Sunday, May 9, 2010

To Organic or Not to Organic

Where to begin here...

I am one of those people who has a tendency to read articles on say CNN and then, usually when it's about something that gets me all fired up like health care or gay marriage for instance, I punish myself by scrolling down and reading all of the ignorant, inhumane, grammatically challenged comments. Why do I do this? I'm not sure. Maybe I like to get even more fired up, who knows. I am a sagittarius after all. Any psychological breakdowns of this habit of mine are welcome.

See! Here I am, getting ready to shoot arrows at all of those ignorant commenters!

I read an article recently somewhere along the lines of this article, and the comments following it were all about how organic food is a scam, waste of money, anti American etc etc. First of all, what? To my knowledge organic produce never claimed to have higher vitamins, nutrients etc., did it? Please chime in here if I'm mistaken. I kind of thought it just seemed a lot better environmentally AND for my body if I was eating something that wasn't completely covered in pesticides. Isn't that the point of buying organic? Not to mention the health of the people who are growing it and living near it. I mean, if you really truly believe that our industrialization and rampant pesticide spraying does not/has not/will not affect your health, I say you're crazy and I'll say it happily to your face. How could it not? Here, here, here you don't even have to read the entire article, the titles should say enough. I can't even express how frustrated I get when I read things like the commentary on how organic foods are not "better" for you (in terms of vitamins and nutrients) and this gem here. Calorie measurement and nutrition are not the focus here. It is about concern for your environment and for your already unnaturally taxed body. People should be encouraged to eat organic foods period. I realize they are more expensive and, in all honesty, I don't buy everything organic. But, I do what I can and you owe it to yourself to do the same. In this world our bodies are constantly bombarded with unnatural elements that we have no control over. We can't stop cell phone waves or satellite beams or even plastics that leach into our food and water. We should all be aware of that and have enough self love and respect to think about what we are CHOOSING to put in our bodies.

"If you're buying organic food because you thought it came with ladies inside, you're in for a disappointment" Random Article, October 2009

Food, the way it's grown and where it comes from, has huge impacts physically on our bodies, environmentally and politically (more on that some other time). The best case scenario is to buy as much as you can from your local farmer's market. It is the most thoughtful choice economically and environmentally (beyond your own garden). Locally grown not only financially stimulates smaller farmers, who completely and utterly deserve all of our support, but it also significantly lessens environmental impact. Think about all of the fuel and pollution that goes into flying stockpiles of out of season fruits and vegetables from one part of the world to another. This is one reason why I love Whole Foods. It says right on the sign where the food came from, and you can decide if you want to spend your money on limes from 30 miles away, or limes from 3000 miles away.

I realize this is a lot to think about. I'm not saying you should stop buying food that was farmed far away. I realize that for most people (including myself) this is unrealistic. I am saying that you should think about it (do you REALLY need those grapes in January?) and when there is an option, choose the one that was farmed closer to your home.

Let's take a timeout for Coffee

Coffee is a really special thing that I will never stop drinking. Seriously. I have one cup a day and it makes me feel like a human being who is capable of functioning. I heart coffee and I know a lot of you guys do too. So, please read this article about what exactly the labels on coffee mean (fair trade, shade grown) and why they are important to look for.


There are a lot of terms floating around out there such as hormone free, nitrate free, cage free, antibiotic free, usda certified organic, free range, fair trade and with coffee specifically: shade grown (see above linked article). How do we know what means what? Not all of these claims are regulated closely.

USDA Certified Organic

When you see this symbol on single ingredient foods, naturally, it means they are 100% organic. Foods with multiple ingredients are labeled more specifically:

100% Organic: all ingredients are organic
Organic: 95-99% of the ingredients are organic
Made with Organic ingredients: 70-94% organic
If the product has less than 70% organic ingredients they are allowed to list what ingredients are organic individually, but the main face of the packaging cannot make any claims to being organic.

USDA Certified Organic is as trustworthy as you can get. The food must go through strict checks and regulations to be approved to use their sticker.

Free Range

This term is not really regulated. It does not mean the cow who became your steak or the chicken who laid your egg strutted around in the sun all day. It basically means nothing. If the chicken was given access to outside for 5 minutes a day then the company can slap the free range claim on the packaging. This doesn't even mean the chicken actually went outside for 5 minutes. It means that they opened a little door in the overcrowded hen house for 5 minutes and the odds a single freaked out little chicken actually walked out it are pretty much zero.

Cage Free

While technically better than cages, the situation is not great either. Rather than being crammed into a tiny cage with 5 or 6 chickens, your cage free chicken has been crammed into a shed with thousands of other birds. Ummm....well, that doesn't really seem any better to me. It kind of seems worse. I will spare you the details of the other torments your cage free chicken goes through.

Illustration by Ralph Steadman for an edition of Animal Farm
No hormones

This is specifically referring to the growth hormones fed to cows to speed up the development process so they are ready for slaughter quicker. It is illegal in this country to give these hormones to chickens and pigs so if you see this claim on a package of chicken it means that they followed the law! How nice of them! Growth hormones are bad stuff, so I would recommend when buying beef to look for this claim. It is also present in non organic dairy products. Organic dairy products are hormone free.

Creepy right? I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself.

No Antibiotics

I think you get the picture here.


This always seemed suspect to me. I see it on the chicken breast at Trader Joe's and I'm baffled. Yeah, it's chicken. Basically it means the product contains no artificial ingredients or color and was minimally processed. Oh, OK, so it means nothing. Thanks! Love the font!

Nitrate Free

Nitrates and nitrites are chemical curing agents added to meats to give them that nice pink color (hot dogs) and that smoky cured taste we all know and love. Did I mention they're chemicals? And known carcinogens? Although, they are present in very low amounts, I am always on the team that roots for avoiding the unnecessary and therefore support the purchasing of nitrate free meats such as turkey, prosciutto, hot dogs etc.

Did I miss anything? Can I be done now? Oh wait!

Grass fed

The animal was fed grass rather than corn/"meat" (read: the crap off the slaughterhouse floor) etc. This is a lot nicer on the animals digestive track and anything to avoid the menace that is corn sneaking into something is always a plus in my book.

Next time on the blog I will give you a list of foods you should really make a big effort to buy organically and ones you can skip on and save a few bucks, if you must.

1 comment:

  1. Yes! I fully remember when this study came out. "ORGANIC FOOD DOESN'T HAVE MORE VITAMINS! YOU ARE ALL MORANS!" I remember thinking "Umm, did anyone say that it did? Was that the argument?" So ridiculous. It's like doing a study to confirm that driving drunk doesn't cause cancer. Missed the point completely.