If you've been to the grocery store in the past five years, you've undoubtedly encountered some sort of organic food. Maybe you noticed different packaging or special sections in the store and maybe you've even ventured to try these newfangled products. But most likely, you're still not exactly sure what "organic" means and why it has been getting so much media attention in the last few years. The idea of organic foods can be intimidating, so Recipe4Living offers you a place to familiarize yourself with the terms and facts surrounding this new organic craze.
- What is organic?
In the simplest terms, organic foods are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.
The USDA National Organic Program has created a long and wordy definition that you can view here. As of October 21, 2002, all farmers and organic producers are required to adhere to these guidelines throughout their organic license:
- Do not use prohibited materials (listed above) for three years prior to certification and throughout license.
- Allow outdoor access and pasture for livestock and do not feed animals antibiotics or hormones. Rather, feed animals with 100% organic feed.
- Avoid contamination during processing of products and keep records of all operations.
This relatively simple definition is just the basis for understanding the organic world. When grocery shopping, it's important to know that the USDA has identified three categories for labeling organic products:
- 100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients
- Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients
- Made with Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no genetically modified organisms.
(Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel, but cannot make organic claims.)
For more terms and definitions, check out the comprehensive Glossary at Organic.org.
- Potential Health Benefits
Though there have not been enough long-term studies done to confirm health benefits from organic foods, recently published studies from the University of California-Davis recently found that some organic foods have higher nutritional value than regularly-grown foods. Some people also believe that organic food tastes better, but you'll have to see for yourself.
- Pesticide Dangers
While the idea of eating organic may seem to be more of an inconvenience than its worth, you should consider the harmful effects that pesticides have on foods. They can have detrimental effects on a human's endocrine, nervous and immune systems – and the risk is even greater for children. Remember, the use of these pesticides is prohibited for organic farmers.
For your shopping convenience, a report by the Environmental Working Group used data from the FDA to show that many of the pesticide health risks are concentrated in a relatively small number of fruits and vegetables.
- High Levels of Pesticide: strawberries, red and green peppers, spinach, cherries, peaches, cantaloupe, celery, apples, apricots, green beans, grapes, cucumbers, pears, winter squash and potatoes
- Low Levels of Pesticide: avocados, corn, onions, sweet potatoes, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
The realization that your food may have harmful pesticides on it can be scary, but there are ways to clean your food without having to swear off fruits and vegetables forever:
- Buy commercial vegetable and fruit washes formulated to remove chemical residue (Evironné or Vitanet).
- Make your own cleaning solution with mild dishwashing detergent (1 tsp. detergent per gallon of water).
- Use a soft brush to scrub food.
- Peel fruits with tough exteriors, especially peaches, pears and apples.
- Eat organic.
Click here for more tips on keeping your family safe from pesticides.
- Where to Find Organic Foods
Your search for organic food could mean exploring a new section of your neighborhood grocery store or traveling a further distance to meet your new grocery needs. Chain stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's carry extensive organic sections of their stores. You can also look into local co-ops in your town that will undoubtedly have an impressive selection of organic foods.
If you're still having trouble finding organic in your town, perhaps these organic delivery services will make it easier:
Diamond Organics - delivers to any address in US
Dave's Organics - home delivery in California
Front Door Organics - home and office delivery in Toronto
Organics Delivered - delivers to Toronto and Peterborough Co.
Peapod - delivers to Chicago and South-Eastern Wisconsin and most of the New England area
Urban Organic - delivers to the New York area
Small Potatoes - home delivery within BC, Canada
Organic Express - home delivery throughout California
Door to Door Organics - serves Philadelphia, NJ and vicinity
Planet Organics - home delivery in San Francisco Bay area
A note on costs: Many people don't buy organic foods because they believe them to be too expensive. While organic food is often pricier than its non-organic counterparts, there are good reasons for this:
- Organic farmers don't receive federal subsidies like conventional farmers do, therefore they price reflects the true cost to growing.
- The price of conventional food does not reflect the cost of environmental cleanups that we pay for through tax dollars.
- Organic farming is more labor and management intensive.
- Other Info to Know
In case you still have any doubts as to the incredible impact that organic foods are having on food industry, take a look at this map of the Organic Industry Structure. Looking at the large circles, you'll probably recognize most of the major brand names that occupy your kitchen cupboards, but follow the arrows to see the organic brands these food-giants are creating. Even if you just glace at the chart, it's easy to see that the organic industry is growing quickly and will not be ignored.
If you're still thirsting for more organic knowledge, the Internet has some incredible organic resources. Check out these websites for further information.