My husband, who buys the groceries in our family, is a sucker for a sale. He has also agreed to buy only organic potatoes. Combined, organic and sale resulted in his bringing home the potatoes you see above. If you read closely, you will see that the potato comes with cooking instructions: “Microwave in 7 minutes.” Yes, that’s an instruction to microwave in the plastic shrinkwrap.
Those of us who pay attention to the issue of organic do so because we want to choose what is best for our families. So, is my organic potato better for my family?
What’s Right with Organic
Chemical pesticides and fertilizers can leave residues, and antibiotics and growth hormones in milk and meat can be passed on to humans. Organic standards prohibit or limit those potentially harmful inputs. Canada Organic Regime (COR) and USDA National Organic Program (NOP) provide standards and certification to those standards.
In short, an organic potato should not poison you or add to your chemical body burden. This is a very big plus.
What’s Wrong with Organic
Threats to Clean Food. While USDA certified organic foods still can’t intentionally include GMOs (genetically modified organisms), the trend in the corporate organic industry is toward “co-existence”—which will quite likely lead to GMOs in organic foods in the future. That’s not an issue with my organic potato, but this and so much else about the compromises of corporate organic lead me to be suspicious of the organic brand even while I support the extreme importance of clean food. Within the organic movement, there are coalitions of farmers and organizations working to maintain trust in organic by making sure organic food is clean food. I ask myself how far the grower of my organic potato pushed against the rules.
Pointless Packaging. While I may see petroleum-based shrinkwrap as pointless packaging, I do understand that this keeps the higher priced organic potatoes separate from the non-organic potatoes. I suspect adding the packaging also adds to the price. Yes, I understand that pricey organics give them a different demographic. First rule of marketing: know your audience. I can’t help but think that the plastic wrap doesn’t endear organic potatoes to the target market. Maybe that’s why they were sitting in the bin so long that they had to be discounted when entertained husbands could pick them up as conversation pieces. This has nothing to do with standards or certification and everything to do with marketing and sustainability.
Microwaving Plastic. In general, it’s best not to store or heat foods in plastic. The toxins that can be found in plastic softeners (phthalates) and in some ingredients (BPA or bisphenol-A), make it difficult to know which plastics are stable and non-toxic and which plastics present a potential health hazard. You have plenty of non-plastic choices to store and heat food.
Heating plastic can degrade the chemical bond. That chemical reaction could then leave toxins in the plastic that can be released. In a microwave, the particular dangers come with fatty foods cooked at high temperatures. Even the most conservative advice urges us not to let plastics, like thin plastic wrap, touch foods in the microwave. ~“Plastic-free Products: Feeding”
Again, this has nothing to do with organic standards. Despite the USDA’s refusal to say organic is better for you, most people buy organic because they want to avoid toxins in their food and in the environment. Those who care about toxins or have paid attention to the harm toxins can cause are more likely to limit their exposure in packaging and preparation as well as in the production of food before it reaches their kitchen.
A label won’t guarantee that food is good for you. I don’t have any idea whether an organic potato wrapped in plastic and microwaved is better for you than a tv dinner of processed organic potato flakes, but I’m thinking there are better choices than both of those. Whole foods stored and prepared without exposure to potential toxins are the best choice for your family.
We ate the organic potatoes, but we tore off the plastic first and created just a little bit more solid waste to send to the curb. Alas.