Van's Blog ~


January 2016

Organic vs Conventional – better or just expensive?

Most people are interested in having better health and a healthier diet.  Whether vegetables come fresh from the garden or off the shelf in the local grocery store’s produce aisle, the first step to preparing food is washing it. It is repulsive to take a spoonful of food and feel the grit of dirt because the produce was not washed well. Eating dirt cannot be healthy. Most people would agree that eating clean food is healthy. That is the premise of the organic food movement; eating the cleanest food possible is the healthiest way to consume food. Washing the dirt off of produce may be a simplified illustration. However that is where the concept of organic food begins. Organic produce is a clean piece of fruit or a vegetable with no additives or enhancements.

At the turn of the century, millions of War Gardens were all over America (Pack 1919, p. 15). When in season, many Americans grew gardens, and it was commonplace to walk out to the garden and pick the fruits or vegetables for a meal. Those days are long gone, and people have to rely on the food supply system of the country’s grocery stores. To keep that supply system functioning, farmers and grocery stores must be profitable to remain in business. Scientist helps keep the supply system going by creating pesticides to control parasites and develop fertilizers to help crops grow. Scientist can also safely change the crops’ genetic makeup to enhance its growth and resistance to parasites. These enhancements allow the crops to grow faster, larger and more resistant to parasites.  Produce that relies on the scientific advances available has become so productive and common that it is now referred to as conventional produce.

Farming methods used to grow conventional produce are safe and productive. In analyzing the inferiority of organic crops, Stanford University Professor Henry I. Miller stated:

An often-cited meta-analysis published in the prestigious Journal Nature in 2012 confirmed that “overall, organic yields are typically lower than conventional yield,” and that under circumstances “when the conventional and organic systems are most comparable,” yields are 34% lower (Miller, 2015, p. 2).

In supplying greater yields, farming methods that grow conventional produce can supply Americans with a healthy supply of fruits and vegetables.

To maintain a healthy body, it is important to eat fruits and vegetables. To promote a healthy population, the United States Department of Agriculture studies American dietary habits and makes recommendations to help Americans live healthier lives. In their 2010 dietary guideline report, the USDA stated, “Very few Americans consume the amounts of vegetables recommended as part of healthy eating patterns” (Dietary Guidelines, 2010, p.36) One of the best ways to encourage people to eat more produce is to make it economical. Farming methods used to grow conventional produce provides the most economical fruits and vegetables available.

In a study done between November 4, 2015, and November 11, 2015, the prices of in-season organic fruits and vegetables at Sprouts and Kroger grocery stores in Northwest Houston were shown to be 71% higher in price on average (V. Richards, personal communication, November 11, 2015).  Undoubtedly, the more economical way to get more fruits and vegetables into diets is by buying produce that is grown with conventional farming methods.

Advocates of organic farming and those who advocate conventional farming can agree on one thing: Americans need to eat more produce. The disagreement that arises is which is more important, the quantity of the produce or the quality and what constitutes quality? Quality produce is fruits and vegetables that are grown in the most natural circumstances possible; that is organic produce.

This does not mean that organic produce does not use pesticides. The pesticides that are used in organic farming are all natural. There are no artificial pesticides used. The conventional farming advocates do not deny that there are residual pesticides in food. In a study done of young children living in low-income families in urban California, “an organic diet was significantly associated with reduced […] insecticide […] and[ …] herbicide” (Bradman, 2015, p. 1086). An important fact that is overlooked by the conventional farming advocate community is how much residual pesticide is healthy. Dr. Andrew Weil has encouraged a greater awareness of crop pesticides for many years. In 1997, he stated, “standards for acceptable levels of toxic agrichemicals in food are based on risks of acute toxicity” (Weil, 1997, p.85). Young children, older adults and those with compromised immune systems may be more susceptible to lower levels of pesticides. Additionally, there is a great deal that is not known about the long-term exposure to pesticides, especially those that are artificially created.

The danger that artificially created pesticides pose could be huge. In nature, the word organic relates to anything that is associated with the element carbon. Carbon is one of the most stable naturally occurring elements on Earth. Compounds that are made up of carbon do not have much risk of creating unknown compounds. Unknown compounds that develop in our environment create a greater risk to human health because it is indefinite what effect those mysterious compounds will have on the human body. Artificially created pesticides usually have elements that will readily bond with other compounds. The fact that these artificially created pesticides will bond so willingly means that the compounds that make them up have an abundance of active electrons that are referred to as free radicals. The free radicals are looking to bond with almost anything. The long-term effects are just not known. When free radicals bond with elements or compounds in the human body, there is a better chance for the development of cell mutations or cancer.

There is no doubt that conventionally grown produce is less expensive than organically grown fruits and vegetables. There is no clear determination that organically grown produce is any healthier. In a study of more than half a million women in England, there was only a “21% lower risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in women who reported usually or always eating organic food” (Bradbury, 2014, p.2325).   There is also no conclusive evidence that organic food is more nutritious than food grown with conventional farming methods. However, there is strong evidence that “consummation of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria (Smith-Spangler, 2012, p.348). In a world of probabilities, it is the unknown that is most feared. Farming technology can add a great deal to an ever growing world. It is important not to lose sight of the balance that should be considered between large quantities of cheap produce and natural produce grown through organic farming.

The agriculture industry does have a responsibility to provide consumers with safe food products. However, it is easy to see how consumers could find the choices confusing. Between the media, academia, business interest groups, and government consumers are inundated with information about which produce farming method is the best. After being given many choices, it is up to consumers to decide what produce will be best for them and their family. Dr. Andrew Weil and health coach/author Terry Walters suggest a compromise developed by the Environmental Working Group, “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Clean 15” (Weil, 1997, p. 84;Walters, 2009, p.23). The Environmental Working Group or the EWG is a non-partisan research and educational group offering information on health and environmental issues.

The Dirty Dozen are fruits and vegetables that have a higher level of residual pesticides. For example, strawberries are one of the fruits on this list. Dr. Weil states, “I do not eat conventional strawberries because they contain methyl bromide, a known cancer-causing pesticide, applied to the soil, taken up by the plant, and impossible to wash off the fruit” (Weil & Daley, 2002, p.107).  The Clean 15 are fruits and vegetables that retain lower levels of residual agrichemicals. Ms. Walters list these as the Dirty Dozen: apples, bell peppers, domestic blueberries, celery, grapes, kale/collard greens, lettuce, imported nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach and strawberries. She lists the Clean 15 as asparagus, avocados, cabbage, domestic cantaloupe, non-GMO sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangoes, mushrooms, onions, peas, pineapples, sweet potatoes, and watermelon (Walters, 2009, p. 23).   “The group (EWG) says you can cut your exposure by 50 percent simply by reducing your consumption of the Dirty Dozen” (Weil, 1997, p. 84).

Organic produce – clean fruit or vegetables with no additives or enhancements is a food source with the least concerns about its adverse effects on the human body. Organic produce have lower pesticide residues, no genetic alterations, and no artificial ingredients. Advocates of conventional farming cite probabilities and statistics to back their claims of inconsequential exposure to these manmade influences. Consumers are seeing beyond the hype of science and moving toward more organic food purchases. The evidence is shown by the efforts of mega-retailers such as Wal-Mart entering the organic foods market. “At Wal-Mart, internal company research found that 91 percent of customers said they would buy affordable organic products if they were available” (Harris, 2014). With public sentiment moving toward the desire to have organic foods, advocates of conventional farming methods could gain a bigger market share if they would diversify their crops and add organic farming methods to their business. Price conscious consumers who want to buy more affordable organic foods can shop Wal-Mart for value priced organic foods. Plus they can get the best value on the cleanest organic produce options by purchasing organic options of the Dirty Dozen produce. By following this shopping approach of the in-season produce at Sprouts and Kroger in Northwest Houston, the premium for purchasing produce dropped from 71% to 26% (V. Richards, personal communication, November 11, 2015). More affordable organic food options will give people the opportunity to live healthier lives.


Bradbury, K. E., Balkwill, A., Spencer, E. A., Roddam, A. W., Reeves, G. K., Green, J., & Pirie, K. (2014). Organic food consumption and the incidence of cancer in a large prospective study of women in the United Kingdom. British Journal of Cancer110(9), 2321-2326 6p. doi:10.1038/bjc.2014.148

Bradman A, Quirós-Alcalá L, Castorina R, Aguilar Schall R, Camacho J, Holland NT, Barr DB, Eskenazi B. 2015. Effect of organic diet intervention on pesticide exposures in young children living in low-income urban and agricultural communities. Environmental Health Perspectives 123:1086–1093;

Harris, E. A., & Strom, S. (2014, April 10). Wal-Mart to sell organic food, undercutting big brands. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Miller, H. I. (2015). The dirty truth about “organic”. Hoover Institution Journal. Retrieved from

Pack, C. L. (1919). War garden victorious.  Retrieved from–JiajJAhVDRCYKHSaoCLQQ6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&q=War%20garden%20victorious&f=false

Smith-Spangler, C., Brandeau, M., Hunter, G., Bavinger, J., Pearson, M., Eschbach, P., & … Bravata, D. (2012). Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Annals Of Internal Medicine157(5), 348-366 19p. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-157-5-201209040-00007

Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010. (2010, December) Retrieved from

Walters, T. (2009). Clean food: A seasonal guide to eating close to the source, with more than 200 recipes for a healthy and sustainable you. New York: Sterling.

Weil, A. (1997). Eight weeks to optimum health: A proven program for taking full advantage of your body’s natural healing power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Weil, A., & Daley, R. (2002). The healthy kitchen: Recipes for a better body, life, and spirit. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

How much of a student loan is too much?

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—   College is an expensive challenge and many parents must share the expense with their child. Choosing a major is more important now than ever. If a college graduate goes into a career that has an annual income that is less than the total amount of their student loan, the loan will be an extreme burden on their life for years. A $45,000 income job with a $50,000 student loan is a big problem. Paying back a $50,000 loan at 6% over ten years is about $600 per month.   The Institute for College Access & Success provides a comprehensive state-by-state list of college students’ average debt. The average public college debt per student in Texas is $26,250 (TICAS, 2014). The TICAS website does not list many of the private college’s average student debt, and that is probably because private colleges are so expensive.   U.S. News & World Report list private colleges with the highest per student debt close to or above $50,000 at graduation (Snider, 2015 Feb. 17).

Disability and life insurance are crucial for parents and college graduates that are responsible for loans. If parents have taken on or co-signed student loan debt, it is important to consider increasing their insurance.   A two-parent family, going into retirement with one or more student’s loan debt can be a burden in the event of the death or disability of a spouse. If the new college graduate has taken on student loan debt, it is important for them to consider the burden it could place on their family in the event of their death. It is difficult for a 20-some-year-old to worry about life insurance. None-the-less, life insurance is cheap at that age. What should be more of a concern is not being able to work. Being disabled and not being able to pay student loan payments is a higher possibility than dying (SSA, 2011). A college graduate in their 20’s has a 1-in-4 chance of being disabled (SSA, Pub. 05-10570). Permanent disability is possible; however consider that having two broken legs from a snowboarding accident is a disability too. Not just any disability insurance will suffice for a college graduate trying to protect their income. The definition of disability is essential. Disability insurance that will pay if the graduate cannot perform the substantial duties of the job that they have the education and training to perform is critical. A disability insurance policy with the same definition of disability as Social Security would not be a wise choice (SSA, Pub. 64-030). Click below to

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Snider, S. (2015, February 17). 10 colleges that leave graduates with the most student loan debt. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved from

Social Security Administration. (2011). Actuarial life table. Retrieved from

Social Security Administration. (2015). The facts about social security’s disability program (05-10570). Retrieved from

Social Security Administration. (2015). 2015 red book (64-030). Retrieved from

The Institute For College Access and Success. (2014). State by state data. Retrieved from

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