Trying to be as natural as possible, many people choose to eat organic foods. In fact, they are willing to pay top dollar for this label. Grocery stores are now marketing just for the organic crowd with natural colors and pictures of wide open pastures. The jig is up on most grocery items being grown in your own backyard, but the term organic seems to convince people that it is. It must be fairly local since it isn’t filled with those nasty chemicals and preservatives that give food a shelf life of several years, right?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about what the term organic means in the food and farming industry.
Organic produce is typically grown without synthetic pesticides or artificial fertilizers. Organic animals raised for meat and by-products are typically fed organic feed, allowed some time outdoors, and not given synthetic hormones or antibiotics.
There are some key terms to note in this descriptions. How about we start with typically. Yup, sometimes they allow exceptions to the whole “synthetic and artificial” rules. Are you picturing your beef cow out roaming the fields or your free-range chicken eggs being collected from wide-open spaces? Think again! Some time outdoors means maybe an hour or two in a small, cramped area. Free range means they can see outdoors, but not necessarily get there. It boils down to the fact that the animal is not kept in small cages. I digress.
The most important thing I hope to impart is that organic doesn’t mean idyllic.
Is Organic better?
Organic foods do tend to be healthier options in regards to nutritional value. Without the use of artificial fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, plants increase their vitamins and antioxidants to protect themselves from weeds and pests naturally. Taste? Well, that all depends on freshness, which brings me to one of my biggest points here.
Organic at the grocery store does not mean that it was grown right down the street. Your food could be days old, maybe months. It will depend how long it had to travel. That will affect taste. That will affect quality. Notice how I used the term grocery store? That is where we see the Organic label the most, again with their special setups to draw in the crunchy crowd.
The label is most common in grocery stores because the USDA makes it virtually impossible for your backyard and small-scale farmer to use that term. The term Organic is for the big-time farmer that is sending his food all over the country and probably getting that exemption so he can spray pesticides.
Is there a better option available?
So what is a health-conscience consumer to do? Buy local and put that Organic label on the back burner. Get to know your local farmer and ask questions about their growing/producing practices. Look for keywords like natural that indicate good growing practices. Organic or otherwise, local foods are going to be fresher and taste better. Shop local, support your small-scale farms and discover what fresh foods really taste like, or check out our gardening section and start your own garden plot right in your back (or front) yard.