Sustainable Culinary Practices: Organic Food
The Meaning of Organic Food
In general terms, organic food is food that is grown in an environmentally friendly environment and that is free of synthetic pesticides or petroleum-based fertilizers. They are environmentally friendly because they are grown using water and soil conservation techniques as well as reusable resources. In addition, organic foods are not irradiated and do not have genetically modified organisms (GMO) or any form of chemical additives. For a more precise definition, the United States Food and Drug Administration has a National Organic Program that exactly defines organic food. In addition to giving an exact definition, it also explains the regulations that are associated with growing or raising of organic food.
When it comes to products that come from livestock, such as cows or chickens, the term organic has more to do with the way that the animal was cared for and raised. In this sense, organic implies that the animal was treated humanely and given feed that was organically grown. Organic meat and dairy means that the animals were also never given any form of growth hormones or antibiotics.
Deciphering Organic Food Labeling
When buying organic, it is important to understand that not all organic foods are the same. The labeling on organic food will explain exactly what the consumer is getting when the organic product is purchased. There are four levels, or types, of labels when it comes to organic food. These labels are: 100 percent organic, organic, made with organic ingredients and less than 70 percent organic ingredients. They are defined as:
- 100 Percent Organic: This label is self-explanatory in that it is 100 percent organic. Food items found with this label will exactly meet the definition of organic foods in that they do not have synthetic pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics or hormones.
- Organic: When a consumer purchases organic food, he or she is getting a food product that is 95 percent organic with 5 percent of ingredients being non-organic.
- Made with Organic Ingredients: Consumers who purchase this type of organic food will get a product that is no less than 70 percent organic ingredients and 30 percent non-organic ingredients.
- Less Than 70 Percent Organic: With this label food will only name organic ingredients in their ingredient list.
Comparing Organic and Natural Foods
The difference in food items that are called natural and food called organic may seem confusing to some. On the surface, the two terms may seem to be the same, however there are some differences between them that consumers should be aware of before choosing between the two. The primary and most important difference lies in regulations. When it comes to organic food, the FDA has regulations in place and clearly defines the meaning of the word organic. This is not true for foods that are labeled as being natural. Natural foods are neither regulated or defined by any food organizations or federal bodies. This means that manufacturers can label anything as being natural without first meeting any specific standards.
Why Choose Organic?
There are several reasons why consumers should choose organic food. These reasons range from benefiting a person’s health to the environment. Five of the more common reasons selecting organic foods include:
- They’re Good for the Environment: Traditional farming methods can be dangerous to the soil and nearby streams. Organic farming methods do not use any synthetic or potentially toxic materials that will contaminate these areas.
- It’s USDA Regulated: As previously discussed, organic foods are governed by the USDA, This ensures that the food is safe for consumption and that the food is being handled properly.
- Help Increase Organic Farming: As the demand for organic food grows the number of farms that supply it will also increase. Currently in the United States there are roughly 13,000 organic farms that are certified. While this may seem like a significant number, it seems much smaller on a global level where only .7 percent of farmland is organic.
- For Good Health: When eating organic foods, people reap the benefits of consuming more vitamins and minerals than they get with non-organic foods. As a result, these greater levels of nutrients may help to fight certain diseases. On the other hand, chemicals found in traditionally farmed foods may actually increase the risk of diseases, such as cancer. Chemicals found in conventional foods include synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
- For the Taste! Taste is one of the most simple reasons for choosing organic foods. Most often, organic foods are more flavorful than conventionally farmed foods. One of the reasons for this is the methods that are used during the farming process.
Helpful Resources on Organic Food
- Get the Facts About Organic Foods: A page on the North Carolina Cooperative Extension website that reviews facts regarding organic foods. It covers the health benefits of organic food, what the organic food label promises, and defines organic food.
- Organic? What’s the Big Deal?: A Princeton University page on organic food. It reviews the health and environmental benefits of organic food as well as it’s taste and how it impacts animal welfare.
- Organic Foods – The Facts: A PDF from the University of Georgia that covers organic food facts. It covers farming facts and health benefits.
- Organic Foods: A scientific status summary in PDF form that compares organic food and conventional food.
- Organic Farming: A page on the Macoskey Center for Sustainable Systems Education and Research website. This web page explains what is meant by organic and why organic food should be grown.
- Organic Foods – Are They Safer? More Nutritious?: A page on the Mayo Clinic website that discusses the safety of eating organic food and its nutritional benefits when compared to conventional foods.
- Benefits of Organic Foods: An article on the National Resource Defense Council website. Defines organic food, the reasons to choose organic and additional choice other than organic.
- Just the Facts: Organic Fruits and Vegetables: An article found on the Organic Trade Association website. This page discusses organic farming of fruits and vegetables. It also covers the benefit to children who eat organic fruits and vegetables.
- Organic Food Behind the Hype: A Forbes slide show that covers seven things that people should know about organic food. This ranges from cost of the food to certification.
- Organic Labeling and Marketing: A PDF from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides information on the labeling and marketing of organic food items.
- Environment – Organic Products: A page on the California State website that discusses organic products. This page reviews regulations for organic products, types of products and reasons for the higher cost of organic products.
- Organic Production and Handling Standards: The Environmental Protection Agency standards on regulations for organic farming.
- Organic Standards and Labels: The Facts: The University of Wisconsin Food Safety and Health. This page reviews facts on organic food.
- Nutrition Fact Sheet – Organic Food: A PDF page from the University of Michigan regarding organic food. Explains the differences between natural and organic food and reviews whether organic food is more nutritious.
- About Organic Produce: An article that discusses and explains organic food. A primary focus of the article is the use of pesticide on organic produce.
- The Hidden Dangers in Organic Food: An article that reveals the increased bacterial risks associated with eating organic food.
- Is Organic Food Worth All Your Hard Earned Green?: A Stanford magazine article that discusses the cost associated with organic farming.
- Your Guide to Organic Food: A University of Rochester article that discusses organic food in terms of what it is, the benefits associated with it, and how to shop for it.