According to the USDA, certified organic food is “produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” I am convinced that foods that are truly organically-raised in this fashion are the healthiest foods we can consume, but I suggest you do your own research and come to your own conclusion. Be sure to review the “genetically-modified organisms” (GMOs) information in this guide, as well, because purchasing “certified organic” food is one great way to avoid the potentially health-depleting side effects of GMOs.
Do I buy exclusively organic foods? No, I do the best I can. Even if you buy absolutely no organically-raised food, you are still much better off preparing your own non-organic recipes from whole, real food ingredients than you would be purchasing processed foods. Also, just because an item is labeled as "all natural" or “organic,” that does not mean it is a health food - organic ice cream is still ice cream! The label “All Natural” is not a regulated term, so additive-filled products are allowed to make this claim on the front of their packages. Don’t be fooled by claims on the front label of anything you consume; always check the ingredients list on the back of the package!
And just because something is organic doesn’t mean it is additive-free. Read ingredient labels on “organic” processed foods. You may be surprised by what you find. Unless a “certified organic” food is also labeled as “100% organic,” it’s allowed to contain up to 5% non-organic ingredients. Unprocessed foods are always best, organic or not.
Even better than organic food is food that you grow yourself or purchase from a local farmer whom you’ve gotten to know personally and/or whose farm you’ve been able to visit. Many of these farms will likely not be “certified organic” (even though they use organic growing practices) because it is costly for farmers to receive that designation for their food. So if you’re looking for “organic” food, be sure to ask the growers whether or not they use chemicals on their farm and use organic feed for the animals, etc. before you totally dismiss them as “not organic.”
What? You don’t know any farmers? Well, you need to locate farmers markets in your area and go meet a few! Many consumers are so incredibly detached from where their food comes from and how it is produced. I would bet that if most people took a look inside “factory farms” (where many animal products are produced), they would never eat those animal products again. If you want to eat animal products that come from places with green pastures, red barns and families who truly love their animals, spare them suffering and guarantee them a swift and humane death, then you absolutely must purchase from your local farmers! I realize it sounds complicated and overwhelming at first, but just take the first step and start chatting with producers at your local farmers market. If you aren’t familiar with how most commercial meats are farmed, I encourage you to research “factory farms” on the Internet - but make sure you’re prepared to see some very disturbing graphics and footage.
Ideally, we would all eat foods exclusively from our own backyards and local farmers. However, this shopping guide is designed to help you navigate the grocery store to make the best possible choices from the products available there because that is where you most likely purchase the majority of your food. Right? Again, just take the first step. You can decide for yourself where you’ll go from here. I grow a huge garden and can/freeze some of it for the winter months. I also purchase most animal products (eggs, meat, etc.) directly from local farmers. But I do shop at the grocery store for plenty of items, as well, so I am fully aware of how overwhelming it becomes to navigate those aisles when you’re searching for additive-free foods. I created my Additive-Free Grocery Shopping Guide to help make shopping a bit easier for you!