7.13.2010

Organic Doesn't Matter? -- Getting Re-Connected with Your Food

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"Organic", "natural", what do these words bring to mind for you? Some might think of good nutrition and fitness. Some, however, may think "hippy, new age, passing fad garbage." It's the latter mind set this article is set out to educate and to clarify what "organic" actually means. You may have heard on many occasions that no food product is different from another: chicken is chicken, lettuce is lettuce, peanut butter is peanut butter, and so on. This is not accurate as you will learn further in this article. Just because you cannot see each chemical that's in your food doesn't mean there isn't a plethora added, and just because you can't see how the food is grown doesn't mean you can assume it's been harvested/prepared safely. We have disconnected from our food. It used to be that you handled your own crops and slaughtered your own chickens; now most of our food might as well have been magically created ready to go in its container. Because of this, individuals have become apathetic towards what they put in their body. Detaching one's self from one's food leads to poor dietary choices.

Let's start with a simple example. It's safe to assume that most individuals reading this have used maple syrup on pancakes, waffles, etc. Syrup is syrup right? Wrong. Do you even know what you are consuming? Here are the ingredients in the popular Aunt Jemima brand of maple syrup (1):
  1. Corn Syrup
  2. High Fructose Corn Syrup
  3. Water
  4. Cellulose Gum
  5. Caramel Color
  6. Salt
  7. Sodium Benzoate
  8. Sorbic Acid
  9. Artificial and Natural Flavors
  10. Sodium Hexametaphosphate
 You'll notice that out of all those ingredients including preservatives and artificials made from crude oil, that one key ingredient is missing... MAPLE SYRUP! If you are eating brands like Aunt Jemima or Eggo, you're not consuming a single drop of actual maple syrup. Some children grow up with only these brands so consider how they've never tasted real maple syrup in their entire lives. If you compare that to USDA "organic" brands like Maple Valley you'll see how different the list is. In fact, there isn't a list of ingredients at all. There is no need to print a list because the contents are exactly what it says on the bottle: pure maple syrup from an actual living tree. Now, clearly there is a huge difference here between something claiming to be organic and one that isn't... does it really make no difference to your body? Consuming real, tree-tapped syrup is no better than eating huge amounts of corn syrup and artificial flavors and preservatives that have been proven carcinogenic (like sodium benzoate)?

Maple syrup ingredients are merely one example of how some organic foods really do differ from their artificial counterparts. I say "some" organic foods because that term should now be clarified. "Organic" is defined as: something that does not contain antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, or artificial flavor and color. No artificials? What does artificial technically mean? Artificials are things not directly taken from a plant, animal, mineral, or have gone through a synthetic process which changes their chemical make up. So here are the three levels of certification and their descriptions that the USDA rates food on (2):
  • 100% Organic - can only contain proven organic ingredients (using the definition of "organic" listed above). *Allowed to display USDA certification logo.
  • Organic - Contains 95% organic ingredients. *Allowed to display the certification logo.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients - Contains 70% organic ingredients. *Not allowed to display the USDA logo.
It should be noted that it is not illegal for brands to use the words "organic" or "natural" on their packaging but those will not be able to display the USDA logo and cannot pass themselves off as having any certification. Therefore, it is true that not all items saying "organic" may be so, but is this reason to discredit all items that are natural and organic? There will always be companies motivated by profit that will try and deceive you, but to discount the benefits of eating organically simply because of these bad-apples is absurd. Regulating all of this is difficult with such a huge global food industry, but looking for certifications is not a bad way to start your search for more pure food.

Another aspect to organic food is how your meat is treated before it becomes your meat. To be "organic", chickens, cows, pigs, etc. cannot be given any hormones or antibiotics. The more poorly an animal is treated (forced into tight spaces, surrounded by feces and other dying animals), the more likely it will get sick, hence the huge amount of antibiotics they're often given (the FDA routinely detects traces of the antibiotics in grocery store meat). Therefore, to be organic, the animals must be strong and healthy enough to survive without those things. This forces the owners to treat their animals better and in turn the meat is healthier for you. In the end, eating meat that is certified free-range, grass-fed, or cage-free gives you a better chance of not consuming hormones and other chemicals. It may even give you some assurance that the pig you're eating didn't develop health disorders connected to "factory depression" or other emotional turmoil (3).

As stated above not all food that claims "all natural" or "organic" may be legit and even organic certification can't tell you everything about the items you're buying. That's why the best way to know what your food's made of is to actually see where it comes from. Research your local farms and local food production factories. Go visit them. If the farm or factory is legitimate in their claim of organic products, they'll have no problem with giving you a tour. You can then realize the exact cycle by which your food is raised, processed, and shipped before it ultimately ends up inside your body. Getting re-connected with your food by seeing what it actually takes to reach your table is a sure way to help you start caring about how it affects your life.

Organic vs. "regular" food has become a political issue like so many other things (global warming) that instead should stay in the socio-scientific sphere. It's quite amazing that artificial food full of chemicals is now considered to be the "regular" food for our culture. In my experience, the "regular" food-eaters who use terms like "new ager" to put down the organic culture, are often people who don't even know how to read a nutrition label. Therefore, it is the opinion of this article that using ad hominem attacks to marginalize people who promote organic living stems from the defensiveness of those who would rather not put the time and effort into eating healthily. The food industry, including fast food restaurants, would like you to believe that food is just food and they've made it very easy for you to access their products at anytime and in abundance. However, re-examine what you're consuming daily and maybe you'll realize that not all food is created equal.

6 comments:

Liberality said...

A good documentary to view concerning these issues is Food, Inc. It really will open your eyes to how animals are abused on agribusiness farms.

Mindbender said...

Great article, I find it amazing that so many Americans (I say Americans because America is the number one country for processed foods) are so disconnected. The sad part is, is that it's all about cheep products(processed foods)for big corporation profits. These money gropers don't give a rats ass about peoples health and It's obvious because of the abuse of the words organic and natural. Trying to make people think what their eating is better for them then it actually is. Personally I believe they hold hands with the pharmaceutical company's which is why so much of the processed foods that's marketed as healthy, natural, organic without the seal are so bad for your health.

Thanks for the post:)

Jayna said...

Thanks for your comments :)

There's a real struggle within the food industry it seems, but I think it's pretty clear which one is winning right now, unfortunately.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try and make a difference!

Dave said...

Thanks for this one- I grew up on a farm, and when I moved away for grad school, I was shocked at the difference in quality when I was buying cheap from big grocery stores... totally different from what we raised ourselves... the milk was like colored water, eggs like tasteless rubber... I realized we had actually been raised "organic" and we never even knew about it.

Jayna said...

Hey thanks for your comment, it's good to hear confirmations such as this.

Thank you for reading :)

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