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Natural Vs. Organic: Why Real Doesn’t Pay

Wake up, wake up, wake up it's the first of the month.

Do you think Bone Thugz & Harmony wanted you to eat organic? (Props if you got that first line)

In a real nutritional utopia we wouldn't need the food police, raw milk brigades or the war on HFCS. We would just live by what we grew, what we knew and eat the foods that made us feel truly nourished. Unfortunately, this isn't Disneyland and the Del Mar Fair doesn't serve cucumbers and chicken breast on a stick. The sad reality in regards to current U.S. food policies is that most consumers actually help to fund a broken system with their daily purchases of spray cheese, soda, taco bell, fruit by the foot and wonder bread. The further we go into the future and down the rabbit hole, the more it becomes clear that this oligopoly tri-fecta of petroleum, agribusiness and pharmacology will continue to reign above the real needs of the citizens it claims to serve every time a parent gives in to a screaming child's demands.

When I was a boy, my brother and I used to ride our bikes to the store and get comic books, gum, candy bars and burger king. What else was an uneducated not-yet-foodie kid from east county to do? We are only as strong as our influence and surroundings. I now flash forward to my most recent exposure to America's youth at a beach in La Jolla, California  over this past holiday weekend. I had just stopped to check out the surf when I overheard-

“Mom, gimmie my Cheetos!” said the obese child at the beach. It was enough to make anyone do a double-take. The mom gave the child, who couldn't have been more than 6 years old, an entire bag and looked the other way. At this point I can't blame the boy because he is just a product of this broken system–little kids don't know the difference between a mother's word and a television's blurb- as long as they get what they want.

The heat was sweltering and the sand was hot on toes but not even the deep blue ocean could pull me away from what was before my eyes- yet another example of how powerful the consumer's right to purchase really is. The trend among many American parents is to roll towards the path of least resistance when it comes to managing their day and getting all of their responsibilities done. Its far easier to go with the flow then fight the current, but on this healthy river its much too IMPORTANT to sit on the lazy-tube and go tanning. Parents that feed their kids a toxic diet need to make some damn changes, immediately.

I empathize with parents and I know a lot of you may argue with me because I'm not one yet, but I do have a nephew and care deeply about childhood nutrition. I also was personally overweight throughout my entire adolescence. When it comes to parental food selections, the choice isn't always crystal clear: Potato chips can be organic. High fructose corn syrup, according to the USDA, is natural. So which term is best? The confusion at times can be staggering to say the least.

What we really need is change at a fundamental level, less corporate driven confusion and our tax money allocated into food education starting at age 5 in our schools. Smart kids make smart decisions, but right now we have them more focused on PEMDAS and Narwhals than wellness. We're throwing away our right to bear health.

The recent Farm Bill that was recently passed on 1/4/11, empowers the FDA to seize food because it “has a reason to believe” that the food is misbranded — something which would encompass technical violations that pose no human health threat at all. A small farm or food producer could be driven out of business in a matter of months, the bill empowers FDA to seize food because it “has a reason to believe” that the food is misbranded — something which would encompass technical violations that pose no human health threat at all. A small farm or food producer could be driven out of business in a matter of months. Clearly that 2012 version will have to protect the organic farmer unless we want even less fresh food options.

Will the change we seek happen in this coming year? Most likely not. Until more type 2 diabetes cases and child obesity numbers increase beyond the profit margin of insurance P&L sheets, odds are nothing will budge. After all, processed food and sick care is big business and no one is going to dip into the profits of the sugar, grain and dairy industries without feeling some major repercussions. Case in point- Rawesome foods in Santa Monica. So now from the major food producers, in backlash to the consumer desire for healthier choices, comes the “natural” labeling phenomenon. Everyone from Stouffers to Weber's and Ralphs to Vons is jumping on the bandwagon. I actually saw bread on the shelf last week at Whole Foods that said “heart healthy grains” made from natural ingredients. #WOW

So when did real food begin to die? Sometime shortly after Earl Butz promoted the mass production to feed the world in the 1960's, subsidizing farmers to grow monocrops and leading to the case where some farmers were paid to actually stop growing any crops at all. Is this really how we feed the world!? Butz later went on to be jailed for tax evasion and was forced to resign from the cabinet due to racism. Most of the current GMO corn consumption in the American diet can be pinned to the corrupted policies of Mr. Butz.

Whether or not rap music flows about clean eating or that the biggest loser now heavily pushes processed oatmeal by a vegan trainer has no real bearing to the choices conscious eaters make. Are you consciously keeping it real? What is the determining factor in the choices parents make these real choices with their kids? Why should we buy organic produce and what is natural? How do we fight this broken system and fix the machine so it runs clean again? -EDUCATION.

Let's start with the difference between organic and natural-

-Natural, 100% natural and all natural ingredients are hazy and completely unregulated. This does not mean ethical or harvested in a humane way in regards to meats. The terms are not regulated by the USDA, except for meat and poultry. In the not so distant past, natural was thought to be healthy  but now is a reality of just fewer processed ingredients that may or may not contain corn syrup. According to the Food Marketing Institute, most foods labeled as natural aren't held to any special regulations or controls. They must meet the general controls for food safety, but not for wholesomeness or quality indexes. “Natural” meat and poultry must be free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and other such ingredients. They are minimally processed and must contain labels that explain the term “natural.” It does not, however, refer to how the meat was raised. Meat that was given growth hormones and antibiotics, if not overly processed during the butchering process and free of additives, can be labeled “natural.” Natural might conjure thoughts of fresh, minimally processed and healthy food, but it has nothing to do with a food's nutritional content, ingredients, safety, or health effects. Natural potato chips may use real potatoes (instead of flakes), but like regular potato chips, they are still a high-fat food choice with little nutritional content. Natural soda may be sweetened with cane juice (instead of corn syrup), but it can still contribute to weight gain when eaten in excess.*

-Organic refers to both the processing and production of food, and foods that bear such a label must meet or exceed standards set in 2002's National Organic Program. They are grown without synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes, and fertilizers made with petroleum or sewage sludge. Organic foods must also be grown using tactics that promote biodiversity and renewable resources. Livestock labeled “organic” must have access to the outdoors and cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones. 100% organicmeans that the food contains only organic ingredients. They can bear the “USDA Organic” seal. A food labeled to be organic has at least 95% organic ingredients. They can bear the “USDA Organic” seal. Made with Organic Ingredientsmeans that a food contains between 70% and 95% organic ingredients and can list up to three of those ingredients as “organic.” Any product that contains less than 70% organic ingredients may not be labeled as organic, but its ingredients list on the label can indicate organic ingredients.*

Real food has been literally dying for years. Every morning when we get up, the price of organic, local and grass-fed products rise. While most food is on the shelf for weeks at a time, eating real food just doesn't pay. Well, at least not for the oligopoly tri-fecta we mentioned earlier. It does cost more for real food, but it most certainly pulls money out of our pockets as these perceived “cheap” food choices we consume today will fuel the cancer, diabetes and auto-immune conditions of tomorrow.

In the words of our forefathers- “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.” –Thomas Jefferson

Keep it real and pay it forward- Your health bill during retirement will love you for it and you'll have the strength to hold your grand kids above your head at the park one day.

Try your best to be responsible for whats on your plate and know where it came from.

Eat clean, buy organic and live with passion.

Questions? Start here