Organic Food, Chemicals, and Worrying About All the Wrong Things

There's one additional thought I'd like to add to the other day's organics/pesticide debate, and it pertains to the average person's fears about chemicals and toxins--and how those fears make us worry about the wrong things.

Here's a thought experiment that I'll offer to make my point. Which do you think poses more risk: eating a well-washed apple (that, yes, may have been sprayed with pesticides), or driving to work?

Good question, right? On your commute back and forth to work you may very well inhale many more toxins from auto exhaust than you'll ever ingest from that apple, washed or not.

And of course comparing those two risks obscures the much more statistically significant (but still minuscule) risk of being in a serious accident while driving.

That's just one example. You could also compare the relative danger of that apple to everyday household activities that involve toxins in potentially far higher concentrations. How often do you use nail polish remover? How often do you use caustic cleaning agents in your home? Do you use tobacco products, or are you often around second-hand smoke? How many Tylenol tablets do you take in a typical month?

Of course these questions get even more hairy when we think about how so many of us make fundamentally risky (and often sadly passive) lifestyle decisions--like living a sedentary life, or eating a high-sodium or high-fat diet.

But here's the thing about fruits and vegetables. It's something we can control. Or at least it gives us the illusion of control.

Readers, please keep this in mind when you decide how much of a premium you are willing to pay for organic foods.

Related Posts:
Told to Eat Its Vegetables, The New York Times Wrings Its Hands
Who's Watching the Watchdogs? Ethical Problems in the "Ten Riskiest Foods" Report By the CSPI
The Economics of Wasteful Foods
How Food Companies Hide Sugar in Plain Sight

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bashtree said...

Thanks for the perspective, Dan. This is a topic my husband and I are discussing right now - should we 'go organic' or does it really matter? Another question is whether to move toward grass-fed free-range meats/eggs/milk. We're at the beginning of the consideration so there's more thinking to do!

Little Les said...

am I weird because I don't buy organic fruits and vegetables? (I just wash off the regular kind.) I just figure at least I'm eating fruits and vegetables, and not processed crap.

I did, however, try some beef from the farmers market from a local rancher who feeds his cows only grass. It smelled better (during cooking) and tasted much better than the grocery store kind. I was impressed, and will continue to buy it. An advantage of living in cattle land (Texas) I guess!

Kira said...

Thank you. I always feel guilted for not buying organic, but, like Little Les, I'm at least buying fruits and vegetables. Plus I exercise regularly. When I think about the amount of toxins I inhale every day just from living in a city, I figure organic food is the least of my problems.

MPR said...

Excellent comparison! Definitely both are powerful "weapons". The purest we go with the better, the closer to the original/natural source, the better.

Jen A. Miller said...

I would say that you can also control the kinds of cleaners that you use in your home :-)

Vinegar, lemon, baking soda and water. They take care of just about everything you'd need to clean.