Eating Organic can be Hard to Swallow.

As someone who tries to eat healthy, unprocessed and whole foods most of the time, I was pretty shocked at Dr. Oz’s Time Magazine article, “The Anti-Snob Diet.”

He advocates giving frozen foods, feedlot beef and other non-organic—possibly GMO foods—a try. In the article, he even suggests that people committed to eating organic are elitist.

As surprised as I was by his comments in the article, I was even more surprised by how harsh the response has been. The response has, if anything, made me stop and think twice about his allegations.

Are they really so far fetched?

I don’t have all day to read through the bazillion irate blogs and Facebook posts addressing Dr. Oz. I have read a few. In these, it has been suggested that he has misled his audience, which, according to one article, is anyone who eats, and that he’s exposing himself as “nutritionally illiterate,” perhaps even in Big Ag’s pocket. These are but some of the rancorous comments made at Dr. Oz’s expense.

While he may be bankrolled by interests that slightly, or even completely, conflict with what he’s previously preached, I think there’s a bigger issue at hand. While many people are angrily reaching for their keyboards and claiming they’re not elitist, just healthy and sensible, this issue actually does show how disconnected they are—whether they consider themselves an “elitist,” a “tree hugging hippy” or anything in between.

Surely, they must realize that Dr. Oz’s audience is significantly smaller than “eaters,” which, if it were true, would be roughly 6.9 billion people, and counting. We who actually care about food and nutrition tend to forget about the people who probably haven’t even heard of Dr. Oz or the organic debate, and there are plenty more who simply don’t care. There are tons. In fact, I’d venture to guess these people outnumber those who do care.

It is without question or doubt that nutrition is absolutely vital to health. And yes, organic food is extremely beneficial, as pesticides are toxic. However, the importance people place on nutrition in their lives is very personal and varies vastly. It isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault: the benefits of healthy, whole and unprocessed foods are just beginning to be widely discussed in mainstream culture.

Even so, I have met children who have never seen a garden or field, much less a cow. Many people are very, very disconnected from the sources of the food they eat. It makes no use bandying about blame, the problem is still the same: we live in a society where huge numbers of people prefer hot dogs and cupcakes over broccoli and sweet potatoes.

It isn’t even that many of the people eating packaged, chemical-laced foods are choosing to eat that way (I’m sure some very well may be, but not all). Of equal importance is the fact that many people don’t know any better, don’t have access to anything else or can’t afford anything else. That’s where the elitist element of this argument comes in.

First of all, not everyone is exposed to the importance of eating whole and fresh.

It may sound strange, since even McDonald’s has gotten savvy and the lettuce on the ads for BigMac sandwiches and the like have suddenly become so delicious-looking. Many people have a very skewed idea of what eating healthy really is, or the ramifications of their diet choices.

I’ve had someone tell me, in all seriousness, that a short, five-minute walk around the block will be effective in burning off the calories from a huge restaurant meal. The bottom line is that there are so many facts out there that people don’t know what to believe. Even worse, people are capitalizing on the proliferation of nutrition facts by telling people what they want to hear and getting rich from doing so without really providing quality information.

The people who do know what to eat are generally highly educated or wealthy enough to have access to medical professionals, wellness specialists, or even farmer’s markets and organic shops that distribute information and resources about the importance of healthy choices.

Second, some—I’d venture to guess many—communities don’t host farmer’s markets.

Why not? Either because there aren’t farms nearby to make it practical or because no one can afford the fresh produce. (As a related aside, most farmer’s markets I have been to seem to focus more on fresh baked bread, handmade soaps and paella than fruits and veggies, anyway.) I don’t see a Whole Foods, Trader Joes or even organic produce options in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, which is notorious for low-income families— no one can afford them. Thus, because of the location of these kinds of food resources, the perception that eating natural or organic as an elitist choice is projected and propounded each day.

Finally, there are people who struggle each day to put food on the table for the kids.

Asking them to make that food fresh and organic—given the cost as well as the time it takes to prepare non-packaged food—is cost prohibitive, especially if you’re working, or you’re a single parent.

I’m not defending Dr. Oz’s approach here, but I do think he deserves a break. He’s trying to draw others into something that they don’t know much about, or from which they feel disenfranchised. If his point was to sway someone from eating a Big Mac to unwrapping that frozen spinach in the back of the freezer, he’s doing us all a favor and promoting health one step at a time.

Sometimes the realities of eating organic are just too much to swallow. As much as many organic-obsessed consumers wouldn’t consider themselves elitist, that doesn’t change the fact that it is a privilege to walk around the corner to the farmer’s market and buy naturally-grown produce every weekend.


Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

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Kathryne Dec 7, 2012 11:23am

The other side of the coin is this: who is harvesting these pesticide laden foods? Banana harvesters are dying of kidney disease in Central America. Are pesticides causing this? We may never know the truth. I try to buy organic bananas because of this.

Monica Dec 6, 2012 4:03pm

Is organic better to eat. I would say so.. but if it's a choice between a non-organic vegetable or processed food, we should choose the non-organic vegetable. Eating organic is exclusive right now… reserved for those who can afford it or those, like me, who cannot, but have studied the benefits of eating organic and have made it a priority. This is all bigger than Dr Oz and even our agriculture system and the politics involved… it's about a collective consciousness which supports a market–driven system and consumerism.

Theresa Dec 6, 2012 11:32am

I am a definite supporter of organics and try to eat that way a majority of the time myself. However, I think Dr. Oz's message is an important one as it helps move those not eating organically further along the path of healthy eating in general. If you trade a candy bar for an apply–even if it's not organic–you are making a much better food choice. I will comment, however, that the organics industry isn't propped up by financing the way convential (aka pesticide-laden) agriculture is with subsidies and no accountability for the ways in which their practices poison the earth or people. My hope is that one day this type of inequity will be address by the federal government rather than consumers paying the price on the back end. Great article!

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Khaleelah Jones

Known as the girl who could talk herself out of a paper bag, Khaleelah Jones has always loved sharing her voice with others, particularly as a yoga teacher. Khaleelah has been practicing yoga for over seven years and has been a teacher for a little over one year. Khaleelah is a freelance writer and digital marketing consultant and can be found writing and yoga-ing (and making up verbs) around NYC. Keep in touch on www.khaleelahjones.com.