Have you noticed that organic food seems to be everywhere these days? In the produce bins, in the meat coolers, even in the snack aisle! So I decided to do a little research and find out whether organic is just a fad, or whether there’s something behind all the hoopla.
First of all, what exactly is organic food? Here’s the Wikipedia definition:
Organic foods are foods that are produced using methods that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, do not contain genetically modified organisms, and are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.
Sounds great! Many of the chemicals used in modern farming have been shown to cause cancer – and even if you wash your produce carefully, some of the toxins may have already soaked in. To top it off, all those pesticides and fertilizers leach into the soil and can end up in your drinking water – and most public water supplies don’t get tested for them! Pesticides have even been linked to the disappearance of honeybees across the country.
But without pesticides and fertilizers, how do farmers manage to grow anything? I can’t even plant a few tomatoes in my backyard without losing most of the crop to bugs and groundhogs. Not to mention without fertilizer the plants look sickly and sparse. So how do organic farmers manage to cultivate entire fields without the use of modern chemicals?
Turns out, there are numerous ways to control pests and enrich the soil, without the use of harsh chemicals. Companion planting, introducing beneficial organisms, spraying plants with natural oils – check out this list and you’ll see just how many options there are!
Organic food is good for your health, and organic farming methods are good for the environment. But unless you’ve grown the food yourself, you have to take it on faith that the supplier hasn’t used anything toxic to increase crop yields, right? Not really – turns out the USDA (and similar organizations around the world) have strict requirements for all food sold as “organic” in the United States - and producers can’t slap a USDA Organic label on anything until they’ve gone through a rigorous certification process.
But the certification process is expensive, and it can be hard for organic farmers to compete with modern methods which are cheap and easily applied. All of this means that organic food can often be more expensive than conventional choices, and in this economy it can be hard to justify the extra cost. Fortunately, the organic industry has created The Dirty Dozen, a list of the 12 foods most likely to have high concentrations of pesticides when produced by conventional farming methods, to help you make the most of your money.
We’ve talked a lot about organic produce – but you can also buy organic meats, poultry, and a whole host of other items. The USDA guidelines apply to these foods as well, and we’ll talk more about them in upcoming blog posts. In the meantime, why not take some time to check out the organic choices at your local supermarket – or better yet, find a local organic farm near you and ask them about their farming methods!