The difference between natural and organic food,
It often comes down to your best judgment.
Eating local matters because it can substantially reduce your carbon footprint, it also encourages healthier, cruelty free, and non toxic foods. But how can you be sure something labeled “all natural or organically grown” is organic or natural? It really depends upon the source of the marketing, and whether it has been passed according to the guidelines set out by the USDA. The USDA seal signifies that “organic” food is at least 95% organically produced ingredients. The label “natural” does not require this. You can learn more at the National Organic Program, (NOP) website at www.ams.usda.gov/dop
In local markets, especially in places like the farmer’s markets here in Hawaii, you will find organically grown produce is advertised as such with just a hand written sign.
This does not mean the food is unhealthy. In fact, because our farms are so small and local, the food may not be processed or labeled by USDA standards. Nevertheless, an element of trust arises between the farmer and repeat customers when products are fresh and of high quality.
Your local community may be much the same. It is a different story for those foods that are processed, and heavily marketed through major super market chains. Again, the labels may or may not be accurate. The best policy is to try foods and if you become a loyal customer you will soon find which labels you trust and which you decide are just hype. With processed foods it is important to read the labels, even the very small print, because that is where most of the true story of that food’s contents will be. Juice products, for example may be labeled natural, but be only 10% juice, that’s a lot to pay for water and its cost increasing transport.
All natural, or natural flavor, may not mean the same thing at all. Organic, or organically grown or free range, does not necessarily indicate the bucolic farm scenes you may be imagining, as farming, even on a small scale, is still a for profit industry. If you see television commercials telling you that happy cows live in California, you should not delude yourself into thinking that all cows are living in lush,green meadows, since much of California is dry, and affected by water scarcity. Cows necessarily live on large dusty feedlots, and the run off water may or may not be heavily polluted with manure and waste products. This is a situation where you may have to learn to handle the unpleasant truth, and accept it, when buying dairy products or meat. Do your homework by researching online.
Organic is good, and natural is good, so naturally advertisers are going to use these phrases and their associations to steer you toward choosing their products. Farmers and handlers can seek an ACA, accredited certifying agent designation, or an organic accredited certification. The packaging will display this, or the vendor can tell you.
To summarize, probably the smartest way to eat healthy, natural, and or organic foods is to establish a relationship with the vendor or farmer at your local outdoor market. Most farmers are very happy to talk about their methods, practices, and improvements and their continuing buyers will be their best advertisement. It is also worth having a personal relationship because what we connect to upon a personal level is always more gratifying for your health, your community, and your social interactions. If you are buying local, you are reducing carbon emissions and processing energy waste, transport costs, insecticide and herbicide use, and maybe even making some friends. That is better for your body, your community, and living things on your planet.