As if you weren’t cynical enough: the conspiracy map of organic food

March 21st, 2009  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  12 Comments

Think when you buy organic labels that it means the product is lovingly made by longhair hippie mom and pop in some backyard shed while listening to Phish? Think again. I guess it’s inevitable: eventually we will all be owned by one giant corporation.  An elaborate, and mildly disconcerting, map of the world of organic food brands. From now on, the only folks I’ll trust to be truly small scale are the Mennonites and my octogenarian neighbours. *eyeing small religious communes suspiciously for evidence of Procter and Gamble*

Responses

  1. Sarah says:

    March 21st, 2009at 8:34 pm(#)

    Buying locally produced food is the only way that you can control (and see) where your food dollars go. It also keeps more money in your local economy, employs people locally, and usually contributes to more sustainable agricultural practices, like small-scale diversified farms that use animals ethically and in an ecologically sound manner. Locally produced food is usually less processed (if it’s even processed at all), it’s fresher, and it usually tastes better.

    The downside? It’s not as conveeeeenient. Sometimes, it’s more expensive, although in practice I’ve found that for comparable quality, local foods usually turn out to be cheaper thanks to virtually no transportation costs. Buying locally does usually involve more legwork on the part of the consumer, though. You have to leave the supermarket, for one thing – small producers often can’t sell to large chains because of the onerous approval process that frequently involves stupid regulations about the number of washrooms for inspectors on premises. So instead of doing all your shopping in one place, you might have to visit 4 or 5 small markets or farms. You might have to plan ahead and order a side of beef or a pig or a lamb and keep it in your freezer. You will definitely have to put up with eating what’s seasonally available, which means no tomatoes in January (gasp choke). You will probably want to do things like buy vast quantities of berries in the summer and freeze them. All of this is – OMG!!! – work. You might also have to actually THINK about your food. It’s rough, I know – but it’s possible. The more people do it, the more locally produced food will magically become available, as people parked on McMansions on prime farmland suddenly realize that if buddy down the road can bring in enough to cover the property tax with his raspberry canes and a small field of potatoes, they might want to do something similar. There is a huge amount of farmland sitting idle all over Canada (and the US) that aren’t being farmed because people prefer/are trained to shop in grocery stores and grocery stores don’t buy from small producers.

    So… yeah. Buy local. Eat well. Support your local economy. Stick it to the man.

  2. Stine says:

    March 23rd, 2009at 1:18 am(#)

    I have no doubts that organic food is good for both us and the environment. There are so many paths down the “organic road”. Here, in Norway, “organic” means that the food is grown without “synthetic” fertilisers and pesticides and that animal welfare is taken care of. But “organic” is not equal to local here in Norway. I can buy organic tomatoes from Southern Spain, packed in plastics… Or bananas which have travelled around half the earth before landing at a store near me. But, it’s still organic. This differs from country to country, but the most important is that the lable “organic” can be trusted so that we know what we buy. Fair trade is also not to be forgotten, but that’s another story.

  3. Mistress Krista says:

    March 23rd, 2009at 4:59 am(#)

    Great points Stine. I was thinking just that the other day, as I looked at a package of organic mint. It was emblazoned with ORGANIC and THE ENVIRONMENTAL CHOICE and HEALTHY… but it came in a blister pack. It seems as though we need to consider several factors:

    1. The product’s “life cycle”: how did it originate? Who picked and packed it? Gourmet magazine just did a piece on tomato workers, which we also explored in Vol 1 of my magazine:
    http://www.gourmet.com/foodpolitics/2009/03/politics-of-the-plate-tomato-summit
    How did it get to us? How is it sold? How are we consuming it? What’s left after we’ve consumed it, and where does that go?

    2. What relationship is there between me as the consumer and the people who grew, produced, processed and disposed of it? Am I overpaying a middle person/people to exploit the originator? Along with a “food chain” I wonder if we might start thinking of a “people chain”. We talk about eating “close to the ground” but what about “close to the producer”?

    3. What does “organic” really mean? Labeling standards differ. In Vol 3 of the magazine a contributor looked at labels on game meat and found that many labels were meaningless.

    Etc.

  4. Bethany Dasko says:

    March 23rd, 2009at 12:17 pm(#)

    This is so true. In my opinion, paying more for “organic” isn’t hardly worthwhile anymore. From the long list of “organic” chemicals that the FDA has deemed OK for growers (I think at this point it’s 30+ chemicals that are OK to be used and still call yourself organic), to the life cycle that you were talking about. Food miles is a big one as well.

    IMO, local food is where it’s at. In a couple years I’ll be moving up to our family property in NE WA and will become a market grower of chemical-free vegetables, eggs and meat. When you buy locally, you can get to know your grower. You can see the fields and know that they are growing it in a wholesome manner, and then you KNOW for sure what’s being put on or in your food.

    One of my biggest things is teaching people how to use whole foods. What Sarah says, though, is key – it’s not CONVENIENT. I think in today’s day & age, unfortunately, people are so used to cooking out of a box and no one knows how to use whole vegetables, cut up a chicken, etc. So yes, while we can buy a box of organic mac & cheese, is it really that much healthier than Kraft? Or who wants to spend hours in the hot summer canning up veggies & fruit? I know it’s not convenient or fun for most people… I guess it’s a matter of choosing what’s worse.

    I guess it’s a matter of shifting mentalities. But you know… maybe the term “organic” will end up being a gateway for many people to looking in to more healthy options. Who knows.

    I think the whole “low fat” or “sugar-free” fad is really the enemy on this. If we could get everyone on “organic” instead of the low fat or sugar free junk, we’d be a lot healthier because then at least people wouldn’t (maybe) be eating as much sodium or chemical cocktail junk to make up for being fat free or sugar free or whatever.

  5. Marianna says:

    March 23rd, 2009at 11:16 pm(#)

    Our family participates in a multifamily cooperative that sources our organic produce from a local wholesaler. While we are lucky that our breads and dairy are from local producers I am shocked that at times we get produce from far flung countries, while we are capable of sourcing that produce locally.

    We are lucky to have a great climate in Brisbane Australia and our family has made the decision to move to urban homesteading on our suburban block to try and produce most of our own fruit and vege. It really doesn’t take that much effort (and is a great workout!!) So far we are producing and have planted out cabbages, lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, beetroots, carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, melons, beans, onions, garlic and wild rocket. We also have a few chooks in the back yard that supply us with bum fresh eggs as our daughter likes to call it. Yesterday afternoon, in 30 minutes we did some planting and it was with great delight that I watched my 6 year old rip a lettuce out of the ground and start munching! We have great fun with it and feel like we have a much better connection with the food/health dynamic.

  6. Trishy says:

    March 24th, 2009at 9:59 am(#)

    I fully agree with all of these comments, but just to provide a counterpoint, here is the abstract to the most popular environmental policy paper in the journal Environmental Science & Technology for 2008. The paper is titled “Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States”. A link to the abstract is below.

    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es702969f

    The gist of the article is that there are many ways to evaluate the environmental impact of food choices, and one of those ways is the effect on greenhouse gas emissions. The authors conclude that a dietary shift away from greenhouse gas-intensive meat such as red meat, and towards chicken and fish, would be even more effective than buying locally at reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with food choices. This is a great bit of info from a news article on the paper:

    “The team found that eating an all-local diet saves the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 1000 fewer miles each year, but eating a vegetarian diet 1 day per week is equal to driving 1160 fewer miles per year.”

    Another piece from the article:

    “…if all Americans eliminated meat from their diets one night per week, the environmental effect would be equivalent to taking ’30 to 40 million cars off the road for a year.’”

    Just another way to look at food choices.

  7. Jac Lynn says:

    March 24th, 2009at 5:51 pm(#)

    The idea of teaching people how to use whole foods in their real lives has crossed my path more than once. I am a Massage Therapist and Personal Trainer by trade and I get asked tons of questions about food.

    When I talk about Quinoa people are intrigued. When I tell them it’s easier to cook than rice, they are shocked.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what specific behaviors are necessary for people to live a healthier lifestyle.

    Whole food cooking skills would be part of that equation for sure.

  8. OMGBFFA says:

    March 24th, 2009at 9:50 pm(#)

    http://www.michaelpollan.com/omnivore.php

  9. Sarah says:

    March 25th, 2009at 10:42 am(#)

    The study showing the greenhouse gas costs of red meat was looking at grain-fed, factory-farmed feedlot red meat. Pasture-raised beef & lamb, rotationally grazed can actually sequester more carbon than is released. Moreover, it’s healthier for humans with a far better omega 3:6 ratio. Animals can be grazed sustainably on land that is marginal at best for crop production, and proper grass cultivation is a great way to restore soils and reduce erosion and runoff.

    It’s great to get people eating more vegetables and less meat, but I think the products are being unfairly demonized when the true culprit is the practices.

  10. Trishy says:

    March 25th, 2009at 8:56 pm(#)

    Thanks for pointing that out, Sarah. Perhaps someone can clarify for me the benefits of “free-range” meat as opposed to organic?

  11. Kat says:

    March 27th, 2009at 10:27 am(#)

    Trishy: “Organic” just means that the animals were fed organic food and not pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. But it does not mean that the animal was allowed to get any exercise, or that the animal was fed what it should have been eating naturally — chances are that your organic steak came off a cow that stood in a stall eating organic corn its whole life.

    “Free-range” means that the animal had some period of outdoor exercise during its life. Free-range doesn’t mean pasture-fed or organic, though.

    “Pasture-fed” or “grass-fed” in beef indicates that the animal got most of its nutrition from grass, which is its natural diet. The CSU Chico agriculture school has a website touting its benefits, including a review which cites several studies that claim that the grass-fed beef contains more beta-carotene, vitamin E, and a better omega-3/omega-6 fatty acid ratio. Here’s a link: http://www.csuchico.edu/agr/grassfedbeef/health-benefits/index.html

    In my opinion, the best way to source meat is to find some local farmers that offer free-range poultry and/or free-range, grass-fed beef. I prefer to buy organic, but I don’t care quite as much about that. Many local farmers will let you visit their farm and see for yourself how the animals are treated. You might have to plan ahead and get a chest freezer, especially if you order beef (it generally comes in 1/4 to 1/2 a cow), but it’s totally worth it. It even tastes better.

  12. - Aimee Ault says:

    April 28th, 2009at 8:23 am(#)

    [...] some people seem to think is an unrealistically high price. Krista at Stumptuous posted about the conspiracy map of organic foods last month, which included this large [...]


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