What’s the truth about organic?

A new study has come out saying organic food isn’t necessarily better for you than conventionally farmed food.

Not a surprise. No one ever said organic is nutritionally better than conventional food. Nutrients are nutrients. One tomato is going to have the name nutrients as another tomato.

What is different, and the study suspiciously avoids to a large extent, is the pesticides and antibiotics used in producing conventional food. While the study said there “a few differences” in that regard, I think it’s the most important aspect when talking about organic food.

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I am partial to organic food. I grew up working an organic community garden and always had plenty of fresh vegetables from that garden growing up. When I moved on my own and began to shop for produce in grocery stores, I very quickly became extremely disappointed.

The reason: those vegetables just didn’t taste as good.

I will tell you that, regardless of all the studies and nutritional values, organic food (any organic food product whether it’s meat, produce, milk or eggs) will taste better.

We believe in locally produced, organic food, so we are using as much of it as we can incorporate in our catering business. It tastes better and we like knowing exactly where it comes from and how it’s produced. We like to support local farms and love the fact that no pesticides, antibiotics, or other artificial substances are used in its production.

However, I will also say conventional food is not of the devil as some pro-organic proponents suggest.

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Here’s the truth. Most vegetables are fine if you wash them. They meet federal health standards. Those with skins you shave or peel (bananas, oranges, carrots, potatoes) aren’t as big of a risk as far as pesticides go because chemicals are treated on the outside skin, the part you get throw away.

The bigger concern, for me personally, is with antibiotics in meat, milk and eggs, so that is where I put my focus cooking at home. I try to buy organic meat when it’s on sale but also buy other conventional meats if they’re on sale.

When talking pure health, kosher meat is the best. However, you have to go to a specialty store or a Jewish store for true kosher meat in a butcher shop. Whole Foods meat is highly rated also, although those stores can be inconvenient and the meat a lot more expensive.

The one kosher meat item I do like to buy is the Hebrew National hot dogs. Hot dogs are typically noted as the worst item, health wise, you can buy simply because traditional hot dogs are made up of a bunch of excess pork and beef parts. Hebrew National is very specific about what meat goes in and how it’s processed, so it is a healthier option.

I buy the natural eggs, as opposed to organic, because they are cheaper. Truly, if you look at the labels there is no real significant different. Neither use antibiotics, are cage-free and are fed an antibiotic-free vegetarian diet. The only difference is how the government classifies organic, which relates primarily to the grain fed to the chickens.

Organic milk is never on sale, but the cheapest is at Ingles at $5.82 a gallon. BJ’s Wholesale and Costco is actually the most expensive at roughly $4 a half-gallon. I sometimes alternate organic with conventional depending on our paycheck and whether the conventional milk is on sale. The way I see it, I rather have conventional milk than no milk if I have to make that choice.

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Other food items can be a bit tricky with all the labels. Juice products take a little label reading and thought. I decided on Florida’s Natural orange juice over organic after looking at the labels and cost. Other conventional juices, like Tropicana, included oranges from other countries where you can’t guarantee their farming and production standards. Although they pass the federal regulations, I prefer American grown products.

Looking at the organic label, it also said the organic oranges came from another country like Mexico or South America. In my opinion, that meant that they couldn’t be guaranteed to be authentically organic so there is no reason to pay so much more for them.

Florida’s Natural uses oranges from Florida with no artificial ingredients. That suited my concerns over extra stuff in my juice and the price isn’t much more than other conventional juices. I feel it’s worth it.

The basic advice here is to read the labels. Many times “all natural” will work just fine in lieu of “organic” if your concerns are the pesticides or antibiotics. If the labels show the food you are buying met the nutritional elements you are looking for, then buy it without fear, especially if it’s on sale.


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