by Naomi Schaeffer Riley
“Am I going to be an outcast?” A friend, who recently moved to an upscale neighborhood in Madison, Wis., called me last week to ask if she would be able to make mommy friends if she continued feeding her children — gasp! — non-organic food.
She had just come back from the park where two mothers were discussing a recent vacation to a resort in Puerto Rico. One told the other that there, for the first time, her toddler was given Jif peanut butter. He loved it. Prior to that he had only had Whole Foods peanut butter, which (one might guess) pales in comparison for a 3-year-old palate.
When the boy came home and asked for more Jif, his mother told him it wasn’t available — that it was “Puerto Rican peanut butter.”
Wrapped up in that phrase is all of the arrogance and class snobbery of the organic-food mafia. If these moms haven’t come to your neighborhood yet, just wait.
Another mom, a class parent at a preschool in Westchester, told me she was being harassed by one of the other mothers to issue a new rule: Only organic snacks would be allowed in the classroom.
A mom in Washington tells me that she was unable to participate in a number of nanny-share agreements she looked into because the other parents were so crazy about not having their children come into contact with anything non-organic. One mother she met was convinced her child’s ADD became worse when he was exposed to non-organic food. A stray Goldfish or Cheerio might set up off.
But sometimes these parents are not even worried about their own child’s well-being.
They’re worried about yours. The organic foodies are not satisfied with controlling their own family’s dietary habits, they want to “evangelize,” says Julie Gunlock, author of “From Cupcakes to Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes Us Afraid of Everything and How to Fight Back.”
The pressure on parents to use only organic food is, she says, an “outgrowth of helicopter parenting. People need to be in control of everything when it comes to their kids — even the way food is grown and treated.”
“Moms feel guilty,” Gunlock adds. They can allow themselves to think that even if they’re not perfect at something else, at least they feed their kids the best food out there.
The organic-food industry is thrilled by this attitude. But let’s be clear. Organic food does not necessarily mean better. It’s a term that’s been co-opted and manipulated into a billion-dollar industry by some of the biggest food companies in America.
According to a recent report by Academics Review, a nonprofit group of independent scientists, “consumers have spent hundreds of billion dollars purchasing premium-priced organic food products based on false or misleading perceptions about comparative product food-safety, nutrition and health attributes.”
Researchers found that “perceived safety concerns tied to pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and GMOs are the critical component driving sales in the organic-food sector.” Never mind that the USDA ensures the safety of our food, whether it’s conventionally grown or organic.
Time and again these safety concerns about conventional foods have been debunked.
Take the most common mommy worry — pesticides. According to the calculator at Safefruitsandveggies.com, a project of the nonprofit Alliance for Food and Farming, “a child could consume 1,508 servings of strawberries in one day without any effect even if the strawberries have the highest pesticide residue recorded for strawberries by USDA.”
Or how about this: “A teen could consume 206 servings of peaches in one day without any effect even if the peaches have the highest pesticide residue recorded for peaches by USDA.”
Nor are organic foods healthier. As Scientific America notes, 50 years of studies in the UK found that organic and conventional foods have the exact same nutritional content.
Organic-food companies continue to profit from the misinformation that conventional food is somehow dangerous. If this were any other industry trying to take advantage of them, mind you, these moms would be up in arms.
But try telling that to parents. In a recent blog post, Gunlock describes the shocked reaction of a mother who saw Gunlock feed her child regular non-organic apples. Gunlock reports: “She hasn’t been back, and I have no doubt that she now views my home as some sort of toxic-waste dump.”
It’s not just that these mothers are misinformed. Or that they fear for the safety of their children. For some of them, feeding their families organic is a status symbol.
Because let’s face it, if you can afford the organic version of everything, you’re doing pretty well for yourself. Not like those folks reduced to eating Puerto Rican peanut butter.