The World is a Carousel of Colors
For a colorful world of grocery – from bright red raspberries to deep blue corn chips – it is remarkable how the organic food industry has various shades of grey. While this blog post is no “50 Shades of Grey” novel, it is a hot topic with no perfect answers!
Some of the big “grey dilemmas” I personally struggle with include:
Going the Distance: Local non-certified organic products from my town’s farmer’s market vs certified organic from across the world
Comparing Certifications: Who can I trust? Do certifications even matter?
Marketing Authenticity: The product is self-declared organic or “all natural,” does that count for anything?
Companies Behind the Products: Organic products from large corporations vs. from smaller, independently owned companies
Price Point: How much is reasonable to pay for premium sourced, organic products?
Miscellaneous: Don’t even get us talking about seafood! Some parts of the industry are still in creation!
To be honest, I don’t have the answers to these questions. They are intended to stimulate a dialogue. The right side of my brain questions why a perfect mathematical equation does not exist yet to simply solve for the best decisions. Perhaps some mobile engineers are creating an app as we speak to help consumers make more informed purchase decisions purchase smarter – but while we wait, let’s start talking about 4 key topics: Local, Certifications, Price Point, and Simplicity.
Buying local is not just the latest hop topic for “hipsters,” it is a truly important movement that is here to stay! Defining local can be subjective – some common definitions include:
- Made in your state or region
- Made within 100 or 250 miles of your home
Local is critical to our long-term food sustainability because it can help the amount of miles the food travels to you (reducing carbon offsets), supports the local economy (keeps your neighbor in business), and helps you purchase fresher (may be even more nutritious for being fresh picked).
As Albert’s Organics explains: “The ideal, of course, is to find food that is both local and organic. Not to choose one over the other, but rather to encourage and educate our local growers to embrace the organic farming system.“
If your local farm tells you that they practice organic farming but cannot afford the certification, be sure to refer them to the Certification Cost Share.
Let’s go back to the basics. What is the purpose of a certification at its core? In general, a certification refers to the confirmation of certain characteristics of an object. This confirmation is often provided by some form of external review, education, assessment, or audit. In short, hearing it from an unbiased, third-party is more trustworthy to ensure something is what it says it is.
Some of the industry favorites to be on the lookout for include:
These certifying organizations serve as reliable sources that your product is authentic and genuine in the claims they are making.
As in the saying, “Tom-ay-to, Tom-ah-to”, I can imagine how a conversation would go between my thrifty Irish grandmother and me:
Nana would say,“Why would we spend extra money for these organic Tom-ay-toes? It looks identical to the cheaper Tom-ah-toes.”
I would reply, “Nana – the certification really matters on these Tom-ay-toes. There’s a whole story behind the food from seeding to harvesting – more than what we can see in the price tag”
In reality, it can be tough to justify the expense for organic when two products practically look identical. It helps me to think that you are not just buying a look-like but you are actually:
- Ensuring you eat products without fertilizers, pesticides, and chemicals.
- Supporting an industry that needs growth.
- Increasing the “demand” of supply/demand which overtime will drive prices lower.
- Thinking preventative health. We do not know the long-term implications of the interactions between fertilizers/pesticides in our food. While the verdict is still out, I think reducing the risk is worth the cost.
- Leveling the playing field. The main reasons conventional often costs more are because the farms get subsidies that you end up paying for through your taxes. When you buy organic, you are more closely purchasing the “true value” of the food.
Lastly, it is important to take a look at the ingredients list. For example, it is hard to compare a single-sourced fair trade coffee bean with a certified organic coffee beverage featuring dozens of different ingredients. I would recommend that the less processed and simpler ingredients, the more pure the product on the scale of natural to conventional. Also, a fun way to filter your food is to see if you can actually read and understand the ingredients on the ingredient list.