Why Buy Organic: And Other Grocery Store Mysteries Solved

Let’s get a few things straight. Cause I am not going to sugar coat this issue for you all (pun intended!). Buying some things Organic is something you SHOULD be doing. Notice, I said some. I know there are a few sensitive peeps out there on this one. You don’t understand why you have to pay more for Organic, go to a different store or a farmers market for it, and you don’t want to feel like you’re better than anyone else (I promise you, no one cares). This topic, for me, is a 100% process and taste issue.

Other chefs and experts have a bunch more to say about this, (see some of my expert and chef friends below) but these are really two important ones we all agree on! I am going to break this down because I know it is confusing. When I started NibMor, there were two big issues: Organic and Non-GMO. Then, it became organic vs non-gmo. And then everyone was totally and completely confused! So, let’s start there.

What the heck is the difference between Organic and Non-GMO? The most basic way to remember/think about this is in the following way:

 -If a food is USDA certified Organic (or any product for that matter- beauty, household,
etc.) it is Non-GMO.
-However, if a food is Non-GMO verified, that DOES NOT mean it is Organic. It can be,
but it might not.  

How can that be, you ask? To keep it simple, the USDA has very strict guidelines when it comes to Organic production and farming methods. No genetically modified organisms can enter the mix. A company or product CAN NOT be USDA certified Organic if a GMO has participated in the making of that product in ANY way (am I overusing my caps?!). 

What is a GMO then?

The Non GMO Project defines a GMO (genetically modified organism) as: a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using recombinant DNA methods (also called gene splicing), gene modification or transgenic technology. This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.

In laymen terms: a GMO is created when you take two different species, species that would never swap DNA in nature. Then choose attributes you want to take from one and put it in the other and cross them.  As my pal, and fellow GMO warrior, Jennifer Fugo of the Gluten Free School and I are fond of saying, it’s like if a fish and a tomato literally had a baby. It would never actually be possible in nature, but science can make it so. Got it? Approved GMO crops in the United States include: alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beets, yellow summer squash and zucchini. If you are purchasing any of these products in their single ingredient form, buy Organic or Non-GMO verified versions.

A side note: Animal products are considered high risk when they are not labeled Organic or Non-GMO because the amount of animal feed containing GMOs is so unregulated. 

Hidden GMOs, meaning ingredients you would never know are GM (genetically modified) include: 

Amino acids, alcohol, aspartame, ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, citric acid, sodium citrate, ethanol, flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), high-fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lactic acid, maltodextrins, molasses, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sucrose, textured vegetable protein (TVP), xanthan gum*, vitamins, vinegar and yeast products. (*important for my gluten free friends to know!)

I don’t like the idea of two completely unrelated species being forced together to create food. For me, it crosses a line where I feel like, as humans, we are tempting fate. Period. I don’t care about the argument that we could ‘feed the world with GMO’s’, that has been debunked anyway. Ok, back to Organic.

Why not just settle for conventional? And maybe not purchase anything that is genetically modified. Here are not all, but a few reasons:

Organic Farming:

  • Committed to sustainable practices that promote biodiversity and continued fertile soil.
  • Minimizes the use of chemicals. Organic farming is not the elimination of chemicals, but rather that they are not genetically modified and heavily regulated (they’ve got to be to maintain the reputation of Organics!).

 Conventional Farming:

  • Uses chemicals, synthetics and other materials to manage weeds and pests- most of these are genetically modified.
  • Many of the pesticides used in conventional farming are considered to have ‘acceptable’ levels of toxicity. But how is this regulated? (One hint: Lobbyists in Washington have a lot of say in this) Many of these chemicals have been linked to cancers and other diseases.
  • This type of farming does not promote a long lasting environment to farm in.

Let’s talk about taste for a moment. I, and many other chefs agree, that Organic just tastes better. I challenge you to purchase an Organic and a conventional strawberry (or anything for that matter) and taste them side by side. My friend, fellow chef and collaborator Gabi Ruiz Burke, founder of The Gourmet Cocina, says she buys and serves Organic because it tastes better, avoids potentially harmful chemicals and is better for the environment. Well said!

For me food is more than satisfying hunger. When we pick up anything at a grocery store, we are sending a message. Fans used to ask me (and still do) why NibMor Chocolate had a hand on the package. That hand represented that choice and message for me. When you pick something up at a grocery store, place it in your cart and pay for it, you send a message to companies that what they have out there is acceptable. You are telling them, I accept this food for myself and my family- so continue to make it. When consumers make more Organic and Non-GMO purchases we are sending a BIG message to both large and small companies about that acceptance, but, mainly the large ones. Have you noticed how many Organic and Non-GMO verified companies are being bought by the big corporations? That’s a story for another day but you catch my drift.