Recently, a teacher told me she had been talking to parents about the importance of serving their children organic food at school. The parents adamantly disagreed. Their reason? "We don't want our kids to be snobs."
Sadly, it's not the first time I have heard organic characterized as arrogant or elitist. The teacher's story reminded me of early last year, when Rick Santorum accused President Obama of being a "snob" for wanting everybody in America to go to college. I don't make that analogy to politicize this issue. The importance of eating healthy or bettering oneself through education should be priorities for everyone, no matter what their sex, race, economic status or political affiliation. Personally, I don't think Santorum believed what he said as much as he saw an opportunity to exploit a noble goal for political gain. Sadly, when things like this happen, we all suffer because important facts get distorted in service of other agendas.
Still, it's hard to blame parents who are dubious about organic food when most people are still confused about what the term organic actually means and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by Big Food on advertising and lobbysists to convince us that there is nothing wrong with the animals we eat being loaded up with antibiotics or the produce we eat being genetically modified or sprayed with harmful pesticides. Big companies spend all those dollars because it makes them a lot more. Why else did they commit so much to successfully defeating Prop 37 here in California, which simply called for transparency, requiring food companies to label their foods produced with genetically modified ingredients? One would think that voters would overwhelmingly demand that basic information like that be made readily available to them, however "the survival of the current food system depends upon widespread ignorance of how it really operates" and as a result, the issue became a major political hot button -- one that has unfortunately convinced many Americans that labeling and organic food are elements of an elitist liberal agenda.
They're not. Choosing organic is simply making the choice to not ingest pesticides and increasingly, consumers from all walks of life agree it's a better way to go. A 2011 Thomson-Reuters-NPR poll showed that people highly prefer organic, finding no statistical difference between income brackets. Another study showed that people earning less than $30,000 a year and people with children purchased more organic products than higher earners and those without children. So while Big Food and Friends like to paint organic as snobbery, the research just doesn't support it.
No matter what our political beliefs, we all need to pay closer attention to what we are feeding our children. Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years; food dyes are believed to contribute to a whole host of health issues; artificial hormones in milk and dairy products have been under investigation because of potential links to early puberty and other health complications in girls. The list goes on.
Fortunately, we have some brilliant people in both the public and private sectors leading the charge to educate the nation about the importance of eating right and fighting to change the way big food companies do business. First Lady Michelle Obama; Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group; and Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Farm, are just three of them, checking partisanship at the door, doing battle with special interest groups, enlightening people about the importance of good food, and in the process, protecting our children and reversing the preconceived notions many of us have about organic. We should all consider ourselves lucky to have them fighting on our behalf, because if the $46 million Big Food spent defeating Prop 37 proves anything to us it is that our well-being is for sale.
If you think giving your kids organic isn't worth it, I simply urge you to base your decision on the best information available. Or, if you feel like going organic is overwhelming, start small. Maybe buy one organic item and build from there. Every positive step you take will make a difference to your health, your children's, and the health of our planet.
And if you still aren't convinced about organic, just please don't call it snobbery.