By Bianca Alexander
There is growing consumer demand for organic food–and for good reason. Due to profit-driven practices in the agriculture and livestock industries, the majority of food we eat contains toxic chemicals that are dangerous for our bodies, and for the planet.
The dangers of conventionally-grown food
Conventionally grown crops are sprayed with tons of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides, and chemical fertilizers that contaminate our water, air and soil. These chemicals are designed to kill other forms of life, but are harmful to human cells and organs, leading to degenerative diseases like cancer, liver failure and obesity. Although washing food helps, many chemicals are deeply absorbed and cannot be rinsed off. Also, many conventional crops like apples, tomatoes and corn are genetically engineered, or GMOs (genetically modified organisms) to yield larger, tastier, more resilient crops. GMOs have been linked to allergies in humans and overgrowth of plant monocultures that wreak havoc on our eco-system.
Traditional livestock is treated inhumanely and fed an unnatural diet of cheap grain (versus grass), which is often filled with cardboard, cement dust and animal carcass to make it cheaper. This results in unhealthy livestock that are routinely fed antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. Animals are also fed synthetic hormones to make them grow faster and larger, which can cause pre-pubesence in young girls.
Lastly, much of our food is treated by radiation, a high-intensity x-ray process designed to kill potential pathogens. Irradiation depletes food of its nutrients and changes the chemical structure of food molecules, transforming them into mutagenic and carcinogenic compounds that can promote cancer in the body.
Buy purchasing USDA certified organic food, you can ensure it was produced without sythentic pesticides, herbicides, irradiation or GMOs. Crops must be grown on soil free of chemical exposure for at least three years. Organic animal products come from animals raised humanely, and not fed any chemicals, antibiotic drugs, or hormones. In addition to being better for your body, animals and the planet, organic food comes from mineral-rich, healthy soil, so can also be higher in nutritional value.
Beware of Natural food labeling
Be skeptical of products labeled as natural–use of the term on food packaging is totally unregulated by the FDA, and serves primarily as a marketing tool for food manufacturers. To ensure you are eating the cleanest food possible, look for brands with the USDA Certified Organic seal, which ensures the product is 95% or more organic. Or, look for brands featuring the made with organic ingredients label, which means 70% or more organic.
Organic on a budget: farmers market fresh
Organic food doesn’t necessarily have to be more expensive than conventional food. Due to rising consumer demand, you can find a wide array of USDA certified organic food at almost any large grocery store and at about the same price. You can find it at Wal-Mart and Target super stores, Jewel-Osco, and my personal favorite, Dominick’s/Safeway. Their O Organics brand has the widest array of great-tasting organic food, including produce, poultry, dairy, cereal, snacks and even baby food! You can also save buy purchasing organic products with thinner skins, like grapes, cherries, strawberries, and peaches, which are more likely to be tainted with chemicals that can’t be peeled off. And don’t forget your local farmers market. There are dozens throughout Chicago, including Daley Plaza, Logan Square, Lincoln Park, and the South Side. But hurry! Most outdoor farmers markets close at the end of October. To find one near you, visit www.ChicagoFarmersMarkets.us.