Organic food – it is a fad that has taken the world by storm? Or is there substance behind the organic feeding frenzy? “Plenty of people spout all kinds of theories about organic food without really knowing what it is about,” says consultant nutritionist Shari Matthews of Pittsburgh. So I might as well redress that imbalance. In very simple terms, organic food may be defined as food that is produced naturally, without the aid of chemical aids like preservatives and pesticides. There. Now that you know what it is all about, you can start eating it. Or can you?
Organic food benefits
Why do I need to change to organic food? That’s a question plenty of friends ask me when I suggest they do so. Well, the benefits of organic food are many, though I may not have the scope to discuss them all here. Strangely enough, a lot of people think they need to actually grow the organic food that they will eat. That is far from the case, because you can buy it off the shelf, too (more on this later).
In 2003, the New York Times reported on a study conducted on the health benefits of organic food and this was what they published: “Recent preliminary evidence suggests that the levels of certain nutrients, especially vitamin C, some minerals and some polyphenols — naturally occurring antioxidants that may help bolster the immune system — are higher in organically grown crops.” We all know that antioxidants are fat burners, and conversely, that the chemicals and additives present in plenty of traditional foodstuffs promote obesity and other harmful medical conditions. On the other hand, the polyphenols in organic foods combat heart diseases and certain types of cancer.
In fact, the many studies on the health effects of pesticides have revealed that they give rise to such acute health problems as abdominal pain, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, as well as skin and eye afflictions. And these pale into insignificance when you consider that pesticides have also been linked to respiratory problems, memory disorders, severe skin conditions, cancer, depression, neurological ailments, miscarriages, and birth defects.
There are also those who claim that organic food actually tastes better, though this must remain a subjective issue. In my opinion, the more important aspects of organic foods are that these are produced according to certain strict production standards. Organic crops, for instance, must be grown without the use of conventional pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones. In most countries, organic produce is not genetically modified as per law.
Besides, and apart from the direct health benefits, organic foods also impact our environment in other ways. To begin with, organic farms do not release synthetic pesticides into the environment and are therefore more likely to sustain local ecosystems such as populations of plants and animals than conventional farms. And proportionately speaking, organic farms consume less energy and produce less waste than conventional farms.
Production and cost
Critics will tell you that organic foods are on an average far more expensive than conventional foods, and they will be right. Because organic farms require more land to generate a commercially viable yield (because they do not use artificial methods of increasing production), their products must necessarily cost more. However, with the entry of large corporate houses into the organic foods market, it is evident that some kind of price rationalization is inevitable, because it is in the nature of the business to broaden the market as far as possible.
Usually, organic foods cost 10 to 40 percent more than conventional foods. However, think of what you are getting in return – food that is neither grown nor processed artificially. Traditional organic farms are small family-run units, which sell their products only to small stores or markets. Owing to aforementioned commercialism, however, organic food products have become far more widely marketed. Within the United States alone, organic food sales are currently growing at a rate of almost 20 percent per year, while growth in the sales of conventional foods remains stuck at about 3 percent. And because corporates know a good thing when they see one, the market for organic foods is expected to expand in leaps and bounds.
How to buy the best organic food
And that brings us to the question of how and from where to shop for your organic food supplies. The popularity of organic foods means that, particularly in the larger cities, ‘health food stores’ will appear out of nowhere and try and sell you what may not strictly be ‘organic’ stuff. So you need to be on your guard when choosing a store. Personally, I found it useful to visit the website of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), which will give you a fairly good idea of where your friendly neighborhood organic food store is located, is you live in the US.
Once you locate a suitable store offline, you may well find that it has a perfectly working online version as well, so you no longer need to drive down for your organic groceries. From personal experience, I would advise against buying from the Internet without verifying the credentials of an online store. The one problem with organic food is that it tends to be grown and packaged locally, so it is unlikely that someone sitting in Boston will find fresh produce from Georgia, but as I said, the growth in popularity of organic foods means that you will more than likely find a store within easy reach. And for those living away from big cities, there’s always the local farmers’ market.
For supermarket consumers like me, who do not have direct access to food production methods, the presence of the Certified Organic label on the products is essential. And since there are very strict government regulations regarding the production and sale of organic foods, you know that your rights as a consumer are well protected should you suspect your purchase to be less than genuine.