Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Organically Grown/Produced Foods -- Are They Worth The Price?

I prefer the term "Organically Grown/Produced Foods," since the term Organic Foods can, in scientific circles, can refer to any carbon based food which was alive at some point. There's no such thing as an inorganic fruit or vegetable, unless it's made of plastic.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness! Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless with fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run; To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees, and fill all fruit with ripeness to the core. ~ John Keats

The weather has finally turned cool & damp, here in the Northwest, reminding us that we are indeed in the midst of fall. Traditionally, autumn is thought of as the season of the harvest.   Being a season ripe with fresh fruits & vegetables, and in some households wild game, I began thinking about what I eat.

OK, there's not a day that goes by that I don't think about the next; delectable morsel I want to savor, restaurant I want to visit, or recipe I want to try.  Contrary to my typical gourmet fantasizing and wish list making though, the fall bounty began to make me think about the actual; vitamins, minerals, additives, chemicals, etc..; I put into my body when I eat.

For years I've been told, by various sources, that if I truly cared about my health, I should buy:
  • Produce grown with pesticides derived from natural sources,
  • Food which has no synthetic ingredients or containing a minimum of 95% Organically Grown/Produced ingredients, and
  • Meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy coming from animals that have never received antibiotics or growth hormones.
In other words, I should buy & consume organically grown/produced foods. This sounds like a pretty easy piece of contemporary wisdom to follow, and it is until you start to compare prices. A group of students at Colby College compared the average price of non-organically grown/produced foods to their organically grown/produced counterparts at five grocery stores. They found the following.

Average Price Of

Average Price Of
Organically Grown/Produced Version
Difference As A Percentage

Dairy and Eggs









Cheddar Cheese








Grain Products









Brown Rice









Romaine Lettuce
















Red Peppers




Yellow Onions








Protein Products

Peanut Butter








Chicken Breasts




Ground Beef




Other Products

Canned Tomatoes




Grape Juice




It's easy to see that unless you have a diet heavy in oatmeal & brown rice, the purchase of organically grown/produced foods are going to significantly increase your grocery bill.  Thus, the question becomes, "Are organically grown/produced foods worth the higher prices?"

I wanted to ask my loyal readers that very question, so I sent the following survey to recipients of my newletter.
1. How important is it to you to eat organically grown/produced foods? 

Crucial, I will ONLY eat organically grown/produced foods.

Somewhat important, I'll buy it when I can afford it.
I don't care, I'll eat whatever tastes the best and/or costs the least.
2. If you answered "Crucial" or "Somewhat important" on question 1, please indicate the reason(s) for said answer below. Mark all that apply.

Organically grown/produced foods are healthier (contain more vitamins and nutrients) than typically mass produced foods.

Organically grown/produced fruits & vegetables are healthier (contain fewer pesticides) than typically mass produced fruits & vegetables.

Organically grown/produced meats & poultry are healthier (contain fewer hormones) than typically mass produced meats & poultry.

Organically grown/produced foods taste better than typically mass produced foods.

Organically grown/produced foods are better for the environment/ecology than typically mass produced foods.

Organically grown/produced foods make me feel closer to the Earth/God/Universe spiritually.

I want to support small family farms, rather than corporate farms.

Other, please specify.

Of those who responded, one third of participants marked, "I don't care, I'll eat whatever tastes the best and/or costs the least," and two thirds selected, "Somewhat important, I'll buy it when I can afford it."  Given the media attention and hype surrounding organically grown/produced foods, I was surprised that no one said that purchase and consumption of these foods is crucial.

Among those who said purchase and consumption of Organically Grown/Produced Foods was somewhat important, I'll buy it when they can afford it, two reasons were given 100%  of the time.

First, the somewhats indicated they bought organically grown/produced foods when they can afford it because, "Organically grown/produced foods are healthier (contain more vitamins and nutrients) than typically mass produced foods."  Yet, a recently published study in The Annals of Internal Medicine found no evidence of health benefits from organically grown/produced foods.   They could find no significant difference in vitamin & nutrient levels or allergen levels.

The notable exception to this non-finding was in certain strains of tomatoes which exhibited higher than normal levels of antioxidants after having been grown organically for ten years.  However, these higher than normal levels of antioxidants could not be replicated in produce across the board.

The other reason the somewhats always chose was that they wanted "to support small family farms, rather than corporate farms."  Nonetheless, according to the July 7th, 2012 article, "Organic Food Purists Worry About Big Companies’ Influence," in The New York Times, for the last ten years fortune 500 food companies such as Coca-Cola, Cargill, ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft Foods and M&M Mars have bought up most of the nation’s, once mom & pop, organically grown food farms.

Consumers who purchase such foods in order to support small manufacturers are in a similar boat.  Organically produced food brands Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, and Kashi all belong to the breakfast cereal kingpin Kellogg's.  Likewise, the organically produced health drink Naked Juice is brought to you by the makers of  of Pepsi Cola and Fritos Corn Chips, PepsiCo.

Slightly fewer participants were of the belief that "Organically grown/produced fruits & vegetables are healthier (contain fewer pesticides) than typically mass produced fruits & vegetables."   However, the same study which found no significant difference in vitamin levels found no evidence of decreased danger to consumers from the naturally derived pesticides which are used to maintain organically grown crops, since "the vast majority of conventionally grown foods do not exceed allowable limits of pesticide residue set by federal regulations."  It should also be noted that "naturally derived pesticides" are still pesticides, or poisons, which can be found, at legally low levels, on organically grown/produced fruits & vegetables.

The only other reason reported was the subjective belief that "Organically grown/produced foods taste better than typically mass produced foods."  I can understand why people believe this.  Typical grocery store produce has been bread for mass production at the expense of flavor.  In fact, grocery store produce reminds me of the 1967 Star Trek episode, The Squire of Gothos, in which a naive alien replicated human foods in appearance, but without any taste or aroma whatsoever.

That's why I go to Farmers' Markets, when I can, to buy farm fresh produce.  In my opinion, farm fresh food is where the flavor is.  Frankly, when I can get 10 ears of tender sweet corn for a dollar I'm going to be all over that, whether it's organically grown, or not.  The same goes for locally grown farm fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce, carrots, celery, berries, pears, plumbs.........

Again, it's just my opinion, but my palette can't tell the difference between organically grown/produced food and farm fresh food.  That being the case, and with no empirical evidence of health benefits, or benefits to small businesses/farms, I have to question the wisdom of shelling out 2 to 5 times more money for organically grown/produced foods.

OK, if eating such foods makes you feel closer to nature or Gaia or God, and you can afford the extra expense, go for it.  I'm simply saying that when people are clipping coupons to make ends meet I can't see a reason for them to feel pressure to buy expensive organically grown/produced foods to feed  their families.  I'm not going to worry about it.


  1. This is some really solid information. It's something I think about on the daily and was recently given a list of foods to try and always buy organic and those that don't matter that much.

  2. I'm happy you found it informative. Thank you. :-)

  3. Great research James! Very interesting.

  4. This farming also prevents soil, air and water pollution. indian 21-year study found that organic farming
    enhances soil fertility and biodiversity; reduce the risk of soil erosion. Simultaneously, they
    could be certain that what they're getting are really organic.
    10 Kiwi. The organic products, which these farmers utilize, meet strict
    standards and as a result, all the farming becomes superior quality.

  5. Contact: Michelle Silva 941-925-9041. Historically,
    regular farming was also organic but as time progress and with the advent
    of the modern age and fertilizers, the farming has
    now turned into non-organic where a lot of synthetic material is used either to increase or decrease the quality or
    quantity of the product or to keep the plants safe from
    safe from the attacks of pest and insects. As mentioned above,
    it is a approach about cultivating plants, using water mixed with nutrients.

    As mentioned, sadly much of the normal fruit, vegetables and other food products the food chain (especially the imported stuff) have been tainted with unhealthy chemicals which
    are no good for our health. Non-organic livestock are treated with antibiotics
    and hormones to prevent infection and stimulate growth.

    My blog post - types of organic farming practices