Organic vs. Conventional? The debate is settled by a 16 year old!

There is a list of foods one should eat organic. I figured everyone knew of the list. But after a recent lunch, when my berries lay uneaten on my plate and my friends wondered why, I realized I assumed wrong.

The berries were not organic. That had not occurred to them.

Although corn is on the safe list, be wary. Pretty much all non-organic corn is genetically modified which presents its own health issues. A future post!

To many people, mistakenly, food is food. As an issue, it is easy to dismiss. I get it. With so much to worry about in terms of our kids– safety, enrichment, productivity, emotional stability, do we have to throw another worry into the mix? I used to joke–“just call me Debbie Downer” every time I attempted to educate parents as to the crap kids eat on a daily basis. However, I learned to take a hint and to keep my mouth shut. Many people simply do not want to deal, or like my friends, truly have no idea the difference between organic and non-organic in terms of health.

I am not judging because frankly, the message on the subject has been very mixed. However, coincidently a few days after my lunch, I stumbled upon an an article about a middle school science experiment that seems to provide some clarity.

Ria Chhabra overheard her parents having a similar conversation about whether they ought to buy organic food. That gave her an idea for her school science assignment. She decided to test the vitamin C content of organic produce versus conventional. Her results: organic produce provides more vitamin C.

However, Ria did not stop there. Intrigued, she wanted to learn more and expanded her research to study the effects of organic eating on overall health. She searched the internet and discovered the fruit fly model best fit her experiment. To find fruit flies she reached out to several universities with fly laboratories and an assistant Professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas responded.

An excerpt from the New York Times blog

“The research, titled, “Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster,” tracked the effects of organic and conventional diets on the health of fruit flies. By nearly every measure, including fertility, stress resistance and longevity, flies that fed on organic bananas and potatoes fared better than those who dined on conventionally raised produce.”

According to the Times, her project which spanned three years, earned the now 16-year-old ” top honors in a national science competition, publication in a respected scientific journal and university laboratory privileges normally reserved for graduate students.”

As I read this, I felt vindication. She proved a truth that I already knew to be true, but a truth unfortunately challenged last year by Stanford University. Do you remember the media frenzy over a study by Stanford dismissing the nutritional benefits of organic versus conventional food? According to the senior author of the Stanford paper, Dena Bravata, MD, MS, “There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health.”

I remember the buzz because, as you can imagine, many friends (who probably discredited me as an alarmist) felt the need to make sure I heard the buzz! However, as much as Stanford is Stanford– a place of great credibility, I disagreed not just because I wanted to believe organic was better and worth the investment in my families health, but because of my own experiment…my life and the lives of my family.


Go for any stretch eating conventional food. Eat continuously in restaurants for every meal where you have no idea the quality of the food. Eat lots of processed food. You will feel a difference. The brain feels cloudy, less sharp. Your gut gets thick. Energy levels are low. Maybe that is just considered normal, but then try eating consciously for a few weeks. Be very aware of your food. Eat only organic or if possible from a local farm where you can question the seeds and pesticides used.

Interestingly, someone in my life who mostly rolled his eyes at my family’s diet; who mocked our healthy food versus his family’s fridge lined with bulk, processed food– foods with artificial colors and flavorings, processed deli meats, oreo/M&M yogurts, microwave popcorn, high fructose corn syrup cereals…he mocked until he decided to go on a diet.

The diet he chose had strict, yet simple guidelines– eat organic. Do not eat anything from a bag or a box. No sugar. No aspartame or diet sodas. High fiber. Lots of leafy greens and vegetables. He lost weight, of course, but what astonished him, was the clarity of thought. In his words… his brain never worked or felt better. Was organic the reason for his clarity? He probably did not eat all organic. However, most likely it was a combination of all the healthier choices he was making, and the benefits no doubt went beyond the waistline and impacted his entire well being.

The same happened for my family. There was a time when my kids ate skittles, Danimals, and Doritos. Heck…I ate bags of doritos when pregnant! However, since we changed to an all organic diet–including all snacks, produce and meat, I can not remember the last time my kids stayed home sick from school. (Also remember they never get a flu shot!) They may get sniffles, but heal quickly with a good nights sleep.

Ironically, my oldest just got back from four days in Alabama on a school trip. Four days of eating crap fast food and guess what? He is sick for the first time in AGES! He is not missing school, but under the weather.

I can also recall them coming home from several weeks at camp last summer feeling disgusting from the food they ate. Jokingly, they begged me to put them on a cleanse. I did. Not a juice cleanse, but an organic cleanse. When 11, 13, and 15 years olds notice a difference in how they feel when they eat elsewhere versus home, that to me, is far more convincing then any study by Stanford, et al.

The same can be said about a European vacation or any other locale where local, sustainable farmed food is favored. Where GMOs are banned or labels required. Where pesticides are minimally used and where nobody would even think of eating a blueberry out of season. Where food is a delicacy and not big business. Where food and eating is treated with reverence. Where tomatos taste like tomatos–mouthwatering flavor and strawberries, sweeter than sugar. Where you can eat everything and not gain weight!!! ( I know. A bit of a broken record, but you get the point!)

Did you know between 1995 and 2011, $18.2 billion in tax dollars subsidized four common junk food additives—corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soy oils (which are processed further into hydrogenated vegetable oils) and apples, one of the few subsidized fruits and vegetables only received $637 million?!!

This is the essence of organic. It is simply, real food from rich soils not damaged by herbicides and pesticides. It is food farmed with a conscience. Where the lusciousness, the vitality, one might say the soul of the food has greater value than the business of farming itself. It is food from farms that grow vegetables other than heavily government subsidized corn and soy which account for 95% of American crops and out of that 95%, 95% of those crops are gentically modified.

I am not alone in rejecting the findings of Stanford. I think Mark Bittman from the New York Times said it best:

“The study was like declaring guns no more dangerous than baseball bats when it comes to blunt-object head injuries. It was the equivalent of comparing milk and Elmer’s glue on the basis of whiteness.”

Unlike Ria, Stanford did not conduct any experiments. They simply looked at 200 existing studies and limited the scope of their analyses to the nutrient value of organic versus non-organic foods as a measure of healthiness.

For an excellent review of the numerous flaws of the Stanford Study, link, here.

Bittman joked that in using a nutrient only analysis, then “Frosted Flakes are a better choice than an apple.” As for pesticides and antibiotics? They admitted organic food was lower in both, but said any health effects were unclear. HUH?!

Just use a little commonsense PLEASE! Is it not highly likely chemicals used to kill off one type of living creature will impact other living creatures… like…people?! Not surprisingly, new studies frighteningly confirm pesticides like Monsanto’s Round Up can lead to cancer, infertility and Parkinson’s.

However, when The Nightly News leads with Stanford saying organics are not better than conventional foods and it will take years to link pesticides and antibiotics to long term health problems, the damage in the public mind is done. For some archaic reason, any information worthy of being on a nightly newscast in our country seems to be treated like gospel. That is all the public needs to hear. Debate settled.

Many experts/academics rejected the study, but were overshadowed by the aggressive PR.

Amazingly, if more of the media cared to actually investigate the Stanford study rather than reiterate the results or the talking points, the American public would have quickly realized the study’s glaring flaws. If more people were aware of the food/health/well being connection, more people would have dismissed the study just based on their own intuition or experiences. (Learning to trust one’s intuition is a whole different discussion!)


Yet, let’s be honest…how many Americans have a choice? Can afford organic food? Even have access to fresh fruits and vegetables?

According to the new documentary, A Place at the Table, 50 million Americans are food insecure. Most local markets do not even sell fruits and vegetables!! To many ketchup is a vegetable!

Supposedly, GMO ( clearly not organic) crops are the answer. They, by design provide a higher yield, as does pesticide use. They can feed more people.

Similarly, antibiotics given to animals are supposed to make them grow faster and lower sickness caused by inhumane cramped living quarters and hence…provide more food. The question then… does altering the biological composition of food really achieve those goals? NO!

Crop yields are not higher. In fact, as pesticide use goes up in our country, crop losses have doubled. Herbicides no longer work due to weed mutations and the pesticide companies are now pushing much more potent products such as 2 4-D, a derivative of AGENT ORANGE! Overuse of antibiotics in food is leading to superbugs resistant to antibiotics. Not to mention that most animals in our country are fed genetically modified feed. Finally, hunger has not subsided, but gotten worse, as has our overall health as a society regardless if you can afford to eat or not.

I promise an in depth piece on GMOs is in the works! It is a HUGE topic not to be ignored.

So then what is the point of non-organic crops that cover 3.7 billion acres of the world? $$$$$… Excuse me if I sound like a broken record, but what would be one of my posts if I do not mention MONEY?!

Pesticides are big business–one billion pounds per year. $52 billion in sales by 2014 and the biggest GMO seed sellers are…the pesticide companies!!! That is why they call certain GMO crops “Round Up ready” crops. They are intentionally designed to work with Monsanto’s Round Up. As a business strategy ingenious, but unfortunately for us, deadly. Round Up contains Glyphosate, a highly toxic chemical. And like pesticides, antibiotics too are big business. 30 billion pounds per year sold for livestock. Does it not seem Monsanto, Dupont, Big Pharma, etc. are raking it in while the rest of us are being raked over?!


Organic should not be a choice of the privileged few. It unfairly costs more than conventional food. But forget about organic even as a “choice.” Shouldn’t all food be organic?

This is not asking for much because when it comes down to it, organic is another word for plain, good old fashion, food– something we all need to survive and more importantly thrive. Something that I ate every day growing up when…food was food. When food and science did not intersect. When you did not need a degree to understand or even pronounce the ingredients in processed food or to understand the chemicals sprayed on broccoli.

Is organic perfect? Absolutely not. Who knows whether organic farms in South America are really organic? Or perhaps an organic farm is infected by neighboring crops? However, to me organic is like insurance as I see the alternative choices as far worse. I always say, I have no control over what my kids eat outside my home, but at least I can guarantee that what is going into their bodies 75% of the time is a healthier option. And it seems to be working.

How Stanford missed the point is baffling, even negligent and how Ria, the 16 year old figured it out using science is ENCOURAGING! To repeat– she found, based on the life of a fruit fly, those who eat organic fare better.

Thanks to Ria, the millennials”– those under 30 who NBC News claims are driving the trend towards organic, and countless other incredibly smart, driven youth–some I have met and some I read about, I am sighing a bit of relief as I joyfully anticipate our next generation of leaders.

They get that being heard is only a click away. They “get” the meaning of Ghandi’s words, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” They also get… a little commonsense goes a long way.

So on that note of “using commonsense,” I leave you with….

What is wrong with this picture?


Hint: JDRF stands for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation


Pesticide data from the Environmental Working Group for 48 fruits and vegetables— what is important to buy organic.

I receive a weekly delivery from Long Island organic farms. If you live in the New York area, the service I use is This is a picture of this morning’s delivery. You can also join a CSA–Community Supported Agriculture in your city or town. It is a partnership between a farmer and a community of supporters who purchase a share of the farmer’s production. It is a wonderful mutually supportive relationship.


A sign in Chelsea that made me smile…


In this video, Sanjay Gupta explores the produce aisle and explains which fruits and veggies to buy organic. Please note that he says you can buy non-organic corn, however he fails to mention that chances are if it is non-organic, then it is most likely GMO corn.

The cover photo is from the Wellness Uncovered Health Forum on Facebook. Check them out. In one image, they continually speak a thousand words.

5 thoughts on “Organic vs. Conventional? The debate is settled by a 16 year old!

  1. Excellent topic, everyone should be aware of this list! As you mention – it’s not always possible to eat 100% organic, due to price or any other number of factors, so just make smart choices when you can!

    BTW, Looking forward to the GMO column – VERY important and interesting topic!

  2. Bravo Mara! As someone who has been eating and raising organic food for 40 years I want to add someone whose health is also affected by eating organic ” Mother Earth”. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers kill. Soil is depleted of nutrients, runoff contributes to chemicals in waterways and eventually drinking wells , lakes, and reservoirs. They profit no one but the manufacturers. Farming organically (and locally) insures a good and healthy future for all generations to come. Our kids will pay the price of over farmed land filled with chemicals which will require more and more chemicals to produce crops. We havent even gotten into fish kills or bees dying as a result of this horror. There has been a large brainwash by the chemical companies saying we “need” them to feed ourselves. My answer is bull****! (A good compost material).

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