“Organic.” The term elicits ideals of “All Natural,” “Antibiotic and Pesticide Free,” “Healthier.” It can also mean more expensive. Is eating organic really that much better? The answer is more perplexing than it may seem. First of all, one needs to be educated about what is “organic” versus what is “certified organic.” Organic foods by definition are not genetically modified, must be grown without pesticides or additives such as growth hormones and often involve the use of energy efficient farming practices such as recyclable and biodegradable materials. Many small farms, including several in the area, utilize organic farming practices. However, many of these farms are not “certified organic.”
Certification is handled through government subsidized organizations and is overseen by the USDA. The process involves extensive inspection and often involves exorbitant sums of money which prohibit many small farms from obtaining the certification. There is also a very real issue with the abuse of organic certification by large, corporate farms who obtain lobbyists to create loopholes in the certification process, enabling non-organic products to be utilized in the manufacturing of the final product distributed to grocery store shelves, such as dead animal products that may have been fed antibiotics.
Therefore, it is imperative that the educated consumer beware when they are purchasing “certified organic” products in corporate supermarkets. One simple way to determine the authenticity of the organic certification is common sense. Certain products, like organic frozen foods, just don’t make sense. While organic practices may have been involved in the general production of the ingredients involved, the processing and packaging of the materials in the final product necessarily involved non-organic substances. Another common sense one is fruits and vegetables that don’t withstand transportation particularly well. Fruits like strawberries are so fragile that if they aren’t genetically modified or protected against pest or mold development, they would never make it to the supermarket shelf. While you may find organic strawberries at a farmer’s market, because they didn’t have far to travel and are being sold within hours of being picked, not days, purchasing organic produce such as strawberries in a supermarket isn’t logical.
Then there is the issue of cost. Most organic products available in the grocery store involve not only the added cost of organic growth practices, but also the cost of transportation to get these items to the grocery store shelf. Purchasing organic produce at the local farmer’s market, however, doesn’t involve anywhere near the cost associated with the grocery store transport. You will pay a slight premium, but in the end, putting a little more into what you are putting in your mouth makes sense in the long run. The long term benefits in terms of what you will save on medical bills in the future are well worth it.
Bottom line is that “organic” is great. Take advantage of locally available organic resources when you can by shopping at the farmer’s market when available. When not, be aware to do your research, read your labels and use your common sense. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. For more information on organic foods and locally available foods, two great books to read are “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan and “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. Both delve far deeper into the pros and cons of organic foods and also in how to make educated decisions on how to purchase organically and both are fascinating reads.