Thursday, June 14, 2012

Eating Organic is Not Just for Hippies! A Review of “Organic Manifesto: How Organic Food Can Heal our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep us Safe.”

Up until a few months ago, I was pretty sure that only “hippy crunchy granola” types of people ate organic foods and that putting a “certified organic” label on a product was just a clever marketing tool used to justify a higher price.  However, after reading Organic Manifesto: How Organic Food Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep us Safe by Maria Rodale, I am more committed than ever to consuming mostly organic foods!

In Organic Manifesto, Rodale explores the historical development of synthetic chemicals, the current practices of both organic and chemical farming, and the detrimental impact that the increased dependence on synthetic chemicals in modern farming is having both on our health and our environment. While that may sound like extremely dry subject matter, the author's writing style makes the subject matter enjoyable and accessible; her analysis of even the most complicated scientific terms or processes seemed much more like a conversation than reading a scientific textbook. In fact, while reading Organic Manifesto, I “dog-eared” more pages than I have in any book since college!

Some of my favorite takeaways from the book were:
  •  Pesticides are poisons. While they are manufactured and used to kill insects, rodents, fungi and weeds, 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 only later that it was recognized that the  same sort of nerve gases formulated to attack enemy soldiers could be used against agricultural pests. Even low-level exposure to these chemicals can pose threats to our immune, hormonal and neurological systems.
  •  Increased rates of autism, diabetes, asthma, ADHD,  and childhood food allergies correlate with the increased use of chemicals to grow our food. (This makes sense to me- when I was in elementary school, I did not know anyone with a peanut allergy and now it is so prevalent that kids have to be extremely careful with what types of treats they bring to school and some schools even have ‘peanut-free’ tables.)
  • The Agricultural Heath Study has established a definitive link between pesticides and Parkinson’s diseases, certain cancers and diabetes and it is also believed that the increased use of pesticides is one of the causes for the recent rise of infertility rates in America.  
  •  Atrazine, one of the most commonly used herbicides in the United States, was banned in the  European Union due to significant health risks. Farmers in Switzerland, where Atrazine's maker is based, are banned from using the product made it their own country, while in America over 76 million pounds of atrazine is still applied to fields each year. 
  • The use of high fructose corn syrup and genetically modified organisms (GMO's) are banned in Europe because of concerns over the damage that these products have on humans and yet these same products have become staples in American food products
  •  Surfactants in Roundup (and potentially other herbicides) allow the chemical to actually get inside the plant- thus you cannot just wash off the contaminants- you are ingesting them.  Despite research that shows that Roundup (glysophate) causes birth defects, 40% of farmers still plan on increasing their use of it!
  • Monsanto started producing saccharin in 1901, followed by polycholorinated biphenyls (PCBS), Agent Orange, RoundUp, GMO's and invented bovine growth hormone.  According to Rodale, “every single one of the company’s lines of business have wraught disaster and yet it still survives and thrives.” In fact, Monsanto was named Forbes company of the year for 2009!
  • Though obesity has become a worldwide problem, chemical and biotech companies still claim that there is not enough food to feed the world- and that the only way to feed the world is with chemicals and GMOs…yet the problem isn’t food scarcity, it is too much food! Even in countries where there are people who are starving, studies have shown that it is the instability in political systems which control the distribution of food that cause this problem, not an actual shortage of food supply.
  • Without the farm bill and government subsidies, organic food would cost less than chemical food. Instead, the government provides payment incentives to farmers to keep growing crops like corn and soybeans chemically and they have made it almost impossible for farmers to switch to growing organic crops. 
  •  Certified organic products are the only foods available that have a government-backed guarantee that no chemicals, antibiotic or gmos were used in growing or processing the foods and that risky  practices like feeding dead cows to living cows or applying contaminated sewage sludge to fields were not used.
  •  Even the CEO of Monsanto, Hugh Grant, eats organic food!
One of the things that I really liked about Organic Manifesto, was that the author does not just leave you with a sense of doom and gloom, but instead suggests practical solutions and ways that the American agricultural system can be changed. According to Rodale, at the end of the day, “you have a lot more power to create the world than you think.  Every choice you make creates your world. Every purchase you make rewards either the good or the bad.  Every time you choose cheap, chemical food over organic, you are rewarding the bad. You vote with every dollar you spend.  Companies and governments count every purchase you make and make almost every decision based on your purchases.” 

I do not know about you, but I am willing to spend 10 cents more to eat an apple that has not been sprayed with deadly chemicals, especially considering the long term health costs!

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