Op-ed: I want the risks I can see

Last month I found a beetle wedged in the head of pre-washed organic lettuce from my Sun Basket meal delivery kit. The company promises “fresh organic and sustainable ingredients and recipes” delivered to my door. I know that organic means natural, not perfect, so the bug did not surprise me. I brushed it off and began chopping.

Like fifty-two percent of my millennial peers and I, Emerson College is also transitioning to organic products. Organic typically costs more than conventional, and Emerson is voting with its dollars to champion local organic produce when in season. This is good news, as substantial evidence shows the detrimental effects of industrial agriculture on our bodies and on the planet. The occasional insect found in our dining center pales in comparison to the dangers we could be consuming.

Decades of scientific research links pesticides to numerous health problems, including certain cancers, symptoms of autism, ADHD, Parkinson’s, asthma, and birth defects. Additionally, industrial agriculture expedites soil erosion, pollutes waterways, and relies on fertilizers derived from fossil fuels that are heavy contributors to climate change. Not to mention, tens of thousands of industrial agriculture farm workers are poisoned by pesticide exposure each year.

Organic farming is the opposite of industrial agriculture. It promotes diversity in plants and animals, encourages species resiliency, and restores the soil. Plus, it’s not covered with chemicals that harm people who grow and eat organic. Research shows organic produce may have higher concentrations of vitamins and antioxidants than conventional produce, because organically grown plants have to boost their own production of phytochemicals to strengthen their resistance to bugs and weeds without the help of chemical pesticides.

There are trade-offs for organic produce consumers beyond the higher cost. Because organic plants have to fend off bugs without chemical pesticides, there is a stronger likelihood of aphids or caterpillars winding up in your Whole Foods kale or farmers’ market corn. If we want healthier food in our eateries and a cleaner environment for our generation and future generations, we must learn to accept the inevitable imperfect produce.

I’ll take an insect in my lettuce I can see over all the harmful chemicals I can’t see. I encourage Emerson to continue its support of organic agriculture and not shut it out for fear of a few bugs.

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