Hugh - thanks for all your good information in your answer to my inquiry
on nutritional characteristics of organic food. I totally agree with you
that we can TELL - based on our own personal sensory perception - and
certainly that is good enough for most of us who are already 'believers'.
However, my question is part of the research/background I'm doing for an
article I'm writing, attempting to answer some of the questions
frequently launched at organic food/farming (by the likes of Dennis
Avery) in a non-confrontational manner. One of their contentions is that
foolish, uninformed consumers are being duped into paying more for food
that is no better than conventional. Hey, our own OTA was quoted as
saying as much on that 20/20 program! Well, if we in the organic
community KNOW that there is a difference, HOW do we know - and how can
we convey/explain this to others?
So, I'm trying to find information about first - what do we humans
identify as 'food quality' and how are those characteristics determined
chemically - i.e. what chemically makes that characteristic flavor and
texture of a really good apple? And what makes that characteristic flavor
and texture of a really awful apple?
Then - is there any evidence that organic food does indeed have higher
levels of these important quality determinants? I have just recevied a
very interesting (unpublished ) article from Franco Weibel at the
Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, Ackerstrasse, Switzerland who
tested organic and conventional apples for chemical and physical
differences. He found a very strong corrolation between soil biological
activity and higher levels of key molecules - this makes so much sense,
OF COURSE it should be this way, but it it still nice to see the data
supporting this. Elaine Ingham has said that strong mycorrhizal activity
produce corn and grapes with higher protein levels - and that this is
part of what we detect as quality - but apparently also that protein
makes for superior wine making ability in the grapes also.
Do you know of any other such data? Do you know of any other animal
feeding studies or animal feed studies that would test nutritive/quality
components in organic and conventional feed materials? I feel this would
be an important piece to address the subjective ('foolish consumer' )
factor. Larry Phelan at Ohio State has done some really interesting
work with corn borer preferring conventional to organic corn plants -
I'll be talking to him next week, hopefully he can give some insight
chemically into why this was the case - higher Brix? Do you know of other
studies that have linked differences in food quality back to specific
conditions in the soil? What about the storage ability of organic food -
which is often said to be better - what chemically causes good or bad
storage ability? I would suspect calcium and phosphorus would play key
roles here, stronger cell walls and better membrane integrity etc, what
do you think? Does anyone know?
I am not a food scientist or a chemist, but neither are most ordinary
people, so deep detail into chemistry would only serve to confuse. But I
am a plant breeder by training and an organic farmer now, so a joint
scientific and agronomic/cultural explanation would be extremely
enlightening and actually pretty useful to us trying to produce HIGH
QUALITY organic food - and I think that is what you mean by the vitality
of organic food.
As we begin to realize that there are many ways to produce organic crops
- but not all those ways produce HIGH QUALITY organic crops - we really
need to collect, understand, test, and disseminate information on organic
cultural practices that increase the QUALITY of our produce.
Understanding soil chemistry certainly helps in planning better agronomic
practices. Maybe understanding a bit of food chemistry would help also.
Thanks for your wisdom. Mary-Howell Martens
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