There are plenty of benefits associated with buying and eating organic foods. Organic foods contain considerably lower levels of artificial contaminants like pesticides, nitrates and antibiotics. Even chronic low exposure to these contaminants can lead to a mouthful of medical afflictions
like cancer, damage to the nervous and reproductive systems, developmental and behavioral abnormalities, and impairment of normal immune and hormone functions. Additionally, artificial contaminants pose all kinds of health risks for the environment and threaten soil and water quality as well as biodiversity. Luckily for us, grocery stores everywhere are teeming with organic foods -- or at least with foods that have organic labels. And since "organic" foods can cost up to three times more than their nonorganic counterparts, it could be worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the grocery store connotations of the word "organic."
- "100 percent organic" - To boast this phrase on the principal display label, every single ingredient in the product including the processing aids must be organically produced. These products are your food friends and will always display the dignified USDA organic seal.
- "Organic" - Products labeled organic may contain up to 5 percent nonorganic ingredients that are not commercially available in organic form. With only 95 percent of the ingredients truly organic, these products are still permitted to display the USDA organic seal -- you probably won't find an "organic" product without one.
- "Made with Organic Ingredients" - This is where it starts to get tricky. The USDA draws the line with its stately seal on these products, which must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. However, these products may display the percentage of organic content and the certifying agent seal or mark on the principal display label.
- "This product has some organic ingredients" - These products contain less than 70 percent organic ingredients— the least organic of the organics. Yet if the organic ingredients are listed in the ingredients list, the labels on these products can still incorporate a phrase with the percentage of organic ingredients. Hmm.
In the trailer for the documentary "Food, Inc
" it says that the modern American supermarket has an average of 47,000 products. 47,000 products means 47,000 labels. How are we, the customers, supposed to access the most nutritionally and environmentally sound foods amongst aisles and aisles of "organically" labeled products? If you must shop at a grocery store, keep your eyes peeled for that USDA organic seal
. But if you can, I recommend skipping the label altogether and visiting your local farmers market. I had a chance to speak with an organic farmer this weekend at the Oakland County Farmers Market in Waterford, Michigan who explained why she cultivates only organic foods:
Purchase organics from people like this woman. You'll support your local economy, build a relationship with your local farmers, lower your carbon footprint, and feel better about yourself -- and what you eat.
Photo credit: micamonkey/Flickr