Have you ever had that experience where something in a novel crosses over into your world? I’m currently reading Autumn, by Ali Smith, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2017, and I had one of those crossover moments today:
All across the country, there was misery and rejoicing . . . All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing. All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. All across the country, people felt they’d really lost. All across the country, people felt they’d really won.Autumn, by Ali Smith. p.59 paperback version.
Smith wrote Autumn in 2016 and was likely referencing divisive experiences surrounding Brexit. Yet when I read this passage, it seemed so of the moment, so utterly familiar, that it might as well have been straight out of an opinion piece in today’s paper.
Whether it’s vaccinations, climate change, election results or your favorite soccer club, it seems like its become impossible to find common ground anymore. Can you really agree to disagree, when facts are no longer facts? When everyone has their own opinion about what is and is not a credible or reputable source? You’re either for or against, based on facts (erroneously up for debate) or alternative facts (definitely up for debate), and there we are, gazing at an abyss that separates the one from the other, both feeling we’ve really won and the other has clearly lost.
This seemingly insurmountable chasm that separates us, also leaves us grasping for the solid ground of those that think like we do. In fact, I’d say most human connection, besides the most superficial, is based on a reasonable overlap of interests and / or beliefs. Yet at the same time, we are aware that seeking out those who share our outlook in life does come with the risk of enclosing us in socially isolating bubbles. And oh what a decadant and overwhelming plethora of bubbles are available! Just dive into any digital platform and seek what you’re looking for, even if it is a very specific niche of thought or interest, and you can find someone who agrees with you! What are your bubbles? I’ve put a few of mine in this post.
Speaking of bubbles, I had the distinct impression that my physical therapist was in my bubble. We both see the logic in getting vaccinated, both recognize the importance of higher education, and we have an overlap in interests when it comes to parenting, family and health. Somehow, we got on the topic of organics.
“I don’t believe in buying organic. There’s no difference in quality,” he said. I’m paraphrasing, but the point is, his view was diametrically opposed to mine.
Well. I hadn’t seen that one coming.
“Organic means they don’t use pesticides on your crops,” I argued, “which is healthier.”
“There’s no pesticides used in regular food. And if there is, it’s only in trace elements that would not at all have adverse health affects,” he responded. Once again, I’m paraphrasing. But wow. We were getting along so swimmingly, and believer in organics or not, the guy’s a great physical therapist.
What now? Does it matter that he shares a belief that contradicts my own? Or what I’d deem an incorrect version of the facts? I found myself tongue-tied, and asserting vaguely benign “mm-mmm’s” that neither suggested agreement nor disagreement. Why would this render me, promoter of organic everything, so speechless? Because my safe little bubble had been pierced and we live in a divisive age where: 1) more and more people confuse opinions with facts, 2) if you want to uphold your integrity when presenting your fact-based views, you need to have it backed up with credible sources that both parties engaged in a conversation agree to respect. 3) Google will be judge of both of you.
What authority would be acceptable to us both? I can only guess, but to me, the European Commission seemed like a good place to start.
Here’s a list of what it means to go organic in the EU:
- Crop rotation for an efficient use of resources
- A ban of the use of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilisers
- Very strict limits on livestock antibiotics
- Ban of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
- Use of on-site resources for natural fertilisers and animal feed
- Raising livestock in a free-range, open-air environment and the use of organic fodder
- Tailored animal husbandry practices
Infographic and list are from the European Parliament
Based on these principles, what is there not to believe in? Organic is clearly better for the environment and for livestock. But is his claim also true? That conventional food is entirely safe and unaffected by chemical pesticides? Logic would say, organics wouldn’t be a multi-billion dollar industry if conventional crops are truly safe. However, let’s scratch the surface of that one as well. Here’s what some additional digging brought up on this debate.
A recent abstract of an article published in the Journal of Environmental Pollution in June of 2021, states the following: “Organic soils presented 70–90% lower [pesticide] residue concentrations than the corresponding conventional soils. There is a severe knowledge gap concerning the effects of the accumulated and complex mixtures of pesticide residues found in soil on soil biota and soil health. Safety benchmarks should be defined and introduced into (soil) legislation as soon as possible.” Point for organics!
To directly quote WHO on pesticides: “Pesticides are potentially toxic to humans and can have both acute and chronic health effects, depending on the quantity and ways in which a person is exposed. Some of the older, cheaper pesticides can remain for years in soil and water. These chemicals have been banned from agricultural use in developed countries, but they are still used in many developing countries.The most at-risk population are people who are directly exposed to pesticides. This includes agricultural workers who apply pesticides, and other people in the immediate area during and right after pesticides are spread. The general population – who are not in the area where pesticides are used – is exposed to significantly lower levels of pesticide residues through food and water.” (Don’t sue me for such a long quote WHO). Read more here. Point for organics!
On the other hand, I also found this statement on The Who website:
“None of the pesticides that are authorized for use on food in international trade today are genotoxic (damaging to DNA, which can cause mutations or cancer).” Point for conventional crops!
Another abstract from a 2019 article entitled A Systematic Review of Organic Versus Conventional Food Consumption: Is There a Measurable Benefit on Human Health? found an increase in organic food consumption resulted in a reduced incidence of numerous health conditions, including infertility, birth defects, high BMI, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. However, it went on to say that “The current evidence base does not allow a definitive statement on the health benefits of organic dietary intake.” Click here to read the full abstract. One point each.
And finally, because I believe in fairness, here’s a quote from the Mayo Clinic, a prestigious, non-profit, academic medical center in the U.S.: “There is a growing body of evidence that shows some potential health benefits of organic foods when compared with conventionally grown foods. While these studies have shown differences in the food, there is limited information to draw conclusions about how these differences translate into overall health benefits.” Point Therapist! Read the full article here. There’s a few more points for organics in there.
What would my physical therapist think if he knew he had been the catalyst for a night’s research into organics? What this has taught me is that I had based my opinion about organics on a lifestyle I wanted to embrace and not necessarily on the facts from the institutions I deem reputable. So. This wasn’t a fruitless exercise after all. What if we all approached our opinions in this way? Are we open to putting own opinions under scrutiny? If we discover flaws, are we willing to acknowledge them? Would that change our ability to communicate with the other? Even if we don’t find a flaw, and the reputable facts back us up, what then? How do we bridge that abyss?
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