What do you think of when you think of when you think of organic foods? Do you think of super healthy foods for uptight mothers? Or do you think of the regular version of foods but bumped up a dollar or two? Many people do not know the truth behind the label “organic.”
Organic food sections across the United States are growing. According to a 2019 article from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), over 4% of total food sales are organic. More and more people are realizing the benefits of purchasing organic food.
One benefit of eating organic foods is that they are less processed. They contain fewer additives such as synthetic fertilizer, synthetic pesticides, prophylactic antibiotics, or hormones. Additives are linked to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer.
Another positive aspect of purchasing organic food is that it is chemical free. This means there are no artificial ingredients. All food is grown with natural fertilizers such as manure and compost, instead of chemical fertilizers. Weeds are controlled naturally using crop rotation, hand weeding, mulching, and tilling. Even pests are controlled using natural methods including birds, insects, traps, and naturally-derived pesticides.
Organic foods are produced using only approved methods. It promotes recycling of resources, is less harmful to the environment, and promotes biodiversity. The USDA sets requirements for these approved methods and administers the certification of all organic products.
The methods that organic farmer’s utilize reduce pollution, preserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy. It is better for surrounding birds, animals, and even people who live near the farms. The methods are also believed to decrease global warming.
Better animal treatment is included in the USDA’s guidelines for organic foods. It is required that animals used are provided shelter in an area with unlimited access to food and water. Continuous access to outdoors is required as well, though this area may be fenced and/or covered with netting material.
A pleasing factor of organic produce is that it is often fresher than regular produce. This is due to the fact that it does not contain preservatives. Fruits and vegetables are picked while ripe and brought to a nearby store or market. Non-organic fruits and vegetables are picked while unripe, so they are ripe when they hit the stores. The produce usually tastes better when it’s fresh.
One final plus of buying organic is that the money stays in the local economy. Instead of much of the money going to distribution and marketing, more of it goes back to the farmer. Local farmers have a smaller carbon footprint than large corporations.
Eating organic foods is most important for young children, because their immune systems, bodies, and brains are still developing. It is equally important for people with weakened immune systems. It can also be especially beneficial to pregnant women because the pesticides can travel through the womb to their fetus.
It must be noted that there is no shortage of organic junk food. Not all organic food is automatically healthy – it can still be high in fat and/or sugar. Organic junk foods are typically quite identical to their conventional counterparts.
It is a common misconception that organic food is unprocessed, which is false. It is less processed, but it does not take away the risks of obesity, cancer, and other diseases. Even pesticides derived from natural sources can be toxic. An organic farming pesticide called rotenone has been proven to cause Parkinson’s disease.
The USDA does not require perfect animal treatment with organic farming. A majority of nutrients in the animals’ diet comes from grass. This does not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. Plus, there are non-organic food companies who pledge to do the same practices the USDA guidelines include for organic farming.
The biggest downside to buying organic, in most people’s eyes, is that it costs more. Organic food can be pricy due to the limited supply and greater labor input. It is up to the buyer to decide if organic food is worth the extra cost.
To get organic food more affordable, look for organic produce when it is in season. Shop at a local farmer’s market, where often the food comes in bulk for cheaper. Another option is to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, in which individuals sign up to purchase “shares” of produce in bulk.
To read more:
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations