What are organic food?
In the age of information, a simple stroll through the aisles of the grocery store can seem like an assault on your optic nerve. There are so many brands, labels, promises, and secrets that can be wrapped up in packaging intended to lure you in for the kill, or at least the spend. One of the labels you might have noticed, especially in the past ten years, is "organic". What does it mean when you see this label?
Organic food, in a nutshell, is food that is made from ingredients that are "all natural" and "free of added chemicals". I put both of the defining qualities of organic food in quotation marks purposely. The claim that any food is "all natural" is confusing to many people because, well isn't all food all natural? For example, how can plants that are grown non-organically be any less natural than the same plants that get the organic seal of approval? What is the deal on chemicals? Chemicals are all around us in nature. How can something be both all natural and free of chemicals?
What does "All Natural" Mean?
All natural, in the context of organic food, is simply a layman's phrase to accomplish:
1. Satisfy the first requirement of the USDA for organic certification, which is that the food in question be "produced with excluded methods"
2. In the same spirit as the first aim, assures consumers that the food is free of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
GMOs are living things whose genetic code has been altered in a laboratory and turned into a new species that does not exist in nature. Why would anyone go to the trouble to mess with the genetic code of a tomato, you might ask? To create a drought-resistant and extra juicy tomato for the masses could be one of many reasons.
All About Chemistry
Having witnessed first hand what a popular weed killer spray can do to a jungle of weeds in my backyard within a matter of a few hours, I certainly understand why people might be concerned about it ending up on their plate. The second requirement for organic certification is no or limited use of certain chemicals on in the production of food. The list contains mostly synthetic chemicals thought to be harmful to human health, but the use of some "natural" chemicals is still allowed.
Criteria for Organic Certification
The aforementioned requirements (Layman's terms: all natural and no chemicals used), in addition to a USDA oversight via an agent, are the general requirements for the coveted green seal of approval.
The USDA will certify the following products as organic: crops, livestock, processed products, and wild crops.
The Specifics for Organic Certification
The specific criteria for organic certification depend entirely on the product. Organic vegetables, for example, are to be grown in dirt that has not been sprayed by any chemicals on the USDA "no-no" list for at least 7 years and they grow using water and sunlight only. Dairy cows are not to be given hormones to stimulate greater milk production as is common in some non-organic dairy farming. Livestock raised for meat, like chickens and pigs, are not given antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick and potentially infecting other animals with whom they share close quarters. You get the picture.
Row after row of beautiful, organically grown produce.
As I mentioned before, The USDA has very strict criteria that must be met in order for a farm or food manufacturer to receive a USDA organic label. There are several other countries whose governments enforce similar criteria for certification as the United States. The entire process of ensuring that a food is organic is expensive, and that price trickles down to the food. In some cases, organic produce is twice as expensive as the inorganic produce of the exact same weight, country of origin, season, and quality.
Its a price that many parents are willing to pay based on the belief that organic food is considered safer for some groups. Though research has yet to confirm that trace amounts of pesticides and other chemicals in baby food has any negative health and developmental effects, it is not a risk many parents are willing to take. Fortunately, there are numerous organic brands and products on the market for your baby should you make the choice to go organic.
Organic foods are also thought to be better for the environment. It is argued that non-organic farming creates more waste from farm to table. High concentrations of animals, the fuel that is burned transporting products from one place to another, chemical run-off into streams and rivers...these are only some of the ways that feeding the globe has been attributed to environmental peril.
Many of the farming practices associated with organic versus non-organic products aim to grow, harvest, and distribute foods in the most responsible way. Some of the philosophies that organic farmers aim to act upon are focusing on quality, rather than quantity, choosing materials that are friendly to the earth, and giving back to mother nature by planting trees and restoring natural habitats.
Natural organic baby food brands
There are as many brands who offer either exclusively organic baby food products, or a line, as there are flavor combinations to choose from. With the shift in global culture in preserving the environment, more and more companies are turning to natural and organic products to reduce the carbon footprint associated with growing and manufacturing your baby's food.
1. Plum Organics
Plum makes baby formula, food pouches, food “bowls”, puff snacks, and teething crackers. All packaging is BPA free plastic, and all food is organic and non-GMO. On their website they state that their food philosophy is that “Little ones deserve the very best food from the very first bite.” The company also donates food to non-profits who provide for children with food insecurity through The Full Effect project. Plum has had B Corp status since 2008.
B Corporations give back to global communities in need by either donating their products to feed hungry families or donating profits to specific causes. Many organic baby food brands are B Corporations.
2. Happy Baby
Another B Corp organic baby food brand is Happy Family Organics, who make the Happy Baby pouches. Like Plum Organics, this company is committed to producing quality organic baby foods with minimal environmental impact. They too, donate their food to companies who feed hungry children globally and provide nutrition education.
Ella's is always organic, vegetarian, and gluten-free. They carry many unique and inventive flavors combinations, with exotic ingredients such as rutabago and amaranth.
4. Earth's Best
Earth's Best organic baby food comes in jars or pouches. They also carry finger foods and snacks for the later months and years of feeding your baby.
Sprout Organics pouches are always dairy-free. They have a cute and clean packaging design and they state information on packagint to tell moms if this food pouch is suitable for which weaning stage.
This popular organic baby food brand offers jars, pouches, and toddler foods.
7. Peter Rabbit
The brand does not use ascorbic acid in the baby foods nor does it water down the purees. There are many combinations available in BPA free pouch form, including fiber foods such as barley and quinoa.
8. Once Upon a Farm
This brand packages baby food using a cold pressed method. Cold pressure or HPP applied to fruit and vegetable purees decreases nutrient loss and makes the food taste almost as fresh as homemade, and well, fresh foods.
9. Pure Spoon
Pure Spoon baby foods are also preserved from fresh using the cold pressed method. The major advantage of this company is that they ship the food to you, similar to a meal delivery service. Orders can be placed online or you can subscribe. The company was started by a mother who wanted to make her baby’s foods, but soon realized the time constraints that come with motherhood, as so many of us do.
This brand offers dehydrated fruits, vegetables, and cereals that are reconstituted with water or breast milk when ready to serve. According to their website, offering food in this form optimizes the nutrients that baby can get from food that isn’t fresh.
Best Japanese organic baby food brands
A very popular baby food brand for health-conscious parents in Japan. Their products always contain only 4 all natural organic ingredients plus fruit.
2. Green Mind
The brand provides organic rice porridge for babies in a tear top pouch.
This brand comes in jar form and is always free of the top 7 food allergens (Japanese standards).
Organic foods do not differ from their inorganic counterparts when it comes to nutrition. The primary concerns about inorganic foods are negative effects on the environment, and the use of pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics in production. Although it well documented that those trace chemical used in inorganic farming end up in baby food and subsequently your baby, it is unknown what the effects of those chemicals truly are. Parents must weigh the pros and cons of organic vs. inorganic food for themselves and make a decision should you choose to go organic.