Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

The Organic Food Obsession

Shira Isenberg

From the hype created by marketing mavens, it certainly seems that organic food is well worth the money. But take a closer look and you’ll see that the issue is far more complex.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

fruits and vegetables conceptNot too far back in history, food was a lot simpler. You could only get produce that was in season — and locally grown. Since food wasn’t mass-produced, it was more recognizable: bread, for instance, was made with flour, water, yeast, maybe some sugar or eggs. Fast-forward to today and your typical store-bought bread could contain more than a dozen ingredients, most of which are hard to pronounce. As for produce, you can buy Israeli-grown fruits and vegetables in the middle of America.

Today, food is called organic if it’s produced without synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers, irradiation, antibiotics, or genetically modified seeds. In simpler terms, organic food is produced with minimal chemicals and processing, using as few artificial add-ons as possible — which is exactly how all food was once produced.

But this is only one aspect of today’s organic movement. The farmers aim to keep soil healthy and fertile using natural methods, avoiding the need for toxic chemicals. An additional goal is to preserve biodiversity — that is, ensuring a varied number of plants and other organisms coexist in harmony. When that harmony is upset, it can throw the ecosystem off balance, disrupting many natural systems such as food chains or the safety of the water we drink.

Sustainability is another key objective. This means exactly what it sounds like — producing food in a way that maintains the planet and its resources so all of the earth’s inhabitants can continue to benefit from them for a long, long time. For example, an organic farm is likely to create compost from natural waste products like lawn clippings and food scraps and turn them into natural fertilizers, instead of tossing these wastes in a landfill and buying chemical fertilizers. This is a more natural way to enhance the growing process, and one less likely to harm the soil — thus sustaining the soil.

Although “organic” may bring to mind fruits and vegetables, any farmed product can be certified organic, including milk, poultry, and meat. In fact, organic foods represent a burgeoning industry. Sales of organic food and beverages in the US topped $26 billion in 2010, up more than 7 percent from 2009 — and from a mere $1 billion in 1990. Eleven percent of all fruits and vegetables sold in 2010 were organic.

The organic craze hasn’t been confined to food. There is increasing demand for organic products like shampoos and other toiletries, as well as cleaning agents. There are even clothing lines made from completely organic materials. Sales for all organic products in the US, including nonfood items, totaled $29 billion in 2010.

So convinced are people that organic is better that they’re willing to shell out an extra cost for these items. But the question remains: are these real or perceived benefits?



To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

What’s in a Name?
Shoshana Friedman “What does Writer X have to say this week?”
Atonement — Fake and Real
Yonoson Rosenblum White confessionals and faux rituals
Four Walls Coming Full Circle
Eytan Kobre All the while, there’s been a relationship in the offing...
And Yet We Smile
Yisroel Besser We are the nation that toils to be happy at all costs
Out of This World
Rabbi Henoch Plotnick Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo — we are in Hashem’s company now...
Steven and Jonathan Litton
Rachel Bachrach The co-owners of Litton Sukkah, based in Lawrence, NY
Tali Messing
Moe Mernick Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv
Sick Note
Jacob L. Freedman “Of course, Dr. Freedman. Machul, machul, machul”
Avoiding Health Columns Can Be Good for You
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Only one reliable guide for good health: our Torah
Endnote: Side Notes
Riki Goldstein Most Jewish music industry entertainers have side profes...
Me, Myself, and Why
Faigy Peritzman Where there’s no heart and no love, there’s no point
Can’t Do It Without You
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When you step up to the plate, you build your home team
Eternal Joy
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz The joy of Succos is the fruit of spiritual victory
The Appraiser: Part III
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Make sure your child knows his strengths
Hidden Special Needs
Rena Shechter You won’t see his special needs, but don’t deny them
Dear Wealthy Friend
Anonymous There’s no need for guilt. I am truly happy for you