Thursday, March 1, 2007

Organic Shopping and it's terms

I fully admit to not buying Organic as much as possible which is part of the reason I love Mission Organic. I think it can be rather confusing to figure out what all the labeling is all about .. what's the difference between Free-Range and Organic .. and why does it matter? So I did some digging and have come up with a few "definitions"

  • ORGANIC -- For produce it means that it was grown without pesticides or synthetic herbicides. For dairy, beef and poultry it means animals were fed organic feed and were not given hormones or antibiotics. Watch for the "natural" label, especially on poultry, FDA does not allow for the use of hormones on poultry so pretty much all chicken is labeled "natural" but doesn't not mean it's organic. "Certified Organic" shows that production methods were inspected by an independent party. For packaged foods like cereal and snacks there are 3 USDA approved labels: "100% Organic" which must contain all organic ingredients .. "Organic" for products with at least 95% organic ingredients .. and "Made with organic ingredients" for products with at least 70% percent organic ingredients. For our family it's not exactly frugal to buy organic all the time .. but I think it's still very important to do so .. Meat and dairy is at the top of my list that must be organic .. packaged goods are a bit different .. I am not a huge fan of the preservatives and sweeteners used in about 75% of the snacks and cereals and mixes out there, so I'll make my own or I just don't buy them. As for produce, see "locally grown"
  • Locally Grown -- Used for product that is grown in the same region as the store .. but the exact definition will vary from store to store .. for the most part it seems to mean the produce has travelled less than a day from the farm to the market. I tend to look for locally grown produce over organic .. mainly from growers in my area that I know practice organic methods but haven't been "certified" (which I gather is a rather expensive process). The other main benefit, other than it's fresher, is that there are less fossil fuels used in transportation.
  • Free-Range -- I think is a gimmicky term for the most part. Generally, it means that the animal was raised with access to the outdoors. BUT (here's the gimmick) the label is only USDA regulated for chickens raised for consumption, not egg laying chickens AND only 5 minutes a day of open-air access is sufficient to qualify for the free-range claim. It boils down to the fact that you need to trust where you're getting your food from.
  • Certified Humane -- This is one I didn't know existed. This label indicates that animals raised for meat, poultry or eggs were raised in humane conditions, including being able to "engage in normal behaviors" and had "sufficient space to live". Apparently Whole Foods is about to launch a similar line of foods with the label "Animal Compassionate". I think this is what "Free-Range" was meant to be and is what most people think of when they think "Free-Range".
  • Hormone-Free -- Like the "natural" label on chicken I mentioned earlier. This means that no hormones were used in production (what a lovely way to describe raising animals). There is no independent group that verifies these claims over what is required by the USDA, which does not allow for the use of hormones on poultry and pork .. but does allow certain hormones to be used on cows for consumption and dairy cows.
  • Trans Fat -- The worst of all fats!!! Trans fats are found in food that are fried in (ie chips) or contain partially hydrogenated oils. Consumption of these fats not only raise bad cholesterol but lowers good cholesterol. Most of the "convenience" food products on the shelves contain trans fats .. everything from cake and muffin mixes to crackers, pop tarts, ect., especially if the product is inexpensive. Hydrogenation turns liquid vegetable oils (mainly soybean) into solid fats using a chemical process. Solid fats are easier and less expensive for producers to use and were at one time believed to be healthier than using solid animal fat (neither is healthy). Watch out for products labeled "trans fat free", a product can claim that if it contains less that 1 gram of trans fats per serving but it does have to list the partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient. I avoid any label that lists partially hydrogenated anything like the plaque. Any recipe for "convenience" foods like baking mixes can be found using a simple Google search .. CDKitchen.Com has lots of great user submitted ones!
  • No Sugar Added -- Must not contain sugar, natural sugar that is. However, these products are often sweetened with artificial, chemical sweeteners like aspartame or Splenda or with the use of sugar alcohols such as malitol, sorbitol or xylitol. All these in addition to being unnatural, can negativity affect the digestive system if consumed regularly. Watch out for the "naturally sweetened" label as well .. most companies consider high fructose corn syrup a "natural" sweetener. I avoid most products with artificial sweeteners or any thing ending in "itol" and look for things sweetened with honey, honey solids, or fruit.
SO .. bottom line time .. To get the most bang for your organic buck buy organic where it matters most .. where your food is most likely to connect with the chemicals that are used on our food with conventional methods. Meat and dairy are the first prior ties (animals are given hormones and antibiotics that we in turn ingest through meat or milk) followed very closely by produce that you don't peel (like apples, lettuce, ect .) fruits like oranges or pineapple where you remove the skin are less likely to contain pesticides or other chemicals. Buy local when it's possible for most everything .. get to know the people or companies that grow, raise or sell you your food.

Mission Organic 2010 .. Join the Mission

The Organic Center, who was disappointed by the fact that organic food still makes up about 3% of total food sales, created Mission Organic 2010. This campaign aims to get the message out about not only the health benefits but the ecological benefits of "going organic" .. and makes it easy to make smarter choices. On the website you can "publicly announce" your commitment to the campaign by saying you'll make at least a tenth of your eating choices organic .. Overwhelmed by the whole idea or think you have to clean out your entire pantry? It's "Easy as 1 2 3" according to the Organic Starter Kit that comes as a free download when you sign the pledge!

1. Purchase 1 organic item for every ten in your shopping cart.

2. Make 1 organic meal out of every ten you prepare.

3. Ask 10 friends to join you!

According to the Center, if the goal is reached 98 million daily servings of water will be pesticide free and antibiotics and growth hormones will disappear from 20 million daily serving of milk .. and that's just the beginning!