Lily Wan drives past Publix, a Southeast grocery-store chain, when she goes shopping for food.
The 19-year-old environmental science junior grew up eating healthy, locally grown food. In college at the University of Florida, she maintains her vegetarian lifestyle.
Wan is one of the 30% of Millennials who say they regularly buy organic food, according to a study by Technomic. Millennials have helped the organic market grow almost 9.5% in 2011, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study.
She buys from independent farmers at the Gainesville farmers market and mom-and-pop grocery stores. By buying local, Wan said she sees the impact she has on her community.
“Some farmers at the market can’t afford to be certified organic, but they do all the organic processes,” she said, referring to the USDA certification farmers must have to legally label their food as “organic.”
“That’s just as good for me,” she said. “I don’t need a sticker showing me that something is organic.”
Because she has met most of the farmers she buys from, Wan said she feels better knowing not only where her money is going, but also where her food comes from.
She doesn’t mind spending a few extra dollars on local organic produce when she can smell and taste the difference compared to generic grocery store products, she said.
After reading a USA TODAY article about a Stanford University study that found a lack of significant nutritional benefits from eating organic, Wan evaluated her eating habits. But nothing changed.
“I thought, ‘It’s a bummer that there’s no drastic health differences between buying organic and regular,’” she said. “But then I go back to taste. It still tastes better.”
Sarah Anderson, a third-year exercise-science student at Belmont University, agrees.
Anderson, 20, made the switch to organic this semester. Now, she said, she wonders what took her so long.
Anderson’s interest in organic food stemmed from a nutrition class she took to become a certified personal trainer and nutritional coach at Belmont.
“When I took my nutrition class, we spent a long time talking about artificial preservatives and pesticides and potential health problems. It definitely made me want to not eat that,” she said.
The Stanford study found that while organic food has less pesticide contamination, its vitamin content isn’t significantly better than non-organic produce.
Anderson said she was surprised by that data, but will continue buying organic because she sees a difference in the appearance of the food she buys.
“Normally organic fruits are in way better condition than non-organic fruits. They aren’t bruised. They’re a brighter color,” she explained.
Prompted by her own lifestyle change, Anderson now encourages her clients, fellow students, to shop at organic grocery stores, further expanding the organic-loyal customer base.
Anderson said that spending time in organic stores, rather than traditional grocery stores, helps people cut back on the excess junk food they don’t actually need.
“My splurge item used to be a box of cookies. Now, it’s dark-chocolate-covered raisins,” she said.
Anderson said regardless of the research she sees about organic food, she’s made a lasting lifestyle change.
“It just makes me feel better,” she said.
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