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From the earth, for the earth | What makes organic food "organic"? | Food for thought

MORE on organic agriculture:
Benefits of organic agriculture | Why should I pay more for organic food?
Plateful of pesticides | Who says it's "certified" organic?

 

Have you ever pulled a carrot fresh from the garden and eaten it, dirt and all? Or picked a tomato straight off the vine and bit into it, juice dripping down your chin? Bliss. Organic produce has the ability to retain that heavenly fresh-from-the-earth flavour. What you are tasting is the actual fruit or vegetable, pure and simple. There are no pesticides, fungicides or waxes to mask or contaminate the flavour, and nothing is genetically engineered.

Contrary to what many people think, organic food is not simply "granola" food composed of veggie burgers, yogurt and alfalfa sprouts, and eating organic food does not necessarily mean eating a vegetarian diet. Today, almost any fresh, frozen or processed food has an organic counterpart.

Let's put an end to another myth: Organic food is not inferior in quality to conventional food. In fact, many chefs use organic ingredients in their kitchens because such foods are superior to commercial ingredients in terms of appearance, flavour, freshness and shelf life. Sure, blemished and imperfectly shaped organic fruits and vegetables exist because they are not sprayed or treated with chemicals to create perfect-looking produce. However, such imperfections also exist in commercial produce — they just never reach the stores. Truckloads of commercial apples, for example, are rejected for size, shape and imperfections when they are sorted at the orchard. In organic orchards, because smaller volumes are produced and there is less emphasis on cosmetics, there is less waste and the flavour outshines any visual oddity.

Another belief about organic food is that it's much more expensive than conventionally farmed food but this is not always the case. Particularly in the peak of growing season, organic produce is comparable in price — sometimes cheaper — than commercial produce. Of course, there are some organically grown and processed foods that cost more but there are many reasons for this. The primary one is that the "real" cost of commercial food is higher than what consumers actually pay at the supermarket. (For more information, see Why should I pay more for organics?)


Quite simply, organic food is food that is grown and processed without the use of genetic engineering, synthetic or artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fumigants, growth regulators, antibiotics, preservatives, dyes, additives, chemical coatings or irradiation. (Most organic-certification standards do allow for a small percentage of non-organic ingredients in processed foods.)

This means that a can of certified-organic chili is not only made exclusively from ingredients (beans, tomatoes, onions, chilies, etc.) grown without toxic chemicals but also was processed without additives such as xanthan gum, disodium guanylate or maltodextrin. It also means that if the organic chili contains beef, the cow was raised without using hormones, growth enhancers or antibiotics and was fed certified-organic grains throughout its life and then was butchered according to organic-certification regulations.


The importance of organic agriculture and a sustainable food system is immeasurable. Show your support for organic growers by purchasing the fruits of their labour in stores, at their farms and local farmers' markets, through community-shared agriculture programs and at restaurants that use organic ingredients. By doing this, you will be enjoying fresh and delicious food and will be making a difference to your health and the environment's.

 

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This text was adapted from The Organic Gourmet, copyright 1998 by (Organic Advocates) Knives & Forks, published by Robert Rose Inc., Toronto.