We all know mother nature has never been clearer and it is showing us the results of our actions with so many natural disasters – including pandemics- around the world. It is really time to be more mindful, conscious and learn more about how our relationship with the environment can improve to make it a better world for current and future generations and for the ecosystem.
The word organic has become quite trendy. But did we take a moment to try to really understand this concept and what it really means to our world?
Is it really worth paying the extra bucks for anything labelled as organic, or is it pure marketing? Are we really making a difference?
I made research from different official organic entities in the US and Europe – that you will be able to see at the end of this post -.
Let’s see the results.
What the concept means
Organic is a system used in agriculture that aims to conserve biodiversity. It benefits the whole food chain, from the soil, to the plants and animals, the people and the planet as a whole.
The system intents to produce high quality foods, by ensuring that plants and animals are treated fairly and sustainably, with the least impact as possible on the ecosystem.
What are the organic standards?
The organic standards vary worldwide, and these are usually set by country or region, but in general, we could state that these always relate to some key principles:
Usually, a product needs to comply with certain standards related to the above principles in order to be able to use the word organic on its package. The main aspects that need to be controlled are:
- The use of fewer pesticides
Pesticides are chemicals used to control pests. Standards usually prohibit the use of any pesticide unless it is a nature-derived one like clove oil, where it may be allowed to be used only in specific circumstances.
Instead, the organic principles promote the natural balance between plans and healthy wildlife that can act as ‘natural pesticiders’ such as beetles or ladybirds.
- Avoiding artificial fertilisers
Fertilisers are used to provide the nutrients plants need for their growth.
Artificial fertilisers increase pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. They are also responsible for pollution when highfalls wash the fertilisers towards groundwater.
Organic farmers should use natural fertilisers, such as compost and/or manure instead, and it may be also necessary to rotate the crops to keep the soils healthy. This will not only keep the plants off chemicals but will also reduce the contamination of the whole ecosystem, considering pollution is generated from how they are produced, to where they end.
- Keeping high animal welfare
In general, this principle prohibits farmers from giving any type of antibiotics to animals unless that is strictly necessary for their welfare, i.e needed for a disease and that these antibiotics do not impact human health when consuming them.
Also, animals should live in their natural conditions, as close as possible to their original habitat, and be 100% organic fed and forage. Organic standards are drastically opposed to GM (genetically modified) foods, hence neither plants should be modified nor animals should be fed with these.
How does this translate to package foods?
It is relatively easy to get organic plants, fruits, vegetables and meat from our local farmers, but how do we know when a product that is processed is purely organic and what it entails?
It really depends on the region/country standards and on how they set out the minimum % of organic products that should compose a processed food.
In the United States, for example, only some products can be certified as organic products by the USDA:
- Products that are 100% organic.
- Organic: no more than five per cent of the combined total ingredients may contain non-organic content and this 5% needs to be specific ingredients.
- “Made with” organic ingredients (at least 70%). The organic seal cannot be used on the product.
- Specific organic ingredients (less than 70% of ingredients are organic). The organic seal cannot be used on the product
In Europe the logo can only be used on products when they contain at least 95% of organic ingredients and additionally respect further strict conditions for the remaining 5%.
Do we apply the organic concept only to food?
Not at all. Organic products can be found in other industries:
- Organic beauty: formulation of cosmetic products using organically farmed ingredients and without animal testing and GM, synthetic fragrances and parabens.
- Organic fashion and textiles: organic textiles are usually made with cotton, although other materials could be used – as long as animals are raised and fed through organic standards – such as linen, hemp and wool.
- Organic toys: same as for fashion and textiles, baby toys can be also organic if they are made from natural raw materials such as wood or organic textiles.
Should I buy organic? Why?
Although the word organic became a bit controversial for its trendiness, the reality is that organic does help with the environment:
- It is better for the planet: organic helps the world to be more sustainable by enhancing the health of soils, water and air. As a result of organic methods, soils store more carbon and protect the air from it.
- The welfare of animals is higher: the organic principle allows animals to have plenty of space with fresh air, allowing them to express their natural behaviours.
- It is better for nature and wildlife: pesticide use had been unfortunately helping to reduce the variety of our wildlife, but organic farms create the perfect ecosystems where everyone makes its job to make it work perfectly as a machine. Bees, birds, butterflies, are all species that develop constantly in an organic environment and bee-friendly habitats contribute to an increase in diversity. Also in order to control pests organically, beetles and birds are needed to feed on pests such as slugs.
- Organic means cleaner waters: as the use of chemical fertilisers is not encouraged or even prohibited, nitrogen is not overproduced. As a result, the nitrogen doesn’t go to the oceans and we reduce the harm to sea life, and to human life as we all consume this water.
What are the benefits for people?
Research has been made in relation to how organic food impact human wellbeing. It is still controversial as there are many products that can’t prove better for our bodies when buying them as organic.
The issue is that many times people get confused about what organic means, sometimes they can even think it is less caloric, or ‘light’ just because it is organic. Organic is better quality, which will lead to better digestion, better overall wellbeing.
The real benefit for people lies in incorporating ‘good stuff’.
We have only one body and it is important to know what we are digesting. By avoiding chemical fertilisers, pesticides, animal antibiotics, nitrogen in the water we drink, nitrogen in sealife, GM food, we get to eat the closest we can to raw food, even by living in a modern hectic world.
By buying organic, you will not only feel better physically but you will be really making an impact on the environment, from the plants to the oceans, and now more than ever with the pandemic, we all understood – or I hope so – that it is time we change our habits with mother nature.
Is Organic food more expensive?
Organic food is more expensive because it takes more effort and care.
More people are needed to create ecosystems for plants and animals to live in their natural environments.
Organic principles are also against unethical hiring and organic labours are paid usually higher than non-organic workers.
Certification also makes the products to be more expensive as many things need to be in place in order to get certified.
Many associations are lobbying governments to help fund organic products so a family with lower income can access these products.
However, this is mainly about processed foods. But there are many ways you can get organic food for a fair price:
- Check with your local council which are the organic farms nearby and contact them directly to source products from them directly, this will reduce your cost.
- Grow your own veggies at home!
- Go plastic-free and buy organic products in quantity from shops where they don’t sell packaged food or buy in bigger quantities and store at home.
- We already learnt the concept of Slow Food in my previous post. Try to eat from products that are sourced locally, to help your community and to ensure you eat fresh food which may be probably cheaper if there are not many distribution costs.
- Pick 3 products per month and stick to organic: as I am not able to buy everything organic I always choose certain products and I try to buy them always organically. This helps you to commit to the cause without spending that much out of your pocket.
- Check online companies like Oddbox that rescue organic fruits and veggies and deliver them to your door.
- Use your freezer! Go to your local organic butcher and if you have a bit freezer order in quantity for a discount.
- Cook more by buying organic raw food and doing the process yourself.
Are you ready for a change? We don’t need to start big. The fact that you are reading this post is already really encouraging, something brought you here. Below, some really helpful resources that helped me built this post and understand more about organic food and where to get it, which products to use, and much more!