By Rachel Tefft

This article was originally published in January 2020

Produce wet rack at PCC

Organics: an issue of health equity

Organic foods are a priority at PCC. One question I often hear is whether organics also are—or should be—priorities for our food bank partners.

When this question came up at a recent meeting between the community and board members at the Burien PCC, I shared some of what I have learned through years of working with food access programs and through my first months at PCC. To put it briefly, the answer is complicated.

Some food bank managers worry their dollars won’t stretch as far if they choose organic products—the same budgeting debate that takes place in many households. Some food bank clients gladly choose organic foods if they are available, while others avoid them.

The issue of organics in the emergency food system, though, is much bigger than those isolated choices. It speaks to a much deeper societal narrative that is rooted in politics, big business and profit, but not necessarily in health.

PCC believes that everyone deserves access to organic foods. Many shoppers have come to understand that consuming foods free of synthetic chemicals is best for our own health, our children’s health, as well as the health of farm workers and the environment. However, our industrialized food system has created a reality where organic foods are generally less common, more expensive and more complicated to farm and then bring to market. This has created a divide in our food system, blocking some from these safer options. It has created a situation where the most vulnerable people in our communities are the ones least able to access foods with far fewer harmful synthetic chemicals.

This is an enormous issue of equity and public health.

PCC will continue to advocate for our food access work to make organics more accessible. One existing tool is the Electronic Benefits Transfer card (EBT) for the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. We accept EBT cards at every register in each PCC location, allowing individuals who use them to access organic foods.

Regardless of income or need, it is shocking to consider that what we now find mainstream in our food system was virtually unknown 100 years ago. Regardless of where we are from, what our food cultures look like and what language we speak, few of our ancestors eating a traditional diet had to worry that the fruits, vegetables and grains they served their families contained toxic chemicals, many of which have lifelong detrimental effects on children. The introduction of highly processed and packaged foods as well as mass use of chemical pesticides has done a lot to change the way we look at food, and what any of us consider a normal shopping experience.

I do want to acknowledge the complexities in these past innovations to our food system. Feeding more people, the stated goal of many advancements in agriculture, is an essential goal. Yet the impact that these changes have had on human, animal and environmental health need now to be mitigated. Those in positions of power must acknowledge that calories do not always equal nourishment.


Rachel Tefft is PCC’s community nutrition program manager.

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