As many of you know, I am a full-time Financial Planner and mom who wrote a book about bringing sanity back into the kitchen. So, when a co-worker mentioned she was very confused by the whole “organic debate” I told her I would post this excerpt from my book. Below is Rule No 1 (there are six in all) describes why I choose organic foods and the different labels that identify categories of food to help readers better understand what organic is and more importantly what organic isn’t. I hope this helps clear things up for Penny and for those of you who might also be as befuddled by the topic.
Rule No 1: Organic foods whenever possible, please.
Organic foods have become popular for several reasons, the most important of which is that organic foods are healthier alternatives to conventional foods. It’s funny—even ironic—that I call today’s foods conventional. In reality, the terms “organic” and “conventional” should actually be reversed.
Organic foods may seem new and modern, but truth is, almost all conventional foods were organic seventy-five years ago. Am I advocating the use of only organic foods? Not so much. I neither eat nor prepare organic foods exclusively on a daily basis and if you want to make this plan work for your busy household, you might want to follow my lead.
Can I see myself going strictly organic? If I didn’t hold a fulltime job and care for kids and a husband with little flexibility in his work schedule maybe I could find time to commit to only organic ingredients for my meals, but I know that for me, and probably for you, this is an unrealistic goal. Like the ritual of “keeping a kosher house,” observant homemakers may obey dietary laws at home and then eat non-kosher foods when out and about.
The same can be said for eating organically, which I’ve rephrased as “keeping organic.” There aren’t many restaurants and grocery stores serving a large variety of organic foods and dishes, though more and more organically minded chefs are opening establishments to meet the needs of those of us who strive to use the best food available. Mostly organic still beats no organic!
In my opinion, the most obvious reason to consume organic vegetables, grains, and meats is to avoid additives, pesticides, hormones, steroids, and other synthetic ingredients. Why eat seafood soaked in chlorine dioxide when you can consume clean fresh fish for a few more dollars? Of course, there are myriad opinions on the order in which the 3,000 known and approved additives, pesticides, hormones, and steroids should appear on lists devoted to dangerous additives. Every website and expert has a different top ten list of the biggest offenders.
For the record, additives, in general, are used to enhance non-organic products. Without these chemicals, an original recipe can’t sustain itself or it may be unappealing to the consumer. Compare this situation to airbrushing photos in a high-fashion magazine. Make the models more appealing and you sell more fashion. Make asparagus more appealing to seduce shoppers.
If additives were all a homemaker needed to worry about, things might not be too bad. Add stabilizers and heap on the abuse. Stabilizers are added to natural yogurt, for example, because without it, yogurt lays in globs in its containers. The trade-off is that shelf life is extended so it looks attractive enough to eat. As for the natural gray hue of yogurt, would you buy it if you opened the lid to find what looks like a winter Russian sky? Probably not. That is why manmade, non-natural junk is added to mimic just about any texture, color, and flavor. Yuck.
I use organic foods for a variety of reasons: to protect my body from long-term disease, moderate hyperactivity, avoid bloating, and combat weight gain. There’s more. I also avoid consuming ingredients with additives because some of them can change the composition and size of the human body, enlarging it either temporarily or permanently. Why get, feel, or become fat by consuming this crap if you can avoid it by eating organically?
Hormones are another type of additive found in many foods and these also have the ability to alter our bodies. Hormones are, in essence, naturally occurring in human beings but they are also ingested when eating dairy, cattle, 3 and poultry. Hormones are fed to cattle, pigs, and poultry so they gain weight faster.
Dairy cows are fed or injected with hormones to maximize their milk production. Young cows are given up to six different kinds of steroid-based hormones, including Bovine Growth Hormones (BGH), approved by the Federal Department of Agriculture (FDA) and the National Institute of Health (NIH). Approved in 1993, rbGH and IGHF hormones show up in high levels in humans diagnosed with colon, breast, and prostate cancers.
Hormones given to animals and consumed by humans are linked to human weight gain and can cause female children to hit puberty at younger ages. Adult men are at risk for growing breasts and experiencing shrinking testicles as a result of ingesting these additives.
You would have to be living under a rock not to be aware of the fact that critics of an organic way of life have plenty of bogus arguments refuting the evidence found linking early or premature development in girls as a result of ingesting hormones from dairy products, and while there is no scientific study proving that organic foods contain more nutrition or are better for you than conventionally grown foods, anecdotal evidence abounds and will increase over time as more scientists study the health and wellbeing of people consuming organic foods versus those who don’t.
My position hasn’t budged. I would rather feed my family produce that has two-thirds less pesticide residue than that found in conventionally grown vegetables any day of the week. It makes me feel like I am doing my best to protect myself and my family from health issues we have yet to discover and those we already know about.
So, how do you know what awaits you when you purchase and prepare the veggies, meat, dairy, and boxed foods you throw into your grocery cart? Well, you have probably convinced yourself that labels don’t lie, but in fact, they don’t always tell the truth. Products bearing the USDA Organic label are not necessarily organic. The United States Department of Agriculture does not know how often organic rules are broken at the growing and harvesting stages and the organization has not consistently taken action when violations were reported.
What can you do? Check out the following definitions of the word organic so you are able to make wise decisions based on the information you are given once you arrive at your market.
WHAT ORGANIC MEANS
1. Animals have not been treated with antibiotics, growth hormones, or feed made from animal byproducts.
2. Animals must have been fed organic feed for at least a year.
3. Animals must have access to the outdoors.
4. Meat has not been genetically modified or irradiated.
5. Fertilizer does not contain sewage, sludge, or synthetic ingredients.
6. Produce has not been contaminated with synthetic chemicals used as pesticides.
KNOW YOUR LABELS
Product must contain 100% organic ingredients.
At least 95% of ingredients are organically produced.
Made with organic ingredients:
At least 70% of ingredients are organic. The remaining 30% must come from USDA-approved lists.
Free-range or free-roaming:
This misleading term applies to chicken and livestock that don’t necessarily spend a good portion of life outdoors. In reality, livestock given outdoor access for “an undetermined period each day” qualify. U.S. government standards are weak in this area.
Natural or all natural:
Neither means organic. There is no standard definition for this term unless you are referring to meat and poultry products. The USDA defines natural as “free of artificial flavoring, colors, chemical preservatives, and synthetic ingredients.” This claim has not yet been verified. Producers and manufacturers make their own decisions to use the term.