Organic food is like a controlling boyfriend: You love how it makes you feel, but you hate how it keeps pushing you away from your family and friends.

Just The Facts

  1. Food that is certified organic, either by government or private groups, is typically produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, or food additives, and has many possible or probable benefits for the environment and personal health.
  2. Because organic is not radiated, it tends to have a much shorter shelf life, and thus is usually fresher and, therefore, tastier.
  3. There is some evidence showing that organic food may have higher levels of certain minerals than their non-organic counterparts.
  4. You now know more about organic food than most people who buy it.

People Who Buy Organic Food

There are certain people who are drawn to organic food like moths to a flame (except moths don't drive to flames in a Prius). Below are a few culprits.

The Do-Gooder:

To the Do-Gooder, buying organic food is like being a tiny, lame super hero with a wallet. Buying organic lends support to the humane treatment of animals, conservation of healthy soil, etc. Additionally, not buying "conventional food" (a term no doubt coined by someone who calls Bud Light "pedestrian") means not participating in the problems associated with it, like pesticides running into rivers and lakes, or the creation of antibiotic-resistant (i.e. scary-ass) bacteria strains from animals consuming daily antibiotic-infused feed . The Do-Gooder sees us barreling into a plague-ridden, bionic, sci-fi novel future, takes up an (expensive, ethically-produced) banner, and shouts "Never fear, World! My conscientious consumer habits will save you!"

You know how when your third grade teacher told you that one person can make a difference, and you believed it, until you tried to start a lemonade stand to raise money to feed the homeless, and no one bought lemonade, except your own mother, who then threw it at you and told you to give up, you'd always be a failure, just like your father? Well, these people never had their mother throw lemonade at them. They honestly believe the $4.50 they spent on that acai-cactus-truffle-goji juice blend is going towards planting a tree or saving a jaguar. And while they'll give you the terrifying stats of the Great Pacific Trash Vortex ("it's bigger than Texas" they might say, stretching their arms wide to show you roughly how big Texas is), they won't put that $4.50 where their mouths is by stringing up a clothesline or moving to the Amish country (where we couldn't hear them).

Not so smug now.

The Health Junkie:

The Health Junkie is like a home-schooled 14-year-old with a fresh purity ring on her finger: that body's a lock box. Health freaks do yoga, don pedometers. They run those 5K charity runs that occasionally block roads you were trying to cross on your way to the strip club. Naturally, they eat organic. They've read about everything from Alzheimer's to birth defects that might result from consuming even trace amounts of pesticides, and they're not having any of that. Health Junkies are a fretful bunch. You can't serve these people a salad without divulging the origins of your lettuce. Additionally, their inner peace makes you feel fat.

The Afraid. The Very Afraid.

Generally, people think chemicals are scary. They picture Jack Nicholson's Joker falling into a vat of industrial sludge and think "no, thank you; that shit turned his hair green." They picture a barrel of fertilizer with a "do not ingest" warning, and think, perhaps rightly, that they should not ingest it. A recent study showed that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are a concern for 58 percent of the population, though it's unlikely that 58 percent of people knew what GMOs were before some college student with a clipboard and a bunch of big-city ideas showed up on their doorsteps. They've heard people talk about this Great Pacific Trash Vortex, and they're willing to pay big money to keep it from coming to their hometowns and doing whatever it is that vortexes do. They remind us of that one guy from Aliens.

"Parabens, man!"

The Lemming

They've heard about organic food from Oprah, and on The View. They see it on racks at Wal-Mart, and the packaging is very shiny. In the presence of such a sparkly and expensive bandwagon, they find themselves strangely compelled to leap aboard. While they lack the snootiness of other demographics here mentioned, they also double park their massive SUVs in the Whole Foods parking lot and wander around for a half hour looking for gluten-free shampoo.

The Elitists

Usually hiding behind the mask of Do-Gooder and Health Junkie, the Elitist is God's gift to spending money. Any food consumed must be explained to any (deeply uninterested) passers-by with at least five modifying clauses that reveal origin, health benefits, gourmet bling, and cost, rattled off like apps on an iPhone (which they'd also be happy to tell you about). They can't wait for you to sit down next to them in the break room so they can tell you that the Gruyere cheese they're eating was aged in a cave.

"Yeah, I found that at this really obscure farmer's market for, like, six dollars. It's called a peach. You've probably never heard of it."

Organic Means Skinny: A Misconception

There's a strange relativism that can occur when dealing with organic foods- something like post-modernism, but with heart disease. Rather than seeing a food for its strengths, the consumer is tempted to see it more for the "conventional" weaknesses it lacks. So the $2.50-a-box organic mac and cheese isn't so much a steaming bowl of white carbs (blaring white, mind you; white like snow is white) and powdered cheese food, but rather a pesticide-free organic bowl of white carbs and powdered cheese food. And that's a choice you can feel good about.

The USDA Organic seal provides a feeling of safety; this is why you'll see otherwise responsible adults filling their grocery carts full of organic cookies, link sausage, and soda (made entirely with real cane sugar, because things made entirely of sugar are good for you) and balancing a carrot on top like some piece of abstract art about the outdatedness of the Food Pyramid.

Also, organic beer won't get you drunk.

"Look, officer, I think we're both wasting our time here."

The Little Guy, and the Way You're Not Supporting Him

A common myth about organic food is that, in your purchases, you are putting another dollar in the pockets of a humble, hard-working farmer who pushes a wheelbarrow in cute straw hats. You probably don't think about putting another dollar in the pocket of a big CEO who eats panda steaks for dinner and swims in a pool that pumps its water direct from a melting polar ice cap.

Organic food is big business. Kraft, Coke, Pepsi, Heinz, Kellogg's, Hershey Foods and General Mills, among others, own tons of popular organic product lines, like Naked Juice, Kashi, Seeds of Change and Dagoba. And with big grocers and retailers like Wal-Mart now pushing organic goods, too, you can be confident that much of the money you spend on green-friendly goods will be distributed amongst those who hope someday to be able to buy you and your family as servants.