About 3 years ago, I made the decision to spend more money on what I put in my body than what I put on my body. At the time, I knew next to nothing about organic food or why it is important. I only knew that I wanted to invest in myself in order to live a healthy, ill-free, pain-free life. And to me, spending more time at the grocery store and less time at the clothing store sounded like a good investment.
So what makes organic food, well....organic? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, organic food means "of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides." In other words, organically-grown crops are not compromised in any way with the use of chemicals. There are no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, so you know that your food is grown the way God intended it to be.
The United States Department of Agriculture has strict rules about whether a product is labeled "organic" or not. According to the USDA website, "Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used." For more information as a consumer, visit their website here. If you see the USDA Organic label on a product, you can rest assured it has gone through rigorous testing to ensure the product you purchase is, in fact, organic.
Why is it important to eat organic? When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden and instructed them to take care of the earth, I doubt synthetically-made chemicals and genetically-modified seeds were part of His plan. The phenomenon of mass-produced crops and shipping produce to far-off distances is really something that came about in the past two centuries. Even our grandparent's generation mostly grew their own food or purchased produce from their local farmer.
For me, the most important factor is that produce grown organically has to fend for itself, in a sense. Because it does not have a protective layer of chemicals on it, the produce has to develop its own protective skin. This means when we eat that protective skin, we are eating all the antioxidants that go along with it, and in turn, help protect our own bodies from disease and virus.
Today there is a growing movement of people growing their own gardens, so they know exactly where their food comes from. But even if you are unable to keep your own garden or join a co-op, you should still strive to purchase a mostly organic diet from the supermarket. When you purchase organic, you know that the farmer growing (or raising) your food cares about your well-being and the well-being of our environment. You know that the food you're eating has significantly more nutrients than its conventionally-grown counterpart. You know that no synthetic material went in or on your food. And because we know that chemicals, pesticides, and antibiotics cause the majority of diseases plaguing our society (e.g. cancer, dementia, heart disease, etc.), why would anyone choose to knowingly eat that stuff?
Why does it cost so much? Supply and demand. According to the USDA, organic food makes up about "3 percent of total U.S. food sales." Honestly, I think it's easier and cheaper for farmers to just spray their crops or inject their meat with chemicals, rather than having to deal with bugs or soil issues or whatever else comes there way. While I understand the reasoning behind this, it makes me wonder if one day our society will reach the point when we just tell the computer what we want to eat and out pops a hot dish (Star Trek, anyone?).
In the past 20 years, there has been a growing demand for organic food, and even traditional grocery stores like Safeway have a separate organic section. Besides your local health food store (mine is Vitamin City in San Dimas, CA), you can always count on Whole Foods or Trader Joe's to have a nice organic selection. Like I said at the beginning of this post, spending $3.99 for organic strawberries instead of $2.99 for conventional ones is worth it.
Where should I start? If you have never purchased organic food before, I recommend starting with dairy. You can tell the difference between conventional dairy products and organic dairy products right off the bat. The cows and hens producing your organic dairy products are able to roam around eating grass, minerals, and proteins from the ground. They aren't shot up with growth hormones, and they aren't fed animal by-products (yuck!). They produce a creamier, more flavorful product, in my opinion. (Sidenote: Many people will say that raw milk or cheese is the best for you, and I agree. But that's a whole other blog post...)
Next, you should print this off and take it with you to the store. I keep a copy of it in my purse, so I can always refer to it when shopping. This list is know as the "Dirty Dozen"--the 12 most pesticide-saturated items of produce. These are the ones that you absolutely must buy organic! Usually produce with thick skins like onions, avocados, and cantaloupes are okay to purchase conventionally, because their skin protects them from harmful pesticides. But the Dirty Dozen are the ones you should make sure to only buy organic:
1. Celery 7. Bell Peppers
2. Peaches 8. Spinach
3. Strawberries 9. Cherries
4. Apples 10. Kale/Collard Greens
5. Blueberries 11. Potatoes
6. Nectarines 12. Grapes
I think the average population knows that organic food is more nutritious and delicious, but they cannot get over the extra pennies it costs. Personally, I would rather spend a little more on food now than a lot more on medical bills later!