Organic Food Shopping Guide

Going organic can seem like a daunting (not to mention pricey) proposition. These shopping tips will help make the transition easier

Credit: Flickr / Mr. T in DC

When at the farmers market or grocer, taste as much as possible. It will help you gain a better understanding of prices

Feeling a little overwhelmed by your trip to the grocery store? Here are nine easy tips to keep in mind when shopping for organic food


1. Look for the Certified Organic Label

Confused by product labels? Don’t be discouraged: they’re easier to read once you know a few key facts about organic food, such as the difference between organic vs. certified organic. Actually, there’s no difference. These terms mean the same thing.

A certifying body (or third party) guarantees the producer, farmer or handling facility adheres to organic farming practices and standards, which translates into the best food possible (requirements for certification vary from country to country). Now, if a label boasts made with 80% organic ingredients, it means just that; what is organic will be listed in the ingredients section as such.

(Image: marcusjroberts)

Then there’s natural, premium and pure. Comes from nature and is good for you? Sure. But these terms don’t really mean much. They’re simply a clever way to sound organic or healthy without having the evidence to back it up.

There are food products grown without chemicals and sprays that are not certified organic – certification doesn’t come cheap. But in a commercial marketplace, it’s hard to tell which ones are legit and which ones aren’t. The best practice is to look for certified organic logos on your packaging.

2. Eat Seasonally

Want fresh food? Then eat seasonally. Even better, eat locally grown seasonal foods. Want to top that? Go local and organic and seasonal. British Columbia has an abundance of fruits and vegetables year round and right in our own back yard.

Want the best way to source them out? Check out your city’s farmers markets or go directly to the farm: the Fraser Valley and Okanagan Valley have plenty to offer. Super adventurous? Head out to the forest and forage for your own stinging nettles and fiddleheads. But be careful, you don’t want to pick up a rash instead of a meal!

(Image: Skånska Matupplevelser)

3. Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Ever go to a farmers market and see gnarly carrots and oddly sized apples? Organic isn’t always pretty but it sure delivers in taste and flavour. When picking produce, put looks aside and aim for quality.

4. Know Your Sources

Large-scale organic farms are popping up in California (Cal-Organic) as well as in China. Do your research! Not all organic products are made equal.

While the emergence of bigger farming collectives will surely bring down the cost of organics, not all organic standards are the same. Support local and organic when you can, as it’s a great way to boost the economy, promote BC growers and decrease your carbon footprint.

(Image: VancityAllie)

5. Taste Test

Again, not all organic products are made equal. Taste test whenever and wherever (organic grocer, farmers market) you can! Understand the difference price makes. And above all else, enjoy what you eat!

6. Watch It!

Watch documentaries like Forks Over Knives, watch the TEDTalks food series The Chew (available on Netflix), watch Jamie Oliver’s food program Food Revolution, and join the conversation!

Learn about food trends and farming practices; learn about diet and health and what’s in our food; learn new recipes and how to be an informed and aware buyer. That’s not to say docs, TV shows and Internet webseries aren’t hyped with their own marketing. Be a discerning consumer and digest only what makes sense to you.

(Image: Farmanac iPhone App)

7. Local vs. Organic

Not everything local is organic. While fruits and veggies from local producers taste better than our imported varieties (given they are left longer to ripen), it doesn’t mean those fruits and veggies haven’t been sprayed or chemically treated. Now again, some producers don’t use harsh chemicals but aren’t certified organic. This is true. But the organic label is the best guarantee when it comes to quality. A good rule of thumb: when possible, buy local and organic.

8. Junk is Junk is Junk

With vegan and gluten-free food trends on the rise, it’s no surprise grocery shelves are cluttered with healthy chips, crackers and cookies. While cakes and biscuits can be made with the most incredible organic, free-range, fair-trade ingredients, sugar is still sugar and the same goes for fat. Unfortunately, just because it’s made with whole wheat and real food doesn’t make it a hearty meal. At the end of the day, we still need to exercise moderation and a balanced diet.

(Image: kaktuslampan)

9. Quality over Quantity

We’ve all heard this before, so here it is once more. Buy quality over quantity. That’s where you’ll find true value. That doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive gourmet foodie items around. But when buying produce, meat, fish, eggs, cheese and the like – buy sustainable, ethical, nutrient-rich foods that uplift your mind and body, and do the earth a little good at the same time.