When your college-age son reminds you that your supermarket foods are "dead" and that you're simply supporting government-subsidized monoculture farming practices, what do you do? Is the answer "natural and organic food"...but what does this mean, and what would you get if you convert to it?
When does a difference matter? Who hasn't been intrigued during a shopping visit when you read one packet where "free range chickens" have been "sustainably farmed", while the other packet simply shows the price and pound details for what must be the "alternative chicken" produced by industrial farming and mass distribution means? How do you choose? Is one more "chicken" than the other?
Does the carton showing happy cows grazing on verdant pasture settings along with the words " organic food" make you stop, think and buy? And what about the buyer's dilemma when one brand of organic milk differentiates itself from competitor organic milks because the milk is ultrapasteurized...and in the same food case another organic "raw" milk claims that it's better for you, fresher because it hasn't undergone any pasteurization?
What's Meant By Natural And Organic Food?
For one, natural and organic food certainly now means very big business, with producer networks extending from Argentina to Calgary to California and beyond, with tens of thousands of retail outlets, and a market value estimated at $11 billion. No other food segment grows sales as quickly as organic food.
* The Packaging Narrative.
The story-line depicted on organic food packaging conjures up childhood bed time stories, where peacefully bovine animals pass their lives away on idyllic farm pastoral settings. You think "hmmm these must be safe foods, communing with Mother Earth" and so you buy more in a mood of culture rejection of modernity and Big Agribusiness interests. But, is this view valid or simply naïve?
* The Reality.
The organic food reality? Think regular industrial business style operations. Big farms and 24/7 growing operations selling to big warehouses demanding consistent product features, reliable delivery, low prices, mechanization, just like the regular industrial food "house brands". The pressure for "product standardization" and financial survival rapidly morphs any small scale farming ideal into a business-as-usual operation. True, the "marketing spin" and the adroit use of the organic food labeling "narratives" seems to be passing along some tidbit of information about the food's origins to buyers. However, is this merely a distinction without a difference?
Benefit Of Organic Food- There's More Than What Meets The Eye.
If the benefit of organic food has to do somehow with how it's raised, or produced, then what explains the organic food benefit of ultrapasteurized milk which clearly has lost nutritional value due to the high heat processing? Answer emerges from the business reality that the product is sold over long distances, therefore requires big-time shelf life and stability. Transportation logistics converts to a "buyer's benefit" all with the stroke of a pen.
* Does The Critter's Organic Meal Mean The Steak You Eat Is Organic?
What about "organic beef"? Turns out that beef you buy that qualifies as "organic" merely reflects that the beast was confined to a fenced dry lot and ate certified organic food grains. Where's the grass and pasture? Apparently, the actual grass and pasture depicted on the package are not necessary to qualify as legitimately organic food, under FDA packaging regulations.
* True Organic - Complex Rather Than Simplified.
In the rare case when a small farm carries a mixed stock of animals such as chickens, pigs, turkeys and cattle and then truly raises these animals on sun-based pasture grasses utilizing an organized pasture rotation plan, then you're getting as close to organic as Mother Nature allows. No pesticides are necessary, no herbicides, virtually no antibiotics occur. Why? By exploiting the cow-ness of cows, the natural mob-and-grazing tendencies of bovines...adding the co-evolved relationship of scavenging fowl like turkeys and chickens which eat worms and waste matter...you get as close to a "free lunch" as is possible. Wastes from one species become breakfast for another. So, who picks up the energy tab, when petrochemicals are avoided? Where does the energy come from? The sun.
Pros And Cons Of Organic Food.
To the extent that the farm land producing your food did not use the raft of petrochemical fertilizers, herbicides and drugs, and that the workers did not inhale carcinogenic compounds, and that the land's fertility and complexity were not compromised, then the benefit of organic food remains indirect and frankly invisible.
* The Moral Feel Good Aspect.
When you buy into the perception and product reality of organic food you feel better about yourself, and somewhere some piece of land and its farmers are also a bit healthier. All good stuff.
* Pricing Pains For Consumers.
Feeling confused? The pros and cons of organic food do nothing to reconcile $4.00 plus prices per pound for tomatoes, or $18.00 per pound prices for beef, or $2.70 price for milk being sold next to $1.80 containers.
* Taste Superiority?
Will organic food necessarily taste better? No. Freshness and delivery timing have a far greater impact on taste, so the local end of the industrial food chain can still "whup" the organic boys, if the food is significantly fresher by the time you buy.
* Nutritionally Better?
The jury's out on the issue of nutritional completeness. Bottom line, there's no way to prove any particular superiority of organic food over regular store produce.
Organic Pet Food.
Organic dog food, its cousin organic cat food and organic bird food are only three classes of specially produced foodstuffs for family pets. If you're buying pet food from a major national retailer, then you're buying-in to the industrial food chain. You'll pay higher prices. Your pet's food might be better...you'll certainly feel better about serving it. But, is it really making a difference?