Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious? (scientificamerican.com)
327 points by okket 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 204 comments

Here is the study mentioned in the second main paragraph:


Conclusion: We suggest that any real declines are generally most easily explained by changes in cultivated varieties between 1950 and 1999, in which there may be trade-offs between yield and nutrient content.

Worth noting there is no use of the phrase "soil depletion".

I take issue with the comment near the end:

> Also, foregoing pesticides and fertilizers in favor of organic growing methods is good for the soil, the produce and its consumers. Those who want to get the most nutritious fruits and vegetables should buy regularly from local organic farmers.

To my knowledge, organic farming employs just as much, if not more, pesticide and fertilizer. But there are regulations determining which products are allowed to be classed as "organic". Such regulations can be somewhat arbitrary; for example, a lot of so-called organic produce is the product of radiation-induced mutation [0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutation_breeding

There also have been studies on the nutritional differences between conventional farming and organic farming, and most of the meta-analysis of these studies concludes there is none: https://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/new-organic-fa...

I believe the root (pun intended) issue is the soil biology. In a no till environment where bacteria and funghi are present and healthy, they make soluable the micronutrients needed by the plant. In an unhealthy soil environment where bacteria and funghi are depleted, the plants are dependent on being fed soluable forms of all nutrients. The fertilization regime likely isnt incorporating them all.

>In an unhealthy soil environment where bacteria and funghi are depleted, the plants are dependent on being fed soluable forms of all nutrients.

I don't think natural soil systems have been able to keep up with the nutrient demands of modern crop production for some decades now.

In my experience, no till farmers tend to use much more herbicides and pesticides than farmers that employ tillage. And they do appear to have healthier soil.

herbicides I can understand (if they are killing to clear). Pesticides I cant quite see why theyd use any more. What would the rationale be to drive that?

My guess (and it's only a guess) would be that the crop residue left behind by no-till harbors more pests than the ground that's been tilled.

To my knowledge, organic farming employs just as much, if not more, pesticide and fertilizer.

If this is true, I would love to see your source.

I buy a lot of organic because I expect it to have less pesticide (and other potentially 'bad' things). And, if that's not the case, I will change my buying habits.

I do understand that there is a fraud issue in organics. I have seen examples of farmers owning organic certified farms and then buying produce from the distribution market to resell as organic. Also, I have seen examples of people doing similar things at farmers markets.

There's "FDA Organic" which meets the government standards (which are somewhat weak) and then "Real Organic" from farmers who hold themselves to the original meaning of being pesticide and GMO-free. The problem is that as a shopper, you can't tell the difference, unless you sign up with a CSA and get to know your food supplier personally.

Does "organic" include GMO-free? I thought it just meant pesticide-free, and I don't take any issue with GMO foods.

Yes, even the USDA standards, which I think is what the GP was referring to, seem to prohibit GMO...


GMO is basically equivalent with spraying of glyphosate. The whole point of most GMO is to make the plants resistant to glyphosate. If you don't want to eat glyphosate you avoid GMO foods.

There are different kinds of GMO—in addition to RoundupReady (glyphosate resistant) crops, there are Bt crops (mainly corn, as far as I know) that react in an insect’s alkaline gut to form incecticidal protein fragments. The bacterial source of the genes is also used as an organic incecticide, and has no plausible mechanism for causing harm in humans that I am aware of.

Organic doesn't mean pesticide-free at all. It only bans certain classes of pesticides.

Well put.

There's another way to tell: Switch to organic for the "dirty dozen" fruits and veggies[1] for three weeks. Then try conventional again. In my own experience I couldn't tolerate conventional anymore, and the difference is more than placebic: Headaches and yuck feeling.

Prove it for yourself.


Also in my experience, organic tastes WAY better. For example I never liked the taste of conventional celery; some bitter aftertaste (pesticide residue?) and just bland. But organic celery really pops, with no aftertaste. Baby carrots are noticeably tastier as well. The difference is so stark I think I could validate these on a double-blind test any day.

I'm sorry, but as much as I'm sympathetic to the cause (I am, I'm buying only organic), your non-double-blinded-test proves nothing.

I'm not saying my own personal testing has proven anything to you. I'm asking you to prove it for yourself. Try it and see. But you already are, so...

Anyway if double-blind is what you need to be convinced, then by all means do the same test double-blind.[1] Shouldn't be terribly difficult to craft such a test for yourself.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blinded_experiment#Double-blin...

> In my own experience I couldn't tolerate conventional anymore, and the difference is more than placebic: Headaches and yuck feeling.

I think that would be the definition of a placebo effect. Headaches and yuck feeling when eating food you perceive as dirtier/less healthy.

Maybe you should get two of your friends together and do a double blind test. Have one of your friends go shopping, take the vegetables out of the bag, and write down which is which. Then have your other friend who doesn't know which is which give both portions to you and see if you can tell the difference. It would be interesting for sure.

> For example I never liked the taste of conventional celery; some bitter aftertaste (pesticide residue?) and just bland

Bitterness is normal in celery though the degree is manageable by techniques that are orthogonal to non-organic vs. organic status. To the extent that there is a non-placebo difference, it's probably that your conventional supplier is more devoted to rigorous labor cost cutting then your organic supplier, which is likely to become less and less common for randomly chosen organic vs. non-organic as organics become more and more mass market and less upper-middle-class niche.

the Dirty Dozen is a dramatic way of saying "don't eat the outer skin of foods that are not-organic". It backed by reasoning from simplistic assumptions (non-organic chemicals on skin == bad), not scientific tests.

When I eat Non organic beetroot, it just feels like I am eating some pesticides. Same with non-organic corn. Try keeping in this mind when you eat these vegetables next time and I am sure you will catch the aftertaste.

If they're thinking about pesticides and their taste while eating, it might be hard to seperate the thought from the reality. Like, thinking about maggots while eating your rice. I'm sure your rice doesn't contain maggots, but do you really feel like eating rice right now?

Try a double-blind test and ask a series of questions. Some of the questions about taste should be the things you're looking for. Others should be irrelevant, just to set a baseline. Perceptions of taste are very subjective and easily influenced. Experimental rigour is necessary to mitigate that.

The first time I really enjoyed celery was organic. (Same variety as conventional.) I was expecting the same nasty aftertaste and was pleasantly surprised.

Take that for what it's worth, but do suggest you give organic celery a try, see if you notice the same. Do it double-blinded if you must.

Agreed. I forgot to add Celery along with Beetroot and corn.

In most places in order to qualify as "organic" they're only allowed to use a certain subset of pesticides (generally ones derived from natural sources such as bugs or other plants). They aren't pesticide free, and there's no requirement on the quantities of pesticides used, only the kinds of pesticide. There's also no requirements around fertilizer used as far as I'm aware. Like most of the health buzzword fads, organic doesn't really mean what most people think it means, and in truth what it means is highly variable depending on who's using the term.

After reading through USDA certification and compliance material, I do see limitations on what chemicals can be used. Approved chemicals may be allowed in some cases, but the producer must have a plan that limits the use of them and have a documented multi-step process to ensure that they are only used as a last resort. Plus, they must have detailed documentation available when and if they were used.

Here’s the list of allowed chemicals. It’s a short list. And, I’m ok with more being used, since most look harmless (e.g. ethanol, lye).


Organic seems good to me.

Certainly, the term "organic" is abused, much like the term "natural" (which also doesn't mean what people think it means). However, surely the kind of pesticide you use matters. And while nothing in principle guarantees that naturally-sourced pesticides are guaranteed to be non-toxic (except the pests in question, etc), the ones that are generally used[0] are undoubtably safer than "conventional" pesticides.

[0] http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/xerces-orga...

"Ubdoubtably"... because... Well because by definition we don't doubt articles of faith right?

It's the dose, not the substance, that makes the poison.

The substance determines the dose that makes the poison.

The reality is that you don't know for sure.

'Good' organic growing practices are perfectly safe. They'll minimize pesticide application, and ensure they do it at the correct times, i.e. away from harvest time. They'll apply Bt toxin (yes, the same stuff in the GMOs, just exogenously applied) and neem oil, as well as some soaps with potassium salts.

There are some 'dangerous' organic pesticides. As far as I know Rotenone isn't used anymore, but it is dangerous to humans and was once employed as an organic pesticide.

Copper sulfate is a fairly big issue. It's definitely toxic to humans and has been found to accumulate in soils. It's a fairly big deal in Napa and the vineyards have moved away from it because of the accumulation. This copper definitely makes it's way to consumers, so the question is how much, and how much is too much?

This is an interesting anecdote about brewing beer with fruit, and needing to pay attention to copper levels. http://scottjanish.com/peaches-and-quinoa-sour/


Ultimately, at the scale of the modern organic industry, you're not always going to get good stuff. There are certainly potential dangers, just as there are with conventional agriculture. I would contend that both are perfectly safe when done appropriately.

Copper is a required micronutrient. You need copper.

Copper sulfate used to be used to induce vomiting. It turned out to be more toxic then we'd like in that usage... but that usage was feeding people spoonfuls of it!

Organic allows pesticides- but the list of approved pesticides is full of things like ethanol and soap.

It passes the sniff test that a farmer controlling pests with ethanol might use more than a farmer using, e.g. neonicotinoids.

As for fertilizer, I wonder if compost is considered fertilizer. I use lots of compost on my garden.

I still believe it’s worth buying organic, here is a good article summarizing studies on using baking soda to remove pesticides from fruits and vegetables, and a key quote from the article:

“Even with bicarbonate, buying organic may still be worth it!

One thing this article should not be abused is as evidence in an argument against buying organic. Yes, you can reduce the pesticide load on the peel of your favorite produce to almost zero and yes, even the latest (highly pro-organic) review of the literature highlights that pesticides are where the major differences are, but you're (a) still left with the pesticides beneath the skin and will (b) not benefit from the other potential benefits Tiziano Gomiero highlights in his latest paper in Applied Soil Ecology (see Figure 4).”


As a price and 'fresher/tastier veggie' conscious buyer, I'm not a strong pro/anti organic consumer.But my belief (no sources) is that organic farming using organic pesticide and organic fertilizer, is legit organic.

Organic just means that that the pesticides and fertilizers are organic as opposed to inorganic. So while a nonorganic farm will fertilize with a mixture of nitrogen/phosphorus/potassium compounds (scary-sounding "chemicals"), an organic farm will fertilize with organic (previously/currently living) material that contains high levels of those chemicals.

That's not what organic means. Technically organic can mean derived from something that is/was living, but it can also mean anything that contains hydrocarbons. Similarly inorganic can mean either something not contained within anything that is/was living (which honestly with how varied life is doesn't cover much), or else something not containing carbon.

That however is the actual definition of organic as opposed to how it's used in marketing material. When talking about marketing, organic just means that a particular subset of approved pesticides and possibly fertilizers, was used in growing the produce. It has no particular meaning beyond that when used as a marketing term. In particular what pesticides are or are not approved is at the discretion of the organization providing the organic certification, so depending on where you are and what group is certifying a product as organic will determine what was used in growing it.

I've started calling it "organic branded" instead of "organic" because it is too vague to have a real meaning, if it doesn't mean the opposite of "inorganic." In common usage the word seems to mean "pesticide free" or "I believe this is healthy." All food is organic, by definition. Not all food was raised without commercial pesticides, or whatever the brand means. Hence, "organic branded" which is precise.

Just to clarify, I was referring to the meaning of “organic” specifically in “organic food”. The way the regulations have defined it is “grown with only non-synthetic or exempted synthesized fertilizers/pesticides/etc.”

This is a totally different meaning than “organic” in “organic chemistry” or “organic compounds.”

I don't think 'organic' in "organic food" includes synthesized "organic compounds".

It does include synthetic compounds, although the general rule for whats allowed in organic farming (by the FDA, international rules might vary) is synthetic compounds are not allowed and non-synthetic compounds are.

However, there is a huge list of exceptions to this rule. Full text of the regulations is here: https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&rgn=div6&view=t...

It doesn't, but it does make it fun to say things like kerosene and plastic are organic.

> The Organic Consumers Association cites several other studies with similar findings

I would take whatever the OCA says with a huge mound of salt, given their antivax and anti fluoride in the water stance.

Organic salt?

Of course, i've heard supermarket salt is full of chemicals like Sodium Chloride!

You have been warned.

And dihydrogen monoxide. Did you know that everyone who drinks it will certainly die?


That's one of the most insane things I've ever read.

TIL DHMO is the cause of everything bad in the world from gun violence, to sport doping, to killer cyclones. But it might improve your marriage, so there's that.

So funny

Ha, reminds me of the Penn & Teller Bullshit episode where they were asking people to sign a petition to ban Dihydrogen Monoxide.


I love that site! Anytime I'm feeling down, I look at that facts page and I always laugh.

'Salt' is just salt, right?

I could never taste a tangible difference with those premium products marketed as "Sea Salt" flavoured.

Where I live, "regular" salt contains iodine for health reasons. Wikipedia says:

> Iodised salt (also spelled iodized salt) is table salt mixed with a minute amount of various salts of the element iodine. The ingestion of iodine prevents iodine deficiency. Worldwide, iodine deficiency affects about two billion people and is the leading preventable cause of intellectual and developmental disabilities. Deficiency also causes thyroid gland problems, including "endemic goitre." In many countries, iodine deficiency is a major public health problem that can be cheaply addressed by purposely adding small amounts of iodine to the sodium chloride salt.

So I specifically don't want "sea salt". I'd rather not have such lovely, "natural" conditions as goiters.

Sea salt does contain some natural iodine as well as other minerals. Seafood is also rich in iodine. Iodine deficiency is rife in areas of the world with no access to seafood (or sea salt). Sea salt is better than mined salt, so adding iodine to mined salt is necessary.

Incidentally Morton sells iodized sea salt; it comes in the same cannisters as the rest and looks like regular salt but with the chunkier grain size, if you want to feel fancy but stay goitre-free.

You can get iodine from sources other than iodised salt. Vitamin D is often combined with iodine in supplements, for example.

It's better to use non-iodized salt when baking bread, since iodine is said to inhibit yeast growth.

Some salt has tiny amounts of other minerals in it, but any variation in flavor is more likely to be due to grain size/structure. Many salt products also have an anti-caking agent such as silica added, which some "natural" types are accordingly worried about.

>Many salt products also have an anti-caking agent such as silica added, which some "natural" types are accordingly worried about.

Fun fact: this is why you'll see rice in some salt shakers at diners and restaurants—it keeps the salt from caking. Though it's possible that it doesn't happen much anymore with whatever some producers might be adding to maintain the same effect.

This used to be standard; everyone I knew put rice in their salt shakers. It was essential during the more humid months.

Possibly the only good reason to use "sea salt" is that the crystals are bigger and less prone to caking.

Not silica, but sodium aluminosilicate[0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_aluminosilicate

Only real difference is grain size changing how intense salt flavor is when eaten in undissolved form.

Table salt has extremely salty flavor as tiny crystals dissolve instantly.

Sea Salts dissolve slower. Also flakiness makes it easier to control when salting things by hand.

Color of salt is meaningless.

CostCo sells a "pink Himalayan salt". The label touts that it is known as the "purest salt in the world" and is known for it's rich mineral content (aka impurities) that give it its distinctive color. I enjoy seeing who brings this up when I have guests: it's always the engineers.

Himalayan salts are high in bromine and probably shouldn't be eaten.

I'm not sure what significance engineers have here (who cares what an engineer things about salt?), but even given the hyperbole of marketing which is nothing new (again, surprised this is such a big deal when almost everything is marketed using insinuations, including Morton's), perhaps a reasonable interpretation of "pure" is "devoid of pollutants" (and "salt" understood in culinary terms, not as chemically pure NaCl, but as the naturally-occurring rock salt, with all of the mineral content). Whether the marketing jiggery pokery is true or not, it's a fallacy to attack the salt because of the label.

The significance of the engineers is they seem to be the group that reliably and exclusively notices. I'm not attacking the salt, I keep buying it. Not a big deal - it's a funny anecdote that apparently deeply bothers some people.

Some of these colored salts contain heavy metals


Is it surprising that people with scientific education tend to notice scientific errors?

> Color of salt is meaningless.

Unless you are talking about salts with sulphur in them. Those really do taste different.


Tastes like old eggs, mostly. Can't stand kala namak.

There is a huge difference to me in taste between the iron oxide salts, the "lava" (charcoal) salts and regular sea salt. I've always had a really sensitive pallet though. However, to my understanding, you wouldn't add these salts to change the flavor of food in which you add salt as an ingredient. Instead you sprinkle the crystals over meat, desserts, and other small portioned foods to get the color and a specific flavor on surface bites.

Table salt a la Morton's is unpalatable to me.

Oh, yeah, that stuff is abhorrent.

Good sea salts are not purified much so they are not 100% pure salt and contains other minerals which gives some nice flavours, that's why they are used a lot in cooking.

"Salt" without any other qualifiers refers to sodium chloride (NaCl), which in pure form is also the mineral halite.

Evaporite is the mineral produced by evaporation of seawater. It contains a large quantity of halite, but also has some other minerals in it, which vary according to the composition of the sea that evaporated. Generally, it adds calcium, potassium, and magnesium to the cations, and carbonate, sulfate, bromide, and fluoride to the anions. It is very likely to contain hydrates.

As far as I know, the marketing names and terms for salts are not controlled. Someone could come up with a process to color purified table salt pink and then sell it as Himalayan salt, without it ever going anywhere near Pakistan. Someone is probably already doing that. And actually, as some evaporite deposits are not safe for dietary consumption, it is likely that mines in India and Pakistan are purifying their salt, selling most of it as iodized table salt domestically, and then recoloring some of it for export as luxury product.

There are only two kinds of salt you need to worry about for cooking. "Salt", which has been purified and probably iodized, and "sea salt", which has only been processed for uniform particle sizes. You can also get pure potassium chloride (KCl) at most supermarkets, and it does taste noticeably different from pure NaCl. There is no need to buy a premium product, unless spending the extra money makes you feel good.

There's no real difference between 'fancy' salt and the cheap stuff - crystal size is the only factor that has much impact on the perception of saltiness[1], though that can be counter intuitive (kosher salt crystals are big and taste very salty on your tongue, but they don't pack down, so you tend to use less than the finer crystals of table salt). Not to mention that all sea salt now is full of microplastic particles...[2]

1: https://www.seriouseats.com/2013/03/ask-the-food-lab-do-i-ne...

2: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/08/sea-salt...

I normally swear by seriouseats but I call BS on this one.

While I can get behind some explanations for taste differences arising from "physical" reasons such as a larger salt grains offering different texture, which affects how it may mix with your food and air / dissolve on your tongue, I refuse to believe that the chemical differences are negligible.

Take water for instance, anyone with remotely sensitive palette can taste the difference in water. Whether it's straight tap water, filtered water or various brands of mineral water.

Considering the concentrations of minerals which govern the taste differences, I would be astounded to hear that trace minerals in salt don't affect its taste.

I mean, not only can I taste the difference with reverse osmosis water used for coffee, but if you look carefully at it, it tends to have a slightly different viscosity from regular water.

What a disappointingly unrigorous serious eats article.

Neither could I, but some are pretty pink! That's neat on a nicely set table. However, Trader Joes have some seriously flavoured and natural salts which are so "unpure" if you will, that they actually taste a little different.

But they do taste differently. I'm not a salt expert, so can't really speculate why, but what's sold as table salt -vs- sea salt -vs- pink here has a massive difference in taste if you use a lot of it. Probably won't tell any difference if you're just seasoning soup, but you would in kimchi.

(Sure it won't come from the pure salt itself. Just additives / impurities)

Depending where you live salt might be just salt, or it might be salt plus trace amounts of iodine plus an anti-caking agent plus sugar.

Pause this to see an ingredient list from a US brand of salt: https://youtu.be/iGsn4cOpBHY?t=48s

I'd be interested to know if anyone anywhere can taste different types of salt under double blind conditons.

I have found Himalayan pink salt to be milder (less salt) than sea salt. It makes a good table salt. Sea salt is good for brines, soups, and pasta. Kosher salt is flakier and goes well when preparing or cooking meats. Iodinized salt can add off flavors to what you are cooking and adversely affect brining and baking. It really all depends on application.

Salt isn't just salt. Mineral composition, for example, most certainly affects flavor. It doesn't take much either. Mineral waters also differ in flavor based on mineral and/or dissolved gases.

Please enlighten us, what are the health benefits of swallowing sodium silicofluoride and hydrofluorosilicic acid?

Edit: Just to be clear, you shouldn't assume that my comment being gray means it was unanimously downvoted. I saw it losing three points for every two gained, meaning roughly 40% of HN shares my curiosity.

They lower human fertility and reduce human resistance to mind control and communist propaganda.~

But seriously, the fluoride (F-) replaces hydroxide (OH-) in an apatite matrix--as one might fight in tooth enamel--and makes it less soluble in water and more resistant to acid attack. A small quantity strengthens teeth, especially in children. Larger quantities, as may occur in naturally fluoridated water, can produce white spots on the teeth, which is dental fluorosis.

There is little benefit for adult teeth. As apatite is also found in the bones, fluoride will replace hydroxide there, too, which can result in skeletal fluorosis. As bones are not generally exposed to acids, there is no benefit, and the fluoridated portions create harder, more brittle spots, which can interfere with the normal self-repair mechanisms of the skeleton.

As a society, we have determined that fewer dental caries in younger people are worth more brittle bones in older people. But we also decided that we want to do the cavity thing really cheaply, because who wants to pay for some dentist to treat all kids' teeth manually when we could just add cheap chemicals to the drinking water?

You know what fluoride is for and you’re being obtuse.

Imagining sinister ulterior motives behind an innocent question seems like something a conspiracy theorist would do.

Replying to the phrase "anti fluoride in the water" with the specific chemicals that are added to the water while pretending to have no clue why they're there is more like something a conspiracy theorist would do.

It sounds like you know the reason we should swallow those specific chemicals? Perhaps you'll be the first here to answer the question.

why don't most first world countries floridate their water? no european country does it. It's banned in China. Israel doesn't do it.

Over fluoridation is bad for your bones ( teeth included ) and who knows what its doing to peoples brains.

beyond the potential health benefits to teeth I really do not agree with any kind of forced medication of the public. everything should be done voluntarily and with absolute consent.



Not all public water is fluoridated by the government in the US. The reason being due to naturally occurring fluoridation. China is the same. They just don’t need to add more.

So no, you’re not being overfluoridated in the US.

We should be focusing into building soil and edible forest to harvest multiple floors instead of just that usual monoculture one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSPNRu4ZPvE If we look closely forest's soil usually gets better and better, I see some people replicate this and seen some 'agroforest' with more then 5 years old and its stunning how productive there lands are, how diverse and how the soil just get better without adding external stuff like fertilizer, its a process type of agriculture instead of an input one.

You're right that the label "certified organic" is somewhat arbitrary. But it's a moot point for most sellers at organic farmers markets because they usually can't afford certification anyway. And many of them do not use pesticides of any kind, and if they do use something like Neem oil, they will tell you.

This does not solve the systemic issue, but knowing the person who knows your food definitely seems like it would be better than anonymous food at a grocery.

The human element can serve to add trust in the place of verification, but shouldn't take its place.

People lie. Industry "standards" change commonly accepted definitions. People buy what's cheap, and effective even if it may not exactly be what's on the tin (e.g. farmer buys an 'organic' fertilizer which isn't, thus 'contaminating' the organic nature of the goods going to your table).

That said, I don't see why higher yield with lower nutrition goods are bad in general. It seems malnutrition is from people not eating enough, not from being stuffed with poorly nourishing food.

If the farmers at local markets are lying about using conventional methods but still growing smaller, tastier fruits and veggies with shorter shelf lives despite still having dirt and rocks on them... then we're totally fucked anyway.

I've seen personal stories here about those farmers market people stopping by Walmart before hand... probably can get a nice discount on dirty fruit.

Yep, check out CBC's undercover investigation on that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYwB63YslbA

Some don't even bother to take the stickers off!

I remember reading a study in the NY Times maybe 5 years ago that found no difference in nutrients (between organic and conventional produce) but lower levels of pesticides in organic produce. So while not pesticide free, it is unfair to say they use "just as much if not more"

I remember reading in the LA Times that there are more antioxidants/polyphenols in organic food[1], and since those types of nutrients have been shown to decrease inflammation and neutralize free radicals[2] I want to increase my intake of them.

[1] http://www.latimes.com/science/la-sci-organic-foods-20140715... [2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5055983/

It's not that the pesticides are more likely to end up in the produce, just that more is used while growing.

Why would you have less pesticides in the end product if more is used when they are growing?

The nutrients in the fruits and vegetables must come from the soil. Proper care of the soil is expensive and labor intensive.

Industrial farming optimizes for efficiency and rarely goes to the lengths necessary for maintaining rich soil and healthy environment for the plants.

You may want to look up biological farming.

Do they? I mean minerals of course must come from the soil, but aren't vitamins and the macro-nutrients created in the plant itself? And can heavy farming really drain so much of the mineral content from the soil that future crops grown there will have fewer minerals? I know crops can drain nitrogen and other gases from the soil, but that's what fertilizer and tilling are for.

With Nitrogen what's going on is that there's a tiny bacterium using some seriously advanced chemistry to attach Nitrogen gas (ubiquitous in our air) to Hydrogen (from water which is also ubiquitous) to make ammonia‡, which can then easily be used to make organic molecules. Plants which have a symbiotic relationship with these bacteria are readily available and can be grown to "fix" nitrogen into your soil.

‡ What's advanced here is not spending a ludicrous amount of energy, we can fix nitrogen, but we use a factory with high temperature and pressure to make the conversion work, the bacterium does it happily inside a peanut plant.

That's an emphatic "yes". Standard fertilizer is NPK- Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium. If it was not possible to drain all of the (bioavaliable) P & K, ask yourself, why would anyone ever need to use NPK?

Thanks! I did a little bit more reading on the subject. It seems like P and K are the two main minerals provided by fertilizer, but there's also zinc, copper, iron, manganese, and, oddly, molybdenum. And some plants apparently also deplete other elements, like sugar beets use a lot of boron.

I wonder about the environmental tradeoffs between using crop rotation vs. fertilizer for some of the micronutrients. On the one hand, there's an environmental cost to creating fertilizer, there's dangers of over-fertilizing, runoff, etc. But a crop rotation system means some fields will have to lie barren, or with less valuable crops, and potentially with lower yields, which means you need more farmland to grow the same amount of food, which means clearing more forests. Of course, I'm not even a novice in this subject, I'm sure there's a lot I'm missing.

The rotation/organic/etc argument is that properly managed soil & fields sustain their yields indefinitely with significantly less fertilizer, water, etc input, whereas the traditional industrial ag model achieves higher yields initially but the soil quality & yields decline rapidly & require ever more fertilizer, water, etc input. In short, the first model has lower peak yields but is more sustainable; the second has higher peak yields but "uses up" the land, and within only 1-3 decades at that.

A related example of the consequences of "using up" land can be seen with bananas. In that case, a deadly banana fungus is slowly, inexorably spread through the soil by human activity. Eventually a plot of land becomes unusable for growing bananas due to the spread of the fungus. No matter, the banana company just cuts down more rainforest for new land and abandons the old plot. Later, in perhaps ten years, the new plot will be contaminated & unusable, and the cycle continues.

Soil is not sterile.

The microbes at work synthesizing nutrients from those chemical fertilzers and raw minerals, making them bio-available and aiding uptake are vital.


I rather wish that subject was approached.

As I understand it (coming from rural Ontario—5th largest agri-region), farms and especially large farms (around there) are required to—or at least make it a habit of best practice—strategically rotate crops every n seasons to allow the soil to replenish.

It's not so simple as that, but I'm no biologist or farmer—just a former country boy. Maybe somebody more knowledgeable could enlighten or expand.

As a farmer (also in rural Ontario, coincidentally) that is definitely something we try to do. It is not required by law, but anytime I've watched someone not rotate their crops, it isn't long before they are out of business. To extent that, on my farm, we consider it well worth growing unprofitable crops through that rotation to ensure that the ground will grow something profitable next year. It has also become quite popular to grow a second cover crop over the winter to improve soil health even further.

But what concerns me most about modern farming is the separation of animal production from plant production. I'm the sixth generation on my family's farm, and I'm the first generation to not also have animals. I do worry about the long-term effects of that. When I get into ground away from the historic family farm, that hasn't seen animals for decades or longer, you really notice a difference in the quality of soil vs. the home farm that has had animals for centuries as part of that crop rotation. Rotation is important, but rotation with animals seems to give the very best results. It is the model that agriculture grew up on and something we have lost (somewhat) recently.

>Rotation is important, but rotation with animals seems to give the very best results. It is the model that agriculture grew up on and something we have lost (somewhat) recently.

Again from a naive standpoint, it sounds like that's an issue that fertilization is supposed to supplant. Are there other observations outside of that you could point to?

I'm asking out of sincere curiosity at this point. Also what part of Ontario, if you don't mind me asking?

What are the animals’ role? Fertilization?

Just so I am clear, my concern comes from observation of the farms I work. All the usual caveats of anecdotes apply. It is not something that I have formally studied.

With that said, I think fertilizer is a big part of it. While we always used some synthetic fertilizer in my lifetime, the needs are greater now. Another thought is a greater opportunity to diversify the crops grown in the rotation. Things that humans can't eat, but animals can. There seems to be a difference in growing food for people for a few years and then growing food for animals for a few years over trying to grow food for people every year, where the choices are much more limited.

But this is speculation on my part.

Exactly this. For instance after sugar beet has been harvested, the land needs 5-10 years to regenerate back to proper nutrient levels and may not yield anything.

You must be describing some unique situation. Sugar beets don't do well if they are planted year after year, but they are included in crop rotations with no fallow years, never mind 5 or 10.

I am describing common knowledge in Balkan agriculture - in Vojvodina, Serbia, it is widely known that after harvesting sugar beets you simply can't have a solid harvest no matter what you plant for the next 5 or more years, and our land is mainly https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernozem . Usually you plant garlic/onion/phacelia or something similar in the subsequent years to "reset" the land.

Not saying there is a fallow, but that sugar beets take a lot of nutrients from the land, at least in this area.

Sorry for the lack of proper terminology, agriculture is not my primary occupation.

I once bought some organic heirloom variety tomatoes shipped from Mexico. I was surprised to find that they were disgusting, flavorless and spongy. I've grown the same varieties myself in rich yard soil, and they were flavorful and delicious. I can only imagine that the imported tomatoes were grown in depleted soil using less than sustainable methods.

I really wish big ag people would wake the frick up and realize that the benefits of sustainable polyculture go way way way beyond sometimes-higher yields. Permaculture methods strengthen the diverse ecologies that enrich soil in the first place.

Tomatoes don't ship and store well. Especially "heirloom" varieties, which mostly just means (non-hybrid) varieties that aren't of the few currently typically grown for large-scale commercial production. You know why they chose/hybridized the (fairly tasteless/bad tasting) tomato varieties that _are_ currently used for large-scale commercial production? Because they ship and store better.

> I can only imagine that the imported tomatoes were grown in depleted soil using less than sustainable methods.

This is far from the only explanation. I've bought supposed "heirloom" tomatoes in a high end supermarket before, and they were also disgusting. What you bought probably simply wasn't a proper heirloom tomato.

All heirloom means is that it grows true from seed. Any other properties of the plant, including taste, are up in the air.

Where do non-heirloom tomatoes come from if not seeds?

A key distinction is the "grows true", which I interpret as "breed true", i.e., the seeds are non-hybridized. For a bit more detail, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heirloom_tomato#Seed_collectin...

Interesting. As for OP's experience above, a more important distinction is whether the "heirloom" tomatoes sold in grocery store are actually heirloom, according to this definition. I know that in Canada they aren't always.

My point is that you can lead a horse to a stream but if its a drought and the stream's dried up, they couldn't drink from it if they tried. doesn't matter if the horse is genetically more of a pony, stallion, mule, zebra or unicorn. nope, if there's no water, the horse can't drink.

These tomatoes were not only spongy (which I'd expect from shipped tomatoes), they just had no taste.


I did a little research and found that there are a few more possibilities. Maybe the tomatoes were grown hydroponically. Maybe it was very rainy or they over-watered before harvesting. (https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/06/01/154072388/ho...)

I assumed "depleted soil" because that's a rampant problem, but it could be other stuff too.

Tomatoes are picked unripe otherwise they get damaged dzring transport.

I had to reread a few times to try and separate the authors opinions and whatever the paper was stating.

This article was an opinion piece based off a misreading of the original paper

Another explanation/hypothesis is rising CO2 levels


Earlier HN discussion about it: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15253127

This is a much more likely and testable hypothesis than the linked article.

> for example, a lot of so-called organic produce is the product of radiation-induced mutation

What's wrong with that? Is mutation not an organic process?

I think he might be referring to the fact that Organic Standards don't allow for transgenic modification of varieties, or what is commonly know as GMOs, due to safety concerns

On the other hand, they allow for varieties made by using radiation induced mutations, which is way less precise and much less tested.

Basically its an ideological position and not based on the scientific consensus.

They also conveniently ignore that pretty much everything is transgenic, the viruses and such that Monsanto uses have existed for a few million (?) years and love to throw DNA around.

The chemical definition of "organic" would include pretty much anything edible except water and salt. The term is commonly used to refer to foods made using more natural-ish processes. Irradiating seeds goes very much against that vibe.

organic rules allow mutation breeding.

The problem is defining a notion of "organic" which is meaningful, consistent and acceptable to / understandable by the public. Many people are shocked by the idea that radiation-induced genetic changes count as both non-GMO and organic. I was, when I learned about it. It seems absurd that food produced this way should fall into a category that gets pushed as "better for you and the planet", when it's a process that's almost as artificial and surely less controllable than GM.

Would you also sell "all natural, carefully enriched uranium based from responsible climate compansating sources" face cream? :)

a lot of so-called organic produce is the product of radiation-induced mutation

Citation needed for that.

Nearly all modern cultivars results from the Green Revolution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Revolution) and I think typical organic cultivars are derived from those experiements (otherwise, their yields would be too low to be economic). Organic rules don't require that cultivars using in organics are free of this technique.

What level of citation are you seeking? Like, a science paper showing that at least one organic cultivar was derived from mutation breeding? A historically verified cultivar history?

The article you quote largely defines The Green Revolution as being the use of pesticides, fertilizers and selective breeding. It makes no mention of radiation based mutation. Comment above mine was specifically saying that radiation based mutation is widespread in organic agriculture.

It's totally true. Efforts to produce shorter stemmed wheat that were also resistant to rust[1] used induced mutations from x-rays in some cases. So if you feel like you want wheat that's been mutated to be a good crop via good old fashioned solar UV rays rather than scary artificial cyclotron x-rays you should look for heirloom crops rather than organics.


The article you quote describes how resistance came about via selective breeding and other such mundane techniques and makes no mention of x-rays. Comment above mine was specifically saying that radiation based mutation is widespread in organic agriculture.

Sorry, I just put in the link because I figured people might be confused by me saying "rust" without it. I'm basing my comments on reading The Wizard and the Prophet which gets into the nuts and bolts of the Green Revolution and the various research programs involved. I don't have an online source on hand better than what either of us could Google.

I mean, technically speaking, aren't we all the product of radiation-induced mutation?

See the cited Wikipedia page, which in turn cites a large number of published papers. It's not a controversial fact.

The cited page explains about radiation mutation and lists some of the varieties created, apart from noting that organic standards don't forbid their use it doesn't offer much info on how widespread use is in organic agriculture. That's the bit that needs the citation.

Personally I’d like to dig in to know which varieties have the most nutritional content.

Sounds like a good opportunity for growers to begin to differentiate among themselves.

It's not so much the variety, but the way it's grown. If you grow one tomato in circumstances with insufficient light (or light of certain wavelengths) with lots of nitrogen but insufficient minerals, and planted at the wrong time of the year (something to do with the length of the days and radiant heat - so this varies by location), you'll get different nutritional content from that same seed if it were grown under better circumstances.

Some say there is a relationship between nutritional value and Brix readings of the juice of a plant/vegetable; Brix is essentially a measure of the amount of solids in a fluid. I can't find reliable literature confirming this, and the soil/plant/nutrition scientists I work with don't know either (but they don't dismiss it quackary either - it just seems there's not enough research). Either way, a Brix meter is cheap from Ali Express, and I can sort of (meaning: not properly verified, not sure how it would look when properly statistically analyzed) detect patterns in Brix readings from cheap supermarket lettuce, farmers market lettuce and home grown lettuce (and some other vegetables).

So if this is something you're in to, it's well worth it spending $15 on a refractometer and playing with it yourself. Oh and if you're going to make your own wine, you can use it for that, too :)

Like anything else there's going to be some amount of fraud going on if it's profitable.

My experience buying mostly organic produce for a decade has shown to have generally better results than conventional. Conventional produce doesn't taste as good at the very least, and it's very obvious there can be significant differences.

Organic fruits rot much quicker, it's impossible to keep organic strawberries around for more than a day.

Organic heads of romaine lettuce are often full of living insects like tiny green aphids and other small winged bugs. Previously finding an insect in my produce was such an exceptional occurrence and my perspective so skewed by consuming only conventional produce that I would dispose of it if there were any evidence of insects, finding it so abhorrent as to be bad. Now when there are insects, which is quite common with organic lettuce, I somewhat rejoice in the evidence of insects finding my food an appropraite place to live, wash it off, and eat.

Having said that, most of my experience is in the SF bay area at quite high quality grocery stores where the produce department is large and almost entirely organic from local suppliers, the New Leaf in Half Moon Bay for example is organic by default, conventional clearly labeled and the exception. These places move so much organic produce there's no problem stocking large quantities and varieties without throwing it all away due to the short shelf life. Whenever I'm visiting the midwest and try continuing my normal diet of predominately organic produce, my options tend to be limited to Whole Foods and they don't have much organic produce because the local population isn't buying it. What organic stuff they do have is of notably worse quality than what I've grown accustomed to, not from local sources, and often packaged in branded bags or plastic containers with a suspiciously chemical taste I've come to associate with conventional produce.

There seems to be some access privileges in play with quality organic produce. If you're in an affluent area with health-conscious people and abundant local sources, the grocers have incredible organic produce and there's an obvious advantage. YMMV

I also would like to see actual research backing the "soil depletion" hypothesis. And ruling out alternative theories like https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/05/140507-crop... which showed that rising CO2 levels reduces how nutritious many crops are.

Thanks for your well researched comment!

Nothing you read in the media can be trusted at all. Everything is grossly wrong or propaganda. This is likely propaganda for the organic food industry. Whole Foods was just bought by Amazon and organic is higher margin, so expect a lot more now that Amazon's muscle is behind convincing higher earning people to spend more on food.

I've worked on an organic farm and we used pesticides in combination with a multi-stage bacteria compound. All "organic" stuff that touched live plants, but we were allowed to spray glyphosate on anything we weren't growing. Wind carries small particles very far, though...

> in which there may be trade-offs between yield and nutrient content.

Aren't GMO crops most likely to make that trade-off?

I think it's not just fruits and veggies, but everything else, too, that has a much lower nutrient content, from "low-fat" foods to non-grass-fed meat, eggs, and so on. I saw somewhere that eggs from non-grass-fed chickens have about half the nutrients of eggs from grass-fed chickens.

Humans also eat meat because they get nutrients from meat. But if the animals only eat a certain type of low-nutrient food, then the humans aren't going to get too many nutrients from meat, either.

Add to that the processing of foods, too, which tends to destroy a lot of the nutrients, as well. But somehow people still say that taking vitamins is not necessary if you have a "balanced diet".

First off, 8/10 of those who talk about balanced diets probably still don't have a balanced enough diet, if they think that drinking kale shakes and some carrots and tomatoes is all they need for that balanced diet. If you're not tracking your daily micronutrients, then you don't have a balanced diet. Period.

Second, the above shows that eating food may become increasingly less effective at giving you the nutrients you require.

Aren't GMO crops most likely to make that trade-off?

No. Like most things, it depends on the desired outcome of the product. In fact, some GMOs are specifically designed to be more nutritional rather than less. See golden rice, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_rice

Additionally, "processing food" isn't actually bad. Humans gained quite a bit with the most common food processing: Cooking. Some foods are more nutritious that way, and it made meat a whole heck of a lot safer to eat. Freezing and various types of drying kept us alive during winters and off-seasons. Some highly processed foods might not be the best things to eat, sure, but processed food itself isn't such a big deal.

And that bit about not needing to take vitamins? Yeah, that's true. I personally need to take Vitamin D from September through April, which partially comes from moving to a northern location. The rest of the year I need to get outside in daylight at least 15 minutes a day. No supplements. My diet is pretty balanced: I won't drink smoothies or shakes except as an ice cream dessert. I eat my fruit, I eat fish, eggs, and dairy but no other meats, and cook at home (sometimes freezing for a later date). I have had bloodwork to check for these things.

You don't even need to track your daily micronutrients any more than you need to track your daily calories. Balanced doesn't equal perfect, after all, and you don't need to eat every micronutrient every single day. Simply get informed about the sort of things you need, and check that against your local variety of foods. Eat said variety of foods during the day and week. Add in the little extra things that might have healthy stuff. And there you go: A balanced diet.

The quality of Scientific American has dropped off significantly in the past 20 years, but this article is astonishingly bad:

* Vegetables are lower in nutrients than in the 1950's.

* Here is some serious academic research that shows that.

* It indicates that the cause is the breeding and cultivation of varieties which are lower in nutritional content by farmers.

* But I will assert absent any evidence, soil depletion.

WTF, Scientific American?

I noticed the same thing.

It would be easy enough to test - there's plenty of pristine, hardly used, soil around.

You can also test different cultivars in different soils and see what the real cause is.

>there's plenty of pristine, hardly used, soil around.

Gonna need a [citation needed] on that one.

Find an old growth forest and dig a little.

Or the side of a mountain/valley where it's hard to farm, but plants grow just fine.

Drive through the flyover states and you can see it all for yourself. If you're not on the interstate, you can drive at 80mph without seeing another car for some time.

It's actually really beautiful how untouched some parts of the US are. Hopefully they can stay that way for some time.

The Midwest may have a low density of cars, but the arable land is largely farmed; it isn't pristine, untouched wilderness.

I was born on a farm in rural Ohio, so I can appreciate the difference. I'm thinking more of Wyoming.

But that land is probably not suitable for farming - because if it was, someone would probably have a farm on it. So then you're comparing soil-not-great-for-farming from then and now, which is something, but it's not what we really care about (soil-used-for-farming).

Since the question was specifically about carrots, it is interesting to note wild carrots were originally white, then once domesticated white, yellow and purple. The Dutch cultivated orange carrots in the 17th century.

There are no shortage of articles about the difference between modern and medieval fruits/vegetables, but if you haven’t seen one take a second: https://amp.businessinsider.com/foods-before-genetic-modific...

One of the major benefits of new vegetables is that people don't hate eating them. Many modern, heavily modified vegetables are plenty good; I've seen too many people give this as an excuse for not bothering.


Perhaps somebody could market some varieties specifically for nutritional content, I would not be against that. The biggest problem there is that we still don't really know what "nutritious" even means.

I have doubts about people not hating modern vegtables - the modern ag industry has bred almost all the flavor out of tomatoes for example in a quest for ever better transportability.

An important part of vegetables is fiber. Fiber isn't exactly fun to eat. Removing said fiber from the vegetable may make it more fun to eat, but at the same time will raise its glycemic index making it less healthy for you.

A greater issue than soil depletion is the loss of phytonutrients through selective breeding for taste and early picking of produce for ease of transportation. A fantastic book on this subject, with advice for how to find produce with higher phytonutrient content, is Eating on the Wild Side[0].

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Eating-Wild-Side-Missing-Optimum/dp/0...

Here's a real question -- even if they're less nutritious individually, are we still able to get more nutrition than ever before?

The variety of fruits and vegetables I'm able to eat during the winter is frankly astounding. Heck, even the variety during the summer is a cornucopia compared to 30 years ago (the local supermarket certainly didn't carry kale or swiss chard back then).

If I'm more easily to get whole different sets of nutrients than before, is it a net win?

Exactly due to need for availability of variety of fruit and vegetables are where we are today in terms of nutrition and GMO food.

This is undeniably true, but I understand that the micro-nutrient density is now lower than before, so that to get a given amount of a micro-nutrient you need to eat more calories. It is speculated that this is one of the reasons behind the obesity epidemic of the Western World.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the obesity epidemic is not because folk are stuffing more kale down their gullets.

5+ years ago it was very noticeable to me, going from the UK to the US, that almost all shop bought food was bigger and sweeter. From breakfast cereal to drinks to bread.

I've also noticed that this trend is fairy pervasive here too. You have to go out of your way to find a burger that's not in a brioche bun, for example. I can't comment on whether we've caught up with the States as I now can't eat most breakfast cereals or drink most soft drinks (including mass market beers) because they're too sweet.

>>>I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the obesity epidemic is not because folk are stuffing more kale down their gullets.

Of course you are right. I did not meant this. I was referring that, in general, your brain will seek more food as the nutrient density is now lower than before. This applies to all the food you eat, not only veggie and fruits.

On top of this we have high-calorie, high-palatable, low micro-nutrient foods that make all this much worse.

Nobody got fat on carrots. This is silly.

I did not say that. If you eat your vegs and you do not get all the micro-nutrients you used to get 20 years ago, then you brain will drive you to eat more, not necessarily carrots.

As an organic farmer I'm disturbed by how few commenters here understand what organic produce is.

"Certified organic" (aka USDA organic) means the farmer complied with a very strict list of regulations spelled out in the National Organic Program's Final Rule [1] and audited by an accredited certifying agent. See [2] for the TLDR version of the final rule.

"Organic" produce (aka non-certified organic) doesn't mean shit. The farmer may be following organic practices or may not be. YOU are the auditor in this case. Visit the farm and observe their practices with your own eyes before spending extra on this "organic" produce.

Bottom line: If you're concerned about synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, and/or sustainable agricultural practices in general, make sure you're buying USDA certified organic produce. Or grow the stuff yourself.

[1]: https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=3f34f4c22f9...

[2]: https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Organic%2...

People also seem to conflate "organic" with "healthy". I had past coworkers who thought it was absurd that an energy drink was labeled as organic.

We know that picking produce before peak ripeness results in lower nutrient densities. And from a logistics point of view, higher yields almost inevitably mean earlier picks, to compensate for the more intense logistics of serving geographically larger markets from the same source. It makes me wonder how much of the nutrient decline is due to sampling baseline changes.

I'd be interested to see if there are significant differences in nutrient density for canned produce, which should significantly cut down on this potential error. Canned produce is almost universally canned and sealed within 24 hours of pick, and as such they almost always pick right in the window of peak ripeness, as opposed to several weeks before like most "fresh" produce.

This is why I have found a favorite brand of canned tomatoes and only cook with them unless I can pick my own tomatoes or find them at the farmer's market. Supermarket tomatoes often taste terrible!

back in 89, I worked as a farm hand for a season which was a fascinating experience for many reasons. But I remember the farmer complaining about the tomatoes grown for export were tasteless and devoid of nutrition and he hated them with a passion... But they packed well due to uniform growing shape, looked good - perfectly round, had consistent color, and lasted longer without spoiling.... And supposedly this is what the consumer wanted. When people go through the produce section, its almost all looks and price that the majority of people judge fruit on. Although now, people do seem to be thinking of and talking more about how their food is made. But I am not sure how much of that really is a general trend and how much of that is the company I keep or the country I live in.

Unfortunately true. Farms have a lot of trouble selling "ugly fruit" and a lot of it gets thrown away. Fruit & vegetables have to meet a cosmetic standard to get into the grocery store.

Some companies are starting to appear to capitalize on this though: https://www.imperfectproduce.com/

The problem comes down to our demand for out of season fresh vegetable(of a very limited selection) with an extended shelf life.

The fact that we do not want to eat frozen and canned vegetables is forcing the cultivation industry to select against healthy variants in order to provide the health conscious consumer with the illusion of healthy food all year round.

(this was posted as a subcomment, but deserves to be a top-level comment)

Another explanation/hypothesis which is rarely talked about is rising CO₂ levels: https://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/09/13/food-nutrie...

This even goes so far as harvesting CO₂ from the atmosphere and indiscriminately feeding it to greenhouse crops, while we know that many plant varieties will respond by having far less available nutrients for human consumption.

It'd be interesting to see a study that tried to tease apart the extent depleted soil contributes to the problem and the extent that faster growth (and faster harvest) just results in less nutrients.

Many vitamins contain only carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and there are even more if you add nitrogen and phosphorus, both of which are in "basic" fertilizer. So none of those are particularly going to be soil limited.

Yes but some say the soil may be getting deficient in minerals: zinc, selenium, magnesium etc...

Those can be fertilized, but that is only going to happen if they are limiting plant growth.

Fertilizing for calcium and magnesium availability is pretty common.

Even though the debate about the amount of nutrition in organic/non-organic is unsettled, I think it’s still worth buying organic to reduce pesticide exposure.

Here is a good article summarizing studies on soaking fruits and veggies (both organic and conventional) in baking soda to strip away pesticides.

Here’s a key quote from the article:

“Even with bicarbonate, buying organic may still be worth it!

One thing this article should not be abused is as evidence in an argument against buying organic. Yes, you can reduce the pesticide load on the peel of your favorite produce to almost zero and yes, even the latest (highly pro-organic) review of the literature highlights that pesticides are where the major differences are, but you're (a) still left with the pesticides beneath the skin and will (b) not benefit from the other potential benefits Tiziano Gomiero highlights in his latest paper in Applied Soil Ecology (see Figure 4).”


i assume the article was most interested in discussing 'soil depletion' but another unsettling variable in this is the 'nutrient collapse'

wherein elevated CO2 levels in the grow environment correlates negatively with nutrient content of plants






1. buy some land

2. grow your own food

3. learn how to preserve it


Maintaining a fruit and vegetable garden is more than just a hobby. My family and in-laws have said for years how nutrient deficient produce from chain grocers is. There's a huge difference between locally grown and foreign imported produce. This has compelled us to grow and take gardening much more seriously.

Garden culture for the win.

Has anyone seen any research looking at the nutritional content of something that is picked fresh verse picked unripe and shipped? I'm really curious how this might impact food quality. I know it's the only way to do it but I always wonder if those expensive blueberries are really worth it.

Pretty soon we’re about to have a lot of rich farmers. And a lot of VCs wondering why they didn’t get in on this market earlier.

Glad to see these pieces popping up on here as it helps bring into the discussion that there’s outside factors at play that will be driving this change in the industry.

Here is a Christian biblical practice used for soil conversation in Kenya. They line up with what the Scientific American was saying:


The veg version of: You are what you eat eats.

Makes me wonder how this has contributed to obesity, as well as other illnesses (e.g., depression). That is, if you're not getting the nutrients need there are going to be "side effects."

I don't know about the nutritional value, but I've heard that the mineral composition of soil can directly affect the flavor of fermented grape juice. This may require some personal research on the matter...

It was my understanding that nutrient absorption took time and the use of fertilizers to rapidly grow multiple crops during a season was the primary factor behind the decline in nutrient density in crops.

This article (and most of this discussion) completely misses the elephant in the room.

The reason food crops are less nutritious has nothing to do with their soil and everything to do with their food: CO2.

It's widely held and widely accepted that if you give plants a higher concentration of CO2, they will grow faster. They will take up more space in less time.

We also know that the CO2 levels on Earth have been skyrocketing.

Thanks to CO2, these plants now spend substantially less time in the field before they get harvested, so it stands to reason they'd spend less time taking up minerals and vitamins, or forming them themselves.

Are you going to cite a source that substantiates this? CO2 emissions are a politically charged topic so there's an extra-strong reason to only believe a reliable source

This is exactly why I signed up for a CSA ( know your farmer ) and planted a food forest in my back yard. I know exactly what went into it.

I hope it's not too late to change the title. A yes/no question is against HN guidelines.

The article mentions organic as possibly more nutritious. Are there any studies which prove this, and give comparative organic / non-organic nutritional values?

Second this question. Most conclusions I heard so far were "Organic is not healthier", which is contrary to what the author states.

Studies usually find no significant nutritional difference between organic and conventional crops.

People need to wake up and realize: organic foods are not just about decreasing one's exposure to pesticides - its about saving the soil so our Earth can produce food! Pesticides and modern industrialized agriculture will render the soil useless for food production.

> People need to wake up and realize Clearly you have considered their arguments and respectfully disagree...

> organic foods are not just about decreasing one's exposure to pesticides - its about saving the soil so our Earth can produce food!

Great - I love eating! But do you have any evidence that "organic" as a label actually supports saving the soil? I can find evidence that organic shoppers desire that result, and I can find claims that "natural" fertilizers and pesticides "are believed" to better for the soil, but not much evidence.

Like GMOs, the "organic" and "natural" labels are so broad as to be useless if you are trying to talk about common truths.

I support sustainability. I oppose animal cruelty. I support consumers being able to make informed buying decisions. I'm not convinced the labels we have now actually promotes those goals.

I completely agree on this. If anyone's interested, consider reading "The One Straw Revolution" which emphasises how all these modern techniques which both disturbs the soil and then makes an effort to remedy it afterwards is completely unnecessary. I wonder why this comment is downvoted so much. Has HN become too intellectual and superficial?

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact