Should We Care About Organic

Posted on
September 21, 2012

Anna Bronnes recently published on Ecosalon a link-bait article—with good intentions—that unfortunately fell a bit flat.

I entirely agree with the intention:

In the modern age, if you are able to comfortably put food on the table, it is inexcusable to not think about what you are eating.

But, the article lacks significant information to help those wishing to become more informed about the food system. It also, subtly, suggests devaluing what "Organic" labels actually represent.

Thinking About What You're Eating

Anna Brones brings up a good point that personal health is not the only reason to consider Organic—or to question your food in general:

Food cannot be reduced to single elements. It’s not just about antioxidants or carbohydrates or omega 3s. Food is a process, a compilation of nutrition, environment and experience.

So, what is it about? What should people be aware of? What are the impacts of food production, and how can I as a consumer influence those impacts? The issues surrounding producing and consuming food can be pretty comfortably categorized into the following (I'm ignoring health for now):

  1. Social How are the workers treated?
  2. Environmental Can the environment sustain the current production, and for how long?
  3. Ethical How are the Livestock treated?
  4. Economical How is the increased price distributed?

But, if you're unaware of current negative issues surrounding food production, then it's easy to give each of those questions the benefit of the doubt. But, with mistreated migrant workers in British Columbia, monocultures and their negative long-term yield variability, Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizers actually depleting soil nitrogen levels and how rising energy costs affects food costs (PDF), there are plenty of issues to be concerned about.

Some Thoughts on Organic

I'm sure Anna means no harm, but when she says "Slap the big O on anything and you’re sure to attract a certain demographic." Her tone and and adjective devalue the significance of Organic, and what small-to-medium farmers endure to gain that status. In Canada and the US, gaining Organic Certification is no simple matter, nor is it cheap. We, should respect that the Farmers' are being more thoughtful of how they choose to produce.

Organic, is not a perfect indicator of a good product, but it is a highly controlled word, with many positive attributes associated with it. And, when you do reach that point when Organic is not a good enough indicator for good food you can look into bio-dynamic farming, permaculture, Fairtrade, Community-Support Agriculture etc.

Really, there is just so much to learn when it comes to producing and consuming food! And, Anna is right:

If we are going to move the food system forward, in a progressive and sustainable manner, we have to be asking the hard questions, and that takes more than just reading a headline.

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