In the last 8 or so years, the talk of organic foods has seen a sharp increase in popular culture. Since its initial emergence into pop culture, talk of organic vs. non-organic foods has died down, but that doesn’t mean understanding the difference doesn’t matter. As I’ve taken control of buying my own groceries and heavily focusing my diet on fresh foods, I have become more curious about what ‘eating organic’ actually means. Today, I’m sharing what I’ve learned about when to buy organic produce and when it’s not so important.
What does ‘organic’ mean?
This was the first question I wanted to personally answer. When I asked my friends what it meant to buy organic food, I received mixed answers. Some said that it meant the use of fewer pesticides while others said it referred to sustainable farming practices.
The real answer? A combination of the two.
According to organic.org, organic produce is grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, miscellaneous sewage (gross, I know), genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or ionizing radiation. The website goes on to say more simply that:
“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conversation of social and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.”
Doesn’t that sound nice?
(More on the blog: How to Extend the Life of Your Produce)
How do I know if something is organic?
The USDA has three different categories into which organic foods may be sorted. The first is 100% organic, which means, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, that the product or item was made with 100% organic ingredients. The second is the blanket term ‘organic.’ An item is placed into this second category if an item is made with at least 95% organic ingredients. Finally, the third category: made with organic ingredients. This final category contains items that are made with at least 70% organic ingredients. The remaining 30% of ingredients must obey very strict guidelines set by the USDA that include no GMOs.
But why that higher price tag?
The same website is very blunt in saying that they aren’t sure exactly why the cost of organic foods is so much higher than non-organic foods. They even go on to say that there aren’t any studies that can back up this trend – merely its a noticeable trend we’ve seen develop over time, especially in the last 10 years.
That being said, I’d like to speculate that I imagine that discovering organic practices to safeguard against insect and animal pests is quite difficult and may be costly. If this is the case, I have a hard time understanding any justification for organic food prices to be so comparatively high. In my mind, once you’ve discovered a way to organically protect your crops the price should go down to ‘normal’ prices.
(More on the blog: How I Meal Plan)
What should I buy ‘organic’ and what can I skip?
That being said, depending on your area, proximity to local farms and availability of fresh produce, the organic stuff may run you a few extra bucks. My advice? Focus your money on ‘organic’ stuff when it matters.
Typically, the heaviest concentrations of pesticides and gross things (see above list) are on produce items that we eat the skin. Some scientists and organic foodies have created this list called ‘The Dirty Dozen.’ As the name suggests, this list contains 12 items with skin that typically gets consumed that have historically been grown with with heavy pesticide use. *P.S. Pay attention, all of these are grown during the summer* These 12 are:
- Bell peppers
- Cherry Tomatoes
That being said, items that don’t cause a huge fuss when not grown organically are produce that have thick outer skins. Some examples are: avocadoes, watermelons, banana and cantaloupe.
At the end of the day, it’s important to have a well-balanced diet filled with a variety of fruits and veggies. Regardless of what type of produce (organic vs. non-organic) you choose to purchase, wash it when you get home. If nothing else you’re cleaning your produce of dirt, small bugs and some surface pesticides – it’s important.
Do you shop organic produce? Why or why not?