Have you gotten swept away in the organic food craze? Are you growing an organic garden? Buying sheets made of organic cotton? No? Perhaps you don’t really care. Maybe to you organic is some kind of hippy, tree-hugger initiative. Fair enough. We’re all entitled to our opinions.
Maybe, though, you’re not exactly sure what organic means. At the very least, you’re not sure why it’s worth the extra money. If that’s the case, allow me to be your guide into the organic craze. I can’t guarantee you’ll get swept away, but I promise you’ll be a more informed consumer.
For ease of discussion, let’s do this in a question and answer format.
What is organic food? How is it different? Organic food (or farming) is food that comes from farming that does not use any chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Organic livestock cannot be exposed to antibiotics or hormones.
So why is that better? Not exposing yourself to chemicals is always a wise policy. When animals are fed antibiotics and hormones we’re exposed to those substances when we eat their meat. Excessive exposure to antibiotics causes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Organic farming is also better for the environment.
Are chemical pesticides safe? Not exactly. 80,000 different chemicals have been introduced since World War II. With that many it’s impossible to test each for safety. And, I mean, they are designed to be toxic to living beings.
Are organic foods healthier for you? If you count the decreased exposure to chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones as healthier, then yes. Most studies have shown that the nutritional value of organic is the same as conventionally grown food.
Does organic taste better? Obviously this is purely subjective, but my wife and I believe organic food absolutely tastes better.
Why is organic more expensive? Conventional farming uses chemicals because it makes farming cheaper. It costs more money to hire workers to pull weeds and rotate crops than it does to nuke a field with herbicide before planting.
How is organic better for the environment? All of the chemicals used in conventional farming get into our environment. In fact, all the pesticides and herbicides that have flowed into the Gulf of Mexico have created a dead zone the size of Texas, where no living beings can survive. Also, conventional farming does not naturally replace the nutrients it strips from the soil.
There’s more. Since pesticides are designed to kill all bugs, they kill a harmless fungus called mycorrhizal fungi that lives on the roots of plants. Mycorrhizal fungi naturally sequester carbon. This means they take carbon dioxide out of the air and hold it in the soil. Losing this natural ability to pull carbon dioxide out of the air certainly doesn’t help air pollution reduction.
How do I know if what I’m buying is organic? Thankfully, claiming a product is organic is highly regulated. It takes a conventional farm three years to switch to organic and be fully accredited. You can feel comfortable knowing you’re buying organic when you see this symbol in green/white or black/white.
So is organic worth the money? That’s for you to decide. I think so. I think organic tastes better and I believe protecting ourselves from toxins in our environment is an essential aspect of staying healthy. But, I understand buying everything organic can put a hefty dent in your wallet. It’s not necessary to buy everything organic (I certainly do not). But there are easy places to start. Check out this week’s Friday Focus for an easy guide on where to spend your organic dollars.