Natural. Organic. Non-GMO.
Do you know the difference? I know these terms can be really confusing to people new to the foodie scene. I’ve read several articles stating that, when polled, most consumers thought “natural” was the same thing as organic, if not better. *insert shock horror face à la Edvard Munch here*
Sadly, the term natural means nothing, at least not where the food industry is concerned. Food makers add this word to their processed products knowing it will increase their sales because consumers are becoming more and more aware of what they are buying and eating. However, “natural”, added by the food makers is not, in any way, regulated by a third party.
While many of the massive junk food producers have in fact cut back on crazy artificial flavors and/or fillers in their line of “natural” foods, they still do have GMO ingredients, and most are laden with sugar, salt, and pesticides. And being real, how, by any stretch of the imagination, is a Cheeto “natural”? Don’t get me wrong, I used to love Cheetos! Funyuns, Doritos, Bugles, Sun Chips, all that stuff! Crunchy and salty and satisfying, right?! Now, not so much, but I do remember their appeal.
Now, some people will argue that the term “USDA Organic” doesn’t mean what it should or used to mean, but for the sake of ease I’m going to skim over that for now. If you are interested in this topic I encourage you to do your own research. With that being said, what does the term “organic” mean?
- No Toxic Persistent Pesticides (think RoundUp)
- No GMOs
- No Antibiotics
- No Hormones
- No Sludge & Irradiation used during growth or processing
- 95% of included ingredients must be organic
There are also requirements for certification and other inspections done along the way. Not only that, but the toxic burden of pesticides and antibiotics is MUCH less for you and our planet.
This is the label I look for if I can’t find anything organic. Seeing this label is kind of the bare minimum for me as far as processed foods go. Mainly this is the biggest help for me when we are travelling and can’t carry as much of our own food as we need en route or if we happen to be stuck at a car dealership unexpectedly – it’s happened!
Some companies have their own Non-GMO labeling and/or standards and don’t participate in this particular labeling campaign, but I see this label on more and more bags in the grocery store, which is fantastic.
GMOs are a HUGE topic and one that I’m very passionate about. This is not the post to go into it all, but I do want to give you a list of the most common genetically engineered food crops in the U.S.
This list is directly from the Non-GMO Project site.
- Alfalfa (first planting 2011)
- Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop)
- Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop; approximately 988 acres)
- Soy (approx. 94% of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Sugar Beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop in 2010)
- Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approx. 25,000 acres)
Lastly, I’d like to mention that it is almost impossible to avoid GMOs when eating mainly processed food or eating out (unless you’re eating at organic cafes!).
Next time you’re at the store, pick up a random bag of chips, cereal, cereal bars, tortillas, loaves of bread, or frozen dinners and have a look at the ingredients. Can you pronounce everything? Do you see sugar, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, or corn oil listed? It’s safe to assume that they’re GMO. Not only that, but there are many derivatives from sugar beets and corn that don’t say “sugar” or “corn” on the label. Instead they may say maltodextrin, dextrose, citric acid, corn syrup, cellulose, and the list goes on.
My intent here isn’t to scare you, but to help you realize how inundated our food system is with GMOs.
“Natural” does not mean GMO free. “Natural” does not mean organic.
What’s the best way to avoid GMOs, pesticides, and food additives you can’t pronounce?
Eat organic. Eat mostly plants. Buy only organic and/or free range eggs, meat, and cheese.
Eat out rarely, and when you do, choose conscious eateries if you can.
If you do eat processed food like cereal, pasta, rice, or bread, look for the organic label, for the Non-GMO label, and check out how many grams of sugar are in each serving.
I still buy all of those things, but I’m very picky about bread that I do not make myself, and I buy a couple boxes of cereal a month as a concession to my husband, and I only buy organic. I told him if he wants something besides the organic cereal I buy, he can buy it himself 😉
These are all very personal choices and I do think if you eat at home 80%+ of the time and you’re eating clean, unprocessed or minimally processed meals it’s ok to eat out every once in awhile. And having a young child in the home and a husband who works 12+ hours a day, I know things happen and sometimes it’s just more important to get tummies fed without having a meltdown.
I hope you enjoyed this brief intro into our food system and labeling. Next week we start our Return to Home Cooking Series with dried beans. On Tuesday I’ll be sharing about the differences between dried and canned, and on Thursday I’ll have a brand new recipe to share. Have a great rest of the week and a relaxing weekend. ♥