Natural selections

What was once only sold in specialty markets is now infiltrating local grocery stores and kitchens everywhere: foods processed without any artificial preservatives, chemicals or genetic modifications. Their shelf lives may be shorter, but supermarket owners needn’t worry about them going stale. These goods are flying off the shelves long before they reach their expiration dates.

What started out as a small display on a few shelves has now expanded into entire aisles devoted to natural foods. Publix Super Markets offer a section named GreenWise Market and Sweetbay Supermarkets have “Nature’s Place” – both of these cluster all of their organic products for consumers’ convenience.

Sales of organic food have grown by 20 percent each year since 1997, increasing annual grosses from $3 billion in 1997 to more than $10 billion in 2003, according to USDA statistics from the Chesapeake Bay Journal. Due to this high demand, the United States spends about $1 billion to import organic products as a number of farmers nationwide try to convert to organic-friendly farms.

“We have (a) huge demand for organic food products … but what we don’t have is enough organic producers,” Iowa Department of Agriculture Organic Program Manager Maury Wills said to the Des Moines Register.

All non-retail businesses selling more than $5,000 a year in organic foods must become certified under the National Organic Program in order to sell their products under the title “organic.” The application process takes between 90 and 120 days to complete and requires an inspection by the organization.

The process to convert from a regular farm to an organic farm can be daunting for many farmers. According to an Organic Valley study also from the Chesapeake Bay Journal, this is because it involves a transition period of about three years in which the farmers lose money due to the costs of meeting organic standards.

Despite these costs, farmers are willing to make the switch in order to reach such a rapidly growing market. Organic foods are no longer associated with only vegetarian and hippie stereotypes. They appeal to all demographics and lifestyles due to the nation’s increased consciousness toward healthy eating.

“I’m of the mindset that if I can’t pronounce all of the ingredients on the back of the label, it probably shouldn’t be going into my body,” sophomore Brittany Harvey said.

While reports that a conventionally grown apple contains 20-30 artificial poisons after rinsing, organic foods are grown without harmful pesticides.

Organic foods also lack additives like hydrogenated oils, which are high in trans fats. This type of fat is the worst kind to consume. It contributes to “bad” cholesterol, as it forms a plaque in arteries, making it increasingly difficult for blood to flow through. According to the USDA, a diet high in trans fats increases the risk of coronary heart disease, which accounts for 500,000 deaths each year.

For on-campus students with a meal plan, living organically can prove difficult.

“When shopping for myself, I typically try to choose healthier options, but since the dining hall doesn’t offer organic foods, I settle for what they’ve got,” freshman Lyndsey Scofield said.

While the Fresh Food Company at the Argos Center and Bulls Den Café at the Andros Complex both offer a variety of types of food including vegetarian and vegan options, the only organic product it offers is soy milk.

Meat is not excluded from the organic food movement. Aside from being healthier, organic meat products tend to be more humane to the animals. Organically raised chickens, for example, are not shot up with antibiotics or growth hormones. They also tend to be free-range, meaning they live in spacious areas where they can walk and move rather than in cramped, small cages.

“Chickens induced with chemicals taste slightly different than organically fed chickens,” freshman Sunil Medidi said. “It’s just not natural.”

Another factor aiding in organic awareness is the Organic Trade Association’s Grocery Store Wars, a parody of Star Wars that follows Cuke Skywalker and his band of chemical-free comrades as they fight against the “dark farm” of non-organic products, headed by Darth Tater, who’s “more chemical than vegetable.” Facts about the benefits of organic foods are juxtaposed with edible puppets, providing an entertaining twist on food education. To see the film, log on to

Other ways to learn more about organic foods include FDA Consumer magazine online at and visiting the organic section of your local grocery store. When shopping for organic foods, look for products with a green-and-white “USDA Organic” sticker, which means they’ve been certified by the National Organic Program.