By Jim Blake
Food is life. We need it to exist. The trick is choosing foods to prolong our life, and not shorten it. Consumers spend billions of dollars each year on organic foods whose cost is often higher than conventional products. But you don't have to spend a fortune to eat healthier. The difference between organic and non-organic products depends on how they're harvested.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates the use of antibiotics, hormones, chemical pesticides, and fertilizers on organic farms. The agency certifies about 5 million acres of farmland in the United States as organic. The Organic Industry Survey notes these products are environmentally friendly and humane.
The trend is catching on. The U.S. organic market sold more than $52 billion worth of goods in 2018 — about 16% more than the year before. Produce must be grown on soil with no “prohibited substances” applied for three years before earning the organic label.
Growing organic fruits and vegetables starts with natural fertilizers. Composted food and leaves and grass clippings won't poison our pets and kids. Organic farming reduces pollution, improves soil quality, and preserves groundwater. The most popular organic foods are vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and grains. Eco-friendly pest control keeps poisonous chemicals from seeping into nearby rivers and streams. Chemical pesticides kill just about every bug they come in contact with, including desirable pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
Other benefits of organic farming? It creates a healthier environment for farmers and rural neighbors, and some produce is higher in antioxidants. Researchers at Washington State University found organic strawberries are higher in vitamin C.
Organics and Veganism
“Certified organic” labels mean the product meets all government standards. But with today’s surge of organic-popular products on the market, you must use your best judgment on whether the item meets your standards. Can't always find organic fruits and vegetables? The Environmental Working Group has suggestions for limiting your exposure to pesticides. You'll find fewer levels in avocados, corn, asparagus, kiwi, and cauliflower. Broccoli, mushrooms, eggplants, pineapple, onions, and honeydew melons are grown with fewer pesticides. Testing high for pesticide use? Strawberries, tomatoes, celery, pears, cherries, apples, grapes, kale, spinach, and hot peppers. In any case, wash your fruits and veggies before eating!
Non-organic foods are produced with synthetic additives, chemical pesticides, and fertilizers. They may be genetically or molecularly modified, which lets producers crossbreed crops to create hardier strains. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates acceptable levels of synthetics that edible products can have.
The nutritional and descriptive labels on products are often confusing and misleading. Along with a list of ingredients, nutrition facts, and dietary claims, you might find the word “organic.” Processed foods must be labeled as such, including whether they contain artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Organic foods cannot contain preservatives, but there are exceptions. Enzymes in yogurt, baking soda in baked goods, and pectin in fruit jellies are acceptable.
Be cautious about packaged goods containing the label "made with organic additives." They are not organic but have at least 70% organically produced ingredients. “Made with organic” items will not have a USDA certified organic seal, but they must have the USDA-accredited label. Do your homework when choosing organic products and familiarize yourself with the USDA rules about food labeling.
Organic and non-organic products both have their positive and negative points. Organic fruits and veggies have no harsh chemicals or pesticides, but their cost may be a little higher. Non-organic products will cost less but may contain fewer nutrients and contribute to a less-healthy planet.
Jim Blake is a lifestyle and environmental writer who enjoys making the most of small spaces. His balcony is covered with a garden he built with upcycled materials.