Organic Food: What Makes it So Special?
Organic Food FAQ – It’ll All Make Sense in the End
To say the word “organic” has become a household term is a bit of an understatement. Chances are, the mention of the word may drive some members of your household crazy; maybe that person is you! Is organic food really that much better than regular food? Is it worth being given its own category, not to mention the price?
Well, is it….? If that’s what you’re wondering, this FAQ will answer your questions and more!
What Do I Need to Know?
One of the reasons “organic” can be a bit tricky to understand is because it isn’t limited to a singular term. While yes, there is a definition of what organic food is (and we’ll get to that in just a bit), there are also a number of terms related to the harvesting and business practices associated with organic foods. For instance, you may be wondering the difference between “100% Organic” and “Organic” is. Or maybe you’ve been in the coffee aisle of the supermarket recently and seen the words “Fair Trade” stamped across the front.
Let’s clear up the confusion with a few simple definitions from Organic.Org:
100% Organic: These foods are the product of a farming system which completely avoids the use of man-made fertilizers, pesticides; growth regulators and livestock feed additives. Foods bearing this label are 100% organically grown (or are made using 100% organic ingredients) and may display the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic seal.
Organic: These products contain at least 95–99% organic ingredients (by weight). The remaining ingredients are not available organically but have been approved by the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). These products may display the USDA Organic seal.
Made with Organic Ingredients: Food packaging that reads “Made with Organic Ingredients” are required to contain 70–94% organic ingredients. These products will not bear the USDA Organic seal; instead, they may list up to three ingredients on the front of the packaging.
Genetically Modified Organism (GMO): A plant, animal, or microorganism that is transformed by genetic engineering.
Fair Trade: Items that bear a fair trade label are internationally produced. Some of these products include bananas, pineapples, coffee, and chocolate that typically come from developing countries where workers aren’t always provided the best conditions. Fair trade labeling assures that farmers are paid better-than-conventional prices, are trained on sustainable agriculture practices, work directly with food cooperatives (co-ops), and are often organic.
Wild-Crafted—Also appears as “wild-crafted” and sometimes referred to as “wild crops.” A plant gathered in the wild in its natural habitat, from a site that is not maintained under cultivation or other agricultural management for manufacturing into a herbal supplement. (Wild Blueberries, which are noted for being high in antioxidants, are a prime example.)
Paraben-Free—Used to describe products that do not have parabens. Parabens are chemical preservatives added to personal-care products for extending shelf life; they are widely used in tens of thousands of types of cosmetic products today. Parabens are suspected of presenting risks to the reproductive system. The four main parabens in use are methyl, ethyl, propyl, and butylparabens.
Pesticide—A general term for chemicals used to destroy living things that people consider pests. More specific terms include the following: “Insecticide,” a substance that kills insects; “herbicide,” a substance that kills plants/weeds; “fungicide,” a substance that kills fungi; “fumigant,” a substance that kills all organisms in the soil—a soil sterilizer; and “rodenticide,” a substance that kills rodents.
California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF)—CCOF is an independent party that was the first to provide certification services to all stages of the organic food chain from farms to processors, restaurants, and retailers. CCOF certifies the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) standards and CCOF international standards.
Certified Naturally Grown—A non-profit organization that supports smaller local farmers that cannot afford to participate in the national organic certification program.
Are Organic Foods Healthier than Regular Foods?
There are some recently published studies in peer-reviewed journals have shown organic foods to have higher nutritional value. For example, researchers at the University of California, Davis, recently found that organic tomatoes had higher levels of phytochemicals and vitamin C than conventional tomatoes.
Additionally, there’s a health risk involved with consuming non-organic produce, particularly GMOs and Roundup. A 2015 study conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded the herbicide has carcinogenic effects. Subsequent studies have concluded that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, causes Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in anyone exposed to it.
To make a long story short, eating organic can not only provide more nutrient value, it could literally save your life.
Why are Organic Foods So Expensive Compared to Non-Organic Foods?
This is a misconception. Some items, such as (Fair Trade!) coffee, cereal, bread, and even hamburger, may cost the same or evenless than their conventional counterparts. And, as the demand for organics continues to grow, the cost will continue to come down. If the cost seems higher, consider the following:
- Organic farmers don’t receive federal subsidies like conventional farmers do. Therefore, the price of organic food reflects the true cost of growing. (In other words, you’re paying “fair value” prices for organic food.)
- The price of conventional food does not reflect the cost of environmental cleanups that we pay for through our tax dollars.
- Organic farming is more labor and management intensive.
- Organic farms are usually smaller than conventional farms and so do not benefit from the economies of scale that larger growers get.
Do Organic Foods Taste Better?
A number of gourmet chefs seem to think so! In fact, here’s what two of America’s top chefs think of cooking with organic ingredients:
Monica Pope, chef-owner of T’afia restaurant, Houston, Texas
“I tend to believe locally grown food is so totally superior to anything else. I try to specify organic when I can, and especially for things like potatoes and corn to avoid genetic modification. I just believe locally is nutritionally far better and the taste is mind-bendingly different. The fresh, local baby eggplants and tomatoes are so good we just slice them and serve them — my customers are impressed that they find themselves liking raw squash or eggplant!
“Everybody’s co-opting the term “organic”: For me the big factor is sustainable production. For my customers, I have to hit them where their taste buds are, and that means fresh and local.”
Bruce Sherman, chef-owner of North Pond restaurant, Chicago
“As a cook, it’s all about taste, and nine times out of ten it’s going to taste better because of the way it’s been grown. With organic, it’s not been produced at the cost of damaging the earth or the soil.
“I want to avoid environmental damage for my daughters and my daughters’ daughters. We chefs are not good on long-term things. Our outlook tends to be short-term gratification, the immediacy, the spontaneity of the profession. We need to be more aware of the long-term implications, to think a generation or two down the line.”
You’ve Tried the Rest, Now Try the Best
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Brunskill, Joan.Chefs Go Organic for Taste, Health, and the Environment. https://azdailysun.com/lifestyles/food-and-cooking/chefs-go-organic-for-taste-health-and-the-environment/article_97796fff-9b1c-50d7-be30-9d624bef945a.html
Various Authors. Glossary. https://organic.org/glossary/