Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Better than what?

Did you see the Today Show this morning? The were featuring a story about which is better, locally grown produce or organic produce. Here's a link to the text version posted on the Today Show website, which also includes a link to the video story as it aired this morning.

As part of the videotaped portion of the story, it featured an overlay of text at the bottom of the screen, which read "Today's Health: Is the organic food craze over?"

If you look closely, you can tell where the idea for the story came from. Specifically, it came from the March 2 issue of Time magazine.

Time magazine's current issue also features an article headlined "Eating better than organic,"
in which the writer, John Cloud takes nearly 5,000 words to tell us why he would pick one apple over another.

He starts off his article like this:

Not long ago I had an apple problem. Wavering in the produce section of a Manhattan grocery store, I was unable to decide between an organic apple and a nonorganic apple (which was labeled conventional, since that sounds better than "sprayed with pesticides that might kill you"). It shouldn't have been a tough choice — who wants to eat pesticide residue? — but the organic apples had been grown in California. The conventional ones were from right here in New York State. I know I've been listening to too much npr because I started wondering: How much Middle Eastern oil did it take to get that California apple to me? Which farmer should I support--the one who rejected pesticides in California or the one who was, in some romantic sense, a neighbor? Most important, didn't the apple's taste suffer after the fruit was crated and refrigerated and jostled for thousands of miles?

A casual reader of the Time article, or casual watcher of the Today Show may assume the stories explore the issue of food safety. But they don't. Not even close. Although it's not hard to tell where Cloud is coming from in his views of agricultural chemicals from his choice of words, namely "sprayed with pesticides that might kill you" and "who wants to eat pesticide residue?"

Well, no one wants to eat pesticide residue, but nowhere in Cloud's 5,000 word screed does he substantiate that anyone in the U.S. is eating pesticide residue or harmful levels of pesticide residue. And no where in his piece does he offer facts about consumers eating produce poisoned by pesticide residue which caused deaths.

If you pick though Cloud's piece and the Today Show piece by nutritionist Joy Bauer, you can actually find nuggets that tell you eating produce, regardless of how it is grown or how far away it is grown, makes for a healthier diet.

"No matter how you get your produce, get ample amounts of fruits and vegetables," Bauer tells Today Show host Meredith Vieira.

If you can sift through the inflammatory, scary language, you will find that whether people decide to buy organic or locally grown produce isn't really a matter of food safety, it's a matter of personal taste and social choice.

However, neither piece really benefits the American farmer, regardless of whether the farmer grows using organic, sustainable or conventional means. Next door, in the next state or across the country, efforts to differentiate one type of product from another to market to consumer choice are now being used by consumers, long-winded writers and unimaginative reporters who are somehow inferring from all this that our food is dangerous, in spite of the fact that life expectancy grows ever longer (as the Capital Press wrote about in a recent editorial). Because farmers grow food for the rest of us, apparently some of us have plenty of time — and money — to fret over worries about how everyone is out to poison them.

1 comment:

threecollie said...

Both posts on differentiating among foods grown organically, conventionally, locally, or far away are excellent, in my opinion. Well said...thanks.

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