Admittedly, many organic products command a price premium - around 60 percent for organic milk, 20 percent to 100 percent for produce, 10 percent to 50 percent for chocolate. After all, organic operations tend to be small-scale and labor-intensive (think hand weeding), and their methods and yields typically don't qualify for government subsidies or price supports of conventional operations. And ironically, higher demand has created higher prices in some cases.

If your ability or inclination to buy organic foods is limited, choose wisely. Bob Scowcroft of the Organic Farming Research Foundation worries most about meat and poultry. Chef Pouillon emphasizes organic produce and chicken, because of the hormones and antibiotics conventional producers use. And author Elaine Lipson advises making organic a priority for children.

Whatever you buy, read the labels carefully. The highest organic standard is "certified organic." To be labeled "certified organic," foods must be grown, handled, and processed in compliance with organic standards, and regulators must be able to follow a paper trail back to the source of the food. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, genetic engineering or modification, use of sewage sludge, and irradiation are forbidden. Certification currently requires review by an independent certifying agency; however, the certification process and standards for all organic foods is being taken over by federal regulators. See "The Usual Suspects" on opposite page for more information.

What it really boils down to, believes Nell Newman, daughter of Paul Newman and founder of Newman's Own Organics line, is knowing where your food came from and what is in it. Paying a premium price for organic, especially certified organic, buys that knowledge.
Before you hit the farmer's market or grocery store in search of organic ingredients, know your basics.