There’s so much hype about organic food. But I can see that you are clueless. So let me give you the skinny on what it is.
In this article, we’re going to talk about the following things:
- What is organically grown food?
- Why do you need to eat it?
- Where and how do I get it?
- What is some good organic food that I can eat?
- 9 Health Benefits of eating organic food.
I know you’re ready so let’s begin.
What Is Organically Grown Food?
According to Wikipedia, Organic food is food that is produced by methods that comply with standards of organic farming. Obviously, standards vary from region to region worldwide. But the practices have the same general features in farming. These are the following:
- Strive to cycle resources
- Promote ecological balance
- Conserve biodiversity
- Restriction in using certain pesticides and fertilizers
- Absence of irradiation, industrial artificially produced additives
Simply put, “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products. Organic farmers use practices that encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution.
Here’s a comparison:
Non-Organic Food Production
- Using artificially produced chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth
- Using commercially made chemical insecticides to control pests and diseases
- Using chemical herbicides to manage weeds
- Letting livestock consume antibiotics, growth hormones, and medication to accelerate growth and prevent disease
Organic Food Production
- Using natural fertilizers like manure or compost to nourish soil and plants
- Using natural predators (such as insects, arachnids, and other animals), biological control agents (good bacteria and fungi), mating disruption or traps, and specialized farming practices to reduce the incidence of pests and diseases
- Giving animals organic feed and free ranging (access to outdoors)
Organic and GMOs. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are not used in organic products. Farmers who practice organic farmers can’t plant GMO planting materials and organically managed livestock can’t consume GMO feed.
So what exactly are GMOs? Here are some facts:
- Organisms that have been changed by injecting it with genetic material from another species
- First introduced commercially in 1994 (FLAVR SAVR tomato)
- Plants that are engineered to survive herbicides and insecticides that can kill weeds and pests
- Plants that produce toxins that kill pests (Bt corn)
Identifying Organically Grown Food. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), an organic certification program requires all organic food to meet strict government standards. Farmers, food manufacturers, and distributors should be aware of the labeling that USDA has set to check for meeting these standards.
USDA has set the following labeling with corresponding standards:
- 100% Organic – Made entirely from organic materials
- Organic – At least 95% organic materials, with remaining ingredients that are approved by USDA
- Made With Organic Ingredients – At least 70% organic ingredients and can display 3 organic ingredients on the label. Cannot use the organic seal.
- Non-Organic – If less than 70% organic ingredients,cannot be labeled as organic or use the
- USDA organic seal.
Why Do You Need to Eat It?
I know what you might be thinking. The hype from organic products might not be worth it. For all you know, you might just be buying a high priced product that does not promise much, and you might not be getting your money’s worth. Well, let me tell you some good reasons to buy and consume these products.
Absence or fewer pesticide content. You don’t want poison to enter your body, right? So lesser or no pesticide content is a real good thing. Produce grown conventionally produces products that are chock full of poisons. They do this because they don’t want pests and diseases to plague their crops. It’s a good thing when you want standardized plant products. The problem is, post-harvest practices do not address the problem of cleaning or taking care of the residues of chemical pesticides. Chances are when you buy a product that isn’t organic you are also consuming pesticide.
Fresher produce. When you buy organic, farmers usually sell it straight from their farms. They often do this right after they harvest their produce. This ensures that the product is fresh and good to consume. Aside from that, it does not have the pesticides or chemicals used as preservatives. The shelf life might not be long, but you are guaranteed a fresher more natural product.
Environment-friendly. Most, if not all, farmers who engage in the organic production of crops and livestock use farming practices that are environmentally sound and friendly. They make sure that they don’t use artificially produced chemical fertilizers that deplete the soil’s health. Their non-usage of commercial chemical pesticides would also help in keeping the natural ecology in their system. This is a great way to have a good environment.
Naturally grown meat and dairy. When you consume meat and dairy from most commercial producers, chances are these products are not natural. Animals raised in these setups are given antibiotics and growth hormones to get them to the desired weight in the shortest amount of time and to keep them from diseases. The problem with this is that these antibiotics are also eaten by you, the consumer. Also, some animals are fed byproducts from other animals. Imagine animal cannibalism, a cow eating parts of another cow. This is how mad cow disease happened. Cows were fed processed brain parts of other cows giving them the mad cow disease. Also, these animals are grown in cramped and inhumane areas. This would affect the quality of the meat and dairy. Doing so would get the incidence of bacteria higher. But with organic products, it’s not going to happen. Animals that are produced in this way consume fresh naturally feed. They aren’t given antibiotics and hormones. And for the most part, they are also given a free range in their living areas.
Healthier and more nutritious meat, dairy and vegetable produce. With the way these plants and animals and products are handled, it isn’t surprising that these products are also more nutritious. Nutrients from the soil are not depleted by using artificial commercially produced fertilizer, and this ensures that more nutrients can be consumed by you. Also, since animals consumed natural feed, you won’t be eating unnatural.
GMO-free. GMO’s tend to have a bad rap for a lot of consumers. Exhaustive studies might have been done about products from these, but the safety is not a hundred percent guaranteed. Aside from that, GMO’s tend to follow mass production methods that rely on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, artificial feed and inputs, and practices that are inhumane and not environmentally friendly. In any case, GMO’s are not made using organically produced methods.
Where and How Do I Get It?
Maybe you are now convinced that buying and eating organic is going to be good for you. Now here’s the next question, where and how do I get it?
Organically produced food is much more expensive than your run of the mill products. Here are some reasons why.
- More labor for producers. Commercially produced chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers make the work of conventional farming less labor intensive. But with the absence of these, the labor cost is higher.
- Higher Post-harvest handling cost. Conventional or non-organic produce is not given a lot of post-harvest handling that organic products are given.
- Certification. Getting certified for farmers who do organic production is no easy or cheap task. Aside from investing in farm operations, facilities and equipment and production methods, the farmer has to pay for an annual inspection and certification fee which starts at $400 to $2000 a year depending on the size of their operation.
- High demand, low supply. Because of the hype and the endorsement of people who want to live healthy, organic food is in high demand. In the US alone, retail sales rose from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $21.1 billion in 2008 according to the USDA. The problem is only 0.9 percent of total worldwide farmland is used for organic production.
If you want to know more why organic produce is more expensive, you can look at the report of FAO (Link).
So where do I get organic produce or products? If you say Whole Foods, you haven’t seen the other possibilities of getting your organic food sources. Be sure to try the following out:
Farmer’s Markets.A lot of cities and small town’s host weekly farmer’s markets. Local farmers sell their produce at a discount to grocery stores. The ambiance is also relaxing for most people. If you want to know more,You can look at this post from The Daily Meal (Link).
Food Co-op. When you join a natural foods co-op or cooperative grocery store, you get products that are usually priced lower than that of big supermarkets. All you have to do is pay a minimal annual fee.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. It’s like owning “shares” of a farm. You can also work with them to see the fruits of your labors.
Aside from knowing where to buy, you also have to consider the following things:
Seasonality. It is always best to buy produce in season. These are always the freshest and cheapest during this period.
Look around. Don’t just stick to one source, for now. Make sure to look around for the best bang for your buck. It’s a great way to understand the process and see good deals.
Organic isn’t always healthy. Of course, organic products can still be high in sugar, salt, fat or calories. You have to read that food label carefully.
What Is Some Good Organic Food That I Can Eat?
According to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that analyzes the results of government pesticide testing in the U.S., the following fruits and vegetables have the highest pesticide levels so are best to buy organic:
- Kale/Collard Greens
- Summer Squash
- Nectarines (imported)
- Hot Peppers
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Cherry Tomatoes
These conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are grown with low pesticides, so they are considered clean:
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas (frozen)
- Sweet Potatoes
When buying meat and dairy, you have to make sure that the animals are consuming an organic feed (or in the case of cattle grass fed). It’s also good to have free range animals.
9 Health Benefits of Eating Organic Food
Less risk of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance can increase your chances in getting the disease. This is because pathogens are strengthened and are not affected by antibiotics anymore. This is something that organically produced food bypasses.
Higher levels of anti-oxidants. When something is produced naturally, there is a higher level of antioxidants produced. This in turn will be consumed, and the high presence of antioxidants is good.
Lesser chances of getting allergies. The unnatural mass production of conventionally produced farm products uses chemicals that may trigger allergies. In an organic setup, this is non-existent.
Lesser chances of getting obesity and type-2 diabetes. The chemicals and hormones used in conventional production, in turn, can be passed on the product and consumed by people. This leads to higher chances of getting obesity and type-2 diabetes. This does not happen in organically produced food.
Lesser chances of getting cardiovascular diseases. There is a tendency for non-organic food to have higher fat and calories. This can lead to a higher instance of cardiovascular diseases. In organic food, this is not the case.
Better overall nutrition. Conventionally grown food is produced in the soil where the nutrients are all but gone. Organic food has nutrition jam-packed in it. Also, organically produced meat is leaner with healthier fat.
Higher Quality of meat, dairy, and produce. Conventionally produced meat has animals raised wallowing in their waste. Also, antibiotics and drugs pumped into animals tend to affect the quality of the meat.
Lesser chances of getting food borne illness. With the high standards of getting organically produced food up and running, you can be sure of the quality. This also means top-notch post-harvest practices that greatly lessens the chances of getting foodborne illnesses.
No GMO’s. GMO’s are not entirely safe. The regulation is still not clear. But organic food is a good way to know that what you are consuming is not genetically-modified.