‘Organic’ Label Isn’t Just Catchy

Columnist Stephanie Casey
Columnist Stephanie Casey
“What does organic even mean?” I’ve had this question sarcastically posed to me. It’s understandable. Fads come and go, trends are trendy, and suddenly something that started in earnest no longer has meaning. “Organic” is not one of those things.

There is a lot of trickery in food labeling. The world “natural,” for example, means nothing. You find that word on almost every package at the grocery now from loose produce to laundry detergent.

“Cage-free” is a term that most think indicates healthy chickens laying their eggs in the grass and sun — partly because Big Ag companies deceptively put pictures of chickens in fields on the product. Unfortunately, “cage-free” is still a factory farm — just without battery cages.

Luckily, “organic,” for the most part, is a label that can be trusted. What it means is that your food was raised without the use of synthetic chemicals or toxic substances. There are no planes dusting crops with pesticide (killing both pests and the good bugs needed to maintain a healthy ecosystem). There is no buildup of these same chemicals in the soil and water the plants feed from.

On organic farms, farmers plant their produce in a way that discourages pests and encourages nature to do its thing. Crops are rotated to keep soil rich and healthy, yielding strong and virile plants. They use natural fertilizers like compost or their own livestock rotating on the land. They pick bugs from plants and weeds by hand. Different pest sprays are made with garlic, pepper, soap, baking soda, or vinegar. And slugs — they like to get drunk. A little container of beer will distract them from eating nearby plants. The result is more nutritious and sustainable food.

It’s harder to farm this way, both physically (it takes more time and effort) and business-wise (organic farms must fill out and pay to file a mountain of paperwork each year — conventional, pesticide users do not have to do this). That’s why organic is more expensive.

But the next time you are faced with the decision to pay a dollar more for that organic avocado, hold a conventional one in the other hand. See the faint white residue in the pocked skin of the conventional? That’s chemical residue. Do you want to spend the money at the “farm-acy” now or the pharmacy later?

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