By Tim Palmieri, The George Washington University
Devouring my Grandmother’s meatballs and my Grandfather’s gnocchi at the dinner table on Sunday night lies at the heart of some of my favorite memories growing up. Food brings my family together. I can always buy pre-made meatballs or pasta, but my family’s passion and connection would be replaced with generic processed products and an arguably less enjoyable meal. Food is more than essential, so why not make the best possible choice with yours?
Organic foods, foods grown without using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, are one good choice you can make. They can be easily identified by those tiny green USDA certified organic labels. Since 2010, sales of organic foods have increased by about 10 percent annually, which is an incredible amount of growth by industry standards. This can only mean good things for people who buy food—every family in the U.S.
I can tell from the endless checkout lines in my local Whole Foods that despite the slightly more expensive cost of organic foods, organic food and drink sales are on the rise. Sales of organic products in the United States jumped to $35.1 billion in 2013, up 11.5 percent from the previous year’s $31.5 billion and was the fastest growth rate in five years.
Eating healthy or organic doesn’t mean I never grab my favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream carton, or spend a night at the McDonald’s down the street with friends eating Big Macs. The key is to do everything in moderation. While these foods provide “empty calories,” lots of calories with little nutritional benefits, organic foods provide more effective antioxidants that aid in preventing cancer, vision problems and cognitive malfunctions as well as improving heart health. Pesticide-free produce may not look as appetizing, but if you want fewer harmful chemicals such as cadmium that have been linked to kidney damage and cancer in your body and in the bodies of your family, make the organic choice.
The impact isn’t just on your health—your favorite organic cauliflower or ginger root has far more positive environmental effects than conventional food. Organic agriculture mitigates the greenhouse effect and global warming by sequestering carbon in the soil. Furthermore, replacing pesticides with natural fertilizers such as compost prevents groundwater pollution and enhances soil structure and water infiltration. Organic farming even produces more biodiversity than other farming systems.
Regardless of what aisle I venture through, organic foods are becoming more prominent. About three fourths of American grocery stores carry organic foods and the number continues to rise. You can vote with your dollars every time you buy food if you want to see more on the shelves. Compared to conventional farms, organic farms are just as productive, the soil is healthier and energy is used more efficiently. The next time you see two seemingly different broccoli crowns in your local grocery store’s produce section remember you’re not just paying fifty more cents for organic foods, you’re paying for fifty more years for the planet.
The bright colors of organic foods are more alluring than their conventional counterparts. But their price tag is not.
While some people are fortunate enough to have a local Trader Joe’s around the corner or a Fresh Market mere minutes away in town, others are faced with the problems of accessibility and cost. Thankfully, there are simple solutions to get your organic fix.
The first solution is to go to local Farmer’s markets. Farmer’s markets are known for bringing a wide variety of organically grown produce from eggplant to tomatoes and even your favorite fruits. Depending on your area, farmer’s markets may be weekly events. Best of all, they are on average cheaper than organic supermarkets and you know directly whom your money is supporting. The benefits of buying local also extend far beyond the price tag.
If there are no farmer’s markets in your area, then a second solution is to purchase cheap and healthy organic alternatives. Buying seasonal fruits to lower your grocery bill, washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly to eliminate pesticides, and peeling nonorganic fruit to also remove pesticides and mitigate adverse effects are just a few of the shortcuts to getting the benefits of organic without the cost.
As more people grab organic foods off of store shelves and leave conventional vegetables untouched, prices will drop and in the future there may no longer be a need for alternatives. Until then, buying organic food alternatives whenever possible is worth the price you pay to help your family and the environment.
Tim Palmeieri is a sophomore studying Journalism and Mass Communications at The George Washington University.
This story is from our Planet Forward Campus Voices program—an opportunity for students to celebrate and explore our complex relationship with what we eat and where our food comes from.
- Nestle, Marion. What To Eat. North Point Press. 2006
- Willett, Walter. Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy. Free Press. 2001