|be a foodie | October/November 2016
Organic food detective
by Stephanie Moum
Organic food has become a big part of the health craze in the past few years. With medical problems related to diet becoming more prevalent, many are eager to make a change and become more aware of what goes into the food they're eating. Organic produce attracts attention because it's free of pesticides, antibiotics and hormones and is not genetically modified.
So how do you tell if food is organic? In most cases, it will have a label on it that reads "USDA certified organic", but it is sometimes more complicated than that. Teresa Vetter, a dietitian at Sanford Health, says that there are different categories of organic food.
"There's '100 percent organic', that means products are completely organic or made of only organic ingredients. Then there's just 'organic' which is around 95 percent. Then there's 'made with organic ingredients' and that's going to have some organic ingredients... At least 70% of the ingredients are certified organic," Vetter said.
While regulations for fresh produce have strict requirements for these labels, convenience items are given more flexibility, said Vetter. This means that they may contain some inorganic ingredients while still qualifying for the organic label.
There are also cases where food may have been grown organically but is not certified. Elizabeth Allmendinger, a Naturopathic Physician and board member for the Bismarck-Mandan Food Co-operative, said that this is the case for some of their suppliers.
"It's hard and expensive to get the organic certification, so a lot of great producers who farm that way just don't have that particular label," Allmendinger said.
Allmendinger said that the only way to know for sure if the produce is organic in these situations is to go to the location where the food is grown. She said that the general manager of the co-op has good relationships with their suppliers and that they try to label where the food is from. 75 percent of the food at the co-op is organic.
The health benefits of organic food are a controversial subject in medical and agricultural industries. Some sources say that organic food is more nutritionally dense while others say that there isn't a significant difference in nutritional value compared to conventional foods. Research on the subject is lacking and inconclusive.
"I do think a lot of people might get it confused that organic means healthy. It doesn't necessarily mean that," Vetter said.
Vetter expressed concerns that many Americans don't meet the daily recommendations for nutrition and said people should prioritize that before organic food. She suggested starting with one item that you eat a lot of and saving the rest of your money for other fruits and vegetables.
But eating organic doesn't seem to be about getting more potassium out of a banana or more B vitamins out of tomatoes. People are more concerned about getting unwanted things in their food that can harm them.
"There's a lot more research showing that different chemicals used on food and different practices are affecting our health. Most of it we still haven't figured out yet, but the research is just becoming more and more apparent," Allmendinger said.
Other reasons for choosing organic food include protecting the environment and supporting ethical business practices. Casey Bettenhausen, produce manager at the Food Co-op, said that they support the local economy as well as fair trade operations.
"Fair trade is a movement where you get third party oversight of how the products are being produced. I specifically think of the bananas in our produce department because typically workers on banana plantations are exposed to some really bad conditions," Bettenhausen said. Workers on organic plantations aren't exposed to the same harsh chemicals used in non-organic operations.
Vetter and Allmendinger both suggested adhering to a list known as the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen. The clean fifteen are produce items with thick outer skins that are resistant to chemical absorption. The dirty dozen have thinner skins that you should look out for.
"Our diet is the foundation of our health. What we put into our body is the fuel for every process that we do. And if you're giving your body low-quality fuel, it's not going to function optimally. So if you want your body to function optimally, you have to give it the best possible fuel," Allmendinger said.
Sweet peas (frozen)
Sweet bell peppers
Stephanie Moum is an aspiring journalist interested in a variety of different subjects. Her hobbies include aquarium keeping, gardening, crafts and a disproportionate amount of media consumption.