At least, that's the message of two articles that came out this week. The first, which appeared in the New York Times, It's Organic but Does That Mean It's Safer? questions the assumption that organic is the "safe choice" in light of the recent peanut recall (organic brands were just as affected as conventional). The second, Spoiled: Organic and Local is So 2008—from this month's Mother Jones, written by Paul Roberts, author of the provocative book The End of Food—takes organic and local to task for being overly romanticized. Roberts questions the true sustainability of either.
No doubt, there are many ways in which organic farming (and the term "organic" itself) has been asked to become the a one-size-fits-all solution within our complex—in many ways broken and inefficient—industrial food system. Roberts has a point, as does the NYTimes author. As shoppers, as citizens, as retailers ... wherever we fit in, it is certainly important to consider the limitations, to question ideals, suss out rumors, and redefine the muddled truths that swirl around the terms "organic" or "local." We especially need to be wary of the one-solution-only mentality. And, yet, I can't help feeling that these two articles don't get it exactly right, either. So I asked Jylle Lardaro, Director - Organic Industry for New Hope Natural Media, her thoughts.
The organic community/industry needs to find a balance (between local and global, between till and no-till, between small farms and large farms) much the same way that nature finds a balance. But the balance necessitates raised consumer awareness and education, so that people truly understand what they are getting when they buy a local tomato or bread made from the grains of large-scale producer. There needs to be an understanding of the environmental impact when crops are sprayed with conventional chemicals and the environmental impact when crops are grown organically but are tilled – so that we can make educated choices based on facts, research and science.
And as we get more demanding for the “facts”, we also need to strike a balance by being less picky. An apple (or tomato, or cabbage, etc) is not meant to look the same as its neighbor. Yes, we can be concerned with the way it was grown, it’s taste, the quality of life of the people growing it, the miles it traveled to get to us – but we also have to accept that nature is imperfect and these products may appear imperfect (unpretty), but that makes them no less tasty and worthy. Making this paradigm shift in thought will allow retailers to work with many local growers to meet demand.
PS : What’s wrong with increasing area dedicated to organic farmland? We need healthy soil, water and air – more than we need concrete and pavement.
Tell us what you think.