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Life After Organic: What Else To Shop For

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The organic food market grew by 11.5% last year, adding up to $35.1 billion in sales. Eight in ten parents say they purchase organics. Walmart is offering their own line of organics. Organic food is no longer that little known sandwich shop on a nondescript corner in an unknown neighborhood. It's the hip boutique with a line down the block in the middle of Silver Lake.

Soon enough, organic offerings will be cheap and easily accessible, USDA organic certifications as far as the eye can see. Which is great! Hooray! That means less pesticide residue and fewer hormones and antibiotics in cows. But it also means it's time for shoppers to go further when deciding what to buy.

If organic is the new normal, what's the new organic?

Farm Size/Proximity

One of the big worries surrounding Walmart's entry into organics is their promise to lower the price. The problem, some contest, is that the only way for Walmart to meet their promised price point is by purchasing organics in bulk, and that means large organic corporate farms will further outpace the profits of smaller, independent farms. And that's troublesome.
(This isn't a new worry, it should be noted: In 2012, the New York Times investigated this exact possibility.)

Once large organic farms start buying up family farms -- or if smaller growers are simply pushed out because they're not selling as they used to -- that will make large farms the main provider of organic products. And as is the case with any large corporate farm, that means crunching the numbers and cutting costs to reach the bare minimum of requirements to pass organic inspection. Which is why simply shopping for organic items isn't enough. You also want to consult places like Local Harvest to locate small family farms in your area.

GMOs

I've spent plenty of words discussing why one needs to be wary and on the lookout for GMOs, so I won't go into that here. But the big problem facing those who want to know if the food they're buying contains GMOs is that there's no label in place to alert consumers. Enter: Your phone. Apps like the Non-GMO Project Shopping Guide, Buycott, and True Food can turn your phone into the best label of all.

Fair Trade/Workers Rights

One of the ways the organic community has attempted to lower their cost is by outsourcing the production to other parts of the world, and then paying those workers nearly nothing. Fair Trade USA tries to put an end to that sordid practice by telling shoppers which farmers and growers have been fairly compensated for their product.

Workers rights at home are also important to consider. Fast food franchises are notoriously bad when it comes to paying their workers a living wage, but plenty of restaurants aren't great either. And when workers receive low wages and no benefits, they're forced to come into work when they feel under the weather. And that's not good for anyone's health. So, to find which restaurants believe in paying their workers appropriately, check out ROC United's Diner's Guide.

Packaging

Not only should you consider the actual food, but the packaging the food is being housed in. Trader Joe's, as great as they are, have caught plenty of grief over the years for the excessive amount of plastic they use to wrap their items. If you're shopping there, forgo the prepackaged produce and buy loose items instead.

If you want to take the concept even further, you can look at how your beverages are packaged. Glass bottles, for instance, are easily recycled into other glass bottles, but are also heavy and environmentally-costly to ship. Plastic bottles, on the other hand, are lighter and easier to ship, but don't have the same recycling capability of glass or aluminum. (Most plastic bottles are recycled into items like carpet and clothing instead of more plastic bottles.) And aluminum cans, well, they ship super easy, and are recycled plenty -- the comparatively high price to bring aluminum to the recycling plant being the main reason for that -- but they also cost a ton to create. So, if they don't get recycled, they end up being the worst for the environment. Which is all to say: Make your best judgement on this one!

But the main thing to remember is that the decisions on what you buy don't end at the word "organic."

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