A Rebuttal to the BBC's "Organic 'Has No Health Benefits"

This ludicrously titled article from the BBC is based on a report that was put together by the Nutrition and Public Health Intervention Research Unit at the London School of Hygiene & Topical Medicine (LSHTM), and is unfortunately indicative of a stagnant social mindset regarding natural foods and growing methods in our overly commodified, genetically modified modern world. It is important to note immediately that the title of the article in itself is utterly incorrect; dangerous to public health and well being; and a misinterpretation of the findings of the LSHTM report. Although the research itself has its drawbacks, which I will address later on in this piece, nowhere does it claim that there are NO health benefits associated with eating organic. If scientists were to indeed make such a bold statement according to their research, I would be extremely interested in finding out how they went about producing such a result. As a matter of fact, the study's findings literally reported that there are "no significant differences in nutrients and other nutritional substances" between food that was produced organically, and "conventional" food. But this does not include other health effects and certain benefits that come from partaking in an organic diet.

The first consideration on hand is the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides in non-organic agricultural practices, and the effects that these chemicals have on our health: both directly (from their application onto our food products), and indirectly (from their inevitable infiltration of our land, air, and water supplies). It seems silly to mention, but let us not forget that pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are compounds which are designed to kill, and are therefore extremely dangerous to all of us- not just the bugs and the plants and the 'shrooms. Such dangerous mixes are not allowed if a farm or growing project is to be given an organic distinction, and organic food is therefor absent of them. It has been reported that certain pesticides are related to both a prevalence of cancer in children as well as a deficiency in male sexual organ development, two public health issues that I'm sure we do NOT mean to mess around with. And of course there are the unspoken dangers associated with land erosion and the appearance of pesticides in our drinking water supply.

Then there is the question of genetically modified foods, which are not allowed in organic growing methods. Many reports have claimed that GM products are related to heightened sensitivity to certain allergens. The more serious health effects of the vegetable clone army are not well understood (likely because a great many of the studies are secretive and funded by Monsanto), however there have been many reports of health defects in animals who are fed a diet of genetically modified foods; including stunted growth, increased death rates, reproductive failures, infant mortality, and sterility. Are these really conditions that we are willing to gamble with in the game of mass-production? Personally, the benefit of choosing organic food is obvious in this case.

Organically grown produce IS healthier for you, on a number of levels. Besides the scientific evidence supporting the superior quality of organic food, it is important to consider the larger picture, and the context within which our food is produced. In order to holistically assess the public health consequences of agricultural methods, we must connect the dots between human health and the health of the environments within which we are existing. In non-organic farming practices, nitrogen fertiliser manufacturing alone produces seven tons of greenhouse gases, uses a ton of oil and a hundred gallons of water, all for just ONE ton of fertilizer. That fertilizer is then likely to be transported to water systems via land erosion and poor waste management systems, a movement which often pollutes drinking supplies and eradicates underwater oxygen supplies, resulting in the chilling effect of aquatic dead zones, where no organisms may survive. Also, in terms of animal products, it is important to note that organic farms generally produce meat and dairy products from animals raised in humane conditions, allowing for a more harmonious method of sowing as well as reaping, instead of the latter exclusively. Not only does this pacify the consciences of both farmers and consumers in terms of animal cruelty, it also alleviates the health risks that are associated with the hormones and antibiotics which are force-fed to animals in a factory farm setting, then ingested by human consumers. In non-organic animal products, such unnatural injections are not given to animals. They are happier and healthier, and ultimately so will we be.

In terms of nutritional content, the final verdict has not been made on whether or not organic food is richer than conventional food. There are many factors; including soil quality, rain and sunlight abundance, and packaging/transportation; which may affect the nutrient levels within a given food. However, there is considerable evidence to suggest the opposite of LSHTM's report claims. In fact, out of 1230 published comparisons between organic and conventional food, 56% claimed that organic was more nutritious, whereas only 7% claimed no difference. The LSHTM's study must be among this small 7 percentage, yet the BBC chose to highlight only this one study and exaggerate it completely.

So what does the study itself encompass? It is massive- there is no doubt about that. The 200 page report is a summary of over 50 years worth of data, collected by a team of doctors, thorough researchers and public health experts. The problem is that within the study there is no direct testing of any one piece of food. Every piece of data has been collected from literature compiled on nutrient content as early as the 1950s. While I am not one to undermine the importance of published scientific works, I am also not so easily convinced of the accuracy of information that is so indirect. I am more encouraged by hands-on scientific testing, such as this one, which proves without a doubt the nutritional superiority of organic tomatoes.

I am obviously not swayed by the BBC's bogus assertion that organic food is not healthy. But what worries me is that when I first read this article today, it was the #1 most read article on the global news website. This internationally renowned source of information reaches millions of people daily, and therefor is responsible for reporting the news fairly and accurately. Those at the BBC, as well as at other major news corporations, have an unspoken authority over people's thoughts and opinions, and putting forth a claim such as "organic has 'no health benefits" is completely irresponsible due to its potential public health implications. I hope that this article was read across the world with a grain of salt, and that we can continue to move forward towards becoming a society which values the health and vitality of our communities, and does not compromise either in the name of convenience or profit. I hope we can continue to think and decide for ourselves when it comes to how we feed our minds and our bodies, and not be swayed by the subjective news media when it comes to matters of such acute personal significance.

So, here's to a healthful life!



Water, Water Everywhere...

This summer so far has been the wettest, grayest summer I've ever witnessed. For about a month and a half straight, from mid-May through June, it rained every day. And I mean every.single.day. It seemed as if the sun had completely given up on New York City, and our concrete jungle would soon become a rain forest (not an unwelcome change, if you ask me :-) Check out these crazy water levels from the NYC DEP website.

We had more than seven inches of rain in June alone, which was more than three inches over the historic record! While the lack of sun was slightly depressing, this bountiful rain also meant a lot of good things for the earth. For one, I didn't have to water my garden at all for nearly two months! Plus, the levels of our reservoirs are healthy, our drinking water supplies are strengthened, and thanks to NYC's giveaway of complimentary rain barrels, we can optimize usage of the earth's great gift for watering our gardens and our -coughcough- lawns during the remaining summer months.

This news of plentiful rain in New York is somewhat unique, considering that in many parts of the world a lack of access to clean water is causing countless troubles for human beings. In our own California, farmers are struggling under restricted allotments of water after a three year drought has caused the governor of the state to announce a water emergency. In Iraq, the Euphrates river is drying up, an event that had once been prophesied by religious groups as a sign of the end of times. All over the world in third-world countries, clean drinking water is scarce, and it is a cause of major conflict, disease and strife for millions of people. I won't go any further here, at least not now, but for a simple breakdown of the situation facing humans in global water issues, check out the World Health Organization's 10 FACTS about water scarcity.

Now the sun is shining on NYC again, and all of its gardens are growing healthy with the help of that glorious, life-giving rain water. And in light of these global realities, it is tremendously good fortune that we have such an easily accessible clean water system, and such a rich supply of rain! It is imperative that we don't take this luck for granted, and that we are responsible in the way that we use our water. This means taking shorter showers, turning off the faucet while soaping dishes, recycling the rainwater that comes with so much reward, and mayyybeee, just maybe not leaving that lawn sprinkler on all day long- or at all ;-). This way we can be sure that our water use is sustainable, and not at the detriment of others!



Growing Healthy

Last weekend I visited the place where my boyfriend works... a wonderful half of an acre urban farm that is booming with crops from edible flowers - to string beans - to 9 foot tomato plants and beyond. Every time I visit the farm I'm inspired, but this time was different- so much had changed in the few short months since I last visited, the farm is growing every day. And I'm so proud of the work that everyone does there, I wanted to boast it on here :-)

The Master Peace Community Farm is a fabulous green oasis amid a rolling desert of urbanism and nature-deficit disorder. In a time where food security and community are two aspects of human life being compromised and brought to light, the farm offers opportunities for individuals to engage with their neighbors, their earth, and their own health. It is part of the
Engaged University of Riverdale, Maryland: an institution which seeks to link the plethora of human resources found within the University with their surrounding areas through a variety of formative and inspiring programs. The farm is just one of them, and it's creating more and more buzz as the years go by.

Three years ago, when the space was first initiated, it was nothing more than an empty lot. Today it is a fully-functioning urban farm which provides upwards of 20 community garden plots to families from the area, and numerous crops to sell to local businesses and to participate in the weekly Riverdale Park Farmer's Market. It provides educational programs on agriculture and nutrition for youth, and even supplies people with green jobs- a job sector that has been receiving a lot of attention recently in Washington.

And as the farm grows, it gains more attention from policy makers and other influential figures. Recently House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer visited the farm and expressed interest in the model that it could provide for other sustainable endeavors around the country. Hoyer mentioned his visit in a press release on his website.

This green space is a beautiful, truly peaceful area for folks who wish to enjoy the simple, yet necessary aspects of life- food, laughter, nature, and a connection with the community around us. The gates to the farm are never locked, creating a welcome and friendly atmosphere to anyone and everyone who wants to have a fulfilling, energizing experience working with the earth. Adults and children learn and work together here, sit and eat together in the farm's picnic area, and get a sense of real perspective about the food that we eat. The gardens create a sense of purpose, peace, and happiness for the community members who visit there.

Just think what the world would be like if every neighborhood had a Master Peace Community Farm. How much better would we relate to our neighbors? How much happier and healthier would our lives be with the beautiful simplicity of growing and eating healthy food for ourselves? How much more empowered would we all be?

Another world is possible, and this is an exciting and inspiring movement in a very positive direction. If you wanna learn more about community agriculture, and get involved with your nearest community garden, check out this site.


This is Great.

Say what you will about Greenpeace, but these guys know how to get a message across. A group of activists associated with the organization scaled Mount Rushmore yesterday in response to the messy failures that have been prevalent during G8 talks in Italy this week. They hung a banner next to the chiseled faced of Abraham Lincoln which read "America Honors Leaders, Not Politicians. Stop Global Warming."

They are not alone in reproaching the goings-on of the G8 conference, as leaders and environmental activists around the world have been extremely vocal in calling on the group to seriously address climate change by providing real tactics and incentives, instead of simply setting figures. They are also not the first to acknowledge our own president's apparent hesitance in tackling this most important global issue. Although president Obama has made some small strides towards achieving certain clean energy goals, like improving automobile mileage standards, there are still a few among us who remain skeptical. Many have criticized the newly passed clean energy legislation, the Waxman-Markey bill, as being loophole-ridden and too politically influenced, have questioned the president's integrity when it comes to integral issues such as mountaintop removal, and are becoming increasingly disillusioned overall with the messages of hope associated with climate change.

So, this statement by Greenpeace is spot-on for those of us who wish to encourage our president to remember his role in history. As my good friend Amy has pointed out, this first step is a milestone in American environmental policy, and if so much could change within only a few months of a new administration, imagine what could be done in four years. President Obama has an opportunity to be a great leader and facilitator of change, and it is important to hold him accountable to his campaign promises. I want to congratulate these twelve individuals, who were arrested immediately after their action on Mount Rushmore, for the simplistic message that makes so much sense.

If you want to read the activists' blog and find out more about greenpeace, click here.


What's so bad about Cuba?

So, Cuba is a country that is rich with a vivacious cultural tradition, a progressive social system, highly developed political theory and practice, hearty food, beautiful landscapes, and a very high-profile history. It's a place that lures students of a multitude of disciplines, boasts beaches that sparkle on famous Caribbean waters, and has some of the best damn cigars in the world. But we can't go there. Why not, you ask? Well, our constitutional rights as U.S. citizens have been compromised because of an exaggerated embargo policy that frankly has caused more ill for all American people than it has benefitted anyone. In the past 40 years we have seen the struggle of the Cuban people under harsh sanctions imposed by the U.S., ideological divides that have often resulted in conflict, and even the redefinition of what a family member is, as according to George Bush.

Now it seems like the tides are turning, ever so slowly, but in a new direction. The new U.S. administration is opening up restrictions that were previously placed on family travel to Cuba, and the OAS has recently admitted Cuba into the organization. Politicians are realizing now what one group has been saying for 40 years.

The Venceremos Brigade is a group of socially conscious individuals who have made it a point to defy the outrageous U.S. policy year after year by traveling to Cuba and engaging in community development endeavors and political activities with people there. They are making big moves this year, leaving on July 19th to mark their 40th anniversary of carrying out meaningful political and social activism. My good friend Diego Iniguez-Lopez has made the trip several times, and has been featured on New York One news program, as well as in a local news story which talks more in depth about the Brigade and all of the amazing work that they do year after year to bring a change to the world. Check out this great article and find out more here.

Keep fighting the good fight, guys :-)

Oh, and by the way... in terms of my last post, We could learn a thing or two from Cuba. check it out!


We Are On Our Own.

"Unless there are mass movements from below, nothing changes from above."

Trends in social movements are like a double-edged sword: on one count, the exposure and marketing that results from large-scale hype allows for the opportunity of action through increased attention. But we have to be careful. Things can become trendy to the point that, much like our obsession with designer clothing, all we care about is that label, not the story of what that label represents.

This is what is happening with food and nutrition trends in the United States. Buying “organic” n and “natural” foods seems to be becoming increasingly glamorous amongst the wealthy, often with a great amount of delusion and misinformation on a massive scale. Products claiming to be natural and "eco friendly" are not subject to any type of oversight or official monitoring of their labels.There is a serious lack of reliable information and labeling when it comes to the food that we buy, and even those products that are “certified organic” by the USDA are being found to be deceptive in the disclosure of their contents. Up to 5% of non-organic ingredients are permissible in processed products that are labeled organic by the USDA, and there are nearly 250 of these materials currently allowable. Also, shockingly, the yearly testing for pesticides on “organic” farms is considered OPTIONAL under USDA regulations.

So why is it so expensive to obtain this certification of false glorification? Many small organic farmers have been suffering in recent years because they cannot compete with the large agro-businesses that are now operating in the wholesome food industry. And believe me, it is LARGE. Check out this flow chart which outlines who owns what in organics:


Kraft? Coca-Cola? These are the same people who make corn-syrup drinks and 3 minute Mac N’ Cheese. And they are processing your “organic” and “natural foods.” Think about this situation for a minute.

Buying Organic has become a trend. And the most powerful corporations are cashing in on it, big time, at the expense of organic family farmers across the country. But the solution is simple! BUY LOCAL! GROW YOUR OWN! GROW FOOD, NOT LAWNS!

We are truly on our own, with the self-interested corporate world disregarding our health in the face of endless profits. It is time we reclaim power over our bodies and minds, and showed the corporate world that we don’t need their mass-produced crap (as Michael Pollan calls it: edible, food-like substances). So beware the labels, support your local farmers by going to a farmer’s market or joining a CSA (community-supported agriculture), and grow your own food… it’s as simple as seeds, water and sun.


By The Way...

This is my introduction to the personal blogging world... the allure of being able to publicize the ish that's important to me was just too great to ignore :-) I still think it's a bit self-gratifying to assume what you have to say is sooooo important that everyone must read it (i.e. twitter etc.), but at the same time I feel like certain goings-on deserve more attention than they are usually granted by most of our conventional media outlets. Plus, I enjoy writing. So here are the thoughts, ideas, news stories, and cultural happenings that are meaningful to me. If other people find these posts interesting also, well that's fantastic. If not, I'm just glad to share my peace!

The Safe Drinking Water Act… is nothing sacred?

When I turn on my faucet in anticipation of a cool, clean refreshing drink, I assume (to an extent) that I am safe from harmful toxins and chemicals. I make this assumption because the Safe Drinking Water Act, put forth by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and further enforced by local governments, claims to monitor public sources of drinking water and ensure their safety from a public health standpoint. But I am wrong in making this assumption, because I forget to consider to loopholes granted to our country’s corporate energy monsters- er, companies. The oil and gas industry is the only constituent granted immunity from following regulations in accordance with the act, due an exemption provided within the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This act was put in place by the Bush Administration, and exempts energy companies who utilize hydraulic fluid fracturing processes in extracting for natural gases from the Earth, a method which has been criticized by many environmental advocacy groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Fracturing is often carried out in very close proximity to sources of public drinking water, and is harmful because of the harmful toxins that it inserts forcibly into the ground. There is currently no policy which requires fracturing companies to reveal the chemicals used during their processes, and thanks to the policies put in place during the Bush-Cheney administration, federal oversight of these companies was removed, allowing them to operate freely, despite their environmental and public health implications. Not surprisingly, Halliburton was the company responsible for the development of hydraulic fracturing in the 1940s, and is one of the most prominent users of the process today.

Currently, an amendment to the Safe Water Drinking Act is being considered by the United States House of Representatives, put forth by several legislators from both the House and the Senate. The Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, known commonly as the FRAC Act, seeks to close loopholes created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, requiring hydraulic fracturing to once again be monitored by the federal government. It also calls upon energy companies to publicly release information about the chemicals used.

Energy company executives are, true to form, organizing and audibly complaining about the proposed amendment to the legislation. They claim that the change would result in higher costs for natural gas extraction, leading to higher gas prices and job loss in an already unstable economy. In addition to this unwarranted fear-mongering, they are lobbying to law makers, threatening to sue if the regulations are imposed. But the information they provide is outdated and incorrect in many cases.

Our drinking water is not something to be messed around with- we should demand that the EPA and our local and state governments do all that they can to ensure our safety and our health. Please, write to your local representatives and ask them to support this amendment to the Safe Water Drinking Act- don’t let Halliburton contaminate your water just to turn a buck!