Why Organic Food? What you’re not getting and what you are.
Eating healthy has a lot of great benefits like being able to regulate your weight, lower blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure, and an overall sense of well-being. What we eat impacts our health, but most of the foods available to us today are loaded with chemicals that have a negative impact on our bodies.
Vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and beans – in fact, food in general used to be natural and a lot healthier before the advent of mass production and higher yield methodologies. As demand for cheaper and more convenient food grew larger, factories and producers with the ability to grow higher yielding crops to accommodate the expanding population, made it difficult for small organic farms and producers to compete in the marketplace.
There has, however, been a shift in consumer mindset over the last several years, and organic food is starting to become popular once again. With increasing demand there is a definite resurgence of organic produce and foods available today. As demand continues to increase, more and more producers will enter the marketplace to take advantage of this demand, and as a result, more and more organic foods will become available at affordable prices. Take a look at why eating organic is good for you in so many ways.
Organic Food and Pesticides
If you are not already familiar with organic foods and what it means, the Organic Farming Research Foundation defines organic farming as “agricultural farming systems used to produce food and fibre in which farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.” They go on to say that organic farming relies on developing ways to disrupt the biological environment for pests while maintaining and replenishing soil fertility, as well as developing methods to prevent pesticides and other harmful chemicals from entering the soil.
There are many reasons to choose organic foods:
- Keep chemicals out of the air, water, soil and our bodies
- Food tastes better and true to flavor
- Assists family farmers of all sizes
- Promotes biodiversity
- Reduce off farm pollution created by industrial agriculture
- Higher quality and quantity of essential nutrients
- Hormone and chemical free food
Pesticides are the only toxic substances released intentionally into our environment to kill living things. The use of pesticides in farming has been a source of concern for many decades. On the one hand, use of these chemicals keeps unwanted pests from destroying the crops that are essential to food production; on the other, these chemicals can leach into the soil or remain on the food that will be consumed.
The Environmental Protection Agency defines pesticides as “ chemical[s] used to prevent, destroy or repel pests. Pests can be insects, mice and other animals, weeds, fungi or microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses.”
Pesticides have been linked to a wide range of human health hazards. Chronic health effects may occur years after even minimal exposure to pesticides in the environment, or result from the pesticide residues, which we ingest through our food and water. Some of the health problems found to be associated with pesticide are:
- Birth defects
- Nerve damage
- Reproductive dysfunction
- Learning disabilities
There is strong evidence to suggest organic food is the natural choice for optimal health.
Supply and Demand: The Cost of Choosing Organic
While eating pesticide and hormone free, naturally organic food is the best option for your body, it is not always economical or easy to come by unless you choose to grow your own. Because the organic revolution is still outnumbered by the large-scale mass production of food, organics have become a niche market with slow expansion. The foods that are labeled as being organic at the grocery store often come with a higher price tag than “normal” food, which often makes people pass them by in favour of more inexpensive options.
Choosing pricey foods is simply not an option for some families on a budget. Organic food supplies are limited to the current demands, which means they are often considered a specialty food and come at a higher price. The marketing and distribution for organic foods is also quite inefficient due to smaller quantities being produced, and is another factor that keeps the cost high.
The production costs for organic food are often higher than conventional foods due to stricter regulations and cost of labor. The rules are in place to protect consumers and the food they eat, but this also means the cost of doing business is higher and gets passed on to the consumer.
If you are a savvy shopper, you can start incorporating organic foods into your diet on any budget. Check to see if your local grocery store carries their own organic line of foods, which tend to be less expensive than name brand items. Check to see if your community has a CSA (community supported agriculture), which provides members with access to a farmer’s bounty for a small price. Use your local farmers’ market for fresh, seasonal food grown in your area and. If you have the means, growing your own food is always the best way to cut cost and eat healthy.
Moving Towards Organic
The organic market is relatively new and slowly expanding every year, but demand is still relatively small. According to the 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey released by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Services, there were approximately 9,000 organically-certified farms in operation, with just under 2,000 of them being for vegetables and a little over 1,700 for only fruits. The rest were for livestock and various field grains, such as alfalfa.
Although the growth of organic farming is a step in the right direction, organic farms represent only .5% of crop and pasture land in the United States. This is a dismal representation, but with growing demand there is hope. Many national grocery chains are developing their own lines of organic products that are available to consumers. Community gardens are another big trend these days. This means everyone has a hand in making the garden grow and reaping the rewards of a fruitful harvest. CSA’s are also cropping up in communities all over North America.
A farmers’ market is a great place to learn about community projects, connect with local farmers and sample some of the best organic foods available.
The “Dirty Dozen”
Pesticides can be a farmer’s best friend when it comes to repelling destructive pests, but they can also be a consumer’s worst nightmare. The “Dirty Dozen” is a list of foods that contain the most pesticide residue, which can lead to harmful effects on health if consumed over a long period of time.
Here is what the Dirty Dozen list looks like:
- Sweet bell peppers
In order to avoid harmful chemicals, it is best to eat these foods in their organic form and benefit from their abundance of good nutrients.
The “Clean” 15
There are some foods that don’t hold pesticide residue like the Dirty Dozen, and are considered to be the least contaminated – this list is called the Clean 15:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas
The outer layer of skin on some fruits and vegetables, like corn and pineapple, creates a natural barrier that prevents pesticides from being absorbed. But some fruits – like cherries and strawberries – don’t have a tough skin to shield them from harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to completely wash away the pesticides, but you can limit your exposure by rinsing the foods well before consumption.