I took a deep breath. It wasn't. Indeed, the absence of charitable donations and our generous food budget were directly related to each other. Virtually all the groceries Jeff and I buy for our family are organically grown. As well as an investment in a healthy environment for my children, directing my food dollars toward organic farmers is part of my spiritual practice. Simply put, we choose to support an agricultural system that does not rely on toxic chemicals to produce the food we eat. In attempting to articulate the depth of my commitment toward organic food, I realized it was time to write my organic manifesto, complete with all the reasons why I believe the decision to buy organic is rational, ethical, and in the long run, cost-effective. And here it is.
1) Organic food contains fewer pesticide residues than conventional food.
This might seem a self-evident truth. After all, organic farming prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and intends to offer crops virtually free of residues. And yet the evidence to support this claim has only been available since spring 2002, when a peer-reviewed scientific journal published the first systematic comparison of pesticide residues in organic and non-organic foods.(1) Examining the data from more than 90,000 samples of produce, the authors of this study found that nearly three-quarters of conventionally grown foods had detectable pesticide residues. Three-quarters of organic crops had none. And among the one-quarter of organic samples that did test positive, levels of pesticide contamination were far lower. Conventionally grown foods were also more likely to test positive for multiple pesticides than were their organic counterparts.
2) Children fed organic food have lower residues of certain pesticides in their bodies than children fed conventionally grown food.
Organophosphate insecticides kill by attacking the nervous systems of insect pests. They are frequently used in fruit and vegetable farming. A 2003 study measured levels of these chemicals in the urine of pre-school children living in Seattle. Children with conventional diets had, on average, nine times more organophosphate insecticides in their urine than children fed organic produce.(2) So, are organic foods healthier for our kids? Here is where science yields to mother wisdom. We in the scientific community do not yet know what levels of pesticide exposure are sufficient to endanger the health of human adults, and we know even less about their effects on children. Thus, the wide gray area called "uncertain risk."
The reasons for our ignorance are many. When researching my book, Living Downstream, I discovered that many pesticides on the market have never been adequately screened for their ability to cause cancer. Even less thoroughly have we tested their ability to affect fetal brain growth, contribute to miscarriages, disrupt hormonal signaling, alter the onset of puberty, or undermine fertility. Evidence from animal studies suggests we have reason to be concerned about these possibilities and investigate them further.
I also learned that most human dietary studies of pesticide exposure presume adult eating habits. And yet, as any mother will testify, children dine on fewer foods in proportionally higher quantities than their parents do. (I do not routinely consume two bananas and two avocados a day. My 27-pound son does.) Finally, consider that young children lack many of the biological defenses that protect adults against the toxic effects of pesticides. All of us grown-ups, for example, possess a blood-brain barrier. It works quite well to keep neurological poisons from entering the gray matter of our brains. However, we did not acquire this cerebral suit of armor until we reached the age of six months. Infants are thus far more susceptible to the brain-addling potential of insecticides and at much lower doses.
Pesticides, by design, are poisons. The science shows us that most organic produce is free from pesticide residues and most conventionally grown produce is not. The science shows that children fed organic produce have significantly lower pesticide residues in their bodies than children fed conventional produce. Whatever we do or don't know about threshold levels for harm, my intuition tells me that food with no poison is better for my children's developing minds and bodies than food with some.