As a community, we can rise together and unite for our lifeline. Whatever political view we hold, our common bond is food. We all need it to survive. That is possibly one of the few neutralities we all share and understand. As the saying goes—united we stand, divided
Food is available in three categories: conventional, organic and, the least understood, GMO (genetically modified organism). So, which should we choose?
Our choices at the grocery store make a huge statement. How we spend our dollars speaks volumes—sending a message with the power of a lightning rod. The impact of our decisions goes beyond our likes and cravings. For decades, the population has been choosing foods with an endless number of consequences that have been harmful to our bodies and our beloved Earth. The method by which our food crops are grown has an enormous effect
on our health, the climate and our water supply.
Conventional food crops are sprayed with pesticides and grown with synthetic fertilizers. Countless Long Island lawns are treated with these same chemicals. They don’t evaporate—the runoff enters our waterways. Think about the wildlife preserves right here in Great Neck, such as Udall’s Pond.
In the past, we have been provided with choices. Before our right to choose is taken away, we can decide to try organic crops—the original and oldest method of growing our agriculture—and food for a positive change. Or, we can stick with the food that industry has pushed upon us and ignore the food that is grown by means given to us by nature.
The Rising of Organic Food
Statistics show that organic food sales are on the rise in Western Europe and North America. Consumers are starting to show their hand. More of us are reaching for organics over conventional and its even more deadly counterpart—GMOs. Buying organic means we’re breaking down the horrifying trend of destructive industrial agriculture and establishing the foundation for a thriving, less-toxic Western diet. This is done without compromising animal welfare, the well-being of each other or the integrity of our ecosystem.
History shows that what you buy greatly influences the food industry. The question to ask of political pundits and the community as a whole is, “Do we understand the ramifications of forced agriculture or do we sing, ‘The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow?’” If we are still here, will we be brought to rely on the science of the pharmaceutical industry due to our failing health?
What’s in a Label?
What do food labels that state “natural,” “certified organic” and “non-GMO” mean? When you are looking at more than just the price tag, you will want to understand the meaning behind the labels. Labels are filled with confusing terminology, making the process of shopping for food that much more complex. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has strict labeling requirements for all foods sold in the U.S. (regardless of whether they are produced in the country), it does not regulate every statement made by a given label.
Understanding Food Labels
Labels that say “natural” often boil down to dissecting their semantics. The FDA has yet to define the word natural as it relates to food. It does, however, note a working assumption around the term that it proposes to mean “nothing artificial or synthetic.” This includes all color additives, regardless of the source, that would not normally be found in a particular food. In other words, the FDA considers a food natural as long as its flavor and color have not been altered in a way that significantly changes its nature in terms of its biological characteristics. So, despite what you may think are comforting implications regarding natural, in truth, it actually tells you very little about how the food was produced.
The Organic Choice
On grocery shelves, you will find at least two versions of the word “organic.” One is the straightforward organic certification as it is defined and enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program and other organic certifiers. The other version of the word is the idea of organic, represented by words and phrases that make it quite difficult to tell whether the product is authentically organic. In this unregulated space, the idea of organic simply manifests claims of purity and healthfulness, whose only check or balance is whether we as the consumer will buy it. As long as a label follows FDA guidelines, attempts to capitalize on trends are fair game. Caveat Emptor—Buyer Beware.
Manufacturers are well aware that in the hearts and minds of a large segment of the population, organic means something that is not interfered with and possesses the same integrity of the natural process that produces it. Consumers’ shopping impulses respond positively to this.
Only foods that are genuinely organic by organic standards have the right to use organic as a stand-alone word on their products. Such foods may display the USDA organic seal or other organic certifier seals and use the term organic throughout their packaging. By the USDA’s National Organic Program’s definition, certified organic foods must be produced without genetic engineering.
Genetically engineered agricultural seeds are produced in biotech labs. GMO seeds are made by adding DNA to a seed that is outside of the plant’s—fruit, vegetable or grain—own species. This process changes the entire makeup of the plant. It adds various traits and resistance to certain pesticides. Many seeds have pesticides built into them, thereby causing the entire crop to be affected. This method of growing food is not by Mother Nature.
Organic food is grown by practices that foster the cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity without the use of prohibited substances.
When purchasing products bearing an organic certification on the label from groups such as the USDA, Oregon Tilth, CCOF or QAI—with the USDA being the least stringent—buyers are assured of many things.
1. Crops are grown with natural, organic fertilizers and added soil amendments for the health of the soil, such as compost.
2. No sewer sludge or fracking fluid is allowed, even if water was in short supply.
3. No use of harmful herbicides (weed killers), pesticides, insecticides or fungicides were used. This is strictly monitored.
4. No synthetic post-harvest treatments were used prior to planting.
5. Only certified-organic agricultural products were used.
6. No added artificial colors, flavors or preservatives were used.
7. A little-known fact is that the food hasn’t been irradiated.
8. The production did not include anything genetically engineered and genetically modified genes were not be released into the environment.
9. Only organic matter that is in harmony with the environment was used, building the soil to help to mitigate rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
10. The food crops are pollinator friendly to bees, butterflies and wild pollinators.
11. The growing methods protect streams and lakes from toxic runoff that endanger aquatic life and pollute our drinking water.
Buying organic food and beverages is a way of buying trustworthiness. A third-party certifying agency has scrutinized food producers’ records and has visited their farm or facility to make sure they are telling the truth about their food products. That’s why some organic food will cost a little more. From the farmers’ and producers’ point of view, organic certification and the use of an official organic seal on their labels is their way of promising that they are growing the best and safest food possible.
Consumers are beginning to realize that how we shop for food does speak louder than words and demonstrates our society’s mindset. Our actions do not go unnoticed. As Great Neck comes to have a strong running knowledge of this humanitarian crisis, let’s unite to combat the takeover of our food supply.
Let hands rise up for organic, and the voices of our community be raised to say, “No GMOs.” L’Chaim—To Life.
Gary Feldman is a nutrition educator and lecturer, and an instructor in the Port Washington Union Free School District Continuing Education program, was an innovator in the nutritional supplement retail industry and is a health writer in Great Neck. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.