The story of a rotten barrel of organic apples
by Kathleen Anderson; illustration by Christopher Kolodey
Is this apple walnut salad organic?” you ask the waitress. “Hold on, ma’am. I’ll check with the manager.” “I only eat organic,” you declare after the waitress leaves. And to me, this translates as; “I only eat food with stickers on it that cost extra money. I like stickers. In second grade, even if I didn’t do well, I still asked for a sticker from my teacher. And, well, what’s an added forty dollars to my grocery bill if I get some awesome stickers?”
That “USDA Certified Organic” sticker really seals the deal when holding the conventional apple and the “organic” apple in your hand, debating which to throw into your grocery cart. But one day you will look back on that hypnotizing vibrant green and white sticker and laugh at your naïveté the same way you giggle about your first sex encounter. In our liberal culture today, the words “organic” and “natural” carry the same weight that the words “the body and blood of Jesus Christ” do for a devout Catholic. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “natural” as “existing in, determined by, or conforming to nature.” But don’t be fooled—buying organic is a misunderstood fad. Today, everything is said to be organic, all natural, or “made with organic ingredients.”
There are a few main arguments you like to make as an organic food supporter, probably inherited from your equally ignorant co-shopper at Whole Foods or someone who lives down the hall in your dorm with heady dreads and a bumper sticker saying, “Choose To Reuse.” One of the most common arguments is that you’re “stickin’ it to the Man” because you believe “those big evil corporations can suck my organic sack of beans.” You’ve probably shopped at Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s is a grocery store where the vegetarian, the vegan, and the organic eater feel safe, snuggly, and right at home. Trader Joe’s Corporation has made Theo Albrecht, the owner, into the 9th richest man in the world, as rated by Forbes magazine. Albrecht increased Trader Joe’s profit by 1,000 percent in the 1990s, and Trader Joe’s brought in $4.5 billion in 2005.
And don’t get me started on Whole Foods. It’s a corporation: you can purchase stock in it on Wall Street. This past week, John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, proudly announced on his blog that Leonard Green & Partners (a private equity firm) invested $425 million in the company, the largest organic and natural foods store in the world. The food is packed, bar-coded, flown, shipped, and driven to 157 stores in twenty eight states, the District of Columbia, Canada, and Great Britain. Organic farming is a corporate market. Pepsi produces Naked Juice products. Kellogg’s makes Kashi, Bear Naked, and Morningstar Farms products. General Mills produces Cascadian Farm products. So please put that stupid picture—you know the one I’m talking about, of the tanned farmer on his knees laboring over your precious produce—out of your head. In the 1990s, the owners of these grocery stores saw the fad coming and did what they were supposed to do: stock their market with organic advertisements and goods and run with it. You hopped right on the starting line when they thought you would and you’re still running the race.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture website, “organic farming systems rely on ecologically based practices such as cultural and biological pest management, exclusion of all synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones in crop and livestock production.” But while our government struggles with billion-dollar deficits, organic farm funding is not a top priority. Even Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, guarantees, “it’ll be easy for unscrupulous players to cheat, and that’s obviously what’s going on.” The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) is the administration responsible for inspecting and certifying organic farms; it has fewer than a dozen employees. You must wonder about the authenticity of “organic” branding when considering California: the state produces $600 million per year in organic produce, most of it coming from only five farms, which also, by the way, produce most of the non-organic food in California as well.
The word “organic” means that, unlike conventional foods, harmful pesticides and fertilizers are not used in the growing process. Instead, natural pesticides are used. The idea of natural pesticides is an oxymoron like cruel kindness or whack dopeness. I want to know what’s so natural about a pesticide containing rotenone, used by native tribes as a hunting poison and shown to cause symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Or pyrethrum, a human carcinogen. Or Sabadilla, highly toxic for bumble bees. These are all used in natural pesticides. Oh, and let’s not forget the family favorite, fermented urine. After all, it’s the cheapest pesticide around: “Hey kids, come take a leak in this bucket” . . . Actually, on second thought, get your dirty piss off my tomatoes. The Mayo Clinic has verified that the amount of pesticides used in conventional farming processes does not pose a significant health hazard. This organic, granola-eating, go green, “natural” foods movement you so strongly believe in requires two times the amount of land that conventional farming does and yields a much smaller crop. Rationally, if you believe in the preservation of the rainforest, you would not buy organic. Shirts for sale after class. Five dollars. “Buy Organic: Support Deforestation and Hunger.”
Ideally, people around the world would make an effort to purchase and consume food grown locally rather than worrying about whether the food they buy is organic. People who eat only locally produced food—“locavores”—help create positive community activity and a healthier economy and environment.
And one last small science lesson for all of you who believe in the superior nutritional value of organically grown foods: a plant’s structure is a function of its genes, not the manner in which it was grown. Moms who believe the organic melons they buy are healthier are the same women who decided implants were a good idea. But baby, let’s remember, big tits just aren’t in your genes. The Mayo Clinic and the USDA agree that there is no evidence organic food has greater nutritional value than conventionally grown food. And, although this may seem a bit obvious, “natural” and “organic” do not necessarily mean “healthy.” For example: Cape Cod potato chips, Newman’s Own Oreos, and that tofu stir-fry you buy at Whole Foods, deeming it healthy because, well, it’s from Whole Foods.
Now. The waitress returns and tells you that yes, your salad is organic. Your face fills with God-sent relief and you gleam up at the waitress, confirming you would like the “organic” salad. The waitress looks at me to take my order, and instead of asking if the bacon cheeseburger is “organic,” I order it and then inquire about any efforts the restaurant makes to support locally grown food. ~