Every time we purchase food for our kids or buy them a piece of clothing, do we ever wonder where it comes from? Well we should because what we buy significantly impacts the environment and our health.
In week 7 of our journal for teaching kids to live a healthier life, let’s talk about the 3 major types of products we buy – Organic, natural, and conventional. If you don’t know the differences between the three already then now is a good time to teach your kids about them. With the convenience of store-bought food in the US, companies cater to almost every consumers whim, some not caring whether they are made with high quality ingredients or some just getting by with the bare certifications. It’s crucial that as consumers and parents to choose and buy responsibly. Of course we may not always have the proper means, but we can definitely be more diligent in what we buy and consume.
Organic – organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Strict guidelines and rules are put into place to ensure that consumer goods have met the USDA organic certification. Organic certification is a lengthy and expensive process and many companies do not want to go to the trouble of becoming certified. But organic certification ensures safer and better quality products for the consumer, the farmers and companies, and for the environment. Whether or not organic food tastes better is really up to the individual. But because organic farming relies on a cleaner and more safer approach we don’t have to worry about chemicals leaking into our food, thereby contaminating the flavor and taste. For more info please visit: www.usda.gov/organic.
When taking your children to the grocery stores, lead them to the organic section in the produce department. Have them compare the produce to a conventionally-grown one and ask if they see a difference. You will immediately notice the different shape and colors and scent. Organically grown produce yield a much fresher scent than conventionally grown. Then take them to a natural grocery store where only organic produce are sold. Let your kids explore all the unusual and beautiful fruits and vegetables and have them acclimated to how organic produce taste. With time, they will definitely taste the differences!
To be sure you are buying certified organic products, look for the Organic seal. They can be either green or black depending on the product type. Only companies who have passed on a yearly basis and are certified through the USDA as well as third party verification can have the Organic seal on their packaging. These companies must have products containing at least 95% of organic ingredients/raw materials.
Natural – The term natural should mean exactly that – something that comes from nature. But in recent years, companies are loosely using the term to try and trick customers into buying products that aren’t really “natural”. Some companies even go to extremes in trying to make consumers believe that all natural products are also organic. Well, I know my readers are wised up to that considering natural does not necessarily mean the products are produced with organic ingredients.
While the FDA has yet to put a label on “natural” products, consumers and companies are pushing to have more transparency in the labeling of products. Transparency helps manufacturers take responsibility in what they produce and sell and in turn helps consumers make more well informed choices. According to the FDA, natural is considered as nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. It doesn’t however, address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. Natural doesn’t necessarily mean a food product is any healthier, so be extra careful when you look at labels on packaging.
Conventional – Now conventional is pretty easy to guess what it means. It’s basically a generalized way of farming and manufacturing goods that are not organically grown and produced. Conventional foods might be sprayed with synthetic chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth and use insecticides for pest control. The conventional farmer might use herbicides for weed control and give animals hormones to spur growth and antibiotics to prevent disease. All of this doesn’t sound very healthy or appetizing and in turn causes even more damage to our natural environment including soil, plants, and water supply.
The health risks associated with exposure to pesticides is one of the main considerations when looking at the differences between organic and conventional food. Many EPA-approved pesticides were registered before research linked them to cancer and other diseases. Now, the EPA considers over half of all herbicides and fungicides as potentially cancer causing. (*It should be noted that pesticide residue is reduced substantially by routine food handling practices such as washing, peeling and cooking.)
Whether organically grown food are considered more nutritional than conventionally grown food is still in a long-standing research. While organic farming does allow the natural and rich nutrients found in organic soil to produce more antioxidants, conventional farming uses toxic pesticides and farming methods simply to grow cheaper and faster crops. Consider this – the toxic chemicals sprayed on plants kill insects and some small animals. When you buy conventionally grown food, those toxic chemicals are still part of the product and can oftentimes seep in depending on the plant.
Now the biggest challenge for consumers in choosing between organic and conventional food is the price tag. Conventional food may be cheaper in price, but also cheaper in quality. And consider these three facts as well in buying conventional products:
- The amount we pay on our water bills to cover the cost of getting agricultural chemical residues out of the drinking water;
- The cost of health care associated with an increasing number of food-related illnesses, and;
- The amount we pay in taxes to subsidize large farming operations (the vast majority of which are “conventional” farms), and to fund governmental agencies that work to protect wildlife and repair their habitats.
So when you choose to buy responsibly, always read labels and know who you’re buying from. Of course not everyone has the means to buy organic all the time or on every product available, but organic goods are becoming more available across the world and helps organic farms and farmers expand their farms to feed us better.