Before I was a mom, I could live off Ramen noodles, cheese food products, diet soda,and Sweet N Low, but sometime between reading 20 "what to expect" pregnancy and infant care guides and feeding my girls their first foods, I started to care about what I, and more importantly, what they were eating.
It seems that we are constantly finding links between our food, sweeteners, food coloring, aluminums and plastics, and obesity, early onset of puberty, cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, infertility, tumors, etc. In one month, overwhelmed by all the bad news I was finding, I switched artificial sweeteners three times.
Switching to organic products was a choice I made to help alleviate some of those knee-jerk reactions I was having to every news byte about food consumption links to disease. As I increase my awareness about organic food productions versus the use of chemicals and pesticides, I feel more confident about what I’m feeding my children, and that’s a little peace of mind I could really use!
According to the USDA National Organic Program, to be “organic”, food must:
- come from animals that have not been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones.
- be grown without the use of conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge (ew!), bioengineering, or ionizing radiation.
Additionally, animals raised for meat, dairy or eggs must spend a majority of their lives grazing in pastures or be considered “free-range." Government inspections must show that the farm is following the rules to meet USDA organic standards.
You don't need to look far to find information about how organic foods are healthier for you and your family. According to Men's Health Senior Editor Matt Bean, benefits from organic foods include:
• More nutrients. Studies show that organic foods may have increased levels of nutrients like antioxidants than conventionally grown foods. Organic meat, milk and eggs have more vitamins and less cholesterol.
• Fertility health. Pesticides found in conventionally grown foods have been shown to reduce fertility.
• Immune system protection. The chemicals in non-organic foods may also harm your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to illness and some forms of cancer.
• Hormones and weight gain. New research has shown that some agricultural chemicals could actually be making you fat by interfering with your hormone levels. While scientists initially thought that bovine growth hormones in cows were the cause of early puberty in children, they have now determined the most likely cause is obesity.
• Unknown effects of GMOs. Many people are concerned about genetically modified foods, especially since many of them have never been tested on humans. Organic foods are never genetically modified.
Once I made the decision that choosing organic foods would be worth any extra costs, I discovered that with some products, particularly produce, the price is not far off from the non-organic products. This week, my organic apples cost a penny less than their pesticide-treated counterparts. With grocery stores getting on the organic bandwagon, it is fairly easy to find organic produce, frozen foods and dairy product lines in any major store.
Bean suggests that if you’re going to go organic, start with the basics: meat/poultry, milk, eggs, and veggies/fruits. From a cost perspective, I decided to ease into organic eating, starting with milk and eggs. The grocery store brands of milk costs about 1 1/2 times the cost of regular milk, while organic eggs are about twice as expensive as non-organic.
Unfortunately, grocery store brand organics have received criticism from the farm policy research group, The Cornucopia Institute, because when asked, they would not reveal from which farms they got their milk. This makes it difficult to determine if the farms' practices are in fact, organic, and therefore, these stores received a poor rating on the institute's dairy scorecard. Likewise, these stores would not comply with the questions being directed at them for the institute's egg scorecard, and again, received poor ratings.
I'd hate to think that the milk and eggs for which I've come to accept the added expense was not truly organic. For this concern alone, I'd consider switching my shopping to one of the store's that the report shows as being trustworthy and transparent in their organic practices:
- According to the dairy report, Harris Teeter "gets 70% of their milk from the country's largest "organic" factory farm shipped in from Texas. The balance comes from family-scale farmers."
- Wegmans is said to "have a discernible commitment to local and organic food and went out of their way to procure the milk for their private-label brand from a cooperative of family farmers."
- Whole Foods responded to the survey by stating that its 365 Organic Everyday Value milk "is produced and distributed regionally throughout the United States as close as possible to the communities in which it is sold. It comes from a cooperative of organic family farmers dedicated to pasture-based dairy production and to preserving and expanding family farming as a way of life and a viable system of production."
So while I'm having a grocery store loyalty crisis, I'm going to spend my summer perusing the local farmers markets, where I can meet the farmer that raises the chickens that lays the eggs that end up on my family's plate.
The Occoquan Farmers Market opens this Saturday at 8 a.m.