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“Organic” Isn’t Perfect and Neither Am I

Some of you probably saw the article in The New York Times business section last weekend entitled “Has Organic Been Oversized?” If you did, and if you’re at all like me, it probably made you mad. And frustrated. The article is about how many organic food brands (most, actually) have been acquired by giant corporations like General Mills, Coca-Cola, and M&M Mars, and how the image we have of organic foods originating on quaint farms with cute cows roaming in verdant pastures is basically total bunk — a fantasy created by corporate marketing machines. According to the article, there are even several dubious ingredients, such as something called synthetic inositol, that have been added to the list of approved ingredients in “certified organic” products. The main point seemed to be that the organic food industry is not much better than the Big Food corporations that foist Lucky Charms and Hamburger Helper on us.

How depressing, right?

So, are people like me — people who choose organic food and are willing to pay more for it — suckers? Are we just deluding ourselves into thinking we’re doing the right thing for our families and for the planet? I’ve actually thought about this a lot, even before I read this article, and I’ve decided I’m sticking with organics. My eyes are open for sure, and I know the UDSA’s organic certification process and the National Organic Standards Board that oversees it are not perfect. But at least there are standards in place, something that can’t really be said for conventional food (pink slime anyone?).

The two main issues for me are:

Organic food must be grown without the use of pesticides. Now I realize there is some potential for drift from neighboring conventional farms (I have always wondered about this, especially when you see the conventional and organic Driscoll’s strawberries right next to each other at the grocery store; I picture it being essentially the same layout on the farm.), but at least they’re not intentionally spraying the crops with dangerous chemicals.

Organic food must be free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Since we don’t know what eating GMOs can do to our long-term health and many studies show them to be harmful (they’ve been linked to allergic reactions and sterility, among other things), I’d rather avoid them if possible.

I also like knowing my food doesn’t contain artificial colors, industrial solvents, or other chemical additives. And while I know it’s partially due to the “organic halo” effect that I have convinced myself that Nature’s Path Organic Toaster Pastries are significantly healthier and even taste better than Pop-Tarts, I truly believe the lack of GMOs and pesticides (and High Fructose Corn Syrup) qualifies them as a better product. They’re handy in a pinch (road trips) and pretty tasty, too.

Obviously we all can’t buy organic food all the time. I get that we have to make choices based on cost and availability and even taste, and I certainly have some conventional foods in my pantry (we tried 365 Organic Dijon mustard, but my son really loves his Grey Poupon). But what it boils down to for me is that I am trying to feed my family the healthiest and safest foods possible, and, even though organics are not perfect, since they do have to be certified in order to get the USDA Organic seal, they are undoubtedly better than the alternative.

The question of what to buy organic is a tough one, especially in tough economic times. And all of us have different priorities. But if you’d like a primer on how I make my choices and some tips on saving money even while buying organic food, contact me about my Real Life Re-Stock class, which can help you strategize before your next trip to the grocery store.

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