Organic 101

What is Real Food?

As Michael Pollan states, “real food is a product of nature and not a product of industry”

I went back and forth with myself about how I wanted to approach these topics. I don’t want to come across as “in your face” or overly gruesome,  but I have chosen to include the criteria below because I think all consumers need to be aware of the disturbing truths of our food system. If I had never been educated on this information, then I most certainly would never have made the switch to an organic/whole foods lifestyle. I am grateful to have become educated. I assure you that all discussed content is factual and scientifically based.
Think of this as your organic cheat sheet.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO):
 “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. CAFOs congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures, fields, or on rangeland”. -Environmental Protection Agency
If you want to learn more about CAFOs and why you should avoid meat from these feedlots,  please visit these sites:

Cows on a feedlot caked in their own manure. Notice how there is not any grass for the cows to graze on?
Photo credit: SRAP

Chicken/ Poultry: Today’s chicken will never see daylight. They are fed an unnatural diet of animal byproducts rather than a nutritious chicken feed. From the day they are born, chickens are crammed into chicken coops containing no windows with less than a square foot of space to move around. As a result of not being able to move, the chickens are sitting in their own excretions and blood from their sore legs. The air becomes filled with fumes of ammonia from their excretions which are highly toxic for the birds (and humans) and typically causes stress, illness, and death. The chickens are given antibiotics, and Roxarsone, a form of arsenic to help them grow twice as fast as a normal chicken is supposed to. In the 1950s, it took approximately 85 days to grow a chicken to five pounds (the average size of a broiler chicken). Today, these same chickens are being grown in less than 50 days due to an alarming amount of antibiotics and arsenic use. As a result of this fast growth rate, the chickens start to fall over because their bones cannot support the weight of their rapidly growing body. As they become more sick, they are given more antibiotics so that they don’t die before they are able to be slaughtered for meat. Prior to packaging and distribution, the broilers are pumped with preservatives and additives mostly to "enhance flavor".  When you consume this chicken, you are also consuming the antibiotics and arsenic which act as hormone disruptors in the body.

What to buy: The only way to be 100% sure that no antibiotics, arsenic, and additives are in your chicken, is to buy organic chicken. We buy our chicken at the farmer’s market, which allows us the opportunity to talk to the farmer about his methods. The chicken we buy is certified organic and pasture raised, meaning no cages or feedlots. Chickens roam free on the pasture. I buy a whole chicken and cut it myself rather than only buying breast, legs, or thighs. This saves a tremendous amount of money. We buy one chicken every two weeks, usually costing just under 20 bucks and stretch it to last us for several meals. If we are unable to make it to the farmer's market, we buy organic chicken from Trader Joe's. If organic is out of the question due to budget constraints, I recommend shopping at farmer’s market style grocery stores for meat that states “humane animal practices, no additives or antibiotics used”. I absolutely do not trust meat from a mainstream grocery store (Fry's, Safeway, Hannaford, etc) no matter what the label states.  Don’t forget that the term “all natural” is not regulated, so you are taking a chance as to whether or not these claims are true.

Eggs: Eggs that come from conventional chickens will contain the same antibiotics and Roxarsone as the chicken. When comparing an egg from a mainstream grocery store and a farmer’s market, there is a distinct difference between the two. The yolk from the farmer’s market is much more dense and bright in color. The Organic Consumer’s Association states that organic, pastured eggs are almost twice as nutritious as their conventional counterparts, having a significantly larger amount of vitamin A, vitamin E, and omega 3 fatty acids.

What to buy:
Ultimately, cage free eggs from pastured chickens are best, but these can cost you upwards of 6 bucks a dozen. I typically buy my eggs at Whole Foods or Sprouts for 3 bucks a dozen. I make sure they are organic, cage free, 100% vegetarian fed. I splurge on eggs at the farmer's market once in a while because you can most definitely taste the difference. They are wonderful!

Pasture raised organic eggs from the farmer's market

Beef/Meat*: Growing up, I was told that cows graze and eat grass all day. This is very far from the truth. Cows raised on CAFOs eat nothing but corn, because it is cheaper than grass. Cows were not created to eat corn. When cows eat corn, the corn ferments in their gut and makes the cows sick, because it is very difficult for cows to digest corn. After the fermentation, E. Coli is produced in the stomach. This E. Coli passes through the GI tract into the manure. Cows that are raised in feedlots are in such tight quarters that they are literally stepping in their own manure all day. When the cow is slaughtered, there is no regulation as to how much manure, and therefore how much E.Coli, is ending up in your beef. Yes, you heard right; you are eating a small amount of manure when you eat conventional beef. This is why they wash conventional beef with ammonia prior to packaging it. If the beef is not properly washed, we can end up with an outbreak of mad cow disease or E.Coli. Due to the corn diet making the cows sick, they are administered antibiotics constantly. In addition, growth hormones are administered to help the cows mature faster; another way of trying to keeps costs low. Today’s society warns consumers to limit their intake of red meat because it can increase your risk of heart disease. When they make this statement, they are referring to meat from CAFOs and not organic, 100%  grass fed beef. I consider grass fed beef to be a superfood! Because the cows are able to graze all day in their natural environment, their bodies are growing at a healthy rate and their meat will be much leaner and healthier than the beef from a feedlot; almost as lean as chicken breast! Grass fed beef is also full of omega 3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). It seems that everyone is taking CLA supplements lately because it has been proven to ward off numerous cancers as well as contribute to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and possibly aid in weight loss. Instead of taking these supplements, you would be much better off making grass fed beef and dairy from grass fed cows part of your diet.
*I have chosen to not go into detail about pork, goat, sheep, etc, however, similar practices occur with these animals. Source: Food Inc.

What to buy:
  I  recommend not settling for conventional beef because it has such a minimal nutrient value. If you are watching your weight but do not want to give up red meat, then you can rest assured by switching to grass fed beef. Remember, 100% grass fed beef is lean and highly nutritious! Definitely on my list of superfoods! I am very dedicated to ONLY eating grass fed beef. If I am out at an event or restaurant, I refuse to eat beef that is not grass fed. Ever since learning about the use of ammonia, the possibility of manure in the meat, and the very large doses of growth hormones, this is something I don’t budge on. We buy 100% grass fed beef at our farmer’s market or Sprouts grocery store and my husband swears it is the best beef he’s ever had.

In 1994 the growth hormone RBST (recumbant bovine somatotropin) was created to allow the cows to produce an unnaturally large amount of milk in a short amount of time. Dairy cows today are pumped with RBST hormones and hooked up to a machine that excretes their milk quickly and efficiently. By using this machine, there is no rest period for the cow to begin to produce more milk and as a result, the cows become sick and develop severe mastitis. With the development of mastitis comes a greater need for antibiotic use. Studies also indicate that the milk may not be as nutritious due to a lack of rest for the cow. Cows on pastures are supposed to be milked for a short amount of time and then given a rest period for their body to produce a new load of milk. Buying milk that is RBST free is a great choice, but it does not completely solve the problem, because the conventional milk will still have high pesticide residues and antibiotics as well as low nutrient value.

What to buy: Organic milk is better than conventional, but raw milk or non homogenized milk is best. I will discuss the benefits of raw milk at a later date, however I will tell you this startling information: Milk and dairy products from the grocery store are pasteurized. During the process of pasteurization, any potentially dangerous bacteria will be killed due to the heating process. What most people don’t realize is that this heating process will also kill the beneficial bacteria that is healthy for our gut. In addition, the heating process destroys all calcium and vitamin D in the milk. The only reason that our milk supply has these vitamins is because our government fortifies the milk. We have recently started on a raw milk adventure. It is quite costly at 10 bucks a gallon and we are still uncertain as to whether we want to work this into our food budget. We also drink organic coconut milk because my husband and daughter both have slight dairy intolerances. Interestingly, despite their intolerances, both of them are able to tolerate raw and non homogonized milk, probably due to the fact that it contains a lot of  naturally occurring lactase to aid in digestion. If raw milk is not within your budget, (or seems too “pioneer lady”), I highly recommend  organic milk to ensure no RBST growth hormones and antibiotics have been used. I do not recommend anyone drink skim milk. The vitamins in milk are all fat soluble and by skimming off the fat from the milk, the milk loses almost all of its nutrients.  To ensure your milk has naturally occurring calcium and vitamin D, I suggest drinking whole or 2%. Whether you choose organic, non homogenized, or raw is up to you. Here are a few of my favorites: Save Your Dairy, Davis Family Organic Farm, Straus Family Creamery, Organic Valley Grass Milk

Raw milk from Gilbert, Arizona

Fruits and Vegetables/Crops: If crops are not certified organic or locally grown from a farm, you can be sure that they contain a large amount of pesticides. Although pesticide residue is a concern to me, I am at ease knowing that I can lessen some of the pesticide residue by using a natural wash. I do also have a concern with other crops such as grains and nuts. These crops will also contain pesticides, and therefore, it is important to try and buy organic when possible, as well as rinse everything very well. Local crops will be the most nutritious, due to the fact that they are grown in season. Strawberries purchased in the winter will have very minimal nutritional value. Winter is not their natural season of growth, so a large amount of chemicals were probably used to help them grow. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, pesticides can interfere with the nervous, neurological,and endocrine systems, as well as pose a threat as a carcinogen.

What to buy:
We buy local produce whenever possible. It tastes better, and it doesn’t have to travel from California or Mexico to get onto our plate! When choosing which foods to buy organic, focus on the dirty dozen. I also try to buy organic for the items that my daughter eats frequently. A few examples include berries, oats, and raisins. She sure loves her oatmeal! As I have previously stated, starting a vegetable garden is a great way to reduce your costs of produce items as well as to ensure your produce is not infested with pesticides. I look forward to starting a vegetable garden in the near future.

A lovely display of beets from our local farmer's market. Beets are grown at Maya's Farm

Salmon/Fish: I am a huge advocate for wild salmon. There are all kinds of problems with farm raised salmon. The Audubon’s Living Oceans Campaign found that “Farmed salmon are fed more antibiotics per pound of ‘livestock’ than are any other farmed animal." Farm raised salmon is pink in color because they inject it with pink dye! I know this sounds ridiculous, but it is true. Farmed salmon eat grains rather than a natural diet of crustaceans and therefore cannot retain the natural pink color of the wild salmon. Wild salmon obtain their high omega 3 content from the algae in the ocean around them. Farmed salmon are usually not exposed to this algae. There is information that claims the farmed salmon may be lower in omega 3s, but the research is not certain. Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) are contaminants in the water that are derived from old electrical wastes. Farmed salmon are at a very increased risk of being contaminated by PCBs because they are swimming in such close quarters and their feed contains PCBs. The American Heart Association advocates eating fatty fish twice a week for heart health, however, our Environmental Working Group “urges” us to not consume farmed salmon more than once a month!!! PCBs are so toxic that they are only “safe” for consumption once a month by a grown adult.  Source:

What to buy: I highly urge you to buy wild salmon or don’t buy it at all. The amount of PCB contaminants is not measured or regulated in farmed salmon, and we simply don’t know the consequences of consuming these toxins. I would especially urge you to not let your children eat farmed salmon, or any farmed fish. When choosing salmon, remember that wild salmon will be very dark pink and farmed salmon will be a much lighter hue of pink. We buy wild salmon at Sprouts or our local farmer’s market once in a great while, but it is not something we eat very often because of the cost. We typically rely on chia seeds, flax, and walnuts as our sources of omega 3s.

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