Eating healthy has become quite important in the last few decades since rates of obesity and disease have alarmingly escalated. That’s probably why you hear the term ‘organic food’ a lot more today even though the idea has been around for centuries. Many people use the word organic without really knowing quite what it means apart from knowing that it’s better than non-organic food, and even then they are not quite sure why exactly that is. Organic food is a vast field and the definition will have some variations depending on who you ask. However, there are some basics that are accepted by all parties and that’s what we’ll be looking at today.
What is organic food?
Health benefits of organic foods
A long time ago, agriculture used to be natural. Natural seeds would be planted in clean, chemical-free soil; the water would be sourced from pristine rivers and lakes or from underground reservoirs if the fields were located away from a surface body of water; to keep insects at bay, natural herbicides without chemicals and metals would be used; the fertilizer was natural too.
Today, agriculture has grown into an industry. This means that agriculture is a business. And like any business, ways and means are constantly sought to increase profits. When you put money before humanity, shortcuts will be made. Now, seeds are genetically modified so that we have produce that doesn’t rot and is shinier and bigger; our rivers are so polluted that there is bound to be residues of metals, radiation and chemicals in the water that is used on the crops, even if it is sourced from underground; our soil is contaminated from the chemical fertilizers that are used to increase crop production; herbicides have been replaced by inexpensive pesticides which make its way into our bodies no matter how much we wash, peel or cook the food.
But it’s not just vegetables, fruits and grains that are tainted by the process. Animals and therefore all animal by-products are affected too. Livestock is fed with chemical hormones to make the animals grow faster; they are also injected with very strong antibiotics (harmful for humans) to keep them from falling sick. So when you eat meat or any animal by-product, you ingest the chemicals and antibiotics too.
‘Organic’ is nothing more than going back to doing things the old way. Really, it isn’t a modern concept at all. Organic is more of a process than a state. It signifies healing. Organic means working with the earth’s systems rather than forcing a solution on the process to get the results you want. So when you’re looking for organic foods, it means you want them to adhere to the following criteria.
- No chemical pesticides should be used in the growing process. This is the definition of organic that most people are familiar with.
- The soil that the crop is grown in should be safe i.e. it should be free of metals and chemical residues.
- The seeds should be natural, which means that they should not be genetically modified in any way.
- As far as animals are concerned, they should have access to clean water and natural food sources. They should not be given antibiotics and no hormones should be used to speed growth.
Why organic is better
If you had an option between natural food and food laced with chemicals, you’d pick the former if you cared about your health because organic is logically a better option. But if it’s step-by-step reasons you’re looking for, read on.
- Because it is grown in a healthier environment, organic food ends up tasting much better than conventionally-grown produce. Think of the difference in taste between real butter and the ‘low-fat’ variety. Or real sugar and aspartame. You can tell when it’s not real. The taste feels plastic somehow when it’s not the real thing. The difference may not be very obvious if you are used to eating non-organic foods. But if you switch to organic, you will notice after a time that non-organic seems to lack something.
- Many non-organic food sources are developed in a way that gives them a longer shelf-life. Now this may be a good thing if you have to transport food over long distances. But what it translates to is dead food. Yes, you may argue that all food is essentially dead since it is no longer attached to the root. But research has shown that the enzymes in food that has just been plucked off the plant are still very active. And the high level of activity lasts for two to three days. This is what naturalists call ‘live’ food. Non-organic foods have little to no enzyme activity when they are finally consumed because it has been so long since they were harvested plus the chemicals used in the production process tend to diminish enzyme activity to a great extent. When food is organic, it has a limited shelf-life, but it’s fresh and rich in enzymes. This means more nutrition, more vitamins and richer mineral content that you will simply not find with non-organic foods.
- Research has shown that exposure to chemicals from the foods we eat, even if the amount is limited, can hamper brain functioning. This is especially true for pregnant women and very young children. By eating organic, you are lowering the risk of exposure for you and your child. Even if you are not pregnant, why would you want to take the chance?
- Since organic food has a short shelf-life, the farmers have no choice but to sell it in markets that are close by. This translates into a lower carbon footprint for them, and eventually for you. What’s more, you’ll be supporting local farmers, which can never be a bad thing since that is what leads to sustainable lifestyles for the community and, therefore, the individual.
- Organic food is actually kinder to the planet in many ways. By using natural growth processes, organic farmers ensure that agriculture helps the land instead of destroying it.