Organic Food Myths Busted! A Student Guide to Eating Healthy, Local Foods

Do you ever feel lured by those colorful “organic” labels in your neighborhood Trader Joe’s? Does the slogan “Natural and Organic Grocery” make you want to shop at Whole Foods Market? Now, raise your hand if you know what organic food really means.

Perhaps you do, but I’ll be bold enough to suggest even those who claim to keep an organic diet harbor misunderstanding about organic options in the market.

Organic food is not magical; it’s not necessarily more nutritious and healthy and it doesn’t always come from small local farms. It doesn’t even necessarily taste better! All the word “organic” entails is a conventional food crop (I told you, it’s not magical), grown in a way that complies with a series of organic standards.

These standards were set by the National Organic Program in the United States, which defines organic as being generally free of pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones, has not been irradiated or fertilized, and contains no genetically modified ingredients.

Let’s further decipher that definition: organic food can still contain organic pesticides and fertilizers. The term, usually associated with organic farming, doesn’t imply it always benefits the environment. Since organic farming yields much less products, compared to conventional farming due to crop failure, it requires far more lands to produce the same amount of products, thus the need to transform more natural habitat to farmlands.

The standard also doesn’t specify suppliers of the food, even though many organic foodies believe their actions go against big, evil food corporations. Get this: organic food is the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture. Big companies like Wal-mart and General Mills are all in the game. Trader Joe’s, which generated nearly $8 billion in 2008, is owned by the German Albrecht family (the tenth richest guy in the world in 2010, as ranked by Forbes), not happy Southern Californian farmers.

All that said, the benefits of eating organic are more perceived than real and you ask: what do I do if I want to eat healthy and still afford my $500 rent? My answer: eat local.

  1. Local food is cheaper, fresher and tastier

Eating local forces you to eat seasonally. That means the food you are getting is at its peak taste and is also less expensive because of the reduced cost for refrigeration, transportation, packing and processing. Many farmers markets in Boston are currently selling a pound of heirloom tomatoes for $1.50, cheaper than what tomatoes would normally cost in the grocery store in the winter, and taste, oh, so much better. Freshly picked produce also tends to last longer.

  1. Local food is more environmentally friendly

Industrial organic farms rely on petroleum subsidies and refrigeration to transport foods and they frequently till their soil, which destroys the soil’s organic matter. In fact, many argue that industrial organic food is no different from non-organic options. By eating local, you are helping reduce air pollution because your food doesn’t travel a great distance from the farm to your market.

  1. Eating local food gives you peace of mind

Sure, it’s going to cost more than Ramen noodles and Mac and Cheese, but it’s not necessarily unaffordable, especially if you are good at finding bargains at the farmers markets.

But by eating locally, you can make a commitment to your health, the environment and local economy. What’s not to love? Just go buy that $1.5 pound tomatoes already; your tummy can thank me later.

What’s your favorite place to shop for local and organic produce? What are your secrets to finding deals on healthy food?

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