I have written so many times about organic food, and am increasingly committed to living an ‘organic lifestyle’ where possible. But what exactly do I mean by that? To me it is about caring for my families’ health, and the families of the people who make the food, lessening my environmental impact, protecting my kids from chemical residues in food, and around the home and garden and taking responsibility for the lives of the animals which help produce our food. I also like to support the local economy, and am passionate about quality ingredients. I believe that big supermarket culture has altered our expectations about food; we want it cheap, fast, highly flavoured, squeaky clean, flawless, oh and even cheaper! The reality of good food and organic produce is that it isn’t always all of those things, but it can have so much more to offer. Some organic stuff to consider:
• Organics and Healthy Living; as I explain to my kids, just because the lolly is organic does not make it a great food choice. Many companies have jumped on the organic bandwagon producing a vast array of organic foods which may also contain cheap ingredients such as palm oil (environmentally questionable to produce), and large amounts of fat, salt and sugar. Organic doesn’t always mean healthy, but you can be sure that organic foods will not contain many of the nasties found in conventional foods; Monosodium Glutamate, artificial colours, flavours and hydrogenated fats. Organic fruit and vegetables are shown to contain larger amounts of beneficial nutrition, organic dairy contains higher levels of good omega oils, and organic meat tends to be less fatty. Organic foods are unlikely to contain hormone, pesticide and chemical residues. Carefully produced organic foods are higher in nutrition, especially when eaten fresh and sourced locally.
• Organics and big business: Organic is big business, and all the big names want a piece of the action, but may not have the same ethical and philosophical background of smaller organic producers. Sometimes you will have to use your discretion about the ‘organic-ness’ of a product depending on what about ‘organic’ is important to you. I personally see certain organic products as beyond the pale, for example Nestle Organic Breakfast cereal; for me the organic nature of the ingredients is overshadowed by the practice and nature of the organization selling it. It is also worth noting that certain supermarket organic own-brands use powdered foreign milk in their products, (cheaper than fresh British organic milk) and source the cheapest and lowest end of the organic scale for their brands, with some ingredients barely scraping an organic certification. You may wish to do your homework and choose non-supermarket brands which as well as including organic ingredients, also care about sustainability, animal welfare, packaging issues. Using local shops farmers markets, roadsides and farms will put much more into the pockets of the producers, ensuring that they can afford to maintain high standards. Often the supermarkets are creaming the profits of Organics, with little of the inflated price benefiting the producers.
• Organics and the environment: at the moment the Soil Association are debating the inclusion of air freighted food under their label due to the high cost to the environment of flying in out-of-season produce. Much organic produce is also ridiculously over-packaged. To really cut back on packaging, use local shops where you can select produce and put it in paper bags, or use a box scheme. Riverford organics are dedicated to minimising packaging, and most packaging is reusable, made from recycled materials, and compostable: http://www.riverford.co.uk Organic farming does benefit the environment, using much less energy, fewer chemicals, less intensive production, and often more care and attention to supporting wildlife. The smaller the operation, the less environmental impact.
• Organics and animal welfare: An organic label on an animal product does not guarantee animal welfare or free range status and may be from a production unit using organic foods, but conventional production methods. If you are concerned about animal welfare, look for the soil association stamp. Alternatively buy local where you can see the animals range freely or talk to meat producers at the market; often they have pictures of their animals and farms which they can show you. Take a look at my favourite dairy farm Jess’s Ladies http://www.theladiesorganicmilk.co.uk for ideas on how it really should be.
• The Soil Association: There are many different Organic classification organizations nation and worldwide. The Soil Association carries the highest animal welfare, and environmental standards, as well as respecting human rights and fair trade; look out for their stamp on products which you buy. But it is worth checking out other organics as well. In order for a producer to become certified they must undertake several years work on their land, during this process a producer is said to be undergoing conversion, look out for local producers in the process of conversion, and also road-side garden sales where people state that their produce is Organic.
There is so much more to ‘Organics’ than simply the product. If a packet says ‘Organic’ it does not always guarantee the integrity of its contents. If you care about the environment, workers rights, animal welfare, and real quality food, you may need to think carefully about what and where you buy.
Vikki Scovell BA(hons) PG DIP is a fully qualified Personal Trainer and Fitness Coach. She is a qualified Nutrition Adviser, GP Referred Trainer and runs successful Community and Corporate Exercise classes and events. Vikki is a consultant in Healthy Eating and Exercise initiatives to schools in the independent sector and publishes School and General Healthy Living newsletters. Vikki believes passionately that everyone can make small changes to their lifestyle to ensure that they live happier, longer and healthier lives. She lives in Gloucestershire in the U.K. with her partner Jeremy and two young children Apple and Honey. For inquiries for nutritional advice, personal training, corporate wellness and general inquiries visit http://www.fitbite.co.uk