It’s Not Easy to Eat Organic

Originally found in the La Journal de Montreal, translated by board member Simon Jacques.

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The parents of this family each lost 10 pounds after changing their eating habits for a month

A family in St.-Constant ate nothing but organic food for a month. The result: their food tasted better, everyone felt better, and the parents each lost 10 pounds. But their grocery bill doubled.

“It took a fair bit of adaptation to find the same types of foods that we like in organic form, and more organizational work preparing meals because there was less choice” says Isabelle Poulin.

At the request of the Journal de Montréal, the young mother and her partner Sébastien Caza and their 2 children of 5 and 7 years took up the challenge of abandoning their soda pop, their pot of mayonnaise and their Bear Claw cookies for one month in favour of organic juice and yoghurt.

“I totally missed my brownies” remarked the young Kély-ane (7), who now had to eat “fruit and nit” soft granola bars for her snack.

The family noted the difficulty in finding “real” desserts, compounded by a reduced selection of organic fruits and vegetables offered in their local grocery store in the suburbs. Things may have been better for them in Montréal.

(3 paragraphs describing the lack of variety in organic selections at their grocery store)

In one month, the family spent $500 more than usual on groceries…a doubling of their normal bill.

“(Organic) meat is much more expensive. Small packages of smoked meat cost me $10 each. I abandoned the idea of making lasagna. That would have cost me $30” complained Ms. Poulin.

Eating in restaurants was out of the question. The couple had to make all of their meals at home. We didn’t find any restaurants offering organic meals.

Better Taste

Since they were preparing all meals from scratch and eating very little desserts or junk food, the family noted health changes while eating organic.

Used to getting acid reflux, Isabelle Poulin found this to completely disappear for the month.

“My daughter always complains about headaches, but she had no complaints for the whole month. The whole family felt better in general. My partner and I each lost 10 pounds” she added.

The couple also noted that the fresh fruits and vegetables were more flavourful.

“I made a carrot soup, and it was 10 times more flavourful than usual. It was almost too intense” underlined the young mother, laughing.

Family Reactions:

Kély-ane, 7: “I wasn’t able to find any crackers that I liked. There weren’t any like I usually eat”

“I was looking forward to the month being over so I could have my favorite desserts. I didn’t like the organic granola bars”

Trystan (5) was the one who most appreciated the organic experience. He didn’t complain about the changes to his meals. He didn’t really notice that things had changed to organic. “He’s my little granola kid” commented his mother.

Isabelle (30): “We can’t really keep spending $200 per week on groceries”.

“I had no more headaches and no more acid reflux. I felt more satisfied after meals, and less desire to snack in the afternoon or evening”

“I became an expert in organic porridge and fig bars. I keep buying those things even after the experiment is over”.

Sébastien (38): “We were missing good white bread and croissants. All we were able to find was frozen bread. The meat selection was also limited”.

“We stopped consuming certain products for which there were not organic versions, such as soda pop and cakes. We therefore ate a more healthy diet and lost weight”

“The kids used less ketchup to hide the taste of the vegetables and the meat. They appreciated the food more”.

Why did the family feel better?

The health benefits of organic food have not been clearly demonstrated, even if the family followed by “Le Journal” felt beneficial physical health effects after eating organic for a month.

“There are many studies out there, but none have been able to demonstrate that an organic strawberry is healthier than a non-organic one”, summarized Bernard Lavallée, a nutritionist.

The family in Saint-Constant saw differences in their health by changing their habits.

Headaches, acid reflux, bloating, all these symptoms disappeared.

“Everyone felt generally better. We felt like we had more energy, and better health” recounts Isabelle Poulin.

But all these benefits may have been caused by other factors than the fact of eating organic, according to dietician-nutritionist Andréanne Martin.

“The migraines (may have stopped) because they were eating less refined sugar, other types of carbohydrates, and more fibre” she suggests.

“There may have also been a placebo effect” adds M. Lavallée…

Organic fruits and vegetables have a tendency to contain less water, which would make them denser in nutrients and taste.

A large study conducted by the University of Newcastle in the UK showed that organic fruits and vegetables had 19% to 69% more antioxidants than their non-organic equivalents.

Other studies note an increase in omega-3 in milk or vitamin C in peaches, but it is not yet possible to know if these concentrations are sufficient to have a real impact on health.

“This study on organic milk doesn’t mean that all farms have the same quantity of nutrients. There are also hundreds of molecules in any given food, some increase and some decrease, but does that change anything in the body? We can’t say” insists M. Lavallée.

Fewer Pesticides

Notably, organic products contain little or no traces of pesticides and other chemicals used in conventional agriculture.

Higher Cost

Several paragraphs about the high cost of organic food, which the family says is out of their budget, particularly milk, eggs and meat. They opted to eat meat, but even canned legumes were very expensive. The grocery store owner noted that they get a much greater response to organic offerings when they are on sale.

“5 years ago, we had next to nothing organic in the store. Now we have entire sections. There is a willingness to make these products more accessible” says Bruno Ménard, vice-president of 5 IGA franchises in the Montréal region. “Before there were only small producers, but now with larger producers, we are able to get some economies of scale”.

Why is organic more expensive?

“In Canada we produce 43% of the organic products on the shelves. The rest is imported”. –Alain Rioux, Filière Biologique du Québec

The production of organic animal products is more expensive, because “organic feed is double the cost of conventional. Also, organic chicken producers can only have half the chickens in the same amount of space as a conventional” –Damien Girard, Les Viandes Biologiques de Charlevoix

Yields are lower: “without pesticides, it is more difficult to control insects, which affects production. This is particularly notable in the production of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower”. –Nicolas Turgeon, MAPAQ

Grocery Stores often take a higher margin on organic products. “The product costs the store more to buy, and there is lower volume, so instead of taking 15-20% mark-up, they take 30-40% to make sure they don’t lose money if it doesn’t sell”. –Damien Girard, Les Viandes biologiques de Charlevoix.

2 months later:

  • The family in Saint-Constant went back to their old eating habits.
  • The couple regained the 10 pounds they lost during the month
  • Cookies and croissants are back
  • However soda pop is less common at the table now
  • Acid reflux and headaches are back, but less intense than before.
  • The high price of organics prevented them from continuing

A couple of organic products remain on their menu, such as oatmeal and fig bars.

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