The organic food guide

organic food guide

The additives of today are the poisons of tomorrow (did you know that heroin was once sold as a wonderful cure-all?). That’s why we present you with a 101 guide to organic food. Just what is organic food all about, Alfie?

We eat quite a number of things that aren’t food. Artificial chemicals, preservatives and dyes are all commonly found on ingredients lists, but not in nature. Whether or not consuming such materials is harmful to the human body is the subject of much debate. While anything sold for consumption does have to follow government agency guidelines, that’s not necessarily a guarantee that you’re not unwittingly ingesting something unpleasant. (After all, heroin was once sold as a wonderful cure-all). I tend to disapprove fear-mongering, conspiracy theories and baseless paranoia. I’m fairly certain that red dye no. 50 isn’t a chemical for mind-control or a violent carcinogenic. Nevertheless, if it’s a choice between all-natural and… mostly-natural, well, I know what I’m choosing.

Buying organic food at farmers’ markets – why do it?

Local farmers’ markets or roadside stands are probably the best place to purchase produce, eggs, milk and meat. You can actually talk to the person who grew your food instead of dialing a company number and hoping you can find a real person within the maze of extension numbers. And talking to the farmer is important; ask about the type of fertilizer and pesticide used for both the plants and the soil. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers have negative impacts on the environment and certainly aren’t organic! Buying local also bolsters your town’s economy; in theory, supporting farmers will also eventually lead to lower prices!

‘Organic food’ labels – why they can be misleading

Groceries stores nearly always offer an ‘organic’ selection, but the packaging and labeling can be conniving. ‘Pure’ and ‘natural’ are both, in Wikipedia parlance, weasel-words. There is no legal definition for them, but they certainly give the impression that you’re eating something prepared by Mother Nature herself. Equally vague phrases include: organically grown, organic, pesticide-free, all natural, and no artificial ingredients.

The only phrase you can really trust is “certified organically grown.” This means that the food was grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides in soil that was not treated substances. Additionally, this often guarantees that the produce was not genetically modified. (Hint: you’ll often find this information in small print on the back of the packaging.)

The above is only a brief overview of how to shop for organic food. As there is great variance of definitions, labeling regulations and requirements between countries and states, one’s best source of information will be their regional government foods administration.

Animal products and organic food labelling

Obviously, cows and ducks don’t need to be fertilized, so what does ‘organic’ mean for animal ‘products’? Organic meat, eggs and milk comes from animals that have not been fed growth hormones and treated with antibiotics. Animals raised for organic meat are often treated in a far more humane method than their factory-farmed counterparts. Organic farms are also much healthier for the environment as they use less energy, produce less waste and sustain more diverse ecosystems than factory farms sustain.

Some scientists, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Norman Borlaug, claim that data indicates organic farms have a consistently smaller yield than farms which use synthetic materials, and thus organic farming could feed at most 4 billion people, destroying many ecosystems in the process. Other scientists believe the opposite; a study published by Cambridge Press states “…organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base.” It is certain, however, that organic farming is the best agriculture method for increase food production in third-world countries as the materials needed are far more accessible than those required for synthetic farming.

Will organice food ever become as cheap as the good dirt it came from?

Because organic foods are still produced on a smaller scale than synthetic foods, organic prices will be a bit higher. Statistics range from a 10% increase to a 65% increase. Are organic foods worth their price? Because organic food doesn’t contain preservatives, buying organic means you’ll always be eating fresh food. Blind testing has found organic foods to consistently score as better tasting and better textured than preserved foods. And, personally, I prefer the idea of eating real, unaltered food. It makes me feel more like a natural human and less like a cyborg.

Have a go at organic farming

Experiencing organic food is easy enough; to experience organic farming, try volunteering with

A bottle of Bayer’s heroin. Between 1890 and 1910 heroin was used to treat children with strong cough. It was considered wonderfully natural. So when food says it’s “all natural ingredients”, these are weasel words – “natural” doesn’t mean anything in supermarket foodspeak!”