Last post we talked about what the iconic Organic label does and doesn’t mean. We learned that it’s not nearly as clear-cut as most of us were led to believe, but that there are sometimes benefits to consuming Organic foods. So today, let’s take a look at a few simple strategies you can use to navigate the sometimes murky waters of shopping Organic.
Strategy 1: Get clear about your priorities.
The idea that buying Organic says something about who you are as a person is a marketing myth. One with lots of money behind it, to be sure – but still a myth. The Organic label is a tool, not a badge of honor. So let go of any guilt or shame you’ve been harboring in the dark corners of your head on that front and take a good, hard look at what you need and want.
Ask yourself what your personal priorities are when it comes to food – no judgments, just objective facts. If you’re on a painfully tight budget, maximum nutrition per dollar might be your goal. Maybe you’re worried about food allergies and intolerances or the total toxic load you’re putting on your body. Maybe it’s diabetes, or IBS, or another medical condition. Whatever it is, get clear on it and don’t apologize for making choices that line up with it. Ever.
Strategy 2: Use the Organic label as a front-line “weeding” tool.
If you’re one of the growing number of Americans who react badly to GMO versions of wheat, corn, or soy, or to the pesticides commonly used on those crops, the Organic label can serve as a front-line screening method for you. It won’t be perfect – you’ll still have to read labels and experiment, but it will save a tremendous amount of time and energy along the way by automatically cutting out all the conventionally produced things you’re guaranteed not to tolerate. (Tip: the Non-GMO certified label can help you here, too!)
Similarly, if you’re looking to minimize toxic load, use the Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists to help you pick the Organic produce that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. If you find that your needs run along different lines – say, keeping your sugar intake low – look for other programs and indicators that better serve your needs.
Strategy 3: Use Organic as a “stackable” credential to help identify foods that meet your standards.
While Organic regrettably can’t be a be-all, end-all search tool for most of us, we can use it in combination with other labels to help us seek out foods aligned with our priorities. For all its gaps, Organic label in combination with “humanely-raised” or “Fair-Trade” or “local” can help tell us a surprising amount about where and how foods were produced and by whom.
Strategy 4: Prioritize Organic produce over processed goods.
The simpler and less processed a food is, the more valuable Organic certification is likely to be. The sad truth is that the more processed a product is, the more steps there are along the way in which ingredients can be corrupted. So when you’re buying processed foods, there are many more factors you need to take into consideration when assessing it’s health and value – some of which will account for much bigger impacts on your health than the difference between Organic and conventional produce.
What does that mean? It means that (aside from avoiding allergens, as discussed above) the easiest way to get the most bang for your buck when buying Organic is to spend your Organic dollars on unprocessed or minimally processed foods, such as fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.
That’s it! While there’s certainly plenty more we could discuss about Organic foods, these are the basics and enough to equip you to ditch the guilt and make informed, empowered shopping decisions. So go forth and shop in peace!