What is “Organic,” really?

It’s a question that has been plaguing me lately.  I am increasingly bothered by the ingredients companies will put in and on food they sell to the masses to make it last longer, look better, and stretch farther.  If we were cooking for ourselves, we wouldn’t add these ingredients.  Do the executives at Kraft foods feed their products to their own families?  We think that if we buy packaged foods from smaller companies, or from “health food” stores, we’re somehow doing better for ourselves, but really there’s no way of ever knowing without doing tedious research on everything we buy — and only then if we think we can trust our sources.  Going gluten- and dairy-free made me a label-reader, and it’s kind of amazing what nastiness is in innocuous-seeming things (like msg in Triscuits).

And then there’s “organic.”  On one hand, I support the idea, and want to show my support with my money.  It’s not that much more, and I have an income, finally, so I try to buy organic foods.  On the other hand, though, I don’t really know what I’m buying.  My sister showed me this blog one of her college friends has.  He’s working on an “organic” farm and has some criticism of the whole process (post-poem, first prose section).  I imagine this happens a lot, and it’s sad.  Because our society is so driven by money, even a process like organic farming has been corrupted to increase profits and make the goods cheaper.  Ugh.   How do you change something like this?

As much as this disappoints me, I won’t boycott the organic food industry…  I am still going to eat fruits and vegetables, and I’d rather eat those than conventional.  I found a couple of handy guides on Apartment Therapy a month or so ago that list which foods you should buy organic, and which ones are probably okay in their conventionally-grown forms.  Here they are:

I promised photos of the food I made on Saturday, but then I didn’t take any.  I’m not totally happy with the polenta (I think it needed to cook just a little longer, and maybe I’ll make the squares thinner next time, and also less salty (it called for a lot).  The shrimp Creole was good — next time I’ll leave out peas (I was raised in a mostly pea-less household, and am really only a fan of peas-in-pods) and add considerably more spice.  And maybe do chicken instead of shrimp.  And maybe use some kind of flour or cornmeal to thicken it up.  The party guests liked it.  Collard greens are delicious — definitely making those again.  Culinary Saturday was a lot of fun…

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4 responses to “What is “Organic,” really?

  1. I hear ye–I’ve read questionable things about what passes as ‘organic’. It’s turning into a fad, which inevitably causes a decrease in the quality of the product. It’s scary to see Wal-Mart selling organic (well I don’t shop there, but I heard about it), since we know there’s some evil goings-on with that (forcing organic farmers to buy expensive equipment to do the organic farming, then not giving them a fair wage, forcing them into lower income, etc, etc.

    Anyway…it’s frustrating. But I am trying not to let these shenanigans get me down. I’m lucky if I recover from a crappy night’s sleep with Pele.

    Hope your day off goes swimmingly,

    Hannah

  2. Hi Leslie!

    I totally ate the crap out of boiled peanuts on vacation. We found a stand right off a state road in the middle of the woods. It was fantastic.

    Nicole and I experimented with a new dish this last weekend and had a lot of fun in the process: Black Bean Soup

    We added a few things to the recipe to suit our tastes a little better and I have to say it’s definitely tasty. Although, I’d call it black bean chili before I would call it soup. From what I can tell with my very limited gluten and organic knowledge the whole meal is basically gluten free and organic produce can be substituted for the regular stuff. Don’t know if it’s up your alley but I think from here out I’ll be making it on a regular basis.

    Hope all is well.

  3. Kris

    I understand where the concern for “conventional” food comes from, but I was really disappointed to see that potatoes were on the list to buy “organically”. I’m definitely biased, having grown up on a potato farm, but I have never had a problem with eating the potatoes straight out of our fields. And my dad uses fertilizers and pesticides. The thing with fertilizer is that it’s so diluted in the water in the irrigation systems, that you can drink the water straight from the sprinkler.

    Also, organic foods from other countries aren’t necessarily grown under the strict guidelines that the US follows. Many other countries are still using chemicals (natural or not) that have been banned here for the last 20 years.

    *off my soapbox now 🙂

    I shall have to try your chicken creole sometime. It sounds delicious!

  4. I totally appreciate your soapbox!! I know at least two of my readers’ dads are potato farmers, and I wondered how you two felt about all of this… It seems to me that U.S. restrictions are lax to some extent, and who even knows about foreign rules… I do worry about pesticides, though…

    Do you think that Valley potatoes are isolated enough from other big crops that we have less of a problem? I remember when late blight hit a few years ago, and it was awful because we hadn’t had to deal with it before (at least that was my understanding). How do you know what to trust and what to stay away from? As a farmer’s daughter, are there farming practices you or your family frown upon? (note: I say this all knowing that my dad’s a logger, which is certainly not well-looked-upon these days, but definitely has its place in the world, even in environmental consciousness….)

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