Behind the Scenes: Organic vs. Conventional Food

How the Idea Came to Be

Once again, our group had some trouble thinking of a story topic. The first idea we pondered on for awhile was a feature on Heart Castle. However, we came to the conclusion that there is no newsworthy aspect to this story idea, nor could we relate it to Cal Poly in any way. Not only that, but it would have been nearly impossible to talk to someone in the Hearst family.

So, we ditched that idea.

As the end of our class period was fast approaching, we came up with the idea of organic versus conventional food. Neither Katie, Maddie, Dani, nor myself really knew much about organic food. Our main question was this: 

Is organic food really better than conventional food?

We did not know the answer and we figured a lot of the student community probably does not either. With that, our story was born. By the end of class, Maddie’s print article, Dani’s multimedia piece, and Katie’s video all had a general direction that they were headed in.

Getting the Details

As soon as we figured out what story idea we were going to roll with, we instantly knew what sources we wanted to track down. We thought of students, faculty, and community members that would able to give us the answers we were looking for. We ultimately decided on: Megan Coats, Registered Dietitian for Campus Dining; Dr. J. Scott Vernon, agricultural communications professor; and Rachel Del Toro-Gipson, senior nutrition major.

Maddie, Dani, and I met with Rachel early Friday morning in the UU to talk organic and healthy food.

Our student source, Rachel, has a food blog called Viva La Veganista, which is dedicated to her vegan and healthy lifestyle. Being the first person we interviewed, she was able to give us many details about organic and healthy food that we did not know before. As a result, she also set the stage for what direction Maddie wanted to go in for her print piece and what questions she would ask Dr. Vernon and Megan.

Next was Megan. It was a bit touch and go when it came to scheduling an interview. She is a key part of our story and it would have been difficult without her. In the end, it was smooth sailing once I finally got a definitive answer that the interview was on for Monday afternoon.

Megan’s basket of stress balls and trinkets from conventions in her office.
Katie and Megan discussing how organic food compares to conventional food.

We all met in her office and sat down at a round table in her office. Katie was first to interview Megan, so she started setting up her camera equipment right away. Once it was all set up, Katie realized the camera and the microphone were not picking up sounds. Luckily, Dani had a camera of her own and was able to save the day. With that, we jumped right into the interview.

As soon as Katie finished up her questions, Maddie smoothly transitioned into her own questions. Dani was also able to use some information from Megan for her multimedia piece about the pros and cons of organic food.

Megan offered us many fun facts about organic food and debunked the major misconception that organic food is better for you.

“Research is slowly finding that there are some foods that are better for you, healthwise, organic and that’s really because of the pesticide residue. It’s not because they’re healthier, usually they’re not necessarily healthier by any sense, but they do have less pesticide residue,” Megan said.

Finally, we interviewed Dr. Vernon early Tuesday morning. We were curious about organic practices on Cal Poly’s campus and, of course, what his take on organic food is. Like our other two sources, he provided great insight and was able to tie the whole story together just in time.

That’s a Wrap

This story came together just as we hoped with few bumps in the road. We learned a lot of valuable information and we are happy to be able to share it with the Cal Poly community.

Dani Orlandi, Multimedia

“I label myself as a serious foodie, so reporting on this topic was both eye-opening and a lot of fun. I tend to pay more for organic fruits and vegetables because I’ve always believed they were somehow ‘healthier.’ After talking with various Cal Poly professionals involved in agriculture, their opinions have changed my perception on how I look at food – there’s really no science that proves organic is better for you than conventional.”

Katie Stark, Video

“Going into this topic I didn’t really know what organic meant and just assumed that organic food is better. After this I won’t put so much emphasis on buy organic products. I think it is important we educate students about this so they aren’t spending their money on something they don’t necessarily need. ”

Maddie Reid, Text

“I’ve always eaten organic because I thought it was healthier and more nutritious, but never actually knew what “organic” meant. Working on the project and being able to interview three very informed sources opened my eyes to the food growing methods and the pluses and minuses of each side. I was really nervous going into the editorial piece since I haven’t written a news story in so long, but this topic was really interesting for me so it made writing the story a lot easier and I ended up being really proud of how it all came together.”

Caitlin Clausen, Public Relations

“I have always tried to buy organic when it was at a reasonable price, but I never knew why. Ever since the end of high school I have been told that organic is better and healthier for you and my mom always encouraged me to eat organically. So, I did. But why? Now I know that when something says it is organic, it does not mean that it is entirely organic. So, from now on, although I might be slightly stuck in my ways, I will be careful about what ‘organic’ and conventional food I eat.”


– Caitlin Clausen