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Today we have a very special guest post from another Seattle-area blogger, Kali Orkin. I recently met Kali, and was so impressed with her knowledge about consuming responsibly, that I asked her to share with my readers. Here Kali breaks down why she finds it so important to buy organic. Hopefully she can inspire you a bit to make small changes in your food consumption.

Kali Orkin

Kali Orkin is a sustainability expert and author of 100 Ways to Live Greener, available now on Amazon.com.  Her blog, The Conscious Consumer, discusses living a healthy, happy, productive lifestyle based on human connection and smart purchasing.  Kali has an MBA in Sustainable Business and lives in the Seattle area with her husband and cat.

BerriesThere is a strange attitude about organic food today.

When organic food gets mentioned, the first thing out of most people’s mouth is, “It’s too expensive”.   This is coming from people I know can afford it, for the sake of argument let’s just assume that you are someone who can afford an extra ten to fifteen dollars a week on groceries.

Although anyone who claims to be conscious of the environment agrees that organic is better for the planet and human health, they are still gun-shy when it comes to being organic evangelists.  Even the Organic Consumers Association says to try and just stick to avoiding purchasing “The Dirty Dozen”, which is now like the Dirty 15, based on the Environmental Working Group’s annual research.  The research shows what fruits and vegetables retain the most pesticide residue.  This is a great start, of course, but very few organizations are looking at the bigger picture.

Whether or not organic food is healthier is debatable.  Eating organic won’t make you lose weight or cure diabetes unless you also drastically change your eating habits and calorie intake as well.

I will say that most studies about the nutrition of organic food do not take pesticide residue into account, and they only measure the essential vitamins and minerals.  There are studies that say organic food is about the same and others that say organic is slightly better than conventional on those front.  There are also many beneficial phytonutrients found in food grown in healthy, organic soil that may not be essential to vitality but they are known to help fight disease and support things like healthy blood or eyesight.  You may have heard the popular ones, such as lycopene or carotenoids.  All fruits and vegetables contain them, but they are much richer in organic foods.

Nutrition aside, organic farming is significantly better for the environment. The soil from organic farms are full of life, they contain beneficial bugs that help continue the life cycle of plants.  It is thicker and retains almost ten times more water than conventional soil, requiring far less watering.  Conventional farms strip the soil of beneficial nutrients and rely on chemical fertilizer, made from splitting petroleum molecules into ammonium nitrate, which incidentally you can also use to make explosives.  Fertilizer is thrown on top of the soil, then watered, and the bare bones acts like a sieve rather than absorbing the water or the fertilizer.  So the water carries the fertilizer into groundwater and eventually into streams and oceans.  The chemicals from most farms in the Midwest end up in the Gulf of Mexico, and creates nutrient pollution and ultimately dead zones.

I often say that organic food is not too expensive, rather conventional food is too cheap.

If you can buy an extra-large pepperoni pizza for five dollars, what percentage of that money goes to not only the workers at the pizza place, but the dairy farmers that raise the cows, the people who fed the pigs and turned the pork into pepperoni, the wheat farmers and the tomato farmers that made that pizza possible?  Granted, none of those producers look like the farmers we imagine when we hear the word.  Your five dollar pizza is coming from a series of mega-scale hyper efficient farm factories that produce a lot of pollution, treat the animals very poorly and lay the land to waste at the end of the day.  It isn’t a sustainable model and farmers are left in staggering amount of debt just trying to keep up with corporate demands.

The median farm income last year was -$2,799.  Yes, that’s a negative.  How do we expect to keep this up, economically?

Between the social, economic, environmental, and possible nutritional consequences (we know at least for meat, conventional meat is much higher in saturated fat) of conventional food, it is difficult for me to understand how we can afford not to buy organic.  Small organic farmers are the bravest souls possible, working hard under uncertain circumstances for a modest living.

I currently work for vegetables at a local organic farm, and it is no question that the food they produce is superior to anything found at the supermarket.

We need to support these small farms as much as possible, because they will be our saving grace.