An interest in eating organic foods is no longer considered to go hand in hand with wearing Birkenstocks and sharing tales about the groovy time you had at Woodstock.
Organic and natural-food retailing is the fastest-growing grocery segment in the U.S., increasing by about 20% annually.
The market share for organic groceries is expected to reach 10% by 2010; it was just 0.81% in 1997.
There are lots of
reasons people are turning toward organic foods, including better flavor and concerns about personal and environmental well-being.
Even some doctors, from allergists to oncologists, recommend that their patients switch to an organic eating program, and health gurus such as Dr. Andrew Weil have advocated the wisdom of an organic diet.
A Growing Phenomenon
The organic segment is steadily going more mainstream, and in 2005, for the first time, independent natural food stores accounted for less than 25% of organic sales.
That figure is likely to drop even further as
makes good on its promise to bring organics to the masses.
Today's organic megastores are a far cry from the old-school food co-ops that sprang up in university towns in the '60s and '70s. Retailers like
are practically food museums, offering gorgeous jewel-toned organic veggies shimmering in tasteful lighting, butcher cases full of dry-aged Porterhouse steaks, a plethora of free samples and knowledgeable staffers eager to explain the differences between organic and conventional foods.
And don't imagine that all of that organic food is grown and raised by farmers who look like tie-dye versions of "American Gothic" -- producers of organic foods have gone mainstream, too.
owns organic juice outfit Odwalla;
has meat-alternative Boca Burgers;
controls Muir Glen (salsa, canned tomatoes and pasta sauces) and Cascadian Farms (granola bars, frozen fruit and vegetables).
, one of the largest dairy-product companies in the country, includes Horizon Organics in its product line.
According to USDA regulations, organic foods are produced through sustainable agricultural production practices, without the use of most of the conventional pesticides and fertilizers made from synthetic ingredients or sewage, without bioengineering and without ionizing radiation.
Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products are from animals raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones.
The USDA doesn't claim that organic food is safer or more nutritious; it only states it differs in how it is grown, handled and processed. The agency also has
labeling guidelines for the complete range of packaged foods, from entirely organic to those containing organic ingredients.
Picturing food grown in sewage sludge or reading about the factory farming of livestock may get some of us in the mood to turn over a new leaf and become more conscientious about our eating habits.
But often, the reality of our busy lives then intervenes, and good intentions fall by the wayside as we make a mad scramble for the take-out menu collection.
Though more places than ever sell organic groceries, shopping for them is still one additional chore to squeeze into our overloaded schedules. But the availability of organic groceries online makes it possible to keep good food on hand, regardless of how much time we're spending at the office.
It's hard to beat the convenience of placing an order at any time of the day or night and having it arrive at the front door in the next day or two.
The range of products available from vendors great and small ensures that we can satisfy our food cravings, help preserve our environment and maybe even make the family doctor happy with just a push of a virtual shopping cart.
Amazon.com has recently jumped on the organic bandwagon, offering more than 3,500 items, from white peony tea and multigrain bread to mixed salad greens.
Diamond Organics also has a wide product range online, including organic fruits and vegetables, meat, chicken, milk and baked goods.
The California-based company, in business since 1990, also sells organic beer, wine, flowers (both edible and decorative), chocolate and monthly samplers of seasonal items. Gift baskets, from the exotic (a champagne and truffle sampler) to the cozy (an "Easy Meal Box," containing pasta, sauce, salad greens and dressing, bread, fruit and more) are also offered. Free shipping is part of the deal on many of the products.
Boxed Greens delivers much more than the veggies its name implies. It also carries fresh breads, dairy products, juices and specialty packages, including a low-carb fruit and vegetable box and a breakfast box containing seasonal produce, granola, oatmeal and a loaf of cinnamon apple bread.
Turkey, spareribs and other types of organic poultry and meat are also available. Visitors to the site can even sign up for an email newsletter announcing which products are in season.
Sun Organic Farm offers "center aisle" groceries, including packaged goods like rice, dried beans, grains; condiments such as mayonnaise, mustard and salsa; olives; baking supplies; tea and coffee.
Food Choices carries organic snacks, mixes, cereals and sauces.
No matter what you're craving, an organic version is available online:
baked goods, snacks and
gift boxes, and even
pet food. Depending on where you live, you may even be able to have sulfite-free organic
wine delivered right to your door.
And for even more vegetarian fare for people and pets, such as meat and dairy substitutes and nutritional supplements, check out
Green People contains hundreds of listings of organic vendors around the country -- some of which deliver only regionally. Many of the sites listed above also contain helpful information such as nutritional data, recipes and suggestions on wine pairings.
With minimal planning, it's easy keep the fridge and pantry stocked with delicious meals and snacks by ordering organic foods online. You may even be able to reclaim a couple of the speed-dial buttons on your phone that are currently reserved for ordering in.
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Elzy Kolb is a freelance writer living in White Plains, N.Y. In addition to writing the monthly JazzWomen! column in Hot House magazine, her articles on the arts, travel, interior design and other topics have appeared in the New York Times, Interior Design magazine and The Stamford Advocate.