I try to eat healthy, but I wouldn’t consider myself a health-nut. I sometimes count ketchup as a vegetable, and I’m unlikely to spend more money on an apple just because it’s organic. In fact, a recent study found that women who primarily eat organic food have the exact same chance of developing cancer as women who don’t. So take that, organic food consumers!
But my gloating session didn’t last long. As I did research for this article, I learned that while organic food may not ward off cancer, it prevents a whole host of other health issues and even saves me money in the long-run.
Get this: humans have been practicing organic agriculture for over 10,000 years. Then, less than 70 years ago, some scientists repurposed leftover war chemicals and sprayed them all over our food. We have no way of knowing the real health consequences of these chemicals because they have existed for so short a time on our evolutionary radar. What we do know is that chemical agriculture has a well-documented and harmful effect on our soil, air, and drinking water. If the environmental benefits of organic food don’t sway you, consider the health and safety of our children; families that eat organic food have 90% lower levels of pesticides in their bodies than families that eat “conventional,” pesticide-treated food.
So what, exactly, is harmful about pesticides? Pesticides kill about 300,000 adult farm workers each year. Children, meanwhile, have smaller bodies. They consume more pesticides, relative to their bodyweight, than adults do. A historic report from the National Research Council declared that the levels of pesticides allowed in food by the EPA are meant to protect adults, not children. In fact, the EPA has never officially tested the impact of pesticides on children! Here’s what we do know about the relationship between kids and pesticide-treated food:
- Kids eat more food per pound of body-weight than adults, because they grow so fast.
- Infants’ liver and kidneys have not yet fully developed, and so they cannot filter out and/or detoxify potentially hazardous chemicals in the same way that adults can.
- Pesticides can block or otherwise disrupt the normal development of complex organ systems, harming kids’ life-long immune response and reproductive health.
- Kids eat a much less diverse diet than adults do, and so when one food in a child’s diet has chemical residues in or on it, the child’s exposure tends to be higher. The average American one-year-old drinks 21 times more apple juice, 11 times more grape juice, and 5 times more orange juice per unit of body weight than the average adult. Fruit juice—and even water—contains pesticide residues.
If you don’t buy organic food for yourself, please buy it for your kids. I’ll join you in begrudgingly choosing the slightly-more-expensive, organic apples. Organic food currently costs more because organic farmers don’t receive the same subsidies from the federal government as “conventional” famers. Someday soon, I hope the rules of capitalism will kick in: if we demand and purchase organic food, our government and farmers will subsidize and supply it. In the meantime, if you want to save money and bypass the grocery store altogether, Toxic Free NC has some great tips and resources on how to grow your own safe and healthy food.