For you, or the world. Organic hardly qualifies as niche anymore, let alone new — ”organic foods” are in nearly every grocery store across America. You know something is ubiquitous when Organic Wavy Lays potato chips and Simply Cheetos Puffs are not the headline of an Onion parody article but do, in fact, exist. Nestle, Kraft, and Unilever, among other food giants, count hundreds of organic items on their roster and we’re sure you can agree with us in saying these companies do not necessarily have the best interest of us, our environment, or our small farmers and foodmakers in mind.
Marion Nestle is a widely-respected academic and expert on food policy. In a fantastic and still highly relevant 2012 Atlantic article, she adds some helpful clarity into the definitions of organic, local, seasonal, and sustainable.
- Organic means crops grown without artificial pesticides, fertilizers, GMOs, irradiation, or sewage sludge, and animals raised without hormones or antibiotics. Certified Organic methods follow specific rules established by USDA.
- Local means foods grown or raised within a given radius that can range from a few to hundreds of miles (you have to ask to be sure).
- Seasonal refers to food plants eaten right when they are ripe (and not preserved or transported from where they were grown).
- Sustainable means — at least by some definitions — that the nutrients removed from the soil by growing plants are replenished without artificial inputs.
The field is murky, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there…but we keep a few things in mind when we purchase our foods (in and out of the supermarket).
- Fresh is always better than processed.
Organic or not, “fresh” or dry, foods that come in a box or in commercial plastic are just not as good for you as raw, whole ingredients. When you do buy things like crackers, tortillas, or a pre-marinated meat, do yourself a favor and read the label. Even “healthy” brands can sneak in some questionable ingredients.
It doesn’t stop there; not all food processes require labeling, so even if a “fresh fruit cup” at the airport doesn’t have any added ingredients, there’s a possibility something was done to it to prolong its life. Not to mention that while it may be “scientifically safe”, eating 3-week-old melon is never really a good thing (plus it’ll probably be underripe and tasteless, so what’s the point anyway?).
- Organic doesn’t necessarily mean small, local, seasonal or sustainable.
Though many small farms are Certified Organic or use alternative methods of pest control and thoughtful crop rotational practices, just because a product is labeled “organic” doesn’t automatically mean it’s from an idyllic farm right down the road. There are HUGE, industrial-scale farms growing organic produce, most of them employing the kind of unhealthy practices (like aggressive mono-cropping and labor exploitation) that led to the deterioration of our food system in the first place. These farms twist the definition of the certification process — they still use industrial pesticides and fertilizers, they’re just of the organic sort.
As we all get a little smarter and more knowledgeable about the food we eat and demand higher and higher quality products, it’s worth being aware of “organic washing,” and that many companies aren’t above taking advantage of a trend to sell you something. It’s more important than ever to truly know our food sources and to demand the freshest and healthiest foods available.
Get a taste of Certified Organic, small-scale, sustainable local food at Farmigo.com.