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Real Food, For Real People, on a Real Budget – labels

This post is part of the Real Food, for Real People, on a Real Budget.  You can read more about the series here.

I remember when I started trying to change our eating habits.  Reading about natural products, organic labeling, and certification was super confusing for me.  I was so overwhelmed that I kind of threw up my hands and felt like giving up.

After a bit of research, head banging on the wall, and more research, I got a bit more of a handle on it.  Hopefully my pain, will be your gain.

Natural Products
Like most things the government touches, the “Natural” labeling on products is complex, undefined, and complicated.  From the FDA website:

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

Well then…

What that nonspeak means is that pretty much any company can slap “Natural” on their product and no one really knows what that means, and it isn’t really enforced.

“Sarah’s Premium Crack, now All Natural”.


If the label says “Made With Organic” ingredients, it means that at least 70% of certified organic ingredients.  So, not everything the product is organic, but a good chunk of the ingredients are.

If the label says “Organic”, 95-99% of the ingredients included must be certified organic.

If the label says “100% Organic“, all the ingredients must be certified organic as well as the processing agents.

Is organic the best out there?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  I don’t have enough scientific knowledge to say that nothing “bad” hasn’t floated on the wind on to my organic stuff.  BUT, the reason I try to buy organic when possible is that the act of NOT adding more pesticides and herbicides to the water system is a plus in my book.

Now, for my family and my budget, we can’t afford everything organic.  So, I have a little personal system that I use for determining what to buy and when:

  • From my garden (the obvious choice) when available
  • Local and organic
  • Local
  • Store-bought organic

There is no perfect science to figure out what works best for you and your budget.  I spend my grocery cash on buying organic off “the dirty dozen plus” list:

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Cherry tomatoes (I originally type that as “cheery”)
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Grapes
  6. Hop peppers
  7. Nectarines – imported
  8. Peaches
  9. Potatoes
  10. Spinach
  11. Strawberries
  12. Sweet bell peppers
  13. Kale/collards
  14. Summer squash

My sister has all of those saved to her phone, but if I’m at the store and can’t remember if something is on the Dirty Dozen list, I just think “will I be eating the outside flesh”.  If the answer is yes (you don’t have to peel it, etc.) I try to buy organic.

On the flip-side, we have the “Clean Fifteen“:

  1. Asparagus (and thank god, because I can’t afford organic asparagus without selling plasma)
  2. Avocado
  3. Cabbage
  4. Cantaloupe
  5. Sweet Corn
  6. Eggplant
  7. Grapefruit
  8. Kiwi
  9. Mangos
  10. Mushrooms (harf)
  11. Onions
  12. Papyas
  13. Pineapple
  14. Sweet peas – frozen
  15. Sweet potatoes

In my small town, I have access to locally grown pastured meat that is not certified organic, but raised and butchered humanely, raw milk (not certified organic, but they follow organic practices), eggs from pastured chickens (before I got my own chickies of course), raw honey, and loads of fruit and veg.  It is AMAZING what you can find if you’re looking for it.  If you can find just one local producer, chances are they know a bunch of other producers.  I found my raw milk source from a dude at the farmer’s market who sold me blueberries.  We hippies are all inter-connected.  It’s kind of a rule.

GMO – Genetically Modified Organisms
These are generally plants, fruits, veggies, etc., that had their genetic material altered using genetic engineering techniques.  Some people call them “Franken Food”.

Some people say they will help feed the world, while others claim they are a huge health risk.

Washington State has an initiative on this fall’s ballot to require GMO foods to be labeled.  I am definitely for this.  Regardless of what you think about GMOs, people have a right to know if they’re consuming them.  Pro or con, I want to know what I’m eating.

Ok, so is your brain overwhelmed?  Yes?  Take a deep breath, have a cup of tea, and stay tuned for next week’s post about meat.  Mmmm…meat!

And as an aside, I’d love a fun graphic for this series.  If anyone is creative and would be willing to throw one together gratis, I’d be so thrilled to show it off and give you credit!  Please email me if you’re interested.

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8 comments on “Real Food, For Real People, on a Real Budget – labels”

  1. Great idea keeping the dirty dozen list on my phone!

  2. I like Cheery Tomatoes almost as much as the Hop Peppers you listed 🙂

  3. Love this series! I’ve been trying to incorporate theses changes into my eating habits. Right now I have an app on my phone that scans the barcode of a product and gives it a letter grade. I’m sure I’m a huge pain in the ass to the rest of the shoppers, but I like to be informed about what is going into my body. I never know what produce to buy organic or not so your lists will help a ton! I’ve never been this excited to read about meat next!

  4. It is so reassuring in this ever-confusing and ongoing challenge of feeding my family the best possible while still being conscientious about spending – that our systems are almost identical! My dirty dozen plus list includes Pears … and I always buy organic corn on account of the high percentage of corn that is GMO. Bring on the meat convo!

  5. I think I’m being a bit dim… What are the ‘dirty dozen’ and ‘clean fifteen’ lists about? Must buy organic dirty dozen, and okay not to buy organic clean fifteen..?

    Sorry – clicked on the links and read up about them. Geddit now. Ignore me! LOL! x

  6. Not sure where you are at with writing your meat post, but game meats are worth a mention! If you do it right, it’s healthy and more earth friendly than store bought meats.