Time For a Gut Check on Organic?

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Fifteen years ago, I got the kind of call from my doctor that began with, “I have some news.” The kind of call that resulted in a hastily scheduled visit with an oncologist and two surgeries less than two weeks later. The kind of call that saved my life, and at the same time changed it forever.

A year later, Christopher and I packed up everything we owned (almost) and drove down to Costa Rica. It was an incredibly intense time for me, of being angry at and grateful for and in awe of my body for the first time. Before, I’d taken it for granted. But now I had an intense, almost motherly, instinct to nurture it.

I became more aware of how much my body hurt when I didn’t get enough sleep. I could discern a calm confidence when I practiced yoga regularly. I noticed how fresh foods made me feel clean and balanced and energized. And I felt, in my gut, a strong conviction to switch over to organic food. Something just felt wrong about putting chemicals—even if I was told they were safe—into my body.

Why do I bring all this up? Because in the last two weeks a couple of reports have come out that make my decision look not just intuitively right, but scientifically sound too.

The first, a report on reducing environmental cancer risk released by the President’s Cancer Panel (which was appointed during the Bush Administration), found that “the risk of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.” It goes on to give several recommendations for reducing exposure, including choosing organic food. The second, a study by researches from the University of Montreal and Harvard, found a link between ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and organophosphates (i.e., agricultural chemicals). Nothing definitive, but enough to make my ears perk up on the heels of the cancer risk study.

Gary Hirschman, former president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm suggested yesterday at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Cooking for Solutions that organic isn’t really the “new–”organic practices have worked for thousands and thousands of years–the chemicals used in agriculture are what are really unproven over the long haul. We are, in essence, in the midst of a 60-year experiment.

It seems to me that this is a good time for a gut check. Not an extended analysis or time spent poring over the latest studies—we’ll forever be inundated with contradictory data from varying sources—but a simple, 30-second reflection on what feels to you like the right thing to do.

What feels right to you?

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Radish and Goat Cheese Baguettes

Everything about this sandwich makes me happy. The radishes–so vibrant and colorful–come straight from our back yard, the bread from our local bakery, and the goat cheese from grazing goats just a few miles away. Even the olive oil comes from a local producer. The radish offers a peppery hit that’s lovely against the creamy, pungent cheese.

Radish and Goat Cheese Baguettes


Prep Time: 10 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

Radish and Goat Cheese Baguettes


  1. 2 ounces soft goat cheese
  2. 1 baguette, halved horizontally
  3. 8 radishes, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
  4. 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt (like Maldon)
  5. 1 cup arugula
  6. 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil


Spread the goat cheese on the bottom half of the baguette and layer with radishes. Sprinkle with salt and top with arugula. Drizzle oil on the top half of the baguette and cover, pressing down firmly. Cut into four pieces and serve.


  • http://www.nanciemcdermott.com Nancie McDermott

    A beautiful and moving essay, and the photograph just brings it all home. Love the point about how we perceive things. That eating clean, local, sustainable/organic food fresh and in season, is odd and contrary, while food from the post-WWII agricultural universe is normal and sensible. We’re being drawn, invited, or even scared back to ways that grew up out of human life and worked well for thousands of years; the odd thing is how we got away from good sense good food living.

  • http://www.cookingjourneys.ca Luisa Rios

    Lia, thank you for every single word you have written. The truth that lies beneath this sentence: “I noticed how fresh foods made me feel clean and balanced and energized” is one too many times forgotten. Our own bodies are the best messengers- They always speak loud and clear. They always tell us how we feel with every single bite and every drink we take. Many of us just choose not to listen. Cheers for the thousands of years old new way of simple, clean, eating. Real food looks beautiful, is packed with flavour and nutrition and takes no time to bring up all that flavour to our dinner table. Keep writing, we are reading.

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/alisoneats/ Alison Ashton

    At the Natural Products Expo, Maria Rodale said, essentially, the same thing as Gary–that the current chemical-intensive “conventional” way of farming is nothing more than a long-term experiment for which we’re only beginning to see the consequences. She made a simple and convincing argument for organics: it is better for the soil (and, therefore, planet), it can feed the world, and every time we choose to buy something organic we’re voting to support an overhaul of our agricultural system. The more often people buy organics, the more chance it has to ultimately become the “conventional” choice.

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    Beautiful words, guys … I’m glad this is resonating as deeply with you as it did me.

  • http://www.allarminda.com Arminda

    Thank you for this beautiful post, Lia. Although our bodies are designed to speak to us, the sad reality is too many people inhibit their ability to listen by choosing to ingest so many unhealthy substances that they can’t “hear” what their bodies are screaming because they’re so desensitized to good, wholesome, organic foods. Let’s hope your message is read and heard and felt by many!