Hippo Manchester
September 1, 2005

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When in doubt, go for the organic

For health and taste, you can say goodbye to pesticides, antibiotics and cow steroids

By John “jaQ” Andrews 

With concerns building about chemicals, growth hormones and genetically modified plants and animals, the interest in organic foods has been growing. Organic produce, meats and even packaged meals have been showing up in supermarkets, and whole natural food sections have been carved out there as well.

The U.S. organic market grew at a 21.2 percent compound annual rate between 1997 and 2002, according to a Datamonitor report cited on the website of the Organic Trade Association. The same report projects a similar growth rate through 2007, when the market is expected to reach a value of $30.7 billion.

By eschewing the use of chemicals, organic foods tap into the desire for natural products that come from the earth rather than from a laboratory. Less artificial stuff is introduced into both the body and the environment at large: if no chemicals are sprayed on a crop, no chemicals can leach into ground water or be absorbed by animals in the food chain.

Lisa Allen, owns The Daily Count, 49 E. Pearl St., Nashua. Her store carries organic as well as vegan and health foods tailored for people with various medical issues and allergies. “I think there’s a great future for organic food,” she said. “I think that is the trend. In 10 to 15 years, it’s going to be much more the norm.”

An organic coffee machine sits on her front counter, ready for anyone who just needs a morning buzz.

Abby Bower and Alice Saunders staff the Kearsarge Gore Farm stand at the weekly farmers’ market on Concord Street in Manchester. The Warner farm is run by Bower’s parents and cultivates a variety of organic vegetables. Animals are also raised there.

Bower has been eating organic food all her life. “I don’t think about it really,” she said. Living on an organic farm gave her few chances to eat anything else.

Saunders, on the other hand, has to make the effort. This Boston student is a vegan and buys organic, locally produced food whenever possible. She shops at co-ops and Whole Foods (a natural foods supermarket with no locations in New Hampshire) when she’s at school.

Why? “Definitely health reasons,” she said, though environmental concerns are also on her mind. By not buying conventional foods, “you aren’t putting gross chemicals in the land.”

It’s important to note that organic does not necessarily equal healthy. Sugar and cocoa, after all, can be grown perfectly organically, but a chocolate chip cookie is a chocolate chip cookie no matter how few man-made chemicals helped it along.

Making the switch

Switching to organic foods can be daunting at first. Farmers’ markets, specialized stores and sections in supermarkets have made it easier to find organic products, but their prices can still be a barrier to anyone bargain shopping.

One category of food with little organic premium is breakfast cereals. A box of brand-name cereal can run upwards of three or four dollars; if you’re lucky, you can find a generic equivalent for two. Organic cereals start at about $2.50, though the norm is between three and five dollars.

Meegan Guarino, the produce manager at A Market, 125 Loring St., Manchester, thinks comparing costs of organic and conventional foods is the wrong way to view things.

“If we were to look at it, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper this way,” she said, indicating the organic fruits and vegetables arrayed just inside the entrance of A Market. She contends that environmental and health costs of conventional foods far outweigh the hit your wallet might take by purchasing organic.

“The thing with the word ‘conventional’ is we think of that as the status quo,” Guarino went on. In fact, widespread pesticide use did not begin until the early twentieth century. “Every chemical [in the human body] wants to get out, and that takes energy.” When eating food treated with chemicals, she said, “your body’s like, ‘What are you doing?’”

If it all still seems a little daunting, you can go out and have a complete organic meal prepared for you at Devin’s Cafe in Salzburg Square, 292 Route 101 in Amherst, N.H. They use organic meats and vegetables and no processed food.

For lunch, you can start with a simple sandwich, but they also serve brunch and dinner. Whole grain waffles and pancakes, raspberry ricotta French toast and crabmeat fritattas can begin your day; Italian seasoned rib eye steak salad or parmesan-crusted chicken breasts with basil tomatoes over penne pasta can end it.

Choosing your own organic ingredients still does have its own appeal, like taking control of one’s ingredients and learning more about their origin. Alice Saunders sees a lot of educated buyers at the Kearsarge Gore Farm stand. Rather than being confused about the benefits and drawbacks of organic foods, most of her customers know what they want.

“I think currently people are getting into it, understanding it.”

Where?

Shaw’s and Hannaford both have natural food sections, which include organic options. Farmers’ markets, such as the Manchester Farmers’ Market each Thursday afternoon on Concord Street, may or may not include vendors selling organic products. There are stores that focus more on natural and organic foods, so you don’t have to confine yourself to one or two aisles.

A Market 125 Loring St., Manchester, 668-2650

Bonne Sante Natural Foods 425 Mast Rd., Manchester, 623-1613

Daily Count 49 E. Pearl St., Nashua, 578-0752

Earth Energies Natural Foods 295 Daniel Webster Hwy., Nashua, 888-2900

Earthward, 42 State Route 101A, Amherst, 673-4322

Nutrition USA 93 S. Maple St., Manchester, 634-4199

What’s in a name?

Just what does it mean when a food is labeled “organic”? Effective Oct. 21, 2002, the USDA attempted to make it simpler for consumers to understand what they were buying.

“Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones,” the USDA’s website states. “Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” Farms are inspected by government-approved certifiers to ensure that organic standards are being met.

Foods with the USDA Organic seal (pictured) have been certified as containing at least 95 percent organic ingredients.  Foods with between 70% and 95% organic ingredients may use the word “organic” prominently on the front of their packaging, but may not use the USDA seal. Products with individual organic ingredients may indicate as such, but not on the front of the package.

Foods claiming to be organic must also state which Certifying Agent has certified their organic status.

Retail stores and restaurants do not need to be certified. Nor do farms and other producers that sell less than $5,000 a year in organic agricultural products. Though they may not use the USDA seal, they may label their products organic.

Other terms, such as “natural,” carry no such legal backing to ensure their accuracy.