The Instagram logo

The truth about organic foods

Should we all be buying organic food? Are there real benefits for our health and environment? And why is it more expensive? Read on for the answers

What does ‘organic’ mean?

“While there is confusion about what organic really means, quite simply it is produce grown using natural farming methods, no use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides, all of which find their way into your bloodstream and cause a build-up or toxic load,” says Frederika Le Cain of health store Loop de Loop in Castletownbere, Co Cork.

“A lot of people think that organic just means grown naturally, maybe without chemicals, but it means so much more than that,” says Hannah Dare from health store and café Organico in Bantry, Co Cork. “The important thing to know is that if a product, whether a fruit or vegetable or an ice cream, uses the word organic, it means that it has been certified and that it complies with a special set of standards. If you are producing a product, like an organic protein bar, then every aspect of your supply chain is scrutinised and every single ingredient has to be organically certified.

“If you are growing fruit and veg, you aren’t allowed to use chemical fertilisers or pesticides because they can accumulate in the food and also because of the environmental impact of those chemicals. Organic food is not irradiated, or processed with industrial solvents, or synthetic food additives. Organic farmers are also encouraged to use practices to improve the quality of the soil, so that the environment of your farm is healthier and so is the produce you are growing. So ‘organic’ is about the health of the farmer, of the produce, of the consumer and of the planet.”

What are the advantages of buying organic?

“We sell a lot of organic fruit and veg, and the main thing I can tell you is that it does not keep for a long time,” says Hannah Dare. “You have to eat it when it’s fresh, and it has not been irradiated or treated with chemicals and gases to keep it fresh. This can be challenging at times – we do a lot of pickling in our kitchen to keep up with it all! But overall it’s a good thing – and when I see a lettuce or a lemon lasting for weeks I am very, very suspicious of what it has been treated with. I don’t want those chemicals in my body.”

Which foods are best bought organic?

“Fruit and vegetables, eggs, meat and dairy if you eat it,” Hannah Dare. “I always look for organic versions of peppermint tea and peanut butter. And then you have the Dirty Dozen, the list of fruit and vegetables most heavily contaminated with toxins. Kale, spinach, strawberries, nectarines, apples, grapes and cherries are all on it this year.”

“My personal rule of thumb is to always buy organic,” says Frederika Le Cain. “Where this is not possible, prioritise any vegetable that grows underground, eg. onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots, parsnips etc as root vegetables have been found to absorb higher levels of chemical fertilisers. Buying organic and free range eggs is also hugely important, both from an ethical standpoint to stand against the inhumane battery farming of caged hens, but also as battery farms lace chicken feed with broad spectrum antibiotics to counteract diseases from the hens’ living conditions. Antibiotics in animal feeds are believed to be one catalyst behind the rise of antibiotic resistant superbug strains.”

What about non-fresh foods?

“I always buy organic chocolate and coffee, because when you are buying a luxury it seems reasonable to buy better and eat less,” says Hannah Dare. “I like organic wine also, as I think it’s made in a way that is closest to the way wines used to be made, but I choose the source carefully.”

“Organic foods will always taste superior due to the quality of the raw ingredients they use,” says Frederika Le Cain.

Irish health stores are a great source of organic versions of pretty much any type of food and even beauty products. Organic herbal teas, chocolate, pre-packed goods, peanut butters, bodycare products, coconut oil, and herbal supplements are all on shelves.

What’s on the label?

“Look for the organic symbol,” says Hannah Dare, “in Europe, it’s the green leaf, alongside whatever symbol the producer is using. You are looking for something on the back of the label that says ‘Certified By…’ or ‘Certification Number…” and a symbol.

“Always look for the organic certification logo on anything you buy,” says Fredericka Le Cain. “Strict certification laws mean anything truly organic will carry a certification logo. Don’t be fooled by statements such as ‘with organic ingredients’ – this usually is a smokescreen to grab your attention.”

Is organic food worth the price?

“Organic products are more expensive,” says Hannah Dare, “but I think often it’s actually the real cost. Organic agriculture is not subsidised in the way the big agri-food businesses are, so you are paying the ‘real’ price of food. And it’s always made with more care, which is worth it to me.”

Organic products tend to be more expensive because they have not been forced to grow bigger using hormones, artificial pesticides or fertilisers; the farming of them tends to be more labour intensive and produce has a shorter shelf life due to not being irradiated or exposed to other chemical preservation methods. Many people believe that these benefits far outbalance the increase in cost.

More Rude Food articles...
Articles from our latest issue...