Why and how to jump on the organic food bandwagon

Organic food and products have become a popular topic of both conversation and contention for consumers.

No longer limited to small farmer’s markets or specialty stores across the country, many consumers have embraced this new way of life. However, many buyers still question whether the benefits of going organic surpass the costs associated with it.

Calgary certified nutritionist Amy Bondar says that times have changed. The demand for organic foods has increased its availability.

“Because there is more demand for it we are finding it in places like Superstore, Walmart and Costco at very comparable prices. So it is becoming less expensive than what it was.”

But what exactly constitutes organic food?

Bondar explains, simply put, organic food is clean whole foods that have not been altered in the processing stage from their natural state and are free from pesticides, herbicides and other harmful chemicals. The result of which is nutrient rich produce that tastes better.Just because it says it’s “organic” doesn’t mean it is organic. Photo by: Celeste de Muelenaere

Rebekah McDonald — advocate of organic food as a healthier option for consumers, who started her own organic food market in Red Deer — agrees with Bondar and says, “truly well grown food tastes better and people want to eat it.”

Still, navigating the organic food industry for a newcomer can seem like a daunting task, with some still falling into what Bondar calls the “organic food trap” — just because it says organic doesn’t mean it is organic or that it is even good for you. To help avoid being duped by imitation organic foods, here are some helpful tips on why and how to jump onto the organic food bandwagon.

1. Health — Good food, more energy

Bondar advises that simply changing your diet to include organic produce can drastically improve your energy and health.

“One of the major contributing factors to weight loss or the inability to lose weight is because we carry a lot of toxins — toxins are carried in our fat cells— and so if we can control what we put into our mouths then that might help the weight issue.”

Bondar says that consuming non-organic food that has been sprayed with pesticides and other harmful chemicals increases our toxic load. The effect of which she says, is not only added stress on the body, but also cellular inflammation that can lead to chronic diseases, rapid aging and even some cancers.

2. Research — Questions, questions, questions

With an array of vegetables stacked together in farmer’s markets, it is easy to be fooled into thinking that all the vegetables come from the same farm or area.

However, both McDonald and Bondar agree this is usually not the case.

“One tomato is not the same as another tomato,” she says. “It comes down to people putting forth the effort to make sure that the products they are buying are good quality products.”

McDonald says the best defense consumers have against being duped by product labeling and marketing is research.

She also affirms that the Internet can be a great resource for research.

If a farm is producing organic food the right way and complying to standards they will likely want people to know about it. She says that many farms will have information about how their products are grown, harvested and packaged available to the public on their websites.

3. Look for the certification — No logo, no go-go

McDonald warns that many brand companies now mislabel their products as organic, but this does not mean that the products are organic.

Elizabeth Corrigan, a regulatory and standards officer with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, says that organic product regulations state that if an agriculture product bares the organic claim then it also has to bare the Canada Organic logo.

Without the logo present on the product it is not certified organic and therefore does not comply with the organic standards and methods put forth by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Bondar affirms that if the product does not contain a certified organic logo it is almost a guarantee that it has been sprayed with pesticides and herbicides.

4. Don’t waste — Use what you buy

Although there is still a discrepancy in cost between organic and non-organic foods, McDonald says the benefits of going organic far outweigh the costs.

“It’s okay that it costs a little more because when you eat healthier food and you are healthy you pay less in pharmaceutical bills and in other ways,” she says.

Bondar says, “If you value your health then you’ll spend money on good quality food. I think it’s so important that we place a high value on our food.

“If you value your health you spend money on it.”

Another solution that McDonald suggests to keep costs down but food quality up, is buying groceries throughout the week rather than just once a week. By shopping in an as-needed manner, McDonald says shoppers will prevent waste and make good quality, organic food an affordable option for most people.

5. Plant it yourself — Quality food, quality family bonding

“If I only have a small space to grow things in, then it’s my greens,” says McDonald, who has her own organic garden at home.

For the green-thumb challenged, McDonald suggests an herb garden for starting small and simple.

McDonald suggests some easy-to-maintain garden starters:

Beans

Kale

Swiss chard

Carrots

Tomatoes

Assorted herbs