What IS Organic Food?
The definition can seem confusing, but it doesn’t have to be.user rating
Organic food is real food, produced with minimal interference and without any synthetic additives or products throughout production or processing. The food may be processed (i.e., frozen, canned, refined or boxed) but without the use of industrial solvents, or chemical food additives. (The USDA’s organic certification requires a product’s content to be at least 95 percent organic.)
A Brief History of Organic Food
The organic label was developed, believe it or not, in 1928. We apparently knew enough about the spread of disease at that point to prohibit the use of human sewage sludge as fertilizer. The term organic, as we know it today, was popularized by Lord Northbourne in his book Look to the Land (Sophia Perennis 1940). The growth of the processed food industry, as well as the influx of new ”miracle” production methods emerging from the war years of the 1940s, compelled Northbourne to remind the masses that a "farm is an organism.”
He promoted a return to an ecologically balanced, holistic approach, in stark contrast to chemical farming, which he viewed as unsustainable. If he were alive today, he’d be wagging a big “I told you so” finger at us, in the wake of modern health endangerments, from genetic modification to the outbreak of foodborne illnesses.
Why Choose Organic Food?
According to pediatrician Robert Lustig, “All food is inherently good.” It’s what we do to it that turns it against us. Lustig’s maxim to prevent our downfall? Eat real food.
Organic foods are those that have not been subjected to synthetic chemical fertilizers or pesticides, use minimal additives and arrive at your market in their native, genetic state. It hearkens back to the pre-industrialization era of farming; at its best, a farm follows the laws of permaculture, mimicking the natural growth of food in the wild. As far as flavor, organic produce especially tastes leagues better than the “conventional” stuff. Want to be convinced in one bite? Try an organic tomato after having a slice of the pale salad-bar pulp you’re used to.
Organic Food Around the World
Developed countries typically define a set of parameters products have to meet to sport an organic label, such as the European Union’s at left.
The specifications for the United States, the EU and other nations vary, but international standards for organic foods include the following:
- No human sewage sludge fertilizer can be used in cultivation of plants or feed of animals. Modern sewage treatments are beginning to address the issues of disease and parasites, as well as the heavy metals issues associated with industrial waste to preserve the value of this abundant farming resource.
- Products are produced on land determined to be free from the above for a minimum number of years (often three or more).
- Organic farms undergo periodic on-site inspections and must maintain detailed written production and sales records, i.e., a paper trail.
- Strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products. This may be the toughest standard for organic farmers to maintain.
Organic vs. Natural Food
Naturally occurring ingredients, such as refined sugar and lard, may be dubbed “all natural,” but this highly exploited term is a far cry from organic. By the same token, organic doesn’t immediately mean a food is healthy or nutritious; lard and cane sugar could be organically produced and processed, but that doesn’t mean either is good for you.
The term natural has no regulation attached to it, so the claim should be taken with a grain of salt. Generally it’s used to denote the use of foods produced in nature rather than a lab, evading those long strings of indecipherable ingredients one finds on a highly processed product—but 10 tablespoons of pure sugar per serving is fair game, and touting natural does not prohibit the use of synthetic or chemical fertilizers, pesticides, waxes or irradiation. Even the use of organic been abused, so always look for the official certification label on a packaged product.
Only recently has the general public begun to actually feel the effects of the flaws in our unsustainable industrialized food-production methods. Demand for organic and natural food is growing, drawing some much-needed scrutiny of modified sugars, fats and refined flours, but it will likely be decades before we know the whole of it. The environmental, social and health costs of ”efficient” industrial agricultural and livestock management are becoming enough of a threat and a public-relations liability that it’s worth the uphill battle to get governments and corporate agricultural giants to move toward a reevaluation of the entire industry.