Is Organic Worth the Extra Money Anymore?

Organic Pink Ladies at the Hollywood Farmers Market | Photo: href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/muyyum/">MuyYum

If you're like me than you woke up on Tuesday morning after the long Labor Day weekend full of drunken shenanigans and barbecues (actually: silent film festivals and Art Deco tours on the Queen Mary, because I know how to part-ay, people!), stretched yourself out of bed, brewed a cup of your favorite coffee, went over to Facebook to give a cursory examination of what your friends are going on about, and learned that the world of organic food has been destroyed?!?!

At least, that seems to be the big message people are taking away from this much linked-to article over at the L.A. Times about whether or not organic food is "better" for you.

The piece looks at a study out of Stanford where Dr. Crystal Smith-Spangler and friends compiled 17 different studies comparing the nutrients and contaminants found in organic and non-organic fruits, veggies, eggs, grains, dairy, poultry and meats -- they left processed foods out of the equation -- and came up with the following conclusion:

[T]he scientists found no detectable difference in rates of allergies such as eczema.

In the case of nutrients, most studies were conducted on fruit and vegetables. "We did not find strong evidence that organic foods are consistently more nutritious than conventional foods," Smith-Spangler said. The exception was for levels of phosphorus, which were higher in organically grown produce.

"Organic food is no healthier than non-organic food!" said everyone on the Facebooks. "What's the point of spending the extra money if we're not getting healthier products?" angrily asked people on the Twitters. "Anyone else here?" wondered the lone poster still on MySpace.

However, as The Bad Deal points out, most of the people getting on this "organics-aren't-really-that-great" train after reading the headlines and stopping their thought process there are really missing the whole reason for the organic movement in the first place:

But here's the thing: Many of us who pay more for organic or free range meats and vegetables don't actually expect something healthier. And we don't pay more for fewer pesticides or to reduce our exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria.

We pay more for organic or free range products because we believe it's the right thing to do. We want to support the farmers and growers who treat their animals, their crops and mother nature's land with respect and dignity. And even though "organics" and "free range" have become part of BIG FOOD, we believe that it's a better way of doing things.

Which, sure. Of course some people are throwing down extra money for organic versions exclusively because they want to support local farmers over big business factory farms -- it's flexing the same money/morality muscle that will allow you to spend ten bucks on your buddy's self-produced five-song EP but not think twice about illegally downloading the latest [insert super-huge pop star here] album. But I have a hard time believing that everyone buying organic has that altruistic intent in mind, that they'll continue paying a premium without expecting some health benefit they can specifically point to.

So then, the question needs to be asked: Organic foods cost more -- sometimes just a few cents, sometimes a few bucks -- than non-organic. If there are no actual health benefits to buying them, is it still worth it?


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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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