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Organic, Natural or Non-Contaminating Food: Do You Know How to Differentiate Them?

Food, livestock and agriculture play a significant role in the environmental impact of our planet. Especially in terms of carbon emissions, water extraction and land use. In this article, we will explore the definitions of organic, natural and non-polluting foods and to understand what relationship they have with our daily lives and our health and some ideas to improve it. An interesting and enlightening article… Go ahead?

You were probably young or it caught you when you were little. The transition from a healthy diet to fast food or junk food was quick, driven by a growing society seeking convenience and speed. A wide range of affordable, industrialized foods, processed meats, dairy products, and fruits and vegetables we had never seen before began to surround our health and that of our planet.

However, this evolution made us aware of the importance of nutrition and the quality of the foods we consume. Our allergies, differences, and the need to expand, diversify, and enhance a range of food products that are profitable, affordable, and beneficial for everyone.

Organic vs. Non-Organic Foods

But perhaps we went too far, as we not only increased production to unprecedented limits and, therefore, large-scale pollution, but also created an excess of food, agriculture, and livestock without precedent.

Did you know that about 11% of the contents of your refrigerator will end up as waste? According to the United Nations, 32% of this waste occurs because we cannot clearly distinguish the expiration date, the rest is due to poor management and/or planning of our family's diet, something we can undoubtedly change.

If a good part of these foods is also responsible for environmental impact in their production or transportation, we understand that organic food really matters, as it is the most sustainable, as well as healthy.

Organic foods are primarily of plant origin, free from chemical residues and additives. They have diversified, increased, and improved in recent decades, as they represent a healthier, though often more expensive, option. This choice influences the sustainability and local economy of resilient cities due to their ability to be part of the circular economy, and above all, your health.

Organic agriculture plays a crucial role in long-term sustainability. Organic foods not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also promote local and proximity trade, supporting the circular economy and contributing to the development of resilient and sustainable cities.

Organic Foods vs. Natural Foods: Important Differences

Now that we know the characteristics of organic foods, it is essential to understand the difference between organic and natural foods. Organic foods are mainly of plant origin and are cultivated following strict practices that exclude synthetic chemicals and pesticides.

Natural foods, on the other hand, mainly refer to the post-production of any food, where artificial colorants, flavorings, and preservatives are not used. This distinction is crucial for a healthy and sustainable diet, as it means that these foods have not been processed. For example, it is a cut of meat or fish, a dairy product produced only from raw materials, or dried fruits and nuts that you should always find in your pantry.

But this does not mean they are less polluting, as their healthiness does not relate to their environmental footprint. Organic products, on the other hand, are less polluting because they are produced sustainably.

Some highly processed and frequently consumed foods have become the most polluting: even though it may be hard to understand, products like dark chocolate, butter, semi-cured cheese, or asparagus can be much more polluting than slices of fresh salmon or sweet beverages.

Non-Polluting vs. Polluting Foods

Now, let's complicate things further: we have organic foods (more sustainable), natural foods (healthier), and now we have those with a low environmental footprint, regardless of whether their nutritional and health contribution is suitable for a proper diet.

Non-polluting foods should not be confused with foods without pollutants. There are various types of pollutants that can harm these foods and their qualities for our health, but in this article, we are talking about natural or non-food items that, nevertheless, do not have a particularly outstanding environmental impact.

Non-polluting foods are those created from foods produced with minimal environmental impact, whether in their origin, transportation, and accessibility. This includes both the distance traveled in their transportation and the water needed to produce them, but also consumption and contamination in the case of animals producing meat, for example. Even the energy resources you use domestically to consume them (yes, it is not the same to cook a stew as a grilled chicken breast), that is, their environmental footprint and ours.

The use of water in food production is, as we say, highly important: traditional agriculture and livestock farming have a significant impact on the extraction of fresh water, as they alone represent 70% of global extractions of fresh water.

So, as we are seeing, the most sustainable foods are those created through organic farming. The healthiest are also these and natural foods, but these are not always the least polluting. We must take into account that beef is one of the foods with the highest carbon footprint, emitting large amounts of CO₂ and requiring enormous land, water, and energy resources. Beef production also contributes to methane emissions, a gas with a high potential for global warming.

And now you just need to know... Which foods are the most polluting?

To consume more ecologically, it is not enough to consider only the values mentioned. Studies show that 80% of the energy involved in the production and sale cycle of a food is not used for transportation, but for its production. With that said, only those products transported by air would be really significant in terms of carbon footprint in terms of transportation.

Solutions to Reduce Food Impact involve choosing local, seasonal, and fresh foods, reducing the consumption of foods with high carbon and water footprints, and using techniques like batch cooking to reduce food waste.

On the other hand, innovation plays an important role in food sustainability. Alternative foods, such as cultivated meat and plant-based products, offer more environmentally friendly alternatives. In addition, renewable energies play a key role in reducing carbon emissions in food production.

The Sustainability Bonus at Home: Achieve an Efficient Kitchen

And remember: at home, it is not just about choosing the right foods and buying only what you will actually consume. How you cook at home is equally important to make your actions truly efficient in terms of sustainability. Therefore, we leave you as a conclusion some of the simplest and most efficient practices that you can apply (although undoubtedly, you are already doing it):

  • Waste Management: Composting, recycling, and oil collection.
  • Responsible Shopping: Bulk foods and reusable packaging.
  • Reducing Plastics: Reusable tools and containers.
  • Planning and Storage: Avoid food waste and store properly.
  • Energy Efficiency: Use efficient appliances and reduce water consumption.
  • Local and Seasonal Consumption: Support local producers and seasonal foods.

From Safire, we recommend that, if you haven't already, switch to techniques like batch cooking, which, in addition to avoiding higher energy and resource consumption (it is not the same to use light, appliances, gas, and water five days a week as it is to do it for a couple of hours in a row) by reusing and using food, ingredients, broth, and seasonings. This prevents waste, reduces your shopping basket, and controls your diet and, therefore, the planet's. Something that undoubtedly benefits us all.