It’s hard to go anywhere without hearing someone throw around the word “organic.” Gwyneth Paltrow can’t stop talking about her organic cleanses, organic cold-pressed juice shops are popping up on every corner, and Starbucks even carries organic coffee. And so you shop at Whole Foods (cough Whole Paycheck cough) to seek out these special items. But why do you spend more money to buy “organic”? What does “organic” really mean? And what’s to stop everyone from calling their food products “organic”?
While “organic” is the new trendy term of art for overpriced produce, the word has actually been used to describe crops grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides since the early 1940s. While chemical pesticides (which aren’t the best for your health) are a no-no for organic products, fertilizers that come from natural sources are perfectly ok. Natural fertilizers come primarily from animal matter, human excreta (yep, that’s right) or vegetable matter. Since being able to certify your products organic is obviously helpful for sales (the organic movement is a multibillion dollar industry) and popular with type-A mommies, stores are eager to stamp their food with the organic seal of approval.
So who gets to use the magic word? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that in order to use the words “certified organic,” the food must be made with 95% of organic ingredients. And con-artists beware – people who sell or label a product “organic” when they know it does not meet USDA standards can be fined up to $11,000 for each violation.
The Verdict: While you may end up spending big bucks on organic food, it’s worth it to avoid the health risks and environmental damage associated with chemical pesticide exposure. Look for the USDA organic seal on your food to be sure it gets the government seal of approval. And if “whole paycheck” is too much for you to handle, be especially picky about watermelon, bell peppers, corn, and tomatoes, as they have higher than average fertilizer use. If you’re feeling crafty, you can make your own organic herb garden inside your house. All you need is a few mason jars, some spray paint, chalk board labels, and some organic soil and seeds.