Organic produce is a relatively recently globalised food phenomenon that’s completely transformed the way we perceive fresh fruit and veg. It’s shone a spotlight on what we eat and where it comes from and made us far more aware of the ecological impact food has.
Whether you’re touring the Spanish countryside for exciting ingredients or simply shopping at your local Queensland supermarket, making conscious choices about the food you consume is now an important part of life.
A little over a decade ago, the difference between organic and regular produce was not something consumers were aware of. There were simply no advertised standards about how fresh produce is, or should be, farmed.
In 2002, the United States Department of Agriculture released a new national standard for fresh produce, requiring farmers to formally state which category their produce belonged to. “Organic” became the new ideal, and this message quickly spread across the world.
The word “organic” refers to the way that fresh food products are sown, grown, and processed. In order to officially obtain an organic label, a food product needs to be free of any synthetic pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), hormones, antibiotics, and irradiation.
Many people believe that organic produce is better than regular produce because less man-made chemicals and processes get involved in their production.
While this might seem like an obvious truth, there is still much debate about whether the overall quality and nutrient density of a fruit or veggie is compromised when categorised as non-organic.
Organic Produce: Health or Hype?
One of the biggest and most commonly found arguments for organic produce is that it is healthier and higher in nutrients than non-organic food.
While there are no conclusive studies on the nutrient density of an organic food being higher than that of a non-organic food, there are several valid reasons for why people tend to side with this argument.
Organic food is often locally produced. Studies tell us that food that is grown locally to consumers tends to result in healthier, more nutrient-dense produce.
We are somewhat hardwired to crave the foods that occur indigenously to our native lands, which is why locally produced fruits and veggies often look and taste better to us. Italian villages like Sicily are famous for their delicious locally grown produce and the aesthetically pleasing ways it’s used in cooking.
Internationally imported foods are not by any means bad for our bodies. But you are more likely to consume fresher, tastier, and healthier produce if it grows on the same land you live on. Plus, you get to support local farmers and reduce your carbon foodprint too.
2. Environmental Impact
The environmental impact of organic farming is much less severe than that of industrial agriculture. Studies suggest that organic farming can improve the quality of soil and help aid the conservation of groundwater.
In contrast, industrial farming applies farming techniques that directly oppose the preservation of our environment. Greenhouse gas emissions, water and air pollution, as well as the destruction of wildlife are all things you can start to step away from through choosing organic.
3. Antioxidant Levels
As stated previously, there are no conclusive studies about organic produce being generally more nutrient-dense than non-organic products. However, some smaller studies were conducted on the exceptionally high antioxidant levels found in organic fruit and veg.
Antioxidants are chemical compounds important to our health that protect cells against free radicals. While they are present in many essential fruits and veggies, organic produce has been found to contain as much as 69% more antioxidants than in conventional non-organic produce.
Non-Organic Produce: Harmful or Benign?
Non-organic produce is categorised as any food products exposed to any number of the following processes or substances:
● Synthetic (man-made) pesticides, fertilisers or herbicides
● Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
● Growth hormones or antibiotics
● Irradiation or ionising radiation
These products and processes are typically implemented for deterring food predators (such as insects or birds), preserving food for extended periods of time, or control over crop development.
Unfortunately, there are several downsides to this farming approach, including:
1. Chemical Consumption
Eating food that’s sprayed with synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers means that you end up eating those chemicals too. While it is highly unlikely you would ever consume a truly toxic amount of these chemicals, ingesting them regularly can contribute to the decline of your health.
Regular pesticide consumption via fresh produce can cause short-term adverse health effects such as rashes, stinging eyes, and dizziness. It may also cause nausea and affect your digestive health. However, serious cases are rare and require sufferers to have consumed an abnormally large quantity of such chemicals.
2. Environmental Impact
This negative impact that industrial farming has on the environment is one of the strongest arguments against it.
Industrial agriculture plays a large role in the pollution of our planet. It releases vast quantities of chemicals, growth hormones and antibiotics into water sources, which poses a significant threat to both aquatic ecosystem health and our own. There are better ways to produce non-organic food, but currently the situation is largely destructive.
Weighing Out the Cost
When deciding whether to go for organic or non-organic products next time you are at the supermarket, cost is likely to be something that influences your decision. Despite the fact that organic produce seems to be the “cleaner” option of the two, it is certainly not the cheapest.
Organically produced food items are often priced as much as 10% to 30% more than industrially farmed goods. This is the main reason why organic food is associated almost exclusively with middle to upper-class families who have the luxury of being able to afford better quality food.
Interestingly enough, the yearly seasons we experience also play a big role in how convenient we perceive buying organic versus non-organic products.
Organic food products are typically only available during the seasons in which they grow naturally (citrus in winter, berries in summer etc.). This can be frustrating for those used to accessing all fresh produce items year-round. Yet, this is only made possible via either industrial farming or international importation from other countries.
At the end of the day, choosing whether to buy organic or non-organic produce is a personal lifestyle choice. It will depend on what your preferences and priorities are.