Eating Clean

Not all “organic” is equal

By Candice G. Ball

Organic foods have gone mainstream. Ten years ago, you would have to go to a specialty health food store to buy organic, but now you can find it at most major grocery stores and even big-box stores like Walmart. There is a widespread acceptance that organic is a healthier, more ethical way to eat.

But not all “organic” foods are equal. In Canada, only products with organic content greater than or equal to 95 per cent may be labelled as “organic” or bear the Canada Organic logo. When you see that logo, you know the producer has gone though a rigorous process to earn certification.

A hotly debated issue is whether organic foods are more nutritious. Some studies have concluded they are not, but there’s no question that, if given the choice, most people would choose to eat fruits and vegetables that aren’t sprayed with pesticides. After all, pesticides are toxins.
“Reducing the amount of chemicals you consume is one of the benefits of eating organic,” says Marnie Feeleus, the president of Fresh Option Organic Delivery. She adds that the pesticides are even harder on growing children’s bodies.

The other major benefit is environmental. “It’s a way of sustainable agriculture that helps build soil and reduce the amount of chemicals that go into the soil and water,” she says.

But if the organic produce travels for thousands of kilometres, that is detrimental for the environment. That’s one of the reasons Feeleus strives to buy certified organic and local.

Sylvie Matthews, spokesperson for Vita Health Fresh Market, also advocates local and organic. She is of the view that when you buy local and organic, you’re getting more nutritionally dense foods. As soon as produce is picked, it starts to lose nutrients, so the faster it goes from farm to plate, the better.

Both Fresh Option Organic Delivery and Vita Health Fresh Market strive to purchase local, organic produce and buy from local producers and agri-businesses whenever possible.

Fresh Option Organic Delivery does not have a storefront. They take orders and deliver groceries right to your door once a week. Most people want bananas, leafy greens, and tomatoes included in their “fresh box,” but the orders can be customized. Local organic milk and eggs are common standing “add-ons.” The fresh boxes range in price from $35 for one to two people to $65 for a family.

“A lot of people have concerns about whether their food is organic, local or fair trade. They appreciate the fact that we do the research for them,” says Feeleus.

Although Vita Health Fresh Market does offer online shopping with pick-up at the Westwood location, there are six other locations throughout Winnipeg. Fresh Carrot (formerly Organza Market) and the Organic Planet Worker Co-Op are just a few of the other organic-shopping options in Winnipeg.

Not everyone can afford to buy organic all of the time. Registered holistic nutritionist Anna Lazowski makes sure that her clients don’t get the impression that if they can’t buy organic fruits or vegetables, they shouldn’t buy them at all. “You want people to be aware of the information about what’s on and in our food, but don’t want them to stop buying vegetables because they don’t know what to buy.”
Lazowski encourages her clients to become familiar with the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen.” A good resource is the EWG’s 2015 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. The Environmental Working Group is a U.S.-based environmental organization that tests pesticide loads in produce every year.

This year the “Dirty Dozen” includes apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes.

EWG’s 2015 “Clean Fifteen” includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.

Tuck that list into your wallet and that should help to alleviate some stress in the produce department. You don’t have to buy organic all the time, just make
educated decisions.