Organic food continues to gain market share, despite troubles in the economy as a whole. This is especially true in Europe and in environmentally conscious enclaves like college towns -- but what is perhaps most exciting to some observers is that organic foods have also penetrated much of mainstream culture, appearing in force at major supermarkets, big box retailers and at fast food joints. Most everyone is at least somewhat familiar with the USDA organic label now, but what's really behind that iconic seal?
Here we take a look at some of the myths and surprising facts about organic foods:
Organic Isn't Always the Smartest Choice
As food writer Mark Bittman recently wrote in the New York Times, to some, organic "seems to have become the magic cure-all, synonymous with eating well, healthfully, sanely, even ethically." However, according to Bittman, "eating organic offers no guarantee of any of that. And the truth is that most Americans eat so badly -- we get 7% of our calories from soft drinks, more than we do from vegetables; the top food group by caloric intake is 'sweets'; and one-third of [the] nation's adults are now obese."
To some observers, the most eco-friendly, and healthy, option is to eat lower on the food chain, since meat has a disproportionate impact on the planet and can contribute to health problems. Simply eating more plants and whole grains can also be a cheaper option than buying organic foods, which, we know, can often be more expensive than conventional alternatives. Eating less processed and prepared foods, and cooking more at home, can provide similar benefits.
It's also true that an organic label provides no information about where an item was produced, leading some critics to complain that it would be greener for them to buy an apple from the orchard up the street than to get an organic one at a grocery that has been flown in from New Zealand. Sometimes eating locally and in season can be the greenest option, although some also warn that the "food miles" debate can be overstated, particularly when it comes to the high production resources needed for meat. (According to research from Cornell University, beef production requires a ratio of energy expended to protein content of 54:1, compared with just 4:1 for chicken.)
For us at The Daily Green, the takeaway message is that we don't have to be organic purists to eat better. We try to eat local, seasonal and organic foods, choosing each product as it makes sense for us and falls within our budget. We relish the fact that more choices are becoming available, and we vote with our food dollars for tastier, greener fare.
Page 2: Learn the secret behind many of your favorite organic brands
Page 3: Learn what some farmers think of organic
Page 4: Discover the surprising ingredients in organic foods
Page 5: Get the truth about organic yields
Page 6: Is organic really healthier?
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.