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How to Shop Smarter and Eat Healthier
by Steve Meyerowitz.

Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture put into place the long-awaited National Organic Program, American consumers have finally had a set of nationwide standards for organic foods. But new standards raise new questions. What is organic food? What's the relationship between organic food and food labeled with terms like all-natural, free-range, hormone-free, and locally grown? Are organic, made with organic, and 100% organic foods different? And most importantly, is organic food better for me and my family? This handy guide provides a thorough but non-technical introduction to organic food. Some topics of special interest include product labeling, health and nutrition, environmental quality, and pricing.

ISBN 0-7627-3069-2. 96 pp. ppbk. 6" wide x 9" high. July 2004.

The Organic Food Guide

  • Introduction
  • What is Organic?
  • What are some of the other Natural Alternatives?
  • Reading the Labels.
  • Organic and Other Labels.
  • What Do They Mean?
  • Beginnings of Modern Conventional Agriculture.
  • Origins of Organic Movement.
  • The Health Issues Surrounding Organic and Conventional Foods
  • Nutrition: Organic vs. Conventional Foods
  • Taste. Does it taste better? Prove it!
  • Price. How to save money and buy organic.
  • Easy ways to Get Started
  • Resources: Where to Get More Information
  • Index
  • Author Bio/Booklist


Organic: Is it Worth It?

Pricing, Real Costs, & Value

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” —Oscar Wilde, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’

Real Costs of Conventional Agriculture

Pesticides have indeed fulfilled their mandate. They have helped produce more food at lower prices. In 1956, Americans spent about 18.6 percent of their income on food, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS). They spend about 9 percent today. But the sticker price on that apple does not represent all the costs involved in its production. The ERS says “The farmer’s share of each food dollar has dropped steadily, from 41 cents in 1950 to only 20 cents in 1998.” Consumers are paying less, but farmers are also getting less. When you consider inflation, farmers are earning much less. The U.S. government makes up the difference to selected farmers in the form of tax abatements and government subsidies. Where does that money come from? Your taxes! Although it appears that the conventional lettuce is fifty cents less, it is an economic illusion. You’ve already paid the difference in taxes. Worse still, only the big farmers are getting these subsidies. In 1997, the USDA reported that half of the U.S. farm production came from only 2% of its farms. Small farmers are losing jobs and this is not good for local economies.

But what if you were to factor in all the other costs of conventional, chemical-based agriculture? What is the cost of pesticide pollution both to soil and water; the health care expenses related to releasing carcinogenic chemicals into the environment; the medical bills of farm workers and children; the erosion of the soil? America produces the cheapest food in the world. But is the demand for cheap food producing too many long term problems of suffering, sacrifice, and damage to the public health and environment?

“...Any economic system must be judged above all else upon how it produces and uses its food resources.” —Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for A Small Planet

Price vs. Value

What value do we get from organic farming besides good food? Arguably, it is a sustainable future and a healthier ecosystem. Organic farmers work in harmony with nature. Every action they take protects the purity of our soil, water, and air for future generations. The soil is the foundation of the food chain. Organic farmers build the soil and protect it from erosion. They preserve seeds of special varieties; they protect wetlands, and through crop rotation, they provide foraging for wildlife. In short, organic farming minimizes the impact of agriculture on the environment.

Your investment in organic foods, the extra fifty cents or more, also contributes to a healthier economy. Organic foods are generally grown closer to home meaning your money stays in your region longer, creates jobs, preserves seed varieties, and develops local cuisines. Far too many small farms in the U.S. have been sold and converted into strip malls and condominiums. A successful farm, on the other hand, keeps the land green for future generations.

Shopping Power

As consumers we don’t have the choice of what to stock on the supermarket shelves. We only have a choice of where to shop and what to buy. But never forget that these decisions influence the choices of food purchasing agents. If you want to see more organic foods available, keep buying them. Your selections not only affect your health and that of your family, but also the public health. Organic foods are reflective of a larger movement of increased awareness about personal health and the environment. Organic farming was never designed to produce large volumes of food at low prices. It was designed to produce quality, nutritious food while respecting the health of people and animals. While conventional food stores ask “will it sell?” organic food stores ask “should it be sold?” As shoppers, we vote with our food dollars and ultimately, our votes are either part of the solution or part of the problem.

“...Your food choices can be of tremendous benefit... the healthiest, tastiest, and most nourishing way to eat is also the most economical, most compassionate, and least polluting...You benefit, the rest of humankind benefits, the animals benefit, and so do the forest and the rivers and the soil and the air and the oceans.”—John Robbins, ‘Diet for a New America’ 1987.

Reviews of The Organic Food Guide

Within the past 8 months I have switched my diet and lifestyle to an organic one. Since then I have been bombarded with people asking me why and what does it mean. I found this book in my research and think it is a very informative and practical guide to understanding why organic foods are so important, both for our health and for our environment! I have bought a bunch of these books and have been sharing them with friends and family. I recommend reading this book as a good starting point to truly understanding organic essentials! Stephen Keil, West Milford, NJ. October 26, 2005

"This is the most succinct, best organized, and easiest to use book on getting started with organics that I have ever seen. It's like a field guide to help new people get started and it's chock full of statistics and details for long time loyalists as well." Ronnie Cummins, founder Organic Consumers Organization (OCA)

"This book outlines the differences in labels and treatment of foods in stores. For example, what is the difference between regular and organic foods, besides price? Before reading this book I never really understood the difference between products and why I should be buying organically grown foods. I found this to be very helpful in understanding if I am really eating healthy." Stephanie White, New York. March 7, 2005

"Tough new standards and USDA labeling are powering unprecedented growth and consumer confidence in organic agriculture, and that means new choices for consumers and new markets for farmers. The Organic Consumer’s Guide will help consumers make sense of all these new choices. It’s as timely as the next trip to the grocery store or farmers’ market." Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the "father" of the federal organic standards and labeling program.

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