If you spend any time at all looking around the paleo world, you will see a lot of recommendations for organic foods. Most recipes will tell you to use them and it is touted as being an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, no one really tells you what “organic” means and just why it is so important. Let’s try to put that right.
Actually, organic doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. All organic produce isn’t equal, either in cost or quality. Whilst you shouldn’t always buy the most expensive meat, you should certainly buy the best you can afford.
So let’s start with a general definition. For me, organic meat means that the animal has been fed on organic food, has been raised with access to free grazing land and hasn’t been given antibiotics or hormones. I prefer to be sure that the beast has been slaughtered humanely too. Now clearly, I can’t always check up the history of what I find on my plate, so how do I make sure that I am getting truly organic produce? Whilst being 100% sure is tricky, there are ways to put the odds in your favour.
The first thing to do is really read the labels carefully. Manufacturers tend to be pretty smart at making things look a little more ‘natural’ than they really are. Just because there is a picture of a magnificent, plump chicken wandering around a field, it doesn’t make it so! Read the small print and you can avoid quite a lot of the poorer quality meat (and other stuff too.)
Secondly, use only certified organic produce. In the USA for example, third-party independent inspectors visit farms to check that they are worthy of the organic label. Again, this isn’t foolproof, but in my opinion, it is pretty unlikely that you are getting hormone-boosted beef if it has passed the United States Department of Agriculture inspections.
The third way is best of all, for a couple of reasons. It is simply to get stuff directly from a trusted source. If you manage to build a relationship with these organic farmers, you can see what happens to the animal before it hits your plate. I have found that health food shops often have adverts from farmers who are keen to set up this sort of circuit. It cuts out the middle man and guarantees reasonable prices for everyone, especially on items such as grass-fed beef.
It just seems easier (and cheaper) to get whatever is in the supermarket, doesn’t it? Maybe so, but do you know what you are actually eating? The cheaper cuts of meat come from animals who have been fed on animal by-products and genetically-engineered grains. Do you really believe that this is creating quality meat? And what about the drugs? Cows are given hormones to fatten up, drugs to keep them ‘healthy’ and regularly consume pesticides and traces of chemical fertilizer. These elements are certainly still present in the flesh when you eat it. Given that many of these products have proven connections to all sorts of horrible things from antibiotic-resistant bacteria to immunity deficiency to cancer, you really don’t want them in your diet.
Don’t think that you can avoid the problem by eating more seafood because exactly the same things apply, in fact, the problem can be even worse. You might think that you are giving your health a boost by eating that Scottish smoked salmon, but if it is factory-farmed, it probably isn’t fantastic for you at all. Food given to these fish is notorious for its poor quality food, for example.
There is one more argument that really clinches the deal as far as I am concerned and that is taste. There is simply no comparison between a high-quality piece of organic meat including ground beef and its factory-farmed cousin. If you don’t believe me, jut try it and tell me that you can’t taste the difference!