If your only concern is the direct effect on your health, there is no reason to choose organic over non-organic food. But there are lots of other reasons to support organic farmers, or to be more precise, to withhold support from unethical farm operations. Keep in mind that “organic” doesn’t always mean “ethical” and some companies will use loopholes and bare minimum practices to get the organic label. In many cases, the organic label is just a marketing tool. It is also possible for a food to be non-organic and still ethical. The best practice is to research your food sources before purchasing. That said, if you are looking for ethical foods, an organic sticker is a good place to start researching, as many producers who strive for good ethics do go organic. Here are some foods with production norms to be aware of.
4) Palm oil
Palm oil and palm oil products including palm kernel oil, red palm oil, and palmate all come from the oil palm. This plant is not the same as the trees that coconuts come from. Oil palms are lower, bushy trees that produce oily seeds. Palm oil trees need a tropical climate to grow and to date over 164,000 square kilometres of rainforest have been cleared worldwide to make room for palm plantations, with the majority in southeast Asia. This is bad news for orangutan populations which are rapidly decreasing as their habitat is destroyed. Some farmers actually shoot orangutans that live near their plantations because they see them as pests. As a result, many young orangutans are orphaned which makes them nearly impossible for wildlife officials to rehabilitate and reintroduce into the wild if they are rescued before they die. You can help combat this tragedy by choosing not to purchase foods and soaps that contain palm oil unless they are certified ethical and organic.
3) Canola oil
Canola is a popular cooking oil because of its high smoke point. It’s a popular crop among North American farmers because of its high demand. So it’s too bad that its high profit point all goes into one pocket. Most canola grown is genetically modified. GMO food is not bad in and of itself (in fact, if used correctly it could solve world hunger) but because most canola has been genetically modified and the genetic code has been patented, farmers do not have the legal right to save seeds from one harvest to resow the next year. One major company controls most of the canola grown in North America and small time farmers have little choice but to buy their seed from that supplier. So while the supplier rakes in billions in seed and pesticide sales every year (the seeds are genetically modified to withstand a specific weed killer formula which the seed supplier also sells), small farmers have to spend more money each season. Farmers could choose to grow organic canola from a more ethical supplier, but there is simply no competing with the big, beautiful canola produced by the modified seed. Most farming families have bills to pay like everyone else. With the seed market monopolised, they can’t afford to go organic. Although the seed suppliers are not breaking any laws by holding onto their patent, they are favouring greed over the betterment of society, which is pretty horrific. Choosing organic, non GMO canola oil (if you can find it) will drive down the value of GMO canola, giving small farming families incentive and opportunity to switch over.
2) Locally available foods
“Local” and “organic” are not the same thing, but many smaller food markets focused on supplying local food also focus on organic, especially in colder climates. So eating local and eating organic often go hand in hand. Eating local is good for the environment because it cuts down on the emissions and energy cost associated with shipping fresh food. If you live in California or Mexico, you have local access to almost every kind of fresh produce year round. Lucky you. For the rest of us, buying local takes a little more effort. In more northern climates you just can’t get most fresh produce locally in the winter time, but that doesn’t mean you have to get into the habit of buying non-local all the time. Be aware of what is in season and check your local organic farmers market before heading to the grocery store. You may be surprised at what local vegetables are available in the winter months.
If animal welfare is important to you but not quite important enough to go vegetarian, then organic meat may be for you. Again, “organic” doesn’t always mean “ethical” but it’s a good place to start. There’s a chance that a certified organic chicken may not have been treated well, but if the company you buy it from isn’t even pretending to be organic, you can bet that bird had a sad life. Farmers who treat their livestock with gentleness and dignity tend to fall closer to the organic side of the food marketing spectrum.
“Organic” is just a word, but it’s a decent starting point if you’re looking to inject some ethics into your eats, and ethical eating is good for the planet which we can’t live without. So in an indirect way, eating organic is a healthy choice. Keep these foods in mind when you go on your next organic shopping trip and do your part to keep the world healthy.