What Does Organic Really Mean (and How to Go Organic on a Shoestring)?
“Organic” has become something of a bandwagon movement as of late, which in most instances is far from a bad thing. Whether people and producers get on board with the organic movement for the right reasons is technically irrelevant - organic is better for the public and the planet.
But what’s become apparent over recent years is the extent to which many still don’t know what “organic” really means. Or at least, aren’t entirely sure of the significance of organic, or how organic products differ from conventional products.
Knowledge is Power
The more you know about organic, the more you stand to gain from adopting an organic lifestyle. Both in terms of enjoyment and making conscientious decisions when shopping and eating, knowledge is power.
As an added bonus, understanding the ins and outs of organic holds the key to being able to eat more organic foods without overspending. Contrary to popular belief, it’s perfectly possible to go organic without making a huge difference to your grocery bill.
It’s simply a case of knowing what to buy, what to avoid and what to pick up only when the time is right.
With all of the above in mind, here’s a brief outline of what organic really means, summarised in nine important facts.:
1. Non-Organic Eating is a New Concept
It’s often assumed that the whole organic movement is quite contemporary in nature. In reality, it’s actually quite the opposite - non-organic eating is the more modern of the two concepts. This is due to the fact that prior to the Second World War, there was really no such thing as food that wasn’t organic. It was only in the years and decades that followed WW2 that non-organic farming and product production methods hit the mainstream in the UK and elsewhere.
2. Qualifying For the Organic Label Isn’t Easy
Strict criteria must be met for a farm or a product to carry the official “Organic” label. Essentially, it must have been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that absolutely nothing synthetic is used in the cultivation of the crops or rearing of the animals in question. Growth hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, synthetic fertilisers, chemical pesticides, hazardous additives - all things that need to be excluded for a product to be labelled organic.
3. It Can Also Be a Challenging and Expensive Transition
Estimates suggest that the average time it takes for a farm to complete the transition to organic status is around two years. During which, it has to completely alter the way it operates, stock up on new equipment and make major alterations to everything it does. This is one of the reasons why some smaller growers and producers choose not to go organic - they simply cannot afford to do so. It’s also why some organic products (though not all) command higher prices than conventional products.
4. Organic is Not the Same as Natural
Technically speaking, every living organism is “natural” by definition. However, this doesn’t mean that all natural products are also organic. An apple is natural, but could have easily been pumped with dozens of questionable chemicals as part of the cultivation process. The resulting product is still natural, but does not come close to qualifying as organic. Nevertheless, a surprising proportion of people continue to use the two terms interchangeably.
5. Free Range and Higher Welfare Do Not Mean Organic
Free-range eggs and higher-welfare animal products are always a better choice than those that support inhumane farming practices. But in both instances, these labels do not confirm (or even suggest) that the products in question are organic. The animals could have been treated humanely or even lavished with TLC, but may still have been fed non-organic diets.
6. Support for Organic is Growing
Research suggests that total organic food and drink sales in the UK increased by 4.5% in 2019, reaching a new all-time record of £2.45 billion. This impressive spike was attributed by many to the growing popularity of shopping online for organic products and wholefoods - a market vastly outpacing the rest of the organic retail sector. Nevertheless, more than 98% of all food and drinks in the UK is still not organic by definition. Hence, there’s a long way to go, but there are at least signs of forward movement.
7. Young People Show More Interest in Organic
Various polls have been carried out to gauge the popularity of organic living, which in almost all instances point at the same conclusion. Across the board, young people seem to be more interested in organic products than older demographics. 18 to 29-year-olds in particular are apparently making more conscientious lifestyle choices than ever before. By contrast, comparatively few of those within the 65+ age bracket are particularly interested in going organic.
8. Pesticides Are Still Used on Organic Farms
The use of exclusively organic products and methods for cultivating crops does not mean that pesticides are eliminated from the equation. Instead, organic farms use a wide variety of approved organic fertilisers, often based around copper, sulphur, dairy cultures and vitamin B. Measures have to be taken to prevent and deal with problematic pest infestations, irrespective of whether you grow organic or non-organic crops.
9. Organic Doesn’t Always Mean Tastier or Healthier
Organic produce grown with meticulous care and attention as nature intended is produce at its absolute best. In terms of quality, flavour and nutrient content, this stuff really is just about as good as it gets. Nevertheless, not all organic producers invest this kind of time and effort in their products. There will always be those who prefer to hurry things along and take short-cuts - just as with conventional cultivators and mass-producers. As a result, not all organic produce is guaranteed to be tastier or healthier than a comparable conventional product.
Does Eating Organic Cost a Fortune?
Connotations between eating organic and overspending are the result of two things:
- The fact that some organic food costs more than non-organic food
- The fashionable nature of going organic leading to elevated pricing
The truth is, if you’re planning on making the switch to a purely organic lifestyle, then yes - you may notice a slight difference to your grocery bills. This counts double if you’ve previously opted for the lowest-cost, lowest-grade produce money can buy, which will always be significantly cheaper than high-end organic.
But when you consider what you’re getting out of the deal, the slightly higher costs of organic products are more than justified. Elimination of harmful pesticides, no questionable chemicals and the peace of mind that comes with knowing exactly what you are putting into your body.
In any case, there are several options on the table for those who would like to go organic and avoid overspending in the process. Specifically, each of the four tips outlined below will soon convince you that going organic doesn’t have to mean spending a fortune:
Grow your own organic produce at home
The ultimate no-brainer, growing your own means getting your hands on the finest-quality produce on earth at the lowest possible price. Plus, the satisfaction that comes with a growing your own food from scratch makes the time and effort of doing so well worthwhile.
Shop local where possible
As a general rule of thumb, the further across the country organic produce has to travel to reach its final selling point, the more it ends up costing. Hence, the cheapest organic produce is usually the stuff that’s been grown locally and is being sold close to where it was grown. There are exceptions to the rule, but shopping locally is usually the way to go.
Shop online and buy more wholefoods
Better yet, shopping online for organic products guarantees significantly lower prices than shopping at a conventional store. This counts double when purchasing wholefoods, which can often be bought online at a fraction of the usual costs. Stock up on organic staples in bulk and you stand to save even more.
Don’t worry about buying everything organic
Last up, environmental groups publish an updated ‘Dirty Dozen’ list each year, along with a corresponding ‘Clean 15’. These lists indicate which products on store shelves are most likely to contain elevated pesticide levels, along with which are safe to buy in their non-organic form. Going organic doesn’t have to mean only buying organic products - you could simply make a conscious effort to buy more of them.
The potential benefits of organic eating for the planet and its people are well documented. Slowly but surely, more people than ever before are making the conscientious decisions to make positive adjustments to their lifestyle habits.
There’s still a long way to go to, but there are nonetheless reassuring signs of forward movement.