I have a confession to make. I buy “organic” food, and I feel rather guilty about it.
My wife and I were in the local Wegman’s the other day (Wegman’s is worth a rant by itself; I’ll get back to Wegman’s) poking around in the “Nature’s Market” section where they keep the organic food. “Aha!” says my wife, “here’s something you’d like,” and held up a small bag labeled “Gone Nuts: Cilantro Lime Mojo” with, underneath it in smaller type, “Pistachios and Pepitas”.
I seized the bag and looked on the back. “Pure food ingredients” it trumpeted.
“No weird stuff added. INGREDIENTS: Raw Pistachios, Sprouted Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Lime Juice, Organic Fresh Cilantro, Organic Spices, Organic Jalapeno, Organic Cold Pressed Olive Oil, Himalayan Crystal Salt and Lime Oil.” My mouth watered. “Oh Goddess,” I muttered in her direction, “it’s packaged crack for me…”
Ah, but then came the deadly disclaimers. “VEGAN GLUTEN-FREE NO GMOs NO TRANS FAT.” and “We support local and fair-trade sources growing certified organic, transitional, and pesticide-free products.” Aaaarrrgggh! Suddenly my lovely potential snack was covered with an evil-smelling miasma of diet-faddery, sanctimony, political correctness, and just plain nonsense. This, I find, is a chronic problem with buying “organic”.
I definitely have “organic” tastes. I don’t eat or drink things with high-fructose corn syrup in them because the stuff tastes to me like burnt plastic. Give me free-range chicken and grass-fed beef, yes, because factory-farmed animals fed on corn mush, rapeseed, and bone meal produce bland, characterless meat. I like artisan breads made without preservatives and eaten the day they were baked because compared to that experience conventional packaged bread is like chewing a bad grade of foam rubber.
The problem is, every time I buy “organic”, I feel like I’m sending a reinforcement to several different forms of vicious stupidity, beginning with the term “organic” itself. Duh! Actually, all food is “organic”; the term just means “chemistry based on carbon chains”.
Take “no GMOs” for starters. That’s nonsense; it’s barely even possible. Humans have been genetically modifying since the invention of stockbreeding and agriculture; it’s what we do, and hatred of the accelerated version done in a genomics lab is pure Luddism. It’s vicious nonsense, too; poor third-worlders have already starved because their governments refused food aid that might contain GMOs. And without GMOs it’s more than possible that the new wave of wheat rust, once it really gets going, might condemn billions to death.
Vegan? I’ve long since had it up to here with the tissue of ignorance and sanctimony that is evangelical veganism. Comparing our dentition and digestive tracts with those of cows, chimps, gorillas, and bears tells the story: humans are designed to be unspecialized omnivores, and the whole notion that vegetarianism is “natural” is so much piffle. It’s not even possible except at the near end of 4000 years of GMOing staple crops for higher calorie density, and even now you can’t be a vegan in a really cold climate (like, say, Tibet) because it’ll kill you. In warmer ones, you better be taking carnitine and half a dozen vitamins or you’re going to have micronutrient issues sneak up on you over a period of years.
OK, I give on gluten-free. Some people do have celiac disease; that’s a real need. But “no trans fat”? Pure faddery, or the next thing to it. The evidence indicting trans fats is extremely slim and surrounded by a cloud of food-nannyist hype. I hate helping to keep that sort of balloon inflated with my dollars.
Who could be against “fair trade”? Well, me…because the “fair trade” crowd pressures individual growers to join collectives with “managed” pricing. If you’re betting that this means lazy but politically adept growers with poor resource management and productivity prosper at the expense of more efficient and harder-working ones, you’ve broken the code.
Finally, “pesticide-free”. Do I like toxic chemicals on my food? No…but I also don’t fool myself about what happens when you don’t use them. This ties straight back to the general cluster of issues around factory farming. Without the productivity advantages of pesticides, synthetic fertilizer, and other non-”organic” methods, farm productivity would plummet. Relatively wealthy people like me would cope with reduced availability by paying higher prices, but huge numbers of the world’s poor would starve.
I buy “organic” food because it tastes better and I can, but I feel guilty about reinforcing all the kinds of delusion and superstition and viciousness that are tied up in that label. We simply cannot feed a world population of 6.6 billion without pesticides and factory farming and GMOs and preservatives in most bread; now, and probably forever, “organic” food will remain a luxury good.
Try telling its political partisans that, though. Hyped on their belief in their own virtue, and blissfully ignorant about scale problems, they have already engineered policies that have cost thousands of lives during spot famines. The potential death toll from (especially) anti-GMO policies is three orders of magnitude higher.
And my problem reduces to this: how can I buy the kind of food I want without supporting dangerous delusions?