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The Organic Food Solution

  • A new book details why buying organics might be the best thing you can do for your body--and the planet
    By Maria Rodale
    Women's Health, March 2010
    Straight to the Source

Long before organic food was a fashionable eco-trend, J.I. Rodale—who in 1930 founded Rodale Inc., publisher of Women's Health—began cultivating the organic movement. In 1942, he launched Organic Farming and Gardening magazine, and five years later, he created a nonprofit (now known as the Rodale Institute) to research the benefits of organic agriculture. J.I.'s son, Robert Rodale, was one of the first people to recognize the need for getting the USDA organic certification in place so the public can trust that when a food is labeled "organic," it truly is.

Eighty years after the company's inception, Rodale's commitment to exploring the many benefits of eating organic food has never been stronger. This month, Maria Rodale, chairman and CEO of Rodale, publishes Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe. This excerpt from the book gives you a taste of how much healthier an organic life can be: Organic farming is better for the environment—the evidence is clear. And research has shown that it's more profitable and productive over the long term. So why hasn't every farmer switched to organic methods, especially if farming organically can also stop the climate crisis, save the limited oil resources for other uses, and eliminate the majority of the toxins from our soil and water?

Because first, attitudes must change. And that starts with us. To help you understand the issues and give you ammunition to talk about them with others, here are nine things you need to know. No spin, just the facts (OK, with a few opinions thrown in for good measure).

1. Agricultural Chemicals Destroy the Soil's Natural Ability to Store and Process Carbon.


Mycorrhizal fungi are our greatest ally in the fight for our survival on this planet: They're fungi that grow on the roots of plants and contribute to taking greenhouse gases out of the air. They are the hidden heroes beneath us. Chemicals kill these hidden heroes.

2. Chemicals Poison the Air, Water, And Soil.


The manufacturing, transportation, and use of chemicals for agriculture are energy intensive and poisonous to all things that come in contact with them. Most chemicals don't biodegrade within a few months. Like nuclear waste, some toxins last forever, and many of the impacts are known to be horrible. Already, dead zones in the ocean are starting to spread, wells are contaminated, and we suffer increasingly from infections and diseases such as asthma, diabetes, MRSA, Parkinson's, and cancers that are connected to these chemicals.

3. Smaller Doses of Chemicals Can Be Just As Dangerous As Large Doses.


Most of the government regulations on chemicals are based on estimated safe amounts of exposure. Doctors and scientists are finding, however, that small doses, and cumulative small doses, can be just as toxic as large doses. There really are no safe limits.

4. Chemicals Are Not Necessary to Grow Food.


Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a substitute for thinking, understanding, and effort. They are necessary only to generate large profits for businesses and for disposing of our toxic industrial wastes. Virtually every food in the world has been successfully grown and made organically in modern, productive, and regenerative ways—from fine wine to white flour, apples, cherries, the most delicious gourmet beef, and olive oil.

5. Organic Foods Are Healthier And Safer.


Studies have shown that some organic foods are higher in antioxidants and powerful cancer-fighting nutrients such as conjugated linoleic acid. They're safer because they are produced without dangerous chemicals, antibiotics, and risky (to say nothing of disgusting) and cheap practices like feeding dead cows to living cows, or putting contaminated sewage sludge onto farm fields. Certified organic products are the only foods available that have a government-backed guarantee that no chemicals, antibiotics, sewage sludge, or GMOs were used in the growing or processing of the foods.

6. Eating Organic Is Easier Than Ever.


Choosing to eat organic food does not condemn you to a diet of nuts, berries, and tofu. Today, you can find organic versions of the most popular foods, including such favorites as Hidden Valley ranch dressing and Heinz ketchup. It is possible to produce any food organically, even Cap'n Crunch cereal and American cheese.

7. Government Subsidies Are the Primary Reason For the Low Prices of Chemical Foods.


Without government subsidies, chemical food would not be less expensive, but rather much more expensive. Organic foods have no hidden costs.

8. Organic Farming Increases And Protects the Planet's Natural Biodiversity.


If you are an animal lover of any kind, organic is for you. A recent report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature documents that "life on earth is under serious threat." The report found that one-third of amphibians, at least one in eight birds, and a quarter of mammals are on the verge of extinction. Half of all plant groups are threatened. The toxic effects of chemicals have reduced all species' abilities to survive and reproduce.

9. It's Not Too Late to Change—and Get Healthier And Happier!


People who eat organic foods reduce their pesticide intake by as much as 90 percent, according to a study from the University of Washington. Further, research at the University of Colorado has found that certain strains of soil-borne bacteria not only stimulate the human immune system, but also boost serotonin levels in mice. Low levels of serotonin are tied to depression, and drugs that inhibit its reuptake in the brain are used as antidepressants. If we all farmed and gardened the organic way, we may not need all the antidepressant drugs that are ending up in our water supply.

Want to Know More?


Excerpted from Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe, by Maria Rodale (March 2010, Rodale). Available wherever books are sold.

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