There’s that word again. Organic. OR-GA-NIC. It may be the trendiest word in recent history. And, though we at Lust for Cooking are definitely in favor, it is admittedly controversial. Those that are major proponents aren’t always getting as many benefits as they think, and those that aren’t proponents don’t know what they’re missing. And to top it off, that’s not the only thing out there now. There’s also “All Natural” and “Non-GMO” and “Gluten Free” and “Grass Fed” and “Free Range” and more! How is anyone supposed to get any shopping done?!
And they’re all so expensive. It’s baffling that less processing = more cost, but it does.
At Lust for Cooking, we will continually be looking at the organic food industry, as well as its relatives listed above, to assess the reality of Going Organic.
But, for starters, what the hell does it mean anyway?
Well, technically it doesn’t mean what everyone thinks. It used to mean, “noting or pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals [not minerals], but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.” Which means cyanide and arsenic are both organic compounds.
But now it has come to mean “of food : grown or made without the use of artificial chemicals.”
This is the key definition. Organic now means limited pesticides, fertilizers, and hormones. It means no Agent Orange in your food. Good! Yay! It does not mean that it was farmed or raised on an idyllic pasture in a ma-and-pa-farm setting. Good? Well, not really, but it’s ok. To get that, you need a few more labels. Or to go out and find said farm. But limited pesticides, fertilizers, and hormones is an excellent first step. Take a look at this study in Sweden of one family that switched to organic:
Food for thought, isn’t it?
So what’s with the prices? Basically, in a nutshell, here it is. In America (and elsewhere) we’ve transformed the agricultural system in such a way that it is very difficult for farmers to profit unless they are mass-producing a single crop (or livestock). In order to keep mass-produced crops from succumbing to a single pest or disease that could wipe out their entire yield, farmers turned to the help of chemicals and hormones, without really knowing the consequences. This has become traditional agriculture. Raising crops or livestock Organically means taking greater risks and producing less yield. That’s why it costs more. For more on this check out The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. He covers this brilliantly.
But remember, as consumers, each purchase we make is a political choice. Your willingness to choose Organic over traditional food, despite the price increase, sends a message to the agriculture industry that this is what we want to eat. The more we buy, the more the industry will change their ways, and then, with greater supply and new innovations, should (we hope) come lower prices.