Fundamentals of Organic foods

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organic-foodI come from a family of farmers; my grandfather had his own farms in a small town of India.  My parents lived in cities and had a kitchen garden of their own.  I used to help my father in our kitchen garden.  In fact, I used to enjoy watering the plants in the summer time.  I still remember; I loved fresh smell that came from the soil as soon as water hit the ground.  My father use to arrange manure (cow dung) from near by local milk dairies.  I use to wrap plastic bag (similar to grocery bags) on my hand as a substitute of glove and spread the manure on the ground. 

 

KindergardenWe grew almost all types of vegetables; onion, tomato, green chilies, some herbs like cilantro, green mint and etc.  I have lot of memories of our own so called mini-farming experience; from grafting of plants that falling to putting a fence to protect our plants from stray animals.

 

You might be wondering why I am talking to you about my kitchen garden experiences.  Well, these days, super-markets are flooded with “organic” food products. I have been reading about the differences between the organic foods and so called conventional foods, which reminded me of my own kitchen garden.  The information is vast and is difficult to cover it in one single post.  Let us go through the basics and then take a deep dive into topics related to organic food.

 

 

What does organic food mean and how it is different from conventional foods?

The word “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat.  As you might have noticed, organic food is not related to only vegetables and fruits, but also include dairy products and meat.  

Organic food production is a heavily regulated industry.  It must adhere to specific standards regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA.

Here are the major differences between conventional farming and organic farming as cited by Mayo clinic:

 

Conventional farmers

Organic farmers

Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth.

Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.

Spray insecticides to reduce pests and disease.

Use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.

Use chemical herbicides to manage weeds.



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Rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.

Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth.

Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.

 

usda-sealWhat are organic food standards and label?

Products that are completely organic such as eggs, fruits, vegetables or other single-ingredient foods are labeled 100% organic and should carry a small USDA seal.  Whereas those foods that have more than one ingredient, such as breakfast cereal, can use the USDA organic seal or the follow the following government standards to label their foods as organic:

 

  • 100% Organic: Product must contain 100% organic ingredients.
  • Organic: Products that are at least 95% organic.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients:  These products should contain at least 70% of organic ingredients.
  • Free-range or Free-roaming:  Don’t confuse this term with “organic. This is the term applied to chicken, eggs and other meat. That means the animal did not necessarily spend a good portion of its life outdoors.
  • Natural or All Natural: Does not mean organic.

Only those foods that are grown and processed according to USDA organic standards can be labeled organic.

 

organic_usda

 

Information from Mayo Clinic about letting animals feed outside, reminds me of another story.  Once, I was travelling on a business trip and I believe I was flying through North West airlines, which is now part of Delta.  I like the monthly magazines that are provided for free by the airlines as they have lot of good and interesting information.  Any how, one of the articles discussed that his productivity of milk increased significantly, when he let the animal graze on the natural grass as compared to the expensive additive he use to add in food for the animals.  So, he was saving two fold, one from increased productivity and another from saving on expensive additive.

I hope you got a flavor of organic food and how this is regulated.  One major difference between organic and conventional food for consumer like you is that organic food is significantly costlier than the conventional food.  In my next article, I would like to share with you, if organic food is worth purchasing. 

Healthy purchasing!

 

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