Laura Stone (stoney321) wrote,
Laura Stone

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Organics and the Nutrition debate, round 2 (ish)

I've talked extensively about organics in the past, and I'm going to wear you out with the topic again, those who stick with me. My background: biology background (microbiology, specifically) and a Master Gardener, which required extensive class and lab work surrounded proper gardening methods, IPM, understanding of the chemistry of botany, etc. etc. I'm not THE expert on all things growing/living, but I'm no chump with an idea I want to blab across the internet, either. (Well, I could be that last one, depending on your perception. Har.)

This is something that has baffled me for years. People who believe that organics are better for their body (regarding the nutrition content, not pesticides. READ THAT AGAIN. 'kay.) than commercially grown food. And this is absolutely untrue. How COULD it be true? Let's look at it logically:

Farmer A has Iowa soil, rich, verdant, plenty of rainfall. She puts in an acre of tomatoes. (Celebrity, we'll go with a common one.)
Farmer B in Iowa lives on the other side of the river, same soil profile, same rainfall. She puts in the exact same tomatoes.

Farmer A mixes in cow dung that's settled a bit (wouldn't want to burn your crops with too much nitrogen!) She top dresses the beds with compost and more manure and straw. And her tomatoes start to grow.
Farmer B mixes in Tomato Booster, a partially mechanically derived* fertilizer that has slow release capsules of Phosphorus so by the time the tomatoes form, there will be nutrients to get them large and in charge. She also top dresses her beds with compost and straw, some shredded bark mixed in because it's pretty.

*Do not tell me about something being natural and something being a "chemical." That's like saying someone's a person and someone's a human. EVERYTHING is chemical. Atoms -->Molecules? Put together? Chemistry = things on the earth essentially made of atoms, whether manufactured or grown.

Back to our farmers.

Farmer A has about 60% of the plants setting fruit. Close examination shows that she's got tomato hornworms chomping away at the plants. Egads! She's listened to the Horrors of Science her whole life, watched "Silent Spring," and refuses to use "chemicals" on her plants. She listens to a wealthy, aging hippie lady that set up an organic plant shop in town for something to keep her busy. This lady tells her of the evils of sprays for plants, and that the best thing for tomato hornworms is to hand pick them [shudder], otherwise she'll "infect" her crop with "chemicals." Farmer A gets her lazy, good for nothing son to turn off the XBox and get his happy little ass outside to pick those hornworms off. After he whines and makes her miserable, she agrees to pay him 50 cents a worm. He gets a bucket and heads out, thonking them in his pail every few minutes or so, because those buggers are HUGE and those buggers hold on. He wears out after he earned enough to buy Halo 3. Mmm hmm.

Farmer B has a good 90% crop coverage. That extra boost of nitrogen insured green growth, and when the soil and air hit the right temperature for flowers to set (right when the bees head to Iowa) that slow release phosphorus was there waiting. Boom! Little green beauties up and down the row. She's out there mucking more compost over the beds to protect the roots from the heat and see Farmer A's son out there with his iPod bouncing around like a loon, thonking worms into his bucket. "Hornworms!" she says. She starts examining her plants for the tell tale signs: stumps of stem, no leaves, no fruits. She sees that the back row, closest to the river, a handful of her plants have some hornworms getting going. She is not touching those nasty things because they feel like monster fingers.

She goes into town and heads to the feed store where the old timers sit and bitch about that socialist President, Barak HUSSEIN Obama. She rolls her eyes and wonders when the "Greatest Generation" is going to drop off, and heads to the IPM section (integrated pest management.) She grabs a 3 dollar bottle of BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) because that stuff kills worms. She doesn't want her earthworms kilt, so she gets her BT in a spray bottle. She knows that BT is essentially bacteria pee, and it's a crystal that eats away at the guts of the worms, killing them from the inside out. She makes an evil laugh as she sprays. It's as natural as can be, even though it's mechanically generated. It also was developed by Germans, fitting, she thinks. She whistles and sprays it on the worms, and comes back the next day to see no more worms.

In the end, Farmer A has less than 60% production because that's just how "organic" gardening works for everyone. You have to plant some for you, some for the critters, and some that won't grow. Farmer A sets up her produce stand with fancy Hippie/Woodstock lettering that exclaims proudly that her food is organic. She charges $4 for four tomatoes, on the vine. She gets some business, and the wealthy hippie lady tells her friends where to buy organic fruits. Farmer A wishes her son would stop robbing her blind so she could finally turn a decent profit.

Farmer B has a good 85% production because she forgot to put netting over the rows to foil the damn crows. They were singing about seeing an elephant fly, and she swore she'd lay off the sauce. She sets up her produce stand and sells her tomatoes for $2 a pint, about five or six tomatoes a pint. She sells out quickly because people driving by see $2 for home-grown tomatoes and they're happy. Who doesn't like tomatoes? Communists and hate mongerers, that's who. Probably Lutherans. Or is that the Unitarians?

So organic gardening methods DEFINITELY affect production. The quantity, the size of foods, that stuff. And not in the way you'd hope. And because it has such a low production rate compared to "commercial" methods, they pass that on to you, the consumer. One thing to note, and I didn't put that in our little story because they were home growers, not, say, Monsanto, which is evil. Fertilizers: they are HEAVILY MONITORED, ditto with pesticides. They are the ONE THING that the government actually regulates and manages on commercial farms. No, really. Wanna know why? Timothy McVeigh. (He used commercial fertilizer to make his bombs.) Now, that fertilizer that he used, incidentally, was concentrated swine urine. Ammonium 21. (On bags of fertilizer you have 3 numbers. The first is nitrogen. This stuff is 21-0-0. All nitrogen in the form of concentrated urine, ammonia. "That's some nasty ammonia piss." Now you know.)

The other thing that is monitored is WHEN you can put this stuff on. It has to have broken down before you can harvest. Every container of fertilizer and pesticide has a "days to harvest" indicator on the bottle. Next time you're at the store, check it out. That means that by the time you get your grapes, apples, etc. at the store, there IS no pesticide on them. Dirty hand goo? Dust from moving from truck to trailer to store? Yep. But there isn't pesticide, or if there is, it's trace amounts that should be broken down when you a) get them home and eat them the next day or b) when you wash it off. And organic bananas are stupid, people: do you eat the peel? No. Buy the cheaper ones. The only pesticide used is for banana spiders (shudder) and last time I checked, none of you are spiders. (Pesticides are specific: they kill how things eat and with what they eat. Do you have spider mouths? Nope.)

But the important thing was NUTRITION. Does Farmer A's tomatoes have more vitamins and minerals in it? Higher concentrations? Does Farmer B's have less because of those fertilizers and pesticides (BT) used? Absolutely not. Pesticides affect the digestive system of the insect/fungus/arachnid/mite it's meant to attack. That means it's not breaking down the molecular structure of your folic acid, it's not inhibiting the creation of Vitamin C. So mechanically engineered fertilizers and insecticides don't affect NUTRITION.

It's completely disingenuous to claim that organic foods will make you healthier by virtue of having more nutrition. Now. If you want to say that organic foods are better for you because they don't have pesticide traces that invade your body, I can kinda get behind that. You aren't really ingesting pesticides from commercially grown crops. Maybe from a home grower/small outfit that sells on the road side that doesn't know the rules about application, maybe.

If you want to talk about nutrition levels, we have to go back to the farmer's SOIL. DO they amend with organic matter - leaves, compost, manure. Do they only spray the leaves and leave the soil to be depleted? Are they like Monsanto and refuse to rotate their crops (which depletes nutrients from the soil) and don't amend the soil with good stuff, and engineer foods to bruise less but not maintain the same nutrient levels? That stuff is what isn't healthy for you, it isn't by virtue of one being organically grown vs. commercially grown.

But don't take my word for it. The Brits have always been leaders in developing better farming techniques and in getting to the bottom of this type of debate. Note the organics health review link at the bottom. All files you click on from there are pdf. Please note as well that the studies that have "shown without doubt" that organics ARE healthier (more nutritious) for you have been commissioned by.... the organic producers. That's no different than the Coal Coalition's paid/sponsored ads of "grassroots organizations" that claim clean coal to be the best way to do anything. Uh huh.

The Washington Post reported on this. The National Center for Biotechnology has also reported on this, using the British report as their jumping off point.

Next year's story: Farmer A is sick of mosquitoes so her hippie lady friend tells her all about the expensive (and organic! Completely natural!) misting system she had installed out by her back patio that mists Pyrethrin, a natural mosquito killer. Not realizing that Pyrethrin isn't particular about what it kills, which is pretty typical of "natural/organic" pesticides. (BT notwithstanding.) Pyrethrin will also rid your garden of those pesky bees, butterflies, wasps, the bluegill and lake trout out in her huge stocked pond, and her husband will sigh and wonder why the mallard ducks are gone, not knowing that it was his wife's need to be mosquito free. Because she's organic, nothing organic hurts people. *cough* Plutonium*cough*

Eventually, he leaves that dirty hippie and runs off with the plump, almost corpulent secretary at his office because she loves to laugh, to eat, and live, and isn't constantly spouting off as a know it all about stuff he doesn't care about. He wants a woman he can hold on to, if you know what I mean, and old Hippie Hairy Legs was a bean pole, not to mention that the shop she had to have to keep busy when the kids moved away was sucking him dry. Lol.

In conclusion, buy local, grow your own, save some money, and don't buy produce from China, because they use human waste in their "organic" farming practices, and it's PERFECTLY LEGAL. Yuck. Be concerned about huge growers like Monsanto and ConAgra who deplete the soil, grow nutrition less food in favor of larger crops (they're engineering food in a manner that doesn't maintain nutrition - and that is a type of engineering that's possible, too!) Be concerned about the environmental impact of pesticides, if that's your bag, but more importantly: don't buy food that has to be shipped from long distances. There's the REAL problem that could easily be solved, imo.

And Top Chef is back on tonight! And Project Runway! The two shows I love! WOOT. (Check how many times the chefs talk about locally available food - that's the new way to be eco-groovy. Food grown close, food in season.) I LOVE FOOD.

I've been reading some fantastic books lately, too. I finally got a copy of Let The Right One In and so far it's fantastic. The mood, the eeriness, even stronger than the movie, which I loved. I also picked up Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen" based on The Daily Show's interview the other day and I'm sucking that down like Sumatra at 6am. Holy crow, is that a fabulously written and interesting book. I can't recommend that enough.

Lastly, from (310): Fact: Godrick looks like David Archuleta Ahahahahaha! Yes, yes he does.
Tags: books, essays, gardening, rant
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