Feeding Ourselves and Our Children: Environmental Implications of Organic Foods

Feeding Ourselves and Our Children: Environmental Implications of 
Organic Foods

In 2005, Jessica Prentice coined the word locavore, which was voted the 2007 “Word of the Year” by Oxford University Press. Locavore was coined to describe and promote the practice of eating a diet consisting of food harvested from within an area bounded by a one-hundred-mile radius. Prentice was the director of education at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco at the time and wanted to encourage food lovers to enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment.

Locavorism projects positive considerations: (1) the traditional pleasures of eating real, fresh foods grown and prepared in the context of community, (2) reducing the distance that food is transported using fossil fuels, which now on average is 1,500 miles from farm to table, (3) providing an alternative to factory farms that exploit workers and the Earth, abuse animals, and contribute to a society in which factory-processed foods have become staples, creating a population that is simultaneously overfed and undernourished, and (4) creating strong local food systems that support environmental sustainability, food security, social equity, and the economic vitality of thriving communities.

No Place More Local Than Your Own Backyard

If you join the many Americans who turned to food gardening after the 2009 economic recessionary year and grow your own food, you would control the soil composition and the pesticide load and insure that the produce was handled with clean hands. There is no place more local than your own backyard. Your produce is as fresh and nutritionally dense as it can be, if used shortly after harvesting.

With the National Organic Program (NOP) defining the requirements for organic production, multinational corporations have changed their production methods to conform to the definition, but still end up shipping the produce many, many miles to reach your fork. By shopping for local produce, the carbon footprint of organic produce procurement can be reduced.

Since most of us living in America are living in a temperate climate, another technique to insure wholesome organic produce year round will require systems of food preservation. Most county extension services have bulletins that can be downloaded that describe methodologies for canning, freezing, and other preservation.

In spite of the fact that fresh whole fruits and vegetables usually deliver the most nutrients per serving, during the winter months when only imported, conventional, fresh produce is available, consumers should consider choosing canned or frozen domestically grown fruits and vegetables. Processed apples, grapes, peaches, pears, green beans, peas, and tomatoes have a substantially reduced pesticide load compared with fresh, imported, conventional, nonorganic produce.

Some Other Major 
Food Groups

There are also organic guidelines for the production of poultry, eggs, pork, and beef products. Included is the humane treatment of animals in settings where the animals have room to exercise with access to outdoor space and where health is maintained on diets that do not rely on antibiotics for survival. Organic feedstocks must be used.

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In the past ten years, a number of books have been written that evaluate segments of the American food production systems and focus increasingly on the care of the animals that provide our meat. There have also been two documentaries released that focus on the food system that clarify the problems and make suggestions for improvements. [Food, Inc. and Fresh: New Thinking About What We're Eating.]

The industrialization of meat production has introduced confined animal feeding operations that have provided inexpensive meat in vast quantities. This efficiency in efforts to feed a vast nation with low-cost food is not without environmental costs and concerns about the healthfulness of the products generated.

Antibiotics and E. Coli

Cattle and corn are transported many miles to established confined animal feeding operations for the final “finishing.” During this period when the cattle are readied for slaughter, the predominant diet of corn gives the meat the marbling texture that tenderizes and flavors the meat with fat deposits between the muscle fibers. But bovines are designed by nature to forage grasses and can only survive a concentrated corn or grain diet with the supplementation of low levels of antibiotics. This creates a major public health concern, because bacteria (primarily E. coli) exposed to continuous, low-level antibiotics can become resistant and may contaminate meat products through contact with fecal matter during the slaughtering process.

The American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, and the National Institutes of Health all describe antibiotic resistance as a growing public health concern. A decrease in resistance has been reported in European countries that have banned the use of antibiotics in animal production. Seventy percent of all antimicrobials used in the United States are fed to livestock. This involves 25 million pounds of antibiotics annually, more than eight times the amount used to treat disease in humans.

Growth Hormones Linked to Cancer

Additionally, with FDA and USDA approval, two-thirds of all U.S. cattle raised for slaughter are injected with growth hormones. The Europeans banned growth hormones for beef in 1988. The European Commission appointed a committee to study the impact on humans of meat consumed from hormone-enhanced cattle and in 1999 reported that residues in meat from injected animals could affect the hormonal balance of humans, causing reproductive issues and breast, prostate, or colon cancer.

Approximately 22 percent of all dairy cows in the United States and 54 percent of large herds use recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to get an 8–17 percent increase in milk production. Its use has increased bacterial udder infections in cows by 25 percent, necessitating the use of antibiotics to treat the infections. The milk of cows injected with rBGH has higher levels of another hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1, which in humans is linked to colon and breast cancer.

Regulations prohibit the use of hormones in pigs and poultry, but antibiotics are used routinely. The tight confinement of pigs and chickens encourages the use of prophylactic low levels of antibiotics to promote growth, to insure health, and to minimize the spread of infectious diseases within the populations of crowded chickens and pigs. This perpetual use of antibiotics can impact not only the consumers of eggs and meats, but the animal caretakers also are more likely to acquire multi-drug-resistant E. coli.

Organic production of animal products does not permit the use of growth hormones or the prophylactic use of antibiotics. Milk from dairy cows on organic farms, particularly pasture-based operations, contains significantly higher levels of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs). These levels in organic milk are often 30 percent higher or more than in conventional milk, but this CLA advantage is modulated by the time of year, quality of pasture, levels of production, and herd health and management. The human health benefits of CLAs include reducing the propensity to store fat (especially abdominal fat), inhibiting tumor development, promoting cellular sensitivity to insulin, increasing immune response against viral antigens, and modulating inflammatory processes.

The reliance of organic beef farmers on pasture and forage grasses increases the CLA level in meat as well. Meat is an excellent dietary source of iron and vitamin B12; additionally, meat, eggs, and milk from pastured animals also contain higher levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids that are indispensable for human neurological health.

Feeding Ourselves 
and Our Children Wholesomely

Now that we are aware of the state of the foods available, there are opportunities to maximize the quality of the foods we consume. Through careful selection and astute buying, the quality of foods can be improved.

There are also opportunities for some families to become involved in the production of wholesome vegetables by growing vegetables in pots on a patio, by converting some lawn space into a seasonal garden, or by participating in a community garden project. Another option is to locate farmers within driving distance who practice organic farming that can provide these food items for you.

Let’s begin with a trip to the local grocery store. It is wonderful to see many large grocery stores now offering organic produce. But the choice to purchase organic versus conventional vegetables and fruits involves a consideration of costs and benefits for many families. The Environmental Working Group has used the USDA’s PDP data from 2000 to 2007 and ranked produce using six measures of contamination. The ranking is based on the likelihood of being consistently contaminated with the greatest number of pesticides at the highest levels. Using the rankings, a shopper’s guide to pesticides is suggested. This list is updated annually.

The Dirty Dozen and The Cleanest Sixteen

Among the twelve most contaminated (the Dirty Dozen) were seven fruits (peaches, apples, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, imported grapes, and pears) and five vegetables (sweet bell peppers, celery, kale, lettuce, and carrots). This study suggests that by substituting produce from the list of least contaminated fruits and vegetables the buyers can reduce their consumption of pesticides by 80 percent.

Among the sixteen least contaminated produce items were seven fruits (avocados, pineapples, mangos, kiwi, papayas, watermelon, and grapefruit) and nine vegetables (onions, sweet corn, asparagus, frozen sweet peas, cabbage, eggplant, broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes).

This study also suggests that purchasing the Dirty Dozen organically would eliminate most pesticide residues. Purchasing the sixteen least contaminated produce items organically would reduce the pesticide load only minimally.

For the produce listed between the most and least contaminated, the choice of organic or conventional would be a cost versus benefit consideration. The situation of choice would be the availability of organic selections of all produce year round.

Alternative Sources for Seasonal Produce and Meats

Increasingly, families are looking to alternative sources for seasonal produce and meats. There is no produce as fresh and nutritionally dense as that which is harvested from an organic kitchen garden and consumed within minutes of harvest. During World War II, home-based “victory gardens,” which were championed by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, produced 40 percent of the produce consumed by Americans.

But fresh produce grown locally can also be procured at local farmers markets. You can locate one in your area at www.localharvest.org or www.eatwellguide.com. Also listed are family farms and other sources of sustainably-grown produce and grass-fed meats.

Opportunities also exist to preserve by canning, freezing, drying, or other methods of preservation of local produce when it is in season to extend the availability of prime, nutritionally dense produce for year-round consumption. Local foods will be fresher than fresh produce transported thousands of miles, even if it is grown organically in its country of origin.

There is an ever-increasing awareness of the ethics of food. Gardens, particularly organic gardens, can remind us that our relationship to our planet can be sustainable. As long as the sun shines and people plant seeds we can find ways to provide for our nutritional needs without adversely impacting the world.

©2013 by Finley Eversole. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of Inner Traditions, Inc.

Article Source

This article was adapted from Chapter 9 of the book:

Energy Medicine Technologies: Ozone Healing, Microcrystals, Frequency Therapy, and the Future of Health edited by Finley Eversole Ph.D.Energy Medicine Technologies: Ozone Healing, Microcrystals, Frequency Therapy, and the Future of Health
edited by Finley Eversole Ph.D.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

About the Author of this excerpt

Melvin D. EppMelvin D. Epp was a research scientist working on botanical and production problems. He is retired and owns the ancestral farm his great-grandfather purchased from the Santa Fe Railroad in 1876. Melvin continues to garden where his grandmother began gardening in 1893. He holds degrees from Wheaton College - B.S. in biology; University of Connecticut - M.S. in botany; and Cornell University - Ph.D. in genetics. He continues to guide the Wichita Organic Garden Club and the Frederic Remington Area Historical Society and is an Extension Master Gardener of Sedgwick County, Kansas. Melvin has published a book featuring his mother's poetry: The Petals of a Kansas Sunflower: A Mennonite Diaspora

About the Editor

Finley Eversole, Ph.D.Finley Eversole, Ph.D., is a philosopher, educator, activist, and advocate for the role of the arts in the evolution of consciousness. In the 1960s he was active in the civil rights and women's movements and participated in organizing the first Earth Day in New York City in 1970. He has planned and edited five forthcoming volumes addressing solutions to a range of global problems; Infinite Medicine Technologies is one book in the series.


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