What is organic food? And is it really worth the price?
Organic produce has propelled into the mainstream over recent years, popularized by a slew of health and environmental claims.
But organic food often comes with a heavy price tag…
What is organic food?
Organic food is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, genetic modification (GM), and ionizing radiation. While British products usually carry the Soil Association logo, imported foods may simply state Organic or carry a Bio label.
Organic farming has multiple benefits. Plant foods grown this way contain no, or only minimal, chemical residues, they have more antioxidants, richer flavors, are safer for people with food sensitivities (because often, these are caused by chemicals in foods), and tend to be fresher because the lack of preservatives makes their shelf-life shorter.
Organic farming is great for the environment, too, because it doesn’t pollute, it increases soil fertility, reduces soil erosion, and protects animals as well as bees that pollinate the flowers. It follows that it’s also better for farm workers and people living in the area.
You don’t need animal manure to grow fruit, vegetables, and crops. Vegan-organic or veganic is a system of cultivation that avoids artificial chemicals and sprays, livestock manures and animal remains from slaughterhouses. Read more about it here.
Organic farming is more labor-intensive and as a result, organic products tend to be more expensive.
What organic foods should you buy?
Some fruit and vegetables absorb more pesticides than others so it’s best to buy these organic when possible.
It’s all to do with their having thin skin, high water content, and that we don’t peel them before eating: strawberries, apples, grapes, nectarines, peaches, cherries, spinach, kale, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, and peppers.
If organic prices are beyond you, don’t give up on them completely, just purchase them occasionally and if you stumble upon them at reduced prices, buy more and freeze!
There’s an interesting conundrum with tomatoes grown hydroponically in big greenhouses where there’s no soil but their roots are submerged in nutrient-rich water.
This method isn’t classified as organic in the UK or Europe but it is allowed under organic standards in the US.
Hydroponic tomato growing allows for pesticide-free farming yet the plants may well be receiving fertilizers in the water. This method of tomato production allows year-round harvesting and reduces the amount of space and water the crop requires.
Opponents highlight that it’s not natural as the plants receive no sunlight and don’t contribute to the ecosystem in any way. Whichever side you lean towards, if we can’t always afford organic tomatoes, hydroponic ones may be the next best thing.
However, when shopping, you can’t tell how a tomato was grown if it doesn’t carry the organic label – hydroponic or grown in the soil are not recognized distinctions – yet.
How to save money when buying organic
If you’re lucky enough that you can splash out when shopping, by all means, buy only organic because it’s better for everyone.
But, if you’re on a budget, some crops don’t absorb pesticides that much or we peel them so non-organic are okay.
These include avocados, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, aubergines, onions, peas, sweet corn, kiwi fruit, melons, papaya, pineapple, mango, and sweet potatoes.
Soya growing does present several issues but there are two radically different approaches.
Mass production of soya for animal feed is responsible for deforestation and environmental destruction in South America and elsewhere and most of it is genetically modified. Up to 90 percent of the world’s soy production is fed to livestock!
On the other hand, only about six percent of global soya production is eaten by people in the form of tofu, soya milk, soya oils, tempeh, edamame, soya sauce, etc.
Many soy foods consumed in the UK are made with organic beans sourced from Europe. Their organic label also means no GM and many food manufacturers declare where their soya comes from to show they are a part of the solution, not the problem.
Choosing organic soya products is a wise choice and the price tag is usually affordable, too.
Most conventionally produced citrus fruit is sprayed with pesticides. However, because we peel them, we discard the main pesticide dose with the rind.
Citruses are usually also waxed. A thin layer of wax is applied on the surface to help prolong their shelf life and make them look pretty.
There are many waxing mixtures. They usually contain some edible wax of plant or insect origin but can also contain petroleum-based wax. There’s no way of knowing what kind was used on the fruit. It may not be vegan or it may not be very good for you.
The solution is to buy organic whenever possible. While not all unwaxed fruit is organic, all organic fruit is unwaxed.
If you’re using orange or lemon zest in cooking, always go for organic to avoid lacing your food with pesticides.
Solutions to costly organic produce
It’s not always easy to shop around for organic fruit and vegetable. So, the best solution might be to take out an organic fruit and veg box subscription.
Each area has different suppliers so do a little research to see what’s available where you live. And it has another advantage… You’re also supporting local farms and the food hasn’t traveled far to get to you!
When shopping, check what organic products are available and if there’s a special offer. As fresh produce is seasonal, you might find some at decent prices and be able to stock up. Fruits such as strawberries, peaches, or nectarines freeze well.
Other products, such as whole grains, pulses, nuts, and seeds, are a different story. They have their outer layers removed before sale and that gets rid of many chemical residues.
However, it’s still good to choose organic when possible – for your health, the health of the farmworkers, and the environment.
This article has been published with permission from viva! You can read the original piece here