ORGANIC FOOD - IS IT HEALTHIER AND MORE SUSTAINABLE?
Does it matter?
You may have noticed that ‘Organic Food’ has become increasingly popular nowadays; especially within last two decades. Part of the popularity may have to be credited to lifestyle influencers, but such a crediting would make you wonder whether there is a real distinction between Organic and Non-organic and most importantly would make you think, ‘does it matter; does it matter whether I eat organic or not to myself or to environment?’
It is reasonable to speculate given the ambiguity surrounding the subject. So, let us take a dive into the subject and clear the ambiguity for ourselves.
Organic Food; Origins
Before the modern industrialization hit the agricultural sector; it was driven by small and medium scale farmers, seeds came from the previous harvest (which were not genetically modified), plants were nurtured with naturally occurring fertilizers such as compost, they were watered with pollutant free water, looked after from pests with various methods which did not involve culling all the organisms friendly and bothersome alike…
With the population boom of 1960s, the harvests needed maximization and all the said practices were altered; sector moved into hands of large corporations, seeds were genetically modified, artificial fertilizers and genetically modified organisms took up the nurturing and so on…
It is not that all these changes were harmful to the nature or the consumers. But some effects such as disturbance to the dynamic equilibrium of the eco-system as insect species went extinct due to pesticides were irreversible. Understanding such adverse effects of modernized agriculture as well as the beneficial effects enjoyed under traditional agriculture, a novel branch of agriculture immerged; organic agriculture.
What are ‘Organic Foods’?
Reading through the origins, you may have already caught up what this is. But let us summarize the facts. Organic refers to a specific way of food production which does not involve genetically modified seeds, use of artificial chemicals either as fertilizers or pesticides, use of hormones and antibiotics (in case of animal farming) or genetically modified organisms (either for direct consumption or for pest control).
Since the modern foods are post processed into readily edible or needs just a little cooking, the definition is further extended to cover them; no artificial sweeteners or preservatives or colouring or flavouring.
What is in it for me?
Reading this, you may be thinking, ‘this sounds healthier, but what exactly in it for me?’. Well, let’s try to clear that up for you.
Firstly, research has found several health benefits of organic food. As per a study carried out in 2015 and published in Food Research International (77, 92 – 108), many researches in the field has shown “…organic foods have anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antihypertensive, immunomodulating, cardioprotective, vasodilatory and analgesic proprieties…” – in short, it’s healthier and better for you compared to non-organic food!
Furthermore, Crinnion W.J.’s research in 2010, published in Alternative Medicine Review states “Since organic products seem to have higher levels of health-promoting phytonutrients and certain vitamins and minerals and no hormones and / or insecticide residues, they would not only provide health benefits but are also safer and better for the environment”.
All in all, not only are organic foods researched to be ‘healthier’ vs. non-organic food of the same type, they are also better for the environment.
Even though the health benefits are the most emphasized plus point towards Organic Foods, there is a rather overlooked, yet equally important aspect; ecology.
Quoting from YaleEnvironmental360, “ubiquitous use of pesticides, the spread of monoculture crops such as corn and soybeans, urbanization, and habitat destruction” are listed as the reasons for the drop in both quantity and diversity of insects in modern time. Seeing that the two top reasons are coming from Non-Organic agriculture and knowing the fact that drop in insects is an indicator of environmental destruction, it is not hard to put two and two together and deduce the impact of Non-Organic agriculture on the environment.
In contrast, the Organic farming which does not involve artificial pesticides or fertilizers does not threaten the existence of all insects. One may see this counterproductive but preserving the natural balance of the organisms help not only in pollinating the plants but also in preventing pest outbreaks.
All in all…
As human population is ever increasing and resources deplete in an unparalleled rate, even the United Nations has laid out that achieving sustainability is the only long-term solution to preserve the world as we know it. Agriculture being the way that human race feeds – hence an essential sector – will have to take up sustainability principles.
Given the fact that modern world is shaped by the market trends, it is time we – the consumers – buy organic, setting a trend for the producers to go organic which will in turn help not only sustain the environment, but also provide us as consumers several health benefits.