Recent studies have found that there's no link between eating organic fruits and vegetables and enjoying the perks of better health.
The studies, conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health, assessed the amount of antioxidants released into research participants' bodies after eating organic versus non-organic foods.
The researchers found that "there is currently no strong evidence that organics bring nutrition-related health benefits."
The findings seem pretty self-evident, right?
I doubt that anyone's ever claimed that an apple sprayed with pesticides had less fiber or antioxidants than an organic apple, but that doesn't mean that people choosing to eat organic are doing so for no reason.
Instead, health-conscious people choose certified organic items because they're not sprayed with pesticides or injected with dangerous growth hormones and antibiotics.
While I think it's a great idea to buy organic goods that you wouldn't be able to get locally (staples like rice, wheat, as well as tropical fruits) buying locally-grown produce is by far the best choice. When it comes to eating fresh fruits and vegetables, your best bet is to know your source.
This point was best made by a conversation I had today with Stop and Shop spokesperson Howard Cannon.
I asked him to describe some of Stop and Shop's organic initiatives and he said, "we carry over 100 organic items in our produce department, most of them under the Nature's Promise brand."
He noted that organic farmers have often "given up their private labels" to sell their produce under the Nature's Promise umbrella, but when asked whether or not these farmers were located within or near New York, Cannon said that Stop and Shop won't decipher "what comes from a farm down the street from what comes from within the county or state."
So, I posited the question a different way.
I asked, "what if a customer was choosing between buying Nature's Promise produce and purchasing produce from a farmers market, so he'll know exactly where the food is coming from? Would Stop and Shop be willing to tell the customer where their produce was grown?"
Cannon said he'd check with the Stop and Shop headquarters for a response, but until then, finding a reliable local farmer seems to me the better option than sending your money to an anonymous agribusiness behemoth, even if they are certified organic.
Of course buying locally grown, certified organic produce would be the optimum choice, since it's very possible that the organic items in the grocery store could be shipped from overseas, where it's difficult for the USDA to supervise production and maintain stringent standards.
When an American farm chooses to go organic, there's a three-year threshold for the land to be certified free of pesticides. So often, if you're buying local, there's a good chance that your farmer's land is already organic but hasn't yet been technically certified as such.
With the summer here, now is an opportune time to try your hand (and palate) at buying locally grown foods. There are enough farmers markets here in Westchester County (including Rye's Farmers Market) that you could attend one every day of the week!
My goal this summer is to stop buying produce at the grocery store and to purchase exclusively from Westchester's farmers markets.
After checking out the new Harrison farmers market this week, I was surprised to find that the produce was actually less expensive than the grocery store. I brought home some mustard greens, beets, romaine lettuce, apples, and pears that I know are free of pesticides and were picked, right here in New York, the same day as I bought them. I don't think Stop and Shop could offer a better alternative!