Several Western Michigan University college students acknowledge that they have noticed
that eating at least one item of organic food regularly may influence their health
in a positive way despite the extra cost.
WMU students, Kalamazoo store owners and farmers have differing opinions on the
influence of organic foods on people’s health and wallets.
Mark Sawall, director of operations and a member of the Sawall Board of Directors
at Sawall Health Foods in Kalamazoo, Mich., discussed what organic food should and
should not be.
Sawall said chemicals used on animals or produce can have harmful effects on the
people who eat them, and he said the extreme growth of children in recent years could
be due to what’s being put into meat sources around the nation.
“[With organic food] you’re just looking at cleaner products and that’s the biggest
thing. It’s the same thing when you’re looking at a loaf of bread. Usually it’s
supposed to be wheat, flour, salt, water and maybe yeast, but if you go to a regular
grocery store it’s got 46 different ingredients in it plus sugar,” Sawall said. “Now
you’re looking at a high influx of diabetes obesity and all these different things
because they’re putting so much extra stuff into the products.”
These are important factors to consider when looking at how foods are produced,
but knowing how the food affects your body is equally important.
“I think that organic foods have improved my health. It's also a mind thing -- I
might not necessarily always feel a huge difference as compared to when I never ate
anything organic, but I know that I am eating healthier so I feel better,” said Catherine
Pastrick, a junior at Western Michigan University. “I've noticed that my skin has
cleared up and I just feel all around healthier and have more energy.”
Kiah Dana, a graduate teaching assistant at WMU, said he also notices a difference
in his health.
Dana said there are a lot of foods that have similar nutritional value as organic
foods. But he said feeling a difference in health comes from changing the kinds
of food you eat, for example, junk food versus fruits or vegetables.
“Worry about the quality of those foods, which is where the organic debate comes
in. I've noticed a difference in taste between organic and non-organic products,
particularly meats and dairy,” Dana said.
Actually feeling a difference in body health and energy isn’t just what organic
food is all about.
Chris Dilley, general manager of the Kalamazoo People’s Food Co-Op, said there are
two main reasons organic foods are better for the body. The first is that the foods
are grown in soil that is treated better: more nutrition and vitamins are in the
soil in which the foods are grown, giving the plants more access, which then give
bodies the same nutrition and vitamins. The second is the absence of pesticides and
herbicides, which he described as “poison.”
According to a United States Environmental Protection Agency report titled, “Pesticides
and Food: Health Problems Pesticides May Pose,” these same pesticides and herbicides
Dilley discussed can cause health risks such as birth defects, nerve damage, cancer
and other health problems.
Sawall also said he is against chemicals used in conventional farming and also notes
the direct effects soil has on its plants.
“If anybody puts anything into the soil, it’s going into the food and, of course,
over the years all these chemicals that a lot of companies have used to grow their
vegetables have been banned once they find out there are adverse effects 20 years
down the road,” Sawall said.
Although there are many people, researchers, students and professionals who say
organic foods are better for the overall health of the U.S., some believe it doesn’t
make a difference.
Jon Watson, a senior at WMU, said he thinks that pesticide use is not as bad as
some people may think.
“We have to think also about how much more food we produce today versus 100 years
ago. Because of the pesticides and scientific processes farmers add, they’re producing
more crops and keeping their livestock healthy which is a monumental achievement.
If the processes were not healthy, they would not be allowed by the Department of
Commerce,” Watson said.
Watson also said if someone has the desire to shop and eat organic foods, going
to a local store is better than going to a chain.
“If someone really wants to eat organic, go to a local farmers’ market and buy produce
from them, most of them are small-time farmers that do this on the side. That is
the only way I would support buying organic foods. To me, organic foods purchased
from a large supermarket chain seem like a waste of time; you are buying into the
marketing ploy,” Watson said.
Samantha Rafacz, produce manager at Meijer, agrees with Watson.
“We carry an organic version of just about everything. It sells really well. It’s
good to have it because when people want it, it’s here. I’m not against the pesticides
they use on plants. My family has always grown our own foods and we’ve used pesticides
and as far as we know, they’ve never caused harm,” Rafacz said.
Conventional farmers share similar thoughts.
Jarod Knuth, owner of Knuth Farms LLC. in St. Joseph, Mich., said crops need pesticides
for protection, and the chemicals needed to properly shield the plants are not available
in an organic form. Using pesticides on plants is very important, Knuth said, because
without them there could be any kind of outbreak which could devastate crop cycles
that could then mess up the whole county’s crops, or even the whole Midwest, depending
on how bad the condition is. Knuth also noted that in order for a farm to be certified as an organic farm, the
ground needs to have been free of any chemical or fertilizer for the past five years.
“The plants still need the same nutrients whether it’s from organic or chemical
fertilizers, organic fertilizers are extracted through natural sources -- you could
take cow manure and extract nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, which are the main
three nutrients any plant needs to live,” Knuth said.
“The chemicals don’t hurt the plants. The plant is still getting what it wants
with pesticides. Organic farming is nicer to think about, it’s a little easier on
the head, but in reality it is more expensive and there isn’t that big of a difference,”
Despite health or farming when it comes to organic food, WMU students must also
worry about spending the extra money it costs, especially on a student budget.
“I keep my monthly grocery expense at 80 to $100. I don’t find that buying organic
raises the amount of my grocery cost significantly. It might mean that I end up with
less food for the amount of money I spend, but that just means I buy less junk/worthless
food,” said Ashley Herrington, a senior at WMU.
Other students said the increased cost is worth it.
“It's more difficult because the price for organic foods is more expensive, but
I feel like it's worth the extra cost,” Pastrick said.
Some students have found way to save money while buying organic.
“Per month I spend about $115 on these staple items. However, I live with others
who pool their money with me to buy food, so it becomes ‘cheaper,’” Dana said.
Store owners like Dilley also say the extra cost is worth it for peoples’ health. Dilley said there is a line between the cost of food and the cost of healthcare:
the two impact each other. If people are willing to pay more for food, they’ll be
paying less for healthcare in the long run, he said.
“We also sell in bulk -- like rice, beans, grains, cereal -- with things in bulk
you don’t pay for packaging. You can buy as much or as little as you want. You can
buy just a cup of what you want, therefore, you can get what you need or want for
a reasonable price especially if you’re willing to cook and not just bring it home
and throw it in the microwave,” Dilley said.
Sawall advocates that consumers buy organic foods despite the cost.
“I think one of the things is if you’re looking to shop organic, you can always
price compare. We’ve been here since 1936, we give a senior discount and we give
a 10 percent discount to the students every day, but the other thing is when we deal
with distributors they have different deals that they run monthly. Anything we can
get at a discounted price from a distributor we sale price it and give it back to
our customers. Our job is to help our customers maintain the ability to eat the
food. If we took it and marked it up to the retail everyone thinks it’s supposed
to be, then we would be Whole Foods,” Sawall said.