This is one of the first posts that I began writing back when I initially started Veggie Terrain. At that time, I was just beginning to fully appreciate the importance of "organics," but was also aware of many of the questions and much of the confusion surrounding organic food. As a result, I began writing this comprehensive article, which I'm finally posting - just in time for summer's abundance of fresh, organic fruit and produce!image borrowed from bbc.co.uk
There's been a lot of talk about buying organic over the past few months. People seem to be going crazy for Whole Foods, and there's lots of whispering about people incorporating "organics" into their "green lifestyles."
But what exactly does "organic" mean, and what are the benefits of going organic? Furthermore, when is it important to spend the extra money on organic produce, and when is it okay to skip organics all together?
Well, if you've been wondering about any of these issues, you're in luck! Read on to find the answers to these, and many more questions, below.
Organic: The Definition
Initially, there was a lot of confusion about what it meant for a fruit or vegetable to be called "organic." However, what appeared to be the case at first - and is indeed true - is that buying organic is both better for the environment and better for you.*
But before we get into the benefits of organics, let's start by discussing the basics...
The bottom line is: if a product bears a "USDA organic" label, you are guaranteed that it's at least 95%-free of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and sewage sludge. (Appetizing, isn't it?)
Furthermore, no use of antibiotics, hormones, or genetic modification is permitted with regard to such products.
Two other labels/definitions that you might see while shopping are:
- 100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients
- Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30%, including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
- Note: Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.
Benefits of Organics
Both your personal health, and the health of our environment can benefit from the use of organic foods and products.
For example, research regarding the increase of nutrients in organically-grown (as opposed to non-organic) fruits and vegetables is continuing to manifest itself. Likewise, organic farming has a far less negative impact on the environment than non-organic farming methods do.
- Research shows that organic farms do not consume/release synthetic pesticides into the environment - some of which have the potential to harm soil, water, and local terrestrial and aquatic wildlife.
- Feeding the soil with organic matter instead of ammonia and other synthetic fertilizers has proven to increase nutrients in produce. This results in higher levels of vitamins and minerals found in organic food, according to the 2005 study, “Elevating Antioxidant Levels in Food through Organic Farming and Food Processing,” published by the Organic Center's State of Science Review.
- When calculated either per unit area or per unit of yield, organic farms use less energy and produce less waste (ex: packaging materials for chemicals).
- New research verifies that some organic produce is often lower in nitrates and higher in antioxidants than conventional food.
When to Buy OrganicUnfortunately, organic produce is often more expensive than non-organic produce. As a result, adding organic foods to your grocery list - especially at regular grocery stores - can get expensive. Thus, figuring out when it's necessary to go organic, and when it's okay to skip it, is an important decision.
Of course, many people would argue that "all organic" is the only way to go, but since most of us don't have money trees growing in our pesticide-free gardens, that's not very helpful advice...
One common suggestion is to always buy organic when it comes to the fruits and veggies that you use most often. For example, if you're an-apple-a-day kind of a person (which I happen to be), it's best to shell out a little extra for organic apples.
On the other hand, if you rarely eat celery, then it's probably okay to buy it as non-organic produce on the rare occasions that you do purchase it. The theory behind this idea is that by purchasing organic versions of your most commonly consumed foods, you'll be exposed to less chemicals on a regular basis.
Another suggestion is to reference the "Dirty Dozen" fruit/veggie list when shopping, which was created by the Environmental Working Group - a non-profit organization that focuses on public health and the environment. It lists the 12 "dirtiest" and "cleanest" fruits and vegetables, based on the EWG's exhaustive research into the amount of pesticides that each crop is exposed to.
According to the EWG, the Dirty Dozen include the following foods, which should be purchased organic*:
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Grapes (imported)
On the other hand, the EWG has determined that the following 15 foods are exposed to the fewest pesticides, and are therefore the "cleanest" and may be purchased non-organic:
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas
- Sweet Potatoes
In addition, click here to view a more detailed list of the 43 fruits and vegetables that were researched by EWG.
Tips for Saving on OrganicsA great option when it comes to organics is to sign up for a membership with a local farm, which can deliver organic food right to your doorstep! This can easily be done through "Community Supported Agriculture" (CSA) programs.
CSAs allow individuals to pay monthly or yearly fees in order to receive boxes of organically produced food, which come directly from a local farm. While some programs allow consumers to select the foods they wish to receive, while others simply deliver whatever produce is the freshest and most abundant that month.
For more information about these fantastic programs, please visit this website. Keep in mind that taking part in a CSA allows you to build a relationship with your local farmers, to eat both locally and organically, and to encourage and support sustainable, healthy agricultural practices. Receiving a box of random produce each week or month will make you a better cook, as well!
If the CSA program doesn't work for you, or if you're looking for other ways to save money, check out the following strategies, which have been taken from www.organic.org.
- Comparison Shop. You may be able to find less-expensive alternatives at different stores. Many major chains are coming out with their own organic brands, such as O Organics™ at Safeway or Dominicks, and ShopRite Organics at ShopRite.
- Cook More. The more convenient the food is, the more expensive it is. For example, buying an organic frozen dinner may save you time in the same way a conventional frozen dinner would, but it costs quite a bit more than its non-organic counterpart and much more than a homemade meal. Buy organic items that are lower in price (such as produce), and make your own dishes from scratch.
- Stock Up. Stock up on your favorite items when they go on sale. Or try something new that is on sale or is priced well, and you may find a new favorite!
- Buy in Bulk. Buying in bulk will keep costs down. Look for many pantry staples often available in bulk, such as beans, legumes, rice, flour, nuts, chocolate chips, and much more. Many local co-ops have extensive organic bulk sections.
- Shop in Season. Shop farm stands and farmers’ markets for the freshest, most-delicious produce while supporting local farmers. Purchasing in season produce from your grocer may also keep costs down.
- Click for a comprehensive list of farmers' markets in the Chicago-area, based on markets available each day of the week
- Or, click for an interactive listing of farmers' markets in the U.S., listed by state
- Get educated!
- Read more about EWG's "Dirty Dozen"
- Find out what's going on with organics in your state (click on the drop-down menu on the left-hand side of the page)
- Peruse more research about organic nutrition
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