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Organically Speaking… 

by Ashley Ess

photo: alexandra de furio

Organic vs. Conventional 

Conventionally-grown foods are farmed using chemical fertilizers and herbicides and pesticide sprays. Animals raised on conventional farms are given feed produced with these same chemicals and are administered hormones and antibiotics regularly. In many cases they are not allowed to roam and often live in confined spaces. 

Organically-grown foods are farmed using compost and manure as fertilizers and use natural repellants (such as insects and birds, among other safe methods) to control pests. Organically-raised animals eat organic feed and are never confined to small spaces, allowing them to live healthful lives.*


Reasons To Go Organic 

Organic farming practices:

- help reduce pollution and conserve water

- do not release harmful pesticides into the environment

- preserve biodiversity 

- Organic diets reduce children’s exposure to pesticides like malathion, which may affect the central nervous system and chlorpyrifos, which may cause autoimmune disorders. Source: Emory University Health Sciences Center (2006, February 21). Organic Diets Lower Children's Exposure To Two Common Pesticides. ScienceDaily.­ /releases/2006/02/060221090538.htm 

- Organic foods have been found to contain higher nutrient levels than their conventional counterparts, studies have shown. See the Journal of  Alternative and Complimentary Medicine’s research on vitamin and mineral levels in organic foods. Although one recent, albeit more narrow, study from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests that organic onions, potatoes and carrots may not contain higher levels of antioxidants than their conventional counterparts; the study does agree that there are many wide-reaching benefits to organic food production.

- Reduce your exposure not only to chemical residues but to hormones, antibitoics and other medications given to conventionally-fed animals. 

- Organic farming respects the environment.* 

- Animals raised organically are treated more humanely.* 

* There is growing concern over the rise in popularity of organics. Due to high demand and the draw of large corporations motivated by profits, many large organic producers source their ingredients from farms in other countries like China, where regulation stands in question; often cows are kept on crowded industrial-sized feedlots to fulfill demand. An interesting Businessweek article from 2006 explores this in more detail. Whenever possible, purchase from non-corporate organic food companies who support fair, sustainable food practices (more info following).


Shop Smart! Buy Organic! 

- Organic produce and products go on sale often. 

- Buy whole foods rather than processed, packaged foods and make them last. For example, a stew made out of a slew of organic vegetables and meat (if desired) can be used for at least a couple days’ worth of dinners and lunches. 

- Did you know that you are actually paying more for conventional foods than you may have thought? This is because most farms that use pesticides, chemical fertilizers and have GM (genetically modified) crops like soy, corn, wheat, cotton and rice receive government subsidies, paid for by our tax money. 

- Some foods are more important to buy organic than others. If the cost of organic avocados puts a strain on your wallet, choosing conventional avocados may be the better option. Avocados are quite low on the list of pesticide residue. Conventional strawberries, on the other hand, have high concentrations of pesticide residue and should be avoided. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s comprehensive guide on pesticides. 

- Opt for seasonal produce. Off-season fruits and vegetables tend to carry a higher cost because they need to be shipped from far away. 

- Avoid most processed foods, even those that tout they are organic. Not only can these products be more expensive than whole foods, they may not actually be as organic as they claim. Many organic food companies are owned by huge corporations that not only produce junk food, but their focus is on profit, not health and keeping organics pure. Critics have often questioned the sourcing of contents used in many processed organic foods, which may in fact include genetically modified ingredients. A great resource for choosing to buy from brands owned by corporate conglomerates or by independent producers is here

Remember that organic food is not just a “trend.” If anything, “conventional” food production is a trend, and a dangerous one at that. The food our grandparents and great-grandparents consumed was far closer to the organic food of today than mainstream, chemical-laden conventional foods.

Ashley Ess is Chief Editor of Bamboo Magazine - Whole Family Living.


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