Organic Food: Will It Save You and the World?
Our relationship with food is both complex and basic to our survival, and few issues have the ability to grab our collective attention as completely as the discussion surrounding the foods that sustain us. This week’s episode of Organic Panic takes a critical look at food production, one of the most frequently and hotly contested corners of the organic debate, and whether or not organic farming is the best way to feed the planet’s growing population.
No other product has stirred as much consumer interest, and it makes sense – the foods that we consume every day are an obvious starting point for a conversation about the impact of chemicals on our bodies and overall health. In many ways, food production has been the starting point of society’s interest in the organic movement, and often, the first place that thoughtful consumers begin to change their habits is in their local produce aisle.
Among them is Stew Granger, an intensive care nurse whose first hand experience with the negative effects of chemicals used in conventional farming has left him wondering if organics are a viable alternative to the products of big agriculture. After growing up on a farm, he still has plenty of questions about food production practices, and the real impact that they’re having on the planet. He can’t see any obvious downside to eschewing the use of chemicals in favour of organic farming, but wants to talk to the experts to get their take.
First, Stew takes a trip to Toronto’s Fresh City Farms, where volunteers work the land to feed thousands of city-dwellers using rotating planting methods, and an entirely organic approach. Their goal is to offer the urban population – about 80 per cent of Canadians – a tangible link to the food they consume, bringing the organic message to them through practical experience rather than forgettable leaflets.
On the farm, Stew touches on a caveat of eating organic that many a shopper has noticed before: that eating earth-friendly foods is often the costlier option. He’s certain that the food is better tasting, and better for him, but he’s still not sure if it’s worth shelling out more money to eat organic. Sarah Elton, an author and journalist, assures him that going organic is not only worth the short-term personal investment, but that our future depends on the adoption of more sustainable farming techniques.
But is it even possible to feed our expanding population through organic farming? Not everyone agrees that it can be done, or even that today’s industrial farming complex is having a negative impact on our health. Stew visits Pierre Desrochers, a professor of geography at the University of Toronto, to see what someone who studies and teaches the geography of food production thinks about Sarah’s claims.
He points out the challenges of feeding a global population with only organic foods, and counters the idea that there is enough fertilizer, or even land, for that to be possible. According to Pierre, organic farms, by their very nature, have fewer options when it comes to maximizing their yields, and theirs is a model with limited potential for feeding the world.
Recognizing his own biases, Stew is left to weigh both sides of the debate. Will Sarah’s words appeal to his sense of personal wellbeing and social responsibility, or will Pierre’s academic perspective convince him that conventional farming is the key to our survival? Find out this week as Organic Panic goes from the field to your plate, in its search for the truth about the food we eat.
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