For the last week or so I've been reading the book, "Organics, Inc." by Samuel Fromartz. In it he describes the 'juggernaut' of organic food amidst the otherwise stagnant conventional foods industry. He tries to answer the questions: What is organic?, Where does it come from?, and Is it better for you?
Being a business writer it's no surprise that Fromartz seems to be most at ease describing the economic history of the organic movement. He enthusiastically depicts how the first farms solved issues of marketing, distribution, and sales in their effort to become solvent. He aptly portrays the conglomeration of small dairy farms that led to the giants in the organic industry-Horizon Dairy, Dean Foods, etc. Fromartz's focus on finances, economics, and political machinations does give an outline of where organic is at this point.
But I think he didn't experience the spirit of organic. Oh, he writes about it. Family farms, environmental consciousness, health awareness, he touches the appropriate bases. But the story he writes verges on a caricature. It was the 'hippies', the 'long-hairs', the 'vegans', and more who eventually didn't have any idea of what they were doing. To believe his tale, all the coops died within one year. It's a natural expected progression as he sees it for the 'little guys' to be eaten up by the 'big guys'. Or at least he thinks it's inevitable as organic becomes a multi billion dollar business. Perhaps it's just the journalistic effort to remain neutral. To appear to support neither "Corporate Organic" nor small family farms.
It was interesting to learn how Earthbound Farm became the largest seller of organic produce. I now have a better understanding of the political process that gave us our national organic standard and the periodic waves of cooptation that threaten it. The forces of consolidation and mass marketing that are behind
My bias is clear. I want to see the maintenance of organic ideals, not a watering down of them. The health issues are central in my opinion, not peripheral. Environmentally, organic agriculture is one of the strongest forces for correcting major errors-herbicides and pesticides, water pollution, genetically modified foods, and more. "Organics, Inc" is not a call to action. But it will help you understand a bit more of what's behind the label.
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