Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Let's start an organic food revolution!

Seriously though, how freaking expensive is organic produce? It's outrageous. I do my best to buy all organic but there's not a single shopping trip or FreshDirect order that doesn't make me grumble about putting the $3.99 broccoli in my cart when a $1.99 option is available. As someone who consumes a lot of produce, this is a huge expense for me but I only recently began to contemplate it a bit more deeply. I used to just think about my grocery shopping like buying gas while owning an SUV: the price of organic Pink Lady Apples is $5.99 a pound? Well, that's just the cost of doing business Miss Organic Vegan lady! Unlike gas prices though, we can actually do something about the price of organic produce. I'm not quite sure what but I'd like to start a discussion about it.

This week I stumbled upon the Environmental Watch Group's "Dirty Dozen" (ie NEVER buy conventional- only organic) and "Clean Fifteen" (or somewhat OK to buy conventional) lists that rank produce by the amount of pesticides they contain. Then I started digging deeper and reading articles like this one that discussed the kinds of pesticides that are found in our food and what they can do to our bodies. It's astounding and unconscionable that even though we know these chemicals are harmful to us, we continue to purchase large quantities of food containing them. And food that is meant to be "wholesome" at that. Why, you might ask? Of course there are a variety of reasons but the main one is strictly that it costs a whole lot less to grow crops conventionally versus organically, thus making the sale price drastically lower. Surprise, surprise.

As much as I'd love to continue this pity party for my own grocery bill, what really makes me mad, and I mean BURN up inside is thinking of how many people really can't afford to eat healthful, organic fruits and vegetables. Recently I ran into a local discount grocery store because it was on the way home from yoga and let's just say Whole Foods it was not. The aisles were cluttered with processed, packaged food and the produce section was sparsely populated by sad looking soft tomatoes and waxy Green apples. Not a single "certified organic" sticker to be seen. When I looked at the customers in the check-out line, most were moms shopping with their kids- carts filled to the brim with two-liter soda bottles, boxes of Mac & Cheese and frozen convenience items like Waffles and French Fries. Several of these customers were checking out with EBT cards (food stamps as they are more commonly known), which are only given to the most needy of families. And here I am bitching about the cost of my fancy cucumbers. I know.

I acknowledge  that everyone has their own preferences when it comes to food and many people don't even like veggies unless they're sauteed in butter or smothered with cheese. That being said, I believe that if the proper knowledge about nutrition was readily available to people at every socioeconomic level that many of these shoppers would have made different choices. If not for themselves, then for their children. The sad part is that if they happen to want to feed their families strawberries instead of jello for dessert, they'll have to pay $7.99 to get them without pesticides versus $4.99 with pesticides versus $1.99 for a box of powdered jello that could last for months. It's easy to see why people make the choices that they do and unfortunate that basically only those of us with luxury of buying organic even know why we ought to do it in the first place.

As I said, I'm just starting to really think about this problem and look forward to researching some of the work going on out there in the world to remedy it. There are great movies- Forks Over Knives, Food Inc. and the like- that are informing the public but unfortunately they mostly preach to an informed, healthy choir who sought out the film in the first place. Then there are the crusaders who are accepting EBT cards at farmers markets or lobbying to get more fresh foods onto the lunch trays of public school kids. I am especially interested in the concept of rooftop organic gardens and think this could really be a huge solution for dense, urban areas with vast economic disparity between the richest and poorest inhabitants.

Maybe the city could install organic rooftop gardens on top of housing projects and allow the inhabitants to farm and consume their own homegrown goodies. That might sound like a left-wing pipe dream, but in California a group has set aside farm land for unemployed, homeless residents to much "success" (though not in the strictly financial sense of course). Or more groups like The Grange could lease rooftop spaces for growing crops, making the supply of local organic food more plentiful and thus less expensive. With all the rooftop real-estate in NYC and other big cities, this to me seems like a viable first step. Restaurants have already started doing this and so have wealthy folks with money to spend on landscaping and greenhouse construction (and apartments with private roof space). I don't think organic food should be relegated to the upper classes and considered a luxury item. Healthy food should be available to everyone, like health care and quality free education. Why should the rich get richer AND healthier,while the poor injest chemicals in their produce or worse - get heart disease and diabetes from heavy processed foods? For real change to occur, everyone has to care a bit more not just about their own health but the health of their fellow man.

One thing is certain: the commercial food industry is going in a direction that is detrimental to the well-being of humanity. The only way this can change is if we as a society demand it. More people need to know and care about how their food is produced (don't even get me started on the meat/dairy industry...). More people need to harvest wholesome, organic, chemical-free food. The government should do more to encourage farmers to go organic and consumers to shop organic. The reasons why are plentiful but the barriers from this occurring are strong, and deeply-ingrained in our culture. I may not be a farmer of a legislator or even that knowledgeable (at this point) but every revolution begins with a few passionate, vocal dissidents and on this issue, I would like to be one of them- starting now.