The Organic Food Frenzy

By: Samantha Nader

For as long as people have been cooking and consuming food, trends in food have been just as varied as they are in fashion, pop culture, and music. From vegan-ish to pescetarianism, something as simple as eating for survival has morphed into an intimate and unique art form. Now more than ever, people are altering their diets to include gluten free meals, free-range eggs, and most recently, America is going organic.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created a National Organic Program (NOP) that maintains a firm definition of what makes a product organic, and how it must be handled, including the product’s environmental impact and the treatment of animals or plants that it comes from. Any product that meets these requirements receives a distinct USDA seal declaring it to be 95% organic or more, and is free to advertise itself as such. The USDA is also tracking this marketing boom, stating that from 1997 to 2008 alone, retail sales for organic foods rose from $3.6 billion to $21.1 billion. So the question isn’t IF this new trend is happening, it’s WHY?

Studies are suggesting that more politically and environmentally aware teenagers and college students are leading this animal-and-eco-friendly charge. An Organic Product Survey was conductedin 2012 that revealed consumers under the age of 40 are driving this new market, and showed that in 2011, more consumers bought organic foods than any time since 2008, showing that the slow progression of this trend has spiked drastically in the past four years.

Today’s current batch of rebels searching for a cause are more interested in the environment and where their groceries are coming from, examining food labels for things like chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides and herbicides, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, and ionizing radiation, and avoiding it like the plague. Meat eaters concerns include growth hormones and antibiotics given to farm animals, and the terrible way these animals are raised in the story of Charlotte’s Web from hell. We’d all rather not eat a hamburger that came from a cow that spent its days in a cramped, inhumane factory farm. All of these are big no-no’s for the eco-friendly animal lovers that are sweeping the nation. Instead, according to the Mayo Clinic, organic farmers are using natural fertilizers like manure and manage their soil and weeds naturally with crop rotations. They also feed their animals organic food without growth enhancers and allow them time in the fresh air, away from crowded stalls filled with disease and violence, drawing in hipsters and protestors nationwide.

Essentially, college students are on a quest to ‘save the farm’. Growing food organically without adding harmful pesticides reduces pollutants in groundwater, which in some cities can end up in your drinking water, sometimes reaching unsafe levels, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).It also allows plants to produce their own defense mechanisms with appropriate care, while the quality of water and soil in the area is numerically healthier.

The good news is that based on how it is grown, handled, and prepared, organic food is also very healthy. According to a report by the National Academy of Sciences, because organic foods are produced without pesticides and fertilizers, they contain more vitamins and antioxidants, while lacking any preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings, flavorings, or any other additives. They are also easily accessible at health food stores, like Whole Foods Market, though shopping here is a bit pricierdue to the more expensive farming practices needed to produce them. Organic foods also spoil faster, as waxes and preservatives are not used on them beforehand, meaning that when you buy your veggiesthey’re at their best, they won’t last as long as produce that has been chemically treated. They also often come out looking a bit off, varying in shape, color, and size, though obviously organic foods must still meet the same standard for quality as conventional foods.

Essentially what it all comes down to is your own personal preference with food. Some people like to know that they are making a difference in the environment when they buy their organic produce, while others are financially interested in nonorganic foods, which are less expensive and, as the saying goes, ‘get the job done’. Either way, with college kids and celebrities dictating our current trends, it’s impossible to say what food craze they will come up with next.