Why buy organic? It's the pesticides, stupid

By Betsy Herbert

Santa Cruz Sentinel

Posted: 09/20/12, 12:00 AM PDT

A recent study by Stanford researchers concluded that organic food is probably no more nutritious than conventional food. This claim generated a nationwide controversy, with many saying the study missed the point.

"The whole point of organic food is that it's more environmentally sustainable," said Michael Pollan, the influential author and organic food advocate. "The reason organic is important has a lot more to do with how the soil is managed and the exposure to pesticides, not just in the eater's diet, but to the farmworker."

Dr. Ann Lopez, executive director of the local nonprofit Center for Farmworker Families, agrees with Pollan. Lopez, who says she buys only organic food, is concerned not only about her own health but the health of farmworkers.

"One of the greatest occupational hazards farmworkers face is the day-to-day exposure to toxic pesticides," she said.

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times said, regarding the study, "It doesn't make a lot of sense to assume the application of pesticides would have much impact on a fruit's vitamin content. But that doesn't mean it isn't safer to eat."

Locally, David Decher's opinion piece in the Sentinel echoed concerns that the Stanford study "missed the point completely."

To test the local waters, I headed to the farmers market in downtown Santa Cruz last Wednesday to ask local shoppers, "Why do you buy organic food?"

For Hilary Schaefer, the reason's clear: "Pesticides. We don't want pesticides going into our children. So we're willing to pay more for anything organic."

Schaefer, who was shopping with her young son in tow, added, "My mom raised us in the 1960s on organic food, and now I'm raising my kids that way."

Shopper Ruben Chavez was equally adamant: "I buy organic to prevent contamination of the planet, and for my health, and it always tastes better."

Sumati Bellesey, a former teacher, prefers organics because "I don't like artificial coloring, chemicals and genetically engineered foods. I don't like the thought of pesticides being sprayed onto food. Plus, it tastes so much better.

"I don't care about the apple looking perfect," she added. "I want to know that I'm putting something good into my body."

For Elinor Rosenast, "Organic food tastes much better. I have a strong belief that it's more nutritious, and at age 83 I don't think I can wait for them to find definitive proof."

For Mike Marini, "it's the avoidance of pesticides."

Katrina Gimbel reflected for a while, then responded: "You'll pay twice as much for organic food, but it's more than twice the quality in flavor and nutrition. But it's not just organic that I'm interested in buying. It's the care that's being put into it. I feel nurtured knowing the people who grew the food."

Andy Cook, a musician, says he prefers buying organic because, "When you use pesticides, what goes around, comes around. What we do to the insects, we do to ourselves. If we put chemicals into the soil, it gets into the water, and it comes back to us."

So, at least for some local shoppers, buying organic foods is important because they believe avoiding pesticides and chemicals is a healthy choice for themselves and the planet.