Balancing Personal Principles and the Bottom Dollar: The Cost of Healthier Food Choices

If you’ve been reading The Simple Dollar carefully over the last few months, you’ve probably realized that my wife and I have spent some serious time taking a deeper look at the food we eat and the food we feed our children. We’ve always supported farmer’s markets and had a garden, but over the last several months we’ve taken things to a new level.

in defense of foodIt was really triggered by my reading of two books by Michael Pollan: first, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and later, In Defense of Food, which I reviewed in detail shortly after I read it. These two books, along with the opportunity to have a nice garden which was afforded to us as new homeowners, led us to spend some time seriously re-evaluating our food intake.

For the most part, our biggest change was to become more local eaters. We started attending farmers markets, got on a waiting list to join a community-supported agriculture group, started a thriving garden (here’s a peek at it), and looked for local sources for many of our staple foods. One big example of our change is in our milk – we moved from buying whatever was cheapest to buying either milk produced by the Burkhart family at their local Picket Fence Creamery (it really gets you in touch with things to spend time with the very cows that produce the milk you drink) or, in the event that there’s none available at the moment, organic milk at the local grocery store.

El Chaupi Organic Dairy Farm by jrubinic on Flickr!The only problem with changes like these is, although you can find bargains, fresh and sustainable food options often tend to be more expensive, particularly in the off-season months. Buying Picket Fence milk is more expensive than the regular milk by about two dollars a gallon. You can get most local produce cheap when it’s in season, but come January in Iowa, there’s not much produce to be had. Our only option for sustainable produce is either what we’ve frozen or canned ourselves or what we buy organic at the grocery store, paying a premium price for it.

This brings about a pretty profound question about our eating habits. Is it a justifiable expense to spend more money on sustainably produced, hormone free, and organic foods? For the most part, I’m not sure.

Up to this point, I’ve mostly justified the extra cost as being more or less a frivolous expense, acceptable only because we’ve cut so much spending in other areas. I figured that $20 a week in extra food costs is something I can swing, particularly if it makes me feel better about the food we’re eating.

Over the long term, though, a generic “feel good” sense isn’t worth a consistent $20 a week in expenses. Is this expense really justifiable?

I think it comes down to personal beliefs. Is giving my children rBS and rBGH-free milk worth an extra $2 a gallon? What about for me and my wife? Is the slight increase in nutrients and the notable increase in flavor worth that extra effort to get fresh produce at the farmer’s market (the cost itself is negligible, because around here the costs for most of this stuff in season is the same as the grocery store)?

You can write a book debating these issues until the cows come home (in fact, I’m reading a book right now that does just that – Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), but what it really comes down to is whether you find such issues important in your own life, and not everyone is going to reach the same answer.

Does rBGH and rBS pose a health risk to my children (or to me)? Is it worth a premium of $2 a gallon to avoid it? Different people are going to come to different conclusions on that issue – some will point to studies that show potential negatives and say avoiding those is well worth it, while others will say the evidence is scant and paying a premium to avoid it is silly.

Is it worth a bit of extra effort and a bit of extra cost to support local, sustainable agriculture? Some will say yes, unquestionably. Others will look at the food selections already available and say it’s not worth it at all.

In the end, the question really is what’s the maximum value for you? Do you find personal and ethical and health value in buying organic and supporting sustainable agriculture? Do you find enough value to justify the cost and effort premium?

I can’t answer that question for you. But I can say that it’s something my wife and I both ponder as we decide where our food dollars should be allocated.

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  1. Eli says:

    I have been doing my best to feed my family fresh whole food partially because I love the way it makes me feel and partially because I hate all the packaging associated with convenience foods. I justify the extra expense by convincing myself that a healthy diet throughout ones life works to minimize health care expenses now and in the future.

    If you haven’t already you should read the book the world without us. It will make you never want to eat food packaged in plastic again….

  2. Robin says:

    We buy the organic milk as well, and I was really reluctant about it at first because of the price. It is twice the price of regular milk. We also buy organic yogurt. It is really important to my fiance to eat as naturally as possible and for the most part I agree; but we’ve had to compromise because of price and availability concerns. At the moment we’ll buy organic animal products but not organic vegetables. The way we figure it the bad stuff they give to animals is deeply ingrained in the character of the food.

    Also of interest if you’re interested in food: the independent film King Corn (I’m sure there are books about it as well but the film is very good). The amount of corn that we eat is… astounding.

  3. Johanna says:

    Can you stock up on things like local potatoes, onions, butternut squash, and apples in the fall, keep them in a cool room in your house, and eat them throughout the winter? You’ll need more food than that, obviously, but it’s a start. In my area we have year-round farmers markets, but I think that most of the stuff they sell in the winter is produce the farmers harvested months before and kept in storage themselves. So if they can do it, I don’t see why you can’t, too. I think Kingsolver says in her book that butternut squash in particular are really easy to store. And they’re super good for you.

    It’s likely that most of the local produce you’ll find at the grocery store in the winter was grown in heated greenhouses, which isn’t necessarily any more sustainable than produce trucked in from California or Florida.

  4. Mitch says:

    Trent, you’ve stated before that you admire Norman Borlaug. I don’t know if you’ve read “The Man Who Fed the World,” but near the end of the book the author goes out of his way to point out that Borlaug strongly believes that organic farming and related practices (grass-fed beef, etc.), although “sustainable” environmentally, couldn’t begin to feed the world population if all our crops were to be produced organically. The reason farmers grow corn and feed it to livestock is that corn maximizes the nutrient value (calories) produced by each acre of crops. Grass feeding is far less efficient, meaning that we would have to cultivate many more acres to produce the same amount of end product.

    I don’t disagree that organic has its merits, but I find it strange that many of the people who believe so strongly in organic practices don’t realize the potential negative effects it could have on our ability to fight world hunger.

  5. cynthia says:

    Although I’ve been reading ‘the simple dollar’ for about a year now and I like it a lot this is the first time I have responded to an article. While it is true that the money I spend on organic milk and produce at our local natural foods cooperative is more than what i would pay for “regular” food at the grocery store, i am grateful that at this time in my life i am able to make the financial choices that support my values. I want my daughter to eat healthy food that will make her strong. I want her to live in a world that is not polluted and supporting organic farming and local growers helps this. I don’t spend much money on clothes or other things that others may value, but I do see being frugal as much more than always saving money. I think it is about being able to really make choices in your life. Thanks for another great post and for sharing so much of your thinking.

  6. Mitch says:

    Also, please realize that I’m not referring to your backyard garden when I say going organic. I mean organic farming on a large scale on farms that otherwise would be used to produce crops conventionally.

  7. Johanna says:

    Actually, Mitch, when you put it that way, wouldn’t you get an even greater nutrient value per acre of crops if you fed the corn directly to people, rather than cycling it through livestock?

    If you want to fight world hunger, you can donate money to an organization that does just that. But don’t think that you’re helping people in Africa by buying cheap ground beef.

  8. Jon says:

    Organic rice milk and soy milk are better for you than their bovine counterpart and can be made at home fairly easily with the right equipment:
    http://www.amazon.com/SoyQuick-SDZ-4-Soymilk-Maker-SDZ4/dp/B000971GRA

  9. Allison says:

    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is such a great book! I love that Kingsolver goes into so much detail about how each crop grows (who would have known about asparagus?!), what season is right for what plants, and the recipes at the end of each chapter sound delicious!

    My mom lent me that book, and I liked it so much that I am actually going to buy a copy for myself, as I think it’s a multi-read.

  10. Jen says:

    @Robin: I saw “King Corn” on PBS a few months ago, and though it was interesting and often funny (esp. the part where they make their own high fructose corn syrup!),it shook me up something awful. My head was spinning for days.

  11. Mitch says:

    Johanna, you’re missing the point. I’m not saying you should eat unhealthful foods to save starving people. My point is that when there is a surplus of food in the United States, food prices are lower and we export–or even give–our excess to other countries. If we were all to eat organic foods, we could not sustain our own population, let alone assist anyone in third-world countries (many of which have land unsuitable for farming and can’t sustain their populations with conventional farming methods, let alone with organically-grown foods).

    No amount of money could make up for the fact there just plain wouldn’t be enough to go around. And yes, feeding corn directly to people would be far more efficient, but the fact is that people do eat meat, so it only makes sense to produce it in the least wasteful way possible.

  12. Mitch says:

    I should mention that I grew up on a farm and still live in a rural area, so my view of conventional farming isn’t based on old episodes of Captain Planet. People act like farmers intentionally poison the earth to line their own pockets, but they’re really just trying to utilize their resources to their fullest potential–a lot like most of the people on this site.

  13. Rhi says:

    Mitch — If we were all willing to cut back significantly on our meat consumption, huge areas of land would become available to grow grains and vegetables directly consumable by people. Eating meat, whether grass- or grain-fed, is hugely inefficient in terms of land use per calorie gained (not to mention water use). I believe if we did reduce meat consumption–and this would have to be a significant reduction–organic farming on a large scale would not present the problems you mention.

  14. Mitch says:

    Rhi – you are absolutely correct – but where do you think organic fertilizer comes from? The vast majority of it is animal waste or by-products from animal processing. In order for your theory to work, we would have to compromise on the meaning of organic and proponents of organic farming may have to make the concession that we can’t revert back to farming methods of the 19th century and still support the world population of the 21st.

  15. Mitch says:

    By the way, Borlaug also addresses the problem with organic fertilizer. I don’t remember the exact figure, but I believe the world livestock population would have to increase tenfold in order for us to be able to rely on organic fertilizer. And then what would we feed the animals?

  16. Nicole says:

    I’m glad that you have made the first step toward healthy, traditional foods on your own. Is the milk raw or pasteurized? What do the cows eat? This is the next step on the process. You have to follow the whole chain from earth, sun and soil to you because you really are what you eat.

    A good overview on the benefits of “Real Milk”

    http://www.realmilk.com/what.html

  17. Amanda B. says:

    On a side note, I think an extra $2 a gallon would be worth it to support a local business. Keeping your money in your town helps everyone. I am trying to remember the “little man”, and to me the money is worth it.

  18. Sena says:

    Trent — the benefit beyond you providing a better quality food for your family is in how it encourages and supports your local food systems and supply chains. Especially as transport costs continue to rise, shipping that apple 4,000 miles is going to get more expensive. A local food system takes time to build – you’re investing in a greater system of food security that is less vulnerable to those long distance cost increases.

    The key to keeping it affordable is to eat seasonally and explore various methods of long-term storage. For example, I bought winter squashes this past fall and stored them in my cool-pantry. I just baked up the last of them a week ago and they were perfectly tasty!

  19. Johanna says:

    Mitch, you’re putting the cart before the horse. Right now, the problem is the opposite of what you describe: We are generating tons and tons of animal manure that are not being put to use as fertilizer at all. Let’s solve that problem first – by eating less meat and using more organic fertilizer – and worry about the problem of not having enough when we get to that point.

  20. HebsFarm says:

    This is a tough issue because I think it is difficult to resolve the long-term, big picture with the day-to-day facts. In the long-term big picture, I think it behooves us as a nation to move toward more local, sustainable agriculture. Right this minute, our current ag practices are still working, so it feels ridiculous to pay a premium for local food. But it would be very smart to establish, build and support local food sources, because if our current ag practices/transportation system stop working, we will need to move quickly to a different model. Like anything “new,” the people who adopt it first will pay a premium, but somebody has to go first.

  21. Mitch says:

    Johanna, that is absolutely not the case. Where I live people actually buy manure and future rights to manure from livestock producers. Fertilizer is a very expensive commodity, and no farmer who wants to stay afloat would pass up the opportunity for a cheaper (free, if you grow both crops and livestock) alternative to chemical fertilizer.

  22. Mitch says:

    It should be noted that local and organic are two different things. There really is no valid argument against buying locally if you value your community and the environment more than the few pennies you might save by not shopping locally.

  23. Corrie says:

    Trent – Another “food” book that I read (after reading the ones you’ve mentioned) was Real Food by Nina Planck. It’s similar to In Defense of Food but different enough that I think it’s worth reading. (My local library didn’t have this one – I had to buy the book, but maybe you’ll have better luck!)

    Personally, for me, when I look at the environmental costs of pesticides, inorganic fertilizers/farming methods, excess packaging, fuel and transport costs, etc., that’s enough for me to want to support organic and local farming. The health implications of avoiding pesticides and “fake” food, particularly for the sake of my child and future children, is then enough for me to put my “wants” into actions. We subscribe to a CSA veggie box and shop at a local co-op that labels items from local suppliers. Our grocery bill has more than doubled.

    What you say about personal beliefs and values is so true — those trump frugality in this situation. If saving money were my only objective, I’d just eat 10-cent ramen every meal (and I actually really LIKE ramen!). But my health, my family’s health, and Earth’s health are valuable enough for me to make financial sacrifices in the area of food.

  24. Rob in Madrid says:

    This is one thing I miss about living in living in Spain, organic and locally grown food is almost non-existent. It’s all factory farmed food and often takes like it. We try to make up for it by eating food in season and avoiding too much meat.

  25. mjukr says:

    It’s just easier to eat at McDonald’s every day.

  26. April says:

    I think people could argue for days about whether organic food can support the population, etc., etc.

    Like Trent, I’m buying from farmer’s markets and buying organic when something isn’t at the market. Mostly, I do it for selfish reasons–I don’t want chemicals on my food. I’m happy to support the local guys, too, but that’s just an added benefit for me.

    My husband eats meat, and I plan to start buying it at the market for him. If he’s going to eat it, I would rather make sure the animal wasn’t fed God knows what or injected with God knows what, and that it hasn’t been dyed to look fresh. I’m willing to spend extra money for that.

    We don’t have cable or a flat screen, we’re making it with one car right now (we live in a rural area), we don’t eat out very often, and we’ve sort of opted out of the consumer lifestyle, so I think it’s okay financially to spend more for groceries. And again, health is my number one concern.

  27. Katie says:

    Over the years I have researched organic foods and healthy alternatives and reached several conclusions about which organic foods are worth it and which are simply more expensive without any added health benefits. I wrote an article about it on my site last month, but to paraphrase: red meat, poultry and dairy products are worth it. Some fruits and veggies are worth it but many are not. Everything else is pretty much just hype. :)

  28. Melissa says:

    I’ve gotten more interested in eating organic in the last year, especially since last Thanksgiving when on impulse I bought an organic turkey. What an eye-opener!!! The taste was unbelievable. I’m never going with Butterball again.

    I thought I’d go to organic veggies little by little–and simultaneously getting rid of the bad habit of throwing food away (i.e. not eating leftovers and buying too many vegetables in a virtuous frenzy and then not cooking them) to make up for it.

    BTW, I was inspired by TSD to take my lunch to work, and I can’t thank you enough. I’m eating all the leftovers and it’s SOOO much tastier than what I get at the deli!!!

    How’s the cold?

  29. tightwadfan says:

    Once I could afford it I started buying organic, then I noticed that most of the produce was coming from California, and much of it was packaged in plastic, and that just didn’t seem right.

    So I decided to try buying local and started going to the farmers market. I really liked it but in the winter many of the stalls had citrus fruits for sale. I lived in Maryland so ??? I started suspecting that maybe the “farmers” were not growing the food they were selling and I had no idea where the food was coming from.

    Eventually I got tired of the effort it took to make sure my purchases were local or organic and just started going back to the regular grocery store and buying what was cheapest. If they sell local apples or whatever I will purchase that produce. I will buy organic ground beef because I’m terrified of the regular stuff but I think Whole Foods is a scam.

    I had no problem with the extra expense of organic/local but I got tired of the hassle.

    I am not in a location at the moment where I can get into a CSA but eventually that’s what I’d like to do. I’d like to buy local and know where my food is coming from but not have it take over my life.

  30. BonzoGal says:

    I buy local and organic and feel the cost is justified because for my family it’s a quality of life issue. We trade off things we don’t value as much (TV, new cars, new clothes) for things that DO matter to us (food and travel). I don’t mind spending more money and time and effort to get this kind of food because for my husband and me, this is fun! We loooove researching the local farms, dairies, pick-your-own orchards, etc. We spend most of our weekends cooking or planning meals. It’s our hobby in a way, and the stuff we learn is fascinating.

    (Thanks everyone for the tips on books and films on the subject- I’ll look those up!)

  31. Kevin says:

    We have wrestled with this decision as well since our son, who just turned one, started eating more table food. We’ve done some research and much like Katie says in #23, we’ve decided to feed him only organic milk and some fruits and vegetables. Otherwise, we normally try to buy local produce and eat as much natural food as possible. I feel like paying a little extra to keep some of the junk out of our bodies is a good investment.

    I’m looking forward to next spring when we move into a bigger home – with a bigger kitchen – so I have room to cook more home-made meals.

  32. Lady Tawodi says:

    I tend to do half and half right now. I buy what I can that’s organic and local (veggies, fruits, we grow a lot of our own too, or did till we were recently thrown off our farm of 30 years). And certain things like milk, I’ll buy Stonyfield farm’s brand of organic milks.

    We used to have a lucrative egg business when we had our farm, and we sold organic free-range eggs very cheap. I think it’s possible for most people to supply what they need for themselves. But when it comes to things like toilet paper, I buy what’s cheap at the grocery store to save money.

  33. 60 in 3 - Health and Fitness says:

    Mitch,
    Most factory meat farms produce way too much manure. That may not be the case in your area, but it is in the rest of the US. This manure leads to nitrogen rich run off poisoning our rivers and oceans.

    Also, your high yield corn farmers rely on petroleum for their fertilizer, not on organic manure. This is completely unsustainable, much more so than organic farming.

    Can wide scale organic farming feed the world? I have no clue, but I can certainly tell you that our current industrial food chain cannot.

    Gal

  34. Tom says:

    @Mitch: I think you have a hard road to hoe when it comes to defending conventional agriculture on the merits of ‘helping third world people’. For how many years have the US and other nations that use such wonderful methods of production had huge surplusses and how much have those surplusses really made a difference? Have they even made a dent? The motives behind the big boys (Monsanto, Cargill, etc) aren’t grounded in producing food, the motive is $$$, period.

    You do bring up a point that must be answered, however. Will sustainable agriculture be able to meet the demands? My opinion is that we need to find out – perhaps it could start with a few less megamalls selling cheap plastic goods.

    “… whenever I hear people say clean food is expensive, I tell them it’s actually the cheapest food you can buy. That always gets their attention. Then I explain that with our food all of the costs are figured into the price. Society is not bearing the cost of water pollution, of antibiotic resistance, of food-borne illnesses, of crop subsidies, of subsidized oil and water — of all the hidden costs to the environment and the taxpayer that make cheap food seem cheap. No thinking person will tell you they don’t care about all that. I tell them the choice is simple: You can buy honestly priced food or you can buy irresponsibly priced food. – Joel Salatin in The Omnivore’s Dilemma

  35. Joanna says:

    @tightwadfan – I too try to eat organic & local, more in that order at the present time. I’d love to go 100% local, but am put off by stories of our farmers market being full of people who make drop offs first to the local Albertson’s. I think, outside of a CSA or other situation in which you are actually visiting your farmer, it’s tough to know that you are truly buying local. Also, local is defined in many different ways by different people.

    I suppose it’s just buyer beware at the end of the day. I absolutely agree with Michael Pollan’s statement in The Omnivore’s Dilemma that more transparency in farming and food processing would lead to better practices. But transparency, while possible in many circumstances now, is costly (whether the cost is money or time).

    Intersting post Trent.

  36. Heidi says:

    My husband and I have had much the same revolution in our food habits as TSD family this year. For us, it is definitely worth it, but it’s true that is largely due to our personal values.

    We’ve been veggie-heavy and whole grain eaters for awhile now, but nothing has improved our health and immunity like our CSA share. It’s amazing.

    I actually came to this way of eating in Target, hemming and hawing over organic granola bars that were $1.50 more than their conventional counterparts, when a $14.99 pretty storage container caught my eye. I considered the storage container. Then it hit me – if I can afford $14.99 on a box, I can afford $1.50 on granola bars. It’s all about priorities. Most people can cut back somewhere else to pay for local and sustainably produced food.

    One thing we’ve done to cut down on the extra expense is buy less processed foods, and we do most of the processing at home. I bake all our breads, make our pasta and other sauces, salad dressings, refried beans. I’ve even tried mozarella cheese (needs practice). Next I’m doing homemade pasta. All I buy at the grocery store is dairy, meat, and the occasional baking supply, canned bean/tomato or boxed pasta. Most of this extra “work” is much easier and quicker than people imagine it to be – and even when it isn’t, who couldn’t do with a few less hours of TV? Cutting back on eating out has saved a few dollars too.

    As for Mitch – I think those kinds of fears are a bit premature. But even so, hunger in the world today is an economic problem, not a supply problem. We throw away huge amounts of food in the US right now – we have a ways to go before shortage is the problem.

  37. Nate says:

    Trent,

    I think when you say “rBGH-free milk” you mean milk from cows not treated with rBGH. rBGH or rBST occurs naturally in all cow’s milk. The FDA has found that milk from cows treated with rBGH or rBST contains the same level of these hormones as milk from untreated cows and that these hormones pose no health risks to humans. I guess everyone has to decide for themselves whether to trust the FDA. They’ve certainly been wrong before. I personally choose to purchase milk from untreated cows, but this is based more on paranoia then on any evidence.

  38. I don’t think it’s a “feel-good” expense, I think it’s living your values, and therefore just as justifiable (or not) as those who budget a tithe into their family spending plan.

    I have seen analyses that say eating locally is more important than eating organic. We try to do both, especially with an emphasis on those foods that carry the most pesticide exposure, but local benefits the environment, the economy and our “neighbor” farmers trying to make it work.

    And of course, a fair portion of our food comes very locally, from our back (and now front) yards.

  39. lawschoolmom says:

    My children and husband drink a lot of milk (about 2.5 gallons/wk). The additional cost of organic, hormone free, locally produced milk is definitely worth it to us because we really don’t want our children ingesting rBGH and rBS.

    We are not currently part of a CSA because shares go really fast around here and we are never able to time it right. But we do shop at the numerous Farmer’s Markets for local produce. We are hoping to buy a share of grass fed cow for winter meat.

  40. Amber says:

    This is a tough issue for us because we are ecology grad students. So on the one hand I feel like I need to put my money where my mouth is, but on the other there’s not much money and we have to get something in our mouths! I’m motivated mostly by the environmental impacts of pesticides, and not very much at all by impacts on our personal health. I don’t like farmer’s markets because it’s a hassle to comparison shop and I feel pressured to buy. So we shop at the food co-op or the regular grocery store. We buy organic dairy and eggs and minimize meat consumption (we eat mostly chicken). I tried going all organic on produce for awhile and it was just too expensive (even in CA). Now I go mostly organic but will take a local item instead sometimes, and I avoid stuff shipped in from far away (even though stuff from other countries is often cheaper).

  41. !wanda says:

    Your family drinks 10 gallons of milk a week?! ($20/the extra $2 per gallon of milk for cruelty-free milk). That’s so much milk I have trouble imagining how you go through it all. (When I was growing up, for my family of two adults and two hungry adolescents, we’d go through 2 or 3 gallons a week.) If you’re worried about the expense, couldn’t you just cut back on the milk for yourself and your wife? Even if you replace that with organic produce, it’ll still be cheaper. Then, the extra expense becomes a small indulgence.

    On the larger question of whether to pay extra for sustainable agriculture: you’re right, it comes down to individual conscience. I think *most* people could make do with eating less food and paying more for it. I would support laws that regulated factory farming, mandated reduced pesticide levels on produce, and implemented tougher anti-cruelty laws for farmed animals. Until these measures are put in place on a legislative level, companies will continue to provide what most consumers want, which is cheap food.

  42. Trent, I think it’s admirable that you are moving toward fresher, healthier produce. This can only help your health. However, you have to be really careful because there are a lot of myths surrounding organic food.

    1. Organic dairy farms are not allowed to give their cows antibiotics or milk-stimulating hormones, that is true. But the end product of both organic and regular milk is the same: milk without antibiotics and with only traces of rbGH (since it is a naturally present protein in all cows, including organic herds). There is no scientific evidence that regular milk is less safe or less healthy.

    Furthermore, without antibiotics, a sick or injured cow will experience more pain and suffering. Without the drugs, there is no way to control parasites, worms, infections, or illness. Cows with treatable illnesses must get better on their own, or they will be slaughtered or sold to another farm where they can get the medicine they need.

    Organic milk is generally not even fresher than regular milk (this probably doesn’t apply to your situation, mostly to supermarket milk). Organic milk is ultrapasteurized and has a shelf life of about 90 days. Supermarkets sometimes will only put the milk on the shelf just before its expiration to make sure consumers feel it is just as fresh as regular milk.

    2. Organic produce production is far less efficient than modern methods, so the farms use more land and more fuel to produce their crops. Even locally-grown produce isn’t always the answer, as sometimes these crops can have a larger carbon footprint than something produced elsewhere.

    Obviously the science doesn’t always take into account improved taste.

    It makes people feel better if they’re eating organic or locally-grown food, but the science just doesn’t back up the hype.

    My sources for this were several articles posted on this blog at Penn State University: http://blogs.das.psu.edu/tetherton/category/organic/

    I think that you can reach a lot of people to keep the organic myths from spreading. I hope the link is helpful!

  43. ben says:

    Do we have any options besides sustainable? I suppose in the short term unsustainable agriculture is an option and – at least for now – a cheaper one, but this can only be a temporary solution. If something is unsustainable, that means it’s finite and must come to an end.

    Here’s an example: we’ve already eroded something in the neighborhood of 85% of our topsoil in the U.S. You can actually see our topsoil from space running into the Gulf of Mexico http://www.news-sentinel.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/SE/20080728/NEWS/807280317

    Is it really sane to argue the continuation of that kind of behavior? If you had $1 million in your bank account it’s certainly more efficient for you to spend that money to meet your needs, but if you’re not working or replenishing your bank account in some way, that money will run out eventually. You’re spending un-sustainably. If you wouldn’t treat your financial resources that way, why treat the natural resources of the planet that you and your children (and their children, and their children’s children, etc.) depend on?

  44. SP says:

    An inexpensive way to help the environmnet with your diet and avoid unorganic animal products is to eat much less meat.

    Articles like this annoy me though. I agree with the commenter that stated organic food is largely hype. If the hype is the same price as non-hype, I’ll buy it, but… I’m tired of the my health is so important so I splurge on this” mantra many pf bloggers have. My health is important, so I eat healthful foods and exercise.

    http://blogs.das.psu.edu/tetherton/2007/08/04/organic-food-for-thought-reasons-why-you-should-buy-regular-goods/

  45. Sandy says:

    My husband and I decided that as soon as we could afford to buy organic (I also shudder about giving the Rgbh stuff to my girls), we would. As it turns out our children rarely get sick (they both get 100% attendance certificates at the end of the year, except that year with the unfortunate broken arm!), and my husband and I hardly ever get sick.
    You recently mentioned about being sick for several weeks with one form of a cold or another…sometimes a body goes through a type of “detox” when good food is introduced to the body after years of ingesting bad stuff (sodas?).
    Perhaps this is what is happening to you.
    There is also anecdotal evidence from conversations that I have with friends that cheap milk/dairy products have a serious effect on children with autism or ADHD. Insert hormone free milk, negative behavior goes away, insert Walmart milk, negative behavior starts right back up again.
    Also, I love the idea of self-sufficiency, whether it be something I can do, or something my (100 mile radius) neighbors can do to make ourselves more self sufficient. If it’s buying local to help a local farmer, eggs, honey, veggies…I’m all for it and do…it will make all our local economies stronger. If it’s growing a garden for my family, it’s all important. (Disclaimer: I believe that Peak Oil is going to present itself relatively soon, so I like to always think in terms of that issue).

  46. I buy organic and local when I can afford it(the price has to be close to what I’d pay otherwise). I get milk from a local farm for $4 a gallon, and I can get produce at the farmer’s market for prices close to what I’d pay at the store. I try to buy the locally grown stuff in the regular stores too. But there are many local/organic things that I just can’t afford right now and I’m not going to lose too much sleep over it. You do what you can do.

    Tightwad-I’ve noticed the same thing about organic produce. I really don’t want to contribute that much plastic to the landfill.

  47. !wanda says:

    @the people who favor local: Growing food and producing goods locally should reduce the cost and waste of transporting them. But I see no reason why a local person is better and deserves my money more than someone, say, in another country. If I buy clothes from Wal-mart, I am supporting someone and her family in China or Vietnam whose only other option may be subsistence farming (and those countries don’t have any kind of safety net for their people). Of course, I’m supporting lots of other people, governments, and companies too, some of which don’t deserve my support, which is where the calculation becomes very, very complicated. But as the child of an immigrant, and someone who has traveled a lot and moved at least 400 miles three times in my 24 years, I find it very odd when people say we should support local people and the local community simply because they are local.

  48. Jeremy says:

    I buy/eat organic when possible and I’m actually of the same mindset as Michael Pollan on the issue.

    My issue is finding the food that is really organic and local. I avoid Whole Foods since they are massively overpriced and most of their produce comes from large scale industrial farms. I prefer to buy from smaller local growers. So I eat organic to avoid the chemicals, but eat locally so I can support small famers in my area.

  49. Tyler says:

    Hi Mitch, this is a topic I’ve been struggling with myself (especially on a student budget) and my biggest expenses are milk and meat. This is the process the Oberweis Dairy uses to produce their milk and you can save about $.60 on their milk compared to the typical organic price. They also offer home delivery to some Midwestern areas (I’m in Illinois myself).

    https://www.oberweisdairy.com/web/tastessogood.asp

  50. Mitch says:

    “As for Mitch – I think those kinds of fears are a bit premature. But even so, hunger in the world today is an economic problem, not a supply problem. We throw away huge amounts of food in the US right now – we have a ways to go before shortage is the problem.”

    It’s not a fear for me – I’m every bit the selfish capitalist, and I’ll make sure I’m nourished before I worry about someone on another continent. I live in the US, and I realize the chances of me ever starving are very slim. The reason I brought this up is that the people I know who are the most vocal supporters of organic farming are also the type who claim to care about world hunger. But, like many on here, they choose to ignore warnings from people like Norman Borlaug (Nobel laureate, world’s foremost expert on food production/hunger) because it’s easier to shell out $20 to whatever organization than it is to research the topic beyond what the latest bestseller tells you.

    It reminds me of our current energy situation – those of us without our heads in the sand realized long ago that cheap gas would likely come to an end. The ones who chose to ignore the warnings are the ones complaining how “they” need to do something about the price of gas. Well, “they” finally decided to charge what their product is worth. The same will happen with food someday, as it will with any resource we have a limited capacity to produce. Organic farming, in its current form, will only speed along an already inevitable outcome – people will find out that the earth can only produce so much food. If you think organic food is expensive now, wait until it’s all we produce–the decrease in production will drive food prices up dramatically, and “they” won’t be able to do a thing about it.

  51. KC says:

    I switched to organic milk which is about twice the price of non-organic. But it tastes so much better. And, more importantly, it lasts much longer. Non-organic milk from a jug always went bad before the expiration date. It may still cost me more money, but not as much as it would first appear since I don’t throw the organic milk out after a week like I do the spoiled regular milk. And the taste is worth the extra expense.

  52. Seems like my last comment got lost in the ether of the intertubes, so Trent, I’m sorry if you received this twice!

    Trent, I think it’s admirable that you are moving toward fresher, healthier produce. This can only help your health. However, you have to be really careful because there are a lot of myths surrounding organic food.

    1. Organic dairy farms are not allowed to give their cows antibiotics or milk-stimulating hormones, that is true. But the end product of both organic and regular milk is the same: milk without antibiotics and with only traces of rbGH (since it is a naturally present protein in all cows, including organic herds). There is no scientific evidence that regular milk is less safe or less healthy.

    Furthermore, without antibiotics, a sick or injured cow will experience more pain and suffering. Without the drugs, there is no way to control parasites, worms, infections, or illness. Cows with treatable illnesses must get better on their own, or they will be slaughtered or sold to another farm where they can get the medicine they need.

    Organic milk is generally not even fresher than regular milk (this probably doesn’t apply to your situation, mostly to supermarket milk). Organic milk is ultrapasteurized and has a shelf life of about 90 days. Supermarkets sometimes will only put the milk on the shelf just before its expiration to make sure consumers feel it is just as fresh as regular milk.

    2. Organic produce production is far less efficient than modern methods, so the farms use more land and more fuel to produce their crops. Even locally-grown produce isn’t always the answer, as sometimes these crops can have a larger carbon footprint than something produced elsewhere.

    Obviously the science doesn’t always take into account improved taste.

    It makes people feel better if they’re eating organic or locally-grown food, but the science just doesn’t back up the hype.

    My sources for this were several articles posted on this blog at Penn State University: http://blogs.das.psu.edu/tetherton/category/organic/

    I think that you can reach a lot of people to keep the organic myths from spreading. I hope the link is helpful!

  53. Stephanie says:

    Well Wanda, someday you will realize that Wal-Mart is the one making most of that money while the people sewing your stuff in a third world country are still as poor as ever.

    Why not encourage entrepreneurship in other countries by giving money to heifer.org or kiva.org?

    Even producers in America are saying that Wal-Mart is undercutting them severely so that they are having a hard time making ends meet.

    No Wal-Mart for me.

  54. George says:

    Buy local if the quality is there. Here in Portland, Oregon, area, we have some excellent options whether you want organic or not, but the key is to stay out of the chain grocery stores as they seldom have the best price (especially the chain organic stores).

    Organic or not? Personal choice. We grow our own, so know what it’s been through. That comprises only about 30% of our diet in a good year. We eat way too much meat, but I blame that on having a dog whose prior owner spoiled him more than we would have and, like the saying goes, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks ;-). In-laws occasionally supply us with free range beef from their hobby farm… tends to be tougher than the store-bought, perfect for the dog.

    Taste? For fruits and vegetables, the best tasting seem to come from the most perishable varieties, so growing your own works very well in that respect.

  55. tightwadfan says:

    wanda – why to shop local (aside from fuel conservation) – when you buy from a local vendor they live and spend their money in the community, and they pay taxes in the community. so locally spent dollars stay local and contribute to the economic health and infrastructure of your area. but when you buy from a national or international chain, the money leaves your community and goes to headquarters in Arkansas or Germany or wherever.

  56. Mitch says:

    “Most factory meat farms produce way too much manure. That may not be the case in your area, but it is in the rest of the US. This manure leads to nitrogen rich run off poisoning our rivers and oceans.

    Also, your high yield corn farmers rely on petroleum for their fertilizer, not on organic manure. This is completely unsustainable, much more so than organic farming.

    Can wide scale organic farming feed the world? I have no clue, but I can certainly tell you that our current industrial food chain cannot.”

    Just because certain parts of the country under-utilize manure or apply or store it improperly, or that in certain areas there is a higher concentration than can be used locally does not mean that, as a whole, we produce enough to meet our total fertilizer needs. Improper handling and application are the causes for most pollution from livestock run-off.

    Furthermore, I know that petroleum is used in the production of chemical fertilizers, but the fertilizers themselves are not petroleum-derived. Virtually every product we use relies on petroleum for either its production or transport – even organic fertilizer.

    By the way, use of the term “factory farm” makes it very obvious that someone probably knows very little about farming. It’s a term dreamed up by people who think that, in the good old days, cattle and hogs frolicked beneath rainbows in the pasture in between games of fetch.

  57. Mitch says:

    By the way, I live in a county with the highest livestock population in the entire state of Iowa, and we don’t produce enough organic fertilizer to support the crops grown here. Please tell me again how “sustainable” organic farming is.

  58. Gretchen says:

    I started buying organic milk for a while then stopped. I did a college research project on it about 10 years ago and all of the studies were saying that the hormones they feed cows don’t show up in the milk. Are there newer studies now that show it does end up in the milk? Incidentally, I was just re-reading All Things Great and Small and noticed that he talks a lot about how cows are a lot healthier “now” that they have antibiotics for them (“now” was probably about 1960 or so).

  59. BonzoGal says:

    Comment #42: “Furthermore, without antibiotics, a sick or injured cow will experience more pain and suffering. Without the drugs, there is no way to control parasites, worms, infections, or illness. Cows with treatable illnesses must get better on their own, or they will be slaughtered or sold to another farm where they can get the medicine they need.”

    This is not true- if an animal on an organic farm or dairy is sick then the dairy owner WILL give it antibiotics to fight the illness if necessary. No organic dairy farmer would let a valuable cow get sick or die because they wanted it to be antibiotic-free. The animal will be given the proper medicine until it is well again.

    What the organic dairy farmer will NOT do is use antibiotics on a “preventative” basis as non-organic dairies and ranches do. Antibiotics are routinely fed to the cows and steers there to “prevent” illnesses brought on by overcrowded conditions, poor feed, etc. This is like a human taking antibiotics when they get a sniffle- it doesn’t cure a non-bacterial illness and makes it possible for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to breed.

    I worked for a while at an organic goat dairy, and believe me, we did give our goats medicine (including antibiotics) if the vet said they needed it! A sick goat would not be milked until it was fully well and the medicines were out of its system.

  60. Joanna says:

    @wanda:

    I actually agree with your post about local v. non-local. I think Americans, particularly those of us who consider ourselves “educated” actually don’t think much at all about the world outside of our own (reason why travel *can be* important) and the interconnectedness of our ecnoomies even while they tout “global thinking”. I think you have a good point here, and one that was overrun by cheap shots at Walmart (so tiresome).

    To whomever it was who made the “Walmart milk” crack, if you’ve been to Walmart anytime recently, you’d realize that they too have caught on to the latest consumer driven solve-the-world’s-problems-buy-purchasing-”the right”-stuff trend and actually have a very wide array of organic products, milk and otherwise.

    Back to Wanda, my only beef with your comments was when you said that “I would support laws that regulated factory farming, mandated reduced pesticide levels on produce, and implemented tougher anti-cruelty laws for farmed animals. Until these measures are put in place on a legislative level, companies will continue to provide what most consumers want, which is cheap food.”. The statment that you would support laws to this effect is totally fair, but the second sentence “until theses measures are put in place… companies will provide what most consumers want” gives me pause. The U.S. is a democracy (or representative republic actually), not a dictatorship (however benevolent). The idea is that “what most people want” ends up being “how it is”, at least in theory. You may be absolutely correct in your opinion (or you could be wrong), but the government is of the people, by the people and for the people and “the people” means everyone, not just the intellectual elite.

    Please understand that I truly mean no offense. A lot of this is somewhat tongue in cheek as I, too, buy the organic milk, and worry about the non-organic veggies, etc. I just think that we need to be careful to not fall into the traps that Mitch presents, particulary people like myself, who are “city folk”. I think Mr. Pollan presents that very issue in his statements against vegetarianism / the animal cruelty argument. Just some food for thought.

  61. Nate says:

    Gretchen,

    I don’t think there are studies showing that use of rBST or rGHB alters the chemical composition of milk in any way. At least I haven’t heard of any. Earlier FDA studies found no effect. These hormones are naturally occuring in all cow’s milk.

    Milk producers just use clever marketing to convince people that the milk is somehow better if it comes from untreated cows so they can charge more. This has proven effective as people now seem to think they are buying “hormone free” milk, which is never the case.

    Like here in California, most of the milk has a lable stating “this milk is from cows not treated with rBST”. What the lable doesn’t say is that, while the cows weren’t treated, this milk contains just as much rBST as milk from treated cows, because it is naturally present. Kind of deceptive.

  62. Another Personal Finance Blog says:

    While we have not given great consideration to whether or not our food is organic/sustainable. My wife and I do put a premium on purchasing food that is healthy and good. It is one area we will not cut back on too much. We try to save money by comparing prices and planning ahead. We also visit farmers markets and have a garden of our own, however, these are more for the enjoyment than anything.

  63. louisa says:

    “2. Organic produce production is far less efficient than modern methods, so the farms use more land and more fuel to produce their crops. Even locally-grown produce isn’t always the answer, as sometimes these crops can have a larger carbon footprint than something produced elsewhere.”

    According to Bill McKibben, who wrote Deep Economy, it depends on your definition of ‘efficient’. Industrial agriculture does produce a larger dollar profit per acre of land. That’s why it is winning as a mode of farming.

    But human labor-intensive agriculture (e.g., organic) produces more food per acre and does not use more fuel (it uses less). It does require more human energy, however, and that’s why it is expensive. (In a world with cheap fossil fuels that is! The rise in fuel prices may change this cost ratio, however.)

    Hearing this raised an interesting issue for me. That is, what’s more important: making food or making money? What standard of efficiency should we should use?

    (And I’m not being coy here. Money is more fungible than food, and so has real value. But more food per acre is nothing to sneeze at.)

  64. Kate says:

    I agree with the poster in #51. I have started buying organic milk in boxes because it lasts so long. I might even save money because I buy as much milk at a time as will fit in the bottom of my refrigerator and so I don’t go to the grocery store as much. Milk in plastic often goes bad before the expiration date and while I will use sour milk for biscuits, pancakes, etc. my husband and I don’t eat those as much anymore.

    I noted an interesting thing the other day: an entire half-gallon of organic milk in the box went past the date in April when my husband and I were on vacation. It sat in my fridge until last week when I finally opened it up to pour it out. I was quite surprised to note that it didn’t smell bad at all. Sort of like unpasteurized milk that goes bad.

  65. Mitch says:

    I’d like to know where that information comes from. Grain yields have consistently increased since the introduction of modern farming methods. Look at just the past 25 years.

    http://www.card.iastate.edu/iowa_ag_review/fall_05/article3.aspx

    I work for an agricultural implement dealer, and our biggest focus right now is precision agriculture. Most new farm machinery is now equipped with satellite-based systems that guide machines through the field at accuracies of less than one inch. This allows farmers to maximize the number of plants per acre, target application of fertilizer and pesticides (reducing waste), minimize overlap during tillage (saving fuel) and minimize field loss during harvest.

    Most organic farming is still done using modern machinery, not manual labor. This means that instead of one quick pass through a field with a sprayer to eradicate pests, organic farmers use the old method, which means you make 3 or 4 passes through a field with a diesel engine tractor in low gear and a cultivator in the ground. This burns more fuel and makes the soil more susceptible to erosion.

    I’m not some activist fighting world hunger trying to be preachy, I just want those of you who are less informed on the topic to understand that there are trade-offs when you go organic. It’s not a black-and-white issue like many people think.

  66. Heidi says:

    “The reason I brought this up is that the people I know who are the most vocal supporters of organic farming are also the type who claim to care about world hunger. But, like many on here, they choose to ignore warnings from people like Norman Borlaug (Nobel laureate, world’s foremost expert on food production/hunger) because it’s easier to shell out $20 to whatever organization than it is to research the topic beyond what the latest bestseller tells you.”

    It seems you may have stopped reading my comment past the word “fear”. The reason I’d rather help hungry people by shelling out $20 to an organization than eating non-sustainably/organically produced food is not because it’s “easier”. It’s because we have plenty of food to feed hungry people right now, and yet, people still go hungry. Therefore, the problem with hunger is not supply. The problem with hunger is economics (the hungry people cannot afford to buy the food, or grow it themselves). We could keep increasing yields until the cows come home (pun intended) and there would still be hungry people in the world. No amount of reading up on the shortages that large-scale adoption of organic food production may cause in the future will change that. $20 at least has a fighting chance.

  67. Mitch says:

    @Heidi

    If we decrease our food production to the point that we have no surplus, it won’t matter whether economics will allow the now non-existent food to reach starving people BECAUSE THERE WILL NO LONGER BE A SURPLUS HERE. You can dump all the organic fertilizer in the world on sub-Saharan Africa, but the climate and soil will not produce enough food to feed the people over there (with population growth). Therefore, in order to feed them, those countries capable of producing a surplus must either do so (and find a way to get it to those who need it) or be comfortable with the fact that people are starving elsewhere in the world. Supply isn’t currently a problem, but it will be if we decrease our food production by going organic.

  68. Great question! I’ve been asking myself this recently. I too recently read “In Defense of Food” and have been trying to buy local, as well as eat more plants. I started drinking a quart of green smoothie 5 days a week. Green Smoothies are about $2-$2.50 each, mainly because a main ingredient is a 10 oz bag of spinach (a bargain at $1.25 at the local produce store). But between green smoothies, farmer’s markets, and organic produce delivery, I’ve easily increased my grocery budget by $75. For me, right now, it is worth it.

  69. Andy says:

    Hi Trent, thanks for not shoving organic/local down our throats. I really appreciate you respecting others people viewpoints and advocating that each person has to decide for themselves.

    I just finished reading through all the comments, and from what I’ve read (which isn’t a whole lot, I’ll admit), it seems that there isn’t a proof that pesticides or hormone raised cows are any less healthy for people. Can anyone show me studies that prove this? I’ve seen the ones that say organic produce has less pesticides on the food, which I’ll certainly accept, but I haven’t seen where it proves the negative side effects. And I completely understand people hedging their bets and buying organic on the chance that pesticide residue does do harm. But where are all these people getting their information that organic and non-hormone milk is verifiably healthier? Numerous commenters have pointed out articles saying that non-hormone milk is the same as hormone milk? How do people come to these factual conclusions without facts?

    Now, I might be wrong. Like I said, I haven’t done extensive research, so if anyone has data on the health effects of these things, I honestly would like to read it and would appreciate it.

    On the effect of organics and local on the environment and world, that seems to be a VERY complex issue. Here is an idea though, what if everyone (except for farmers) in the US moved to 10-15 mega-cities and then food was grown in the best regions and shipped in by train? Trains are super-efficient (as far as I can tell – at least more efficient than other things we have) and they would only be travelling to a few locations. I know, the plausibility of this is extremely low, just an alternative thought to the local idea.

  70. Ann says:

    I like the comparison Michael Pollan gives in “In Defense of Food” about how Americans spend a vastly smaller proportion of their incomes on food compared to other people from some other countries (like France, Spain and Italy). The point being that if we are trying to save money and cut corners, maybe FOOD ought not to be the place we do it. I’m all for getting a great deal, but it’s more important to me to buy food that TASTES GOOD.

    I LOVE knowing where my food came from and what it’s made out of. It makes me feel good–mentally AND physically. That’s worth a little bit more to me. Also, at the same time we’ve started spending a little more to buy locally produced goods, we’ve also started MAKING a lot of foods we used to buy ready made, and this saves us money. So maybe that will balance out.

  71. Susy says:

    I agree with Nicole. Real Milk is the only way to go. We found a local farm and buy raw milk, it ends up costing me $6 a gallon (so the same as organic milk, the cows are certified organic and pastured). We LOVE it, we can never go back to regular, it’s tasty and I love having a relationship with the people I get my milk & eggs & chickens from. Not mention I also make my own butter from the cream, so if you add in that cost it’s more the price of regular milk at the store (so it’s not more expensive). I no longer have lactose intolerance issues either.

    We are also like Heidi. We don’t eat many pre-packaged food. All of our food is made at home, pasta, bread, sauces, soups, etc. We buy out produce locally when available and try to preserve local for the winter (we buy local over organic). We also grow as much of our own food as possible (each year it compromises more and more of our diet).

    I think making that switch to non-processed is the best option. It’s much cheaper, I am now spending about $75 less each month for 2 people and we feel much better. We can no longer eat processed food because it makes us a little sick.

    Even if I weren’t saving money, I would give up a lot of things like eating out or buying new clothes before I would give up tasty healthy food. That’s where my priorities are and I’m sure in 30 years I’ll be glad I made that my choice.

  72. Amy says:

    I try to focus on eating local, not necessarily organic. I buy my milk from a local farm. I subscribe to a CSA that provides me with vegetables and eggs. I have a garden in my backyard for the first time this year that is thriving. I agree that less processed is the way to go. I eat so many more vegetables and fruits now than ever before and I love it. The garden keeps me active and off the couch in the evenings. I feel much healthier and I’ve also lost 10 pounds in the last year without even trying!

    I don’t go to the farmer’s market that often (mostly because of my garden and CSA share). I am a bit wary of the market as other posters have suggested because I see way too many produce boxes lying around. The last time I was there I saw Georgia peaches for sale. I live in Kansas!

  73. reulte says:

    Nate comment 37 / 61 – rBGH is genetically modified growth hormone which causes the production of extra milk (about 10% increase, as well as several other problems for the cattle which may require antibiotics) That’s what the ‘r’ stands for – recombinant or genetically modified. Cattle that aren’t treated with rBGH cannot have rBGH in the milk — they CAN have BGH which is naturally occuring (in cattle pituitary glands) and, as far as I know, there is not a way to tell the naturally occuring BGH from the rBGH in milk. The basic problem people have with rBGH is that it is genetically modified.

    Besides, as I understand it, it has became almost a moot point as of yesterday. Monsanto is selling Prosilac since many consumers are refusing to buy milk from the grocery stores who are refusing to purchase it from dairies who don’t purchase the Prisolac.

    Efficiency of land – several people have mentioned this and I’m wondering about this. I’ve heard it said that organic farming is not as efficient per manpower but that it can be extremely efficient per acre. Ah – thanks Louisa (comment 63), I wondered where I heard it and you described it so much better than I.)

    For the sour milk people — you know you can freeze milk (another point for that freezer in the garage).

    Andrew – comment 68 — Ummm, while there’s no evidence that rBGH or most other genetically modified crops are harmful in the eating; there is a slew of evidence against consuming pesticides. Here’s something from Cornell about pesticides in water (http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/facts-slides-self/facts/pes-heef-grw85.html).

  74. reulte says:

    Ooops, major error . . . 2nd paragraph . . . grocery stores who are refusing to purchase it from dairies who DO purchase the Prisolac.

  75. mister worms says:

    “I don’t think there are studies showing that use of rBST or rGHB alters the chemical composition of milk in any way. At least I haven’t heard of any. Earlier FDA studies found no effect. These hormones are naturally occuring in all cow’s milk.”

    Actually, milk from cows treated with rBST/rBGH has higher levels of insulin growth hormone (even Monsanto, the maker of Posilac admits to that as a result of their testing) which studies have linked to prostate, colon, ovarian and breast cancer among other effects. Nevermind what it does to the cows…

    And NO, rBST/rBGH is NOT naturally occurring in cows! It’s a genetically engineered hormone. The “r” stands for recombinant. BST is another story.

    Further, the US is one of the last remaining nations on this planet that haven’t banned the use of rBST/rBGH. It’s no wonder. Ever hear about the revolving door between the FDA, big Ag and big pharmaceutical companies? How can we trust them?

  76. Trish says:

    Thanks for this thought provoking article. In Defense of Food is on my list of books to read – I didn’t realize he had a book written before it – I’ll plan to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma also.

  77. Marta says:

    I think the discussion really hinges on local vs organic. I just learned about how “corporate” the organic industry has become and it really makes me think twice – - just look at who owns the organic companies:
    http://www.cornucopia.org/graphics/OrganicTop25Jul07.pdf

    My main concern with the food industry is the costs (energy, resources, and monetary) that are required to produce and transport each food product from pasture to plate. Knowing that the bulk of the organic food industry is just another branch of the large food conglomerates doesn’t comfort me into thinking that these foods are produced in the greenest way possible.

    Instead I will do my best to shop locally and choose the freshest options with the least amount of packaging.

  78. Nate says:

    Mister Worms,

    Good to know. I found all your statements in a wikipedia article on Posilac . . . haha. . . maybe you wrote it.

    Clearly, I was too ambitious in my previous statements. The FDA has found no “significant” difference, not no difference at all between milk from treated and untreated cows. And yes, rBST is not naturally occuring, but BST is, and BST is found in milk from treated cows and milk from untreated cows. So, again, good luck finding hormone free milk.

    According to my extensive (not really) google research, the insulin growth hormone you mention is produced by the human body, and the amounts in mink from untreated and treated cows are said to be insignificant in comparison to amounts already present in the body, so I don’t see any problem there.

    Yes, I have heard claims of a “revolving door” between the FDA, “big Ag” and big drug companies. But I don’t know of any people that have actually gone from big ag, to drug companies to the FDA, do you? I’ve seen it between the federal government and defense contractors, but not in the ag/drug/FDA context. Maybe you have some examples. Otherwise it’s just a convenient conspiracy theory.

  79. Francine says:

    Kids are reaching puberty WAY too early now, much earlier than my generation X.

    I cannot figure out why, but growth hormones in our food sounds like a possible culprit.

  80. Stacey says:

    A few years ago mostly due to my distaste for “big business” I basicly stopped, to the best of my ability, ingesting anything from a publicly traded company. To compensate I found several sources of natural, locally grown food. Two years later I realized that I became satisfied eating far less. In fact my whole family became satified eating less.

    Now when I stared this “boycott” my food bill doubled. However, in 2008 it has cost me 30% less every month to feed my family than it did in 2007. That means it is really costing me 40% more than the “cheap” grocery store in my area and to my surpise about the same as the “expensive” grocery store.

    My new theory is that in 2010, two years after my family and I started eating only grass-fed beef, my food bill will be about the same as the “cheap” grocery store due to simply eating less.

    Oh I almost forgot, everyone in my family has seen a decrease in their BMI, belly fat, and sickness.

  81. Joanna says:

    @Francine:

    To be fair here, though, was there not growth hormone in the milk when we were raised? (I’m an Xer as well.) Is the supposed addition of “growth hormone” a new development since you and I were children? Because if it isn’t then logically, we’d have to rule that out.

    Trent: Thanks for the very interesting debate. I am inspired to further my research so that I can make an educated decision for myself. Or at least more educated than my previous purchasing decisions have been.

  82. Nate says:

    Yes, there is always growth hormone in milk.

  83. Nate says:

    An interesting article on IGF-1 (growth hormone) is available atwww.hno.harvard.edu/gazette/1999/04.22/igf1.story.html

    Increases height, causes fat loss and increases muscle mass, and at high levels correlates with increase in cancer rate.

  84. Dan says:

    I just wanted to point out that ‘organic’ and hormone/antibiotic free food tends to cause more cases of food poisoning based on a number of scientific studies. The lack of ‘treatments’ to the products increases infection and thus more bad stuff to pass along to whoever is consuming it.

    Beware of what you eat just because its ‘hormone free’ or ‘organic’ where is the actual scientific evidence that these things are better for you?… there isn’t any

  85. @ Bonzogal (comment #59):

    Sorry, Consumer Reports has verified for me that to be certified organic, “No animals, except dairy cows prior to being moved to organic farms, can be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or feed made from animal byproducts, which can transmit mad cow disease.”

    Maybe your farm was breaking the rules?

  86. !wanda says:

    @tightwadfan: My point is that “local community” is not really a meaningful phrase. I was born in Tokyo, but that’s no reason for me to buy Sony over Samsung. We all live on planet Earth. I’m pretty sure that no matter where I shop, most of my money stays there.

    @Stephanie: There is evidence to suggest that the people who take factory jobs in underdeveloped countries are in fact better off than they would have been otherwise. Many of the young women who work in factories in China comes from really backwards provinces where there is not much else besides subsistence farming. Obviously, I wish that they received more benefits than they do. But I have to buy clothes from somewhere. (By the way, I don’t actually buy clothes from WalMart, since they are not accessible by transit from where I live; I was just giving the most extreme example I could think of.)

    @Joanna: Thank you for your comment. I take your point about laws. I guess my statements about people buying cheap food and people voting for legislation that makes food more expensive seem at odds. But many people, even common people, will vote for candidates and laws that are against their economic self-interest, even though they will pick the cheaper product when presented with a choice at the grocery store. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because people are not mere economic machines, and those laws and candidates fulfill our other, less quantifiable interests.

    Also, the United States is technically not a democracy but a republic. I’m sure our “governmental elites” are passing all sorts of bills and policies that the “common man” would oppose. Whether or not this is a good thing is outside the scope of this post.

  87. mister worms says:

    Revolving door… where to begin. Here’s one compilation on sourcewatch.org:
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Labeling_Issues%2C_Revolving_Doors%2C_rBGH%2C_Bribery_and_Monsanto

    Another item of interest in that article is: “Codex Alimentarius, the U.N. Body that sets food safety standards, has twice refused to approve the safety of rBGH”

    Read “Food Politics” by Marion Nestle. It’s very enlightening on this topic.

    Safety and health issues aside, what if I would just like the choice, as a consumer, to avoid products from cows treated with rBGH? Why not let the market decide whether rBGH should be used or not? Monsanto pushes back very hard against consumer choice in this area. You have to wonder why.

  88. AnnJo says:

    The “organic” label seems to me the adult equivalent of teenagers’ obsession with cool apparel labels: it’s all about the warm, ego-enhancing feelings imparted and not about the objective qualities of the product at all.

    If scientific analysis of milk from “hormone-treated” or “antibiotic-treated” cows and the non-treated cows can discern no appreciable difference, then spending more money for the former is a value-driven choice only if superstition is a value. If 99.8% of pesticides in fruits and vegetables are naturally produced by the plant itself, then shaving the man-made .1% of pesticides out of your food supply can’t really be about the pesticides at all.

    It’s nobody’s business if some people choose to act in their own lives on the basis of superstitious beliefs, but they make it everybody’s business when they start talking about passing laws based on those beliefs, especially laws of potentially catastrophic effect.

    For those who are paying extra money to buy organics and are willing to look at the issues with an open mind, an article that summarizes them well is:
    http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/node/1567/full

    Mitch, thanks for your efforts to inject a little reality into the discussion. Reading those efforts and the “talking point” responses to them makes me despair. And lwanda’s approach – “I think *most* people could make do with eating less food and paying more for it” – is downright scary. Didn’t we learn anything from Stalinist-style agriculture?

    Modern agriculture feeds more people more healthily with less back-breaking labor/child labor/slave labor than ever before in human history. Yet there are seemingly lots of people who would be willing to destroy the whole enterprise and start over.

  89. silver says:

    Around here, there are three “levels” of milk in the grocery store. There is the generic milk, there is a name brand milk that isn’t organic, but is from cows not treated with rbST, and there is organic. The organic milk costs about $3.50/gallon more. The name brand milk costs about $1.50/gallon more.

    I would never buy organic milk for two reasons. One is that cows on an organic dairy farm are not allowed to be given antibiotics if they have an infection. I think that’s cruel–if I required antibiotics, I would take them, why would I require the cows my milk comes from to not get the same treatment? By law, on any dairy farm (even hormone pumping, non-organic ones), a cow that is on antibiotics must have her milk dumped, not sold. So antibiotics in the milk supply isn’t something you need to worry about.

    The other reason I’ll never buy organic milk is that organic dairy cows produce less milk and more methane gas per cow than a “typical” dairy farm. So organic dairy farms produce more greenhouse gases per gallon of milk than non-organic dairy farms.

    Cows that are not treated with rBST produce less milk per cow, but they produce less methane gas than an organic dairy cow. So pick your poison: (1) get warm fuzies from you “higher level” of milk and help destroy the environment (the “higher” the level, the more damage) or (2) drink milk that may or may not be worse for you and do less damage to the environment.

  90. partgypsy says:

    My main reason to go organic and local is environmental 1) all the pesticide use affecting wild animals populations especially birds and bees, and 2) typically organic uses more sustainable agricultural process so less soil, fertilizer runoff in local waterways. I’m not a fanatic about it, and buy both organic and conventional. If I buy conventional I try to buy American, as a number of “worse offender” pesticides are banned her, but still being used in other countries.

  91. partgypsy says:

    For those who are concerned that organic farming methods is potentionally by its “inefficiency” diverting food away from the poor, really the issues is the use of grain to feed (often conventional) livestock. The use of land to feed livestock is a much bigger issue than conventional versus organic.
    http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/01/27/business/meat.php

    An organic herd is more likely to be grassfed, with the manure staying on the land and recycling into the soil. In contrast look at a large farm, such as a hog farm, which is an enviromental mess. Not only are they being fed grain trucked in from somewhere else (grain that could have been used to directly feed people) there are so many livestock stuffed in one area they cannot deal with the amount of waste being produced. Rather than being used in a productive manner it is simply stored in “lagoons” which are environmental time bombs.

    I guess if one wants to get to the nitty gritty, there are too many people on this planet, and Americans eat too much food, too much meat in particular.

  92. Lisa says:

    In your locales there may be a shortage of carbon, methane,corn, nitrogen, estrogen, etc., but ONE THING IS FOR SURE: there is plenty of kool-aid to go around.

    I don’t have the time to respond to all the misinformation in these posts, but would like to point out that many are arguing apples and oranges. Start by deciding if you want to make your food-buying choices based on personal health, environmental health, local economy, or something else. Or decide how you will weigh each to come to your conclusion. I point this out because the conclusion will change based on your criteria.

    The big money $cience $tudies have obviously gotten through to many. I can’t believe no one tried to say that atrazine in my drinking water is actually healthy since it is an estrogen mimic and a little bit will reduce my chances of getting breast cancer.

    -
    Former Kansas farm girl with graduate degrees in environmental sciences & decades in a career dealing with pesticides in the environment (for the federal government).

  93. Nate says:

    Sorry but it’s tough to take the revolving door article seriously given the overall lack of citations and the fact that the main sources of information are websites for groups like the Organic Consumers Association and “Rachel’s Hazardous Waste News.”

    That being said, the article as written does point to a big ugly revolving door.

    Not sure where you live, but in California milk is labled “not from cows treated with rBST.” What more do you want? Monsanto’s push back against misleading lables like “hormone free” or “rBST free” is understandable because such lables are so misleading. “Hormone free” or “rBST free” lables suggest that the milk without this lable has a bunch of hormones in it that the milk with the lable does not have, and that’s not true. A more honest and accurate lable would say “This milk is not from cows not treated with rBST, but in laboratory tests this milk was shown have no significant differences from the less expensive milk without this lable.” That would be full disclosure. At least then consumers wouldn’t be deceived into spending more on milk from untreated cows based on a vague and misleading lable. But of course, the milk producers who use the lables aren’t interested in full disclosure like this because they wouldn’t sell as much milk. They like the vague lable because it bolsters the idea, unsupported by evidence as far as I know, that their milk is better for your health.

  94. Diana says:

    For people like me with multiple food allergies (wheat, corn, soy, peanuts, walnuts and any bovine product), organic foods have become a necessity. Before I was diagnosed I honestly did not know what all was in the foods I ate. I tried to be vigilant about preservatives but I didn’t delve too deeply into the ingredients of all of the foods I consumed. Now, because of the sensitivities I have, I found that yes in the short term it has been very expensive to buy organic and alternative food products. But, because I am eating lees foods that that have been overly processed and cooking more at home the cost of it all seems to lessen over time.

    The greatest advantage of purchasing organic foods has been how much easier it is to know what I am consuming. There are less ingredients, usually, and if I have a question as to what the farmer is feeding their livestock I can simply ask them

  95. deepali says:

    There is one benefit of organic ag that is being overlooked – the watershed. I live in the Chesapeak Bay watershed, so this hits especially close to home – we want MD farmers to use fewer pesticides because farming the way it is has killed the bay. Which then ruins the fishing industry.

    Things are very interconnected when it comes to food, agriculture, health, and the environment. It isn’t just about cost, it’s also about impact.

    As for whether organics can feed the world – no. Not the way we eat now. But if we reduced meat consumption and focused more on native and local foods, we stand a very good chance. People in Africa grow crops that the 1st world has exported to them – crops that weren’t meant to be grown on African soil. Hence the huge amount of synthetic input. If they went back to native crops (which right now are cheaper because we export our cheap subsidized grain), they’d see significant improvements in yields.

    I think instead of organic vs nonorganic, it’s better to think about local and minimal impact. If it takes a huge amount of fertilizer to grow something… that’s the earth saying something. Pay attention.

  96. friendviola says:

    I’m suprised that no one mentioned what really makes the 10 dollars extra I spend on organic AND local veggies at the farmer’s market worth it…the social, community, and spiritual value. Attending our market has introduced us to using the local park its held in. We’ve met the local farmers that raise our food and other consumers who are interested in similar issues. We’ve listened to local bands and musicians and bought gifts from local artisans. Traded recipes. Found new heirlooms, and tried unfamilar plant types. Learned about upcoming events, workshops and lectures. Bought church charity raffle tickets and signed enviro petitions. All in the time after work i used to spend shopping alone in a crowded big box store, shuffling around with the other customers like zombies. And i end up spending less overall due to the lack of impulse displays and processed foods.

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