National Organic Week Ireland 2009 is upon us. It runs from 14 September to 20 September inclusive but The Hopsack is offering you lip-smackin' tastings for an entire fortnight! Sweet, eh? Whole Earth soft drinks; Koyu Matcha tea; toasty Clearspring seed snacks; and organic, fair-trade, sun-drenched mango are just a few of the treats chosen for your delectation. Please drop by or give us a buzz on 01-4960399 for more info. If you live in a far-flung town, please click here for a nationwide list of events. Organic So what is organic and why use organic products? Organic foods and goods are grown, raised and prepared without the use of chemicals, hormones, antibiotics or genetically modified organisms. Organic farming is farming as Nature intended. It is in tune with the Earth and all her creatures. Far from being a trendy concept, it has existed since time immemorial (with the chemical farming blip occurring only since World War II). When my mum was little, my grandmother would walk to the local farm, pluck a lettuce from the ground and wander home with freshly picked greens for dinner. They lived not in the countryside but in leafy suburbia. The food my parents ate as kids was organic, local and sustainable: buzz words today but so taken for granted back then that they weren't even coined. Organic farming was conventional farming. These days, 'conventional' farming means fruits and vegetables coated in wax and dusted with pesticides, herbicides and other -cides. It means animals, dairy and eggs stuffed with growth hormones and antibiotics. Tried and true organics are viewed as niche. Brainwashing, anyone? Why buy organic? Is it not a self-indulgent luxury? Organics tend to be dearer, true, because organic farms are not subsidised like 'conventional' farms. (If 'conventional' farms were unsubsidised their products would cost a fortune!) But organic goods can be cheaper and they are always safer for your health, your children's health and the environment. You would hardly pick an apple from a tree, douse it with pesticides, rinse it and eat it; yet that is effectively what you're doing when you buy non-organic. Even, and sometimes especially, at lower doses, farm chemicals can wreak havoc on living creatures, including us. Children are most vulnerable. At certain stages of development, exposure to toxic chemicals at a level causing no detectable harm in adults can induce subtle but permanent damage to the endocrine, organ and nervous system of a child. The good news is that switching kids to an all-organic diet can dramatically reduce detectable pesticide residue levels in a child's urine within days. 'Conventional' food also bombs nutritionally. It contains fewer vitamins, minerals, trace elements and other nutrients than organic produce and can encourage excess eating as the body searches for building blocks it fails to find. Soil fed specific nutrients (e.g. nitrogen, etc.) in lieu of Nature's synergistic fertiliser (ahhh ... that fresh country smell!) does not nourish plants properly. Compromised plants are then bathed in chemicals to fend off insects, animals, parasites and moulds genetically programmed to feast on malnourished weaklings! Health-wise, organic is the way to go, especially if you are pregnant, nursing a child or feeding kids. If you're not convinced, check out Professor John Wargo of Yale University (thank you, Susan Jane Murray!) and the University of Missouri's Professor Frederick Vom Saal on the damaging effects of pesticides and plastics on humans. Organic fruits and veggies are also yummier. Next time your granny says, 'Potatoes tasted much better in my day!' offer her an organic spud and watch her smile... :-) Local and sustainable Where can you find organic food? How can you afford it? And is there anything you should really avoid? Check out the badass and goody-goody lists below to make the switch to organics easier. The following foods are highly contaminated with chemicals and should be eaten in organic form or avoided: apples, baby food, carrots, celery, cherries, coffee, grapes, flour (and its resultant products such as bread), green beans, kale, spinach, leafy greens in general, meat, milk, nectarines, peaches, pears, peppers, potatoes, rice, strawberries, raspberries and tomatoes. Additionally, according to GM-Free Ireland, animal feed in Ireland is almost entirely genetically modified in non-organic husbandry, so if you are concerned about animal welfare and genetically modified foods, buy organically produced meat, poultry, fish, dairy produce and eggs. They are dearer but they are tastier, richer in nutrients and devoid of the chemical and GM soup found in non-organic animal products. Go for organic soya products too; non-organic soya is almost always genetically modified. Conversely, the following foods carry the lowest pesticide load and non-organic versions are OK: asparagus, avocados, bananas, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, aubergine, kiwi, mango, onions, papaya, peas, pineapples, sweet potatoes and watermelon. Choose organic sweet corn, though, as non-organic corn, while low in pesticides, is often genetically modified. I love my farmers' market for fresh produce. You can find bargains galore if you get to know the different stalls and their rhythms. Or invite your local farmer around for a glass of organic wine! Nurturing relationships fosters trust between providers and consumers. You may even find farmers who use no chemicals but are not organically certified. If you trust them, you can avail of fresh, nasty-free food while supporting local businesses and reducing your inky footprint. Shopping from source also bypasses a growing danger: that of multinational food conglomerates entering the organic arena for financial gain while trying to dilute organic standards in pursuit of profit. Donning your wellies (or not, even!) and growing your own food is a wonderful way to go organic on the cheap. More about dabbling in DIY in my next blog. Supermarkets carry organic fare too, swathed in plastic like a trussed up bride, it's true, but fresh, tasty and occasionally cheaper than the premium, non-organic range. (Check bargain shelves too!) If you're wedded to the house, box schemes will deliver organic fruit and veg to your door. (Click here if you're based in Dublin.) If you pop down to The Hopsack, you'll find a rainbow of organic goods, a pot of gold (maybe) and a leprechaun (definitely!). But did you know that organic status covers more than edibles? While The Hopsack sells a wide range of pesky-free foods and remedies, it also carries certified organic hair and skincare lines. Organic certification for body products is important: regulations are loose and there are myriad 'natural' and 'organic' wares on the market that are anything but. The skin is a carrier, not a barrier. What you put on your skin will sink into your bloodstream, so be careful. Feel free to ask the Lovely Girls and Boys for advice and remember: be never too busy to be beautiful. Did you know? Your lipper can contain brain-damaging heavy metals if not organically produced. Lipstick is a meal in itself if you wear it every day, so choosing a safe, organic brand is vital. Nancy Evans' Rosehip Skincare lipstick is non-toxic enough to eat. It comes from Australia. It will increase your carbon footprint, unfortunately, but it's the best organic brand I've found and the exchange rate is good.