Saturday, August 13, 2011

What's the Opposite of Organic?

When did "organic" change?

In high school science classes, we learned that some things (plants, animals, Aunt Gertrude, and motor oil) were essentially organic. Things like rocks, minerals, and Aunt Gertude's annual Christmas fruit cake, were inorganic. That was simple, although nylon stockings and plastic wrap had me confused, and still do.

But now it seems that "organic" means something else entirely, and I wonder if they teach that in high school science classes. (Do they still teach science classes in high school, or do kids have to learn about that on YouTube?)

We went to a Farmer's Market in Carson City today, and most of the fruit and vegetables they had for sale were labeled "organic" (which in our day would have been ANY fruit or vegetable -- I would have hated to try to munch on an "inorganic" peach, even though they all came with stones!). 

There were organic honey, organic leeks, organic pluots (which we had never heard of in high school), organic beef, organic corn, organic everything. 

I suppose the guy who made these birdhouses could have claimed them to be organic, and I wouldn't have blamed him!

In the grocery stores you can find bananas sold for 69 cents a pound, and right in the next bin you'll find "organic" bananas for 99 cents a pound.  Organic peaches cost more than inorganic (?) peaches. Organic beef in the meat counter is way more expensive that everyday beef, unless you are buying USDA Prime Beef from Costco, which is more expensive than inorganic diamonds.

When did "organic" start to mean "anything other than what you grew up eating?"

I started to think about this. It's usually dangerous when I start to think about anything; that's why I stopped thinking some years ago except in idle moments. I believe I have come up with what happened. A certain group of farmers decided to stop using pesticides and chemicals on their farms. They proclaimed it was healthier to eat food grown without chemicals.

Now, stop and think about this. What are chemicals? A quick look into "" gives the answer: "Everything is a chemical." Longer answer: everything is made up of chemicals or chemical compounds. A definition of "organic" reads: characteristic of, pertaining to, or derived from living organisms.  We grew up believing that anything that was carbon-based was organic. Okay, I guess that included Aunt Gertude's fruit cake.

So, even those less expensive bananas and peaches are really organic. And the leeks. So it was a hard sell for the farmers who wanted us to believe that they had found the keys to the kingdom. So they hired a major public relations firm to convince us that it was healthier to eat food that was grown without "chemicals."

Now the American public is gullible, which has nothing to do with those birds down at the seashore. We will believe almost anything if someone shouts it long enough and loud enough or gets a major Hollywood star to mention it casually on the Tonight Show. Coffee is bad for you. Coffee is good for you. Alcohol is bad for you. Red wine is good for you. Eggs are terrible. Eggs are necessary for health. You'd better drink only bottled water. Bottled water leaches nasty "chemicals" from the plastic and will lead to imminent death. You know what I mean. you've seen it, you've heard it, you probably have believed some of it some of the time. So have I.

You want to know the truth? Here's the truth: those farmers who have stopped using "chemicals," and therefore have reduced their cost of production, can now charge MORE for their produce than the farmers who still use "chemicals," and therefore have been able to produce a larger crop that will stay fresh in the market for a longer time, so that you can take the stuff home and use it day after tomorrow instead of tonight!

And that's my opinion, and that's it for today in ... Our Life on Wheels!


  1. I don't want Roundup on my food, or any form of chemical insecticides, herbicides, pesticides, nor do I want any corporation tampering with genetically modifying the foods I eat. Folks who don't think it matters should be free to buy and eat whatever they want, and folks who do think it matters should be able to get their preferences, without interference from Con Agra and Monsanto.

  2. I enjoyed this. I think your summary is on the mark. No doubt that were the farmers all to stop using chemicals, the production per acre would drop back to those of the late 1800's.

    Some level of chemicals is necessary for all of us to get to eat. On the other hand, to much of these will likely kill us. What a dilemma.

  3. I do not believe "organic" is any different than regular produce...just another way of paying more for produce...but, I grew up in the 50's/60's...we didn't know jack sh-t about organics...and we are OK...just my theory...

  4. I WANT my foods to have lots of preservatives. Maybe they will keep me from decaying quite so fast!

  5. Hmmm...interesting. Don't want to dig too deep here, but aren't we ALL genetically modified from one generation to another? Couldn't it be said that using gene therapy to treat some physical disorders and diseases is genetic modification? Isn't breeding German Shepherds to selectively reduce the incidence of hip dysplasia in the breed genetic modification? Why isn't it okay to selectively "breed" corn to obtain a higher yield and disease resistance? It's still corn, just like the German Shepherd is still a German Shepherd even if it doesn't have hip dysplasia. (oversimplification, I know, but I think you see what I'm getting at)

    If you take an aspirin or most any OTC or prescription medication, you are ingesting chemicals. Most chemicals have done a lot more good than they have harm. Of course there has to be balance but if a hungry world is to be fed then both chemical weed and pest control and genetic enhancement are probably necessary.

    You had a great essay and perspective, Jerry, and while I totally support those who wish to grow and label their product as Organic, and I support the right of those who wish to, to purchase such products, I suspect that you are mostly right.

    Merikay, you're a hoot!

  6. I agree, Jerry. Organic food has become just one more giant promotion gimmick to charge more for fruit and vegetables. I just buy what looks good at the best price!

  7. Pretty good conclusions. Though even organic grown foods use chemicals, just organic chemicals. However, those can at times be worse for us and the environment.

    As the first commenter pointed out, people want the right to chose on their own. They can have it, but in general they will make a bad choice. What often seems logical is not, or has been pre-digested by the media to appear logical.

    I'll agree, Monsanto is pure evil, but not because of what they make, but how they regulate and mandate it.

    The public is confused. Anyone who recycles anything but aluminum is a good example. Blindly scolding those who don't, not realizing the are hurting the environment more by recycling. There's a reason homeless don't collect paper and plastic, there's no money in it, just as there is none in it for our recycling industry. Carbon loss on anything but aluminum.

    Nice to see someone at least being skeptical. If you want to be informed and shocked watch Penn and Teller's Bullshit series on organic foods as well as the episode on recycling. YouTube has then. All episodes of all seasons are good and mostly accurate without bias.

  8. I don't think we should be putting all of those chemicals into our bodies. But it is difficult to know exactly what we are eating, we have to trust the producers or grow all of our own food - and even if we tried maybe our soil may be contaminated.

  9. Great post, Jerry and Suzy. I totally agree with your conclusion!

  10. I am of an age as well when I remember everything as being 'natural'. Organic was just some kind of a foreign word. Garden vegetables were washed off because they had dirt on them, not chemicals, although I do remember my Uncle Fred 'dusting' the Tomato plants with some kind of white powder which of course may have had more to do with the destruction of bugs rather than the organic preservation of the plant itself.

  11. I really enjoyed your post. It brought back a lot of high school science memories. I was surprised I remembered anything from that class.

  12. GREAT post and great thoughts on reg produce vs Organic. I would love to eat organic but it is costly. So I don't~
    Have fun & Travel safe

  13. Friend Mary Russell emailed:
    Right on! My mantra on organic is "costs more, goes bad faster"!! I do shop at a Polk-neighborhood Real Food store (family business, 2, maybe 3 locations at most in the City) for its convenience and nice personnel; really fine meats, fish, etc. But not for veggies and fruits; my choice there is even better, the Big Apple on Polk at Clay - one-location family-owned, large neighborhood business - amazingly good produce and everything else. We're about to lose the last of the old Cala stores, on Hyde at California; location to be some new high-end thing or other, no doubt (though there's a Whole Foods just 4 blocks west.) Good thing everyone in the neighborhood has jobs that pay well...

  14. Want to talk organic? How about head cheese? :)

  15. Interesting post, Jerry. At this point in my thinking, I have two thoughts on the subject of purchasing food:

    1. I want to know which foods have been genetically modified so I can decide for myself whether or not I want to purchase GMO foods. I believe GMO foods should be required to be labeled as such so all of us can support practices we believe in.

    2. I am far more interested in purchasing locally grown foods than organic foods (though I support the organic food movement, mostly for reasons other than nutritional value). I believe that many locally grown foods are more healthy than others (less time spent in transit means fewer nutrients lost) but, much more importantly, for what is called "food security". If/when the cost of or lack of fuel makes it economically unfeasible to transport food long distances, living in an area with a strong local food economy will be a benefit. The time to support your local growers is now - if you are lucky enough to live in a area with farmer's markets or CSA's.

    Safe travels!

  16. Howdy Suzy & Jerry,

    Organic: a buzz word for higher prices!!!

    A friend of mine worked for an 'organic' farmer in California.. The 'farmer' signed all of the documents NEEDED for organic farming; then went ahead and used ALL TYPES of chemicals on his veggies.. The friend was a vegan; only ate vegetables.. The farmer got more for his crop!!

  17. Everything in life involves chemicals or chemistry. The question is which ones can our bodies handle and which ones can't we? What are the long-term consequences and what doseage makes the poison? Many synthetic pesticides that were considered perfectly fine 30 years ago (DDT, Lindane etc.) are now understood to have serious potential health consequences and are banned. Imported foods have even less controls. In processed food it's the same issue. MSG was used in Chinese food for years before understanding it's consequences. Red Dye #40 is still used (and now being linked to ADHD and other developmental childhood issues).

    This is my main issue w/ using artificial additives in food (of any kind) -> the unknown, unintended consequences. I totally agree that some farmers use the organic label as a simple way to charge more (and not all organic practices are equal), but I'll try and buy organic whenever I can nonetheless.

    Interesting post certainly!



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