I love food. I always have. Ever since I was tiny, I could always be counted on to have a healthy appetite and maybe that's why I grew to have my 6-foot-1-inch frame! I grew up eating a fair bit of organic food thanks to my parents having at least some awareness of its importance, but I never really knew why eating "organic" food really mattered. I tried my best to eat well but didn't think twice about chowing down on fast food now and then - especially when I had to regain the 30 pounds I lost in the hospital while I was bedridden and fed through a feeding tube! It's only in recent years that I've learned why organic food and organic farming is so critically important if we want to stay healthy.
Produce, meats (except fish) and processed (packaged) foods can be labeled as organic but for this post, I'm focusing on produce (plants) alone because organic meat is a whole other subject that I'll tackle in another post and processed food just isn't real food, organic or not. Organic candy is not healthy!
Modern agriculture's technology has allowed us to grow food in volumes that were impossible in the days of small family farms, but bigger is not necessarily better. We've distanced ourselves from where our food comes from and convenience foods have trumped knowing how to cook. There is a push happening to take us back to knowing where our food comes from but it's not an easy change to make when our food system works very hard to keep us in the dark, and we're constantly bombarded with messaging that junky convenience foods are better, easier and preferable.
"Organic" is a term regulated in the United States by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and in Canada by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. In order for food to bear the organic label, it must meet specific criteria. According to the USDA, , "Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used."
Sound good? Here are 5 reasons why you can love it even more!
• Buying organic can save you money!
Seriously! I know people think "organic food is so expensive!" but if you buy fresh or frozen whole fruits and veggies and you buy fresh produce in season, it packs a nutritional punch so you don't need to eat as much. Junk food offers almost no nutritional value so we eat tons of it and are often still hungry when it's all gone. We feel like crap and we just spent a bunch of money of seemingly "cheap" food, and for what? Buying in bulk saves cash and if you can't eat or use it all before it spoils, did you know you can blanch (plunge it in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then ice water to stop it from cooking) and freeze your own veggies? I haven't tried freezing my own fruit yet. We freeze our vegetables when we have more peas and beans than we can eat from our garden! If you have a local farmers market, food direct from the farmer can be a lot cheaper than the grocery store and many farmers now offer CSA programs where you get a bulk box of produce or meats fresh every week or month.
• Buying organic food can save you from exposure to toxic pesticides that could harm your health!
A recent study confirmed that if you eat organic food, you will reduce your exposure to pesticides! A pesticide called 1,3-D used on conventionally grown strawberries, for example, is believed to cause cancer.
Most pesticides are not selective and can be toxic to nontarget species including humans, and many of these cause neurotoxicity. Major pesticides (insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) are actually more toxic to human cells than the declared active principle (AP). For example:
"Ethoxylated adjuvants found in glyphosate-based herbicides were up to 10.000 times more toxic than the so-called active AP glyphosate and are better candidates for secondary side effects. This may explain in vivo long-term toxicity from 0.1ppb of the formulation and other toxicities that were not explained by a consideration of glyphosate alone. These adjuvants also have serious consequences to the health of humans and rats in acute exposures"
Not every produce item NEEDS to be organic though and you can see the "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" on the EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
• Organic foods can provide more nutrition than their conventionally grown counterparts, saving your health and your wallet
Studies showed that organic tomatoes have higher levels of polyphenols and flavonoids (both antioxidants), and not only tomatoes - a study by Newcastle University shows higher antioxidants in organic food across the board. Organic milk has been shown to have higher levels of Omega-3s, a beneficial fatty acid, because cows producing organic milk must be grazed on pasture for at least 4 months out of the year, whereas cows on conventional dairy farms typically eat grains like corn year-round which does not raise Omega-3 levels in the milk. More nutrition equals more bang for your buck!
• Organic foods can save the health of your kids
Developing children are far more sensitive to the toxic effects of pesticides than adults. Infants' still-developing kidneys and liver cannot remove pesticides from the body as well as an adult, and babies and children may be exposed to higher levels of pesticides because they breathe faster, are closer to the ground and tend to frequently stick their hands in their mouth.
• Organic farming supports wildlife habitats for the bees, birds and butterflies we love to see, saving the pollinators of our food
Since it's been in the news a lot lately, you're probably aware of bee colony collapse and the decline of birds and butterflies. Monarch butterflies have been hit hard by increasing herbicide use wiping out the milkweed they need to breed. Milkweed is the ONLY plant a Monarch's larvae will eat. Bees' numbers are declining rapidly and although the bee deaths' cause hasn't been definitively named, many signs point to pesticides for having "sub-lethal effects" on bee colonies. Birds are being affected, too, with a certain class of pesticides called neonicotinoids (that has also taken a lot of blame for killing bees), being blamed for the decline of 14 species of birds.
Organic farming, on the other hand, supports the habitats of these little fliers, and other wildlife. Scientists from Oxford University say organic farms support 34% more plant, insect and animal species than conventional farms!
For my fellow Canadians, Canada's organic regulations are not clearly stated for consumers like those in the US, and it required some digging. Thankfully, the CBC did a bit of that in 2011, but instead of clearly stating what organic means in Canada, the regulations are buried in this document. The procedure of organic certification states, "A certification body shall certify an agricultural product as organic if it determines, after verification, that...the substances used in the production and processing of the agricultural product are those set out in, and used in the manner described in, CAN/CGSB 32.311"
CAN/CGSB 32.311 is a list of permitted substances in organic food production. Reading quickly through the list, it doesn't look like Canada permits anything crazy or much different from what's allowed in the US but man, talk about creating some major legalese that is not immediately clear to consumers! Basically what they're saying is, certified organic in Canada means that the food has been produced using ONLY the substances on their "permitted" list. So to know what that really means, you'd have to go read the whole thing, and then check it periodically to see if it has changed.
So way to go, Canada. Way to make the law dense and impossible for consumers to quickly understand.
In the US, the use of the term "natural" on food only means something on meat and poultry packaging. The USDA states that "natural" meat and poultry means, "A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”)."
But for other foods, the term is not regulated by the USDA or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the FDA says only, "FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances."
The term is equally ambiguous in Canada.
Do you have questions about organic food? Natural versus organic? Do you think organic is worth it or a waste of money? I'd love to know what you think! Leave your comments and questions below!
And if you like the photos, I added some to my photography site.
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