Organic vs. Conventional: Is the Label Worth it?

To begin the discussion on the debate around organic versus conventional foods, it only seemed fitting to start the class by doing a blind taste test comparing various organic and conventional foods. We noted which of the two was organic and which tasted better. Interestingly, there was very little difference in appearance between the two foods, but a level of varying texture was noted. In comparing ingredients, many foods had slight differences. For instance, the chart below compares the Wegman’s Organic Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips to the conventional version. The only two main differences between the two is the fact that conventional uses soy lecithin, because most soy is genetically modified, and organic uses sunflower lecithin. The question to ask would be, “Is the ‘organic’ label in front of each ingredient all that important?”

Wegman’s Organic Semi-Sweet Chocolate chips Organic Sugar, Organic Chocolate Liquor, Organic Coco Butter, Organic Sunflower Lecithin.
Wegman’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips Semi-Sweet Chocolate (Sugar, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin – an Emulsifier, Vanilla).

Though many of us were able to distinguish a difference between the organic and conventional foods, we had difficulty in determining which foods were organic and which ones were not. Much of our inability to distinguish the two results from the fact that we often have preconceived notions as to how organic foods will taste, as if organic somehow should taste “better,” because we expect that it should. Something labeled “organic” does not make it somehow healthy, such as the organic potato chips. A potato that has been deep-fried does not exactly make it better in comparison to the conventional potato that has been deep-fried. Getting caught up in labels can be easy to do once binaries of healthy/unhealthy have been paired with organic/conventional. I find that I can be guilty of this, because I expected it to be much less difficult to distinguish between the various foods once they were side-by-side, and expected a greater or richer taste in the organic foods.                                                                                                                                                                      fullsizeoutput_1862.jpeg
Our discussion then turned to our opinions regarding a particular section of Jayson Lusk’s The Food Police, in which he makes several claims against the notion that pesticides have harmful effects. These claims conflicted with Marion Nestle’s, in which she claims that the reason for the government regulation of pesticides is due to their harm. We came to consensus that both authors are correct to some degree, and it is true that the risk of pesticides is much less than consumers think.

Though organic and conventional foods may not have much nutritional difference, the techniques of organic and conventional farms do contrast to a more significant degree. For example, conventional farming has a very high degree of fossil fuel input and a higher degree of waste output that is not circulated back into the farming cycle. On the contrary, nonconventional farming uses various natural resources and uses its animals to cultivate richer soil and richer fertilizer without the use of chemicals. This creates a more fluid cycle between the animals and the environment so as each plays a role in the output. Understanding the difference in farming methods might lead one to opt for the organic produce or produce from a more nonconventional method, rather than simply because the organic is “better.

In a separate blind tasting experiment, eight different foods were pureed, and we had to determine the food based solely on taste, as each had very similar textures. I think that this experiment was the prime example of “looks can be deceiving,” because though the colors were vibrant and aesthetically pleasing, the taste was anything but that. The fruits pureed well and had a nice consistency, but the vegetables, such as the red pepper and carrot, had a very odd flavor. Oddly enough, the blueberry pureeing became more of a jam consistency, and gelled, unlike the others. I think this experiment allowed us to recognize that certain foods are better left intact, in their un-pureed form.


In the kitchen, we experimented with various cooking techniques to determine how the vegetables would differ in taste. These included frying, microwaving, baking, steaming, sautéing, grilling, and cooking via sous vide. Though I was a bit skeptical of the frying method, many classmates enjoyed the crunchy broccoli and crisp beet leaves.

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The sous vide, on the other hand, did not provide as promising of taste as the other methods, and actually gave several vegetables a different, less than pleasing flavor profile. I was most surprised by the fact that the sous vide altered the taste the most, because in the previous week, the meat cooked via the sous vide method was the most delicious.

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The final experiment consisted of three samples of raspberry juice, three samples of blueberry juice, and three samples of cabbage juice. One of each sample was basic, acidic, and neutral to observe the color change. We then added vinegar to the cabbage that already had baking soda in it to produce a mini colorful volcano.Though it did not necessarily have much to do with the organic vs. conventional debate, it was still science, and there is always learning in science.

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There is not a clear-cut, black and white answer to the organic vs. conventional debate, and new studies may emerge that prove otherwise. In the meantime, keep eating fruit and vegetables, even if they don’t have a fancy “organic” label.


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