Organic is becoming more popular, but what exactly is it? Organic describes an item grown or made without synthetic chemicals. It applies not only to a method of growing plants and animals, but to fruit, vegetables, grains, packaged food such as cereal and chips, meat, eggs, dairy products, vitamins, herbs, cosmetics, and toiletries as well.
The interest in organic is typically for health. Most people would agree that food and products grown or made without synthetic chemicals such as fertilizers, preservatives, and pesticides are better for you. But it is not just the absence of the chemicals that makes a difference – studies consistently show that organic produce contains more nutrients than its conventionally grown counterpart.
There are a number of studies on both sides of the organic issue. Big farm and chemical companies tend to fund the studies that reveal that organic is no different that conventional produce. I always wonder what exactly are they testing and why. Be aware that factory farms produce “organic” produce by adhering to the letter of the law rather than to true organic philosophy.
Factory farmed organic is almost always inferior to true organic. If you wonder what the difference is, go to a farmers market and talk to the farmers. Then look online at the big farm companies and see if you get the same feeling by reading about their executives.
The negative side of the organic vs. conventional discussion is about chemical residues. Residues from pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, antibiotics, preservatives, plastics, steroids and growth hormones mimic estrogen and have some of the same damaging side effects as too much estrogen such as obesity and cancer. Because these molecules are unnatural to the body, the body must have some assistance in breaking them down so that they can be eliminated. The best bet is to avoid them altogether
Data from the U. S. Department of Agriculture on pesticide residues found the highest toxicity rating in fresh peaches, winter squash, apples, grapes, spinach, pears, and green beans. Another study found that conventionally grown apples had 20-30 artificial poisons on its skin, even after rinsing. Also consider that much of our produce is now grown out of the country – many of the pesticides and fertilizers that have been banned for use in the United States are still used in these countries that supply our food.
We tend to take our food production method for granted without looking at some of the standard practices and considering whether those practices would produce a product that is good for us. Take beef for example – many of us raise it. We know our animals are relatively healthy and well cared for; but what happens to them before we see them on our table? They go to feed lots and eat all kinds of cheap food and hormones that are designed to put weight on fast, and because the conditions of the feed lots are so unnatural, they are fed antibiotics to keep them healthy. Seventy percent of all antibiotics used in this country are used on livestock.
The conditions for commercially raised poultry and dairy cattle have similar stories – all making the case for small farm, organically raised meat and dairy to be the best option for maintaining your health. Buy organic produce or raise your own and see if you can tell the difference.
Margaret Durst owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.