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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Organic Food, Greenwashing, and the General Decline of Societal Scruples.

The following is not a post extolling the awesomeness of organic foods.  It is not even intended to invoke the argument.  Really, I just want to mention a couple things I personally value about organic food.  If it happens to devolve into a passionate, only moderately derailed, diatribe about our unscrupulous corporate-driven society... well I can't be held responsible for what happens when I'm all hopped-up on organic goofballs.

Regarding organic vs. non-organic foods, I will say that I don't really understand why there is even any substantiation for debate at all... I'm pretty sure the only 'cons' to organic food are price and possibly aesthetic (<sob>... but I don' wanna have spots on my apples... <sniffle>).  I can't think of anything else.  Every other reason including the major ones such as flavour, toxicity (lack thereof) and nutritive value pretty much makes this an open-and-shut case in my opinion.

That said... sometimes organic produce can get a little... ridiculous.  Therefore, I've taken to what I like to call 'an educated approach' to buying organic.

In no small part, this education is based on other peoples' tireless efforts to do all the research FOR me.  :)

To that end, check out EWG's food site for some fairly nicely-laid-out and detailed information regarding pesticides in produce.  Granted this is an American report, but for the most parts I operate under the allowance that they are similar enough here as to make little difference.  This page is an excellent summary for quickly determining what is typically 'clean' and what is generally 'dirty' (their entire list is here.)

It is a great resource, and I use this to educate and hierarchize my organic produce buying.

So, thanks to EWG!

Now, when it comes to actually picking up produce in the store, I admit that I am rather... selective.  Like I said, I try and base this on an informed opinion.  So... the long and short of it is that I buy some things organic, and allow some things to not be.

Take bananas for example.  While not terrible for pesticides, their organic counterparts are literally cents more expensive.  So, we buy organic bananas.  However, I don't think I've ever even seen organic asparagus, and why, if they typically don't have many toxins?  Same with white onions... never bought an organic white onion in my life.  Apples, on the other hand, are notorious for pesticides and additives (hello, waxy shine!!) so we buy those organic as well even though they're substantially more expensive.  But, I really don't want to be able to shave in the reflection of my galas... so it's worth it. 

Now... I admit that I'm fairly ignorant to farming produce, but it does seem to me that farming organically should require less effort, less expensive machinery, not to mention zero expensive chemicals... so I have to wonder why it is more expensive.  I'm going to assume that it is just infrastructure... in that it is currently more expensive to farm organically because the industry is currently set-up to farm inorganically.

So let us hope that some day the infrastructure of our growing industry can make some fundamental shifts (ironically, I imagine this would be a backward shift, temporally) towards supporting more organic practices, such that the eventual outcome is that they will someday be cheaper.

The other potential reason why organic is more expensive, a much darker reason and one that I don't really like to think about, is just because it can be.  It is in demand right now... which means they can get away with it.  <sigh> Corporate Marketing.  I think I've talked about greenwashing before, right?  It's pretty unscrupulous... but we are hungrily gullible for it every time.

My favourite example of this is Schneider's recent-ish greenwashing campaign for their "Country Naturals" products.  At first it seemed awesome to be able to buy meats which were free of preservatives and nasty nitrites.  How, exactly were they able to keep their meats from going rancid without preservatives?  By using a "Naturally-Occuring" preservative (Cultured Celery Extract).  When you read the labels in-store, great pains are taken to "lead" you to the assumption that everything in it is OK for you because it is "natural" (hell, arsenic is "natural", but that doesn't make it good for you).  The package comes right out and says "Only the good stuff" and then lists a, granted small, list of ingredients.  Compare this list of nothing but naturally-occuring ingredients to others which contain chemical preservatives (NaNO2 / KNO2) and (at least their marketing and sales depts hope) it seems like a no-brainer.  But...

Cultured Celery Extract contains nitrites.

To be fair, I've noticed in visiting Schneider's web site just now, that they are now at least stating (by asterisked disclaimer at least) this... which is good.  "No preservatives added"  "Beyond those naturally occurring preservatives and nitrites in the ingredients."  So, they're covered...

But the bottom line is that they've been able to cash-in on this "trend" simply by creating a new package, and advertising it as "Natural".  

And they are certainly not the only ones.

Look at the organic bananas I just bought from Loblaws the other day:

Wait...maybe NOT?  
Are those organic???
I just don't know...
Let me check the label again, Yes?  
Yes... it is.
Thank goodness there was an ENORMOUS band of purple tape letting me know!
You'd think that this sticker (which serves fine for every other produce product) would suffice:

I mean... you can't really equivocate over that.  It's Organic.  Certified.  Good enough for me.

But... I'm afraid people will just NOT KNOW this is organic unless we ram it down their throats.  So, let's wrap the stems in purple tape:

And add a GINORMOUS purple ribbon around the whole freakin thing:

I'm sure if it ever became cost-effective, they'd LOVE to have it be a giant pulsing strobe light screeching the words "ORGANIC... ORGANIC DAMNIT!!!!" at 120 decibels.


Yes, it is MY choice to buy this product, but I just wish someone would grant me an ounce of intelligence once in a while.  And, yes, organic bananas are only slightly more expensive than non-organic bananas, but I just wish I wasn't paying even a small amount of this price, on marketing embellishment.

In conclusion, I will say that I have become so beaten-down by our society's corporate oligarchy, that I have come to accept certain evils in order to see some things change.  So, if it takes these major food companies the notion of profiting off of this latest "trend", in order to even consider offering less toxic alternatives, so be it.  They can put green labels on their food, and mark up the price 10%.  At least we've finally got an option to not have pollutants in our diet.  

Now, I just find myself praying to God for far too many things (everything from electric cars to literate youths) to become soooo effing trendy...