When you go to the grocery store nowadays, you are bombarded with all sorts of labels, most of which don’t make any sense. I remember the first time I went into one of the more “holistic” grocery stores and I got a headache just looking at everything. Some labels say all-natural; some say “organic.” My personal favorite is when I swing down the egg aisle and I am encountered with all of the various options. Should I buy all-natural eggs? Or what about these cage-free organic ones? Clearly, since they cost the most, they are the best for you, right?
Well, not exactly.
What does organic mean, anyway? Over at my blog, I joke a lot about how feces is organic, and therefore it’s fair game for me to write about. But, when it comes to food, why is organic so much better for you?
When food is “certified organic” it meets a set of national standards that the United States Department of Agriculture has set in place. These standards are set for the farm, for how the crops are harvested, and how they are handled. Food that is organic is produced on farms that avoid using chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
What’s also pretty cool about organic farms is a lot of the time they focus on making themselves more sustainable: they try to conserve their resources (soil, water, etc.) to the best of their ability. They often adopt practices to preserve the surrounding ecosystem so birds and other animals who make their homes nearby are not disturbed and can continue to live in that area of the farm without being exposed to any toxic chemicals.
Additionally, the animals on the farm that are used for the production of organic meats, poultry, milk, and eggs are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. As far as I’m concerned, this is definitely a good thing, as we still are not certain how these drugs affect humans. Even though studies have been done that say there is no significant effect, these drugs haven’t been around all that long and therefore it’s hard to say what the effects are on a long enough timeline.
Supermarkets that sell organic goods must also pass a government certification to sell these goods. So, being organic is kind of a big deal. But, you can’t be labeled organic without the government certification. And that’s where things get tricky.
If you shop at your local farmer’s market, or if you get your produce delivered by a farming co-op like I do, a lot of times foods are labeled “all-natural.” And sometimes it’s the same thing as being organic, without the certification.
I live in Northern Virginia, and a lot of the time I see produce that comes from Amish or Mennonite farmers who have been farming in an “organic” way for generations—but who do not pursue the certification due to the size of their farms and the cost of getting the certification. And hey, that’s good news, because these foods are farmed the same as organic ones, but many times their goods are much cheaper because you aren’t paying extra money for the organic certification.
Honestly, I find that locally grown produce is the healthiest and tastes the best, and you definitely get more bang for your buck. So don’t be afraid to buy something that’s not organic—all natural is sometimes just as good.
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