A very close, life-long friend of mine prompted this post! She has 3 kids, is pregnant with her 4th and is in the process of transitioning her family to a more organic diet. She texted me for some help and inspired me to share my answers with the world (ha!).
I should start this post off by saying there is no one way to start “going organic.” Based on my life, research, experiences and opinions, here is my list. In order from (my opinion of) what’s most important to least important when it comes to choosing organic:
I wholeheartedly changed my stance on conventional meat. Unless I’m in a situation where there is no other choice, I will not buy or eat conventional meat. My own reasons for this choice is that I don’t agree with the farming methods of these animals, I work really hard to not ingest certain chemicals and antibiotics– most of which are found in conventionally farmed meat and eggs and I would rather spend my money on quality meat (and produce!) than healthcare and medicine.
But what exactly is organic meat?
“In order to be certified to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) organic standards farms and ranches must follow a strict set of guidelines. A third-party certifier inspects these farms and ranches annually to ensure the standards are met.
Here are a few of the key requirements for organic poultry, cattle and pigs:
- Must be raised organically on certified organic pastures
- Must be fed certified organic feed for their entire lives
- No drugs, antibiotics or growth hormones are allowed*
- Must have year-round outdoor access
*Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in raising pork and poultry.
Chicken: The animals’ organic feed cannot contain animal by-products, antibiotics or genetically engineered grains and cannot be grown using persistent pesticides or chemical fertilizers.” source
(If the price tag of organic meat scares you, see my shopping and pricing tips below!)
The Environmental Working Group has done significant research and compiled a list of the most pesticide-laden produce versus the produce that you are generally safe buying conventionally (non-organic). The reason for this list being that buying organic produce is more expensive, so put your dollars where it will benefit you and your family the most!
Just do yourself a favor and read everything on this page! Eat Life Whole hits the nail on the head and uses incredibly awesome descriptions, comparisons and pictures to help you make an informed conventional/organic/free range/etc. egg choice!
“Compared with conventional milk, organic milk has higher levels of omega-3 fats, which protect against heart disease and may decrease the risk of depression, stroke, cancer and other diseases, but the quantities are too small to be very meaningful. (It takes 11 quarts of organic milk to equal the omega-3s in four ounces of salmon.) Milk’s omega-3 content is a function of the cow’s diet, and higher levels reflect more grass. (A few other nutritional differences between organic and conventional milk have been studied, but there isn’t enough research to draw conclusions.)
- Antibiotics: Neither organic nor conventional milk contain antibiotics. By law, every truckload of milk, organic and conventional, is tested for veterinary drugs, including antibiotics, by trained dairy workers. Any load that tests positive is pulled out of the food supply. In 2012, that was one in 6,000 loads. Organic cows aren’t given antibiotics, and conventional ones are given them only for illness, and their milk isn’t used until after a withdrawal period.
- Pesticides: The U.S. Department of Agriculture tests for pesticide levels and has found them to be “very low.” The main culprit is DDE, a remnant of the agricultural pesticide DDT. DDT was banned years ago, but the USDA said it “is very persistent and remains in many cropland soils. It is also in the body fat of all Americans and most farm animals and wildlife. Conventional and organic farmers can do little to avoid the DDE residues in milk. Over the next thirty to fifty years these residues will gradually decline below limits of detection.” Pasteurization fails some of the time, allowing milk contaminated with bacteria to get into the food supply, but there are no reports comparing illnesses caused by organic vs. conventional milk.
- Hormones: The issue with milk is that many conventionally raised dairy cows, unlike organic ones, are injected with bovine growth hormone (BGH, the synthetic version of which is called either recombinant bovine growth hormone, rBGH, or recombinant bovine somatotropin, rBST) to increase their milk production. The problem isn’t the hormone itself — it’s unlikely to survive pasteurization or human digestion and, even if it did, its mechanism doesn’t work in humans — but rather a compound called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I). Both organic and conventional cows have IGF-I in their milk, but cows that get hormone treatment may have more of it. Some research has linked IGF-I to cancer. The American Cancer Society found that “some early studies found a relationship between blood levels of IGF-I and the development of prostate, breast, colorectal and other cancers, but later studies have failed to confirm these reports or have found weaker relationships.” source
- Tea (this applies to coffee too!): The Soil Association notes that a typical organic field has five times as many wild plants, 57 percent more animal species, and 44 percent more birds than a conventionally cultivated farm. Conventional synthetic herbicides and pesticides often kill animals, plants, and insects. When the chemicals from these herbicides and pesticides are mixed with other solvents, they exert a massive toxic effect which affects wildlife and humans.
- Many tea farmers spray their plants upwards of 15 to 20 times each year depending on pest infestations (source). A lot of the countries who produce tea use chemicals that have been banned in many western countries….um, holy cow!!
NOW, for the price thing: When shopping for organic anything, here are my resources, which, thus far, have saved me a ton of money and have proven to be very trustworthy:
- Green PolkaDot Box: This service delivers organic and non-GMO food, personal and household items directly to your house! It is membership club yet I’ve found that it has some of the lowest prices available for organic staples, meat, and dairy around!
- Amazon: I love Amazon’s quick shipping and wide variety of options. I REALLY, REALLY love that they carry my favorite organic ghee! (I use it for frying Paleo chicken tenders and sautéing vegetables!) (HEAD’s UP: for a limited time Madhava organic sweeteners and baking mixes (<—like the organic chocolate chip cookie mix in my link!) are 20% off using this link…just add the product to your cart and an automatic discount will be taken!)
- Vitacost: They always have the most amazing sales! Organic honey for $6.29, organic green tea for $2.69, organic unsweetened flaked coconut for $2.43! You can’t beat their prices! Free shipping on purchases over $49! This is my go-to site for pantry staples! I’ve actually done an experiment and if I stock up with all the pantry items that I need for a month’s worth of baking and cooking, I spend roughly $60 at Vitacost and $136 at my local grocery and health-food store! That’s a really great savings! (Check out RetailMeNot for coupon codes and promotions, too!)
- Frontier Co-op: Organic herbs, spices and teas galore! Reasonably priced and a huge selection of brands and bulk sizes!
- OrganicDeals and Organic Deal Diva: These are best-kept secrets of mine!! Check out this website and this blog for organic coupons! It’s a great resource when planning your grocery list!
- Local Farmer’s Markets: Because you’re taking out the middle man (i.e. your grocer!), you can pay a little less for the same produce, eggs, meat, etc and support your local farmer and get to know who’s growing, nurturing and touching your food! Mark and I love the local organic farmers at the Saturday farmer’s market in our area– all of their organic eggs have 2 yolks (very cool!) and their tomatoes are out of this world!
Any good companies/services I’m missing???
I’m planning to do a post about organic personal and home products next! Stay tuned!