A Definition of Organic Food

There is a lot a talk these days about living healthier, greener, more sustainable lifestyles. One of the key things suggested is for us to eat organic food. But what is organic food?

That font of all 21st Century knowledge, Wikipedia, defines organic foods as:

those that are produced using environmentally sound methods that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers, do not contain genetically modified organisms, and are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.

You know, food like your great-grandparents used to grow. Before the oil companies recycled everything into plastic containers for us.

A Brief History of Organic Food

Until the early part of the 20th Century pretty much all the food grown across the world was organic. It wasn’t called organic food – it was just food. Nobody had thought of putting chemicals into soil and sprays to enhance crop growth and yield. And genetic engineering took place over generations as farmers selectively bred to improve their stock or their seeds.

With the rise of the petro-chemical industries in the early 1900s, agricultural research became focused very much on the chemicals that are needed for plant and animal growth. That these chemicals come from finite resources, most often as by-products of oil refining, was rarely thought of. That they could cause other problems was seldom recognized until the problems became too big to ignore.

In the 1930s there was a reaction against the use of chemical additives in people’s food. It was led, in part, by Rudolf Steiner who also designed an educational system based on his holistic and sustainable outlook. These early organic farmers and foodies laid the foundations for today’s interest in sustainable lifestyles.

How Can You Be Sure That Your Food is Organic?

The early followers of organics were often dismissed as anti-scientific cranks. Nowadays, organic production is one of the fastest growing sectors of agriculture, and there are millions of dollars being spent to research more sustainable farming methods. But, unfortunately, organics still account for a minority of the foods grown. In 2008, less than 1% of agricultural and pastoral land in the US was certified organic.

Most nations have a government regulated system that certifies that those people who claim to be selling organic produce are actually doing so. It will vary from country to country, but most systems will be affiliated with the international umbrella organization IFOAM. You can check with IFOAM to make sure that the organic accreditation is actually recognized.