Sunday, 22 July 2012



Organic sounds good, doesn’t it?  ‘Google’ organic and you get lots of anecdotal evidence for the health benefits, the taste, the reduction in toxins that you eat, the benefits for the environment ... the list goes on. But is it all real?

What is organic?
Organic produce is fruit, grains, pulses and vegetable crops grown without synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizers, irradiation (a form of radiation used to kill bacteria), or biotechnology.
Animals on organic farms have to eat organically grown feed, aren't confined 100 percent of the time, and are not given antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones. 

Is organic better for me?
It is generally believed that organic produce is better for you.  However, research in this area is contradictory.  All fresh fruit and vegetables have health benefits.  Organic foods may (or may not) have higher nutritional value because fewer pesticides and fertilizers force plants to boost their production of the phytochemicals (vitamins and antioxidants) that strengthen their resistance to bugs and weeds; but...
I love the statement I read from one blogger ’ it would be better for you to eat two farmed apples, that you can afford, rather than one organic apple and blow your budget’

The Redbook website states that scientists are  “concerned about the antibiotics being given to most farm animals: Many are the same antibiotics humans rely on, and overuse of these drugs has already enabled bacteria to develop resistance to them, rendering them less effective in fighting infection”. The Truth About Organic Foods - Pros and Cons of Organic Food - Redbook 
Redbook have also posted a "dirty dozen": foods that need lots of pesticides to be grown; see their list at the end of this post.
James Duigan – author of the  ’Elle Macpherson’ clean and lean diet/lifestyle of eating; advocates eating organic, because toxins affect the way your body looks and holds onto fat.  I am not sure of the science involved with his claims, or whether eating more fruit and veg and fewer cream buns leads to a better looking body. 
Duigan has an attractive argument though; you can look like Elle by eating organic (and also by eating amazing amounts of smoked salmon; not your ‘budget’ diet by any means).  (If I were Duigan I would also add a hefty paragraph on how to choose the best smoked salmon to eat; avoid any brands that contains nitrates or nitrites and choose wild caught over farm caught.) 

Is organic better for the environment?
Redbook points out: “Organic farming reduces pollutants in groundwater and creates richer soil that aids plant growth while reducing erosion. It also decreases pesticides that can end up in your drinking water and uses 50 percent less energy than conventional farming methods.
What about food transport?  If your organic food comes from overseas, or even a bit closer say, in my case,  Queensland (a mere 2000 odd kilometres away), you are talking about a serious lot  of  ‘food miles’ per item.  Lots of fuel has to be used to get that organic strawberry to you, especially when strawberries are out of season where you live. 
In that sense, organic may not be much better for the environment than local food that's conventionally grown

Does it taste better?
The Herald Sun in May 2010 printed the following “New South Wales farmer John Reynolds, whose Nashdale Fruit Co sells naturally grown potatoes through farmers’ markets around Sydney, says he stopped producing commercial potatoes after tiring of being encouraged to grow oversized, flavourless crops.

“The supermarket type of spud is generally grown in a grey soil that’s very sandy,” he says. “They do that because they can feed them up with fertiliser, which makes them grow very fast and very big. And that’s why supermarkets charge $1.50 to $2 a kilo for them. They’re force-fed.””

I went to a farmers market the other week.  I purchased 12 organic apples, two each of six different varieties.  They were heritage apples, of types that are not commercially available because they either don’t crop in profitable numbers, or are fussy growers etc.  I have to admit, they looked pretty awful; misshapen, some with bore holes and flaws on the skin.  But, they were the most amazingly tasty apples I have ever eaten, the variety of flavours, all sweet, fragrant and delicious. 
I have eaten my sister’s home grown peaches (which can’t be transported at all, and have to be eaten straight off the tree).  Warm, ripe and juicy, their flavour just divine.  Also, my sister’s eggs from her free range chooks have bright orange yolks and are very, very tasty, just like eggs should be. 
The company I work for has a property near Nyngan in NSW. There is an orange tree growing there that produces the most magnificent oranges I have ever eaten.  It is an added bonus to visit there in winter, pick these ripe treats, and eat masses of them straight off the tree. Nothing is done to them, they just grow.  The locals also pick and eat them.
It may not be the organic technique, but that these potatoes, apples, peaches, eggs and oranges are grown the way nature intended, slowly, with all the flavour and goodness allowed to develop.   I grow my own herbs for cooking and the flavour of the fresh herbs in the cooking, with only compost to feed them, beats any supermarket bought herbs.
I make my own bread when I can, using a bread maker.  Yes, it takes three hours, but I know what goes into it, and it is mmmmm. I make my own yoghurt too, when I can, fresh, fresh, fresh!

So, my philosophy: what I buy/eat.
Organic is more expensive. However, I want to reduce the chemicals used in the production of food; not only for myself but also to benefit the environment.
  • ©       We eat very little meat in my house, so I buy perhaps a few organic chicken breasts or organic mince every few weeks and freeze most of it in meal size serves until I need it.
  • ©       I always buy free range eggs (for a number of ethical reasons as well as health benefits) and try to buy organic free range.
  • ©       I always buy organic milk – permeate free and unhomogenised.  Parmalat is a good Aussie brand.  This way I can make yoghurt and cream cheese with it too (and I am going to try and make labna next!).  
  • ©       I buy lots of fruit and veges and wash everything well before eating. If I can, I will buy organic, but I hate buying supermarket organic because it is all wrapped in plastic.  Farmers market organic, where you take your own bags, is better. So I try to mix it up, and mainly try to buy organic for the  ‘dirty dozen’ and supermarket stuff for everything else.
  • ©       I will always try and buy local first (Safeway have signs that tell you if the produce is local, national or from overseas) and from small companies rather than big multi nationals.  This reduces food miles and, supports the smaller companies and helps preserve rural and ethical employment. (Although not local; Safcol (the tuna people) who’s fish are ethically line and pole caught, are not favourites of supermarkets... so buy them more and support their products.  P.S. their olive oil tuna is much nicer than the Sirena brand, and all olive oil, not a mix of oils.)
  • ©       I look at the packaging.  Can I recycle the packaging?  Can I reuse the packaging? How much packaging is there? (mini bags inside bigger bags etc).
  • ©       I grow stuff in my small shady urban courtyard.  Tomatoes are easy, so are herbs and baby spinach and rocket. The lemon tree doesn’t take much space and takes care of itself.  I am slowly de-weeding the ‘sea change’ and will put in lots of fruit trees and raised garden beds for veges and berry canes (dream, dream). Chooks will have to wait.
  • ©       If a neighbour/relative etc offers you stuff they have grown or raised themselves, take it! With thanks. And enjoy it. 

I know it’s not perfect, but every time I consciously think about what I am buying and eating, a small difference is made.  Imagine if, every day, we all did one small conscious action about what we consume, cumulatively it would be very, very effective.

The ‘Dirty Dozen’

Sweet bell peppers
Green beans
+ May contain pesticide residues of special concern
Clean 15
Lowest in Pesticide
Sweet Corn
Sweet peas
Sweet potatoes

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