To nourish your mind as well as your body

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, August 8, 2010

To Buy Organic or Not to Buy Organic

There's been a lot of discussion lately about buying organic. There are even services that offer to deliver local, organic fruits and vegetables straight to your doorway to encourage organic purchasing (e.g. L.O.V.E. Delivery and Farm Fresh To You). But what does "organic" even mean? And what are the real benefits of going organic?

My science-minded father has a good time shaking his head at "organic" produce and chuckling, "Everything's organic." (The joke refers to the chemical term "organic": noting something that is characteristic of, pertaining to, or derived from living organisms; of or relating to animal or plant constituents having a carbon basis.)  But "organic" in the context of food is actually a term that is defined by the USDA to refer to foods that are grown where the use of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, and other chemicals is avoided or restricted.

So why buy organic?

A. Buying organic can be a way of "going green". The United States uses approximately 350 million pounds of pesticide a year (agricultural, home, and commercial use) link. The chemicals used end up in rivers and streams, as well as ground water, and affect animals, fish, birds, and people. The EPA classifies more than 40% of the pesticides used in agriculture, home, and commercial use in the United States as "likely, probable, or possible carcinogens". In a world of Brita filters and bottled water paranoia, how are we okay with pouring chemicals into our active fresh water supplies - not to mention poisoning fish, flora, and fauna?

B. Unlike most propaganda will tell you, organic food isn't more nutritious than non-organic food link. The important factor about eating organic foods is that they are far less likely to have chemical residues, which is really important when considering some of the fruit and veggie crops that are usually heavily treated with pesticides. Vegetarian Magazine offered a list of these crops, so I'm sharing it here:

Bell peppers
Imported grapes

The above fruits and vegetables are things you should try to buy organically. Apparently, again according to VM, sweet potatoes, onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwifruit, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, and honeydew melon are not as dangerous non-organically, which I assume means these crops don't receive the same pesticides or, if they do, they are far less affected.

A note on meats:
The USDA has standards for organic meat products which require commonly used agricultural chemicals to a) not be used at all, or b) for a 'wash out' period to be observed before meat and milk from a 'treated' animal can be sold. Health risks associated with meats are generally associated with the fat and cholesterol contents of the meats, not their chemical residues. The USDA regulations do not require that the "organic" animals be treated well.

So what was the point again? Oh, right. To buy organic or not. Personally, I do. The food may not last as long, but since I buy in small quantities - just as much as I need for the next couple days - I end up healthier, happier, and hipper with the green wave. The USDA, in answer to the question "Is organic food safer to eat?" answered "For the most part, yes." The choice, however, is up to you.

All that said, be wary of falsely labeled organic products. If the product is USDA approved organic, it will have a label noting its affiliation. If the label simply says "organic", it may still be organic, but it is not USDA approved.

Have a peace. :)


  1. This is very interesting. The tilapia recipe look good also.

  2. This was so informative, thank you. I have a question though ...In "A" are you categorizing Brita filters with bottled water? Do you have a better option to tell us about?

  3. To clarify. Brita filters and bottled water, to me, represent a paranoia about the safety of "free" water (i.e. tap). So they were categorized together to represent that distrust in the face of chemical leaks into fresh water. I was not maligning filtered or bottled water; only pointing out that if you're utilizing these tools to protect yourself, you might be interested in going organic to protect the planet.

    I hope that clarifies?

    BTW, if you are drinking bottled water. If you decide to reuse the plastic bottles, avoid taking them in and out of the refrigerator. The change in temperature affects the plastic and releases chemicals into the water. Use a glass bottle to refrigerate your water, or one of those nifty reusable bottles you can get at the store - metal, not plastic.

    Hope that helps. :)

  4. I love this - great, informative post.

    I don't buy organic everything but try to stick to mostly organic with the fruits you mentioned. I haven't done bottled water in 2 years - it's so super easy to go to REI and just buy a camelbak and fill it up with filtered water which is readily available at my work, home, and fast-food restaurants.

    Organic meat - sigh. I'd love to, I really would. If I could afford it all the time I surely would, but I can't always. I do try to buy meat at farmer's markets so that I know that it's been locally raised, usually not fed pesticides, and I can ask the ranchers if the meat was raised open range.

    Again, though - not having preservatives in our food makes it harder to go through everything without feeling like I wasted it by tossing half of it!

  5. The key is buying less at a time so you don't waste. It also ends up saving you money. Farmer's markets and places like Fresh and Easy and Trader Joe's that sell certain items in smaller portions are a great way to start. Also weekly meal-planning in advance will cut down on items that sit forgotten in your pantry/fridge. :)

  6. I so need to get on that weekly meal planning thing.