Hey you! Yeah, you with the organic orange in aisle 3.
Put the fruit down. I repeat, PUT THE NATURALLY-SOURCED, OVERPRICED CITRUS DOWN! I know what you’re thinking, “But I want to make sure my family is eating natural food that doesn’t compromise their future health.”
I get it, believe me. We all want to be as healthy as possible. If you’re like a lot of health-conscious people, you take great care in selecting everything from the foods you put in your body, to the products you use on your skin.
Your eyes probably light up every time you see a label that brags “all-natural,” “local,” and “fresh.” While I understand the comfort you feel in seeing these words, it’s not always an accurate description.
You see, words like this are meant to appeal to the rumors you’ve heard around town. These words trigger an image of beautiful open farmland, with cows, pigs, chickens, and corn all living harmoniously as the sun sets on the horizon.
But I’ll fill you in on a little secret…
In reality, these words are powerful sales techniques, with little substance to back them up.
These labels might make you feel like what you’re eating is fresh, just like nature intended, but the words are usually flimsy and unjustified. The only word that you can count on as an accurate description is “organic.”
The term organic actually has regulations and parameters that have to be met before a company can use it to market their product. The certification is hard to get and a farm has to meet certain guidelines laid out by the National Organic Program. They also get an annual check-up to make sure the growers are following all the rules.
Organic food is specifically defined as food that’s grown without the use of synthetic or man-made fertilizers or pesticides. In farming, it means not using additives in the animals feed. In addition, the organic label states that the food was produced without the use of genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation.
“So what?” you say. “Aren’t all of those features GOOD things?!”
Well, yes and no.
The organic label in itself is kind of misleading. I urge you to do your own research, but splurging on the organic fruit isn’t always to your benefit. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why.
The organic food market has grown into a monster. In the United States, around 44% of people include organic foods in their shopping cart. And with a price point that’s more than 47% higher than regular food, it’s no wonder brands are fighting to convince you that their products are all natural.
Now, you may be thinking that it’s obviously more expensive at the grocery store because it’s more difficult to grow. But The National Academy of Sciences found that organic food actually costs less than 7% more to produce.
So why the 40% hike?
Obviously, it’s for big profits. The food industry is in the business of making money, and since natural foods are the current trend, they’re going to capitalize on them in any way they can. Can you really blame them for appealing to your emotions to make a buck?
That’s why it’s so important to do your own research.
But money isn’t the main reason you should rethink blowing this month’s paycheck on organic food.
You’re not getting any healthier.
So let’s say you grew up in the 90s like me…some of the darkest days of poor eating. I practically lived off of gas station cheeseburgers and Lunchables. Rainbow Skittles were my actual fruit source. McDonald’s and Taco Bell were thriving, and obesity concerns were steadily rising.
If so, you know how hard it is to find your footing on this new wave of health awareness and Crossfit for all. All our efforts are spent just trying to turn back the hands of time and erase some of the poor eating habits we developed in the 90s.
But guess what…
Although organic produce has a lot less pesticide residue than your average, run of the mill fruit or veggie, the numbers are slim. A study from Stanford University showed that there was no substantial increase in vitamins and nutrients in your organic fruit.
You can get the same Vitamin C from the conventional strawberries as you can from the organic strawberries (and they also happen to be $1.60 cheaper, CHA-CHING!). The only exception found in the study was organic milk. It did get a higher score in the Omega-3 fatty acids category.
If you’re not getting any bonus minerals from buying organic, why else would you spend the extra dough?
The description on the back of your organic salad kit would have you believe that no pesticides = safer.
To be fair, your conventional greens will generally have less pesticide residue than organic produce. But studies show that the pesticides don’t exceed any sort of safety standards. In fact, experts say there’s little to no health risks.
The ingredients list on packaged food is the main reason you should consider buying organic.
Many of the brands that have organic certifications also follow a more natural recipe for their food items. Most of these brands ditch the preservatives, dyes, hydrogenated oils, and fake sweeteners. You’re getting a high-quality product because the company wants to appeal to people who actively watch what they eat.
That’s probably the most important advice you can take away from this discussion. Learn how to read the label and know what ingredients to watch out for.
Beyond that, I highly recommend you look into options that are closer to home.
Choose to buy local!
Buying local produce has a big, positive impact on your nearby community. Investing some of your grocery budget into neighboring farms boosts the economy in your town and provides more jobs for the locals.
You can also count on fresh foods that have a longer shelf-life.
When you buy a bundle of bananas at the grocery store, it’s probably already had a pretty rough life. Those bananas were likely picked off a tree several days ago and loaded onto a boat in Guatemala or Costa Rica. After a long journey on the open seas and a fair amount of motion sickness, your bananas faced an exhausting journey with a long haul trucker.
After traveling across the states, that bunch of bananas sat in a warehouse before finally being put on the shelf. Then, after all that traveling, you add the bananas to your cart and take them home, where they sit on the counter just days away from rotting.
When you make the effort to buy some of your grocery items at the nearby farmers market, you can generally assume the fresh produce was picked within the last 24 hours. Not only are you getting a more vitamin-rich product, but it will last you a few bonus days too.
So throw on that floppy sun hat and a pair of trendy shades and hit up your local farms and markets for the freshest foods within 50 miles!
If you go to an actual farm to buy the items on your list, they might even let you take a tour of the farm or explain their process for growing. Seeing a farm in action is also just a pretty cool experience, and it’s always good to understand where your food comes from!
Which brings me to my next point about buying organic. This point appeals to the more eco-friendly readers. To all you lovely tree-huggers and animal-lovers out there, listen up.
I know what you’re saying…
“But it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside!”
Maybe animals are your cup of tea, and you’re sympathetic towards the treatment of cute, woolly little farm friends. Or maybe mother earth is more your style, and you want to make sure she’s still kickin’ in 50 years.
Well, step in line with everyone else. 95% of consumers say their main reason for going organic is to avoid pesticides.
If you think organic farms are more ethical or environmentally friendly, I’m about to hit you with some facts…
According to Science Daily, some organic pesticides are even more harmful to flora and fauna then their conventional counterparts.
On top of that, organic farms are more of drag on our planet’s resources. Organic farms take up 84% more land than a regular farm, yet their yield is much lower (by about 20%!).
Now if you lean more logical than emotional (like me), you’re starting to weigh the pros and cons of buying organic.
Is it better for your health? Not really.
Is it good for the environment? That’s debatable.
Are companies profiting off your naivety? Yep.
Is it more expensive? Nearly 50% more.
What’s the benefit of buying organic fruits and veggies? Are there really any traits that make it better?
The benefit is that this whole topic inspires education and discussion. More people are learning about how to care for their bodies, and working hard to create healthy goals.
Just the fact that you were standing in aisle 3 with that tasty-looking mandarin orange means you make a conscious effort to eat healthier (or maybe you just like that all-natural sugar spike).
Adding fruits and vegetables to your weekly cooking, choosing the healthier option when available, getting some exercise throughout the week and choosing foods that have ingredients you can pronounce, all help with achieving a healthier lifestyle.
It doesn’t have to be an argument over whether or not organic is better. Do what you like with your money.
But at least a great conversation about how to live better is happening. And times are changing. Think of the progress we’ve made since Fruit Gushers were a food group!
Yes, we still have fast food galore. Yes, there are still widespread problems with obesity and heart disease. But we’re making progress. We’re on the road to recovery. We’re making changes in health and wellness that impact the livelihood of future generations.
In summary, it’s important to work towards healthy in any way you can!