Organic is the way in which plants and plant materials are grown and/or processed. It refers to stringent standards and regulations that ensure that no synthetic chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides, growth hormones, growth regulators or herbicides are used; that the plants and/or plant materials used are not Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs); and that the environment and animal welfare are respected – Organic Origins Australia
The day I tasted an organic tomato for the first time was the day that I changed the way I look at the produce I buy. We have always been primarily plant eaters, whilst we eat a little bit of meat from time to time, we don’t tend to eat a lot for ethical reasons. I’ve always thought a vegetable was a vegetable… and then I tasted that tomato. I quickly realised not all tomatoes are created equal.
I wanted to do a little experiment and find out if there truly is a difference between organic and non organic produce, not just in taste but in the actual vegetable (or fruit) itself. The invisible stuff, the stuff you can’t see at all, the stuff that there is such great debate about. The chemicals. So I took two sweet potatoes, one locally grown organically, and the other locally grown but non-organic. I cut them in half and stuck them in a jar each, which is exactly how you grow sweet potato runners (and is a fun little thing to do at home with kids)… the results were surprising. After six weeks the sweet potatoes looked as they do above. The organic sweet potato has a complex web of root systems that are strong and vibrant in colour, the water is always crystal clear and all I’ve ever done to it is top it up with fresh water when it’s looking a little low. As you can see, the plant is flourishing. The other, not so much. Whilst roots have formed they are small, weak and flacid, the water is always cloudy even though I completely change the water every few days or so (because I’m concerned it will start growing mould), even now, six weeks later something is still leeching from the plant into the water. The plant does have one small shoot, it’s not as vibrant in colour as the other plant and to be honest, it would seem as if the tuber is dead… it is not behaving like a sweet potato plant should. It’s not thriving.
There is a lot of debate about whether or not organic food is indeed healthier. I’ve read countless studies on either side of the debate and found myself in a right mess of confusion several times over the past few months. There are many studies that state clearly that organic fresh produce is no more nutritious tha the non-organic counterpart, studies tend to show that the vitamin and mineral content of comparable produce tends to be the same, if not very similar.
But is that all we care about?
The same studies show that organic produce has a much lower level of chemical compounds present than the non – organic, which is not surprising given the different methods of food production.
The use of GMOs, hormones, pesticides in addition to the environmental ethics of farming are just as important, in my opinion, as the nutritional content of the produce. Much like with rampant consumerism, it’s very easy to push aside important environmental factors in food production. It’s easy to ignore the damage we are doing to the world with artificial chemicals and just put our blinkers on and buy our fruit and veggies and just forget about the grand scheme of things. It’s easy to forget about what you can’t see. But what you can’t see is still there. And it matters. And then there is taste. Have you compared an organic tomato to a non organic one lately? If you have, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t… you really should. The conversation can pretty much end there. If you like food that tastes great, there is no going past organic.
I really do want to stress that there is no blame or judgement towards families who purchase produce that is not grown organically, information about poor food production in this country is not widely available and we all just do the best we can with the information we’ve got. The ‘blame’ lands solely on the shoulders of the big corporations who are producing unethical produce that they wouldn’t feed to their own families.
If you go into a supermarket regularly you will notice that there is a sudden wash of organic products filling the shelves. It’s important to remember that we live in a capitalist society and both economics and greed play a huge hand in the kind of marketing that we are subject to. Organic has become a kind of buzzword that is just another money maker for big business. Whilst these products are certified organic, your money may still go towards supporting large companies that have questionable ethics in the production of other processed goods.
I try to avoid processed food (organic or otherwise) from supermarkets as much as possible and the best advice I was ever given was to just buy organically grown (not necessarily certified) produce, locally, and make your own delicious treats at home.
Organic farming for the capitalist machine is not necessarily as pure as one would wish it to be. Organic farming still uses natural pesticides and there are still loopholes of course that large corporations use to make their dollar work harder. The word organic is trendy these days, you see it popping up all over the place, but unless you can truly see the way the produce is being handled there is no 100% guarantee with all the fine print hanging around. So what’s the solution? Go to a farmers market and talk to the farmer directly. Chat about the growing process or even better, go and see it. Give your dollars directly to the growers who are producing food in a way that you are satisfied with – instead of feeding your dollar through the consumer machine.
Buy local. Support local. Eat local.
Not all organic farmers are certified. It costs lots of money and it’s impossible for some of the smaller scale farms, organically grown (but not certified) and spray free produce is widely available in the area where I live and I purchase directly from our local farmers whenever possible. Produce bought at roadside stalls and farm boxes bought directly from the grower. Is it more expensive? No, I don’t think so. Have you seen the outrageous prices for fruit and veg in Coles lately? I buy food carefully and with a lot of thought, I produce meals with quality produce and I compost any leftovers – putting good food back into the earth to create dense soil to grow more food. It’s the true circle of life.
Why organic? I eat local organic produce because it tastes better, because it’s better for the environment and because I believe it is better for our bodies and because the people who grow the food I eat welcome me to come and see how the food is grown, no smoke and mirrors… nothing to hide.
I eat local because it makes good sense to me.
There are complex and multi-faceted arguments on both sides of the organic and non-organic debates, and I’m no expert in horticulture or chemistry – but when I stick two sweet potatoes in jars of water and one doesn’t grow and does nothing more than make the water dark and cloudy… and the other flourishes, creating clean water and complex root systems… I know which one I’m going to feed my child. I know which one I’d prefer to eat. I’d prefer to eat the plant that still behaves like a plant.