The Food Ecology of Organic Pizza Vs. Conventional Pizza

An organic pizza may cost more in dollars and cents than a conventiona pizza, but there's more to food ecology than money.

| June/July 2006

I associate pizza with happiness. It fueled all my childhood birthday parties. It was there the first time a boy put his arm around me. Pizza was one of the few dishes my father cooked. In college, it was a recurring motif. And during my first pregnancy, the mere thought of food was revolting — except for pizza, which I could eat hot or cold, night or day. (I felt less freakish when I learned that tomatoes are the favorite food of nauseated pregnant women.) And both my children — like 70 percent of U.S. schoolchildren — identify pizza as their favorite entrée.

My husband, Jeff, and I buy organic groceries for our family. By directing our food dollars toward organic farmers, we help build healthy soils, sustain rural communities, defend the ozone layer, prevent cancer, protect drinking water and keep our children healthy. I occasionally make pizza for the kids, but when I’m tired or working late, I entertain a fantasy that I dreamed up during my first pregnancy: organic pizza from the organic pizzeria.

Organic food production is the fastest-growing sector of U.S. agriculture, with an average annual growth rate of 20 percent for the last decade. Sales of organic food reached $15 billion in 2005.

Meanwhile, studies have helped dispel common misconceptions about organic farming, such as the belief that organic farms are unproductive. According to the most comprehensive study to compare conventional and organic systems, organic farms produce yields comparable to those of conventional farms, and they consume far less energy and natural resources to do so. They also leave soils healthier for future generations.

Another myth is that organic farms are overrun by insects, but the data show otherwise. A survey of California tomato farms, for example, found that levels of pest damage in conventional and organic tomatoes were virtually identical. What organic farms had in greater abundance were predatory insects that ate the plant-eating bugs.

A third belief — that organic food is more expensive — is pretty much the truth. In some cases, organic prices are higher because of retail markups. Organic farms are usually smaller or more seasonal, so supermarkets have to purchase organic goods from more suppliers. But conventional growers can keep prices low by sheer volume. As the popularity of organic farming increases, supplies should become more reliable and retail prices more competitive.

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