Is Organic Food Safer?

From The Huffington Post "Produce Problems" 10/26/2011

Hearing of E. coli outbreaks in meat and spinach followed by the loss of cantaloupes to listeria, is a frightening reality check for the average American.  After being told it is the healthier choice to buy fresh ingredients and make food at home, the public is now being informed of the multiple issues and diseases connected to food in grocery stores.  With the fear of catching food-born diseases, Organic lovers turn to their trusted produce to steer clear of “conventional food issues”, but according to The Huffington Post “choosing local and organic options, even going vegan, isn’t enough to guarantee (food) safety”.

 

The nutrients in Organic food might be better for you but there are no facts stating the food is safer to eat than the everyday conventional version.  James Wilcox of ABC 6 News says that experts have agreed with the idea that smaller organic farms have the ability to keep a closer eye on products going out to the public compared to the larger competition.  This seems to be a good point and William Wilson, who was pushed by his wife to start purchasing organic food, decided “You have to watch your own food, make sure its clean, and wash it yourself because you’re going to have dirt and debris from the earth. But it is still, overall I think, a better idea for your health.”

From FOX News "Local, Organic Food Not Always Safer" 10/26/2011

 

Recently, a salmonella outbreak took place in Minnesota where a small farm produced a batch of eggs infected and although there is a FDA rule to protect the public from egg issues they slipped through.  When reporting on the issue, FOX News said, “small farm operations have been exempted from food safety laws as conservatives, farmers and food-lovers have worried about too much government intervention and regulators have struggled with tight budgets”.  With no one keeping an eye on these smaller, local farms, there is still risk for eggs and other products to get through without proper examination and onto grocery store shelves.

 

Being put in a position where choosing food for a whole family or a person as an individual, is already a difficult task.  When media portrays conventional food as dangerous and filled with E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria, and the public is caught between a tight budget and the healthy choice, it’s hard to decide what to purchase and what to pass up.  But it’s stated here that there is no guarantee that the organic choice will be any safer.  Media makes sure to point out that washing produce and fully cooking meat is the only way to ensure safety when cooking with raw food.  This seems to be the correct way to deal with the issue, and even after sending out alerting and frightening messages, media has come back around to confirm there is an simple and easy answer for all.

Dine-out and Feel Good About It

Photo from Brigid Sweeney

With America’s change in eating habits shifting towards a greener and more wholesome experience, it was only a matter of time before restaurants started promoting organic food and healthier, fresh meal choices.  According to William D. Dowd, an Upstate NY Restaurant Examiner, as of Saturday, October 1, 2011, the first restaurant in the U.S. to be certified Animal Welfare Approved and open for business.  The little 50’s style diner Grazin’ is located in Hudson, New York and is “recently re-open(ing) its doors with several important changes that earned it the certification” said the writers of the Huffington Post.

(Click here to view the video showing Grazin’ and it’s new innovations)

The hype on this current change has made the public knowledgeable of the fact that there’s a good chance their favorite places to grab a bite might not be up to par with this upstate New York diner.  In order to achieve this Animal Welfare Approved rating, “all of a restaurant’s meat, dairy and egg products [must come] from Animal Welfare Approved farms,” said an employee of Drovers CattleNetwork.  The Huffington Post also pointed out that having to hold up to a standard of this sort means only using farms that are family owned, and other restaurants in the country also buy from farms of this type but have never applied for the certification.

With media grouping all other restaurants into the “anti-animal welfare” category, they are put in a position where people desiring to be ecological and live a green life will opt to make their own food or seek a different place.  This can create a bad rap for those who believe in the same ethics and principles when they have also been working to stand out with the organic/ green fad.

One restaurant in particular falls into this category and has just recently discussed their 3rd Quarter results with media representatives.  Chipotle’s Chairman and Co-executive officer Steve Ells stated “we evaluate how our ingredients are raised or grown, improve our recipes and cooking techniques, and improve our kitchen equipment, all with the objective of serving better-tasting food made from sustainably raised ingredients.” Ells points out to some that although they might not be aware of it, they (Chipotle) too have gone to the lengths of choosing to purchase quality food for all their restaurants.

Being in the state that the U.S.’s economy is currently in; hype of any type can do dramatic things for a business. As the public sees what is happening to and in the world they inhabit, they’ve started to change and adapt parts of their lifestyles allowing things like conserving and local farming to become big players.  When there is positive coverage on a place like Grazin’, there is no doubt of a positive outcome and hopefully a profitable business that wouldn’t have done well if the “Animal Welfare” change hadn’t happened.  At the same time though, places being criticized for not being “fair to animals” or “sustainable” are looking at possibly suffering dramatic drops in customers and a loss in profits.  Creating a good image in the public’s eye has become increasingly more important as the times have changed.

One Potato, Two Potato, Purple Potato, Blue Potato

Photo from alaskabites.com

Growing potatoes in Alaska, or anything for that matter is a foreign concept to those in the “Lower 48”.  According to NPR the potato is the #1 crop in Alaska and although it is ranked last on the national scale, in 2010 it brought in $3.5 million more than all of Alaska’s other vegetable crops.  Recently the potato has changed its look in the north and is not only sporting red skin, but also blue, purple and polka-dots.  Names like Purple Magic Molly’s and Yellow Golden Butterballs have been put on these organic spuds with the hope that they will be able to attract extra attention.

Greg Kalal, a farmer living south of Mt. McKinley has allowed the University of Alaska to look at and research his potatoes.  The universities dean of Agricultural Science Carol Lewis suggests hopefully, that this could be “something that’s appealing to the chef, that’s appealing to the public, possibly, and hopefully, appealing to a buyer, and then appealing to the grower, that also yields well and performs in general well in our short seasons.”  Being as how the season is shortened by the chilly climate, the cold adds an unknown perk as well.  The cool temperature of the soil “enhances the color” says University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher Jeffrey Smeenk.

In wanting this locally grown root to become a niche product native to Alaska, the publicity on this story will be nothing other than helpful.  According to Sharon Palmer of the Chicago Tribune, “the purple spud’s striking pigment is its nutritional crown and glory, courtesy of the antioxidant powerhouse anthocyanin.  It’s been shown in studies to possess anti-cancer and heart-protective effects, as well as benefits such as boosting the immune system and protecting against age-related memory loss.”

Unlike other areas in the U.S., Alaska has been big on the “grow local” movement, says Dan Joling of  The Republic.  Being so far from the main food sources made the state focus inward long before the rest of the nation started to do so.

Photo from Dan Joling/Associated Press

The Washington Post confirmed that the university is hoping the red skin and yellow fleshed potato can have a patent put on it that will make it the first ever plant patented vegetable. The whole harvest of 2011 got replanted and 2012’s will be too, so the potatoes will eventually show up in farmers markets and grocery stores although not any time soon.

As large news sources like the San Fransisco Chronicle, NPR, and The Republic cover Alaska’s unique discovery and outcome, U.S. citizens become familiar with a new and exciting item that will eventually be available for all.  The time gap between now and then allows the hype to grow; and hopefully the colorful potatoes of the ‘Last Frontier’ will hold up to everything they are being made out to be.

Is cantaloupe safe to eat?

According to Media sources, an outbreak of Listeria in Colorado and New Mexico has been pinned on locally grown Rocky Ford Cantaloupes.  The New York Times’ William Nueman states that there have been 13 deaths in 8 states and the “sick” tally has risen to 72 cases in 18 states.  The outbreak started in Colorado and New Mexico, but has now made its way across the country and as far East as Maryland.

Being one of the main distributors of cantaloupes in Colorado and the surrounding areas, Rocky Ford grows about 40% of cantaloupes purchased in the Southwest (New York Times Briefing).  Having to discontinue growing for the season on September 12, 2011 has halted the industry and Steven K. Paulson of the Huffington Post said “Farmers fear listeria has ruined (their) selling season”.  Paulson also commented that Rocky Ford-based crops specialist for Colorado State University Mike Bartolo, said “If this thing had happened at the beginning of the season, instead of the end, it would have been just devastating, as it is, I think it’s too soon to know what will happen next year.”

Scares of this type can really effect the industry being targeted and those influenced by the media are torn when purchasing of their produce.  Many of the media giants cover the story as the epidemic continues, reminding the public to be fearful of eating cantaloupe.

Just two days ago on September 28, 2011, about two weeks after the start of the epidemic, CNN and other news channels continued their reports with death tolls and reminders of how dangerous the cantaloupe is.

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According to ABC News the name “Rocky Ford” is not legally protected and the negative use of it in media has caused backlash for other cantaloupe farmers.  This type of bad press is what can put farmers and other entrepreneurs away for good when they don’t even fall into the dangerous category.

As media continues informing the public of scares and hazards in the surrounding world, people are being pushed down and out in their path.  Who decides how issues of this type get covered? And when they are over, who comes and cleans up the mess?

Organic vs. Conventional

The meaning of “Organic food” is prominent in the US and is seen on a daily basis; whether in the supermarket or in the news, organic is very in.  We have all been told that eating organic food is good for us and the environment, but what does organic really mean?  Is the food honestly better?  And why is this the “green” way of growing and raising consumables?

When questions like these are asked, people turn first to media for an answer.  The process in which the food is grown is the first difference in organic food vs. conventional food.  According to the Huffington Post, organic agriculture, specifically chicken farming, is helping to fight the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria by prohibiting the use of antibiotics on Organic Farms. This means people don’t have to worry about taking in unwanted toxins and extra invisible bacteria they are unaware of.   This is a good starting place for Americans who are carefully watching what their families are consuming and it aids in making healthier lifestyle choices.

Some  journalists and bloggers have been found trying to poke holes in the pros of organic food and turn people away from the supposed benefits.  As Grist’s writer Tom Laskawy  talks of how Christie Wilcox (Scientific American blogger) tries to bust the “myths” of the organic world, he stands strong for the cause.  He points out evidence showing conventionally grown foods lack many of the important nutritional qualities that organic foods possess.    Laskawy examines past evidence and studies, finding things like vitamins and antioxidants are more prominent in organic strawberries and the nutrients in conventional milk don’t touch those in organic milk.

Being pro-organic shows media cover the recent hype in a positive light, and American’s seem to be falling for the idea.  As grocery stores likeWhole Foods and Fresh & Easy start popping up all over the nation, it becomes much easier for the average person to go out and buy their organic food for a comparable price.  Companies harping on how beneficial organic food is have started creating their own ads to pull in customers.  Moms are a main targeted audience because they are the ones who shop for their families and children, aka most of the American population.  Stonyfield Organic Dairy is one of these companies reaching out to this group, and the CEO Gary Hirshberg made his own “music video” to promote organic awareness.

Does this type of publicity work for a company like this? Since media is a the way America gets its information, there is no doubt a video of this type that has been viewed 89,461 times, has helped Stonyfield and their attempt to get everyone eating organic.

Between newspapers and advertisements, there seems to be nothing but positive hype on the benefits and attributes of organically grown food.  Any American looking for a good reason to eat organic just has to boot up the computer or turn on the TV.  Journalists and anchors will be happy to share that things conventionally grown are not necessarily bad for you, but indeed natural is the way to go.