At Lexington, we know taste and health can definitely go hand in hand. Our chefs prove that every day, whilst cooking and serving food from local suppliers, focusing on what’s in season and an increasing range of vegetarian and vegan menus. These are just some of the ways we try to do better for our customers and the planet, and our efforts are constantly progressing. Eating organic food is just one part of this movement, but what does it actually mean? And what are the benefits and cost implications for our restaurants and consumers? Let’s explore it.
What is organic food?
Unlike lots of words used to describe food production and quality – (natural, healthy, sustainable, green, eco-friendly etc.) – organic is the only one which is a legal term. Anything described as organic has to meet strict EU criteria which is broadly concerned with protecting the health of people, ecosystems and soil. Specifically, any food which is labelled as organic must comply with the following rules:
Pesticides are products that are used to kill unwanted animals and plants in farming. These ‘pests’ include insects, fungus and weeds which can be controlled by insecticides, fungicides and herbicides respectively. Pesticides can be man-made chemicals or they can be naturally occurring products such as citronella and clove oil.
One of the myths about organic food is that its production uses no pesticides. This isn’t entirely true. There are a certain number of natural and chemical pesticides which are approved for use in organic farming, but they are strictly regulated and only permitted as a last resort when all other methods have failed.
There are several bodies in the UK that are authorised to award organic certification, but it’s worth noting that food that receives the Soil Association seal of approval (this accounts for 70% of the UK’s organic food) actually has stricter rules on the use of pesticides. The Soil Association does not allow for the use of any chemical weedkillers.
Any food with an ‘organic’ status will not have used any artificial/synthetic fertilisers. The methods organic farmers use to ensure their soil is providing the correct nutrients for their crops includes adding in animal manure or green manure into the ground. Rotating the types of crops sown in a field using a specific pattern throughout the seasons and the years is another natural way to optimise the nutrients in the soil.
What many people might not realise is that the animal welfare standards are also a large part of the organic stamp of approval. Access to fresh air, outside grazing, smaller flocks and herds and the banning of beak trimming are all requirements for organic farmers. Organic farmers are also not allowed to routinely (or preventatively) use antibiotics on their animals and they are only permitted to use them for specific problems when they occur as a last resort. Organic farmers are also banned from using any genetically modified foods to feed their animals.
Cost of organic food vs non-organic
If you’ve ever shopped at an organic food store you’ll know that it’s more expensive than eating non-organic food. This is largely because crop yield is likely to be lower if farmers are having to battle pests and diseases without using synthetic pesticides, which means they need to charge more for their produce to make a profit.
For consumers who would like to buy organic but find the cost prohibitive, there are ways to dip your toe in the organic food game. Some people choose to buy organic fruit and veg which you cannot peel – for example tomatoes and cucumbers. With produce that has an outer layer that can be removed or peeled (bananas, coconuts, mangoes carrots, potatoes etc.) they buy from the non-organic aisle. The hope is that removing the outer skin also removes any pesticide residue. Others may choose to buy organic animal products because their main concern in livestock welfare and the transference of hormone and antibiotic traces.
Benefits of eating organically
Organic food – the cons
While there are many published studies which suggest there are real health benefits in eating organic food, not everyone is convinced it’s worth the extra effort and cost. Some would argue that it’s better to focus on a balanced diet with lots of whole foods, fruit and vegetables, rather than concentrate on eating food which has been labelled as organic. Just because something is organic, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. An organic cake is still a cake and unlikely to be better for you than a bowl of non-organic broccoli.
Another argument in favour of non-organic farming and food is that with lots of people living in poverty in the UK and across the world, what we should be more worried about is producing affordable food on a mass scale to ease the hunger in the world. Organic farming yields are generally lower so will overall produce less food
The future of organic food
UK farming on the whole has not had an easy time in the last few decades, but in the last few years, the amount of land used for organic farming has seen a small increase. With an increase in production we can expect to see – at some point in the future – a reduction in price. This may well be a slow process, but this movement, coupled with the increased public appetite for organic produce would suggest that organic food is on the up and here to stay.