It’s a word appearing with growing frequency on menus from upscale restaurants to quaint neighborhood bistros. The proud title fills banners above designated produce areas. Labels boasting their organic claim are stuck on every imaginable packaged item from herbs and spices to jams and canned goods, from baking flours and coffee beans to meats and cheeses and eggs.
Organic, in our context, means a product grown or created without the use of chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, or growth stimulants.
Food should nourish our body, therefore good quality food is essential for our health.
But how important is organic? And what about labels that use the words like natural, free-range, and non-GMO?
Our personal frightening introduction to the importance of organic came two decades ago.
During our first real health kick, we bought a juice extractor. Away we went, buying up serious stock in the fresh vegetable and fruit aisles, filling both kitchen sinks to the brim to wash the colorful produce, then juicing with abandon two and three times a day.
About a month later, the health scare happened: Stone ended up at the doctor’s office. The prognosis at age thirty-two? An enlarged prostate.
“Have you changed anything in your diet in the last few months?” the doctor asked.
“Just…started juicing,” Stone replied to her.
“How often do you juice?” she continued.
He shrugged. “I’m trying to do at least thirty-two ounces a day.”
“Are you juicing organic items?”
“No.” Organic in our local grocery store had been new, expensive, and in limited supply.
“There’s our culprit,” the doctor said with certainty. “Your prostate is most likely reacting to all the chemicals in the conventional produce you’re juicing. Keep up the same amount of juicing, but switch everything to organic and let’s see what happens.”
Done. With relief that there might be a quick and easy fix.
Three weeks later on a follow-up visit? No symptoms: The enlarged prostate had returned to normal. But our habits were forever changed. Talk about a health wake-up call.
Since that time, everything that’s available as organic, we buy organic. And our altered food selections were only the beginning. With ever-increasing options in product categories from clothing to health care products to household cleaners, we continue to do the best we can to remove chemicals and pesticides from our life.
But back to food and product labels…
We’ve established the definition for organic and shared our own personal health-scare experience, which taught us the importance of eliminating toxins from our foods. But how can we be sure the food we buy is free from chemicals, pesticides, and other yucky body-damaging stuff?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has strict requirements for a product to be labeled as organic, found here: USDA Organic Labeling. But buyer beware; even though regulatory agencies have rules, unfortunately, not every dollar-oriented company (big or small) follows them. Whether at your retail grocer, your health food store, or a local farmer’s market, always read the ingredients list on the back label or ask detailed questions of your food suppliers. If we don’t see a detailed ingredients list or feel 100% comfortable with our suppliers explanations about their growing process, we don’t trust the product.
Stone: It’s like the ultimate trojan horse. What you eat or drink…
Kat: …will kill you or save you.
And as we personally learned, it’s never too late to save ourselves. The more harmful the toxin, the faster our bodies recover when we eliminate our exposure to it.
A wise advisor once told us: We are the ones who introduce stress into our lives and we are the only ones who can remove it. That applies to the body, mind, and spirit.
Stone: Arsenic is natural.
Kat: So is ricin.
Enough said. Natural could mean anything, good or bad. We need to always do our homework.
That responsibility includes understanding the explanations from farmers at markets. When we asked a local farmer if their gorgeous bright-red strawberries were organic, they responded, “Well, we do use pesticides, but they’re pretty much organic pesticides.” Translation: Those strawberries were a chemically-enhanced gorgeous.
GMO stands for genetically modified organism. In other words, the organism’s DNA has been intentionally altered by man for a specific purpose. In the context of our food, generally speaking, GMO food has been supposedly altered to make a “better” food.
But better for whom? Depends on your perspective.
If you want bigger, juicier, seedless, in any season, able to withstand global shipping, etc? If you’re a business that doesn’t want their bottom line affected by pests and disease? Then GMO produces “better” products.
But more pest resistant can also mean more human resistant. Increasing a plant’s lectins (the naturally occurring toxin that hurts or kills the plant’s pests), exposes us to those same toxic lectins, causing us flatulence, digestive upset, and over time, possibly lead to gastrointestinal disease in those susceptible to the effects of lectins.
And on the history-of-food timeline, GMO has been around for the blink of an eye, with the first animal and plant genetic modifications happening in the mid-1970’s and early-1980’s, respectively: Genetically modified organism.
For us? We prefer naturally resilient food, the way it was created: pure and wholesome. Non-GMO is the way to go.
Free-range, Grass-fed, Cage-free:
This one’s kind of tricky. With regard to animals and their food products that we purchase, healthier options have labels like free-range, grass-fed, grass-raised, cage-free and probably many more descriptions.
But the truth is in the fine print of what each really means.
With regard to chickens and their eggs, free-range and cage-free have to do with the chicken’s ability to get up and move around. Read a Q&A of the USDA Shell Egg Grading Service.
But the free-range versus cage-free distinction does not indicate what our egg-layers eat. Even if chickens are labeled free-range, and their “range” includes not only protein-dense bugs but also nutritious grasses and beneficial herbs (which may not be the case), they could still have supplemental GMO corn and soy and antibiotics in their diet.
And the same goes for those grass-fed or grass-raised cows and other ruminant livestock.
Or does it?
With regard to animal meat we consume, is anyone paying attention for the consumer?
When we searched “grass-fed” on the USDA website, we found an interesting notation, “On January 12, 2016, the Agricultural Marketing Service withdrew the Grass (Forage) Fed Claim for Ruminant Livestock and the Meat Products Derived from Such Livestock (Grass (Forage) Fed Marketing Claim Standard)”. A link to the statement and the withdrawn standard can be found here: Grass Fed Marketing Claim Standard.
It appears, there is no USDA regulation for the marketing claim of “grass-fed” or “grass-raised” animal meat at this time. And our internet searching yielded no results.
Kat: Organic veganism, anyone? *grumbles* says the lifelong carnivore.
Caveat emptor…buyer beware.
And so we’ve come full circle. Organic. Bona fide, certified organic seems to be king.
How Do We Eat From Here?
A new powerful tool that can help us understand all of the above and so much more about eating to become our best self is a phenomenal book published in April of 2017, The Plant Paradox by Dr. Steven Gundry.
Remember, from grade school, the old adage “You are what you eat”?
Dr. Gundry goes further and says, “You are also what the thing you ate, ate.”
That applies not only to what chemicals and hormones the cow, the chicken, the pig, and the fish have eaten, but also to what’s been sprayed, fertilized, and absorbed by plants.
So every time we make a decision to put something in our mouths, on our skin, in the air we breathe, affects our health incrementally. Every little thing helps…or hurts. Every choice made steers us toward a direction of lifelong health, or not.
We hope it won’t take another health scare to make the best decisions about our food.
Our personal future health story is up to us in the present.
If we eat correct now, we experience better health immediately. But we’ll also reap the rewards of our wise food choices later in life.
Fast food = faster death
Real food = real life
Kat: Love it.
Stone: I was almost going to say, “Organic food = orgasmic life”
Kat: *laughs* Ooo, I like that.
Stone: *shrugs* Whatever’s easy for people to remember.
Bottom line? We are our best advocates. And education makes us powerful purchasers. Our personal story is just a small glimpse of information. Let’s all continue to empower ourselves with research and knowledge.
In future posts, we’ll share more details of discoveries we’ve made about food, including delicious recipes we’ve adopted to incorporate healing ingredients into our Zenful Life.
Do you have any interesting food stories to share with us?
Anything to add or share about organic foods or food labeling?
Let’s spark a conversation as we search together for balance in life with healthier foods.
Just a couple of Zenful Lifers,
~ Kat & Stone
© 2017 by Kat Bastion and Stone Bastion