Organic foods are increasingly available in local supermarkets and are continually becoming more and more popular. While going organic can be a lifestyle change, it doesn’t have to be unmanageable. There are several key points to consider before making the change that should help you make any kind of decision.
What Does Organic Actually Mean?
Organic food must meet certain criteria before it can use the label ‘organic’. For example, there can be no pesticides present, and any livestock must have only been fed organic feed. Animals must have access to sufficient outside space, and cannot be treated with any chemicals such as antibiotics. In the UK and USA, food must be at least 95% organic to use the term organic.
An alternative label of ‘made with organic ingredients’ can be used where 70% of the ingredients are organic. If going organic is highly important to you, you may wish to avoid the ‘made with organic ingredients’ label as that leaves a fairly large amount of room for other, non-organic ingredients to be present.
Typically, food and products that carry the organic label are naturally produced and minimally processed. Depending on the set of criteria for the particular food, as set by the USDA in the United States, organic produce as one example can only be labeled organic when it is grown using a strict criteria that includes pesticide free, and sustainable agricultural and production practices, which minimize negative impacts on the environment and people.
Organic foods and products meet specific production criteria:
- Food farms use sustainable practices without chemical pesticides;
- Only non-chemical methods can be used by growers to control pests and weeds;
- No radiation treatment to prevent spoilage;
- No genetically modified crops or organisms are used to grow food;
- Livestock are antibiotic and growth hormone free and receive only humane treatment;
- There is also a larger cultural context to organic where people adopt the lifestyle to:
- Minimize exposure to harmful chemicals and toxins;
- Support eco-friendly practices that do not negatively affect the environment;
- Use naturally produced and sustainable products and services to achieve these objectives.
Cost And Availability
Until recently, organic food was not widely available and cost considerably more than non-organic food. Organic food is often more expensive because the production processes are more expensive, and put simply, supply and demand effects.
However, in recent years, the cost has decreased substantially, and many more stores are stocking organic food; many supermarkets now have a large organic section and provide organic alternatives for many types of food. Although there is still slightly less choice and organic food is still more expensive, it is much more affordable than before.
Cost is a major consideration for many people as organic costs on average 40% more than traditional produce and meats. Local farmers markets are a good way to save money and also choosing only the dirtiest foods allows you to pick and choose what you will buy organic and therefore save money.
Many people follow the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List™ that is published every year and identifies the most pesticide-ridden fruits and vegetables.
Family And Household
Going organic can affect the whole household, unless you always eat separately, which may not be practical at all. Before making this decision, other members of the household may need to be consulted as they may have strong views either way on going organic. This may ultimately make your decision for you; it may be too costly and inconvenient to cater for both organic and non-organic tastes.
If you are particularly concerned about the impact our food has on the environment, maybe organic is the right decision. The production processes are designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible, and to cause the minimal about of harm. Equally, workers, farmers and other staff are better compensated and usually have better working conditions.
Some people are convinced that organic food tastes better than non-organic food. This is simply a matter of preference, but is a common finding amongst organic communities. There is little research into this area, so it comes down to a matter of personal preference.
Organic food tends to have much less hydrogenated fat present; hydrogenated fat has been linked to serious health conditions such as heart disease. By reducing your intake of hydrogenated fat, you are ensuring you have a much healthier lifestyle and less chance of getting heart disease.
Despite the focus on organic or non-organic food, the main factor to consider is a balanced diet. Whether organic or not, a balanced diet is still key and ensuring you have a sufficient quantity of fruit, vegetables, vitamins, and the main food groups will be better for you.
Ultimately, whether you should go organic or not is a matter of personal preference and budget. If supporting the farmers and environment is high on your list of priorities, then organic is definitely the way forward. If, however, it is not and you are operating on a small budget, then it might be time to rethink going organic. Either way, it is simply a matter of deciding what matters most to you.