Hug Me! I’m Organic!

Organic: Hug Me! I'm OrganicLegally, What does Organic Mean?

Organic food must be grown and manufactured based on standards laid out by a country’s regulatory program or agency. For the United States, these standards are defined by the National Organic Program (NOP) and enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

When you see the organic label on a product, it must be at least 95% organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). These products must also be manufactured using only approved methods and must not use sewage sludge or ionizing radiation in production. You can read more on organic labeling on the USDA website.

Organic: USDAIn the case of animal products, organic additionally means the animal received no antibiotics or hormones and was fed organic feed containing no animal by-products. The animal should also have had “access” to the outdoors. Although, “access” is not well-defined, so it’s not clear what this provision means, exactly. In the case of produce, the grown food must not be contaminated with synthetic chemicals used as pesticides.

With extra regulation for organic food, comes extra cost. Consumers foot this bill and pay anywhere from 20-100% more for organic products. Is it worth it?

Follow the Money

According to the Organic Trade Association, Amercians spent $16 billion on organic foods last year and another $744 million on organic “non-food products” such as vitamins, clothing, cleaners and pet food. Sales of organic products have grown by 15 percent to 21 percent each year since 1997, and 57 percent of Amercians buy organic at least part of the time.

I have to admit, I have met crusaders who purchase strictly Organic products.  It seems the “Hug Me!  I’m Organic!” shirts were made exclusively for them.

It used to be industry strove for the Weight-Watchers emblem, the Atkins emblem, the South Beach Diet emblem.  They aimed for such packaged proclamations as MSG free, gluten free, ZERO Trans-fats, or “Made with WHOLE GRAIN!”  If consumers could rationalize the purchase of junk food and snack food and — let’s be real — unhealthy food based on these words on the label, manufacturers could pocket the profits.  For marketers, it seems, the “Organic” emblem is the new snake-oil.

The Cultural Perception

Organic: Marshmallow Rice TreatsDr. Amy Tuteur, M.D, received her undergraduate degree from Harvard College and her medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine. She is a former clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School.  In a recent article, Dr. Tuteur took the rather unpopular stand that organic food is worth less than non-organic food.

It’s the holy grail of contemporary marketing: getting consumers to pay more for something that is worth less. When it comes to organic food, marketers have hit the jackpot.
How have consumers been enticed to pay more for products that are potentially less safe than their conventional counterparts? The organic food scam depends on tapping into cultural myths about nature, playing upon widespread misunderstanding of risk, and flattering consumers into believing that those who choose organic food are “empowered.”.

Dr. Amy Tuteur, M.D

This got me thinking.  How popular is going “Organic” these days and what makes us choose Organic over non-Organic?

The “Organic” Brandwagon

Organic: Cow Fat Motor OilWe have already seen the introduction of Organic motor oil this year.

Yes.  I said Organic motor oil.

In fact, a whole host of “organic” products are slated to hit the shelves before the year ends, like Organic 2X soy underwear.  As harmful as processed soy is to men, I find that the introduction of soy underwear just opens itself up to way too many obvious jokes.

Organic: Mass Marketing Organic Junk FoodYo! foods launched vending services including vending machines nationwide to dole out such “Organic” snacks as candy bars, chips, “energy drinks,” and gummi worms.

And while we may not be able to live without candy bars, who can live without Organic De-icer, Organic Bouquet’s $250-per-dozen “extreme roses” and the Electrolux Organic Cooker– a tabletop appliance that uses radiant energy and some sort of vacuum device to cook food oil-free. Well, at least it contains a vacuum, in keeping with the old Electrolux tradition.  We are probably going to stick with a more primitive method of cooking in our household– something like fire or a hot stove, perhaps.

Organic: SpunCity Cotton CandyOrganic Marketing

If you are going for natural, organic, and sustainable, what could be better than an aerosol can full of organic pancake batter?  Since you aren’t going to drink your motor oil, or pour up a cup for your kids, is there really a difference between cow fat that has been industrially and chemically put through some pretty extreme processes and a good synthetic alternative?  How “Organic” is an Electrolux oven made of, among other things, PCVs and ABS plastic?

What’s the point of marketing something as patently unhealthy as toaster pastries with the “Organic” label?  What’s the difference between “Organic” and non-Organic toaster pastries, anyway? Although certain purists may suggest that the “Organic” variety of toaster pastries are more “wholesome,” the bottom line is that a toaster pastry is a toaster pastry — is a toaster pastry — and it’s definitely not something that you or your children should be eating to kick-start your day.   Not when things like eggs and oatmeal remain abundantly available.

Organic: Toaster PastriesIs the “Organic” brand really better or is it all just marketing?  In a direct comparison between the “healthy” Organic pastries made by Nature’s Path and evil non-Organic Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts (which everyone knows good “responsible” parents don’t serve to their kids), the pastries were about the same in terms of calories and fat (210 vs. 205 calories and 3.5 grams vs. 4.5 grams of fat) but the Kellogg brand actually had fewer carbohydrates (37.5 grams vs. 40 grams) and less sugar (17.5 grams vs. 19 grams).   In this case, anyway, it appears Dr. Tuteur has a point.

Organic: OreosOrganically Processed

I’ll cut to the chase.  It’s pointless to discuss the fortitude of processed “Organic” foods. Processed foods — ANY processed foods — are nearly always detrimental to your health. Slapping an organic label on them doesn’t change anything but the price.

How much processing goes into gummi bears, lollipops, and macaroni and cheese?

And I’m sorry, but Organic Coke?  Really?  No, wait.  Really?  “Organic” Coca-Cola?  I wonder how much processed “Organic” sugar went into that?

Organic: Coke
Seriously? Organic Coke?

Worshiping the Organic gods

Buying 100% Organic can be pretty expensive.  Clever marketers count on that up-charge to increase their profit margin.

Ever hear someone say, “We only purchase Organic.  We are religious about it!”

One of the three Biblical principles we follow in our diet is, “Avoid food addictions.  Don’t let any food or drink become your god.”  Devoting too much energy or too much of our finances to purchase exclusively this or that kind of food is also a danger, especially if we place more financial importance on that practice than on, for instance, offering a tithe (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Organic: Mac-N-CheeseWhen we sacrifice what is rightfully our Father’s on the alter of our personal desires for our diet, we are making our diet into an idol.

Get Real Organic

Organic: LollipopsLet’s get real. “Organic” farming may be better for the environment (although, of course, “Organic” does not necessarily equate to “sustainable”), but the reality is that pesticide residues in foods like Oreos are a marketing ploy at best, when it comes to assessing whether or not such foods should even be included in your diet. Organic white flour and refined sugar are just as bad for your long term health, and waistline, as the non-Organic variety. It’s still low in fiber and nutrients…it will still elevate your insulin just as effectively. That is the real problem with junk foods like Oreos and, pastries, and cotton candy.

In these cases “organic” is simply a marketing tool – and you’re not doing yourself any favors, whether it’s coming from a Community Wealth Enterprise like “Newman’s Own” or an agribusiness conglomerate like Nabisco.

Is There a Real Difference?

Organic: Batter Blaster in an Aerosol CanIs there any difference?  The short answer is, “Yes” but one has to apply common sense.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) performed more than 43,000 tests for pesticides on various types of produce in thousands of samplings.  Their computer analysis revealed that consumers could reduce their exposure to pesticides by almost 90 percent by avoiding just the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. They came up with a list of the most pesticide-laden produce varieties.

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Lettuce
  • Grapes (imported)
  • Pears
  • Spinach
  • Potatoes

Organic: Gummi BearsI’ll be totally honest.  We buy Organic produce of these varieties as often as possible, or we grow our own.  If the price point is greater than about 10%, though, we forgo organic and carefully wash and prepare our non-organic purchase.  There are other produce types for which it is fairly unnecessary to pay more for organic. These foods regularly test clean of pesticides and either have a hard outer skin or don’t retain pesticides well, if at all.

  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Sweet Corn – frozen
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Sweet Peas – frozen
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi
  • Bananas
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Eggplant

In other words, it may pay in health benefits to buy Organic peaches, but you get almost no benefit from paying extra for Organic bananas.  And, seriously, what kind of “health” benefit are you reaping by eating cotton candy, whether it’s made from Organic processed sugar or non-Organic processed sugar?

We Recommend Organic Because…

In the case of things like Root Beer, Organic choices contain no High Fructose Corn Syrup.  But we are still cognizant of the fact that we are drinking ROOT BEER.  In the case of Newman’s Own Newman O’s — we are cognizant of the fact that these are COOKIES.

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