Friday, July 31, 2009

Au Naturelle Part I

There is a trend in today's society to venerate things that are "natural." Hand in hand with this trend is a tendency to vilify chemicals. There is some inherent hypocrisy in this attitude that both amuses and frustrates me.

I am a modern girl. My husband is an extremely capable guy, who can adapt to any situation from big city to small town to third world country desert. He likes to tell me that I wouldn't have survived if I had been born a hundred years ago. I freely admit it. I think that my main requirement for the location in which we live says it all - I need city water and city sewers. I want all my water treated and stored elsewhere - no wells or septic systems for me! Also, I have a degree in biochemistry. If you put all that information together, you would probably surmise that I am not a big fan of all things "natural."

Recently, there was a story regarding a literature review of the nutrition value of organic food. The study concluded that organic food has no more nutritional content than non-organically grown food. This is something that I could have concluded without a grant or fellowship - the difference is not in what's missing from non-organic food; it's in what extra might be there. Pesticides and antibiotics and hormones...all the "chemicals" that might be present on your fruits and vegetables, in your meat, in your milk, because it's not organic. Unfortunately, if you really listen to all of the information, the pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones have the potential to be on your organic food too. Why? Because they're in the wind and water supply and on the birds and insects and animals that wander through your vegetable patch.

When I graduated from college, I worked for a pharmaceutical company. Because there were constant chemical reactions going on throughout the plant, the potential for accidents was always present. On one occasion, during production of an antibiotic, pressure build up in the system allowed the antibiotic to accidentally blow out of the roof vents and into the storm drains. Oops - antibiotics in the water supply. Wind carries pesticides and manufactured fertilizers on to properties where those compounds are not used. Rain does not selectively fall cleanly in one area, and save the contaminants for industrial areas. Derailed trains leaking toxic chemicals happen too frequently for my comfort.

My point is that all of these contaminants are already in the atmosphere. Sure, you're getting less of the contaminants on your organic produce, and maybe your organic meat is free of hormones and antibiotics (maybe). More likely, it's still there, but in lesser amounts. You'll probably ingest or inhale it anyway. Maybe it would be a better use of your money to buy into a local coop, shop at a farmers' market, or start your own garden. It's unlikely that organic growers will push the massive corporate farms out of existence. Maybe you'd be better off supporting research for safer pesticides or more earth friendly fertilizers. Whatever you do, stop spraying your lawn with weed killer!

Part II: The evils of chemicals or better living through chemistry?


  1. That exact story on nutritional value of organic food was on the news down here, too - yesterday.

    My theory is, all the contaminants and pollutants in our environment is where cancer comes from.

    I think we have pillaged Mother Nature and now she is trying to destroy us (aka various flu strains). Am I sounding like a freak yet, HAH!

  2. God thank you. I have had more than enough looks from other mothers who turn their nose up at me because I do not feed my child all organic. Instead we mostly get our food from local farms, butchers ect. I think it's better to looki locally than just for organic. But what the hell do I know I let my kid have oreos.

  3. Great post, AYKM! It's all about balance and common sense. Thanks.

  4. Great post! I still try to limit my intake of 'the unnatural' by buying milk from the local dairy and by starting my own garden. My husband is a chemist who used to 'certify' grains,etc so I've gotten his take and one of my BFs is a plant and soil scientist so I've been filled in and often. Plus, I'm overweight and looooooove Oreo's, I have priorities. ;)
    (I hate the term 'natural' anyway. Bitterness of other people's opinion on how I conceived. Don't do it if you don't want to but don't imply my kids are unnatural. Asshats.)

  5. I've always thought that the natural/organic movement was just another way for people to feel smugly superior about their choices.

    Drives me nuts.

  6. Ha ha - I'm with Aunt Becky!

    Great post.