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Why bother with organic food?


NATURAL GOODNESS Public awareness about the risks associated with chemically sprayed and treated foods is growing.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

After the last column I’m sure the surfaces in your house are chemical-free and clean enough to eat off, so let’s talk a bit about food. As a co-owner of a packaging-free shop that sells organic whole foods, I spend a lot of time talking about what food we stock, where it comes from, how it is handled and how to prepare it. One question we get often is, ‘Why do you stock only organic foods?’, and the corollary, ‘Aren’t they more expensive?’.
Organic foods have a long tradition in Ireland, but a shorter official history. Prior to World War II, chemical herbicides and pesticides were not commercially available, so they weren’t used; food by default was grown with only organic matter like manure, compost and green fertilisers, with some homemade pest deterrents.
Following the war, companies that produced chemicals for battle and technological advances needed an outlet for their products, so they started marketing them heavily to farmers to help them deal more easily with weeds and insects. As population growth increased dramatically over the past half century, chemicals and modified seeds have been introduced all over the world with the promise of increasing crop yields.
Now, we are increasingly aware both of the hazards of widespread use of commercial herbicides and pesticides to human health when heavily sprayed crops like wheat, oats and other grains, soft fruits and leaves, and beans are consumed, especially in large quantities. We are also more aware of the devastating impact on soil health and biodiversity, and of the contamination of ground water, streams and rivers and our own public water supplies. Recent research into the microbiome suggests that the rise in gluten intolerance may be partially due to the increased amount of pesticides applied to conventional wheat crops.
So how do you decrease your exposure to chemically treated foods? Look for foods that are certified organic or buy vegetables directly from a farmer who grows chemical free. Farmers and food producers in Ireland are increasingly making the switch, and here in Mayo, eggs, dairy, meat, mussels and fish, vegetables and fruit are all available in organic quality.  The more all of us vote with our wallets, the more producers will be incentivised to grow organically, and prices will decrease.
There is often the perception that these foods are more expensive, but I find in my own household that even if I spend a bit more buying certified organic vegetables, dairy and meat products, I am supporting local farmers directly (and many times, by buying at a market stall, or subscribing to a box scheme, I can purchase items packaging free, which is good for keeping my bin charges low) – and then can save money on bulk organic grains, pasta, spices and so on.
This also means that I buy far less processed and pre-packaged food, so in the next column we will discuss how to cook organic whole foods that are good for your health and the wellbeing of our environment.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.