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Growing Demand for All Things Organic

Maria Rodale

By now, any chef worth her salt will extol the virtues of organic produce. Whether tomatoes grown using synthetic chemicals will hold their own in a taste test against an untainted harvest is rarely even up for debate. That food grown without pesticides, herbicides, hormones and other laboratory inventions simply tastes better has become the consensus in foodie circles, and I am thrilled.

In a sense, I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. My grandfather, J.I. Rodale, was also the grandfather of the organic movement; he started Organic Farming and Gardening magazine in the 1940s and Prevention magazine in 1950. So I was pushing the organic agenda back when it was eccentric and, later, when it was merely novel. Years after that, organic became trendy and I’m still working at it today — as it is gradually (finally!) going mainstream.

But better tasting food, though, is not my main motivator. Don’t get me wrong — no one appreciates the perfect deviled egg more than yours truly. But the most important reason for demanding organically grown food is this: It is the single most effective means of improving one’s health and the health of our planet.

More than 99% of U.S. farms aren’t certified organic, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  (In 2008 the nation had 14,540 organic farms, out of more than 2.2 million farms.) This industrial, chemical-laden farming is destroying us. In 1998, the EPA reported that of the 3,000 most widely used chemicals in the U.S., 43 percent had not been tested at all for toxicity. And yet each year we pour 1 billion pounds of active chemical ingredients onto our farms and lawn and homes.

We don’t know all the effects that these chemicals are having on our health, but it seems fair to assume nothing good. Medical researchers are investigating connections between agricultural chemicals and any number of rising health problems: allergies, autism, attention deficit disorder, asthma and diabetes. For instance, Dr. Philip Landrigan, chair of the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center, blames the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals for the doubled rate of MRSA (an antibiotic-resistant staph infection) among children from 2001 to 2006.

It’s critical to maintain the momentum toward more organic food production and spread the word to anyone willing to listen: Adding chemicals is not necessary to sustain American agriculture. The chemical companies are today’s “Big Tobacco,” and their chokehold on U.S. farming and agricultural policy is equally criminal. Maybe even more so, because this destruction doesn’t stop at our individual health. Our planet also suffers. Agricultural chemicals destroy the soil’s natural ability to store carbon, accelerating the global climate crisis. Future lives are at stake.

So how do we halt the poisoning of our food and planet? It’s simple: Buy organic. And if you can’t find it at your grocery store, demand it.

We vote with our dollars. When we buy candy, food manufacturers make more candy. If we buy factory-farmed meat, ranchers will continue to inject their cows with hormones and drugs. Food companies tally every purchase and go where the money is. By demanding organic — and telling our friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances to do the same — we can change what is on grocers’ shelves.

The fact that those organic purchases will take tonight’s meal to another level is just organic icing on the cake.

Maria Rodale is the Chairwoman and CEO of Rodale, Inc. Her latest book, “Organic Manifesto” was released in March 2010.

Photo: Author Maria Rodale. Credit: Cedric Angeles