“Thoughts for food” (Raw and organic myths)

For a food to be labeled organic, it must meet a set of established criteria. For it to be considered raw requires no distinction other than not being cooked or prepared in any way. Despite these differences, both organic and raw foods are the focus of rumors that are partially or completely false.

We’ll start with raw, which can be a more nutritious offering than its cooked alternative (depending on how those types are prepared), in addition to being cheaper than their packaged-with-added-ingredients counterpart. However, some enthusiasts go beyond these attributes to make some dubious claims.

For example, they assert wild animals, who consume only raw food, never get sick, a desirable fate which would befall us of we did the same. This is, literally, wildly off the mark, as disease is a leading contributor to animal mortality. Further, the few persons who subscribe to an entirely all-raw food diet sometimes fall ill just like the rest of us.

A less extreme but just as mistaken claim is that munching raw foods increases the consumer’s lifespan. It might make one’s life healthier but there will be no appreciable delaying of death. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning looked into this and concluded, “The greatest driver in longevity is heredity. Diet is not a significant factor, statistically.”

Looking at the raw numbers, so to speak, there can appear to be a longer lifespan attached to such a diet, but this is because most raw foodists become so in adulthood and never succumbed to fatal newborn or child illnesses and disease. So an apparently increased lifespan would be true amongst almost any adult group, be they red meat lovers, fruitarians, or stamp collectors.

Another mistaken notion is that we are the only meat-eating primates. In truth, most apes are omnivorous. And even if true, this claim would have no bearing on the health benefits of raw fruits and vegetables.

Still another erroneous idea is that cooking foods zaps nutritious enzymes, without which the body struggles to properly digest food. However, we naturally produce digestive enzymes, which make their way through our glands. Moreover, almost anything that is digested is destroyed in the process, which in fact describes digestion. Dunning noted that this process causes enzymes to break down into amino acids, which are absorbed by the intestines.

Most of these notions were based on a false premise or a misunderstanding. Others are total fabrications, such as the claim that white blood cells rush to the stomach to try and fend off the poison that cooked foods yield. This is a complete myth and unsubstantiated fear-mongering.
There is also an assertion that cooking makes organic compounds non-organic. This is an impossibility. Dunning explained that organic chemistry “is the study of carbon compounds, and organic compounds are those formed by living organisms, with molecules containing two or more carbon atoms, linked by carbon-carbon bonds.”

Yet carbon-carbon bonds only begin to break at 750 degrees, so unless preferring one’s chicken carbonara in a charred-beyond-recognition state, this bond-breaking won’t happen. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, as we will see in the second portion of this piece, the focus on organic food. When my children ask what that is, I usually tell them it means more expensive. If I am feeling loquacious enough, I will add that it is supposed to mean grown without synthetic chemicals, though there are about 30 exceptions and even then, natural is no safer than artificial. With that, let’s examine some of the claims associated with organic food.

One is that buying organic food benefits family farms rather than Big Agra, or some such smear. This is wholly untrue since organic food is a corporate behemoth. Dunning explained that major food producers realized the commercial potential of organic would allow them to charge higher prices for fewer products. According to Dunning, “Nearly all organic crops in the United States are either grown, distributed, or sold by the same companies who produce conventional crops.”

A second claim is that organic foods are healthier. But when farmers take the same strain of a plant and grow it in two different ways, its chemical and genetic makeup remain the same. Genes, rather than production method, determine a food’s chemical makeup.

Additionally, some organic enthusiasts say chemical residue remains on non-organic foods. Perhaps, but since organic pesticides are less efficient than their synthetic counterparts, such foods are saturated with up to seven times as many pesticides as what is used with conventional agriculture. Further, organic food, which is one percent of food sold in the US, is responsible for eight percent of E. coli cases.

Finally, we have the notion that organic growing methods are better for the environment. This is also wide of the mark since organic methods require about twice the acreage to produce the same crop.

Eat raw and/or organic if you want to, just do in knowing the facts.


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