Orange you glad you bought organic? Maybe…maybe not!

ImageI’ve always been a skeptic of the trendy organic fad that has swept over us.  I am a big believer in the importance of eating healthy, fresh food; however, I could never understand the difference between an organic carrot and a conventional one.  If you laid them down on a table I couldn’t tell you the difference.  Can you taste the difference? Was one healthier for you? All I knew was that a bag of organic carrots cost about $4.50 while a bag of conventional carrots cost much less, around $2.75. So I wondered… was it worth the splurge? Was it just a prettier package that caught my eye?  What would you really be getting from an organic carrot that you wouldn’t from a conventional one?

ImageImageWell the first question I needed to answer was what exactly makes a product organic? In order for a product to be genuinely organic it must pass the organic standards set by the USDA, unlike a product that deems to be “all natural” or “hormone free” (descriptions such as these can be used by food manufacturers without any formal regulation). Anything that is certified organic is required to have at least 95% organic ingredients (if it says 100% it is not permitted to have any synthetic ingredients).  This is different from a product that advertises “made with organic ingredients,” this only requires the product to be comprised of 70% organic ingredients.  Production of organic food abandons the usage of harmful manmade pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics.

Appealing right? I thought so, too.  After learning this if you asked me to pick between an organic apple or a conventional apple (which are said to be the highest contaminated produce) without hesitation I would have grabbed the organic one. This is of course if I didn’t have pay for it.  Organic apples can cost anywhere from $1.00 to $2.00 more per pound than a conventional one. The process of growing organic food is more involved, therefore creating a higher retail price. Organic products’ healthier appeal catches our attention and forces us to believe that they are the better option; however, they may not be much different than a conventional product. It is unrealistic for the majority to buy everything or anything at all organic with their outrageous prices.

With organic food costing up to twice the amount as their conventional counterparts (because of additional labor and transportation) it definitely makes most people stop and think before they stock up on a cart full of organic fruits and veggies.  Although they have a significantly reduced level of pesticides and hormones, there is no statistical evidence that eating an organic diet is healthier. However, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is crucial for a healthy, active lifestyle.  Arguably it can be just as beneficial (and more cost effective) to buy fresh local food.  An alternative to buying organic is buying local.  Oftentimes buying local food is more environmentally and cost friendly than buying organic (plus many local product happen to be grown organically).  Most organic foods in the grocery store are shipped just as far as conventional products, which again increases the price.

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Fresh picked strawberries from our farm share!

This summer my family joined a farm share.  We have never experienced such fresh produce at such a reasonable cost.  All of the produce from our farm share was local, sustainable and organic. I would urge anyone interested in eating a healthier diet to join a farm share. It encourages you to try unique produce that you might not consider on your routine shopping trip while supplying you with a hefty weekly stockpile of in season fruits/vegetables, salad/cooking greens, and herbs. There is evidence supporting both sides of the buy organic controversy but in the end it is up to you to decide as the consumer: is worth the splurge? Which side do you buy?

For more on the buy organic controversy check out this link.  It provides some insight on recent studies analyzing the benefits of organic products and addresses the unrealistic cost of buying organic.

Sources:
http://www.nytimes.com
http://healthland.time.com
http://www.medicinenet.com
http://www.eatingwell.com