Unraveling Organic

Farm from shutterstock.com

The organic food that you're buying may not be 100% organic and therefore discredits the integrity of the organic certification. That is the basic gist of The Washington Post’s much deliberated article, "Purity of Federal 'Organic' Label is Questioned", published July 3rd. It is a well-known fact that the organic certification is not perfect nor is it the end-all, be-all solution to our broken food system. In truth, I am quite tired of hearing people use "organic" as the sole qualifier to their healthy, "sustainable" diet. A Cheeto is a Cheeto, is a Cheeto by any other name, even "organic", and the company that produces it may not be sustainable in the least.

Multinational corporations have been gobbling up organic companies since they figured out they could make a buck or two off the $23 billion-a-year business. When you buy Horizon Milk, you're supporting dairy giant and factory farmers extraordinaire, Dean Foods. Boca Burgers are owned by Kraft, Odwalla is owned by Coca-Cola, Stonyfield by Danone. (For some great charts on organic food, click here.) For those who care simply about eating healthier, perhaps it doesn’t really matter who owns the brand. For others who care about where their dollars are going, buying conventional organic is just buying into the same old corporate machine.

Granted, there are a good number of successful companies who have managed to remain independent. Organic Valley, Amy’s Kitchen and Eden Foods are just a few examples that have managed to stay away from corporate takeover. There are also some serious benefits that come along with organic. Animals are fed vegetarian feed and are not given hormones or antibiotics unless ill. Fruits and vegetables are not treated with pesticides. The organic certification also prohibits genetic modification, sewage sludge and irradiation.

On the other hand, organic gives no guarantee that animals will have the freedom to roam. Sure, they are technically supposed to have access to the outdoors, but many companies (not all) find loopholes to this rule. Organic is no guarantee of biodiversity either. Fields and fields of organic soybeans don’t leave room for much else, and can quickly deplete the soil’s resources. Organic food may also be shipped thousands of miles to your nearest Whole Foods or Wild Oats, and it may come packaged in loads of plastics, Styrofoam and who knows what else. That’s why we're called Sustainable Table, not Organic Table.

Organic does not equate to health either. Organic chips, fatty dips, frozen burritos and pizza are not health foods, something that confuses many consumers. Many tout their healthy, organic diets, but in the end they are eating junk food all the same – it’s just more expensive. And then there are those who disapprove of the 5% of organic product ingredients that need not be organic. The list of allowed ingredients has gone up from 77 to 245 substances since the program’s birth in 2002.

There is really only one true solution to these problems. Get over relying uniquely on the organic label and go beyond. You put food into your body at least three times a day; it’s probably worth getting to know what you're putting in. If you're in a huff about the 5% of non-organic ingredients, make the food from scratch. The organic industry is now a corporate machine; chances are they aren’t going to change much. If you make simple meals from scratch, you will really know what’s going in and chances are it will be healthier and cheaper.

Do research. There are many great food companies and farms out there, some certified organic and some not. Many farmers who use biodynamic and organic practices can’t afford the certification or feel disillusioned with it, but they may produce a superior product. Find ones that you can honestly support and stand behind without feeling like you're giving in to the man. Go the farmers market, talk to the farmers and find out their practices. They are friendly people; ask them questions. When you buy at a farmers market, they get much more money on the dollar than when you buy in a store. Support a dying breed; this country was founded on farming, and now they make up less then 2% of the population.

I appreciate the Washington Post taking a good look at the organic label and bringing it to everyone’s attention. In recent years, it has become so wrapped up in bureaucracy and big business that it confuses consumers and has begun to lose its original meaning. To truly support independent, wholesome organic food producers, do your research and get to know your food. Maybe someday we'll have an Organic 2.0.