What Does Organic Really Mean, And Why Does It Matter?


“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”  ~ Francois De La Rochefoucauld

So, first things first… what does organic mean? For those who are unacquainted, the concept of buying organic food is only an environmentalist idea or a hippy movement thing. Well, there’s a lot more to it, including some great reasons for everyone to make the switch from conventional to organic foods.

Let’s get a description straight from the source. Here’s the US Department of Agriculture’s definition of organic:

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

Alright, so that’s a lot of information to mull over if you’re new to the idea. But let’s take a look at each aspect of organic food individually. The purpose of this article is to convince you, if you haven’t already, to make the switch from conventional to organic – the most important reason is your health.

The Benefits Of Organic Food

  1. Nutrition:  This means more phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients), more vitamins and minerals, and more antioxidants.  In fact, a 2007 study out of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom reported that organic produce boasted up to 40 percent higher levels of some nutrients (including vitamin C, zinc and iron) than its conventional counterparts. Additionally, a 2003 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organically grown berries and corn contained 58 percent more polyphenols—antioxidants that help prevent cardiovascular disease—and up to 52 percent higher levels of vitamin C than those conventionally grown. Recent research by that study’s lead author, Alyson Mitchell, Ph.D., an associate professor of food science and technology at the University of California, Davis, pinpoints a potential mechanism to explain why organic techniques may sometimes yield superior produce. It’s a difference in soil fertility, says Mitchell: “With organic methods, the nitrogen present in composted soil is released slowly and therefore plants grow at a normal rate, with their nutrients in balance. Vegetables fertilized with conventional fertilizers grow very rapidly and allocate less energy to develop nutrients. Healthy soil equals a healthy plant equals a healthy you!
  2. Contamination-Free: While there’s always opportunity for environmental toxins to get into your food, and thusly your body, one of the best parts about organic food is that those poisons aren’t sprayed all over the plant you’re eating, like in conventional farming. This means that a majority of those nasty pesticides, which have been found in a large chunk of the US population by the CDC (Center for Disease Control), are not present in organic foods. But not just that – antibiotic and growth hormone residues in conventional meats are not found in organic meats. All of these chemicals have, at some point, been linked to diseases (most notably pesticide residues in cancer patients, e.g. residues in breast cancer tissues).  A great example of this would be glyphosate. Glyphosate was determined by the WHO (World Health Organization) to be a “probable carcinogen” (Class 2A), based on “limited evidence” showing that the popular weed killer can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, along with “convincing evidence” it can also cause cancer in animals. Glyphosate and glyphosate formulations have also been shown to induce DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals, as well as human and animal cells in vitro.  The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) reports that the majority of pesticides now in use are probably or possible cancer causes.  Studies of farm workers who work with pesticides suggest a link between pesticide use and brain cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple myeloma, leukemia, lymphoma, and cancers of the stomach and prostate.  (See the above video of one family’s experience with changing to organic foods.  The results are shocking!)
  3. No ‘Mad Scientist Alchemy’: I mean to say no Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) – your food is not a freakish science experiment. The idea behind GMO food is that by using chemistry (a very simplified description), the genes of a plant are changed to be ‘more desirable.’ This can include making crops resistant to herbicides, poisonous to insects, virus-resistant, and more. Testing on the safety of such things is done by the companies that profit from them, and no studies have been done on long-term effects of human consumption. My personal objection to this process is the vague understanding we currently have on genetics. Scientists still to this day call 98% of the human DNA ‘junk DNA’, meaning to say that is has no purpose. The more accurate statement is that it has no currently known purpose. But, we still somehow think we can make a few changes here and there in plants and can accurately predict the results. In more than 60 countries across the globe, GMOs are restricted or outright banned. The USA isn’t currently on the list. Well, no thanks! I’m not going to be the guinea pig here.
  4. Environmental Concerns: You don’t have to be a hippy to appreciate a less toxic environment. Because organics are produced without the millions of tons of agricultural chemicals used per year in the USA, we all have a little less toxins in our bodies. Thanks, organics!
  5. Better Flavor: There’s a reason that thousands of chefs choose organic products. Vintage wine is often from organic, though non-certified, artisan grape farmers. Michelin-Star chefs often patronize artisan growers for their prized produce, and more often than not, these growers use organic farming methods. Just another reason to go organic!

I hope I’ve given you enough reasons for you to make the switch! Your health, taste-buds, and future generations will all be thanking you for it… And if the cost difference is a big concern, try visiting the produce section at a couple health food stores in your area and checking out the prices. I think you’ll be surprised to find that, for a lot of produce, the price difference is quite small.

Just an example:  Where I live, I can purchase conventionally grown bananas at 79₡/pound and organically grown bananas at 83₡/pound. Big price differences can come in when you purchase a majority of your food pre-made, such as in the freezer section. By frequenting the produce section, you’ll save money and get better nutrition. It really is a win/win!

If you aren’t sure how much it matters, just watch the video below.  If that doesn’t convince you, nothing will!  One last thought, you vote with your dollars.  The more we buy organic, the more available and affordable it will become!

The Effect Of Organic Food

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