Meaning of Organic

We made it to the weekend.  Whew.

I was worried there after Thursday when I thought it should have already been FridayIt was the never-ending week for me, and I’m thrilled the weekend is here.  Even though I am working, I am still glad it’s the weekend.

Yesterday a did a little grocery shopping.

I had to pick up some essentials


And when I was standing in the checkout line of TJ’s I saw these

Major restraint was needed

The check stand areas are such teases.

And being that these were at the check stand, I was indeed taking pictures in front of the employees who were working the registers and no one said anything to me. 

Not sure if they knew I was taking pictures or not, though.

But at least I wasn’t reprimanded and scolded about it like I recently was.  Ugh!

Then I saw these chocolate bars

And I had to chuckle because the word Organic was so prolific

Sometimes I think people confuse organic to mean things like:

it’s “healthy”

eat as much as you want

it’s good for you


Just because something is organic, doesn’t necessarily mean any of the above. 

It just means it was grown in a certain way, devoid of certain chemicals or fertilizers, being the biggest hallmark

Here’s a breakdown of the terminology

USDA Organic: In 2000, after a 10-year development process, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rolled out its rules covering use of the word “organic” on foods. The USDA accredits independent certifiers, who then check the claims of producers. The system has three levels:

  • “100% Organic”: Can only contain organic ingredients, meaning no antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers can be used. Can display the USDA organic logo and/or the specific certifying agent’s logo.
  • “Organic”: Contains 95% organic ingredients, with the balance coming from ingredients on the approved National List. These products can also display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients”: Must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, three of which must be listed on the package, and the balance must be on the National List. These products may display the certifier’s logo but not the USDA organic logo.

Read more here

Or more about the organic program at the Consumers Union’s

I am not interested in debating the finer points of what exactly organic means, what it includes, doesn’t include, GMO this, non-GMO that.  There are thousands of internet sites and forums for green chatter and the nitty gritty on it.
Also, I would like to think that the processing of the food, getting it from farm to table, was done in a way free from harsh chemicals and in a more eco-conscious and just conscious manner but I have read stories where after produce is grown to carefully comply with organic standards, it’s then thrown into bins and containers. There, the organic food rubs shoulders with the non-organic, which has been sprayed with chemicals, and those chemicals rub off on the oh-so-pristine organic food, rendering it chemical-ized.

So what you are you really buying when you buy something labeled as organic?

So many things to think about.

There are so many different sides to Organic:

what is it

what does it exactly mean

do other countries where our food comes from comply with our standards

locally grown food and small farmers who can’t afford to become certified organic

local & seasonal vs. organic

health implications of organic vs. conventionally grown

It all makes my head spin and makes me want to dive in for a non-organic Raw Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ball

But they’re vegan and gluten free.  Does that make them a “healthy” dessert?  Would it make a difference if they were Organic?

Oh the questions.

In the meantime, it was fun to hear your thoughts about Talking Yourself Out of It as it relates to purchases.  Couldn’t believe how many of you have never been to West Elm.  Good, don’t go.  You just saved yourself money by not walking in!


1. What are your thoughts on Organic?

what is it

what does it exactly mean

do other countries where our food comes from comply with our standards

locally grown food and small farmers who can’t afford to become certified organic

health implications of organic vs. conventionally grown

local & seasonal vs. organic

I’ve written my thoughts here about organic food and why I actually don’t buy organic that often.

If it happens, it happens, but I don’t seek it out and I am certainly not a purist, i.e. It must be an organic apple or I’m not eating it.  <–not me, I don’t care

Dirty Dozen?   Yep, I know. 

If it organic happens to find it’s way into my cart because it’s cheaper than conventional or for a place like TJ’s only sells certain products that are organic (with no choice for conventional) then of course I buy organic.

But if conventional is better for my budget (here’s my list of grocery shopping & budget tips) or that’s what’s available then that’s what I buy.

I’d like to think that farmers market food that’s seasonal and local trumps organic food, too

This post contains some of my favorite food photography images, showcasing fresh and amazing farmer’s market food

Sometimes the farmers market produce is certified ogranic, sometimes it’s organic, and sometimes it’s neither. 

Same with CSA shares.  But they’re local and seasonal.

Every time I write a post like this I get tons of mail from people urging me to support one kind of farming over the other, buy this or that over the other, and are surprised with what I buy or my decision making process.

I’ve done my research and have come to the decisions that work for me and my family and comfort levels.  What others do is great for them, their budgets, their prioritizes and their lifestyle.  To each her own. 

I also don’t ever buy anything from bulk bins  <— Read that post and you will shudder at what you will find in them.

2. Do you think people confuse organic to mean things like:

it’s “healthy”

eat as much as you want

it’s good for you

Just because something is organic, doesn’t necessarily mean any of the above.
I was am still shocked when I go to parks and see mothers who cared enough to buy organic snacks for their kids but they are feeding their kids organic food that I still don’t deem “healthy”.  Sorry, organic gummy bears are still not healthy in my opinion.  They’re still candy.  I think that eating a non-organic apple would be better.  Candy is candy, fruit is fruit.

Or adults who pay $6 for a small bag of organic chips from a place like Whole Foods.  I personally don’t deem processed gluten and sodium all that healthy so I’d rather just have good old fashioned DoritosAnd then eat more broccoli at the next meal.  

You can eat all the organic chips or organic candy you want, just don’t try to convince yourself that organic means “healthy”.

Two posts that are related and may be of interest:

Desserts & Healthy Living: Everything in Moderation
Healthifying Desserts & My Thoughts

Tell me your thoughts on it all!  I think it’s fascinating to talk about all of this, what it means, what you buy, where you buy it, why, and so forth.

And enjoy your weekend!

P.S. Reminder that the Sweet Treats Giveaway ends Sunday

46 comments on “Meaning of Organic”

  1. Given the choice, I tend to buy organic meat and vegetables because, rightly or wrongly, I tend to think they taste better. I know it might be all in my head…I think you’re right that a lot of people think organic = healthy but I think you have a really sensible approach to healthy eating.

    • I think that with meat, organic is important or free range, cage free, whatever the terminology and various labels are….I don’t buy meat so am not sure but yes, I can totally understand this.

      And for me, local and seasonal veggies in my awesome region taste best….better than the organic I can get in the stores, but I am blessed to choose to live in SoCal!

  2. Organic gummy bears, organic corn flakes, organic potato chips are all overpriced regular junk food – just because they’re grown without fertilizer/insecticides doesn’t make them a health food. And don’t get me started on gluten free foods – why the hell, are gluten free cookies/bread/cereal so darn expensive? It’s ridiculous + most of them taste disgusting to begin with.

  3. I agree with you about that people tend think that organic=healthy.
    Its good to have organic choices but at the end I will pick whatever suits my needs best

  4. fascinating discussion topic! as you point out, so many sides to the story.
    for me, money and taste do the talking. i am unwilling to pay oodles more for organic. i would rather buy local (ex: apples). however, if taste often is the decision maker. ex: ontario cantaloupes are in season, but i dislike the taste (90% of the time they’re not sweet and have a mushy texture). i would much rather have the import from california, if i am going to treat myself to a melon.
    if i had kids, i would purchase more organic fruit and veg. but organic processed foods? way overpriced! as you say, go with the doritos!
    very interesting blog post, averie!

  5. This is one of my biggest pet peeves…great subject to discuss! It drives me nuts that people see organic and automatically connect it to being healthy. I mean, sure, maybe it’s a bit healthier than its’ non-organic brother because it uses higher-quality ingredients, but it should not be a reason to be able to eat more of whatever. (to clear things up, I’m not saying to NOT enjoy either product, I’m just saying don’t think “oh, well these cookies are organic…so they’re good for me…so i can eat the whole bag in one sitting.” Eat the whole bag if you want, but don’t think they’ll give you superpowers, I guess! haha.)

    Same goes for vegan and gluten free. Hence why I don’t tell anyone I eat mostly vegan/gluten free. (of course, i think the amount of eggs i eat sort of disqualifies me from that, even if I do avoid dairy…haha.) They think I’m trying to watch my weight or something.

    My co-worker thinks I won’t eat anything unless it’s organic. The other day I was going to run downtown to grab something to eat…he goes “yeah…you can get a nice organic salad there” or something like that, to which i finally just said “i don’t care if it’s organic or not, i just care if it’s good.” He’s always saying things like that. I don’t think it’s meant to be as snide as I made it sound, just…oblivion.

    -sigh.- anyways. i’ll stop rambling your ear off now :P i’m going to geek to you about LR later :]

  6. I will only buy organic milk and eggs…no clue why…I guess I can’t wash or clean milk and eggs…I don’t know.

    I used to do only organic meat before we started our adoption, now we save every penny.


  7. Great information, Averie!
    To be quite honest, I didn’t even know that there were different standards that would qualify a product as “organic” and had no clue that some items can get away with really only being 95% organic.

    I definitely do notice, however, that people are fooled into buying organic chocolate, candies, and other sweet treats thinking that they’re being “healthy”. It’s crazy to think how manipulative and tricky the food industry can be!

  8. I think people have misconceptions about the word organic too – just because those creme stuffed cookies are organic doesn’t mean they are good for you. Better, yes. But good? no! I would eat a ful organic chocolate bar – just sayin’… ;)

    And why did they yell at you for taking pictures in the store?

  9. LOVE This post. It drives me nuts when people try eating all organic as a diet plan or something. I think eating organic foods when possible, And when it fits into your budget is a great thing, but at least for me, it is not realistic to eat all organic. I eat when I can.

  10. I don’t really think organic means anything unless we’re talking products with only one ingredient (like fruit or veggies). I think more important is the processing of the food. You can have a 100% organic, entirely processed food! People definitely confuse organic to mean healthy, or at least assume it’s somewhat good for you despite the possibility that an organic product is lacking entirely in nutritional value! I don’t put much faith in organic labeling, or anything controlled by the USDA.

  11. I am pretty determined to buy organic as much as I can afford to. I don’t trust all the chemicals that go into growing foods and I prefer to avoid GMOs as much as possible. No judgement to you or anyone who chooses otherwise, that’s just what I feel comfortable with for me and my family. Luckily I have a great local CSA that is organic so I am able to get seasonal produce March-December that is organic and a great price (I pay $20 a week for a big box).

    I definitely don’t think an organic label automatically equals healthy. However, I have noticed when it comes to processed foods, the organic counterparts are healthier than non-organic. Non-organic graham crackers, for example, are made with hydrogenated oils and artificial ingredients, but if you look at an organic brand, you’ll find much cleaner ingredients. So if I’m going to buy a processed product like that, I’ll look for an organic brand.

  12. Interesting topic. My thoughts are on gluten free foods… most people think I can’t eat ANYTHING, or that if I buy a gluten free version of a cookie or chips that it autotically means they are healthier. In fact most of the versions are loaded with more sugar and fat to make eup for taste. And the breads are far less satiating and nutritious than many gluten containing breads.
    Even if you eat gluten free, vegan, organic, or none of the above… you still need to make ‘healthy’ choices, because nutritionally void foods choices are out there for just about any type of diet you wish to follow.
    One thing I do think ‘the label’ matters about though is meat.. which I see was mentioned above. When animals are entirely grass fed (not necessarily organic though), the nutritional status of it is far better… more omega 3s, less omega 6, and contains much higher amount of all the vitamins…
    Love the discussion happening!

    • oh and on that note. I do not buy organic produce either. I put my money towards ethical meat and dairy consumption instead. At this point in my life I have to make decisions and ‘vote with my purchases’ the best I can.

  13. We’ve been talking a LOT about organic in school lately, and it’s definitely changed my perspective on things, especially regarding animal products. Since I’ve been reincorporating a lot of animal foods into my diet, I’m becoming increasingly aware of making it organic. A lot of research shows that the negative effects of things like dairy on our health are far more linked to the hormones and added chemicals IN commercial dairy, not the dairy itself. Which is not to say that things like dairy and eggs should replace plant-based foods, but I think we’d have an easier time getting people to eat better quality animal foods and meats than getting them to eliminate them completely. As far as fruits and veggies are concerned, I try to buy organic when possible but I’m not strict about it and I don’t freak out about pesticides. Pick your battles, right? Sorry, that was total rambling!

  14. Studies are conflicting about organic is even healthier in straight up produce, so a packaged, processed chocolate bar? Likely not any healthier. Not that I care. I’d eat the chocolate bar, organic or not. :D

    I buy what I feel like eating. If organic is cheaper, I buy it. If that’s the only option, I buy it. I try to get the dirty dozen organic, but I eat a LOT of salad greens and organic are just cost-prohibitive for me. I garden. That helps a lot. Yesterday, 100% of my dinner and 75% of my lunch came from my garden. Its organic-ish. I mean, I’m not certified or anything. ;)

  15. Great post! I read the book “What to Eat” by Marion Nestle a few years ago, and she does a great job of describing the details behind organic certification and what labels really mean. I definitely recommend the book to anyone interested in organic certification and GMOs.

    People eating tons of organic junk food… that’s like ordering a cheeseburger and fries and milkshake and then washing it down with a Diet Coke, like they’re on a diet. I guess it’s better than consuming even more calories, but it still seems pretty funny!

  16. I’m similar to you, while I know about the dirty dozen, etc. I tend to buy mostly conventional. I have a local produce store that is insanely cheap and I just can’t pass up those prices. I wash my food very well but that’s about it. Of course, if organic is available and reasonably priced I will buy it. And, I’ll always support farmers markets when they are convenient.
    I do think people interpret organic to mean more than it does. I think it’s similar to the “low fat” crazes of the past where people just automotically assumed it was healthier or better for them. ORganic does not mean sugar free, healthy, low fat, etc. it just means it was grown without certain chemicals in a certain environment!
    Meats are a different issue to me though. I don’t think of produce and meat in the same way. I’m way more picky about meat and will only buy it if I’m confident in where it’s come from and how it was treated, etc. I’m not as concerned with the plant’s feelings ;)

  17. I prefer organic but when it comes down to it, I won’t refuse to buy something because it’s not. Especially as winter approaches, it’s harder in the northeast to buy organic, locally grown produce, or any organic produce for that matter without spending a fortune.
    That being said, when it’s in season, I LOVE going to farmer’s markets more than anything. Not just for the delicious, organic produce, but because I love the all-natural vibe and the beautiful things on display!

  18. I know tons of people who think organic means healthy. I mean it’s healthier for your body in the long run without all the pesticides and what not, but you can’t just gorge down on it because it’s organic. Like organic chocolate? It’s still chocolate and isn’t the best thing for your tummy if you eat more than one bar lol!

    I just stick with regular food honestly. I mean I know organic produce is a lot better, but it’s so much more pricey and I’m already spending like $70-$80 every two weeks. I don’t need to add that up even more just to get organic.

  19. I could stare at your Farmer’s Mkt pics all day and you really make me miss TJ’s. Loving MI, but cannot wait to get back to Trader Joe’s, and before you mentioned it, I was wondering if the employees said anything to you this time around about the photos. :)

    Buying organic isn’t a top priority for me. I prefer organic grass fed meat and some organic produce, but it’s just so expensive. Like you, I’d rather buy from a local farm at the farmer’s mkt. Love meeting the farmers and hearing first hand how they raise their crops. Don’t do it as often as I should!

  20. I think organic food is often overprices, as you say. But when there’s not much of a difference, I tend to buy organic. Though, when I have to choose between organic apples from the other side of the world OR localy grown apples, I would go for the local apples, just because I think there’s this huge ecological aspect involved (I hope my rambling still makes sense).
    We have our own garden where we grow a lot of our veggies and fruit, they are organic and not expensive ;) and there’s a lot of fun involved like going into your garden and just pick whatever you feel like eating. The only negative side is taking care of the weeds!

  21. GAH one positive of my new situation is that I’m close(er) to Trader Joe’s and can stock up on some of the yummy things I’ve seen on your blog!

    In terms of organics, I roll with this: for fruits and veggies, if I eat the skin, I buy organic. If I’m starving and there are no organic apples available at the fruit stand on a busy Broadway street, I don’t have a conniption, but I do try and stick to these rules. I also ALWAYS buy organic eggs and milk, although I’ve been having trouble with milk lately so usually stick with almond milk, but I don’t always choose organic. I’m a poor student, so I just do my best. Buying local is also extremely important to me, as I like to support farmers and ensure that agriculture is sustained in my community. A lot of times, farms don’t get certified organic because they simply can’t afford it, but their practices are still top-notch and they don’t spray their produce with icky pesticides.

  22. I have read so much about how people think organic is the end-all, be-all of healthy eating and it’s kinda scary. They think that as long as it is organic it’s the healthiest thing in the world. Organic cookies! Just don’t mind the fact that the first three ingredients are all forms of sugar! And how people think organic means lower in calories for some reason. I have never assumed that an organic brownie would have less calories than a regular brownie, so I don’t really understand the reasoning, but apparently the thinking is prevalent enough that I read about it everywhere!

    I try and buy organic produce when I can, but sometimes it is just not in my budget. I wish I could afford to buy everything organically, but until that lottery plan decides to pan out…I do what I can :)

  23. While organic certainly doesn’t imply that it’s good for your body, it gives me a sort of peace of mind that I’m supporting a company that takes the natural road, as hard as it may be. However, I don’t know anyone that can afford to go all out, all organic. For me, I feel best as long as I buy dairy organic, because there’s something about the meat/dairy industry that seems a bit messy, and I love supporting the organic farms that try and maintain some sort of set of values. I do agree that buying locally trumps the ‘organic’ label, because local is more clear-cut in that way. It takes less energy to transport the food to my kitchen. So for now, we just have to do what we can, buy what we can, because none of us are perfect but if we’re just a little bit more aware of what we’re buying, it means a whole lot.

  24. The term “organic” is of secondary concern to me. I know that non-organic broccoli is better for me than organic cookies.

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  26. Like Amelia says: it’s good for the planet to go organic as much as possible. And that’s why it is good for us. Best choice? Locally grown, organic veggies in the season. That’s my cup of tea. Or should I say green monster ;).

  27. Fascinating topic. I’m with you. . .I buy organic when it’s reasonable. I don’t freak out if I can’t afford it or choose not to pay more. All of the “shoulding” people do to each other exhausts me. It’s a waste of time and energy, IMHO.

    Good example: someone said/very strongly implied to me recently: “You SHOULD serve all organic food at your Yoga retreat.” Like putting a lot of pressure and “shoulding” me big time. Oh yeah? Then I have to significantly bump up the retreat price for each person, in order to keep my budget in line. I serve and eat as much organic as I can reasonably afford to, then move on.

    I find eating more seasonally and locally works, but I’m not rigid about that either. If I want bananas, coconuts, and avocados year-round, the world won’t end. ;-)

  28. So timely that I just read this … my sister-in-law was just talking about some organic cheesy poofs. I have to hold my tongue sometimes with family, though.

    I try my best to buy organic fruits and veg when possible — not just to avoid the pesticides but because I can afford a few extra dollars and I want to the grocery store to know they have buyers for that stuff. I don’t care one way or another, though, when it comes to packaged foods. Okay – I take that back – I try to buy organic tortilla chips. Not because I think they’re healthy, but because GMO corn freaks me out. I live in an area with lots of corn and the fields with signs about their pesticides and seeds freak me out.

    On the TJ’s scolding — that one person was probably just towing the company line. The others probably just decide it’s not worth it.

  29. I agree! Organic does NOT equal healthy. In my mind their are other considerations: think of all the fuel exhausts seeping into the “organic produce” trucked form California to New York. Or the BPA that leeches into the “organic” juice you buy.

    • However, I should clarify, organic is a good starting point when it comes to making healthy choices. We shouldn’t discount organic, as the labeling of such is such a good step toward being more conscious of our choices!

  30. I try to buy the dirty dozen organic whenever possible…and always apples because I find they are way tastier and last longer in the fridge. My goal is more on clean eating…the fewer ingredients, additives, etc, the better in my book. I try to follow the “Would my grandmother recognize this as food?” test.

    After spending a summer volunteering on an organic farm, however, I’ve learned a LOT. For one, for something to be organic, it simply means that there were not ARTIFICIAL pesticides/products used. However, organic pesticides are allowed. What are organic pesticides? Well the answer likely varies but for our farm they are pesticides that are produced by genetically-modified organisms. One of the most common products we use is made from fish bones. YUP.

    So now we have issues related to pesticide use, GMOs, AND veganism thrown in.

    Also, many popular organic brands are no better for the environment than traditional farm because they have adopted the “traditional” farm model and are simply using organic pesticides and hurting the environment just as much. Read Michael Pollan for more information. The best thing to look for is biodynamic and pesticide-free. And the best place to find this is at a farmer’s market where you can chat up the farmers themselves and find out EXACTLY what they use…and then google it to be sure!

    When it comes to eggs, “free range” simply means that there is a door that allows the chickens out but many are still couped up much like in traditional hen houses. I will only buy eggs if I can see the henhouse. It means I often go without them but to me its worth the price and hassle if I’m getting what I pay for.

    As for dairy, most places that process milk combine the milk from several dairy farms so rGBH-free is also a tricky term. I’m blanking on the exact way that the USDA defines rGBH-free but I’m pretty sure its lenient.

    As for places beside the US, many Western European countries have much stricter guidelines when it comes to their entire food chain. No country is perfect but there have been times where the US was accepting x, y, and z while few, if any, other major countries were. Its been a while since I read In Defense of Food or Skinny Bitch so I apologize for my lack of specifics!

    There is also a GREAT website that goes through a ton of health issues related to food. Dr. Michael Greger basically does literature reviews of all relevant scientific literature related to a specific topic (e.g. dairy and sexual maturation) and then gives the conclusion in short videos. He even shows you some of the articles he uses so if you are a geek like me you can look into the methodology more. Its

  31. Sorry to hear people are stealing your recipes…shame on them!! Copying is the highest form of flattery, so realize that it’s only because the recipes are so good, that they want to pass them off as their own. I personally love every recipe of yours that I’ve made. :)

  32. So true on the TJ’s checkout line – dark chocolate is a huge one for me. Very true on organic, especially on organic processed foods.

    1. I check the most dirty produce lists and buy only those in organic – like apples, grapes, spinach, etc. But I’m not too strict on it, I rarely buy produce like avocadoes, watermelon, and bananas in organic. I am concerned on avoiding chemicals on produce that are most suseptable to absorbing them and ones that I consume the skin on too.
    2. Sure, especially with things like organic mac n’ cheese. The ingredients may be organic, but that does not mean low-cal or nutritionally dense.

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  34. I try to buy organic or free range meat when I can. I try to stick to buying organic fruits and veggies using the Dirty Dozen list as a guide, but when I really can’t afford to, I try not to worry about it. Our family has a lot of health issues, and I try to keep unnatural ingredients to a minimum. That being said, if I do decide to get a sweet candy type of treat for my kids, it is once in a while, and I do end up buying something like organic gummy bears or something. My son cannot have any corn syrup or especially high fructose corn syrup unless I feel like dealing with a complete emotional meltdown and behavioral issues for a day or two afterwards. Usually the organic candy is made with sugar instead of the HFCS.

  35. i’ve never thought about conventional mixing with organic, that really gets me angry if it’s true! organic is important to me, but i will take local food from the farmers market over organic at the grocery any day. lucky for me i have 1 certified organic and 2 sustainable farms at my local market. the certification isn’t important to me, but the farming practices are!

  36. My family has always worked in agriculture, and when we see “ORGANIC” (like some kind of promise) splattered everywhere we think it’s sort of funny. Also, knowing some of the pesticides and hormones used in farming we do basically follow the “dirty dozen” guidelines, but not fanatically. We much prefer buying locally to buying organically. Besides, there are seven of us, and organic does not come cheap.

  37. I have tackled this tough issue, too. I appreciate the effort of growing food more organically when it is genuine, not jumping on a marketing bandwagon. Here is a link to my blog – Thanks for sharing!

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