Understanding what an organic vegetable actually is

organic vegetables

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People are becoming used to the term, “organic gardening” or “organic vegetables” probably more than ever before in history. This isn’t a bad thing. However, many people have different ideas about what the terms mean.

Genetic manipulation and organic gardening

To many people, an organic vegetable is one that has never been genetically manipulated in any way. What most people don’t understand is that this would exclude most vegetables and fruits.

To name just a few vegetables and fruits that have been genetically manipulated; tomatoes, corn, wheat, carrots, radishes, peppers, squash, pumpkins and other gourds, lettuce, and a great number of others.

This doesn’t necessarily mean gene splicing. Genetic manipulation may be simply breeding plants together to get the traits people want. The resultant plant didn’t originally occur in nature however. It came about with a bit of tweaking by man.

Use of chemicals

Many more people think of organic vegetables as plants grown without man-made or synthesized chemicals. This includes fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides. The problem here is that this doesn’t define “organic.” If people don’t know this, they are likely to be misled by totally legal statements on product packages in stores. Organic tomatoes or lettuce in a store are not necessarily what people are thinking they are getting.

Original meaning

At one time, organic really did mean something that was totally natural. However, the chemical term has to do with carbon. Carbon dioxide is touted as the current big evil in the world. Yet, without CO2, very few plants would be able to exist.

The true meaning of organic is that it is any substance or structure that contains carbon. It should also be remembered that the terms ‘organic’ and ‘USDA certified organic’ aren’t necessarily the same things.

Many synthesized pesticides and fertilizers are actually organic, because they contain carbon. Many more come from plants and are merely refined. This also makes them organic, normally.

Naturally, this isn’t the meaning people usually attribute to the term, but it is the actual meaning of the word. The problem with this is that many producers will call their fruits and vegetables organic, knowing full well that purchasers think they are getting food that is free of man-made chemicals, but which may indeed have residues of those chemicals.

It wouldn’t be strictly unlawful to do this. At the same time, organic produce usually costs more, though the food isn’t really much different than if it wasn’t sold as being organic.

There is hope however. In the United States, the Department of Agriculture is aware of the differing meanings of ‘organic,’ when applied to vegetables and fruits. In many areas, laws have been changed to be more clear on the labeling and in advertising.

So while organic specifically means something containing carbon, which all known plants and animals do, it isn’t the common meaning that usually comes to mind when we hear the word. It would still be a good idea for people to be aware of the definition so they don’t end up purchasing something other than what they think they are buying. If you are unsure, ask the grocer specifically.

Of course, a better idea would be to grow your own, so you have more control over what is put in, around and on the plants. However, this isn’t always possible.

Posted in food and plants and tagged , , , , , by with 3 comments.


  • This is very interesting. I was watching a TV show the other day, and they said that only a small percentage of crop varities exist that grew in the prior century. I don’t recall the exact figures on that, but our food certainly isn’t what it was a hundred years ago. I always thought that organic meant pesticide-free. Remnants could be left the soil even if chemicals weren’t applied while the produce was growing. It seems that organic foods were a big deal for awhile. I don’t hear as much about them now. These days it’s all about gluten-free foods. I find it funny since only a very small percentage of people actually have celiac disease. Organic has to be better for everyone – if it truly is. Thanks for explaining the true meaning of organic.

    • rextrulove says:

      I can believe what that show said. Consider that just a few hundred years ago, nobody knew what a potato or tomato was. Wild tomatoes still grow in South America, but the fruits are tiny. Now they even have yellow, black and blue tomatoes, and tomatoes that grow huge.

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