What first comes to mind when you think of the word ‘organic’? For most Americans, it’s likely imagery of fruits and vegetables. While that is accurate, the world of organic certification actually extends to clothing, cleaning products, and cosmetics, among others. If you’re interested in leading an organic life, there are two questions you should first ask to start your journey: Why? And how?
The benefits of this particular lifestyle are not altogether obvious to the consumer. For example, a standard myth held by many is that organic products are pesticide free. But this isn’t the case at all. Organic farmers simply cannot use synthetic pesticides, some of which have a reputation for being hormone disrupting, carcinogenic, neurotoxic, as well as toxic to bees. Farms with USDA certification can use organic pesticides but are expected to use them as a last-ditch effort, adhering to the ‘PAMS’ strategy: prevention, avoidance, monitoring, and then suppression. This is great news for those consuming organic products but really, it’s even better for those working the land.
Ninety-nine percent of pesticide-related deaths occur in the developing countries, despite less than 30% of global pesticide consumption being attributed to the developing world. In fact, across the globe, 20,000 agricultural workers die each year as a result of pesticide poisoning. Though, it should be noted that this statistic likely includes animal agriculture, as well. So, if you’ve ever wondered why your apples are so costly or why an organic cotton tee is $40, remember that labor (and labor rights) are a part of that final cost to you.
For a similar reason, organic farming is argued to be significantly better for the environment. According to the E.P.A., agriculture is the leading cause of compromised water quality, and select pesticide runoff plays a part in that.
Organic produce and fibers may be better for farm workers and the environment, but is there any nutritional benefit to eating organically? A meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2014 found that organic crops ‘have substantially higher concentrations of a range of antioxidants.’ In fact, these crops had 50 percent more flavolnols, a compound that wards off disease and protects cells. While the jury is still out on how much you would have to eat to notice that increase in flavolnols, we do know one thing for sure: this boost in nutrition is indicative of how successful organic farming can be. These high concentrations of antioxidants are actually the result of stress; they’re a natural byproduct of plants regularly defending themselves (versus pesticides doing it for them).
At this point, you may be convinced that organic is the way to go. But, you’re still concerned about the added cost and you’re overwhelmed with where to start. Before you clear out your whole home, try these five tips first:
Join a CSA
If you don’t have time to go to your local farmer’s market each week for groceries, that’s okay. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes are a fantastic way to get all the seasonal, organic veggies you might need for a fair price. To find a CSA near you, try using this search engine. You can also visit your farmer’s market once and sign up with a nearby farm that might not have a large internet presence. My favorite organic farm offers home delivery and individual boxes for as low as $21.
Often times, we hesitate to purchase organic vegetables and fruits because we feel we might waste them. If you ever see something on sale and you’re unsure about what recipe to utilize it in, then the freezer is your friend. Try using the Individual Quick Freezing method, a commercial technique which is used on most of the fruits and veggies in the freezer aisle of your grocery store. As long as your food comes in individual pieces (such as berries, bread slices, and peas), lay them out onto a baking sheet and freeze for about an hour or two. After the pieces are hard, gather them in an airtight container and use them throughout the year as needed.
Buy in Bulk
For non-perishables, be sure to buy in bulk. You can find popular organic grains like amaranth, brown rice, and quinoa at much lower prices in the bulk section than buying them from a box. Most health stores and co-ops also have organic spices that you can purchase as needed. Why spend $5.99 on organic white pepper if you only need seventy cents worth for a month of recipes?
What About the Clean Fifteen?
For over a decade, the Environmental Working Group has shared a list of fruits and vegetables that are better to buy organic, called the Dirty Dozen. It is a group tested by the USDA, found to have pesticide residue even after washing and sometimes peeling. On the other hand, the EWG has also released a list called the Clean Fifteen, which they assert can be safely bought without organic certification. While this is true and can be used as a tactic to save money, remember that a large number of the fruits and vegetables on the Clean Fifteen list are farmed abroad. So, though they may be safer to eat, sometimes due to a protective shell, it’s still important to purchase them organic because that certification protects those working in the developing world.
Replace Over Time
Healthy habits — for yourself and for the planet — take time to develop. First, create a baseline for your involvement in the movement: How many organic fruits, veggies, grains, and spices do you normally have in your home? Do you often wear clothes with organically farmed fibers? Are your favorite make-up brands organic, too?
Don’t feel bad about the answers. Each week, try to increase the number of organic groceries you purchase by using the methods above. Go thrift shopping and embrace vintage fashion. Replace make-up as you go and follow brands on social media to be notified when there might be a sale. Start with the essentials like foundation, mascara, and organic lipstick.
The first half of the battle is arming yourself (and loved ones) with knowledge. Share this article with friends and family who might need a little help making the change, too. And if you find yourself needing (more) organic lipstick, consider Axiology.