Shopping at Your Local Farmer's Market Made Easy

The food itself, local and organic. How do I choose?

First, we want to emphasize that you will make a HUGE leap forward just by eliminating highly processed foods from your diet and replacing them with FULLfoods (cleaner, less-processed foods). That, in itself, deserves a round of applause, a pat on the back and a huge high five. Whether you’re just grabbing and chowing down on the food itself, finding it at a local market or purchasing it organically, you’re making awesome progress.

Now, the nitty gritty, low-down dirty on local versus organic...

This can get a tad confusing. If you have the option to choose local or organic, one versus the other, what should you reach for? Well, there’s no perfect answer to this question. But generally speaking, FULLforLife encourages shopping local whenever possible, at local farmers’ markets (which provide a variety of food options in one location), orchards, butchers and seafood markets.

Why does FULLforLife love local? Here are three HUGE reasons to buy local whenever possible:

  • You support your local community. When you buy local, you support your community and encourage its growth.  All kinds of great things can occur when this happens!
  • Quality control. Local often means smaller scale, which typically leads to better quality products and potentially lower cost.
  • You get to go straight to the source. Having the ability to ask is huge. The more you know where and how your food is produced, the better. When you buy and eat local products, you have the opportunity to go straight to the source. You can ask questions regarding the foods you’re choosing or even visit the farm or business where the food was grown, raised or made.

The downside to local is that the availability of certain foods is seasonal and local organic products may be difficult to find.

Some food for thought: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seal of approval for organic foods is extremely expensive. Many small-scale, local farms use minimal to no pesticides but cannot afford the process of this expensive seal. Rather than turning your nose up, ask if synthetic or natural pesticides are used and to what degree.

When you hear the word organic, what comes to mind?

When you see something labeled as organic, you may automatically think it means 100% chemical-free. But the organic label is a little trickier than that. Not only can food be labeled organic and still contain synthetic ingredients, the word organic itself doesn't mean the food is all that healthy. So before you "go organic" and break your piggy bank, let's talk about what to look for so you don't end up with imposters in your pantry.

Certain processed (multi-ingredient) foods labeled as organic contain synthetic ingredients. What in the world does that mean?

Well, when you look up the definition for synthetic you'll find words like:

✓ Artificial
✓ Man-made
✓ Chemically altered
✓ Chemically made

Why do synthetic, chemically altered ingredients matter when it comes to organic?

The misconception is that all organic food is 100% chemical-free and created equal. But labels can be deceiving. Here's what you need to know when it comes to organic labels.

If the label states:

  • 100% organic: The food has been 100% organically grown/produced. It's made with ZERO synthetic ingredients.
  • Certified organic: The product is made with at least 95% organically produced ingredients but can contain up to 5% synthetic ingredients.
  • Made with organic [specific ingredient or food group]: The USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the package. The product is made with at least 70% organically produced ingredients; the remaining 30% can be comprised of synthetic ingredients.
    • For example, a breakfast cereal might be labeled "made with organic oats. The ingredient list must identify what ingredients are organic." - Mayo Clinic 
  • Containing organic ingredients: The USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the package. The ingredient list can indicate which ingredients are organic. The product is made with less than 70% organically produced ingredients.

That being said, when picking up pre-packaged food, we always check the label to see which tier of organic the food falls under. There's been numerous times we've thought twice about paying double for foods "containing organic ingredients," as more than 30% of the ingredients may be synthetic. Make a decision based on what works for you. Is it worth the money or is there a better choice?

The word organic doesn't necessarily mean healthy.

Organic isn't a label that magically makes bad food good for you. While it's all fine and dandy to buy organic, it's just as important to understand WHAT you're buying. Organic sugar is still sugar. If you're eating a big bag of chips, organic or not, they're still junk food.

Organic foods can still contain lots of unfamiliar ingredients.

When it comes to processed food (meaning not the whole food itself, such as fruits and vegetables), check the ingredients listed before tossing something into your shopping cart. You may be surprised at how many unfamiliar ingredients organic foods may still contain. The organic granola bars pictured below are a great example of this. When you look at the ingredients you'll see there are over 30 listed, some of which sound like they're from another planet. No thanks!

Are certain foods better to purchase organic than others?

The simple answer to this question is yes, some foods ARE better to buy organic. This is especially true when it comes to produce because certain fruits and veggies can retain higher levels of pesticide residue than others. Think about the produce itself. Is it easier for bugs to eat a strawberry or a pineapple? Probably a strawberry because it doesn't have the thick protective exterior like a pineapple. So it's safe to say that strawberries are more likely to have a higher level of pesticide residue, right?

Rather than driving yourself crazy trying to think about which produce bugs are more likely to chow down on, check out The Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 Lists. These lists are great resources because they break down which produce is worth purchasing organic and which is safer to consume in the non-organic form.

While we tend to eat a lot of organic produce, we definitely don't eat ALL organic. Instead, we familiarized ourselves with which foods are worth the extra money and purchase accordingly.

As for organic meat, regulations require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage (this does not mean the animal is 100% grass fed), and not administered antibiotics or hormones. - USDA

Is it worth the cost?

We wish there was an easy answer to this question, but it's something you have to determine for yourself. You have to make your decision based on what makes the most sense for you.

Organic in a nutshell

When it comes to processed food that's labeled organic (meaning it's made with multiple ingredients, not just the whole food itself):

✓ Look at the label. Is it "100% organic" or does it just "contain organic ingredients?"
✓ Generally speaking, would it fall under the realm of "healthy?" Remember, organic or not, ice cream is still a dessert best enjoyed in moderation.
✓ Take a closer look at the ingredients listed. Are they healthy, familiar, FfL-friendly ingredients?

If it's the food itself (produce, meat, dairy):

✓ How was the food grown or raised?
✓ When it comes to fruits and vegetables, where does it fall on the realm of pesticide exposure, the high side or low?

Generally speaking, organic foods have lower levels of pesticides. That being said, always be aware of what the label truly means and evaluate if it's worth the money and if it's actually good for you. (Remember, organic chips are still chips.) Keep in mind that you're taking a HUGE leap forward just by eliminating highly processed foods from your diet and replacing them with FULLfoods. 

Action Step

  1. Familiarize yourself with local farmers' markets, orchards, butchers and seafood markets. Find out where they're located and when they're open.