Buying Organic – Is There any Bang for Your Buck?
As consumers in a recessed economy, we are all forced to make tough choices about how and where to spend our hard-earned dollars. We want to do what is best for ourselves, our families, and the planet, but we also know that this is not the time to be splurging. How do we effectively strike this balance?
When it comes to making food choices, organic is clearly the best. Organic foods are those that are grown in a completely natural environment and soil conditions. Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizers, irradiation or biotechnology. Animals raised on organic farms eat organically grown feed and are not confined within enclosures 100 percent of the time as they are on conventional farms. They are also raised without antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones.
Buying Organic is about more than avoiding pesticides
Buying organic is about much more than merely keeping pesticides out of our bodies. It is about supporting a system of sustainable agricultural management that promotes soil health and fertility through the use of such methods as crop rotation and cover cropping. These age-old farming methods nourish plants, foster biodiversity, and prevent damage to valuable water resources.
Buying – expensive or affordable?
The down side of buying organic foods is that growing food in a perfectly natural environment has become an expensive exercise. The use of artificial fertilizers and synthetic pesticides actually increases productivity, helping to keep costs down. Organic food farms, on the other hand, require a higher degree of maintenance that ultimately translates to higher costs.
In truth, buying organic is easier and more affordable now than ever before. Not only do organic products appear on store shelves in mainstream retail outlets, but thanks to organic private label products, an ever-growing number of local farmers’ markets, and a lack of dependence on petroleum-based farm inputs, the gap between organic and non-organic prices is closing.
Organic foods are better for you
Organic foods are believed to have higher nutritional value than conventional food because an absence of pesticides and fertilizers causes plants to boost their production of the phytochemicals (vitamins and antioxidants) that strengthen their resistance to bugs and weeds.
Research has linked the presence of pesticides in our food to every conceivable disease from headaches to birth defects. Many experts are of the opinion that pesticide levels in conventional food are safe for most adults. However, the National Academy of Sciences maintains that even low-level pesticide exposure can cause toxicity in children (given their less-developed immune systems) and in pregnant women (as it strains their already challenged organs).
When it comes to non-vegetarian food products, there is increasing concern that inhumane rearing environments triggers stress in animals. In addition, hormone injections used to ‘fatten up’ the animals ultimately translate to the presence of toxins in their meat. Beyond this, animals are often given antibiotics, the overuse of which has enabled bacteria to develop resistance to them and flourish. This results in conventionally farmed animals being less resistant to infection.
Buying organic is better for the environment
According to the Organic Trade Association, organic farming reduces pollutants in groundwater and creates richer soil. It enhances crop health and reduces erosion. It also decreases the prevalence of airborne toxins and pesticides that eventually end up in your stomach. Plus, organic farming uses significantly less energy than conventional farming methods.
Buyer beware the ‘organic’ label
For many years, organic was synonymous with small, local farmers. However, following the government’s involvement in the industry, large businesses have begun to implement the label of “organic” as a marketing tool. Many organic food producers are massive industries that profit from so-called organic procedures. Some of them continue to use synthetic ingredients in their process, knowing they can retain the organic label as long as they abide by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements.
While it bodes well that organic practices are filtering into large markets and companies are beginning to improve the safety and quality of their products, for the time being, if you really want food that is good for you and doesn’t cost too much, consider visiting your local farmers’ markets. Get to know the growers and see if you can buy directly from their farms. You will end up with higher quality food at a lower cost than if you simply buy something with an organic label. Remember, the fancier the label, the lower the chances that the food is what you actually want.