Big Organic

As organic foods have become more mainstream, I have been hearing more and more about how big business is affecting the meaning of "organic." I mean, you have to question if organic means the same thing it did even 10 years ago when Safeway has its own line of organic food. (And it is pretty funny that they are being sued by O Olive Oil, which makes delicious vinegars–the champagne vinegar is in my kitchen.)

A New Yorker article does a good job summarizing a lot of the ethical issues surrounding the growth of the organic industry, covering some of this issues discussed in-depth in Diet for Dead Planet. In short, organic does not mean local, sustainable, or environmentally sound. And more importantly, how do you scale the organic movement? This is a startling fact:

If synthetic fertilizers suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth, about two billion people would perish.

I think more important than eating organic is eating local. But that is a lot harder to do. I am glad that there is now at least country-of-origin labeling. I try to buy my fruits and veggies in season and from California. That means not buying Chilean asparagus in the fall or New Zealand apples in the spring. I like to go to farmers markets and fruit stands, but honestly, I can't get up on the weekends early enough to shop there before they close. I can barely make it to Trader Joe's before they close at 9 PM. Speaking of Trader Joe's, I absolutely hate the amount of packaging they use for their produce.

But I do the best I can. Like the article says:

There is no way to make food choices without making moral choices as well.

But also:

To insist that we are consuming not just salad but a vision of society isn’t wrong, but it’s biting off more than most people are able and willing to chew.

I was drooling over the "perfect meal" described in the article even though I have no idea what a chamomile tisane is (but it sounds good!):

Wild morels foraged in the Sierra foothills, the braised loin and leg of a wild pig he had shot himself in Sonoma County, a chamomile tisane made from herbs picked in the Berkeley Hills, salad greens from his own garden, cherries taken by right of usufruct from a neighbor’s tree, sea salt scraped from a pond at the southern end of San Francisco Bay, and—O.K., strict perfection is unobtainable—a bottle of California Petite Sirah, presumably organic.

The author in the book reviewed is obviously from the Bay Area, and I feel incredibly lucky to live in an area that not only has such wonderful food resources, but also a community that supports it. I am just trying to be part of that community.


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