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Does Going Organic Give You Peace of Mind?

Mom Council member Keri Goodfriend provides some food for thought.

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. 

For more information about our local farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture farms, visit the Local Harvest or Virginia Grown websites.

The Occoquan Farmers Market opens this Saturday at 8 a.m.

Perfectly Pink Parties April 13, 2011 at 04:40 PM
I must admit I am not educated on Organic foods. Ready your article was thought provoking, but I still alwasy find myself coming back to the costs. Do you buy everything organic or just your meats, eggs, and milks? Do you buy the organic "extras" like the snacks, breads, pastas, etc?
Dan Telvock April 13, 2011 at 04:44 PM
It seems like the USDA doesn't have enough resources to ensure all of these products are in fact Organic. There are a ton of products out there that stamp "All Natural" on the packaging of Oreo Cookies or whatever it is, and it's just a ploy. Healthy eating has become so important to families now that companies are using trickery. I watched that JAmie Oliver show that Keri wrote about a few weeks back and was surprised at the amount of backlash he endures in trying to get people to look at healthy over cheap. The guy who owned that fast-food restaurant had a good point: His business is doing OK, people like his food, why would he change it to healthier, cleaner products that cost more when his customers aren't asking for it? It's not his responsibility to make his customers eat healthier, and I felt like Jamie was saying it was his responsibility.
Keri Goodfriend April 13, 2011 at 04:49 PM
At this point, I'm buying organic milk, eggs, and trying to stick to organic veggies and fruits that are considered part of the "dirty dozen": those that you eat the skin, or that absorb nutrients through their skin from the ground (strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, grapes, peaches, pears, etc). I have not switched to organic meats 1) because of their cost, and 2) because of their availability (or lack thereof) at the grocery store I frequent. That all may change soon. I hear Wegmans has a good organic meat dept, and if I can handle the cost, I may make the switch.
Keri Goodfriend April 13, 2011 at 04:53 PM
Dan, I agree. I think that if Oliver would start his "food revolution" in a community as a grass roots effort, he could educate the masses, and they in turn would convince the restauranteurs through their healthier choices as consumers.
Perfectly Pink Parties April 13, 2011 at 04:54 PM
I think a good example of Organic fast food is the chain "Chipotle." The owners pride themselves on fast, friendly, and organic products. However, one Chipotle burritos could run you about 1500 calories!
Dan Telvock April 13, 2011 at 04:56 PM
Yeah, Keri. It almost seems like he is doing this backwards. Hardly anyone showed up to his sugar milk presentation and that's because he's probably not in the right neighborhood to start off. If he thinks he can walk into anywhere town USA and get the fast food guys to go Organic and the schools to serve whole milk only, and use the argument that England does it, so why can't you, he's going to face a lot of opposition. I don't think he approaches this with enough understanding.
Dan Telvock April 13, 2011 at 04:58 PM
I rarely ever eat fastfood. I truly believe that one fastfood meal does unrepairable harm to our bodies. If I eat out, I usually go to just a few local restaurants and one serves fish and the other serves all organic free-range food that is locally produced. Expensive? Yes, but not that much more than going out to eat at Outback.
Keri Goodfriend April 13, 2011 at 05:02 PM
I'm trying to recall what other restaurants are organic...I know that Panera Bread serves organic yogurt and milk in their kids meals. There's a great cafe up by Wegmans Potomac called Zoe's Kitchen that serves GREAT organic food.
Tami Chaffee April 13, 2011 at 08:30 PM
Keri, I don't know if you took advantage of the Arganica CSA groupon a while back but when I was looking at their site, www.arganica.com, they have a ton of grocery items beyond the produce boxes including milk, eggs and meat. I'm going to do my box soon and may start ordering more from them if things go well. I've been thinking for a while about switching to organic milk. I read an article somewhere about Horizon not being all organic, even though they advertise that they are. I, like you, don't want to pay the premium price if I'm not getting the premium product. It's hard to know what we're really getting.
Keri Goodfriend April 13, 2011 at 08:39 PM
Tami, I did sign up for the Arganica groupon! I'm very excited to use it. I think it has the organic goods that I was considering with a CSA without the long term commitment, or possible weeks on end of loads of cabbage (that my family won't eat). I hope it's as good as it sounds. And you're right-Horizon dairy farm has horrible reviews. It is considered by the organic milk farmers to be a "factory farm" posing as organic. The dairy scorecard in my article shares the details. I've also heard that Horizon adds sugar to it's milk, but I haven't checked that, so read the label before buying.
Lise Warmuth April 14, 2011 at 01:43 AM
Nice article. I always like to read more about organic products. I only consistently buy organic milk and free range organic eggs (mostly becuase I used to own chickens and like for them to have some chicken time-they deserve it!), but I'd like to buy more and more organic products. As more people buy these products, the costs should come down.
Ben of Houston April 14, 2011 at 02:07 AM
On the contrary, Organic food has no more nutrients than conventional farming http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080807082954.htm Pesticides affecting Fertility health? I have to say I've never heard of that claim. On the other hand, organic farmers are allowed to use Cuperous sulfate http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copper%28II%29_sulfate#Toxicological_effects Nasty stuff, that, and instead of degrading like modern pesticides, it builds up in the ground Immune system protection - what chemicals? Why would they appear in organic farming only? That "research" smacks of fraud and mass extrapolation of non-tenable factors. The GMO hysteria is just that, hysteria. I cannot think of an industry more regulated. The entire corn crop of the America was pulled over a single GMO "contamination" that had the potential to ... possibly give slight digestional discomfort. I expect better from this journal than parroting junk science
Ann H Csonka April 15, 2011 at 08:10 AM
Keri (and Dan), it is a good article and you are not “parroting junk science”. The last comment has the hallmarks of many that debunk anything not part of the narrower credos of organizations such as the American Chemical Society, Amer. Petroleum Institute, and similar organizations. Those folks often seek to keep us all hostage to parroting THEIR approaches and priorities to sustain their industries and status quo of business operations. Also notice the terms “hysteria” and “fraud”. In what other context of “science wars” do you hear that applied freely, in spite of overwhelming reliable scientific evidence? In other words, the “junk science” may often be that which is supported by vested interests. But ALL science may come up with divergent answers/solutions. There are valid scientific findings on all sides of issues. Time will tell – but history is also telling. “GMO hysteria”? Those who call it that want more—NOW—at any cost, are not looking at long-term consequences and effects across a broad spectrum of natural systems. Do they really care about soil fertility and biogenics? They are probably concerned about agribusiness interests, but not about operating down-to-earth sustainable family farms for generations—keeping land and water resources usable and productive. Organic growers and producers are continually attacked by our culture’s overwhelming “miracles of chemistry” mindsets and it gets hard to sort out facts to rely on.

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