As we wrap up Heart Month here at Thistle, one challenge remains: how to better love and respect our beautiful and precious planet, and everyone who calls it home. While environmental sustainability isn’t typically associated with cardiovascular health and other wellness measures we observe during Heart Month, it’s important to acknowledge that our interconnectedness to one another and to the land plays a critical role in a healthy life.
One practical way to lovingly care for the earth is by making smart choices about all things organic food. The “organic” label, and even catchy phrases like Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen are everywhere these days. There’s an organic section in every grocery store, organic cotton pajamas for your kids, organic dog treats, organic food delivery services, organic cosmetics, and even organic soda. Despite its ubiquitousness, do we even know what “organic” means? And is it always the healthiest choice?
In this post, we’ll explain the basics of organic food and discuss what it all means for you and your health, for the planet and for your fellow humans. We’ll also cover Thistle’s approach to organic foods and explain how our food delivery service fits into a healthy and environmentally sustainable lifestyle.
What Does Organic Mean?
From an environmental perspective, the aim of organic food production has three specific goals: fortify soil, conserve water, and reduce pollution. Unlike conventionally-produced food, organic methods use natural products and processes to encourage growth and prevent disease. Some examples: instead of synthetic fertilizers, an organic farmer will enrich the soil with compost and manure. Rather than spray chemical pesticides, organic growers engage in practices like polyculture to keep the pests at bay.
Unlike other food buzzwords such as natural, superfood, and wholesome, which producers are free to use however they wish, organic food is highly regulated and requires third-party oversight and certification. Growers are subject to yearly inspections and must abide by strict guidelines.
Without the USDA’s stamp of approval, you can’t label a food organic. And it takes a lot of work to get and maintain that stamp, especially for small diverse farms. Daily record-keeping requirements include keeping tabs on everything from hours spent weeding to storage methods to pest management. The more varieties you grow and the more animals you raise, the more the paperwork multiplies.
Organic growing practices, certified or otherwise, stand against an agricultural landscape dominated by conventional monoculture, a system focused on producing livestock feed and processed food ingredients. Those endless fields of corn, soy, and wheat found in rural areas? That’s conventional monoculture.
But take a closer look. Despite accounting for under 1% of US farmland, organic food is a growing business. Sales are increasing year over year, and over 75% of grocery stores carry organically produced items. Even restaurants are getting in on the action. Consumers are becoming more label-savvy, and they want to see that organic certification.
If there’s one complaint people have about organic food, it’s the cost. When money is tight, consumers are more likely to stick with conventionally grown food. Sometimes a 100% organic diet is out of reach, but that’s no reason to give up! Bid an all-or-nothing approach goodbye, and say hello to some budget-friendly, flexible and wise ways to get more organic food into your diet. But first, let’s examine why to consider organic.
Why Go Organic?
To Love Your Body
Early studies found the nutritional benefit of organic food to be similar to its conventional counterpart. However, newer research paints a different picture. Organic produce has many times more antioxidants, which are compounds that protect against aging, and perhaps even cancer. Meanwhile, organic meat and dairy products have 50% more omega-3s, which are linked to better heart health, brain development, and immunity.
Also, by eating organic food you’ll minimize exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. This is an especially important consideration for children, as their developing bodies can’t filter out toxins as well.
The world’s most frequently used herbicide is glyphosate, and frequent exposure to it in agricultural and lawn care settings may cause cancer. Used as a weed-killer and even to speed up crops’ drying time, traces of glyphosate are found in high percentages of many foods. If you want to maximize nutrient density and avoid the risks of chemical contamination, eat more organic food.
To Love Others
Even if organic food didn’t have any extra health benefits, consider this: it’s not only about you. Eating organic food is better for other people, especially those who harvest it. By choosing organic, you’re showing love; you’re seeking the good of others and of the planet.
Farm-workers and people who live near farms bear the brunt of conventional agriculture. Compared to the typical consumer, they’re exposed to much higher levels of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. This subjects them to not just temporary harm such as skin rashes or breathing problems, but also to a higher risk of diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, infertility, and even death. When you eat organic, you’re helping preserve the lives and well-being of others.
To Love the Planet
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “We all live downstream,” which means we should be mindful that pollution caused in one place will go on to impact other places. Conventional agriculture tends to not abide by that concept. Conventional practices typically have large carbon footprints, cause soil erosion, and increase water pollution.
Meanwhile, organic farming doesn’t pollute the groundwater and uses materials requiring far less usage of non-renewable energy. It also preserves biodiversity, which means wild plants and animals (especially essential insects!) can co-exist among organic agriculture. It’s a more harmonious way to farm. It’s good for the planet. It’s good for all of us.
What Eating Organic Means for You
While beneficial, eating a fully or predominantly organic diet may not be realistic or attainable for many. However, you can still make healthy and earth-friendly choices by following these guidelines:
For Fruits & Vegetables: Get Familiar with the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen
If you want more organic food in your diet, but can’t afford or access it 100% of the time, let the Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen be your guide. From a personal health and safety perspective, the Clean 15 fruits and veggies are OK in their conventional form thanks to their protective outer layer which reduces the pesticide residues absorbed in the edible portions. As for the Dirty Dozen, those foods tend to have a more delicate outer layer and are most likely to test positive for pesticides, so buy organic whenever possible.
At Thistle, produce gets a lot of love. Our meals are designed with a “plant-forward” approach. Whether it be our breakfasts, lunches, or dinners, fruits and veggies dominate! Additionally, since we want them to be as safe and as nutritious as possible, we practice what we preach and source our produce according to EWG’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen guidelines.
For Animal Products: Less is More
Be it organic or conventional, raising animals for food is resource-intensive. Even meat purchased from a local farmer who practices regenerative agriculture has a larger footprint than most plant-based alternatives.
The takeaway is this: limit your consumption of animal products. From an environmental standpoint, it’s especially effective to avoid beef because not only does it have the largest carbon footprint but also uses far more land and water than other livestock. For example, pound for pound, beef emits sixty times more carbon than peas.
When you do eat animal products, keep the portions small, and opt for eggs, poultry, and pork over beef, lamb, and dairy. And don’t forget to seek out local, pastured, and organic sources whenever possible.
For Every Food Choice: Remember Your Motives
Eating organic is just one way to protect your health and protect the planet. Here are a few other factors to consider:
Do you want the organic apple shipped from a continent away, or the conventional one grown just a few miles away and sold at the local farmers’ market? In cases like this, conventional may be a better choice.
This principle especially applies to local farms that are not certified organic but abide by sustainable growing practices. Get to know these farmers, and buy what they produce. Your financial support can get them one step closer to organic certification.
“But it’s organic,” you say, as you look at your cart full of chips, candy, and soda. Before you make this a regular habit, stop to think: Those organic chips will push you past your sodium limit for the day. Many organic sodas have just as much sugar as the regular stuff. Remember your goal to protect your health! Have a healthy relationship with (organic) sugar and junk food and save them for special occasions.
What Organic Means For Thistle: Our Sourcing Standard
By delivering delicious and healthy prepared meals directly to your door, Thistle can be your partner in incorporating more organic and environmentally sustainable foods into your diet. We constantly seek ways to be a more earth-friendly company. Here are just a few of the specific ways we aim to love the planet:
- With delicious plant-based protein options, we encourage more people to eat a plant-forward diet. Reducing consumption of animal products is the most immediate and most impactful earth-friendly decision individuals can make. It fights climate change, reduces the consumption of natural resources, mitigates and air and water pollution, and promotes biodiversity and reforestation.
- We take a holistic approach to sustainability. In an attempt to reduce carbon and water footprints as much as possible, not only do we emphasize a plant-forward way of eating, but we also aim to make Thistle’s operations more earth-friendly. In the past year, we’ve cut our food waste in half. We offset all delivery and logistics-related carbon emissions. In addition, our facilities run on 100% renewable energy!
- We are proud to source from sustainably-minded, local and organic farms and partner with women and minority-owned businesses. One of our most recent partnerships is with locally-renowned Burma Love Foods. With so many local partnerships, we enjoy firsthand knowledge of our food’s growing practices.
- We include as much seasonal and organic food as possible. We strive to source all Dirty Dozen produce from certified organic farms. Our leafy greens are always organic. We aim to offer produce at the peak of its harvest.
- We get most of our protein from organic farms in Northern California. This includes plant-based proteins such as tofu, beans, and tempeh alongside animal proteins such as free-range poultry, pastured eggs, and non-GMO ground pork. Due to environmental impact considerations, our menu is always beef and dairy-free.
- We work hard to improve our packaging. Seeing this as our greatest opportunity for improvement, testing of compostable and even reusable packaging is currently underway. Stay tuned!
If you’re looking for a delicious organic food delivery service that’s aiming to be as transparent and sustainable as possible, give us a try. You can customize your subscription to meet your dietary and environmental goals, and you can pause anytime.
Everyone needs to eat, and everyone wants to do their part to love the planet. Be it eating more organic food or taking a more plant-based approach, eating in a more environmentally sustainable way is something we can achieve together. Join us!