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Omnivore’s Dilemma Chapter 9

January 21, 2009

day 312: yogurt! yum! I., originally uploaded by snowdeal.

For the record I started this post on the 6th of December and then did nothing with it for over a month. But don’t blame the book, it’s quite good I just got distracted by the holidays and ended up reading a couple other library books before going back to this.

Chapter 9 entitled “Big Organic” is Michael’s tale of following the prettily packaged offerings from Whole Foods back to their source and the ugly truth about industrial organics. And while sad it’s probably not shocking that big time organics have sold their soul to the industrial system and that the prose on the Whole Foods packaging is more fiction than fact.

If as Pollan says the organic movement was founded on the three struts of alternative methods of production, alternative systems of distribution, and alternative methods of consumption does industrial organic even have a leg left to stand on?

Gene Kahn the original owner of Cascadian Farms, now a wholly owned subsidairy of General Mills, will tell you “You have a choice of getting sad about all that or moving on. We tried hard to build a cooperative community and a local food system, but at the end of the day it wasn’t successful. This is just lunch for most people. Just lunch. We can call it sacred, we can talk about communion, but its just lunch.”

As much as I might not like the sentiment I realize and sympathize with the fact that he lost his farm because people made a lot of talk about eating organic in 1990 but they never bought organic. He lost everything and then chose to join the industrial ride. So while we may want condemn these farmers we have to share our portion of the blame. If we don’t support small sustainable agriculture they they will be forced to sell out or go under.

Your sympathy for Gene Kahn will be short lived when you realize that he didn’t just sell out, he went whole hog. Betweenn 1992 and 1997 “Kahn served on the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board, where he played a key role in making the standards safe for the organic TV dinner and a great many other organic processed foods.” “Get over it, Gene Kahn would say. The important thing, the real value of putting organic on an industrial scale, is the sheer amount of acreage it puts under organic management. Behind every organic TV dinner or chicken or carton of industrial organic milk stands a certain quantity of land that will no longer be doused with chemiclas, an undeniable gain for the environment and the public health.” But is that the important thing, when animals are still living in misery if you can call it living at all and we are still ingesting as many sythetic additives as we are vegetables.

And on this scale is organic farming even better for the land? It seems the answer is no. In order to maintain weed free crops the land is tilled much more frequently destroying the tilth of the soil and reducing its biological activity as surely as chemicals would. So why grow on this scale? Because that’s how the industrial system operates. It’s easier to purchase from on thousand-acre farm than 10 hundred acre farms.

On this scale is organic better in any way? Well it’s better for our health because we are ingesting less pesticides. And while our soil may not be better off on on the industrial organic farm the water is. The pesticides aren’t leaching into our groundwater or washing away into our streams, that’s better for the entire food chain. Beyond that industrial organic is just more produce and animals riding the waves of petroleum to our kitchen table.

Chapter 1-3 The Plant: Corn’s Conquest, The Farm, & The Elevator
Chapter 4 The Feedlot: Making Meat
Chapter 5-6 The Processing Plant: Making Complex Foods & The Consumer: A Republic of Fat
Chapter 7 The Meal: Fast Food
Chapter 8 All Flesh is Grass

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2009 5:52 am

    Just before Christmas I read a small booklet called “Är eco reko?” (“Is sustainable good?” unfortunately I can’t translate the pun this time). Researchers at the Swedish Agrarian University compared conventional farming and “ecological” (the swedish term for sustainable) farming to see what was best. They where pretty close to each other, ie. eating convantional food was not as bad as depicted, and ecological food was not as good.

    Now, it would be interesting to know the difference between swedish and US-american conventional farming and food processing. Being slightly patriotic I tend to think that swedish regulations keeps conventional farming close to ecological farming. But everyone have a blind spot where home is better than anywhere else, so it may be the other way around.

  2. January 21, 2009 8:22 am

    A small, but increasing population wants to buy locally grown, organic, respectfully raised foods. A small, but increasing number of individuals want to get back to the land and raise livestock and crops with respect, and without chemicals and antibiotics.

    But our average shopper expects to pay the same or only a fraction more for the organic food products, while the labor intensive and limited production per acre (compared to industrial farming) requires the small farmer to charge more.

    This is the greatest obstacle we must overcome: The consumerism that tells our shopper that a pound of gold should cost about the same as a pound of lead painted gold.

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