buy organic food

Should we buy organic food?

Where to buy organic food

We are what we eat. It’s been illustrated quite nicely by the plethora of documentaries from Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead to Super Size Me. We all know to avoid excess white sugar and saturated fat, and recent press reports have warned against too much processed meat, but when it comes to food we’d normally regard as healthy, is it really beneficial to go organic?

According to the Soil Association, organic foods contain significantly higher concentrations of antioxidants, fewer pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, less of the toxic metal cadmium and less nitrogen (thought to be linked to stomach cancer) than the non-organic equivalents. You’re also generally supporting smaller business over conglomerates, with independent farms and growers getting your money, not shareholders. If this list doesn’t convince you, maybe the simple matter of taste will.

While it would be difficult, not to mention expensive, to swap all of your weekly groceries for the organic equivalent, it became standard a few years ago for every supermarket to introduce an organic range. You can also order organic subscription boxes, shop at dedicated organic stores for everything from food to laundry detergent and buy every organic product imaginable online.

We take a closer look at the most popular ways to buy organic and discuss the pros and cons, focussing on the London area, where there’s a higher concentration of organic markets and shops to highlight – but if you have an especially good organic producer or market nearby we’d love to hear about it.

organic farming

Organic food at farmers’ markets

A wonderful way to spend a weekend: browse the market stalls, engage with the vendors who are almost always also the growers or producers and find out more about their process and what makes it so good. They’re always happy to chat and offer samples and there’s nothing like going home with bags of fresh produce to enjoy later to prolong the feeling of a great day out.
The Peckham Farmer’s Market comes to Peckham High Street every Sunday and has been serving the lucky locals for 14 years all under a covered roof – essential in our unpredictable climate. The majority of vendors are organic or even biodynamic, where food is grown in accordance to lunar cycles, so it’s an excellent place for anyone interested in trying organic food to start out.

The London Farmers’ Market website allows you to keep up with the times, dates, special events and attending vendors at every market they organise, from Notting Hill to Walthamstow, and although not everything will be organic, it’s a very well represented sector. They are certified by FARMA (the Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association) and are fairly strict about who attends to ensure the customer is buying from a real producer, grower, fisher, farmer or baker and not a wholesaler
A regular farmers’ market attendee is London’s biggest organic bakery, Flour Power City Bakery, selling at more than 80 markets around London and the Home Counties. Their team of 40 artisan bakers have a real passion and pride in their work and know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to English and European bread. Buy an old favourite such as a cottage loaf, or try something more unusual, maybe Einkorn Soda Bread or a Seaweed Bloomer Torsade. Flour Power’s bread can be found in many cafes, delicatessens and restaurants, proof that it’s possible to do organic on a bigger scale.
Another market regular is Alham Wood Organics, who specialise in cheese from buffalo milk from a small herd as well as low-cholesterol organic meat.

Useful Tip: Remember to take your own shopping bags and cash rather than debit or credit cards.

A convenience of getting organic food delivered

You can subscribe to a monthly box for any number of weird and wonderful things now, be it beauty products or cat food, so it shouldn’t be at all surprising there are some pretty good organic suppliers who will make sure you have your weekly quota of dairy, meat, fruit and veg. Abel & Cole has a selection of boxes to choose from filled with organic greens for blitzing into a nutritious juice, ingredients for making soup or even seasonal cuts of game. You can add a plethora of other organic goods to your order too, from milk to champagne.
Similarly, The Organic Delivery Co. offers a delivery service around London with free delivery on orders over £13.95, which isn’t at all difficult to reach as a small fruit and veg box takes you just over the threshold. A nice feature of their website is how you’re able to click on an item and be taken to a charming photo of the grower. Choosing “broccoli” you’ll meet Peter from Royal Oak Farm near Liverpool, which lends a personal touch and reinforces an important reason for buying organic.
Another company of note is the multi-award winning Riverford. With their tagline of ‘100% organic, absolutely everything we grow, make and sell’ they deliver custom or set boxes and a huge range of produce, all from a network of small-scale organic family farms. You can get lost (in a good way) on their website, getting to know their suppliers of eggs, cheese, muesli and mayonnaise, and even compare prices of their set boxes against supermarket equivalents – something Riverford wouldn’t do unless they were sure they could come in cheaper.
Carbon footprint is a definite negative factor for delivering this wonderful organic produce, but you can go wiser and choose companies like Abel and Cole who actually deliver themselves using eco-friendly vans.

Useful tip: When choosing the set box, be sure to plan your meals for the week accordingly to avoid waste.

What about organic produce at supermarkets

All of the major supermarkets have a selection of organic groceries, but Waitrose has one of the largest as they partner with Prince Charles’ Duchy range, thus offering all you need from lettuces to water. The jury is still out on whether organic produce from the supermarkets has any more flavour or nutritional value than the lower-priced alternatives. Around two decades ago, when it was first commercially introduced, the supermarkets, keen to cash in on the trend for organic were keen to impress. It often meant vibrant, in-season crops; San Marzano tomatoes and radicchio and arugula that tasted just as they should when lifted from the soil in Italy, but a drive for profits has seen stock imported from Holland throughout the year, resulting in organic, but somewhat tasteless produce making consumers wonder why they are paying extra. The soil association said there has been a slight increase in organic food sales, possibly attributed to Lidl and Aldi’s popularity, bringing lower priced organics to an appreciative audience. Whole Foods at the other end of the price scale bring the widest choice of organic food, working with local producers to offer a healthy, inspirational range, and certainly make it easy to do a larger, organic shop under one roof.

Useful Tip: Check supermarket prices against organic delivery box options – often it will work out cheaper to have it arrive at your door than having to do the footwork yourself.

Checking if there are any noteworthy Specialist Organic Retailers

It’s definitely a good idea to buy direct from those who specialize in one thing, they’ve perfected their niche over the years and become first class. Since Renée Elliott opened her first shop on Westbourne Grove in 1995, Planet Organic has evolved into the one-stop organic shop for Londoners with an over-flowing groceries range selling not only organic but gluten-free and dairy-free too. Despite slow sales in the beginning, public confidence in meat after the BSE scare brought some much-needed attention their way and Planet Organic now have six stores, recently going into profit, which is something Whole Foods Market haven’t yet managed in the UK. Renée says, “We believe in ethical and sustainable farming and place great emphasis on the provenance of all our products. Food should be natural and wholesome. We advocate that it be authentic and ethical, freshly prepared and tasty, not a mere convenience.” – a sentiment that many customers would wholeheartedly agree with.

Meat is possibly the most important item to buy organic. You’re dealing with not only the end product but the wellbeing throughout the animal’s life before it ends up on your plate. Organic standards dictate that farm animals should be guaranteed a free-range life and must only be given drugs to treat an illness, with the routine use of antibiotics strictly prohibited. Sheepdrove go over and above the already high welfare standards set by the Soil Association and the measures they take show they truly care about their animals. At their farm, they install unique rubbing posts, plant herbs to allow the cattle to self-medicate, provide windbreaks and hedgerows, maintain family groups and allow their animals to live in a stress-free and stimulating environment. Their Maida Vale shop is a classic family butcher shop and the friendly staff will happily advise and assist – it’s as far removed from the plastic-wrapped supermarket meat as you will ever find. With longer opening hours close to Christmas (7 am – 6 pm), it’s probably a good time for you to treat yourself to meat the way it should be. If you don’t usually buy organic meat, you will notice a difference in price. Inarguably entirely justified, you should expect to pay in the region of £5.50 for 6 slices of smoked bacon, £6.75 for a chicken breast and around £9 for a sirloin steak. Shop online for nationwide delivery and see their website to book a stay on the farm or plan a short visit, even enjoy a meal over the festive period.

Useful Tip: When you want to be sure of the provenance of your produce, ask the specialist. They’ll give you any assurances you need so you know exactly where your food came from.

Christmas Organic Food Markets

Our Organic Christmas roundup proved to be a popular read, so we have decided to expand on it. Let’s explore more on Christmas markets.
Partridge’s Food Market is held on the Duke of York Square and has over 70 stall holders. Open every Saturday from 10 am – 4 pm until December 26th it celebrates the diverse world of fine British and international foods, allowing small businesses and farmers the chance to share their produce with the public. Organic attendees include the small family-run London -based bakery, Wapping Sourdough, and Ottolenghi favourite Arganic offers their award winning Moroccan argan oil.

Head to St Pancras from Tuesday 15th to Wednesday 23rd December for the Real Food Market. Buy ethically produced foods for Christmas and indulge in some ready-made treats as you wander, from a diverse group of producers including Cannon & Cannon with their British cured meats, Field & Flower selling meat from free-range, grass-fed animals, and London Cheesemongers who will eagerly chat to you about their small but carefully chosen selection of cheeses.

buy organic food

Organic Food verdict: Is it worth it?

It depends on your reasons for going organic. Not everything will taste better or different – if you’re expecting a piece of organic cauliflower to be markedly different to one wrapped in supermarket shrink-wrap you will be disappointed. However, you won’t be exposed to the pesticides and problems associated with commercial farming nor will you pay a significant amount more for fruit and vegetables. You will notice a definite difference in taste with organic meat from a reputable butcher, although you’ll find it is higher in price. If this is an issue and you’re considering swapping your usual meat for the organic version, perhaps it should be viewed almost as a luxury item, to be savoured and enjoyed less often. Consider how much many of us pay for a coffee and croissant from a café on the way to work; if we can get a piece of superb quality organic meat, sourced from a properly fed and cared-for animal from birth to maturity for the same price, it puts the cost into perspective.

The merits of choosing organic are obvious. Not only is it a more responsible and sustainable way to live, we’re also rewarded with a clear conscience, a healthier lifestyle and a much better plate of food (and wine for that matter – visit our top list of the Best Organic Wines to get some great ideas during this festive season).
Cheers

About The Author

Dimitri

Dimitri is passionate about wines, food to go with it, happy & healthy lifestyle, digital marketing, start-ups and entrepreneurship. www.IBlameTheWine.com is about new organic wines in the UK, what to buy or avoid on the retailer shelves; tips on healthy and happy wine lifestyle, but also provides reviews and rankings for organic wines. Get in touch please, I am always on a lookout for new ideas and connections! Cheers.

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