Comparing to Apples to Apples: A Rant

Okay, I know I haven’t even gotten to the point in my story where I finally give up my stance on nutrition, but yesterday’s headlines call for a little context-jumping (and a whole lot of common sense):

Apparently, according the all of the major news sources, organic food isn’t healthy*. Or, at least, that’s what the headlines want you to think.

In case you don’t want to do the Google searching yourself, a recent study compared the nutritional content and relative pesticide/antibiotic concentration of various organic and conventional foods. In doing so, apparently the researchers were trying to disprove that organic food offers additional health benefits as opposed to conventional food. Which is stupid and fallacious. Because those are two entirely different things.

Now, unless you’re the kind of person who goes to Whole Foods and buys a bag of “Organic Gummy Bears”  because he/she honestly thinks that she’s getting a “health benefit” from consuming these “organic” sugar bombs, you already know that organic food isn’t “healthier” than conventional. You don’t eat organic because you think that the health fairies have blessed your apples with magical nutrients; you eat organic because you don’t want the anti-health fairies (i.e. conventional farmers) to poison you with pesticides, hormones, or genetically modified bullsh*t (literally or figuratively).

Organic, Gummy Bears

These exist. And my heart aches for our country.

In case you were buying organic gummy bears and believing that they (and their 100% fruit flavor claims) were somehow going to make you lose ten pounds and live forever, here is your wakeup call: all “organic” means is that “synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used” in the production of an agricultural product. That’s it. If you are still confused, go check out the USDA’s website on labeling and standards. It’s pretty clear.

The problem with this study is that it compared apples to apples and concluded that there was no difference between the two. An organic apple is exactly as nutritionally healthy as a conventional apple (for all intents and purposes). Except for the fact that it hasn’t been introduced to pesticides that can penetrate its relatively thin skin. Which means eating an organic apple isn’t necessarily going to make you healthier; it will, however, stand less of a chance of killing you in the long run.

Apples, Comparing apples to apples

Hey, look! They’re both apples!

So why am I so up in arms about this? Because this is just another case of the mass media misinterpreting “scientific” studies in order to generate press/page views. This is why we’re all so damn confused about what to eat (and why we’re still eating things that will kill us.**) This is why no one has any clue where he or she stands on eggs this week. (FYI: Time Magazine says they’re killing us this week.) This is why there’s a multi-billion dollar diet industry devoted to preying on our insecurities and our misinformation (which I’d call ignorance–were it not for our lack of trying). Studies like this–and they way in which they’re interpreted by the people who feed us our information–are why we don’t know how to feed ourselves.

(What makes me even angrier is that the people who write the articles end up burying the lede somewhere at the bottom. For example, in this MSNBC article the headline reads “Organic Food No More Nutritious Than Conventional;” however the real story is somewhere in the last few lines: “‘If I was a smart consumer, I would choose food that has no pesticides,’ [Chensheng] Lu [“who studies environmental health and exposure at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston”], who wasn’t involved in the new study, told Reuters Health. ‘I think that’s the best way to protect your health.’”)

And, ultimately, this is how we keep the food media industry rolling. When we’re inundated with misinformation about our food and our health, we’re not only taught to obsess about our food (because if we miss the wrong news report, we’ll eat an egg on a day when it could kill us or forget to eat an egg when they’re proclaimed healthy again), but we’re also told to eat foods that keep us unhealthily–which make us feel terrible, which make us sick, and which keep us dependent on addictive and ultimately poisonous foods.

Time Magazine, 1984, Cholesterol

This happened. (1984)

So now, when you’re feeling bad after gulping down organic gummies like they’re going out of style or are instead wondering why you’re putting on weight or dealing with an impaired endocrine system after eschewing organic meats for their cheaper, conventional, hormone-fed cousins, you’re just reacting to the same cycle of scare-mongering, half-truth-telling that got you here in the first place.

But now you know.

And It’s up to us as consumers–of both food and media to stay as informed as possible. And that means approaching “studies” and their splashy, misleading headlines, with a skepticism that’s been proven to be healthier than eating organic. Read blogs like Eathropology or Chris Kresser. Listen to podcasts by Abel James and Sean Croxton. And question everything.

Okay. Rant over. For now.

(And if you’re trying to justify spending less money now that organic food “isn’t healthy,” please at least consider investing in grass-fed/pastured/non-antibiotic-fed meats and at least buying organic produce when you’re planning to eat the skin or leaves. Save on things like bananas, since you’re not going to eat the peel anyway…)

Time Magazine, September 2011,

I’ve had it with the “What to Eat” articles…

– K.

P.S. This has to be the best quote I’ve yet read by others who are just as p.o.’d about this issue as I am: “Avocados don’t contain any more fairy dust than Cheetos, therefore: Avocados aren’t any healthier than Cheetos!” (Looks like I’m going to have an excuse to go back to eating Cheetos…gotta get my RDA of fairy dust after all! *Blech*)

*Okay, isn’t healthier than conventional food. But that then leads us to make the fallacious jump to the next conclusion: well, if it’s not healthier than conventional food, it’s not healthy at all. In fact, I can already hear the cable news channel teasers: “New study shows that organic food isn’t as healthy as they want us to believe. Have we been wasting our money–and our health? We investigate at 11.”

**And before I write this, please understand that I’m not choosing this topic to be inflammatory; I’m choosing it because it’s a recent example of what I’m talking about. No hate mail/comments, please: A prime example is that tragedy of Michael Clarke Duncan, who died at age 54 from a heart attack. He had become a vegetarian recently, so of course there are already people on both camps (diehard veg*ns and Paleo people) ready to point fingers. I’ve already seen one comment stating that he “probably wasn’t a vegetarian long enough” to prevent his past dietary discretions from building up and killing him…but I’m of the belief (and I’ll get to why once I finish my story) that being a vegetarian certainly didn’t help him–especially if he was avoiding saturated fats, meats, and other healthful food (yes, it is healthy; no I don’t want to fight about it) and instead consuming grains, legumes, and soy (no, they’re not healthy; no, I still don’t want to fight about it). I don’t know what his diet was like before becoming a vegetarian, so I don’t know if it’s the pre- or post-diet that was to blame, but either way, neither the Standard American Diet nor a Standard American Vegetarian Diet+ is good for your health. IMHO.

+Standard American Vegetarian Diet: high carb/low fat, fake meat, processed food, grains (looks a lot like the Standard American Diet, but with less McDonalds and more Tofurky.)

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7 thoughts on “Comparing to Apples to Apples: A Rant

  1. Correct me if I am wrong, but the articles you linked to say straightaway that even though the organic foods might not be more nutritious, they do have less pesticide risks – which is exactly what you say!

    Also where do I buy dem organic gummy bears? 🙂

    • You’re right. I’m still concerned for a couple of reasons: 1) People don’t read articles; they read headlines. And so the article is framed as an exposé of organic food’s non-nutritious status. 2) They also belittle the pesticide risks by obscuring them with statistics.

      As for the gummy bears….well, hit any Whole Foods or Trader Joes, or any “health food” or health halo stores. I guarantee there will be a hearty and robust candy aisle filled with “organic” candies made “without HFCS” (but plenty of raw sugar, honey, molasses, agave, and other sugars!)

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