The O Word: Debunking the Organic Myth

Although my best friend and I are fundamentally so much alike, we come from such different worlds that it often amuses me. Apparently, when Jenn’s nephew was born, they passed down the family Wranglers for him to wear home. When my mom found out I was pregnant with my daughter, she handed me down an organic hemp t shirt made by our old neighbors in California. My parents were pseudo-hippies. Pseudo because, according to my mom, they bathed and didn’t do drugs. (I might call foul on the latter part of that statement because I found a hash brownie recipe in her stuff. She claims she was holding it for a friend.)

Regardless, I have been looking into the concept of organic lately. Organic always seemed to me like one of those labels that people stick on things so they can charge more, like ‘baby’ or ‘wedding.’ But there was a little part of me that was like, “Am I a bad parent because I don’t make my daughter’s grilled cheese out of sunbaked yard clippings and cheese I made myself from a cow that eats only young clover sprigs or my baby doesn’t puke on hand woven hemp burp clothes?” Probably not, but that organic label keeps popping up and so I decided to investigate. Those who know me know I love some research and so I’ve done the legwork to share with you.

What exactly does organic mean? Basically, organic means that something is grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. In the case of animal products like eggs, meat, poultry, and dairy it means that the animals are not given hormones or antibiotics.

So what does the USDA seal mean? It means that the producers of whatever you are eating are organic compliant. Organic-certified operations must have an organic system plan and records that verify compliance with that plan. Operators are inspected annually in addition there are random checks to assure standards are being met.

What do the variations mean? The USDA has identified for three categories of labeling organic products:

100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients

Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients

Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

Is organic healthier? There really isn’t any definitive research at this time to say that organic food is more nuitritious or better for you. However, there have been some studies that showed organic foods like tomatoes do have a higher nuitritional value.

What is organic clothing? Organic fabrics and textiles, like cotton, are, like food products, grown without fertilizers and pesticides and have a low impact on the environment. However, since not all products used to make organic fabric are grown in the USA (we pretty much just do cotton), the level compliance is harder to determine.

Is organic the same as natural? Nope. Natural means that it doesn’t contain additives or preservatives. Organic is a type of farming.

Bottomline: What should I buy organic?

Always (tests show that these items actually absorb pesticides and can make you sick): tomatoes, apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, spinach, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raspberries, fresh herbs, and strawberries. If they are available meats, poultry, eggs, and dairy are also worth the sticker shock.

Only if it’s payday: processed foods and certain produce items, such as: cauliflower, sweet corn, broccoli, mangos, and sweet peas

Not worth it and possibly scam items: Produce you peel like bananas, avocados, pineapples, kiwis, onions, papayas, and oranges. Seafood. Cosmetics.

Clothing can be hit or miss. If it is important to you, look for things made from sustainable products like bamboo.

So basically, there are things worth spending your money on for that organic label, if it is the right organic label. Make sure to read what exactly the label is indicating, as broken down above.

Ideally, you should try to buy at your local farmers market or from local growers. If that is not an option, then hopefully the above stuff will give you a push in the right direction.

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