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Organic food – to buy or not to buy?

Organic food, and whether buying it is more beneficial for people and the environment, is an on-going debate. You can find a number of articles in press and online, analysing the results of various studies, which often are contradictory and inconclusive. Whilst big corporations are said to have paid for some of them to work to their advantage, by ‘proving’ that pesticides and GMOs don’t have negative impact on the planet and us, you will still find a lot of independent studies.

I wanted to make my own stand on this topic, and so I started with defining the meaning of the term ‘organic food’.

The word itself has taken its meaning from the organic matter that farmers use to fertilise the soil. Conventional farmers on the other hand, instead of using compost and animal manure, opt in for synthetic fertilizers. How convenient for them!! And I am not just being sarcastic here. My grandparents used to use animal matter on their farm and so I remember the smell during my holidays thre as a child…I wish I appreciated their hard work and commitment back then!

According to the Soil Association:

organic farming recognises the direct connection between our health and how the food we eat is produced. Artificial fertilisers are banned and farmers develop fertile soil by rotating crops and using compost, manure and clover”.

Why is this worth remembering? In current times, when our soils are heavily depleted in minerals essential for us, maintaining healthy and nutrient rich soil is a vital advantage of organic farming methods. Also, Genetically Modified crops and ingredients are not allowed.

An equally important aspect is that animals are raised free range, and no drugs or antibiotics are allowed. Instead, animals are kept in smaller herds and moved between pastures more often.

During my research, a few questions popped into my head:

If the above defines “organic food”, what is “food” then? Isn’t it what all food should be like? Or what it has been for thousands of years?

For me, personally, organic food should just be called food. This may sound very simplistic and naïve but I believe that this is what we are designed to eat. Our bodies certainly aren’t engineered to deal with the toxic load that comes with pesticides, antibiotics and hormones sprayed on our food and fed to animals we eat.

However, nowadays it isn’t all so straightforward. Many of you will know how the demand for food is constantly growing. Consumers are expecting to have a wide variety of fresh produce available all year round, outside of seasons; and increased meat consumption has caused its production to triple in the last four decades! Whilst in the past we were eating less but a better quality food, we now focus on the quantity. And large food companies are making the most of it, driving this demand even further.

You can probably imagine how difficult it would be for supermarkets to fulfill this demand if they weren’t using conventional farming. This method delivers in terms of increased speed of  animal and plant growth, and also providing variety of foods available all year round.

Yet, despite the demand issue, statistics say that in developing countries consumers throw away 30% – 50% of food purchased. Not to mention supermarkets rejecting edible fruits and vegetables, as they may not meet customer expectations, such as appearance. These facts are shocking and especially that as much as 1.6 million tonnes of food per year is wasted on a global scale.

Now, even more than ever, I understand the struggle that smaller farmers face to continue growing organic produce, and the support they need from us. Some of them have no choice but to switch to conventional farming, as their organic produce doesn’t allow them to keep afloat financially. Extra charges, competition and crop destruction are just among a few difficulties they face.

Where is the best place to shop for your groceries – do you always have to buy organic?

Ironically, I wouldn’t recommend what I did when I decided to switch to organic. Don’t start throwing away possibly every single thing you have in your kitchen and replacing them with organic and natural produce. It’s dangerous for your sanity, and your wallet!

Follow these few tips on how you can make a fresh start:

  • Remember the Dirty Dozen – whilst it would be ideal to buy all fruits and vegetables organic, this isn’t always possible. Instead, focus on little changes you can make from which you and your family will benefit most. You can start with replacing the Dirty Dozen* veg and fruit with organic, whilst the Clean Fifteen * shows the products safest to buy without the need to go organic.
  • Prioritize organic meat and diary products – that’s the best way to avoid the dangerous mix of antibiotics and hormones. Focusing on smaller quantities but better quality animal products goes a long way, and it will have a great impact on your health and well being.
  • Buy local – in this way you will get products that are in season and usually much more affordable than imported food from far away. This also lowers the enormous carbon footprint that air freighting causes.
  • Buy according to growing seasons – yet another way to avoid heavily sprayed food, because the fresh produce won’t need as much ‘help’ to grow if it’s in season.
  • Visit farmers market – meet the farmers and cut out the middle man. This allows you to find out about their growing techniques and tends to be cheaper to buy from them directly. Even if they do not pay fees to be certified organic, some farmers don’t spray their produce, and they will also grow seasonally.
  • Order online – it’s so convenient! No long queues at the checkouts or carrying heavy bags. My favourite online destination  in the UK for fresh organic products by far is Riverford Organic Farm. Their veg boxes just won the Ethical Product of the Decade by the Observer Ethical Awards 2015. They also have recipe boxes scheme that makes cooking really easy and enjoyable. Buying their veg or meat boxes usually brings the total price down too, compared to buying separate items.

*The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists don’t include GMO products. Corn and papayas tend to be genetically modified, unless organic.

Remember that often it’s better to buy local, non organic fresh products grown in season, than spending on organic ranges in big supermarkets, which are often very expensive and not local.

I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on buying organic and please share your comments below.

Ewelina signature

Resources and interesting links:

http://www.soilassociation.org/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/household-bills/10260573/Are-organic-veg-boxes-worth-the-money.html

http://www.riverford.co.uk/blog/2015/07/03/riverford-veg-boxes-ethical-product-of-the-decade/

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/11/organic-food-more-antioxidants-study

http://www.worldwatch.org/global-meat-production-and-consumption-continue-rise-1

http://www.imeche.org/knowledge/themes/environment/global-food

  • Hi Ewelina,

    You’ve explored this subject beautifully – thanks for raising awareness about eating organic food. I’m a big advocate of organic and local food (normally the two go hand-in-hand) as it’s not only better for the soil, but also wildlife, and the workers handling the crops. I totally agree with you when you say that food should represent organic, and I even get frustrated explaining why organic is worth paying more for – it’s so much better ecologically, as well as it’s naturally sustainable. We’re not messing with the earth by producing food organically!

    Besma (Curiously Conscious)

  • patternoftaste

    Hi Besma,

    I absolutely agree that organic is much better for us, the farmers and the environment. Not to mention the taste – I can definitely tell the difference. I get frustrated, however, when I hear how growing organic has been made difficult for the farmers, especially the smaller ones – the extra fees and competition from big supermarkets is worrying! But I am glad we still have some great produce around and that we can all share the best sources to shop!

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Ewelina x