Food for Thought
The word organic often conjures up images of pristine pastures and small family farms, where fat, happy cows graze and the gentle hand of a plaid-clad farmer tends the chain of life. In reality, organic foods today come with a host of political and social implications. According to The New York Times, since federal organic standards have overtaken the industry, most of the organic foods market has been swallowed whole by large agri-food corporations—among them are Coca-Cola, Cargill, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Kraft Foods, and others. With organic food sales totaling some $29.2 billion in 2011, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2012 Organic Industry Survey, organics are growing faster than any other sector of the food industry. Sales increased more than 9 percent in 2011 alone.
While that might fly in the face of what most people think when they reach for their organic cereal, large corporations and large profits have brought organic foods into the mainstream like never before, many times bringing down prices and increasing availability to our benefit. Walmart, Kroger, Giant Eagle—nearly every major grocery store carries organic foods today and many even have entire organic or “natural” food aisles. But with new regulations and marketing strategies comes new and often confusing regulations. Whether you’re looking to reduce the amount of chemicals and hormones you consume or help keep those same potentially harmful substances out of water and soil, the terms “organic,” “natural,” “all natural,” and others can be confusing. Here are just a few tips to make your plates a little greener.
For a Cleaner Earth
If you want to make the earth a little greener, limit your intake of these five foods.
1. Rice is an essential food source for many cultures, but it also accounts for nearly one-third of the planet’s annual freshwater use.
2. Sugar may be responsible for more biodiversity loss due to habitat destruction than any other crop, according to a 2004 World Wildlife Federation report.
3. Meat, according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization’s findings, may be responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than global transportation. Livestock make up the world’s largest source of water pollution.
4. Palm oil, found in an estimated 10 percent of U.S. groceries, contributes to rampant deforestation in places like Malaysia and Indonesia, where 30 square miles of forest is cut down daily.
5. Some seafood, according to a U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization report, comes from highly depleted sources. In fact, 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are fully or overly exploited and some are in a state of collapse. Visit Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch online for a list of what to avoid.
For a Cleaner Body
If you want to keep potentially harmful substances out of your body, buy these items organic.
1. Soft fruits like apples, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, grapes, and blueberries are often sprayed with pesticides that remain on the skin or enter the fruit itself.
2. Vegetables like celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, lettuce, kale, and collards are highly susceptible to pests and often sprayed with pesticides. These chemicals can be difficult to wash off.
3. Fatty meats retain pesticides in higher quantities than leaner meats because fat absorbs chemicals, often passing them
on to you.
4. Milk has been known to contain 12 pesticides, including DDE, a breakdown product of DDT, which was banned in the early 1970s due to its contribution to developmental neurotoxicity, cancer, and other problems. Non-organic milk also contains copious amounts of hormones.
5. Avoid sprays or cleaners that contain organophosphates, which are commonly found in pet products and have been linked to developmental disorders and cancer. Avoid antibacterial products, which are no more effective than hot water and soap and may contribute to health problems.
Know Your Labels
What does organic mean in 2013?
If you see the word organic or the USDA organic seal on produce or crops, irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms were not used.
If you see animal products labeled organic or containing the USDA organic seal, the producer has met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones on their animals, used 100 percent organic animal feed, and provided their animals with access to the outdoors.
Multi-ingredient foods labeled organic contain 95 percent or more certified organic content.
Products containing the label made with organic ingredients must contain at least 70 percent certified organic content.
Foods with labels containing the words natural or all natural are largely unregulated. Meats, however, must not contain artificial ingredients or added color and can only be minimally processed. The package must also be labeled with a statement defining the use of the term.