Organic food. Those two words embody the most hotly contested food argument since the battle of peanut butter and banana and peanut butter and jelly (I’m a PB&B fan myself). Movements have been created in favor of both sides of the organic vs. nonorganic rally and businesses all seem to be getting in on the recent “organic” turn in the market. For the average person, the reasons for these distinctly drawn battle lines seems clouded with a metric ton of misdirection, misinformation and, perhaps worst of all, the impression that to join either side is to exclude the other entirely. But what is it about organic foods that have so many up in arms about it? What are the benefits of organic food, really? Most importantly, what is organic food?
According to the USDA, America’s authority on all things food related, organic foods are “products using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics”. That seems simple enough, but the number of addendums to that little statement are numerous enough to make your head spin. So, I will make a simplified addition to their definition in lieu of copying pages of exceptions, notes, and technical jargon. Organic foods are any foods that are produced as naturally as possible by sustainable means, available to the average person, and without the aid of chemicals.
People cite different reasons for the popularity of organic foods, from trendy to tree-hugging, but the main thread found throughout the movement is that people desire to eat food that is more natural, and in turn, better for them.
Why is that such a hotly contested assertion?
This desire for more organic choices in the market has prompted big companies and, subsequently, the commercial farmers they employ to protect the belief that organic is better than non-organic.The pro-organic side claims that the non-organic side is either grossly misinformed or simply more concerned about the dollar than your dinner.Thus, the fight goes on
Regardless of the motivation, there are several benefits to eating organically, including some interesting scientific studies that do point to non-organic food as a cause for concern. While the science behind eating organic hasn’t been explored to its fullest potential, there was a study published in 2012 by a university in France that showed rats growing tumors from genetically modified (GMO) corn. Though it was later retracted, the publisher did say there was “no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data.”Large or small, the information is disturbing. Nobody wants corn-on-the-cob with a side of cancer. The speculation that something about chemicals in GMO foods causes health risks has caused many on the fence to choose to go with the safe-rather-than-sorry approach. If you disregard the scientific reasons for a GMO-free life, there are still some very good benefits associated with natural food choices.
What are the benefits?
- Organic foods simply taste better: Since most commercially grown foods are picked before the plants ripen and animals aren’t allowed to graze naturally, the product doesn’t have the time or ability to reach its full potential. This can often mean that foods purchased in local grocery stores are muted and potentially less flavorful than their organic cousins.
- Organics colors are richer. As one of the other contributors to our blog once said, “taste the rainbow!” The more colors in a diet, the healthier it is.
- The longevity of the product tends to be extended because it hasn’t traveled halfway around the world to get to the consumer.
Ouch, my wallet hurts!
Some argue that organic food is simply too expensive to buy regularly. They have a point.
Organic products do tend to be slightly higher in price than the same item without the USDA label. By shopping at the “brand name” organic food marts like Whole Foods or Earth Fare, your grocery bill would definitely exceed most people’s budgetary allowances for food in any given month. However, there are ways to eat organically or, at least, naturally without having to shop at those sorts of all-organic establishments.
Want to shop organic but still save a buck?
Most stores are developing gluten-free and organic food sections within their chains. Even Walmart, with its dedication to cheap prices, has an organic food market with prices that are only a few cents more than their non-organic partners on the same shelves.
But, wait, you say, that’s still an increase in my budget!
True, but I’m not done yet
Some great ways to get around the expense of some of your processed organics is to keep the cost low on your fresh organics, i.e., the meat, eggs, and produce you’d normally buy with your processed goods. A quick google search will usually lead you to several local farmers’ markets where you can buy a whole bag of vegetables for half of what you would pay in a store. Need meat? There are beef farmers all over who would be more than happy to sell you his product directly. They might even let you pick out the cow you want.
Purchasing locally is a three-fold benefit:
- You get to support your local community and buy directly from farmers, so you know where your food comes from.
- Your budget is saved for that organic ice cream you had your eye on back at Wholefoods.
- Since the food is local you’re saving the environment by cutting down transportation mileage.
Finding it difficult to find farmers’ markets or local farmers in your neck of the woods?
Grow your own organic crops! Don’t be intimidated. Trust me, people were growing food before the invention of the wheel and without artificial fertilizer. Between the dozens of gardening magazines, blogs, and help guides, you’ll be able to produce something.Don’t have a yard?
No problem. Look into small scale aquaponics
or stacked garden planters
. They don’t require much space at all to produce enough food for a family. If you’re concerned that you can’t eat all you produce, then no worries. You will be able to can your goods for later. Canning sets are fairly inexpensive—there’s one on Amazon right now for 11 dollars, much cheaper than continuously buying canned foods at the store.Make your organic experience one for the whole family. You’d be surprised to find how fun it can be once you get everyone involved. Trips to the grocery store are often daunting, but the sorts of experiences gained from organics enable you to engage senses that you probably never used previously.By shopping at farmers’ markets, growing a garden and/or interacting with the local farming community, you’ll be able to show your children a world that most aren’t exposed to while encouraging them to appreciate the vegetables on their plates. Who knows, you might just discover a deeper appreciation yourself and inspire the world’s next greatest breakthrough in widespread organics.
Healthy living is just one of the many reasons why organic food benefits consumers, and there are very few reasons not to try them out. The worst that will happen is you’ll find out it’s not for you and the best could be that you have a better, intimate relationship with the true love of most of our lives: food.
Have a favorite organic food or organic shopping experience? Share with us below!