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Monday, January 11, 2010

What is Organic?

I announced last week that one of my family's goals this year is to eat healthier. I've been doing a lot of research and part of our plan is to buy certain foods organically. Our overall goal is to eat more wholesome/whole foods. The only reason we're not all buying organic products is because they cost so much more, right? So, my goal is to figure out how to get the biggest bang for my buck - purchase the most important things organically and at the lowest overall price - to make my dollar stretch. I am going to document my journey right here on this blog - sharing my successes and do-overs! I hope you'll read along, and jump in if you've been doing this a while, I could use the help and take any advice.

I thought for my first article in this series it would be fitting to write a "primer" if you will. So, if you want to know what all the hullaballoo is about buying organic, read on.

What is Organic?

Organic refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. It includes a system of production, processing, distribution and sales that assures consumers that the products maintain the organic integrity that begins on the farm.

Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organic produce and meat don't use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease. For example, rather than using chemical weedkillers, organic farmers may conduct sophisticated crop rotations and spread mulch or manure to keep weeds at bay.

This system is governed by strict government standards. It requires that products bearing the organic label are made without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering or other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation.

Every organic product will carry the USDA Organic seal. Wording like "whole" and "natural" are not the same thing. Natural can mean an lot of things and their is no legal definition. To learn more about the difference between organic and whole foods watch the quick video HERE - she does a great job explaining it.

All produce that is not considered organic is often referred to as "conventional" or "conventionally grown."

Animals raised organically are not allowed to be fed antibiotics, the bovine human growth hormone (rbGH), or other artificial drugs. Animals are also not allowed to eat genetically modified foods. Further, animal products certified as organic can not have their genes modified.

Why Organic?

There are a lot of reasons people choose organic varying from health to ethics, but for me there are a couple reasons:

I wanted to consume less pesticides and chemicals - they can't be good for our bodies in the long run. There are a couple of ways to ensure you are "eating" less pesticides and chemicals.
  1. Eat only fruits and vegetables that are on the "Clean 15" list - these are ALL fruits and veggies that are safe to purchase conventionally (not organic).
  2. Purchase fruits and vegetables that are on the "Dirty Dozen" list organically if at all.
  3. Purchase ALL of your produce (conventional or organic) IN SEASON. See a list HERE.
I do not want to ingest any animal products that have been fed antibiotics or injected with hormones so that they will get bigger, faster. To ensure you are steering clear of these things look for:
  1. Grass-fed beef : This means the cows weren't fed any animal products (which can lead to mad cow's disease). Cows can be "grass-fed" but not organic - both are better than conventional.
  2. Organic labeling : The same green and white USDA seal will be found on dairy, poultry, and meat products too. This means the animals were fed organic feed. They aren't given antibiotics, or growth hormones.
  3. Note: Free Range or Cage Free (when referring to eggs/chickens), while also good things to look for, does not mean organic. This label refers to the conditions where the chickens live. Only organic signifies that the animal has not had antibiotics or growth hormones and has been fed organic feed.

For more information on Organic foods visit these sites:

Organic. Is it worth it.
The Truth about Organic Foods (a Redbook article)
Organic Foods. Are they Safer? More Nutritious? (

Stay Tuned for Next Week's Article: Comparing Prices at my Local Organic and Whole Foods Stores.


Nancy said...

An awesome source to learn about organic foods, chemicals, toxins etc. is the Environmental Working Group. Their website is

I'm really excited about this organic "journey" your taking. Ever since our son came along (he's 18 months now) I've been interested in eating healthier and being mindful of the chemicals that surround us and their effect on our long-term health.

Great blog! :)

Candi said...

Another great alternative for produce is looking into a coop. You can go to and there are lists there for your area. Very reasonably priced for locally grown organic foods. And you're helping the local farmers stay in business. Love this post!

Simply Susan Jewelry said...

Our family, along with about 7 other famiies in our community joined a co-op a year ago and really did not feel that it was worthwhile financially. We were disappointed with the variety and the quantity that was provided. Hope others have better experience than we did.