Thursday, October 12, 2006

Organic foods talk

Last night I went to a panel discussion about organic food, organized by the food co-op where I am serving on the Board of Directors, because we take co-op principle #5 to heart:

Education, Training And Information: Cooperatives provide education and training for members so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
Anyways, we are living in interesting times - there were several ironies of the evening - first, when I got there less than 10 minutes before the discussion was supposed to start, there was no one there but me and the co-op's member-owner relations manager, who had organized the event. She was feeling, and I think she's right, that people don't care to be better educated about the food supply, and how to be better consumers; they just look for organic labels or other clues that will make them feel that the food is healthy, and buy. I think this is kind of the problem with co-op education, and library education for that matter - co-op users just want to shop, library users just want stuff - neither group wants to be educated about how the whole thing works. And one of the activists who was there, Mark Kastel of Cornucopia Institute, did say a couple of times that the USDA organic label is the "Cliff's notes version of organic food".

Over the course of the evening a good 2 dozen people did finally show up.

Another irony, and this was really the point of the session, is that there is currently such demand for organic foods, a growth rate of 20-25% yearly in sales, that major companies - Dean milk, and Wal-Mart, and Kraft - are all getting into organics. Is milk from cows that were fed organic feed on a 5,000 cow feed lot surrounded by pools of manure really what we mean when we say "organic milk"? Aren't we thinking more along the lines of a small farmer who milks maybe 50 cows, and has names for all of them, and uses the manure to fertilize his other crops?

Part of Organic Valley logo

I keep thinking that somehow, maybe, if the big guys get into organics, then the whole world will be less polluted, but evidently it's not really working that way - how could WalMart be in it for anything other than money? One of the speakers was quite eloquent on that point - he said WalMart says they want to sell cheap organic food, so poor people can buy it, but they've been selling cheap food all along, and not a heckuva a lot of poor people ever bought it before .... This morning one of the news items on the radio was the new WalMart urgent care for people without health insurance, $39 a visit. Sometimes you have to just wonder what the hell is wrong with us.


Debbie said...

Well, sure, Wal-Mart is in it for the money. But so is an organic farmer, or the farm won't be around for very long. It's not that the big organic farms aren't organic. If your primary concern is avoiding pesticides in your body, they're still a perfectly valid choice. They just aren't the lifestyle choice that the farmer's market is. That doesn't make them bad; it just means that there are multiple factors to weigh in your choice of what to buy.

Deb's Lunch said...

Right, organic farmers re in it for the money - in fact Organic Valley was one of the only wholesalers ever to turn its back on WalMart because with WalMart's insistance on low prices,they could not pay their farmesr enough. And, my primary concern is not avoding pesticides in my body, it is not allowing the human race to kill the planet - WalMart getting into organics means that industrial farming is coming to organics, and that's the conundrum.