The True Definition of Organic

When this blog was conceived, I deliberated for quite awhile about mentioning anything from my freshman composition class. You see, the entire semester we focus on one book. We read it, we discuss it, and then we learn to write by writing about it. Our professor chose The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

If you like food at all, and don’t mind becoming a bit disillusioned with the government, I highly recommend it! Source
Actually, I’m kind of in love with this book. I’m sure many people wouldn’t pick it up because they don’t want to be preached at about the dangers of fast food, but Pollan makes a brilliant argument and condemns the government so much more often than he condemns the general public [read: it doesn’t make you feel quite as bad as Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation]. The reason I didn’t want to post anything is because there is SO MUCH I would try to talk about. Seriously, I could talk about this book for days, as I’m sure my class knows. But when this NPR article showed up, I couldn’t help but pen JUST ONE post about organic food.

I’ll admit right now, I didn’t read the whole thing, but I skimmed it well enough to know what the problem is. “Organic” farmers are pissed because the USDA is allowing other farmers to plant genetically modified alfalfa, which is then sold to the farmers who raise “organic” cattle. I’d be a little annoyed, too, however, I’m particularly interested in this quote from Tom Spohn, a director over at Horizon Organic.

“We just make sure we’re meeting the letter of the organic regulations to the T.”

The LETTER. Ouch.
This statement is particularly interesting in light of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan uses Horizon Organic to demonstrate exactly what is wrong with the genre of industrial organic food Pollan christens “Big Organic.”

This and the store brand are the only types of organic milk offered at my podunk Kroger. I wonder if the Kroger organic is any better. Source
When a person goes to the store and buys something, like milk, which is labeled “organic,” a nice fantasy blossoms in their imagination: cows grazing in open pastures, basking in the sunlight and smiling for the camera.
Wake up, Alice, this ain’t Wonderland.
In truth, the only way organic products deviate from normal grocery store fare is that they are pesticide-free. The food itself is treated exactly the same as its inorganic counterpart, only organic farmers have to stretch their imaginations a bit farther to come up with natural pesticides and fertilizers. 
What drives me crazy about Spohn’s statement, as I previously mentioned, is that he seems so committed to being approved by the regulations as to go so far to stick to their LETTER. As with so many things in life, the LETTER hardly covers it. The LETTER of organic regulations don’t really change what we’re eating. That would take a far drastic and far deeper transformation within our food industry, which brings me to my main point…
This may be a surprising twist, after all that rhetoric, but to me buying organic is just a waste of money. My mother always skipped the organic produce and now that I’m shopping for myself, I do the same. Why? I was hoping you’d ask. 
1) A USDA organic label doesn’t mean 100% organic, unless it says so. If it just says “organic” there could be as little as 70% organic material in the product.
2) Organic products aren’t actually grown differently, which is huge, especially where organic animal products are concerned. Based on Pollan’s observations, as long as we’re still feeding corn to cows, it doesn’t matter. 
3) Recent (and not-so-recent) studies have shown that nutritional value DOESN’T CHANGE from organic to inorganic.
And that, my friends, is why I won’t waste my dollar on a certified organic label.

One thought on “The True Definition of Organic

  1. I have a friend who is a major hippy and refuses to eat anything but organic foods. Needless to say she can be a real pain in the butt to take out to eat.But not only that, she gets sick more than anyone else I know! I almost want to grab her by both shoulders and say, "Honey, maybe you need a few preservatives and color dyes in your life!" 😀

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