This month has been a celebration of all things organic! Of course every month is a good month to celebrate organic food, but the Soil Association dedicate all of September to bringing issues around organic to the forefront. And the even better news is that going organic doesn’t need to be difficult: there are some easy organic swaps that you could start introducing straight away.
Why do I care about organic food?
To be honest, I can’t really remember when it started for me, but it was certainly many years before I was doing my own weekly shopping than organic ways of living became important. Even one of my first memories of moving to live in London is linked to organic food.
This was all the way back in 1998 and I was staying for a few nights in a horrible hostel in Bayswater for a few nights before I moved into my flat. There was a giant hole in the middle of the room (which I can only assume was from previous Aussie residents jumping up and down on the boards with a little too much vim and vigour). And there were used plasters floating in the stagnant water in the shower of the miniscule shared shower room that doubled as a toilet. Yep, it was grim.
Fortunately around the corner from my hostel was a Planet Organic store. It was a small piece of respite from my hostel hell hole – and even if I couldn’t quite afford most of what was on the shelves, particularly as I was on Aussie dollars and not yet gainfully employed, I chose 3 items and took them back to my room. Many years later whenever I return to Planet Organic, particularly the one in Bayswater, it’s like returning to my happy place.
Step by step towards organic
My first experience with Planet Organic is a great example of how you can edge into eating organic; you don’t need to suddenly swap your whole shopping basket. A few treats here and there, or trading up some in-season vegetables, is a great place to start.
Buying organic doesn’t need to cost the earth and you certainly can add just a few organic items if you’re on a budget. But the truth is, sometimes we don’t really pay what food is worth (hence problems like the crisis with the dairy industry and farmers being paid less than what it costs to produce their milk).
My weekly shopping short cut to organic is getting a vegetable box delivery from Abel & Cole. It means everything is chosen for me by someone I can trust. I also stock up on a few other groceries from time to time, from pasta through to household cleaning products. Fortunately these days most supermarkets do stock a wider range of organic products, but having a one stop shop makes things a bit more straightforward.
Just one caveat – although organic does mean that ingredients such as meat, for example, have been produced to a better standard, it doesn’t instantly make a pre-made food healthy or even good. That depends on the skill of the maker and what ingredients they use. Just because biscuits are organic, scoffing down a whole box isn’t generally going to make you feel great.
However I have found that many organic ingredients have more flavour (if eaten in season) and lots of people have commented on the pungency and power of the organic herbs and spices I use in my workshops. For me, even that alone is a good reason to choose organic.
5 easy organic swaps
If you’re new to organic and want to edge your way in, there are some easy ingredients which are regular shopping basket items that are a great place to start (oh and chocolate, because I couldn’t not include that!).
My easy organic swap starter suggestions are:
UK grown carrots are available for most of the year and among the most popular vegetables eaten. Not only does this make them a prime candidate for an upgrade, there’s not a lot of difference in the price between standard and organic carrots. It will cost only an extra £1 per kilo (and a kilo is quite a lot of carrots!).
Onions form the basis of many meals. And although they are part of the clean 15 (i.e. vegetables with the least levels of contamination from pesticides), their heavy consumption is why I’ve included them in my list. Realistically you’ll end up paying an extra 50p to step up to organic – which in the scheme of things is not too much at all.
Eggs have been high up the news agenda over the last few years, from battery hen disease through to the recent scare with contaminated eggs from the Netherlands. Maybe every other time you buy eggs or once a month (this month?) you could upgrade to organic free range.
Milk can get a bit of a bad rap sometimes. I was surprised when I first moved to the UK at the strange taste the milk had – and then I started drinking the full fat, unhomogenised milk from Abel & Cole and it was something of a revelation. I don’t like to overdo it on dairy (for stomach and sustainability reasons), but enjoying a bit of good quality organic milk is something rather special. The lovely thing about unhomogenised milk is that you still get the cream on top. Mmmm!
When you’re buying organic you can be sure that the cows are raised with very high animal welfare standards, including being genuinely free range, and normally aren’t pushed to milk producing limits in the same way that more intensive farming can do. If you’d like to know more, check out the Soil Association page on dairy.
Well I was always going to include chocolate wasn’t I? There are some very human reasons to look for organic (or produced to organic or better standards as it can sometimes be prohibitively expensive for small growers in developing countries to gain certification).
Chocolate is a very manual crop, even with more intensive crops. The people collecting and splitting the cacao pods, and fermenting, sorting and drying the cacao beans have a lot of contact with them. This means pesticides are coming in direct contact with their skin. There’s also a lot of water runoff (containing pesticides) from cacao plantations which goes back into the soil or into the drinking water nearby.
All of these are good reasons to think a bit more broadly than your wallet when it comes to the chocolate you choose. Green & Blacks chocolate is a good place to start when it comes to organic chocolate, but there are also many other (and more interesting) options to investigate – which is very good news for chocolate lovers!
You can also check out my favourite bean to bar chocolate brands if you need a bit more inspiration…
Want to know more about organic?
If you’d like to get into more of the detail of organic and where you can find great organic products, a great place to start is the Soil Association site.
And if you want to try some of the very best organic products in the UK, check out this year’s winners from The Soil Association BOOM Awards.