At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago. ― Frances Hodgson Burnett
History has a way of repeating itself. In recent studies of organic farming, many companies have had to give up original ideals and principals in order for their products to fill the supermarket shelves, bringing the broadness of the word organic, into deep question and controversy. Like other phrases in consumer history such as, all natural, no artificial flavors, calorie free, trans fat-free, the word organic, is often times overused, as well as ethically misused to paying consumers. Gene Kahn, founder of Cascadian Farm (whom also served on USDA’s National Organic Standards Board from ’92-’97) explains that, “in the end it came down to the argument between the old movement and the new movement and the new movement won.”
For many industrial organic farms like Cascadian Farm, organic has moved from the ideals of a movement to something that more resembles a big business, forming the new sub phrase, big organic. For organic processed foods, old laws have been simply ignored forcing regulation, re-evaluation, and ratification by the USDA and FDA in support of industrialization. Now, as many of you have noticed on your organic burritos, organic TV dinners, and organic energy bars, the nutrition label lists ingredients that resemble permissible additives and synthetics, from ascorbic acid to xanthan gum. Packaging and shipping utilizes nonrenewable fossil fuels, but it however lands right where it needs to be . . . On the shelves of your local supermarket. But, do you blame them? Every company needs to survive and if that means producing an organic twinkie, than so be it.
Don’t get dancehealthier wrong. Organic is a good choice. Supporting it’s principals and efforts involving the non-usage of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers is admirable. But it is important for us, as consumers, to understand that the broadness of the term organic needs further assessment. Entangled in a complicated agricultural business system, the term organic must be approached with careful attention.
Possible solutions? Know where your food comes from. Support local or better yet, be brave and learn about permaculture. One grass-root solution that is popularizing, which dancehealthier wishes to advocate, is to turn your lawn into food.
Define permaculture: The ecological processes of plants, animals, their nutrient cycles, where the outputs of one element become the inputs of another. Where wastes become resources, productivity & yields increase and environments are restored. The ideals of permaculture can be applied to all environments including urban populations to industrial homes to the farms itself.
Reference: Pollan, Michael (2006). The Omnivore’s Dilemma, A Natural History of Four Meals. New York, NY: Penguin Group.