Instead of asking why organic food is so expensive, we should be asking why conventional food is so cheap. I call bullshit.
Have you seen that meme circulating the social medias? I won’t lie; I was one of the first to slap it on my Facebook page all “rah rah down with Monsanto!” and all that hippy-dippy, real food advocate, pro-kale baloney. Because that’s just how I roll, yo. And while I totally agree with David Avoacdo Wolfe (how great is his name?!), he’s missing one key ingredient in the equation: Not everyone can afford to buy organic ingredients.
It was after contemplating his overly-simplistic solution that I came across a recent blog post by Tiffany at Don’t Waste the Crumbs, and I got all hot and bothered. And not in a sexy way.
Her compelling article, 14 Facts the Organic Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know, was in fact compelling enough to warrant a very heated discussion in the comment section on her blog, multiple link backs from other bloggers, a massive Facebook uproar, this blog post and even a direct response from the Organic Trade Organization itself*. Much of the response hasn’t been admirable.
But isn’t that exactly what our discussions around food rights and food politics SHOULD do? Generate conversation, ruffle our feathers and provide us with information from which we can make the best decisions possible about how to feed our families, friends, selves, and planet?
Tiffany isn’t being critical of organics, she’s critically thinking about the organic industry and acting on well researched, intelligent and comprehensive information. And this is the epitome – the soul – of democracy. No?
I wrote my university thesis on food politics. As a result, I don’t typically buy CERTIFIED organic because it’s such an expensive and lengthy process – a lot of smaller farmers can’t afford it. And the larger organic farms aren’t necessarily local.
Did you know it actually costs more environmentally to ship organic food long distances than it does conventional? This is due to transportation costs like truck fuel, plane emissions and refrigeration; Non-chemically treated food simply doesn’t store long distances so they have to keep it “extra cold” to get it to its destination.
The organic myth – the idea that organics are pure, idealistic, elitist and expensive – pervades our beliefs and warps the reality of eating food in the modern world.
Not that I’m arguing for us to eat cheap, conventional produce. Rather, I suggest we focus our energy and hard earned dollar bills on buying from producers who practice organic & perma-culture growing methods in combination with what’s in season locally. Patronizing local farmers is usually cheaper than any food shipped long distances because local farmers have a regional surplus at the time and you don’t cover the costs of movement.
There’s no way to avoid cross contamination of organics as long as companies like Syngenta, Conagra and Monsanto are alive and there generally does have to be some pesticide use as Tiffany’s article suggests – most large organic companies are growing food on mass scale. But it’s generally less and much better than what the enormous mono-culture farms require.
It’s true; not everyone can afford certified organic. And that’s awfully shitty. So for those who can’t, you do the best that you can with what you can, when you can. Anything is better than McDonalds, Twinkies and Kraft Singles.
For those of us who can afford it we may choose to avoid certified organic, instead sourcing our food from local growers who practice organic growing methods and farmers who pasture raise their animals or we may say fuck the facts the organic industry doesn’t want us to know and buy the labeled product anyhow. Whichever you choose, do the best that you can with what you can, when you can.
For all of us, there are steps we can take to help alleviate that problem – but here’s the stickiness of that solution, the stick up the butt about it so to speak: It requires us actually doing something.
No system is perfect but we can work to making it better through activism, purchase habits, being respectfully vocal in our communities about how to make good food choices and by leading by example.
This is our moment to really stick it to big-Ag and make real change. Right now. And feel – nay taste, the work we do.
I know we’re accustomed to being handed the quickest, easiest solution in our culture but we have to take some personal responsibility as Tiffany’s done when it comes to knowing what a good food choice is and what isn’t. Googling it, finding out the info for yourself and taking a day or two to really understand where our food comes from allows us to then make the best possible choice for our families and ourselves (or the planet, farm workers or animals if that’s something that’s important to you).
It’s something we can all do.
That’s what’s so great about the young farmers and the small, acre-sized farms that are popping up in back yards, city/rural neighbourhoods and the like – they’re educating themselves, taking a hit financially (farmers generally aren’t rich) and doing something about the problem – they’re feeding us.
And I’m so grateful for that.
I’m not in a place right now where I can take up the fight to that level but I can buy my meat from local farmers at a reputable butcher or the farmer’s market. I can choose to not eat strawberries or blueberries out of season which saves me money. I can elect to grow a pot of tomatoes and a collection of herbs which is way cheaper than buying them from the store on two fronts; Volume and I get heritage seeds from to grow new ones the following year. Take that Monsanto! I can forgo the one meal out in exchange for pastured eggs, milk and cheese from a local producer I trust. I can talk to my friends and family about how good it feels to eat and live this way and share meals with them that highlight quality ingredients.
Not everyone has the luxury to eat this way and I can respect that. We do the best with what we can, where we can, when we can. But most of us here right now can afford to do at least a little something to make the food wealth imbalance more equitable. We need to dispel the organic myth once and for all and make the world a better place.
As Tiffany says in her blog post:
I’m prefacing these facts with a disclaimer that I’m not calling organics bad or good, nor am I calling conventional bad or good. I firmly believe, and will continue to encourage every family to make the best decisions that suit their needs.
That sounds fair to me. And just. I’m sorry David Avocado Wolfe (I just like to say his name), but we shouldn’t be asking why organic food is so expensive or why conventional food is so cheap. We should be asking what is the best decision we can make right now for the health of those we care about, ourselves, the planet and the people who produce, harvest or slaughter our food.
We should ask “What’s right?”
Do you buy organic? Non-organic? Non-GMO? What are your thoughts on The Organic Food Myth? On Tiffany’s article? Spill it!
* The Organic Trade Association is an industry and their response to Tiffany’s article is biased based on the fact that their business model requires them to be for the sake of profit. Hence the ridiculous debate between Non-GMO & Organic labeling. It never fails to amaze me that two sides of the same coin duke it out over profits or methods. It’s obviously a mechanism of industry that Organic certification pushes back against Non-GMO. Rather than wasting our energy on infighting, I wish both sides would see that BOTH labels afford consumers the choice and awareness to eat better. The way we get there is of course important but REALLY we should be supporting each other, not ganging up and throwing tantrums against the other because one side might lose some revenue. If Organic and Non-GMO really truly care about good food options, they’d partner and leverage each other. Organic & Non-GMO – we’re on the same team!