Organic food – what’s the big deal?

Organic food. If you haven’t heard about ‘organic food’ (or bio food if you live in Switzerland) you must have been hiding under a rock for the last few years. It’s grown in popularity in recent years but why? What’s the big deal? At the end of the day, food is food, right?

Well, unfortunately it’s not that simple. There really is a huge difference between organic and non-organic food, and it’s not just the price.

* For the sake of argument and my typing we’re going to call non-organic food ‘regular food’ for the duration of this blog.

Organic Food vs Regular Food

Organic is defined as “of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides”₁. Long definition short – there’s no chemicals or hormones used in organic farming.

On the other hand, we have regular food, where farmers use chemicals such as pesticides, antibiotics or hormones to produce food.

Why do farmers use chemicals?

Let’s not forget that farmers are businesses and they want to maximise profits – so they employ tactics to do this. The chemical use varies depending on the type of food. Let’s split food into plants (vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains) and animal food (meat, dairy).

Plant food : farmers use chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides to increase their profits. They want to ensure their produce isn’t eaten by bugs (why pesticides are used) and that their produce grows to be the biggest possible (why fertilizers are used). The EWG’s annual report on the Dirty Dozen found up to 20 different pesticides on a single strawberry and the three most toxic pesticides in concerning levels on hot peppers₂.

In addition to this, modern society has an idea of how a piece of plant food should look. Let’s take an apple as an example – you want a perfectly round apple with the right amount of shine. How do you think farmers achieve this? By genetically modifying the apple.

Animal food : now this is where it can get really rank. As well as the growth stimulants given to the animals, farmers also pump the animals full of antibiotics and hormones. Why? Because often, the conditions in which the animals are raised are so poor, they need antibiotics to fight off disease. Due to the conditions in which animals are raised, farmers have to pump them full of antibiotics and hormones to ensure they don’t get any diseases. Did you know that 80% of the USA’s antibiotic consumption is for animals? In society over-prescribed with antibiotics this just blows my mind. What’s more, the stress of the animals will affect the quality of the meat. Yep, you will be eating and digesting those stress hormones.

Environmental impact

Unfortunately, all these chemicals, pesticides and animal waste have to go somewhere, and if it’s not into the soil, it’s into the rivers and oceans, polluting our natural world. Also, the way that regular food is farmed leaves land desert-like and drained of nutrients. By eating organic food you choose not to contribute to this environmental impact.

What does this mean for our health?

If we eat the food that has been subjected to chemicals (such as hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and so on…) we are eating those chemicals. Some of the risks associated with eating pesticides are:

  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Brain and nervous system toxicity
  • Hormone disruption
  • Skin, eye, and lung irritation
  • Increase likelihood of gut related issues (bloating, IBS etc)

What can we do to avoid the toxic chemicals found in food?

Unfortunately washing our food will not get rid of the pesticides alone. The (plant) food will absorb the chemicals from the soil and through their skins. There is a group of food called the ‘Dirty Dozen’ – a group of foods where the most amount of chemicals are found on types of food (e.g. strawberries, blueberries, spinach, kale…). You can check out the list here. My advice would be if you want to start buying organic, start with these foods.

Some ways to reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals:

  • Going to organic, whole food shops
  • Shop at local farmers markets (ask them about the pesticides and fertilizers they use)
  • Use your local butcher
  • Grow your own produce

Simply opting for that ‘bio’ or organic label will help. Yes, it seems expensive but if it reduces your risk of cancer or health problems, surely it’s worth it?

It really is quality over quantity when it comes to sourcing your food. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not going to tell you not to eat a vegetable (I am a health coach after all!) but if you can opt for the organic (bio) option, it’s better for you.

Do you buy organic? What are your thoughts on this topic? I’d love to hear in the comments section below. As always, let me know if you have any questions.

Love Emma x

REFERENCES

1. Merriam-Webster, online, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/organic

2. EWG’s 2018 shopper’s guide to pesticides in produce, (2018), Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

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