Q. I have a friend who firmly believes in buying organically raised foods. Can you tell me whether these foods are in any way superior?
A. Many people have been led to believe that organic foods are not only nutritionally superior, but also produced without artifical fertilizers or pesticides. And they are supposed to be free of such things as additives and preservatives.
Actually, there is no legal definition of the term "organic." Indeed, the Federal Trade Commission began public hearings last July to explore the possibility of defining how the term can be used in advertising. At present, growers, producers, manufacturers and retailers are free to label anything "organic."
Although there's no proof of superiority, "organic" foods consistently cost more. A recent study by the Consumer and FOod Economics Institute of the Agricultural Research Service, for example, found that a market basket of food costing $17.49 at a supermarket cost $24.02 at one natural food store andd $28 at a second. In other words, it cost as much as $10.50 more to get the same nutrients from foods labeled "organic."
Not only is there no guarantee that these foods are additive and pesticide-free, but there is absolutely no evidence that plants grown with organic fertilizers and meats from animals raised on organically-grown feed are in any way superior to foods raised in the usual way.
Q. As a new mother, I am terribly confused by the meat products in the baby food section and disappointed that I am unable to find nutrition labels on them. Can you tell me how much beef there is in 1) beef and beef broth, 2) the high meat dinner, 3) strained vegetables and meat?
A. The Department of Agriculture standards specify that meat and broth must contain at least 65 per cent uncooked meat; high-meat dinners, 30 per cent; and the vegetable and meat combinations, at least 8 per cent. This means that a jar of beef and beef broth contains a little more than two ounces. The high meat dinners have a little less than one and a half ounces. And a jar of vegetables with beef offers less than half an ounce.
In practical terms, a baby would get about the same amount of meat from a half a jar of beef and beef broth as he would from a whole jar of high meat dinner. The vegetable-meat combination runs a poor third. We should point out, too, that the high meat dinner may be a convenient one-jar meal, particularly when traveling, but it does little to help a child learn to enjoy new foods. For that, you must depend on a variety of plain meats and vegetables.
From the economic standpoint, the plain beef with broth appears to be the best buy. At recent market prices we found that it cost more than one and a half times as much to get the same amount of protein from a high meat dinner and two and a half times as much to get it from a vegetable and beef dinner.
Of course, all this would be easier to figure out if baby foods were labeled so you could see the proportions of various ingredients in the product.
Q. I am a junior in high school and would like to pursue a career in dietetics. I doubt that I will be able to go to college for four years and wondered if there are other careers in dietetics that don't require a bachelor's degree.
A. There are two other alternatives to explore. You may want to enroll in an associate degree program and become a dietetic technician. Graduates of these programs work under the supervision of a dietitian or an administrator and a consultant dietitian to provide food serve management or nutritional care services in a great variety of situations. Dietetic technicians who have completed an approved program are eligible for membership in the American Dietetic Association (ADA), the national accrediting organization for dietitians. They may also become members of the Hospital, Institutional and Educational Food Service Society (HIEFSS). In many hospitals, these people are absolutely essential to patient care.
If you are interested in a shorter program you may want to become a dietetic assistant. Graduates of this type of program can also find interesting and challenging position in both food service and nutritional care.
The American Dietetic Association has developed program standards for both dietetic technicians and dietetic assistants and maintains listings of institutions which meet these standards. Your guidance counselor may have these lists. If not, they are available from the ADA, 430 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611