Buying and eating organic: how to get started

How can you ensure that the foods you buy are the purest available, free of chemicals, drugs or genetically modified substances? It's simple: choose certified organic produce.

Eaten fresh, organic food is as nature intended – flavourful, packed with nutrients and produced in harmony with the environment.

Buying and eating organic: how to get started

Why buy organic?

You may have noticed an increase in the number of organic products in your grocery store in recent years, but what are the reasons for choosing them over the non-organic alternatives?

  • Organic standards prohibit the use of the synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that are widely used in conventional farming. They also forbid genetic modification and the routine dosing of animals with antibiotics and growth hormones.
  • Organic agriculture allows fewer dangerous wastes into the environment than conventional farming. Run-off from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers can contaminate waterways and pollute drinking water. Many birds, animals and insects die because they have eaten plants that have been sprayed with chemicals or because they have consumed chemicals directly.
  • Conventional farming uses more petroleum than any other industry, primarily through the production of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Organic guidelines ensure a more humane treatment of animals than conventional farming. For example, organic farmers don't use artificial lighting to increase productivity.
  • Organic farmers regard soil as the foundation of the food chain and constantly work to improve its structure. Thus, they reduce the risk of topsoil being washed or blown away, in turn reducing erosion.
  • Organic practices encourage biodiversity, while conventional farming often focuses on monoculture, which increases the susceptibility of crops to disease and pest infestations.
  • Organic food tastes better! Just ask anyone who grows their own.

Tips for going organic

If you don't want to go 100 percent organic, you can still minimize your exposure to agricultural chemicals by buying organic versions of the produce you use most.

  • Look for a label displaying the name and logo of an accredited organization certifying that the product is organic or biodynamic.
  • The organic fruit and vegetables you buy may not be uniform in size and shape, but this is no reason for concern. They're grown for their nutritional content and taste, not their looks.
  • Don't be put off by the different colour of some organic dried fruit. For example, organic apricots are darker in colour and more flavourful because they don't contain the preservative sulphur dioxide.
  • Some organic foods have a shorter shelf life than conventionally grown produce because they don't contain preservatives. Don't store them for too long before eating.
  • To save on packaging, buy organic grains, cereals and pulses (such as beans, lentils and chickpeas) loose. Select a natural foods store with a high turnover.
  • Check produce carefully before buying. An organic label doesn't mean it's always as fresh or nutritious as it should be.
  • Don't be put off if your organic fruit or vegetables come with the odd insect. It is simply a sign that what you're buying hasn't been treated with chemicals.

Costs and benefits of organic food

Most organic food costs more than conventionally farmed food for two reasons:

  • Organic farms tend to be smaller than conventional farms.
  • Organic farming is much more labour- and management-intensive.

However, by buying food that is certified organic, you can be sure that the farmer hasn't used any methods or chemicals that could ultimately harm you or the environment. In this way, you might regard the cost as a worthwhile investment in both your health and the health of the environment, which benefits everybody.

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