From the nyt:
“Fruits, vegetables and animals can be 100 percent organic. What about people?
In a fascinating experiment — on himself — Dr. Alan Greene, a pediatrician and author in Danville, Calif., decided to find out. For the last three years, Dr. Greene has eaten nothing but organic foods, whether he’s cooking at home, dining out or snacking on the road.
He chose three years as a goal because that was the amount of time it took to have a breeding animal certified organic by the Department of Agriculture. While food growers comply with organic regulations every day, Dr. Greene wondered whether a person could meet the same standards.
It hasn’t been easy.
“This isn’t a way of eating I could recommend to anybody else because it’s so far off the beaten food grid,” said Dr. Greene, 49, the founder of a popular Web site about children’s health, drgreene.com. “It was much more challenging than I thought it would be, and I thought it would be tough. There were definitely days where there was nothing I could find that was organic.”
Other writers have ventured off the traditional food grid, notably Barbara Kingsolver in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and Michael Pollan in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” But what makes Dr. Greene’s experiment remarkable is the length of time he devoted to it, and his effort to incorporate organic eating into the routines of everyday living. His findings offer new insight into the challenges facing the organic food industry and those of us who want to patronize it.
Organic farmers don’t use conventional methods to fertilize the soil, control weeds and pests, or prevent disease in livestock.
Organic methods often lead to higher costs, and consumers can pay twice as much for organic foods as for conventional products. Last week, the financial advice Web site SmartMoney.com reported that to feed eight people an organic meal of traditional Thanksgiving foods, a shopper would pay $295.36 — a premium of $126.35, or 75 percent, over a nonorganic holiday spread.
To cut back on the cost of an organic diet, Dr. Greene said he had to cut back on meat. “Whenever you go up the food chain, the costs pile up,” he said. “If you don’t eat meat at every meal, if meat becomes more of a side dish than a centerpiece, you can fill the plate with healthy organic food for about the same price.”
Questions remain about whether organic foods are really better for you. The data are mixed. This fall, researchers from the University of Copenhagen reported on a two-year experiment in which they grew carrots, kale, peas, potatoes and apples using both organic and conventional growing methods. The researchers found that the growing methods made no difference in the nutrients in the crops or the levels of nutrients retained by rats that ate them, according to the study, published in The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
But other research suggests that organic foods do contain more of certain nutrients — almost twice as many, in the case of organic tomatoes studied for a 2007 report in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Dr. Greene said he was inspired to go all-organic after talking to a dairy farmer who noted that livestock got sick less after a switch to organic practices. He wondered if becoming 100 percent organic might improve his own health.
Three years later, he says he has more energy and wakes up earlier. As a pediatrician regularly exposed to sick children, he was accustomed to several illnesses a year. Now, he says, he is rarely ill. His urine is a brighter yellow, a sign that he is ingesting more vitamins and nutrients.
At home, he said, the organic routine was relatively easy. Organic food is widely available, not just at stores like Whole Foods but at traditional supermarkets. He also shopped at farmer’s markets and joined a local community-supported agriculture group, or C.S.A. Because he bought less meat, the costs tended to balance out. And his family (two of his four children still live at home) largely went along with the experiment.
On the road, though, life was more challenging. In corporate cafeterias and convenience stores, he looked for stickers that began with the number 9 to signify organic; stickers on conventionally grown produce begin with 4.
When dining out, he called ahead; high-end restaurants were willing to accommodate his all-organic request. He also found a few lines of organic backpacking food that he could carry with him.
Dr. Greene reached the three-year milestone in October, but his diet is still organic. He hasn’t decided whether to keep going full tilt or to ease up in the interest of cost and convenience. In his latest book, “Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth and Baby Care” (Jossey-Bass), he advocates a “strategic” approach, urging parents to insist on organic versions of a few main foods, like milk, potatoes, apples and baby food.
The biggest surprise of the whole experience, he says, was that many people still don’t know what “organic” means.
“It’s surprising to me how few people know that organic means without pesticides, antibiotics or hormones,” he said. “In stores or restaurants around the country, I would ask, ‘Do you have anything organic?’ Half the time they would say, ‘Do you mean vegetarian?’ ”” [source]