Organic: What does it really mean?

 

usdaorganicsealWhen grapes or a can of tomato sauce says organic or USDA organic, does that mean it’s more nutritious and healthier than other grapes or cans of tomato sauce that DO NOT say organic?  In a paper published in October 2007 in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a team from the University of California, Davis, demonstrated that organically grown tomatoes have significantly more vitamin C than conventional tomatoes. Even so, the same study shows no significant differences between conventional and organic bell peppers. Hmm . . . I am sure if we polled people they would have a variety of answers based on their personal experiences and knowledge.  

So what is organic? According to the Mayo Clinic, organic is defined as the way farmers grow and process fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming  practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organic produce and meat don’t use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease. For example, rather than using chemical weedkillers, organic farmers may conduct sophisticated crop rotations and spread mulch or manure to keep weeds at bay.

So what does this mean to you in deciding what type of foods to buy?  It appears that many people are buying into the idea of organic and shopping at stores that sell primarily organic.  For example, stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s who pride themselves on providing communities with organic, pesticide free, and locally grown produce and meat are becoming widely used among all incomes.

Which is better for you?
Organic vs. local: Which is better for you?

Mainstream grocery stores like Safeway on the East Coast and Jewel Foods in Chicago are feeling the competition, and have begun filling their shelves with organic foods as well. Especially since you can’t really find a Whole Foods or Trader Joes in many urban neighborhoods. Stores are hearing from consumers that they want more organic, more locally grown and more homone free foods. Oh and yes there is a difference between organic and “all-natural,” “free-range,”  “cage free” or “hormone-free,” which is often seen on eggs, chicken and beef. Overall I do believe that Americans are doing what they can and based on the information they have, to make healthier choices. My goal is to help provide some of that information.

Here are some good things to know, from the Mayo Clinic , to help you in your decision to buy organic or non-organic, natural, etc.

  • Nutrition. No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food. And the USDA — even though it certifies organic food — doesn’t claim that these products are safer or more nutritious.
  • Quality and appearance. Organic foods meet the same quality and safety standards as conventional foods. The difference lies in how the food is produced, processed and handled. You may find that organic fruits and vegetables spoil faster because they aren’t treated with waxes or preservatives. Also, expect less-than-perfect appearances in some organic produce — odd shapes, varying colors and perhaps smaller sizes. In most cases, however, organic foods look identical to their conventional counterparts.
  • Pesticides. Conventional growers use pesticides to protect their crops from molds, insects and diseases. When farmers spray pesticides, this can leave residue on produce. Some people buy organic food to limit their exposure to these residues. Most experts agree, however, that the amount of pesticides found on fruits and vegetables poses a very small health risk.
  • Environment. Some people buy organic food for environmental reasons. Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil.
  • Cost. Most organic food costs more than conventional food products. Higher prices are due to more expensive farming practices, tighter government regulations and lower crop yields. Because organic farmers don’t use herbicides or pesticides, many management tools that control weeds and pests are labor intensive. For example, organic growers may hand weed vegetables to control weeds, and you may end up paying more for these vegetables.
  • Taste. Some people say they can taste the difference between organic and nonorganic food. Others say they find no difference. Taste is a subjective and personal consideration, so decide for yourself. But whether you buy organic or not, finding the freshest foods available may have the biggest impact on taste.

I could continue to discuss organic vs local, or local produce vs non-local, but I thought I would save that for another day and this post is getting too long. So I will end with my take home from my own post: I have always thought that organic was supposed to be so much better for you and in some ways it is. However, if food is not organically grown it doesn’t mean that it is not good for you or less healthy. I believe people have to make the best choice for them, their family and their lifestyles. However, buying from farmer’s markets and locally grown farmers is the best way to go in my opinion! You do so much to help the environment, you support local farmers and you get healthy and fresh food. Check out the Local Harvest website. Plug in your zipcode and find the closest farmer’s market and grocery co-op in your area. Visit one out this Spring!

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Understanding Organic Food | blackgirlgrown

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