“Mother Earth” did not make food the way it is now. And I have become concerned about the long-term health effects of all the chemicals, hormones, pesticides and junk used in the growth of non-organic foods. And really, we should. Because there is more and more of all of these in our foods, and the results don’t seem to be too wonderful. I am also wondering about the environmental impact of industrial farming practices that degrade soils, contaminate waterways, increase greenhouse-gas emissions, contribute to a dependency on fossil fuels, and encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
And you know what? I am no longer comfortable eating questionable foods, and I have simple questions that should not be difficult to answer: Where does my meat come from? Is it bred for best flavor or primarily for uniformity of size and color and increased yield? How is it grown? Is it part of a system that works in harmony with nature, or is it grown with synthetic chemicals and fertilizers? Is production sustainable? Do the conditions in which livestock are raised reflect a measure of respect for the animals’ natural instincts and well-being or are speed, efficiency and the profit margin the primary concerns?
So, I am thinking “organic” more and more. But I am wondering if I really know that “organic” means. Here is what I have found out:
Here is the USDA current definition of “organic”: The USDA currently defines organic this way: “Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.”
Sounds good, right? Should be healthier, right?
Well, real organic really is. A study from the University of California at Davis found that organic produce includes significantly higher levels of vitamin C and a greater variety of micro-nutrients than conventional produce. A Danish study concluded that organic milk contained significantly higher levels of vitamin E, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Other studies have shown that grass-fed animals produce meats, milk and eggs with more vitamin E, folic acid, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids and less saturated fat and cholesterol than corn-fed animals.
But the important question today is more: is all “organic” food truly organic? Here’s the scoop, and it goes back to being a label reader once again.
~Food labeled “100% Organic” is entirely organic whole food or is processed from entirely organic foods.
~Food labeled “Organic” describes food that is no less than 95% organic (an organic soup, for instance, might include a small portion of non-organic ingredients).
~Food labeled “Made with Organic…” indicates that a specific organic ingredient is included in the processed food. (Tortilla chips might say “made with organic corn,” for example.) In this category, the product must contain 70% organically grown ingredients to receive the coveted USDA seal. that means that 30 5 of the food is probably not organic.
Buying 100 % organic can get pretty expensive. Here are some of my thoughts:
~Some traditionally grown foods contain more pesticide residue than others, so if you have to pick and choose, go organic on the following: spinach, pears, nectarines, peaches, apples, strawberries, raspberries and potatoes. Produce that is typically “unwrapped” before being eaten–bananas, corn, onions, mangos, avocados–has lower levels of residual pesticide.
Foods containing higher levels of pesticides
Foods containing lower levels of pesticides
~Go local before you go organic. You can ask the local farmers what are their practices and find those who practice healthy farming!
~Don’t be loyal to a brand and don’t be seduced by fancy packaging or well-known faces on the label, whether they’re Elmo or Paul Newman. All foods labeled “organic” in the U.S. go through the same certification process, according to the Organic Consumers Association.
~Shop in season!
~ When your favorite organic foods are out of season, buy frozen, dried or canned versions of them. Produce such as peaches, corn and berries are cheaper this way than when shipped from thousands of miles away. And though canned goods tend to get a bad rap, they’re often picked ripe from the field and packed at the peak of freshness within hours. That means they tend to keep their vitamin and antioxidant levels – and their flavor.
~ Consider becoming a member of a food co-op that includes a sizable selection of organic items. Yes, you’ll pay a fee to join, but you’ll also get to purchase groceries at a discount. Many co-ops stock goods produced by farmers in the immediate area, so you’ll be doing your part to boost the local economy.
~ If you’ve got a green thumb, consider cultivating your own herb or vegetable garden at home. No space? Even a window box filled with rich soil will provide ample room for some basil and cherry tomatoes. Or find out if there’s a protected community garden in your neighborhood where you can plant and tend a few pepper and zucchini plants. It’s a bargain, and you’ll be able to monitor exactly what goes into the soil and onto your plants. ~Consider grass-fed beef. Corn feeds conventionally raised cattle. But grass, a cow’s natural food source, contains valuable nutrients that corn lacks, such as vitamin E, beta-carotene and folic acid. Meats from grass-fed animals contain more of these nutrients, too. Grass-fed beef also includes higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and less saturated fat, cholesterol and calories than grain-fed cattle. What’s more, because cattle’s complex digestive systems did not evolve to eat corn, many corn-fed cattle develop serious digestive problems and infections, which in turn require treatment with antibiotics. Grass-fed cattle also have been shown to have far fewer E-coli bacteria in their digestive systems, and those that are there are less likely to be dangerous to humans. So splurge here!