By Emily Folk
Organic foods typically have a pristine reputation, especially when compared to their traditionally farmed counterparts. But many of the reasons organic products get heralded as being healthier, safer and all-around better are not necessarily grounded in facts — they’re misconceptions about the farming process through which organic foods are cultivated.
As of 2016, the organic produce industry alone raked in more than $65 billion, so it’s clear the farming method is here to stay and extremely popular among buyers. It’s only right to debunk any myths still associated with the way this type of produce is harvested. Here are five of the biggest misconceptions — and the truth about each one.
1. Organic equals healthy.
Because organic foods are produced without manufactured chemicals or any genetic modification, many people believe they’re packed with more nutrients and flavor than those that are produced with conventional methods — in fact, 33 percent of Americans buy organic because they believe it’s better for their health. However, much research has shown this is just a misconception regarding organic foods.
When it comes to the makeup of organic versus non-organic produce, little differs in terms of a plant’s vitamin and mineral content. The only difference a 2008 study found was that traditional crops had higher levels of nitrogen, while organic ones were more acidic and contained more phosphorous. But these differing numbers have little effect on the overall benefit of biting into a fresh piece of produce — it’s good for you either way.
As for taste, those who regularly buy organic products will say they taste fresher or more flavorful, but blind taste tests do not back up these claims.
2. Organic means no pesticides.
We mentioned people think organics are healthier because they do not contain manufactured chemicals. However, organic products can, indeed, be produced with the use of pesticides and fungicides — they just have to be organic ones.
Even something as simple as spraying a pesticide in your yard to prevent mosquitoes and ticks should be done by a professional because of the danger it can cause to animals, plants and the earth as a whole. Imagine what type of effect farming has on the earth, then, when acres full of land are covered in poisons that wash away and enter the water supply.
And, even worse, many organic farms require more of the organic compounds used to keep pests at bay. So, using organics not only means you still bring pesticides into your home, but it can mean your preferences require using even more chemicals.
3. Organic products are too expensive.
On the other side of the fence are those who are anti-organic. One of the main reasons people dislike organic produce is that it’s much more expensive than conventionally farmed options. In some stores, this may very well be the case: After all, retailers put a premium on products they know conscientious customers will buy.
But this is not true in every case. At some stores and markets, you can buy organics for the same price — or even cheaper — than you would non-organic products. Try finding places where you can buy directly from farmers, such as local markets or even roadside stands. You can even sign up for a community-supported agriculture subscription service, where local farmers send a seasonal selection of organic products each month for you to experiment with in the kitchen.
4. Buying organic means all or nothing.
Some people believe you can’t just dip your toe into the organic pool: You have to buy everything organic to reap the full the benefits, or you might as well stick to conventionally farmed products.
There’s no clear answer as to whether organic or tried-and-true farming methods will serve us better in the long run, so choosing one method outright would be a mistake. The same goes for your weekly shopping trip, where you have to decide between organic and traditional products at the store. Some products are simply less affected by the fact that they’re organic, which means either choice has the same price, effect on the earth, etc.
There are some foods experts say you should always buy organic if you have access to them. They’re notorious for requiring more heavy-duty pesticides to grow, which makes them more concerning than run-of-the-mill crops, which require a light dusting of manmade or natural chemicals.
5. It's up to Someone Else to Tell You What's Right
Our final myth is that you have to listen to “expert” advice to make the choice of what organic products to buy. But if you’ve learned one takeaway from this article, it should be that expert advice can vary widely. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to eat organic products or not. Doing your research and balancing your budget will often help you make that choice easier, but it’s down to you to figure out what’s best for your kitchen, your meals and your body.
The good news is, you’re on the right track by incorporating fresh fruits and veggies into your day-to-day diet. Eating organic foods is a secondary concern to making sure you’re eating well. By looking this far into it, chances are, you’re on the right track.
Emily Folk is a freelance writer in the sustainability field and covers green technology, sustainability and conservation on her blog, Conservation Folks. You can also see her latest updates via Twitter.