Monday, February 4, 2013

Let's get busy with what Organic really means!

Some of the best produce around can be found at the local
farmers market. Here where I live it begins in June and goes
all summer!!
Organic. It is a word that for some conjures up images of hefty price tags and for others it is a way of life that is full of benefits without the use of chemicals. The best place to start when the discussion about being "organic" begins to start is to understand what it actually means to be organic. Simply put, being organic means that produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms (GMO's) or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones. I like to say that food is grown the way it is supposed to be...which is naturally. The way good old mother nature made it originally.

In the past year we have all heard about GMO's being in the food we eat. I am against any form of modification of food through the use of chemicals. In most of the world where food is being produced the governments and growers have all banned this process. Here in the United States, the debate is still going strong as to whether or not this form of alteration does any harm to the people eating the food. You will be the final judge of what goes into your body, but before you do I want to let you know what a GMO actually is. As both a Chef and Health/Nutrition Coach, I feel that everyone should know that a GMO is a plant or animal that has had its overall DNA changed or altered. Altering any food item on the level of its DNA, without clearly knowing the possible side effects on the people eating it is irresponsible for everyone involved. Please be aware of what you are eating and what you are feeding your family. Now let's get back on track to our original post about being organic!

Before a product can be listed as organic, it must be inspected and approved by an inspector which has been approved by the USDA. This includes farms where food is grown and companies that handle or process the food before it reaches the market place. So the first question on most peoples' minds is this, "What are the rules for being called organic?"

Well this is where the educated consumer really comes into play. The USDA has essentially 3 distinct categories for an item being called organic.

100% Organic,  must be made with all organic ingredients
Organic,  allows a product to be made with at least 95% organic ingredients
Made With Organic Materials,  allows a product to be made with at least 70% organic ingredients

The USDA goes a little further to say that a product which has less then the 70% minimum ingredients, to label a package as having organic ingredients. These ingredients must be listed on the side of a package, they can be separate from the base list, and the product cannot make any organic claims on the front of the packaging. Under the guidelines set by the USDA, becoming organic certified is a long process that takes 3 years. During the time span, farms must allow the soil to become fertile once again. These same farms are inspected annually and have a system in place which details the records of all products grown. For farmers and producers of livestock, which includes poultry and pork the organic certification product is just as strict. All animals must have access to the outdoors, given organic feed, they cannot be given any antibiotics, growth hormones or animal by-products.

Lets take a look at a list of the benefits from buying organic products and the ripple effects that it causes...

You have to worry about chemicals such as herbicides and insecticides. These sort of items are widely used on commercial farms and even when washed they will still remain on and in the food you eat. Food produced without these chemicals are healthier for our bodies.

Organic food is fresher. Preservatives are added into and onto different foods to make it last longer. Food not treated in this fashion not only tastes better but because of the decrease in shelf life it is coming from more local sources. This helps stimulate the local economy and the lack of chemicals is always a good thing for our bodies.
Organic farming is great for the environment. By not using the harsh chemicals to treat products, we are not causing issues with native plants or animals which eat the different produce located on farms. The soil is healthier and the danger of chemical run-off into water sources is eliminated.
Animals not treated with growth hormones or antibiotics promote total body health. By treating animals with such a vast range of antibiotics, we are constantly building an immunity to certain strains of bacteria. What this means in the long run is that when we get sick, the chance of antibiotics working are lessened.
That grown local idea for foods being fresher, here is another quick way in which it helps the environment. We use quite a bit of fuel in those trucks delivering products hundreds of miles each day. By cutting down on the use of fossil fuels we are helping to keep the air cleaner, reducing the need to spend extra on food because of fuel cost concerns and the food is still fresher because it is local.
Here is a list of some of the more harmful fruits and vegetables on the market, in terms of the amounts of pesticides and other chemicals being used. Products on this list are MUCH better off being purchased as being organic...


So now that we have a basic understanding of what it means to be 'ORGANIC', lets look at some other terms that are fairly commonplace in the market.

Natural, this term gets tossed around more than it should and it is VERY important to understand that natural doesn't mean organic. Calling something natural is something anyone can do because it is a non-regulated term for food producers.

Natural, not a typo or a repeat because this time the word natural concerns meat and dairy. In this description the product is minimally processed. Meat cannot have any artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It can however contain growth hormones and antibiotics.

Grass Fed, this term describes animals that have been fed a diet of grass or hay exclusively and that they have access to the outdoors. Some studies have shown that beef which is on  a grass fed diet actually contain higher amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids which are good for the body.

Free Range, a few short years ago there was quite a buzz about meat being labeled as this way. What it means is that the animal was not confined to a cage or pen. The downside of this however is that we as consumers don't have a way of knowing if the animals are packed into a small space or even how long they are allowed outside. It also doesn't exclude the use of any types of hormones or antibiotics.

No Hormones Added, As the name suggests, animals receive no type of growth hormone. Beef and dairy products benefit from this label. When you see it on pork and poultry however it has less meaning due to the fact that in the USA, it is against the law to inject poultry or pork with hormones.

Nothing is better then fresh herbs when cooking!!
Did you know that farmers markets sell
fresh herbs? Just like this Rosemary!!
After the day is over a couple of questions still come up on a regular basis when it comes to foods being organic. Nutritionally, organic food is still in the infant stages of testing and at this point there are no definitive tests which can state without a doubt that organic fruit is more nutritious then conventional. Given the conditions in which food must be tested it is difficult to isolate the various factors of soil samples, density of chemicals, climate and variety. We do know that the use of certain chemicals does have an adverse effect on the human body and can cause any number of side effects including certain types of cancer. When it comes to taste, it is a matter for each consumer to judge. As a Chef, I have cooked with both conventional and organic products and given a choice I would choose organic each time. The quality of the product and flavor always seems fresher and more desirable. The best way to determine if eating organic is right for you and your family is to try it out for yourself. Today supermarkets and specialty food stores all have a wide variety of local, fresh and organic products to try out. During the warmer months, go out and visit a local farmers market or if you are able to, pay a visit direct to the farm...and remember...happy eating!!



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