A Quandary Regarding Organic

March 25, 2014 in Food Economics, Foodland, General, Home and Garden, Nutritionism by Joyce Bunderson

This past week I attended the state dietetic association’s annual meeting and conference. In the registration bag there are always some little gifts; one was a copy of Edible Wasatch, which I’ve seen and enjoyed before. I just discovered that the article that I wanted to mention today is posted on line: Who Owns Organic Brands?; Maybe Not Who You Think (Go to the end, pages 49, 50, 51). If you read the preceding link, you notice in the third paragraph, p.49, and in the graphic on 50-51, that there’s a potential for deception about organic products coming from farmers and small companies. Actually, big companies now own most organic brands quietly. Of course, I’m not shocked when Big Food gets involved and tries to project a healthy and natural image.

I want to share with you, right up front, that I’m not a big activist for organic foods. Being a life-long student of science, I’ve long held the idea that sometimes modifying the make up of a food item may have great benefits for humanity; such as increasing the ability to more easily feed more people. In addition, because I do vegetable gardening myself, I know how much destruction can come from insects. I will admit here that I do not use bug spray on my vegetables, but realize that the farmers who grow big crops are able to provide for lots more people than I do. I’ve seen some documentaries that help the viewer realize that there are ways to grow foods (and animals, for that matter) without so much pesticide, but I don’t really have enough good information with all that is involved for the farmers.

Certainly, I’d like our food to be as clean and healthy as possible, but don’t feel like I know enough to get on my well-used bandwagon on this particular subject. I think while I’m confessing here, I should mention that most of my cooking is just for two people. We mostly eat food that I cook. My point is that we consume little processed and very little highly processed foods. So the main way organic would make a difference to our intake is through fresh vegetables, and whole grain pasta. Maybe one day I’ll become more committed to organic and GMO-free labels. But for now, I’m still dragging my feet.

On a third front, I agree with a nutrition professor who said it is better to eat the well-washed veggies to get their nutrients than to shun non-organic products.  I agree that eating lots of plants gives us important nutrients to help our bodies manage toxins that get into our meals. As I said, I’m still dragging my feet.

Lastly, in all honesty, I despise the bloated prices that are so often attached to the organic products. When we were selling whole grain products on this web site and in stores, our wheat supplier said that all his whole grains were organic. He said that most of the wheat was grown without pesticides anyway, as there was no need for the pesticides. But when it was certified organic, the price could be raised, because the market would bear the higher price. Ouch! Unfortunately, we are all aware that if there is a reason to raise prices that people will accept as reasonable, those who can afford it will pay the premium price. All any of us have to do to make the comparison is to shop at a fresh grocer selling both organic and non-organic veggies and fruits.  The price increase for organic is often substantial.  The cost, as in the case of wheat, is very small in some cases, quite high in other cases.  The price is not just a function of increased production cost.  It is a premium that grocers have found enough people are willing to pay – hooray for profits!

Now, having said the above, for me to have this atypical wishy-washy attitude may surprise you – but consider the trade-offs I have mentioned.  Also, there is another side to it. I want to add that I do know quite a bit about what the food processors do with our food. If you read this blog frequently, you know that I’ve had more than one hissy fit (in writing) over Big Food. I do deplore the fact that Big Food makes, supplies and sells fude that is often impoverished by being stripped of many nutrients to make a food like substance that can sit on the shelf for a VERY long period of time. There may be little left to spoil, so it does last …. and last on the shelf.

Because I read quite a volume of material written for the food processing industry, I constantly read of their quest to add this nutrient or that nutrient to entice the public to buy their impoverished, processed junk food. Think back to Campbell’s Soup or WhoNu? Cookies. Or read the stories of what happens to grain, and the resulting mediocre products. I frequently read the advertisements for ways to offer a “clean label” using additives to make something appear like a healthy traditional food. I guess that what I’m getting at is my learned distrust for Big Food. We consumers have to be deception sleuths to see past the glitter of advertized hype and nutritionism.

My deduction is that I’m really conflicted about organic. On one hand, I’d like to feed more people and if that means the use of pesticides and GMO…. Well, I guess I’d say we have to do it. I have such difficulty with the concept of starving people. But on the other hand, I’d like our food to be as safe and healthy as possible. So for me (and my husband) we have some nice fruit trees (not treated with pesticides) and a nice vegetable garden with only organic material as fertilizer, so I’m feeling like I’m doing OK without spending a lot on premium-priced organic produce in stores. Yes, there’s room for improvement in reducing toxins in food production, and their accumulation in the land and water. But in helping the readers of this blog, I feel that each of you needs to make decisions based upon your situation. I’d really appreciate and enjoy your point of view; if you would share it with me and our readers maybe we could be better informed. What are your ideas on this subject? Can you influence us to move more strongly in one direction or the other?