What is USDA Organic and most importantly, why do I care?

Food: we eat it, in most cases we eat it every single day, but where does it come from? and how is the quality determined? Don’t all potatoes grow in the dirt? Aren’t all pigs adorable but kind of filthy? There are certain organizations such as Pennsylvania Certified Organic, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and probably most famous: the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that are in charge of making sure our food is edible, healthy and delicious. These veritable special ops task forces separate the best from the rest, deciding with an iron fist which foods make the cut of “Organic” or “Locally Grown” so that the decisive majority know exactly where their food is coming from and how it was grown.

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Organic: That’s a word that gets thrown around far too often. USDA approved organic is not a title to be taken lightly. USDA organic does not just have to do with the food but also relates to the growing methods. Methods that promote conservation of land, water and other resources are the only methods used in a true USDA approved organic farm. For produce like apples, kumquats, aloe vera… etc. products have to be 100 percent organic in order to receive the USDA organic seal. In order to be considered organic, from the very beginning these products cannot be farmed with GMOs, pesticides, unethical farming practices. Farming practices like using runoff from the local gas station to water your plants. Products that are made from organic materials, like hummus, pesto or tahini are only required to be 95 percent organic to be granted the USDA organic seal. This is because many products will often have one or two very minor additives such as Polyglycerol esters (a common emulsifier) that are not organic, but are also essential to creating the product and generally appear in extremely small amounts, such that they do not affect the integrity of the final product. There are tons of terms that companies will use instead of organic to trick and confuse us, the uneducated masses. Terms about poultry, quail, squab…etc. such as “Farm-Fresh” or “Hormone Free” mean nothing about the quality of the meat and in no way indicate that the meat was raised using USDA approved Organic methods.

The health benefits of getting food that is certified organic are heavily up for debate. With no clear upsides, health-wise, to eating and buying organically some might wonder what the point is. Putting an organic chicken egg next to a GMO factory chicken egg you will notice a couple of things though. The Organic eggs will have a much more vibrant yellow yolk, and firmer whiter egg whites. Organic helps protect the environment. Organic farming techniques emphasize practices that help to preserve the Earth, reducing runoff, bad smells, water waste and a plethora of other things.


In general the best place to find really organic food would be local markets. There is a smorgasbord of small groceries and produce locations throughout the city that strive to sell organic and locally grown food. Even if you find yourself in an Acme it is a sure fire thing to look for the round, green USDA organic seal which again can only be present on foods that are 100 percent organic, unless it is an amalgamated product like ketchup or Achiote paste, in which only 95 percent of the ingredients have to be organic to receive the USDA Organic seal.


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