The grocery run. An errand as old as, well, food.
But most would agree that it’s not what it used to be.
What was once a simple matter of crossing items off a hurriedly jotted list has become real brain work.
Walking into a grocery store, our eyeballs are blitzed with options, buzzwords, and labels distinguishing the guiltless from the garbage.
Frankly, it can be a little overwhelming.
Let’s consider two of the most common terms we see on the shelves: “natural” and “organic.”
Both words appear to be loaded with wholesome goodness, but when it comes to our food and other products, they couldn’t be more different.
You’ve probably bought food marked “natural” thinking you were making a healthy choice.
According to The Washington Post, “natural” is the second most money-making label on the market, helping sell over $40 billion of food annually in the U.S.
But here’s the thing: the Food and Drug Administration has no clear definition for the word “natural” on food labeling. And contrary to popular belief, food companies aren’t held to any verifiable standards before printing it on their packaging.
(It’s possible this could change, though the FDA is currently calling for public comments on the use of the term in food labeling.)
that these foods are often produced with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and artificial chemicals and grown with toxic pesticides.
While “natural” cleaning products may have their upsides “natural” and “nontoxic” labels are often as informative as they get because cleaning products can’t be certified organic and they don’t have to list ingredients when it comes to food, don’t count on the label leading you to reliably better health- and eco-conscious choices because it’s not much more than a marketing ploy.
According to the California Certified Organic Farmers, “the use of sewage sludge, bioengineering (GMOs), ionizing radiation, and most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers is prohibited from organic production.”
And for animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy to be labeled organic, they have to be sourced from non-cloned animals that are not treated with antibiotics or growth hormones.
: They’re generally considered better for the environment, animal welfare, and for reducing human intake of pesticide residues and additives.
, with “100% organic” being the pinnacle of food purity and various partially-organic categories “organic,” “made with organic ingredients,” and “less than 70% organic ingredients” falling beneath it.
But it’s not a perfect system.
Just because something is organic doesn’t mean it hasn’t been exposed to any pesticides farmers are able to use some approved synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. And organic does not mean local. Produce and products may be shipped across the country, meaning they could still have a high carbon footprint.
But the more curious and discerning we become, the more likely we’ll be to steer our carts toward products worthy of our trust.