’s so frustrating, but I suppose there’s nothing we can do but vote with our forks and our wallets, and try to convince as many people as we can to see reason. I have shared your work with my friends and family, and I hope you keep doing what you’re doing–you’re a real inspiration!
Atom: Was does “raised organically” mean?
Everyone: An interesting article to read for another perspective, and other thoughts on the matter, which I’m hoping everyone is open to; http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/2011/07/18/mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/
I’ve wavered so long on my desire to eat “organic” that I began to no longer care.
So much for that! I’m glad I rediscovered UW (I used to stay up to date with Sean’s videos in 09). I’ve even gone from Gluten Free to Grain Free for it!
Sean’s right, of course. The ACTUAL health of the Public isn’t a factor at all in Public Health, so destroying our soil as a part of the process of poisoning our produce isn’t a huge issue. I mean, the nutrients are still intact, so what’s the concern?
Really. Any food “study” funded by the same people that brought us the ever amusing “food pyramid” should be taken with a grain of Splenda.