Is It Really Worth Fighting For?

[This article was previously published, in abbreviated form, in the winter issue of  The Cultivator, Cornucopia’s quarterly newsletter.]

by Mark A. Kastel
Executive Director at The Cornucopia Institute

Mark Kastel, Executive Director

My mother is proud to tell me that 64 years ago she bucked the trend by breast-feeding me for a whole week or two. God knows what the comparative quality was of infant formula back then. We know how it compares to breastmilk now—it doesn’t.

Subsequently, I lived a typical American childhood, downing an occasional Coca-Cola (with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup) after a grilled “cheese” sandwich of Kraft Velveeta on Wonder Bread. Luckily, whole milk was less than occasional.

By my 20s, I was low-energy and by my 30s I had a legitimate health crisis. Fortunately, I saw a progressive physician-allergist who suggested I eat all organic food (by then I already had a pretty healthy, whole foods diet— long before there was any store by that name).

After decades of eating, gardening, farming, and advocating for organics, my health is excellent. Having recovered from pesticide poisoning/environmental illness, I’m very protective of my diet. I need organic food!

Many people, like me, come to organic food because of what it doesn’t have: agrichemicals, drug residues, and novel foods that have never been part of the human diet—GMOs. But what might be its greatest attribute, and what might have saved my health, is its comparable nutrient density.

“Organic” produce grown without soil in industrial hydroponic operations, fed by liquid fertilizer solutions, is missing something. Organic dairy products, eggs, and meat from animals confined to feedlots or giant buildings on “factory farms” are missing important nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). In addition to being required by organic regulations, grazing provides the nutrients for livestock to produce nourishing food: Please see the scorecards on our website to choose the very best, nutritionally dense dairy products and eggs (and soon poultry).

I owe my health to billions of microscopic organisms that break down organic matter into usable plant nutrients in truly healthy soil.

If it’s not in the soil, it’s not in the vegetables or grass, it’s not in the milk and meat, and it’s not in you or me. There are many micronutrients that medical science hasn’t yet analyzed that are part of the whole. The whole is in holistic management of soil and our food production.

Babies and Children Need Authentic Organic Food

Science is just beginning to recognize that some synthetic chemicals mimic the effect of naturally occurring hormones in our body in minute doses.

This phenomenon can be devastating, especially in utero and for developing children. The agrichemical contamination of most of our surface water, and the effect on the sexual development of amphibians, should have long ago been our alarm bell.

As outrageous as the ubiquitous use of Monsanto’s branded glyphosate (Roundup) and genetically engineered crops is, farmers are also widely using glyphosate as a desiccant to uniformly dry down their crops in the field for mechanical harvest.

Are the Cheerios served to children at breakfast contaminated with the herbicide glyphosate? Does the milk contain drug residues or genetically engineered growth hormone?

For parents not willing to allow their precious children to be used as lab rats, organic is the only alternative.

Anyone who drinks water needs organics

Conventional agriculture pollutes both surface and groundwater. By switching our diets to domestically produced organic food, we are providing the economic incentive for farmers to convert more acres, preventing exposure to toxins.

Wild critters we love, and share this planet with, need organics

Whether it is bees, eagles, sandhill cranes or creatures who live in the rain forests in jeopardy of being burned down to produce cheap conventional crops for export, organics protect their health and habitat. We invest in their well-being each time we shop at the grocery store or co-op. And you can review Cornucopia’s Pet Food Buyer’s Guide to choose the very best food for your companion animals.

The animals involved in our food system need authentic organics

I know it’s old-fashioned, but, as in every religious vernacular, I say grace before I eat. And if I am consuming an animal or animal product, I say a special prayer acknowledging the life that was given to sustain mine, giving me joy and health. I call myself a “conscious carnivore.” I don’t partner in the taking of that life lightly.

By law, organic livestock cannot be continuously confined and have to have access to the outdoors. Ruminants must be pastured. Livestock are required to have the opportunity to display their natural instinctual behaviors. That makes for a respectful life which includes joy—something animals ensnared in the conventional production model are deprived of.

Family farmers need organics

We worked hard to commercialize organic farming in the 1980s, in part to serve as an economic-justice vehicle for farmers who were being squeezed off the land by industrialized, corporate-controlled agriculture. Now that organics is a $50 billion business, most of the giant agribusiness conglomerates have invested. They have lobbied the USDA to weaken the standards and look the other way in terms of enforcement. Please! Please use our scorecards to reward the true heroes in this movement and to procure truly safe and nutrient-dense food for your families. You will be protecting the livelihoods of our very best farmers by doing so.

Farm’s workers need organics

If we don’t accomplish anything else for society or our own families when we invest in organic food, we are, at a minimum, protecting the lives and health of farmers, farm workers, and their children that all too often live right next to the fields.

As they go out to harvest conventional fields, they are being exposed to high levels of toxins. Farmers and farm workers have some of the highest levels of specific cancers and chronic diseases. If you leave a tip after a meal to reward a hard-working restaurant employees, don’t the people who put food on our tables every day also deserve to be respected and cared for?

Local and non-GMO: Do not accept substitutes!

Authentic organic food is worth fighting for and going out of our way to do the homework to find. How about local? Although it certainly might be fresher and help our local economies there’s no reason why you can’t have local and organic, simultaneously. If not, all the attributes I have outlined above might be missing.

And how about non-GMO? That’s only one element in what makes organic worth it. Non-GMO labeled food can still contain agrichemical and drug residues; can be produced with sewage sludge, irradiation, and dangerous food additives; and may be grown in synthetic, petroleum-based fertilizers. Non-GMO food does not mean organic!

Who needs organic food? We all need organic food. Every one of us—the animals we share this planet with and the earth itself. We can be part of the healing process.

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