Food for Thought: Whole Foods or Whole Paycheck?

It takes but one trip to a health food store to see that hipster-veganism is just the capitalist machine with a man-nub. Organic food trends have shepherded countless clueless shoppers into expensive grocery stores using buzzwords like “superfood” and “probiotic.” Even the best of us have fallen victim to drinking the Kombucha Kool-Aid. After an expensive impromptu health-kick, you might ask yourself, why does organic mean twice as expensive? More importantly, why didn’t you just go to Trader Joe’s?

Contrary to popular belief, organic is not necessarily synonymous with healthy and sustainable. Most look to organic foods to provide an expensive escape from chemical modification and processing, but there isn’t a ton of reason to believe that is true. Organic produce can still use some loosely defined “natural” pesticides, so compounds like copper sulfate are still legal for use on organic foods despite its links to liver cancer and death. A 2012 Stanford University study found that in comparison to eating regular (non-organic) food, those who ate organically did not have any less disease occurrence. And, while organic farming does release fewer toxins into the environment, it also uses 84 percent more land than non-organic farms, which is a hard hit for Mother Nature. What this means is: It’s complicated. We can’t just expect increased food prices to lead to improved health, because we aren’t always receiving what we are paying for.

While it’s true that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be more expensive, health stores and supermarkets expect you to think that the more expensive it is (and the grosser it tastes), the healthier it is for you. In the past decade alone, organic farming has become one of the hottest food trends to date, seeing a nearly 300 percent growth rate since 2002. Food markets crank out a lot of cash by appealing to the ‘natural’ agenda, often asking for more than twice the price for organic foods. What organic means, though, is an entirely different question that few people can answer without realizing that they’ve been scammed by health hippies.

Diet companies and food brands have noticed our confusion and have used it to leverage a new kind of health campaign. Terms like “natural” and “wholly grown” are extremely vague and leave a lot of room for interpretation and price stretching. When shopping for groceries, consumers have to parse out exactly what the labels mean and why they demand such a pretty penny. A Jan. 20, 2016 NPR article asserts that these buzzwords are not entirely truthful — “These and other restrictive notions of eating have been quick to catch on, but often don’t have consistent scientific evidence backing them up as healthful or effective for weight loss.”

Organic food, or ‘food’ as our grandparents called it, is not the path to perfect health. While it may seem impossible to know how to get the healthiest food and support good farming practices, there is a solution: Look local! Bostonians have access to a ton of different farmers markets (Copley Square, Union Square) — all of them support local agribusiness and are much kinder to your wallet than angsty Whole Foods cashiers. Plus, carrots taste so much better with a little dirt.