What’s The Deal with Organic Anyway?

You may have heard about all the benefits of purchasing organic produce. Actually, I initially only knew about one benefit, and that’s probably the one you heard about too — buying organic means that no pesticides were used on your produce. Although that is one huge and great reason to buy organic, I’ve discovered there are so many more reasons that benefit not only you, but also the environment as well as others.

Yes, it’s Good — No, it’s Amazing for your Health

Organic produce is defined as produce that has been grown without pesticides. To be more specific, according to the USDA, organic produce must be “… grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or genetically modified organisms.”* As we all know (or should know) by now, pesticides can be toxic — after all, they are used to kill bugs. They are classified as poisons and therefore, they can indeed have a harmful effect on human health. But the good thing is that none of these substances are allowed in the production of organic produce. USDA standards for organic foods don’t only measure the presence of pesticides and fertilizers, but even take into account such details soil quality. All of this oversight creates some nutrient-packed fruits and veggies! And some researchers do believe that organic produce packs more of a nutrient-rich punch:

“Recently, researchers have found that while organic foods do offer similar levels of nutrients, like vitamins C and E, they also contain more antioxidants than conventionally grown foods. Antioxidants offer many benefits, the most important is that they slow down and sometimes prevent the oxidation of molecules, which can cause damage to our cellular structure.”**

And in that same article, those same researchers have discovered some of the impact non-organic food may have on our health:

“This research also found that non-organic food often contained more pesticides and cadmium, an element that can cause negative health effects after long-term exposure.”**

Then there’s the whole GMO thing. This has been an ongoing debate for some time now. I remember when I first heard about GMO’s — I was around 14 years old, and it was on an episode of my favorite television show. The episode centered around one of the main characters championing efforts to make sure that GMO foods were not used in the school cafeteria. I loved the episode but it did nothing to stir me toward finding out more about GMO’s. But now, I am very concerned about it. Although there is still no concrete research one way or the other on the matter, the main question at hand is whether or not modifying foods genetically is a health hazard for us humans. Only time will tell, but in my opinion, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If a food naturally exists one way, who are we to mess around with the genetic make-up of that food? Let nature do its job! In addition to this, sometimes, the genes that are introduced into these foods actually come from animals. I know, I cringed when I found that out too. Look at this excerpt from an NY Times article about GMO’s:

“Modern genetic engineering differs in two ways: Only one or a few new genes with a known function are introduced into a crop, and sometimes the new genes come from an unrelated species. Thus, a gene meant to instill frost tolerance into, say, spinach, might come from a fish that lives in icy waters.”***

All that being said, when you buy organic produce, you can be certain that it is:

  1. organic, so no pesticides or toxic chemicals on your fruits and veggies.
  2. GMO free, so those fruits and veggies are in your hands the way nature intended them to be, and there will certainly be no animal genes present!
  3. Likely filled with bare minimum equal amounts of vitamins, and likely way more anti-oxidants than its non-organic counterpart.

So when it comes to your health, there’s definitely no downside to buying organic.

It isn’t Just “Non-GMO”, Because There’s a Difference

So there’s a difference between produce that is organic and produce that is “non-GMO”. These days, you will often see produce marked both as non-GMO and organic — but other foods that do not fall into the produce category are a better example here. I’m referring to boxed and packaged foods. If a food is labeled “non-GMO“, it can still contain preservatives, and other artificial stuff (coloring, dyes, etc). Only foods marked as organic do not include any of these substances.

You Help Save the Planet

Organic produce produces fewer emissions. It’s a trickle down effect — without all those icky pesticides and preservatives, organic fruits and veggies have a shorter shelf life — therefore, they are usually sold locally after harvesting — this is not always the case^, but realistically, there’s no way organic produce would last a cross-country trip and remain in peak shape without any sort of spoiling. So, when you buy organic (and locally grown) produce, you can be certain that Mother Earth is benefiting from your choice too.

Buying Organic (Sometimes) Means Supporting Local Business

If you’re buying locally grown produce, it’s probably organic. As just stated above this is not the case 100% of the time, so ask to be certain. But buying local does mean that you are supporting local farmers who are in turn, supporting their own families and business by selling what they grow to us. So if you’ve ever wondered what you can do to support small-business, buy local and organic! If you think it’s a great idea to help mom and pop shops instead of spending all your money at big-name stores, buy local and organic! If you just wanna sleep better at night knowing you helped a family business, buy local and organic!

Farmers Markets are chock-full of fresh, locally grown goodies, and this Spring and Summer season is the best time to start checking them out! I never purchased produce from a farmer’s market prior to becoming vegan. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, because even if you’re not vegan, it’s great to take advantage of buying local produce and in the larger cities, these farmer’s markets are gold mines for fresh, local, and organic goods. Nonetheless, now that I have discovered how amazing they are, I know I won’t be able to stay away — it’s like introducing a kid to candy. Thus far, many of the suppliers I’ve gotten fruits and veggies from are organic and locally grown, which is great. And honestly, once you start frequenting these markets, you can see the difference in freshness. There’s no waxy, shiny coating on the apples. The leaves on all the greens look lively and big and spread out, like a male peacock’s tail during peak mating season —  it’s just great. So it is possible to gain an eye for fresh, local, organic produce, it just takes a bit of time and eating! I just started trying to hone my eye for the fresh stuff, and I’d say it’s so far so good. Pretty soon, I’ll be a fresh produce whiz. Not to mention, you guys know how I feel about paying stuff forward — if you can get fresh, organic produce while supporting local farmers in the process; it’s another win/win.

Yeah, it’s a Little Pricier, but It’s Worth it

So here’s the deal: buying organic produce does cost more. I’ll be the first to admit that I cringed at the thought of spending more money on the same size container of fruits or veggies just because one was organic. That’s because I can be (selectively) cheap. But in my mind I knew it was worth it and that it was also the right thing to do — for all of the reasons I have just mentioned above.Organic Produce Prices Huff PostAnd even if you don’t want to buy everything organic, or if you feel that it just costs too much, at least try to purchase the infamous “dirty dozen”^^ organic. These fruits and veggies are known to have higher amounts of pesticides used on them as well as higher amounts of pesticide residue by the time they reach shelves:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Grapes
  6. Peaches
  7. Cherries
  8. Pears
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Celery
  11. Potatoes
  12. Sweet Bell Peppers

There’s also the “clean 15”^^, or the produce that has the least amount of pesticide residue on them. Maybe you can forgo getting these items organic, but still try to purchase organic when and if you can!:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbages
  5. Onions
  6. Sweet Peas
  7. Papayas
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangoes
  10. Eggplants
  11. Honeydews
  12. Kiwis
  13. Cantaloupes
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Broccoli

Below are a few of the awesome things I’ve picked up at farmer’s markets since the season started. I plan of going savage at the markets this summer, so stay tuned for more fresh goodies!

Farmers Market Potato Pic
Instastory blurb accurately naming this stand “potato heaven” at the Union Square Green Market.
Farmers Market Dino Kale Sign Pic
What exactly is dinosaur kale? Check the picture below this one to see!
Farmers Market Dino Kale Pic
Also knows as Tuscan kale or black kale, this dark leafy green bares super hearty, sturdy leaves and has a long tradition in Italian cuisine.
Farmers Market Purple Kale Pic
Purple kale! This “bouquet” has such beautiful colors.
Farmers Market Bok Choy Sign Pic
Benefits of bok choy.
Farmers Market Bok Choy Pic
Instastory blurb of the yummy bok choy I got — and used  in a recipe a couple of days later.
Farmers Market Tomato Pic
These tomatoes were so beautiful, I wish I could have taken them all home.
Farmers Market San Francisco Baguette Pic
They don’t just have fruits and veggies at farmer’s markets! They also have jams, flowers, herbs, and breads (just to name a few things)! This San Francisco baguette was everythingggg.

 

 

 

Sources:
* Huffington Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/buying-organic-worth-it_us_57481117e4b03ede4414733d
** Web Restaurant Blog: https://www.webstaurantstore.com/blog/1930/difference-between-local-and-organic-food.html
*** NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/well/eat/are-gmo-foods-safe.html
Locally grown produce is not necessarily organic — there are currently no regulations on locally grown produce — there is only a general consensus that this term refers to the distance from where the produce is grown to where it is sold. However, it is possible that locally grown produce may have some level of pesticides on them. Check with the supplier to ensure that the produce is not only locally grown but also organic. For more info on what these terminologies mean, check out this article.
^^ Produce Retailer: https://www.produceretailer.com/article/news-article/2018-dirty-dozen-and-clean-15-lists-released

 

Author: thevegangirlnyc

Vegan foodie in New York City. Saving the animals, the planet, and my health one meal at a time.

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