Organic Vegetables

ORGANIC FOOD

Is it really healthier? Is it worth paying more? Everything that you need to know

WHAT IS ORGANIC FOOD? WHAT IS CONVENTIONAL FOOD?

Organic foods

The word organic refers to agricultural products that are grown and farmed without the use of growth regulators, fertilizers, (most) synthetic and chemical pesticides, livestock feeds, additives, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Organic food is designed to meet the following standards:

  • Enhance soil and water quality

  • Reduce pollution

  • Provide safe, healthy livestock habitats

  • Enable natural livestock behavior

  • Promote a self-sustaining cycle of resources on a farm

Conventional foods

In conventional farming, farmers are allowed to use chemical fertilizers to enhance plant growth. Conventional food is grown using pesticides, and conventional farmers administer antibiotics and growth hormones to livestock. 

Is organic food healthier?

When looking at the question of whether organic food is healthier than conventional, there are many different things to consider. First, you can look at it from a purely nutritional aspect, comparing the nutrient levels of organic and conventional food. You can also consider differences in pesticide residue in organic and conventional food. Finally, you can look at the impact that each industry has on the environment, as a result of its differing farming practices.

Nutritional differences. There have been multiple studies done related to differences in nutrient density, nutrient content, and balance between nutrients in organic and conventional food. Needless to say, the results of these studies have been fairly mixed. Although some studies have shown small to moderate increases in some nutrients in organic food, others have shown no noticeable differences, and some have even shown conventional food as being more nutritious. Because of the fact that these studies have shown such mixed results, it is necessary that more studies be done before we can say with certainty whether organic food is more nutritious.

Differences in pesticide residues. Although organic farming does use pesticides, pesticides are thought of more as a last resort in organic farming than a necessity, and organic farmers are encouraged to try to deal with pests in more natural ways, such as crop rotation and hand weeding, instead of using herbicides. Contrary to this, in conventional farming farmers are much more open to the use of pesticides, which can lead to overdependence and overuse of pesticides. The amount of pesticides used on each farm can still vary widely, though. An organic farm may even use more pesticides than a conventional farm. In general, however, organic farmers are less inclined to use pesticides, leading to lower levels of pesticide residues.

Differences in environmental impact. To be fair, both organic and conventional farming could do more to lessen their negative impact on the environment, but it is generally accepted by a large segment of the scientific community and the general public that organic farming is better for the environment than conventional. Organic farming is meant to enhance the soil quality as well as promote a healthy variety of crops on a farm instead of a single crop, also known as a monoculture. Despite this, the issue is not as black and white as it may seem. Although organic farms can be better overall for the environment, they are only able to produce around 80% of what conventional farming can produce on the same amount of land, thus requiring more land to produce a similar amount of food on average.

 
 

What are some of the benefits of going organic?

What are some drawbacks?

Benefits:

Organic produce contains fewer pesticides. Pesticides are widely used in conventional agriculture, and residues can remain on (and in) the food that you eat. While organic farms still use pesticides, they are mostly naturally derived, rather than synthetic. 

Organic food is often fresher. This is because it doesn't contain preservatives like those used in conventional food, and is sometimes (but not always) produced on smaller farms nearer to where it is sold. This also means that organic food will go bad faster, though. 

Organic food tends to be better for the environment. Although research is still ongoing, it is generally agreed upon that organic food is better for the environment overall, mainly because some of the practices used in conventional farming can be harmful to the surrounding environment. 

Organic food is GMO-free. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) foods are plants that have had their DNA altered in ways that could not occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding, most commonly in order to be resistant to pesticides or to produce an insecticide. 

Disadvantages:

Organic food is usually associated with a higher price. It is a pretty well-known fact that organic food is usually associated with a higher price, (sometimes up to 40% more expensive). Although there are ways to get organic food at cheaper prices, if you are planning to go completely or even partly organic in your shopping, you should also plan on increasing your budget for food. 

Organic foods don't last as long. Because organic producers are not allowed to use preservatives like those found in most conventional foods, organic food does tend to spoil faster. This may only be a minor detail for some people, but this can lead to more frequent shopping trips, as well as wasted food. 

 
 

How can you tell if food is organic?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established an organic certification program that requires all organic food to meet certain strict governmental standards. These standards are in place to regulate how food is grown, handled, and processed. 

Any product that is labeled as organic in its product description or packaging must be USDA-certified organic. If the product is certified, then the producer may also use an official USDA organic seal. 

The USDA does make an exception for producers that make less than $5,000 per year off of selling organic food. These producers must still follow the guidelines for organic food production, but they do not need to go through the certification process that other producers do. They can label their products as organic, although they can not use the USDA certified organic seal.

The USDA has guidelines for how organic foods are described on product labels:

  • 100 percent organic. This description is for certified organic fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, or other single-ingredient foods. It can also be used on multi-ingredient foods, if all of the ingredients used in the food are certified organic, excluding salt and water. These products may have the USDA seal. ​​

  • Organic. If a multi-ingredient product is labeled organic, a minimum of 95% of the ingredients used in the food is certified organic, excluding salt and water. The non-organic ingredients must be from a list of approved additional ingredients. These products may also have a USDA seal. 

  • Made with organic. If a multi-ingredient product is made with at least 70% certified organic ingredients, then it may have a "made with organic" ingredients label. For example, a package of oatmeal may be labeled "made with organic oats," but the ingredients list must identify what ingredients are organic. These products may not have a USDA seal. 

  • Organic ingredients. If less than 70% of a multi-ingredient product is made with certified organic ingredients, it cannot be labeled as organic or have a USDA seal. The ingredient list can indicate which ingredients are organic, however.

Organic Seal .png
 

Tips for buying organic food

If you've ever gone to a grocery store or done research on organic food, then you'll know that organic food is often more expensive than conventional food. But if you can set some priorities, then it may be possible to purchase organic food and stay within your budget. 

Know your produce pesticide levels

There are some types of conventionally-grown produce that are higher in pesticides than others, and you might want to avoid them when possible. Others are low enough that you may not be as concerned when buying non-organic.

Fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide levels (might be good to prioritize organic):

  •  Apples

  • Sweet bell peppers

  • Cucumbers

  • Celery

  • Potatoes

  • Grapes

  • Cherry Tomatoes

  • Kale/Collard Greens

  • Summer Squash

  • Nectarines (imported)

  • Peaches

  • Spinach

  • Strawberries

  • Hot Peppers

Fruits and vegetables with lower pesticide levels (non-organic might be fine):

  • Asparagus

  • Avocado

  • Mushrooms

  • Cabbage

  • Sweet Corn

  • Eggplant

  • Kiwi

  • Mango

  • Onion

  • Papaya

  • Pineapple

  • Sweet Peas (frozen)

  • Sweet Potatoes

  • Grapefruit

  • Cantaloupe

Other tips and ways to keep the cost of organic food within your budget:

Shop at farmer's markets. Many cities host a weekly or monthly farmers market, where local farmers get a chance to sell their produce at an open-air street market, usually at a discount from grocery stores. 

Join a food co-op. A natural foods co-op or cooperative grocery store typically offers lower prices to members, who pay an annual fee to belong. 

Buy produce in season. Fruits and vegetables will be the cheapest and freshest when they are in season. Try to find out when produce will be delivered to your market so you're buying the freshest food possible. 

Shop around to find the best price. You should compare the price of organic items at the grocery store, the farmers market, online, etc... to see where food will be most affordable. 

Join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm, in which individuals and families can join up to purchase "shares" of produce in bulk, directly from a local farm. 

Remember that organic doesn't always equal healthy. Most importantly, remember that organic doesn't always equal healthy. Making unhealthy food (junk food) seem healthy is a very common marketing strategy in the food industry, and organic desserts, baked goods, and snacks can still be very high in sugar, salt, fat, or calories. Always read food labels carefully.