Many people find themselves in a dilemma as to whether to choose organic produce. They may wonder whether its ethical standards, taste, and health benefits differ enough to be worth what can often be a higher price. Knowing the facts can help in the decision-making.
Only you can decide whether buying organic produce is the right choice for you. Organic farmers are passionate that it is the best way to farm, even though it is difficult. They have to adhere to strict regulations over the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and so on, relying on other plants and wildlife to manage disease and pest infestation instead of using artificial non-organic chemical substances. In the UK, organic regulation is very tight, particularly when it comes to livestock. Animals have to be given organic feed and specific amounts of suitable outdoor space to roam in, and be looked after to defined standards. Because they suffer from fewer diseases than intensively farmed animals housed close together in large numbers, there is less need for drugs, which are only allowed in emergency situations. The aim of this way of farming is to produce healthy animals that have a good quality of life and also to protect the consumer from pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and growth hormones.
It is a costly business, but if you believe in the ethos, you will be prepared to pay that bit extra. One way to balance the books is to buy organic meat or poultry and mix it with cheaper vegetable protein, such as pulses, to make the meal go further. For instance, if you buy organic sausages, cut them up and make them into a casserole with chickpeas, peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables. That will make the sausages go a lot further than serving them just grilled with mash and some vegetables.
At present, the UK Department of Health says there is no concrete evidence that organic produce contains more nutrients than non-organic produce, but it continues to review research on the subject. However, organic food is likely to contain no residual pesticides, and organic meat and poultry will not come from animals that have been given growth hormones, or with antibiotics shortly before slaughter. But in deciding whether organic is the right thing for you, don’t be swayed into thinking that just because it is organic it must be good for you – an organic packet of sweets can easily contain just as much refined sugar as a nonorganic packet, so check the label.
There is debate about whether organic produce tastes better, but what tastes good to one person won’t necessarily to someone else. It’s a matter of personal choice. Some people are happy just to buy free-range eggs and meat and don’t mind that they aren’t organic as long as the animals have had a good quality of life. Others choose to buy organic fruit and vegetables in order to avoid fertilizer and pesticide residues.
Organic fish is a quandary for some, as only farmed fish can be certified organic, and many people object to fish farming. You may prefer to buy sustainably sourced, line-caught (rather than dredged) fish from well-managed wild stocks, properly fished to lessen the impact on the environment and avoid over-depletion of the stocks.
Sustainable fish will be clearly marked at the fish counter. Try to buy local produce as much as you can, too, in supermarkets and farmers’ markets. This helps to reduce the environmental costs of transporting produce (food miles) and you get food at its freshest. Try also to support local shopkeepers, as they can often be a great source of advice on cuts of meat, types of fish, or the best seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growing your own vegetables brings the pleasure of nurturing plants that provide you with delicious food, and you can do it organically. If you don’t have time or space for a garden, try growing herbs, salad leaves, or tomatoes in a window box, or in pots on a balcony.
Children love growing plants, particularly if it’s a quick process. Try sprouting some mung beans, for example. Put a handful of dried mung beans in a jam jar, fill it with cold water, place a piece of muslin over the top, and secure with an elastic band. Leave overnight, then drain off the water through the muslin lid. Rinse the beans with fresh water, then drain again. Repeat every 24 hours for a few days and see them shoot. They’re delicious in salads or stirfries, or as a nibble with other raw vegetables.
Complete Family Nutrition, by Jane Clarke, published by DK, £16.99, dk.com