Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Mark Bittman's article on 'organic food' is about a week old now but still very much worth reading. I talk a lot around here about organic and natural foods but I think I am going to have to be more careful about how I use the terms. The United States Department of Agriculture’s definition, means it is generally free of synthetic substances; contains no antibiotics and hormones; has not been irradiated or fertilized with sewage sludge; was raised without the use of most conventional pesticides; and contains no genetically modified ingredients.
That's all fine and good if all you are concerned about is being able to put the labe "U.S.D.A. Organic" on your food label. The food like substance in the package is probably "better" than the same food like substance grown conventionally, with pesticides, hormones and who knows what else. However, the "Organic" label doesn't guarantee wholesomeness, nutrition, quality or sustainablility. It doesn't guarantee the food was grown with care for the soil, care for the animals or care for the planet. Those grapes you saw yesterday in the local supermarket labeled "organic" came from Chile for Goddess's sake and are as far from the original intent of the "organic" food movement as something can be.
In the early days of the organic movement the intent was to grow food locally, in harmony with the natural process. You put back into the soil through compost, and natural additives those things removed by growing food. You encouraged a natural biodivesity of beneficial flora and fauna in the soil that would naturally help your food plants fight off disease and pests. You grew heirloom vegetables that had naturally developed the characteristics necessary to survive and reproduce year after year through pestilence and drought. You did all of this with an eye of creating a closed loop system that produced food with a minimal negative impact on your environment and actually tried to have a net positive impact on the environment.
The labels on "organic" food today have nothing to do with the original intent of organic and in many ways are actually hostile to the concept. Food is grown on giant industrial farms that have an overall negative effect on the environment. Beef and pork are raised in huge industrial feed lots and can be called "organic" or "natural" because they are feed organic feed and not dosed with hormones and antibiotics but they produce tremendous amounts of waste that pollutes vast stretches of countryside and the animals live and die in a man made hell.
So from now on when you see me talk about "organic" I am talking about the old fashioned "organic". The small scale, sustainable organic that reveres Mother Nature and actually wants to produce food with a net positive effect on the environment. In spite of the arguments that "organic" food has not been proven to be more nutritious than conventional food I can say that maybe in isolation there may be questions. However, our food and the way it is produced and delivered cannot be taken out of the big picture or separated from entire system of life and living that is the dance we all dance every day. When you consider sustainability, net impact of our quality of life and the higher quality protein and other nutrients shown to be in naturally and truly organically produced food then the answer is yes, it is better for you. As the picture above so aptly depicts, just because it says organic doesn't mean it is good for you.
The picture is shamelessly stolen from the website The Internet Food Association and a post by Ezra Klein