The Life Doctor

SHOULD YOU go organic? I tried a few months ago. I went to the length of ringing up my local organic produce delivery company. The price was acceptable, the range of vegetables was reasonable. But then came the problem; delivery. It could only be on Thursday afternoons. No worries, they said, if I wasn't there, they would happily leave it with a neighbour.

"No, no!" I said. "My neighbour is a distinctly inorganic greengrocer. His carrots have been brought up in slavery. He's not going to store my knobbly organic produce 'out back' until I can collect them in the evening."

"Well, there it is," said the organic deliverer impatiently. "This is back to a more traditional way of eating. You can't expect it to fit into your 24-hour needs. What do think this is, Pizza Hut?"

I don't know why I always expect environmentally sound people to be more polite.

Most of us would like to use more organic stuff but our enthusiasm can be dampened if the products fail to live up to our synthetically inspired expectations. Dominic, a 35-year-old engineer struggled at first. "It was more expensive and they couldn't guarantee a big variety. Some weeks it would be nine turnips, a mound of potatoes and a cabbage. The main disadvantage was the price and cleaning them - they always came covered in earth." Yeuch! Not "washed and ready to eat"? Can you imagine?

About 30,000 families in Britain are now using a local organic food delivery company. And consumer interest is driving the supermarket revolution so that it is now easier to get organic products. But a whole basket of organic food will still cost you about 30 per cent more than its non-organic equivalent.

Organic produce does, however, taste better. We conducted a blindfold test on carrots*. Among our five testers, the organic carrot was unanimously the winner in terms of both taste and texture.

It is also better for us. The two big areas of danger with non-organic produce are organophosphates, which are said to affect the nervous system and the immune system (and are linked to Gulf War syndrome), and Lindane, which has links with cancer. There are, of course, government tests to check safe levels of these pesticides. "They test the residue per kilo," says Simon Brenman at the Soil Association. "This tells you that some of the crop is safe. It doesn't tell you that the tractor went over a ridge and so three of those carrots have very high levels."

The fact is that we do not know the personal heath costs of eating non- organic food over a long period. Organic is safe. "Organic" is not a word food producers can bandy about. It's not like "natural" which is defined officially now as any food stuff that isn't dabbling in the occult. Organic means there are no artificial pesticides and fertilisers, that the food has been produced using only an EU list of approved organic products. It also means that your food will not have been genetically modified.

In theory, of course, you would need to go completely organic to guarantee your safety. It's not just fruit and vegetables that are affected. Surely then there's no point eating knobbly vegetables and organic milk if you are still succumbing to fluffy white bread. But in terms of fuelling manufacturers' interest, every little helps. Think of it as an insurance policy - a bit of a nuisance at the moment but it should pay back in the long term.

* Note: The testers were blindfolded, not the carrots. No carrot was harmed in this demonstration.

For information and a directory of organic food sellers and distributors in your area call The Soil Association on 0117 929 0661

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