Discover what it really means to go organic as we unpack everything from what defines the process to product compliancy. Read on for all you need to know about South Africa's organic foods.
As the world begins to fully recognise the importance of good nutrition and healthy living, organic and healthy food markets are springing up all over the countryside, and local stores are offering more variety of real food. It's no longer a chore to do your weekly grocery shopping; it's becoming an adventure of the senses.
Nature's own energy life force is intricately infused into the very core of food, the soil, rain and sunshine that works seamlessly together to bring forth a plant that is so suffused in natural intelligence and beauty it deserves to be revered. That energy is transferred into your body when you eat, but it's more than just about getting your daily fuel. It's about connecting to the fundamental energy that brings life to everything on the planet.
Whether you're a vegan or a meat-eater, nature offers you a vast array of every possible nutrient to help you sustain physical, mental and spiritual energy to sustain life. Food's intelligence is in the myriad differences in each type of food, its unique combination of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, fats, carbohydrates, fibre and sugar. It stands to reason that the more a food is processed, the more it'll lose its natural life force and vibration, which is why raw and organic is touted so much as the basis for a healthy diet. Nature gives clues to the type of energy infused in food as well, for example, a potato that grows in the ground will give you a solid, grounding energy, while spinach grows up and out of the ground, lifting its leaves towards the sunlight and gives you more uplifting energy. Something infused with chemicals will lose its vitality, meaning your body won't see much benefit from eating it.
WHAT IS ORGANIC?
But what does organic really mean?
Essentially, the word organic means 'relating to or derived from living organisms'. With that definition, then, all food could be deemed organic. However, the general understanding of organic is unadulterated, with no added chemicals or pesticides, well-nourished soils used to grow produce, or animal feed that's chemical and toxin-free. It's also understood to be closer to how Mother Nature intended. Most people believe that organic food is packed with more goodness than conventionally created food.
But, it really goes deeper than that, many commercially-available cereal, for example, offer added vitamins and minerals, theoretically making them even better for you than a 'natural' cereal. While added vitamins and minerals may assist in keeping your daily intake of essentials in check, the grain these are added to may be genetically modified and not contain the whole grain (many cereals only contain the endosperm, the least nutritious and most calorific part of the grain).
Many of the fruit and vegetables available in stores are flaunted as being 'long-life' and they do tend to stay fresher or crispier for longer. In today's world, we expect to be able to buy fruit on a Saturday and still have it as fresh the next weekend. But the question is, how does it stay so 'fresh'? Genetic modification and chemicals, of course. If you want convenience and week-long freshness, you may have to forgo natural goodness.
WHAT MAKES IT ORGANIC?
In South Africa, there are two types of certification for organic produce and products: 'certified organic' and 'organic in conversion'. 'Certified organic' means the farmers or producers of the food or product have undergone an official and industry-recognised process of application, inspection, compliance and authentication that entitles them to use the label. 'Organic in conversion' means the farmers or producers are still in the process of getting the organic certification.
In the case of agriculture, for example, the produce is being farmed using organic methods but the soils in which they grow have not been completely rehabilitated, a process that takes about three years on average. There is also a difference between products that contain organically certified ingredients but were not necessarily made utilising an organic process - which means they are not 100% organic. The Mayo Clinic offers a chart of some of the key differences between conventional and organic farming methods:
Conventional: Chemical fertilizers are applied to promote plant growth, to fight against pests and disease, spray synthetic insecticides, weeds are managed with synthetic herbicides, animals are given antibiotics and medications to prevent disease, and growth hormones to speed growth.
Organic: They use natural fertilisers to feed the soil and plants, like manure or compost, use pesticides from natural sources; employ beneficial insects and birds, and traps or mating disruption to reduce pests and disease, environmentally-generated plant-killing compounds, crop rotation, tilling, mulching or hand weeding for weed management, animals are fed on organic feed and allowed free access to roam. For disease prevention, rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing are provided
Currently, South Africa has no legislation, regulation or standard controlling organic agriculture production. The organic sector, with support and co-operation from our government, has begun a process to develop a set of voluntary standards as an interim measure. In the meantime, the labelling of organic products is subject to the Consumer Protection Act and the Advertising Standards Authority. Currently, the protection of the consumer and the control of labelling are effectively done by the retail sector in co-operation with suppliers and the various certifying bodies operating in the country.
Healthy eating tip: Choose foods with the least ingredients listed. Also, in the words of Naked Chef Jamie Oliver, if you don't understand a word on the ingredient list, don't buy it.
ONE WITH THE ENVIRONMENT
It's well recognised that organic farming methods are kinder to the environment. It hasn't been scientifically proven, however, that organic food is indeed healthier for you, but that's not to say it isn't so. Also, the delicious taste of sunshine that resonates in organically grown fruit and vegetables can't be ignored.
Whether you go for only organic or choose to mix organic with conventional, keep the following tips in mind:
Variety: Eat a variety of food from a variety of sources to ensure you get a better mix of nutrients and reduce your exposure to a single pesticide.
Be seasonal: Be kind to the environment and keep it green by consuming fresh produce that's in season.
Savvy reading: Just because it's organic, it doesn't necessarily mean it's a healthier or lower fat option, some organic food may still be high in sugar, fat or salt.
Keep it clean: Wash fresh produce under clean running water to remove traces of chemicals, dirt and bacteria. You could opt to peel fruit or vegetables, but that does mean you'll lose out on some valuable fibr.
DID YOU KNOW?
There's no such thing as organic fish. Although the possibility of creating organic standards for farmed fish is on the National Organic Program's agenda, no consensus has been reached. Certification organisations, standards and indicators: Carbon Protocol of South Africa
- [email protected] Eco Standard South Africa - 021 530 1899 WIETA Agricultural Ethical Trade Initiative (South Africa) - 021 880 0580 SGS South Africa - 011 800 1000 Ecocert - 0033 5 62 07 34 24
by Kirsten Alexander