Organic, all natural, free range, no steroids, local, no antibiotics, non-GMO — so many labels, SO confusing.
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Unless you’ve found the low-cost mecca, the price tag of these labels (hi $7.99 for small container of raspberries) makes me want to cry and throw my fear of toxins out the window. High prices and increased diversity in labeling makes many of us wonder if buying organic, or any of the above, is worth it, or if it’s just another marketing ploy in search of the all-mighty dollar.
Before we get into the debate, I’ve gotta throw it over to the legendary Michael Pollan who said, “eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.” I could be wrong here, but chances are you’re buying foods with these labels in an effort to be healthier. At the end of the day, a bag of “all natural” cheese puffs or “organic” mac & cheese aren’t exactly health foods. While they might be better than their GMO, synthetic oil laden counterparts, they’re still processed. So if health is your goal, follow Michael Pollan’s rules and you’ll be well on your way.
Onward. Understanding if buying organic, or other trendy wellness labels, is worth it is pretty complex and has many moving pieces that span from government policy, down the the supply chain, all the way to the farmer. But as a consumer, it’s important to be empowered with education and information so you can make the decision that’s best for you and your loved ones.
To simplify the process and answer the “is it worth it” question, I broke it down into some FAQ’s.
What does it even mean to be organic?
USDA certified organic foods must fall within federal guidelines that consider things, like pesticides, soil quality, and animal raising practices — just to name a few.
Due to the practices of organic farms, they’re also better for the environment, as they reduce the toxic load on the soil and carbon footprint by fewer emissions from raising livestock. (If you want to get even deeper into this, I highly recommend checking out the documentary Sustainable on Netflix).
You should also know that it’s not easy or cheap to get an organic label. This means that your local farmer might not have an organic label, but still follows many of the best practices required by the USDA. Shopping local and knowing your farmers and their plants and animals is a great way to eat close to the earth and the supply chain. Just ask them what some of their farming practices are.
What’s wrong with non-organic?
When thinking about our health, we have to think about the load on our body. What we put in and on our body has a huge impact on how we function. Non-organic foods — both plants and animals — contain pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and growth hormones. Think about it this way: pesticides are used to kill pests from ruining crops, right? No matter how much you scrub that piece of kale, is that really something you want to put in your body? Many pesticides and toxins prevalent in the US aren’t even allowed in other countries.
So no, you might not feel sick from eating non-organic or using non-organic tampons, but what happens on the inside could be telling a different story.
It’s important to remember that each of our bodies based on our lifestyle, the diversity present in our own microbiome, and our genetics are so different. We synthesize things differently, so what’s happening in and on my body is different than yours.
Before we move on here are some quick facts on the environment:
- Organic farming reduces soil, air, and water contamination
- Organic farming decreases the use of non-renewable energy
- 42 percent of agricultural emissions come from animals
What does the government have to do with it?
Let’s use a reference I know you’ll stay with me on….”Because some big-shot over at the wiener company got together with some big-shot over at the bun company and decided to rip off the American public. Because they think the American public is a bunch of trusting nit-wits who will pay for everything they don’t need rather than make a stink. Well they’re not ripping of this nitwit anymore because I’m not paying for one more thing I don’t need. George Banks is saying NO!”
The government has a specific amount of funding, some of which they spend on things like school lunches, but a lot of it goes to subsidies on commodity crops like corn, wheat, and soy (meaning they give more money to farmers who grow these crops in line with specific principles). They get this money from someone like a soda company, who according to a report, spent almost $5.5 million dollars on lobbying in 2018. Now let’s think about the product they’re selling — addictive sugary drinks, among other snacks.
The subsidies that the government provides are used to make highly processed foods. These foods are addictive AND cheap. The overconsumption of these types of food correlates to obesity and many preventable chronic diseases.
What if the government supported local and organic farmers in a more profound way?
An article by Mark Bittman said this, “the food system and the diet it’s created have caused incalculable damage to the health of our people and our land, water and air. If a foreign power were to do such harm, we’d regard it as a threat to national security, if not an act of war, and the government would formulate a comprehensive plan and marshal resources to combat it.”
What can I do?
- Vote with your dollar by purchasing items that stand for what you believe in
- Check out the EWG’s Clean 15 & Dirty Dozen to know when you save and when to splurge
- Eat real food
- Do the best you can! Shop local and organic when you can and support farmers who align with your belief system — you’ll save the planet, too!
- Stay informed & educated
Listen, I’m not perfect, and I’ll never say that I only buy all organic, all local, all low waste, all the time, because that’s just not realistic for my lifestyle or my wallet. I buy berries off the food cart in NYC (they’re $2 people!) and have a non-organic burger at a restaurant when the craving hits, and that’s okay.
I know that I am privileged to make purchases that benefit my body and the environment. If I could feed the world this way, I would. This is why for those of us who can afford it and have access, it’s important to fuel the economy responsibly. Every time we go to the grocery store, farmers market, or choose to buy organic tampons, we’re casting our vote by showing policy makers where we want to spend our money. The economy reacts to consumer behavior, so let’s behave in the way we want them to react.